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Finding Britain’s role in a changing world: Principles (and priorities) for Global Britain

Article by Adam Hug

September 8, 2020

Finding Britain’s role in a changing world: Principles (and priorities) for Global Britain

This publication explores the ethical basis on which the UK’s emerging post-Brexit foreign policy is being built, examining the principles and values that should help define it and looks at how they relate to the Government’s definition of the national interest. It then seeks to show how these principles and values inform the hard choices the UK has to make about defining its international priorities for the next decade and beyond. This discussion is framed by the UK Government’s Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy that will report this autumn; setting out the blueprint for the Government’s response to the challenges the UK faces that will then be expanded and implemented over the coming years.


We have come a long way since the post-Cold War optimism that provided the backdrop to the 1998 Strategic Defence Review and the optimism around the ‘ethical dimension’ of then Foreign Secretary Robin Cook underpinned by doctrines of both liberal internationalism  and its close cousin the liberal interventionism of Tony Blair’s Chicago speech; the latter trialled successfully on the smaller scales of Kosovo and Sierra Leone but undermined through overreach and misapplication to Iraq and other conflicts.[1] In the post-9/11 period the threats posed by terrorists and other non-state actors predominated, a legacy that to this day means for example MI5 focusing two thirds of its resources on Islamic terrorism and only 13 per cent for monitoring hostile state activity.[2] The strategic environment is also different to the world of the early 2010s, post-economic crash but still before some of its long-term effects came to full fruition, with policies and narratives framed by ideas of ‘enlightened national interest’ under Hague, Cameron and the coalition.[3] That approach, talking about interests and values to similar degrees and sometimes eliding the tensions between them, prevails to some extent under the current Government. However, it is set against an even more volatile international and domestic political backdrop, as well as the generational shift in the UK’s global position as a result of Brexit, a process shaped by domestic political processes and the role of public opinion. The Integrated Review comes at a time when a post-Brexit Britain is forging its own new trade policy and is more able to operate diplomatically beyond the partial constraints and cushions of the EU’s common foreign and security policy, but faces uncertainty over the future of the transatlantic relationship and wider international order.


Global Challenges

From both an ethical and practical standpoint this publication argues that the UK’s evolving foreign policy needs to have at its centre a coherent and strategic response to the sustained global erosion of liberal democracy and the buckling of the post-war (both WWII and Cold) architecture of the rule-based world order.[4] Since the mid-2000s, despite occasional bright spots, democratic practice and human rights standards, such as civic space and freedom of speech, have been in retreat across the world, with countries in the UK’s wider neighbourhood such as Hungary and Turkey declining significantly.[5] The impact of COVID-19 has further emboldened authoritarians and those who seek to emulate them.[6] Understanding of the systemic threat posed by a Russia, actively seeking to disrupt and undermine Western-led systems, has been clear for some time but grows more so day-by-day. Even during 2020 there has been a sea-change in perceptions of the challenge posed by China in the wake of COVID-19, the Hong Kong national security law and the persecution of the Uighurs, putting China sceptics who have long warned of both growing repression and a more assertive Chinese approach to foreign policy under Xi Jinping in the ascendancy.


Russia and China do not seek to zealously promote a particular overarching political philosophy (albeit Russia has to varying extents promoted an anti-liberal traditionalism and China has promoted expansive conceptions of state sovereignty and power to support their wider approach).[7] However they are united by a critique of Western meddling in the affairs of other countries, challenging past and current Western imperialism (both real and imagined).[8] This is not to say that global democratic decline is driven solely at the behest of these actors, as local authoritarians are perfectly capable of seizing their own opportunities, but this high-level disruption has combined with Western disunity and introspection to place the cause of democracy and open societies on the back foot in much of the world. The UK of course needs to be mindful of these anti-Western narratives, addressing where they are built from a kernel (or more) of truth and the failings on which such narratives feed, without being cowed by them. Recent positive signs, such as Armenia’s Velvet Revolution in 2018 and the massive protest movement in Belarus at time of writing show the enduring attractiveness of freedom from oppression and government accountability, particularly when such principles can be decoupled from great power rivalries. However, recent history is full of examples where the international community has failed to take opportunities to consolidate positive change leading to further international fatigue and cynicism.[9]


So the presence of revisionist powers, and the growing confidence of individual authoritarian and semi-authoritarian states, pose many challenges to an international order also contending with an unprecedented international public health emergency that is triggering the second seismic global economic crisis in 12 years, instability in the future of the transatlantic relationship, and the ongoing structural shift in economic and political gravity towards Asia.[10] The panglossian assumptions of some a few decades ago of an inevitable march towards greater freedoms, openness and global cooperation, are long in the rear view mirror as history came back with a vengeance, if the UK plays an active and cooperative role on the world stage to help reverse this systemic decline there is hope that progress can again be made.


