Foreign Affairs - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords am 4:39 pm ar 5 Mawrth 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Ceidwadwyr 4:39, 5 Mawrth 2024

My Lords, after these wise speeches, with more no doubt to come, what can one say in five minutes about the boiling turmoil of the world today and the crises and pessimism with which it is riddled? In particular, what can one say that is at all optimistic about this scene? One positive and optimistic note that I strike straightaway is the excellent handling of these dangerous problems by our Foreign Secretary. My noble friend has kept us, and your Lordships in particular, continuously well informed, and all I can say to him is that that is very much appreciated.

Many of these current situations—Gaza, Ukraine, Afghanistan and all the rest—are deep-seated with long histories, but all are vastly intensified, amplified and indeed enabled by communications technology and now, with the onset of AI, being further twisted with deepfakes and massive and poisoning disinformation that is calculated to inflame. The result we can all see clearly, even if often we are not so clear about the deeper causes. I say in parenthesis that, if a Labour Government are to take over, I hope they have on board a real Ernie Bevin who understands the fundamental realities of the modern situation.

Trust and mutual respect have dwindled. Polarised abuse has taken centre stage internationally, as well as, of course, internally within our own society. Deliberative diplomacy has been pushed aside, killing the areas of compromise and the middle ground on which international cliff-edge crises in the past have usually been resolved. As I noticed the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, observe the other day, we are seeing the collapse of the international rule of law before our eyes. My noble friend the Foreign Secretary has more than once made the strong point that all the democracies and responsible nations of the world, which are directly endangered by current world crises, should step up much more strongly to the plate and work together, rather than leaving all the heavy lifting to us and the Americans.

The UN was founded by our forefathers in 1946 but in entirely different global conditions from anything that we face today, so the question that we must address now is: what new structures, independent forces and alliances of the like-minded should we be beginning to think about building anew on, or even replacing, the post-war global architecture of the last century? How, for instance, do we give the UN new life and effectiveness, or do we just shrug our shoulders and instead develop multipolar forums and overlapping alliances with the new Asia and the new Africa—at least as long as the UN, despite its excellent agencies, remains paralysed by Russian and Chinese domination, as my noble friend Lady Goldie was reminding us just now?

Do we place the 56-nation Commonwealth, the largest association of like-minded people in the world, which is still growing, nearer to the centre of our own national strategy by looking at our common security concerns and remembering that its members are with us in the common values that we treasure? Do we replace the Bretton Woods aims and begin serious reform of today’s western digital capitalism, which the younger generation dislike and feel is utterly unfair and of no benefit to them—or so poll after poll tells us?

Should we work out a cleverer China approach of containment or modernise the outdated UK-US special relationship, which is absurdly out of date? Do we devise a new pan-European security system and further restructure NATO in the age of hybrid wars, now that a possible Trump Administration are going to turn America away from NATO altogether?

There are currently no answers to any of these concerns and almost no sign of any common ground on which they could be pursued. The wise American Francis Fukuyama may not have been correct about the end of history—it certainly has not ended—but when he says that people have not yet woken to the magnitude of what is happening, or about to happen, to humankind as a direct result of the communications and connectivity revolutions, he is dead right. Perhaps this is one area in which our nation, and our foreign policy thinking, really can begin to take an enlightened lead.