Five foreign policy questions for the party leaders

The subject no one seems to want to quiz the party leaders on


Glaring in its absence thus far in the General Election campaign has been foreign policy. Ed Miliband and David Cameron have been thoroughly quizzed on such important matters as their favourite pop music, but we are still none the wiser when it comes to what they would do in the area of defence.

The same holds true for the other parties. We know the SNP don’t like Trident but we know little in terms of how they plan to support the fight against IS – which presumably they do support? And do the Greens really still view NATO as as big a threat to European peace and security as Russia?

The howling void where a discussion of foreign policy should be is taking place against an alarming backdrop. Britain is winding down its armed forces at an alarming rate. The Commons Defence Committee recently reported that the failure by the UK to maintain the defence spending target of 2 per cent of national income, set by NATO, risks undermining the alliance. All this at a time when global security threats are multiplying.

A coherent and robust foreign policy will be hugely important in the years to come; yet no one seems to want to ask our politicians about it. Here, then, are a few questions for the party leaders the next time they face the cameras.

1) Should Britain try to meet its 2 per cent NATO spending commitment (which it is set to miss next year)? If not, why sign up to the commitment in the first place? At a time when Vladimir Putin is behaving increasingly belligerently, does now not seem a good time for the alliance to project a clear message of unity (not to mention resolve)?

2) Should NATO honour its mutual defence obligation should Russian forces launch an attack on one of the Baltic states? This question is no longer purely academic – bolstered by the successful annexation of Crimea, Russia has been holding frequent snap military drills near its eastern European neighbours. Should Putin take things further and try to use force to bring one or more of these states to heel, should Britain join the US in honouring its NATO treaty obligations which stipulate that an attack on one is an attack on all?

3) What is your opinion of the Iranian nuclear deal? Should we really trust Iran, a country which has helped to prop up a murderous dictator in Syria and sowed chaos in Lebanon via its proxy Hezbollah? On the other hand, is there any alternative to the current deal, presuming that a military response should be an absolute last resort?

4) Presuming we eventually defeat ISIS in Iraq, how do we prevent the country from turning into an Iranian proxy and feeding the Sunni alienation that feeds the growth of groups like ISIS in the first place?

5) Surely, four years on and with over 200,000 dead, it was a mistake not to intervene in Syria to support democratic tendencies right at the beginning of the Syrian uprising in 2011? The lesson of Iraq was that intervention can have horrendous and bloody consequences. Isn’t the lesson of Syria that inaction can have a similar cost? And why isn’t Britain doing more to help Syrian asylum seekers?

James Bloodworth is the editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.

8 Responses to “Five foreign policy questions for the party leaders”

  1. damon

    As our election is just PR spun joke, what’s the point of complicating it further by asking about foreign policy issues?
    What to do with Russia if it causes trouble in the Baltic states is a really difficult issue.
    It would probably start with Russian minority grievances within those countries, stoked up by Russia itself, but deniable in the bare faced way that Russia does it.

    As for Syria, Iraq and the region – it’s been shown that western power is limited.
    Even the American ”surge” came to nothing in Iraq in the end. And they lost so many people in the process. Maybe there’s a bit of a colonialist ”white man’s burden” idea that we can do much in the region when people there have a different idea.
    Maybe a few points about what we possibly might do that could do some good would be a start.
    Like trying to rehabilitate Assad perhaps? Maybe not. There will be so much repercussion about the violence that has happened, that peace and prosperity might be pretty impossible in the near future.

  2. Guest

    The wars in the region have of course gone fine, it’s the peace which is the problem, due in no small part to American mismanagement of that.

    And yea, our evil democracy blah blah.

  3. damon

    You’re the one using the word evil. I just call it a joke.
    See Thursday night’s pretend debate as an example.

  4. Guest

    Exactly, I’m *not* being PC. So sorry.

    And of course you don’t like debates, and think there’s this conspiracy rigging them. Right.

  5. steroflex

    Traditionally it has been the right that has been the hawks. Very well done for noticing that we are like Batman’s parents coming back to the posh hotel after the performance. And we all know what happened to them…

  6. Leon Wolfeson

    We didn’t intervene in Syria. Oops.

  7. paulcanning

    Here is a truly terrifying scenario for what could happen in the Baltics

    Involves a russian nuclear first strike – which Russia has as military policy, they say they can do it. Why people would just dismiss any of this as ‘impossible’ just defeats me.

  8. Leon Wolfeson

    So you’re not even remotely aware of Article 5’s function and how countries respond, I see.
    There’s no way any NATO country can stall another’s response under Article 5.

    As for Russia threatening nuclear first-strikes, if they want to ensure that China turns on them and takes Siberia, I can’t think of a better way to do it. Meanwhile, Greece is dealing with Russia ONLY because of brinkmanship from a few EU nations. The Greek armed forces wouldn’t stand for any kind of military collusion, of course.

    And nuclear fire on a NATO member in the American nuclear weapons sharing program would be returned even before it struck.

Leave a Reply