I ask this as a serious question because I am genuinely unclear. I understand that in the days of empire, the politicos might have enjoyed pointing gunboats at small nations and battle fleets at larger ones. But that’s more or less over. Nowadays we just seem to scurry along to whatever dump the UN or NATO or the Yanks want to send us to.
Well what about consular assistance? I don’t have much experience of this; all I see are adverts telling us not to break the laws in foreign countries because you are, more or less on your own. Don’t even start me on the asymmetric nature of the extradition agreement between Britain and the USA.
Travel advice? This is usually mindlessly obvious. Just look at any one of half a dozen news websites and decide for yourself whether or not it is safe to go there. Hint ~ Afghanistan, bad; France, kinda Gallic snooty but okay. You get the point.
Foreign aid is now widely recognised as destructive to the recipient countries and we don’t have any spare money anyway, so it can’t be that, (although I accept both the politicians who give it and the politicians who receive it benefit personally to an enormous degree, possibly why it doesn’t die a natural death).
So it must be a credible and intelligent foreign policy to ensure stability and friendly relations with countries in strategically important areas?
Well I’ve been off the radar for a week and I came back to SKY news doing a very friendly clip of the Syrian rebels. They were more or less a rag-tag bunch of AK waving, masked men chanting Allah-Akbar. I am unclear how cheer-leading for this crew is in some way better than having Assad in power? Elsewhere I see the Muslim brotherhood elected in Egypt; can anyone imagine any problems with that? Wouldn’t Mubarak have been a bit more friendly? In Libya we helped bomb-out a thoroughly tamed Gaddafi and have replaced him with a group of unknown thugs who desecrate British war graves and in Afghanistan, after ludicrous and thoroughly unaffordable costs, plus many deaths, we have the electoral fraudster Karzai heading up a temporary cleptocracy, almost certain to collapse into anarchy come tribal rule about ten minutes after we leave. The destruction of the Iraqi ba’ath party and the Taliban in Afghanistan has annihilated the two serious challengers to Iran’s military supremacy in the region and Iran itself is no way more confident and influential than before. And it’s not even like we are consistent. The machine-gunning of unarmed demonstrators calling for democracy in Qatar by Saudi security forces goes more or less unremarked upon.
So really, is it time to close the book on the FCO?