Foreign Policy: the View from Oxford Student Green Party

Matthew Hull, writing from the Oxford Student Green Party

Strategy in international relations, though informed by our ideological tendencies, has the considerable ability to divide otherwise tight political movements. The Green Party values pluralism in democracy: and a poor pluralist I should make if I claim to speak on behalf of a whole party. Nor will my piece be all-encompassing; I hope, however, that my musings give pause for thought and room for a somewhat Green approach.

Over the next Parliament, we will face threats and challenges considerable in number and variety.

Integral to our response remains our membership of the European Union. As threats become more and more acute, action must be international in scope. Climate change, refugee crises, protection of civil liberties, and of territorial integrity: some of the biggest demographic challenges to come must be faced by Europe as a whole, not by individual nations seeking individual objectives. Only with committed political union will common objectives be met with the requisite political will; Britain should be proud to fight this fight.

The EU is distant, technocratic, and startlingly undemocratic”

The nature of the Union, however, is an imperfect one. The EU is distant, technocratic, and startlingly undemocratic. Brussels' lobbying industry is huge and oversight is poor; MEPs are unable to table legislation individually, only as part of committees populated by civil servants and business representatives. MEPs themselves are elected in poorly attended midterm elections which serve more as an indication of dissatisfaction with Westminster than of engagement with Brussels. European legislation undergoes little to no scrutiny by domestic press or people. For example, TTIP, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, threatens to sail through as though it were a mere footnote, rather than a huge blow to the balance of transatlantic investor-state relations.

The EU must be smaller in apparatus and must more directly involve our elected central government, while maintaining breadth of scope to tackle social problems. I find myself stuck between a Eurosceptic bloc which threatens more harm than good, and a Europhile bloc timidly afraid of criticising the system as we have it. Thankfully there is hope that, with the rise of reformist parties around Europe, we can deliver the Europe I want. I support an EU referendum so that we can remain on the right terms.

The most recent and obvious test of European political will is the current refugee crisis. Our government's eventual response was straightforwardly predictable and disappointing. To accept refugees from and deliver aid to camps close to Syria is no bad thing; to argue that it should be done to the exclusion of those who have travelled to Europe in the absence of any such offer is to misdirect attention. Such a response might have been proportionate in months and years past. The fact remains, however, that traffickers have profited from the International Community's inaction, and to shed responsibility for what has been allowed to spill over into Europe is inexcusable. Nor indeed is it right to abandon Hungary, Croatia and other European allies less equipped to deal with the crisis to a fate no more of their doing than of ours. 

Syria itself is an important litmus test for the future of Western direction in Middle Eastern politics. It is important that our moves represent the lessons learnt from past involvement; crucial, however, that our response is formulated for the world as it is, and that our efficacy now is not confounded by outside geopolitical motives.

I am saddened, therefore, that the 70th UN Summit has been used as a platform from which for various leaders to grandstand and appear immovable. It is sad, but true, that we are unlikely to be able to remove Bashar Al-Assad. It is equally true that if support of Assad is unqualified and exclusive of, or harmful to, other groups then we risk galvanising Islamist feeling and IS support. Britain and the US must, I believe, appeal to the common threat of violent Islamic fundamentalism in order to get Russia's ear; then we must seriously attempt to have American- and Russian-supported groups suspend their disagreements and cooperate. Only then have we the best chance of threatening IS territory; however it remains to be seen how or whether any of this can be delivered.

Clearly, no strategy is going to be perfect: the state of the Middle East today is a direct result of our tacit support for sectarian governments like Assad's, and we clearly cannot escape this position with one easy step. Whatever ensues, we must ensure that it is the UN is at the centre of forward planning not individual states manoeuvring for domestic political gain. Coherent international strategy requires cooperative work.

our continued membership of NATO is valuable to Britain and indeed to the world”

The shifting state of play in Syria and across the world obviously lends defence an increased importance. In my opinion, defence spending is an important fiscal multiplier and used properly can revolutionise our ability to deter and where necessary fight conflict. For this reason, I believe that our continued membership of NATO is valuable to Britain and indeed to the world. It sees that the United States and others listen to Britain as a second opinion and a test of American Foreign Policy in Western Europe; it magnifies the importance of our experience and expertise in theatres of conflict. Likewise democratic NATO members must be confident of our support: the 2% spending target is a big factor in demonstrating this.

But in maintaining that commitment we must use it properly: to direct and advise our allies; to recognise Britain's position in the world as it is. I believe it is time to recognise that Trident is strategically and politically useless, and prohibitively costly. Its independence is illusory, since we require American-built and leased Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles as a warhead delivery system. We maintain Trident at the generosity of the United States, without whose support such weapons could not be applied. It limits more pertinent means of defence: ensuring that we have a Blue-Water Navy with sufficient Vertical Take-Off and Landing aircraft to provide air support; improving cyber-defences; fully equipping Typhoon jets as strike aircraft. In these ways, we might ably assist our allies without insisting on a thermonuclear status-symbol which is, realistically speaking, an extension of US military power. Most importantly, by redoubling support for military cooperation but stepping back from a weapon which doesn't befit us, we are in better stead to argue against nuclear proliferation worldwide and banish WMDs completely.