Menzies Campbell – 2001 Speech to Liberal Democrat Party Conference

Below is the text of the speech made by Menzies Campbell, the then Party Foreign Affairs spokesman, to the Liberal Democrat Party Conference in Bournemouth on 26 September 2001.

With the exception of some ritual skirmishing over the single currency, Foreign Affairs were noticeably absent from the general election campaign of 2001.

Foreign Affairs hardly seemed to register in the collective mind of the British electorate.

But as the events of two weeks ago show, there is no other area where policy is more influenced by external events over which we have no control, than the conduct of our relations with other countries and institutions.

It has become trite to claim that “the world will never be the same again” or that we have reached a “defining moment” or that we have reached a “watershed”.

We do not know any of these things are true.

But what is true is that before the 11th of September there were and still remain foreign policy issues which are urgent and acute;

Such as our military commitments in the Balkans and Sierra Leone;

The proper British response to American proposals for ballistic missile defence;

Or the impact of the slowdown in the Japanese economy on the inward investment upon which 65,000 jobs in the United Kingdom depend;

Or the political and economic consequences of remaining outside the single currency.

We have not suspended all political activity in the United Kingdom since 11th September but I sense that the electorate has little stomach for the partisan political exchanges which normally characterise the party conference season – and that least of all in Foreign Affairs.

So, let me today adopt a more reflective tone and try to set out a purely Liberal Democrat view of Foreign Affairs – leaving others to conclude how and to what extent that view conflicts with the policies of the other parties.

Our aim must be to offer a clear, constructive and credible foreign policy in which, by means of effective international and regional organisations, we can help to promote prosperity, peace and freedom, combat poverty and disease, and tackle global environmental problems.

Our natural inclination is towards internationalism – celebrating diversity, recognising that state borders provide no defence to environmental threats – accepting that the desperation of asylum seekers knows no boundaries – always holding to an unwavering commitment to the universality of human rights.

Freedom should not be the prerogative of the well governed, the well off, or the well connected.

A Liberal Democrat view embraces freedom from want and disease, freedom from oppression and fear, freedom of assembly and expression.

In short – a foreign policy with an ethical dimension.

But neither we nor any other country will fashion a foreign policy which meets these objectives unless by multilateral action; by acknowledging our dependence and by supporting international institutions; by collective and not unilateral action.

If the events of the last two weeks have taught us anything it is surely that no nation however powerful can hope to defend its citizens or seek redress on their behalf unless it acts in concert with those of like mind.

However much a sense of national pride may seduce us to believe we have the ability to stand alone, the truth is that our survival depends on our allies and our alliances.

It is no accident that in seeking legitimacy for prospective military action, the USA was compelled to seek the support of the United Nations, of NATO and of the EU.

It is no surprise that in order to maintain the coalition of support it has gone outside even of these institutions to try to forge an alliance of those who will look neutrally, at least, on a military response.

In renouncing unilateralism the USA has been compelled to cede to allies old, new and improbable, a measure of influence over its own decision-making.

When we argue as we have for a military response based on clear intelligence, precise and proportionate to the need, and consistent with the principles of international law this is not an over-cautious response, as it is crudely characterised by some, it is no more than the cement necessary to keep together the newly constructed coalition.

Abandon these principles and the coalition will be impossible to maintain.

Such ad hoc coalition may be a matter for congratulation, even astonishment, but it is no substitute for the permanent coalition of interests which a reformed, effective and fully funded United Nations would provide.

The mechanism for crisis management needs to be in place before the crisis erupts.

The United Nations will only fulfil these aspirations when it commands the unqualified support of all the nations, no matter how powerful.

A system of international justice will only be effective if all nations no matter how powerful accept the universal jurisdiction of an International Criminal Court.

And if we put our trust in a reformed and revitalised United Nations we must here also assert our belief in the web of mutually reinforcing treaties for arms control and disarmament which have maintained the strategic balance.

We are not signatories to the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, but we have been its beneficiaries and we have a legitimate interest in the stability it brings and the consequences of its abrogation.

We are entitled to call upon the declared nuclear powers to fulfil their obligations under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

We support the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty – we want all nuclear powers to do so too.

Landmines and biological weapons verification, measures to control the global trade in small arms and the Kyoto protocol – how shall we make a success of these unless we approach them from a collective and not a unilateralist standpoint?

Today is the 15th day after the events in Washington and New York, but it is also the 30th day of NATO’s operation to collect up weapons in Macedonia – a collective successful action in which the United Kingdom has played a prominent and leading part.

But if we are to go on playing such a role – if we are to go on being a force for good – if we are to assert and implement the right of humanitarian intervention where there are systematic breaches of human rights, I simply do not believe that we can do all this on the existing defence budget.

I lost the argument inside our party for a commitment to increase defence spending in our budget proposals for the general election.

But I was in good company.

So did Iain Duncan Smith and Geoff Hoon.

No UK political party campaigned in the General Election on the footing of increasing defence spending.

And yet every party wants the armed forces to do more, to be better equipped, better manned, to make a better contribution to our foreign policy objectives – just plain better.

It can’t be done without better resources.

The Labour Government’s Strategic Defence Review was supposed to provide conceptual stability for defence policy and it largely succeeded.

But without adequate resources to match its objectives we shall be driven to a further review before long.

We shall find it difficult to deal with turbulence abroad if the armed forces are facing financial turbulence at home.

And finally let me turn to Europe.

A party of reform in Britain has to be a party of reform in Europe.

Better scrutiny, better control of expenditure, less waste, less bureaucracy, more subsidiarity, more transparency.

Our commitment to Europe will not survive sceptical challenge unless it is accompanied by frank acknowledgement of Europe’s weaknesses and credible proposals to put them right.

But let us acknowledge the burgeoning foreign policy influence of the European Union.

In its achievements as a partner with Nato in Macedonia and its mature political response to President Bush, it is coming of age in foreign affairs.

These last two weeks have been a curious time in foreign affairs.

So much of what seemed certain has been disproved.

So much of what we took for granted has been destroyed.

In uncertain times a political party confronts challenges by rigorous adherence to its principles.

Be in no doubt, our principles and our resolve will be tested as never before.