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A Liberal Democrat approach to UK Middle East Policy

July 4, 2012 4:00 PM

By Paul Reynolds

Originally published by East Midlands Liberal Democrats

On Saturday June 30th Paul Reynolds made a presentation to the Nottingham Lib Dem 'mini-conference' on the subject of the Lib Dem approach to UK Middle East policy.

Paul started by commenting on the nature of foreign policy and the degree to which it was considered an 'expert' policy far removed from the usual domestic focus of political party activity, and suggested that if it was less so, such debacles as the Iraq WMD scandal might have been avoided - in an appeal for more transparency over foreign policy detail.

He introduced the topic of UK Middle East policy by describing the relatively recent history of the Middle East - characterising most of the borders and nation-states in the region as a 'carve up between Britain and France following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire'. Paul referred to the creation of gulf oil states, and to the link between this Post Ottoman history and UK involvement in the creation of Israel within the British Protectorate of Palestine, as two examples.

On this basis, together with the UK's position as a permanent member of the UN Security Council and a nuclear armed power, plus the UK's special place in the global oil sector, Paul described the UK as having a special role in the region - not just as 'another European power'. He talked of the duty of the UK to promote peace & prosperity in the region, as a kind of legacy from post-Ottoman British dominance - from Egypt and Sudan to Iraq and Oman.

Paul then fast-forwarded through history, touching on the post-war 'phases' of Middle East politics, including the rise of Soviet/Russian influence in Syria, Algeria, the Palestinians and Yemen, the years of post-Soviet hope interrupted by the post-9/11 US-dominant era, and leading up to the still-ongoing 'Arab uprisings' of the last 2 years.

On this last point Paul characterised the Arab uprisings as partially a rebellion against external support for dictators - Mubarak in Egypt, Saleh in Yemen, Ali in Tunisia supported for years by the 'West', and the Assads in Syria and Ghaddafi in Libya supported for years by Moscow.

Paul then discussed changing US policy and the deep fissure in Washington DC between those wanting to 'retire' the focus on the War on Terror (now officially renamed 'The Long War') in the wake of the rise of the 'BRICS', and those who wish to strengthen the War on Terror as a vehicle for the projection of US military 'full spectrum dominance'. Paul cited US policy on uprisings in Yemen, Djibouti and Libya, and US policy on Israeli settlement expansion in the Occupied Territories, as symptoms of this fissure.

In this context Paul described UK policy as lacking independence since Suez, when the US asserted its dominance over UK foreign policy, and now facing another crisis since as a result of having to shadow US policy, it is now caught in the middle of the Washington fissure. Being in such an invidious position, Paul explained, has created a need for a new alignment of UK policy, and indeed Paul claimed that UK policy towards Iran has shown how important the need for change has become. Paul expressed the view that the US would 'come to see advantage in the inevitable' - closer and more independent European military cooperation founded on NATO or European Defence Forces or both.

During questions Paul was asked about many issues, including the role of the UK nuclear deterrent and its role as a permanent member of the UN Security Council. Referring to an Anglo-French proposal for UN reform in 2009, Paul stressed the urgency of renewed UK-led reform of UN governance, on the basis that global power was shifting so rapidly that if the UK did not lead successfully in achieving reform, less advantageous reform would inevitably be 'visited upon' the UK. In response to questions about the EU, Paul concluded that shifts in US policy could result in the UK public warming to the EU more than it does now, joking that it was also less likely in the future that newspapers would make editorial support for political parties at election time conditional on an anti-EU policy.