Trade follows the flag

A depressing basis for foreign policy indeed but, at least the coalition government are being honest about their motivations instead of pretending that it is about ethics or responsibility.

The doctrine of the Labour government in foreign policy was ‘humanitarian intervention’. The years, of course, were not kind to this ideal and revelations about Tony Blair’s commercial interests in, for example, the war in Iraq have  fuelled the fire of conspiracy theory; out with the old and in with the new though.

So, what does Cameron’s trip to India, one of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s first major expeditions since the coalition was negotiated, tell us about the new trajectory of UK foreign policy?

The diplomactic standing of the coalition government seemed doomed before it even began when David Cameron, at the time prime minister in waiting, used one of the televised leader’s debates to lump China and Iran into the same threatening category – countries which neccesitate the continuing commitment to Trident. Much to the chagrin of the Chinese embassy and the amusement of Tehran.

And now, it seems, Cameron is up to it again. His high profile critique of Pakistan, being painted by a bemused press team as ‘straight talking’, has raised many a diplomatic eyebrow. One of the most poignant points was made on Friday by shadow foreign secretary David Miliband, who highlighted the potential insensitivity of accusing Pakistan, a nation regularly rocked by terrorist attacks, of collusion in these very crimes.

This is not to mention the lack of expediency that such outbursts have in relation to the war in Afghanistan, in which Pakistan are playing a major role. A look at the FCO press releases accompanying the prime minster’s mission, however, reveals that this is all rather consistent. One element of the visit, which flew somewhat under the radar of Mr Cameron’s brash diplomacy, was the announcement of a new deal worth £700 million, to provide fighter aircraft to India.

With tensions still riding high between India and Pakistan over Kashmir the announcement of this deal, along with the accompanying sabre rattling about Pakistan, did wonders for the share prices of BAE systems and Rolls Royce, the British firms placed to profit from this deal, which both traded well in the wake of the deal.

The share prices of General Dynamics and Lockheed Martin, meanwhile – major American suppliers of military equipment to Pakistan – suffered some turbulence following the prime minister’s announcement.

These trends, though anecdotal, are symbolic of the new foreign policy. One based not upon imperial ambition, Christian ethics or humanitarian good will, but, upon merely commercial interests. As stated here, the trip to India is:

“…evidence of our new, commercial foreign policy in action.”

A depressing basis for foreign policy indeed but, at least the coalition government are being honest about their motivations instead of pretending that it is about ethics or responsibility.

The candidates for the labour leadership should take note though and take a stand. Foreign policy can and must be about more than merely the pursuance of financial advantage, after all, the logical conclusion of good business for companies such as BAE and Lockheed Martin is, in the context of India and Pakistan, war.

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