In short it is a challenging environment for the UK’s post Brexit Foreign Policy to operate in but one, which if handled with care could provide new opportunities for the UK to be a force for good in the world whilst protecting what it sees as its core interests. The UK would need to be as proactive as it can be in reaffirming its commitments to international engagement as, irrespective of the goals of its advocates, the UK’s departure from the EU has added to the sense of instability in the international rule-based order, as Nicholas Wright and others point out in this collection, thereby placing an onus on the UK to show it remains a committed international player.


To meet the Government’s proposed high-level outcomes for UK foreign policy, such as ‘a secure, stable and prosperous Euro-Atlantic neighbourhood’ and a ‘world order in which open societies and economies flourish’, taking an active role in defending the principles of liberal democracy and open societies are not only the right thing to do from an ethical standpoint, but essential from a strategic perspective so that a UK ‘open from a position of strength’ can flourish.[11] As a middle power with an internationally focused economy and set of strategic assets, it is of critical importance to show support for shared and applied international rules and a system where the balance of power remains with fellow democracies.[12]


As Michael Allen points out in his essay these objectives will need to be argued for from first principles upwards, as the legacy of recent reverses and the current challenges facing the international order mean that simply asserting the supremacy of liberal democracy and rules-based cooperation will likely be self-defeating. This will involve reinforcing the principles of liberal democracy as being rooted in informed popular consent, with protections in place for dissent amongst those currently in the minority (but may not always be so) rather than simply focusing on specific structures that have arisen in predominantly Western contexts to deliver on those principles.


Interests and Values

The Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has said that the ‘guiding lights’ for the current Integrated Review ‘will be free trade, democracy, human rights and the international rule of law’.[13] The Integrated Review’s call for evidence similarly describes the Government’s vision as being ‘that in 2030 the UK will be stronger, wealthier, more equal, more sustainable, more united across nations and regions’, saying that ‘the UK will remain distinctively open and global, working with our allies as a problem-solving and burden-sharing nation’.[14] The Prime Minister has talked supportively of these values too, but both have been clear in consistently repeating that the Government seeks to act internationally in the ‘national interest’. All UK governments have sought to publicly support both objectives, but different administrations have had different emphases when seeking to balance them.


As the essays in this collection show interests and values can be mutually reinforcing, particularly at a strategic level and in the context of the wider defence of liberal democratic values and a rule-based order outlined above. As Allen argues in his essay, responding to challenges by revisionist powers by defending a country’s values should be a core national interest for any foreign policy.[15] Politicians and campaigners regularly seek to minimise the tension between the two objectives in order to advance their goals and avoid challenging debates. However, as both Jamie Gaskarth and Jonathan Gilmore point out, a narrowly defined national interest and values are not always in alignment, particularly in the short-term. This author would strongly argue that while certain values-led actions may not fit within a short-term, tactical assessment of the national interest, they may still serve the UK’s strategic objectives and therefore an understanding of the long-term national interest. Yet sadly even when using a long-term perspective beyond even the most patient of politicians it is important to recognise that there will still be cases where the two priorities may not align (often where the long-term benefits of the values approach are hard to quantify) and the balance will need to be shaped by the priorities of the Government of the day. This is an area where greater openness and honesty about the reasons why certain decisions are being made would be helpful for accountability and trust as Gilmore suggests.


In his essay Gaskarth calls for rooting ethical decision-making in a deeper understanding of public opinion, setting out a possible ‘listen, reflect, explain, respond’ approach for policy development, something that may well find support in this particular government given its extensive use of polling and focus group work to hone its messages and understand public attitudes. This is an area also focused on by Catarina Thomson, Thomas Scotto and Jason Reifler who draw from their 2018 public opinion data which shows that when asked to prioritise values and interests the great British public, unsurprisingly, finds itself almost directly in the middle, falling slightly either side depending on question wording. Their data also shows, again not unsurprisingly given its sometime use as a political football, that the concept of ‘human rights’ while still popular overall is significantly less supported than many of its constituent principles when they are polled on independently. Referencing different data in her essay, Kate Ferguson notes that the principle of supporting the ‘vulnerable abroad’ received 87.4 per cent public support, while tackling ‘the root causes of migration, violence and instability’ received 86.7 per cent support, and 66 per cent believe it is important that Britain helps protect people in other countries from atrocities such as genocide and ethnic cleansing.[16]


