Liberal Conservatism

30 september 2006

I promised to come back to David Cameron as well after my comments on – and praise for – Tony Blair.

On September 11 he delivered a speech on foreign affairs that has been much commented upon since.

That’s primarily because his phrase that Britain should be ”solid but not slavish” in its friendship with the United States. The swipe at Blair was difficult not to understand.

But there is far more to the speech than that.

In fact, he makes a rather interesting attempt to distinguish his so called liberal conservatism on international affairs from the so called neo-conservatism that has been doing much of the running in the Anglo-Sachson world in the last few years.

And its worth reading.

I particularly liked the way he looks at the struggle against terrorism around the world:

Part of the problem we have encountered these past five years is that the struggle has been perceived – as the terrorists want it to be perceived – as a single struggle between single protagonists.

The danger is that by positing a single source of terrorism – a global jihad – and opposing it with a single global response – American-backed force – we will simply fulfil our own prophecy.

We are not engaged in a clash of civilisations, and suggestions that we are can too easily have the opposite effect to the one intended: making the extremists more attractive to the uncommitted

This is not to deny the connections between terrorist activity in different parts of the world.

It is simply an appeal for us to be a little smarter in how we handle those connections.

Our aim should be to dismantle the threat, separating its component parts, rather than amalgamating them into a single global jihad that simply becomes a call to arms.”

I think this is entirely correct – and the difference between much of what is dominating on the other side of the Atlantic is profound.

It is by dismantling or disaggregating the situations, and then dealing with them one after the other, that we have the greatest possibilities of making progress.

Lumping them all together in one big battle to which we also give the description ”war” probably serves Usama bin Laden better than it serves anything else.

The David Cameron restyling has certainly been about style to a very large extent.

But the speech on foreign policy showed interesting and important substance as well.

Green Green Green Blue

30 september 2006

With the UK Conservatives getting together for their party conference in Bournemouth, there will be a lot of attention on the changes they are undergoing.

Is it just style? Where is really the substance?

As usual there is likely to be a bit of both in what’s going on, and that’s only natural.

When times are changing the challenges of politics are changing and so must the political parties.

Tony Blair spoke about how the issues have gone from being ”essentially British” a decade or so ago to being ”essentially global” today and tomorrow. Very true. And very important.

The Conservatives are also emphasizing the global, although trying to perform the interesting intellectual balancing act of doing so without mentioning or getting involved with European issues.

And they are emphasizing their new green and environmentally friendly image. The tree-huggers of Notting Hill.

Just look at the new symbol and log of the Conservative Party.

Not really Churchill. Not really Macmillan. Certainly not Thatcher.

But certainly modern.

Next Round UN Race

30 september 2006

Well, I was not entirely correct in my previous entry on the race to select the next Secretary-General of the UN.

There was indeed an interesting straw poll among UNSC members on Thursday.

But it had been decided to have another one on Monday – and that will be the one with colour-coded votes so that there is a difference between permanent and non-permanent member states.

That’s when the real drama will begin.

Thursday’s straw poll was interesting in that Latvia’s Vaira Vike-Freiberga – who entered the race only two weeks ago – come in at third place. She had seven votes encouraging her against six votes discouraging her.

Only two candidates – present front-runner Ban Ki Moon from South Korea and Sashi Tharoor from India – did better. All others had more discoraging than encouraging votes – de facto the end of them.

The performance of Vaira Vike-Freibergis is indeed impressive, and she should be truly congratulated. Her success benefits the image of her country and all three of the Baltic countries.

But it’s on Monday it gets real.

Will Russia put a red vote to her since she’s Latvian? Probable, I would say. She has done a lot to improve relations between Russia and Latvia, but it’s doubtful whether that’s enough.

And which red votes will there be against the others? China will take out of the race the candidates it does not want to see going to the final round.

It will be interesting to follow, and this website will give you the latest.

At the end of the day I stand by my guess that it’s likely to end up with someone who’s not on today list.

Next UN Secretary General

28 september 2006

This is the day for a critical straw poll among the members of the UN Security Council on who will be the next Secretary General.

And its the first of the straw polls that makes a difference between permanent and non-permanent members of the Council. One discouraging vote from one of the so called P5’s de facto means a veto and exit from the race.

In previous straw polls, there has be no way of seeing the rather critical difference betweehn the two categories of members.

Today, New York Times has invited the six official candidates to briefly present their views on what they want to do.

