Jack Straw – 2004 Speech at Chatham House


Below is the text of the speech made by Jack Straw, the then Foreign Secretary, at Chatham House on 12th February 2004.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As ever, it’s a great pleasure to be here at Chatham House and to have the chance to speak to such a distinguished audience. I want to talk today about the Strategy for the Foreign Office which I published in December, and the wider international debate on the nature of foreign policy today.

When I was Home Secretary from 1997-2001, my job – as defined by the mission statement of the Home Office – was ‘to build a safe, just and tolerant society’. As Foreign Secretary, it is ‘to work for UK interests in a safe, just and prosperous world.’

That similarity is no accident. Much of what we want to achieve in Britain is dependent, to at least some extent, on being active abroad. If we want to keep drugs off British streets, we must tackle poppy cultivation in Afghanistan; we must fund judicial reform projects in South America and the Balkans so that drug barons cannot escape the courts; and we must get European Union police forces to work more closely together against drug gangs. In the face of terrorist or criminal networks who operate globally, as we saw so tragically at Morecambe Bay last Friday, we must maintain a foreign policy which is closely integrated with our domestic agenda.

More widely, a multicultural country such as Britain is by definition somewhere where foreign policy matters at home. The relationship between India and Pakistan is of special interest for the many hundreds of thousands of British people with family links to South Asia – and those people, as I noted last week when I visited India, form a vital bridge between our countries. Likewise, our relationship with the Islamic world is inseparable from our own society – it is just as much about how I interact with my 25,000 Muslim constituents in Blackburn as it is about Europe’s or America’s relationship with the Middle East.

As the world becomes more interdependent, the boundary between ‘foreign’ and ‘domestic’ policy is increasingly blurred. Foreign affairs are no longer very foreign. And that means that they matter more, perhaps, than ever before.

The end of the Cold War brought liberty and democracy to millions, and lifted the threat of global nuclear confrontation. But as the superpower stand-off came to an end, the world also became more complex, and new threats to our security emerged. Conflicts in the dissolving Yugoslav federation brought instability to the borders of the EU, along with the related influx of refugees and the spread of organised crime. In Africa, the collapse of state authority in former superpower clients allowed chaos and conflict to spread far beyond its original borders.

We began to realise then that far away had a direct impact on our own security. The attacks of 11 September 2001 brought this new reality into even sharper focus, as the violence and repression of the Taleban tragically struck New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. It was clear that there was no such thing any more – if indeed there ever was – as a far-away country of which we knew nothing and to which we could afford to be indifferent.


We understood then that we had entered a new era in foreign policy. We needed better to understand the new threats we face today, which are as likely to come from non-state groups such as terrorists and international criminals as they are from other states. We needed to work out how best to tackle them, and address the conditions in which they could thrive, as well as looking ahead strategically at the context in which threats and opportunities for the UK were likely to evolve.

It was also clear that we could not hope to act on every issue: we would need to prioritise those which were most important, or where the UK could make a difference.

And because of the close link between foreign and domestic policy, we would need to agree international priorities not just for the Foreign Office, but for the whole of government. In the Foreign Office, we would need to look hard at how best to organise ourselves to pursue our goals.

Those were the challenges to which the Strategy which I published in December last year aims to give at least some initial answers.

The Strategy identifies eight international priorities for the UK, based on an analysis of the threats and opportunities we face and of how we expect the world to develop over the next ten years. They are set out in full in the highlights of the Strategy which you have on your chairs today.

Our conclusion in the Strategy is that Britain’s safety and prosperity depend more than ever on working for a safe, just and prosperous world. To protect the UK from threats such as terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and international crime, and to promote our economic interests, we must be active and engaged in the world. Our aim must be to build lasting safety and prosperity underpinned by justice – by sustainable development especially for the poorest and most vulnerable, and by democracy, good governance and human rights.