Gaskarth sees the concept of the ‘national interest’ as one closely aligned with the concept of ‘public good’[17] – that is, the collective safety, prosperity and contentment of the political community of the UK, something similar to the Government’s strategic vision of a UK ‘stronger, wealthier, more sustainable, more united’.[18] His approach for assessing domestic interests is a helpful tool that can be set alongside the particular principles or ideology that the Government of the day wishes to promote internationally. However of course there needs to still be room for the application of good judgement, particularly where individual actions may have variable, delayed or diffuse impacts on a particular objective but the goal is of particular strategic importance (e.g. the protection of democratic and rule-based norms), there are potential diplomatic trade-offs or other hard to quantify second order effects. These are concerns that Gaskarth notes, regarding the need to consider long-term trends, arguing that ‘it is clearly in the national interest of a liberal democratic state to live in a stable international order, with more prosperity, less conflict and more freedom. But, our commitment to those public goods should always be linked back to the costs they impose on UK citizens and the benefits.’ It is also worth being wary of a purely case by case or ‘what works’ approach to individual decisions in the absence of a clear ethical and policy framework. This is due to the risk of the aggregate impact of side effects (negative externalities) mounting up to undermine the overall legitimacy of wider policies or systems.


While the UK’s foreign policy has to have buy-in from its citizens to ensure its continuing credibility, such an approach must leave enough room for the Government to shape public understanding and sentiment (perhaps externally influencing the explain and respond sections of Gaskarth’s model process), the ‘need to lead’. Gilmore describes this approach as public diplomacy ‘directed at the British, rather than overseas publics’ to help the evolution of domestic attitudes, particularly given the understandably infrequent attention given to foreign policy issues by many citizens. With this in mind, there is a strong case to clearly explain and show the systemic risks outlined above that authoritarian states pose to the UK’s security and economic wellbeing to broaden the domestic political constituency beyond those that currently particularly value defending democracy and human rights in and of themselves. Such an approach does of course have echoes of the societal efforts used in response to the Cold War and getting the balance right between awareness and alarmism will require political skill and sensitivity to navigate. There is a case for increased public education around the reasons behind potential trade-offs that could for example see reduced access to Chinese originated goods and services (from Tik Tok to early access to 5G) if the situation continues to escalate. One area in particular that can effectively bridge the values and interests divide is around issues of governance, transparency and accountability. This agenda can marry opportunities to improve standards here in the UK with the need to evidence value for money for the UK taxpayer of its international spending and by making UK’s international partners more accountable to their own citizens.


It is hoped that the Integrated Review can help provide an overarching vision and set of principles that can span the post-Brexit fault lines and provide opportunities for the cross party agreement necessary for the durable strategic approach needed to respond to the seriousness of the international situation. At time of writing at a policy level- recent cross-party agreement on the use of ’Magnitsky’ personal sanctions against human rights abusers, the response to the Belarus protests, the Navalny poisoning and China’s national security law in Hong Kong gives some hope that some elements of a shared agenda can be found, whilst understanding that deep philosophical, political and policy divides will remain in some areas.


There is little point at this stage in rehashing the arguments over the costs and benefits of membership of the EU for the UK’s foreign policy, nor given the trajectory of the Brexit negotiations of what the kind of close Foreign and Security partnership proposed under the May administration (envisioned in part as leverage for economic access but also to support a somewhat more gradualist international approach to post-Brexit) would mean for UK Foreign Policy. Therefore, when considering what the principles and practice of Global Britain should be under this Government, it is essential to look at how the UK’s freedom of action outside of the EU’s foreign policy architecture can enable British policy to be more nimble and able to take a lead on important issues. With a nod to the ‘float like a butterfly, sting like a bee’ strategy of Muhammed Ali it should aim to show that ‘taking back control’ translates to a renewed international self-confidence rather than taking its ball home.[19] To deploy another well-used phrase, the UK needs to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time by being both able to take swifter action where former EU partners may be slowed by the aim to seek consensus, but also showing it is still willing to put in the hard yards behind the scenes in multilateral institutions to develop common positions where behind this would better achieve the desired outcome.