It makes interesting reading. I know three of them fairly well – they are all highly qualified individuals.

So far there are six candidates, but my guess that at the end of the day at the least one of them will be out of the game.

And my guess is also that there is more than a fair chance that the final choice of the P5 – in effect, the decision is theirs – will not be a person on the list of today.

Essentially Global

28 september 2006

Passing by London on my way back from New York was a good opportunity to get up to speed on the transformations underway on the British political scene.

The Labour party has just finished its conference in Manchester, and the Conservatives are only days from theirs in Bournemouth.

Tony Blair is leaving – although probably not until May of next year or so – and Labour is challenged by the new Conservative leader David Cameron.

His ratings might be fairly low on the British scene at the moment, but I persist in seeing him as one of the both best and most interesting major political leaders in terms of making speeches.

And his farewell in Manchester was certainly not exception to that rule. It’s worth reading in its whole.

But here I’ll just quote at some length what he said about how the challenges of politics have changed during the last decade. From being essentially national, they have now become essentially global:

The scale of the challenges now dwarf what we faced in 1997. They are different, deeper, bigger, hammered out on the anvil of forces, global in nature, sweeping the world.

In 1997 the challenges we faced were essentially British. Today they are essentially global.

The world today is a vast reservoir of potential opportunity. New jobs in environmental technology, the creative industries, financial services. Cheap goods and travel. The internet. Advances in science and technology.

In 10 years we will think nothing of school-leavers going off to university anywhere in the world.

But with these opportunities comes huge insecurity.

In 1997 we barely mentioned China. Not any more. Last year China and India produced more graduates than all of Europe put together.

10 years ago, energy wasn’t on the agenda. The environment an also-ran.

10 years ago, if we talked pensions we meant pensioners.

Immigration hardly raised.

Terrorism meant the IRA.

Not any more.

We used to feel we could shut our front door on the problems and conflicts of the wider world. Not any more.

Not with globalisation. Not with climate change. Not with organised crime. Not when suicide bombers born and bred in Britain bring carnage to the streets of London . In the name of religion.

A speech by the Pope to an academic seminar in Bavaria leads to protests in Britain.

The question today is different to the one we faced in 1997.

It is how we reconcile openness to the rich possibilities of globalisation, with security in the face of its threats.

How to be open and secure.

I would hope that every major political leader in every European country would be ready to spell out the nature of the tasks ahead in the same way.

Gloomy Perspectives

27 september 2006

Just preparing to leave New York and head back to Sweden after an intense day of discussions here.

At the SACC NY centennial, Richard Holbrooke and I had a public discussions on the different challenges we are facing in the years ahead.

I’m afraid it was a rather gloomy session.

While I spoke of most things between Kabul and Khartoum becoming increasingly problematic, Holbrooke said the same but used the expression between Beirut and Bombay. At the end of the day it means the same.

And we both failed to see the coherent either European or American policies to address this, not to speak about coherence in approach across the Atlantic. But we agreed that without that appearing, the situations are likely to get worse.

Meanwhile, President Bush in Washington is trying to get President Musharaf of Pakistan and President Kharazai of Afghanistan to improve their relationship and be more effective in countering what the New York Times today actually calls an ”insurgency” in Afghanistan.

The seriousness of the situation is illustrated not only by the word ”insurgency”, but also by fear that it is getting ”iraqized”. Not good.

President Bush has also decided to release to the public important part of the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) dealing with terrorism that’s been subject of controversy in the last few days.

It’s worth reading – without being particularly sensational. You can find it through the NYT article on the subject.

Better head back to Stockholm.

Mounting Concerns Across Atlantic

26 september 2006

I see that UPI in a telegram has picked up on one of the discussions we had in Berlin a couple of days ago, quoting some of the more worried words that I had to say on the situation in the Middle East.

It was indeed a discussion dominated by mounting concerns.

Everywhere in the region – from Kabul to Khartoum – our policies as well as the situation is ”heading South”, as they would say on this side of the Atlantic.

And discussions here in New York today in and around the United Nations have not given much ground for optimism.

There is a desperate feeling in the air, and that could perhaps lead to something coming together to produce something. But there are formidable forces working in the opposite direction as well.

Could the European Union take a credible initative? Could Europe and the United States join forces for something truly comprehensive in the region?

I don’t know. No one else seems to know either.

But things are not moving in the right direction. Mildly speaking.