Year 2000 No.20, February 4, 2000

Robin Cook’s Foreign Policy and National Interest Speech:

"Critical Engagement", "Enlightened Self-Interest" and "Diplomacy for Democracy" Replace the "Ethical Dimension"

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Robin Cook’s Foreign Policy and National Interest Speech:
"Critical Engagement", "Enlightened Self-Interest" and "Diplomacy for Democracy" Replace the "Ethical Dimension"

News In Brief:
Productivity Lags behind the Rest of G7

International News In Brief:
Dominica Labour Party Returns to Power
What Now for Ecuador?

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Robin Cook’s Foreign Policy and National Interest Speech:

"Critical Engagement", "Enlightened Self-Interest" and "Diplomacy for Democracy" Replace the "Ethical Dimension"

The crisis of the values represented by an "ethical" foreign policy is bound to be replaced by an even greater crisis as now Foreign Secretary Robin Cook puts forward that Britain’s foreign policy is to be based on the three themes of "critical engagement", "enlightened self-interest" and "diplomacy for democracy".

The "ethical dimension" that Robin Cook attached to Britain’s foreign policy has sometimes been misunderstood. It has been alleged, for example, that the "ethical dimension" was fine in itself, but that it was undermined by the government’s hypocrisy or double-standards. The point, however, is that this "ethical dimension" represented a conscious application of the values which were in effect set out in the Charter of Paris signed by the European powers, together with the US and Canada, in 1990. They were the values of the old Europe, of Anglo-American notions of democracy, asserted as being superior at a time when the Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc were collapsing. With the Charter of Paris, these powers declared that these values, these Eurocentric notions of what constituted democracy, what constituted human rights, what constituted freedom, be imposed on the whole world. With the signing of the Paris Charter, Anglo-American imperialism was also declaring that as the bipolar division of the world was crumbling, the Cold War would continue under new conditions, the aim still being the victory over communism.

This collapse of the bi-polar division and the crisis of the pursuit of privatisation and liberalisation have given rise to the growth of globalisation and its "solutions" to the crisis. As well, this very growth, the demand that all spheres of life be open to market forces, that the financial oligarchy be free to intervene wherever in the world it chooses, has been giving rise to increasing opposition from progressive forces world-wide. What has been happening is that the financial oligarchy has been instituting as far as possible an international dictatorship as well as national dictatorships. That is to say, it has demanded that governments everywhere put the assets of the various states at its disposal, it has been accelerating the mega-mergers to form gigantic transnational corporations, it has been demanding that no part of the globe should be exempt from its control. And this development has further given rise to an even fiercer competition between the various monopoly interests, the various sections of finance capital, and the states which represent their several interests.

This is the context in which Robin Cook has presented his speech to deal with the realities of this globalisation. He states that "the only rational response to globalisation is to pursue strategies that maximise benefits and minimise damage". He states as a principle that "globalisation requires more bridges and fewer barriers" and hence it is necessary for Britain to adopt a "conscious policy of Critical Engagement – the pursuit of political dialogue wherever it can produce benefits".

His second guideline is that "our national interest will more and more coincide with the global interest". In reality, this means that the interest of the nation, of building a national economy, of putting the people’s concerns at the centre of considerations, will be further abandoned in favour of the demands of being competitive in the global marketplace. This is what Robin Cook means by "enlightened self-interest". The increased emphasis on "national interest" is actually the promotion of British chauvinism, a fig-leaf for attempting to win the more backward sections of society to join with their employers in the project to "Make Britain Great Again", while keeping the workers on the margins of society, away from their historical project to constitute themselves the nation.

His third principle is that "the global community needs universal values". Universal values are suitable for an age of universal trade and global communications. This is an intensified form of the declaration of the Paris Charter. This "diplomacy for democracy" equates to a crusade to impose the values that serve globalisation – a resurrection of 19th century liberal values to justify the naked struggle of the monopolies to exploit the peoples of the world to the bone – or, in Robin Cook’s words, the promotion of "British values of democracy and freedom". How can it be that the world’s peoples and nations can have universal values? Where is the right to conscience, where is the right of a nation to choose its own path of social development? This is US imperialism’s programme to attempt to impose a unipolar world, with which the Labour government is happy to identify. Of course, it is also done under the signboard of high ideals, of concern for "human rights". But how can human rights be exercised when a social system is imposed on a people against their will?

Robin Cook’s fourth and final principle is to be "stronger in Europe, stronger in the world". This is an elaboration of Labour’s foreign policy to date of "strong in Europe, strong with the US". The logic is that if Britain is a "leading player" in Europe, it can better serve, not only the interests of the English bourgeoisie, but also of US imperialism which needs to dominate Europe in order to dominate the world. Now this logic is further developed so that the British government is available to the highest bidder. For example, he is pleased to report that from Japan, "we hear repeated messages that they value their economic ties with Britain precisely because it is a gateway to the wider European market". Robin Cook points out that Britain’s "national interests girdle the globe". "The stronger Britain’s standing in our own continent of Europe, the greater the leverage we will have in the other six," the Foreign Secretary said. He went on, "Yet there are a surprising number of people who seem to believe that the UK can project a foreign policy that goes all the way round the world without passing through Europe. Any sane foreign policy must start by accepting the facts of geography. Europe is where we belong."