This is an integrated agenda, with justice as its pivot. There is no longer, if there ever was, a distinction between ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ foreign policy, between pursuing your interests on the one hand and pursuing your convictions on the other. We cannot pursue lasting safety and prosperity if we do not also promote justice.

And to act on this integrated agenda we need to use the tools at our disposal in a joined-up way. So this Government’s record levels of development aid help lift people out of poverty and disease, and tackle environmental degradation. Our diplomacy helps prevent and resolve conflicts, and build trust and peace. We work with countries around the world to reinforce good governance, human rights and the rule of law.


We do so not just because it is right, but because it is firmly in Britain’s interest. By working on this integrated agenda we are tackling the conditions where frustrated hopes and crippling injustice can allow terrorism and extremism to prosper. And we are helping build states which are reliable partners for the UK, and stable and prosperous places for Britons to do business with or to visit.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Having set out what we need to do, across government, the Strategy also sets out our initial thoughts on how the Foreign Office can best play our role in implementing this agenda. Its overriding conclusion is that our global network of 223 posts in over 150 countries around the world is our vital asset. Not everything they do can or should hit the headlines. But the contribution British diplomacy makes to building peace, promoting reform and good governance, defusing tensions and tackling threats to our own security and prosperity is very real. And that diplomacy pays. Sorting out Bosnia, where conflict had been allowed to spread, cost the British taxpayer £1.5 billion. Kosovo, where we took military action to avert humanitarian disaster, cost £200 million. Macedonia, where we have been able to prevent conflict through early common action, cost us just £14 million.

Our posts also provide high-quality public services around the world. 50% of all our staff work in service delivery. Our consular staff provide assistance and advice to 1 000 British travellers each week. The Travel Advice on the FCO website gets 700 000 hits every month. UKVisas handles some 2 million visa applications every year. Last year UK Trade and Investment helped bring on nearly 1,800 new exporters, helped nearly 4,400 companies break into new markets and recorded over 700 decisions by foreign-owned companies to locate in the UK creating 34,000 new jobs.

We do all this with an operational budget of £950 million per year – about a quarter of one per cent of government expenditure. So the Foreign Office’s global network delivers real value and results which matter to people’s lives. Now, the Strategy gives us a framework for getting better value still, by focussing our resources on the Government’s strategic priorities.

We are now looking at how best we can adapt our organisation to do this. It is already clear that we will need to maintain an effective network with global reach in order to achieve our priorities and to deliver high-quality services to the public. We will also need to build in more flexibility to respond quickly to crises and to new opportunities. We are getting better at this: at one point last year 5% of all our staff in London were redeployed to working on Iraq.

But we must also recruit and retain a more diverse workforce, against the backdrop of the threat to our staff from terrorism and from difficult conditions, and the challenges of global mobility. We still have a long way to go in achieving levels of diversity which truly reflect the diversity of the UK which we represent.

And lastly, we will need to work more closely across Government and with outside players such as Parliament, NGOs, Trades Unions or business. All these actors have a growing role in international affairs, and a shared stake in developing British foreign policy.


But whatever efforts we make in the Foreign Office and across the Government, Britain can achieve none of our priorities on our own. The challenges we face are global, and they require a global response. That means our uniquely strong network of alliances and cooperation around the world, combined with the global connections which our history and language provide, are more important today than ever.

Our membership of the European Union and our relationship with the United States are central to almost everything we do internationally. It is also of paramount importance to our future prosperity and security that the relationship between Europe and the US continues to be strong. That transatlantic partnership is deeply rooted in shared values, economic interdependence and common interests, and is essential to pursuing progressive change and global order. But we will need to keep working in order to maintain its strength. That will mean building a shared agenda, with Europe more effectively pursuing our shared security interests, and the US working with Europe and others on the wider economic development and environmental priorities that are so closely linked to our security.

The Strategy also highlights the historic opportunity we have to develop strategic relationships with emerging powers such as China and India as they play a greater and changing role in the international system. Russia and Japan will also continue to be key global powers and central to achieving our international priorities.

