Foreign Affairs - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords am 6:52 pm ar 5 Mawrth 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Baroness Prashar Baroness Prashar Crossbench 6:52, 5 Mawrth 2024

My Lords, immediate crises have understandably been a major part of this debate, but I want to concentrate on our significant role in maintaining and promoting values to strengthen democracies and the rules-based international system, and the importance of necessary investment in nurturing old and new alliances, including engaging with countries not necessarily within the current conflict areas, a number of which noble Lords have mentioned today, in order to build long-term relationships, trust and influence. In the current context it may seem naive to talk about these issues but, in an increasingly complex and unstable world, winning hearts and minds is more important than ever before, as has powerfully been demonstrated in the Russia-Ukraine war.

In an increasingly volatile world, we need to renew our commitment to a rules-based world order and double our efforts with old and new alliances to restore the declining confidence in liberal democracy. New informal alliances are challenging the existing multilateral institutions, becoming more assertive and questioning the efficacy of democracy. Survival, security and prosperity in a hyperconnected world now have new dimensions that require better understanding, new thinking and approaches, and redoubling our efforts with regional and other emerging powers whose actions will determine the future. This will require strategic thinking and a holistic and nuanced approach to international affairs.

Our foreign policy narrative to date has been shaped around our liberal values—a reflection of the values we uphold. They have influenced how others see us. Sadly, this positive perception gets more slender by the day. If we want to continue to be an influential voice and strong player on the world stage, both as a force for good and for our national interest and security, what we do and how we behave at home and overseas has to be consistent with our values. An ability to influence and build trust and relationships lies in the credibility and moral authority that we generate through our actions and behaviours. The way we act and the influence we bring to bear will determine our ability to shape the future.

It will take persistence and courage to develop strategies to win minds and hearts. This will mean maximising effectively all levers at our disposal: military, economic, diplomatic, social and cultural. Intercultural interactions, country engagements and people-to-people dialogue are crucial components of our foreign policy. We have been in this space for nearly 90 years. The British Council, our prime organisation, was founded in the 1930s at a time of global instability, when Britain’s influence was weakened and extreme ideologies were gaining ground. There are parallels with what is happening now and lessons to be learned.

The British Council was born to create friendly knowledge and understanding by developing closer cultural relations. We have been a world leader in this space, well ahead of everyone else and well before the term “soft power” was coined by Joseph Nye. Creating friendly knowledge and understanding is neither soft nor power. In today’s hyperconnected world, it is about mutual exchange and understanding—an essential and strategic part of foreign policy to create a fertile ground for diplomacy and an environment conducive to dialogue, alliances, partnerships for business and security co-operation, supported by policies and behaviours that enforce our respect for the rule of law, democratic processes and so on.

Our internal affairs, our shared societal values and our domestic political context are equally important. They are key in enabling or constraining our ability to forge an effective foreign policy in a fast-changing world. We can be in an enviable strategic position if we build a refreshed strategic relationship with Europe, maintain—but not be subservient to—the transatlantic axis, despite the challenges we face, and engage meaningfully with the Commonwealth and, through it, the global South. Along with that, we have our footprint in more than 100 countries with the British Council.

There is no room for complacency or taking our eye off these long-term issues. They should be an integral part of our overall strategy, backed by proper investment in the diplomatic networks and organisations such as the British Council, the BBC and other cultural and educational organisations. They are an essential component in our foreign policy, not an optional extra. I know that the noble Lords, Lord Cameron and Lord Ahmad, are both committed to the issues I have been talking about. I end by paying my tribute to the excellent work that they are doing in difficult circumstances. I look forward to their response.