Robin Cook’s speech was given to the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London on Friday, January 28. It was entitled "Foreign Policy and National Interest". WDIE will deal in greater detail with the content of this address and its dangerous declarations in future issues.

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NEWS IN BRIEF

Productivity Lags behind the Rest of G7

Trade and Industry Secretary Stephen Byers said last Thursday that poor productivity levels in Britain meant that national income per capita was lower than in most of the G7 countries.

In a written parliamentary answers, the Trade and Industry Secretary said, "In comparison to France and Germany, both the proportion of population in employment in the UK and the number of hours worked per person employed are relatively high. Despite this, poor productivity means that GDP per head is some 18% below the average for the G7. Closing the gap will require improvements in several areas including innovation performance, management and workforce skills, and entrepreneurship." Economist say of all the Treasury’s targets, raising productivity levels will be the toughest to achieve.

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INTERNATIONAL NEWS IN BRIEF

Dominica Labour Party Returns to Power

The Dominica Labour Party (DLP) was returned to power in elections last Monday after it last held office in 1980. The DLP is led by Rosie Douglas. He said that the win was due to people becoming fed up with corruption and economic mismanagement under the government of the United Workers Party (UWP) led by Edison James. The DLP has promised a government of integrity and said it will stimulate economic growth through investments and promote an enterprise economy driven by the private sector. Dominica’s main produce is its banana industry, which is threatened by the World Trade Organisation ruling that the European Union’s preferential treatment of Caribbean banana imports violates global free trade rules.

The DLP will have 10 seats in parliament, in alliance with the Dominica Freedom Party (DFP), which has two seats. The UWP won the remaining nine seats.

Dominica became an independent republic within the Commonwealth in 1978. Dame Eugenia Charles had led the DFP from 1968 and been prime minister from 1980 until her retirement in 1995.

What Now for Ecuador?

With the assumption of the Presidency of Ecuador by Gustavo Noboa on January 22, it appeared that the mass struggle in Ecuador has lost its momentum.

There was mass social upheaval in the country against the profound social and economic crisis in Ecuador. The president, Jamil Mahuad, in power for just 17 months, had proclaimed the dollarisation of the economy to resolve the crisis. But on January 21, almost 20,000 indigenous people, a sector representing practically 40% of the population, held a rally in the centre of Quito to demand his resignation. With the backing of a military group led by General Carlos Mendoza, head of the Armed Forces Joint Command, they entered Congress and announced the formation of a civilian-military junta. The demands of the indigenous people were for land, for resources to be given to their communities, and recognition of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities (CONAIE), as well as the demands for social reforms and an end to corruption. After consulting US officials and under threat from the country’s business sector, General Mendoza dissolved the junta, and the military commanders handed over authority to Gustavo Noboa.

Antonio Vargas, president of CONAIE, affirmed that the indigenous population feels betrayed by the armed forces and predicted a possible civil war, given the widespread poverty and misery of the Ecuadorian people. Antonio Vargas in a statement to the press said: "We do not support Noboa; in fact we are going to continue fighting to implement a junta of national salvation, which cannot be attained for now, but it will, because for us the need for it is still valid."

The new president formed a cabinet and announced that he is to continue with the dollarisation of the country’s economy, a policy which led to a decline in the purchasing power of the indigenous population, the poorest section of the community in Ecuador. Antonio Vargas has stressed: "We are opposed to dollarisation, privatisation and payment of the foreign debt."

Ecuador's dire economic crisis brought inflation of 60.7% in 1999, caused gross domestic product to contract by 27% and led the government to declare a moratorium on its foreign public debt of about $16 billion. The local currency, the sucre, devalued by 67% in the year. With unemployment running at 17% the reasons for the prevailing unrest among Ecuador's 12.4 million people can be fully understood.

The Organisation of American States (OAS) and the US government described the popular forces as undemocratic, while offering support for Noboa’s government. The European Union condemned the overthrow of President Mahuad and urged dialogue between what it called "all sectors" to restore stability. Portugal, speaking as the EU president, said that hasty actions could jeopardise development in the oil-producing state. It said that the EU would continue to monitor developments in Ecuador closely, adding that it was in contact with the OAS and the Group of Rio, a group of South American countries, about the situation.

The British government condemned what it termed an "unconstitutional coup". Foreign Office Minister John Battle said in statement, "Since the era of military-led regimes in the 1970s and 1980s, Latin America had been moving in the right direction toward entrenching democratic values."

One woman in Quito, the capital, quoted by agency reports said, "Noboa or Mahuad, there’s no difference. They all have to go. We’re worse off and nothing is going to change."

According to many reports, the popular and democratic forces are saying that the struggle must continue against the dollarisation, for a moratorium on the foreign debt, against privatisation and other neo-liberal measures, against corruption, and in defence of national sovereignty and for democratic and social rights.

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