The backbone of all our relationships internationally is the multilateral system, with the United Nations at its heart. As permanent members of the UN Security Council, we have a fundamental interest in keeping that multilateral system strong and effective.

But the challenge for us now is to help strengthen the international system so that it is fully adapted to today’s international challenges. International rules, embodied in the UN Charter, have provided the framework for world order since the end of the second world war. But the world today is very different from that of 1945 when the UN Charter was signed. We need today to be able to act together, through the United Nations, to prevent the breakdown of order in states around the world, because it directly affects our own security. Decisions by states which fifty years ago would have been considered a matter of domestic policy – for example on developing certain kinds of weapons – are today of urgent interest for the whole world.

We manage our interdependence through common rules; but to be truly effective we also need to be prepared to enforce them with all the tools at our disposal, including military force as a last resort.


Take for example the global threat from the proliferation of WMD. I welcome the fact that this threat is now being taken as seriously as it must be by the international community – as demonstrated for example by the European Security Strategy. We now have a chance to reinforce our common action against it, for example through agreeing a UN resolution setting up a mechanism similar to the Counter-Terrorism Committee established by Resolution 1373.

Common action gets results. Iran has chosen to work with the IAEA and with Britain, France and Germany supported by the EU to resolve the outstanding issues surrounding its nuclear programme. Libya has chosen to engage with the UK and the US, and now with the IAEA and other appropriate bodies to disarm itself of WMD – a courageous step forward which will bring greater security to the whole region. North Korea remains a difficult case, but is engaged with China and others in the six-party talks, which we hope to see resume in the near future.

I know that many disagreed with the action the British government took in joining military action against Iraq. But I ask them to reflect on how dangerous the world would be today if we had shown that 17 mandatory UN Resolutions over 12 years were merely empty words. The big question left unanswered by those who still disagree with our military intervention, is this: what would you do to protect global security from a regime which threatens regional or international stability, and places itself defiantly beyond the reach of the international system on which our security depends? These are questions we and our partners must now grapple with, co-operatively and creatively. We cannot ignore them. The modern world is too dangerous for that.

We also need to discuss another key strategic challenge for the next decade: how we engage with the Arab and wider Islamic world. This will be crucial to most of the international priorities I have set out today. We need better to understand the forces that give rise to the hostility that some feel so deeply towards the West. And we need to show that we will help those who recognise the need for political, economic and social reform to deal with rising unemployment, low growth, low levels of human development and increased discontent.

Reform must come from and be shaped by the region itself, not be imposed from outside. But we in Europe, working with the US and in other groupings, must demonstrate how we can assist. Whatever our differences over Iraq, as Joschka Fischer said last weekend, we need to put those behind us. We must all recognise that the structural problems confronting many countries in the Middle East are not just their problems, but ours.

Ladies and Gentlemen,


I began by noting the similarity between my two most recent jobs, between a safe, just and tolerant society and a safe, just and prosperous world.

Everyone in society has a stake in its safety, justice and tolerance. States such as the UK have centuries-old traditions of the rule of law with which people identify and which form the bedrock of all civilised life. The challenge for international diplomacy in the 21st century will be to build an international order in which states and people feel something of the same stake in working for a safe, just and prosperous world as they do in their own societies.

Safety, justice and prosperity are inextricably linked to each other; and achieving our goals means working on all three in an active and engaged way. How the UK uses our global network of relationships and influence to meet that challenge is the central theme of the FCO Strategy.

I want the Strategy to be the beginning of a process of debate, not the end. The post-Cold War world is complex and uncertain and presents new risks and opportunities. We have not yet reached a global understanding on what those risks and opportunities are, or how we should deal with them. But we are at a pivotal time for international policy. The European Security Strategy, or the formation of a High-Level Panel by the UN Secretary General, are examples of increasing efforts to develop an effective common response to today’s complex challenges. I hope that the FCO Strategy can start to frame Britain’s contribution to that global debate.