That are foreign offices for? In theory, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and the diplomatic service should help the government conduct our international relations on the basis of a deep understanding of other countries. Yet in practice things aren’t so easy, and world affairs can sometimes take diplomatic services by surprise.
Back in 1992, I attended a top-level briefing of the prime minister on events in Yugoslavia, a crisis that scarcely anybody around the world had foreseen. At previous crisis briefings I had always felt somebody knew not only the main players but also their fathers and probably their grandfathers.… Seguir leyendo »
After the deaths of hundreds this week, and a new wave of protests across Egypt today which has brought further bloodshed, many people are asking what should Britain, our allies and other international players do to help end the unrest?
My first point would be to stay calm, and recognise that doing nothing is an option. The situation is bad, but hardly as bad as Iraq, where 3,400 people have been killed in mainly sectarian violence this year (in a situation which one can argue was created by UK intervention), or Syria, where the numbers are much higher, or Sudan, which the media ignores.… Seguir leyendo »
The new UN and Arab League representative for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, said on Monday that he is standing in front of a brick wall, that he can see no cracks in it at present, and that he is frightened of the weight of responsibility placed upon him – people are being killed, and “we are not doing much”, he told the BBC. So what is the point? Can he possibly succeed where his predecessor, Kofi Annan, failed?
First, the Algerian is by far the best man for the job (except perhaps because of his age – he is 78). His experience in international affairs is extraordinary.… Seguir leyendo »
The revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt took us all by surprise, and have still not played out. Libya is the least transparent country in the Middle East at the best of times. Just now, with most communications down, it is truly a mystery wrapped in an enigma.
Disturbances started on Wednesday, apparently triggered by the arrest of a lawyer and human rights activist. This was the warmup to a planned “day of rage” on Thursday, commemorating a demonstration in Benghazi in 2006 in which a dozen or so people had been killed. On Friday there were already funerals of protesters, and midday prayers at the mosques as usual provided a springboard for demonstrations.… Seguir leyendo »
The 1999 Lockerbie trial arrangements, including a Scottish court sitting in the Netherlands, was a brilliant example of British diplomacy at its most creative, for which Robin Cook and FCO officials share the credit. The negotiations following Blair’s visit to Libya, on the contrary, seem to have been the height of incompetence (I was involved in neither). Megrahi’s release on compassionate grounds, politically neutral, would naturally have been a positive point in Britain and Scotland’s relations with Libya, but against all the odds it has been turned by politicians mainly interested in scoring points off each other into a blazing row which could even turn out to be a serious setback.… Seguir leyendo »