Areas for caution

A principle or values-based approach to foreign policy needs to be rooted in what the UK does, both at home and internationally, rather than just what it says. As Gaskarth points out, rather than automatically assuming the universality of our ethics, the UK needs, where appropriate, to translate them into the language and practices of other communities and make the case for how they can serve the interests of their citizens (and their governments) to limit reflexive defensive reactions where possible and reduce the likelihood of ‘bandwagoning’ with other ostracised parties. This is not to retreat from advocating for values derived from the principles of universal human capabilities, particularly where states have signed up to relevant UN or other international treaties endorsing these values. It is a question of getting the tactics right to make an impact and to recognise the complex baggage (both good, ill and viewed differently in different parts of the world) that the UK can bring with it, whilst retaining confidence in the UK’s ability to be a force for good. Getting our own house in order is imperative on issues around tackling corruption, arms control and military support, climate policy and many other issues.[20] This will help add moral weight to the UK’s diplomacy and enhance its attractive, soft power, helping it better navigate an more fractured and fractious international environment and engage fellow democracies in Africa, Asia and Latin America that understandably have a perspective on the current international order and its history that is far from uniformly positive.[21]


While it is tempting, to package advocacy of open societies and economies together it can be risky. This is not to say that a government that values both liberal societies and free market economies should not seek to promote the two goals, the UK has a long track record of encouraging both, but rather that it should avoid conflating the two. In these turbulent times it needs restating that liberal democracy is not contingent on (neo) liberal economics. Some populists, of both right and left, have been able to draw support from those who have suffered from the downsides of free and globalised markets to lead projects that seek to undermine liberal democratic institutions themselves to entrench their own power. Many, including this author, would strongly argue that for the liberal democratic project to remain successful much more needs to be done to address the inequalities that can arise from interconnected markets and tackle issues around transnational kleptocracy and tax avoidance that breeds understandable cynicism in the status quo.[22]


However the decision on whether and how to (re)allocate the costs and benefits of globalisation or to reduce or reframe a countries exposure to it needs to be decided democratically. Free societies where leaders are chosen democratically and are ultimately accountable to their people must be the first priority. They then need to be allowed to choose the economic systems that work best for them, a lesson sometimes still forgotten by international financial institutions, while leaving space for international advice and advocacy of preferred economic models without undue pressure.[23] Indeed a lesson of the Brexit process is in recognising the value placed in the importance of democratic control over policy and decision-making, an input legitimacy separate from perceptions of the potential costs or benefits of any outcomes. Particularly if placed in de facto competition with the type of authoritarian state capitalist system being refined in China, liberal democracy’s ability to support a diverse range of economic models and policies needs to be promoted as a strength.


The Prime Minister’s Commons Statement announcing the merger of the FCO and DFID potentially signalled a number of important changes. Firstly, it suggested that while poverty reduction would remain a central focus for British aid spending and the mission of the new department, it would be as one of a number of core priorities (including human rights, climate and crucially the ‘values and interests of this country’ at the same time) rather than being first among equals as it was in DFID. Finding an appropriate and equitable balance between similarly important goals of poverty reduction, human rights, good governance and conflict prevention can prove challenging particularly when, usually due to authoritarian or corrupt governments, these otherwise highly compatible goals may not align in the short term. However, it is worth reiterating that this is an area on which UK Aid has already made considerable progress in recent years. How this Government will define national interest in this context is a central question as discussed above and elsewhere in this collection. One area where greater clarity and reassurance would be welcomed is around how the ‘commercial priorities’ mentioned in the Parliamentary debate will work with this wider agenda, while noting the Prime Minister’s firm commitment on no return to tied aid and with mutually positive framings on trade possible as set out below.


Secondly, the Prime Minister’s remarks underlined the importance of enhancing the UK’s engagement in the wider European Neighbourhood, highlighting the need to increase support to Ukraine and the Western Balkans (contrasting this with traditional DFID support for Zambia and Tanzania).[24] This approach would seem to build from an assessment of the UK’s security interests and the global concerns highlighted above. This has been reinforced by the IR’s high-level commitment to a ‘secure, stable and prosperous Euro-Atlantic neighbourhood’, which while far from a new priority for foreign policy, may have a significant impact for aid-spending and indeed for defence posture, potentially shifting away to some extent from ‘out of area’ activities.


Irrespective of the strategic merits of this potential shift, it is worth being clear that any aid reprioritisation will be felt even more keenly at this time of budgets being squeezed, such as through the recent aid cuts due to the COVID-19 related drop in the UK’s GNI. If there is a shift in aid resources away from poverty reduction and Africa it comes with some potential risks not only to potential deeper Commonwealth cooperation, but in the context of well over a decade of expanding Chinese influence in Africa and across the developing world (including through the huge Belt and Road initiative in China’s neighbourhood). While the Chinese focus on supporting infrastructure development without direct conditionality has been popular, there has been growing concern about the new debt burden to China potentially acting as a source of political leverage.[25] It also comes at a time of when Russia is playing an increasingly expansive role in not only the post-Soviet space and Middle East, but also now expanding its military and mercenary involvement in Africa.[26] So while redeploying resources the UK must not vacate the field.


If UK aid flows to Africa and other parts of the developing world do drop, it makes it imperative that the UK uses its new trade policy creatively in ways that support the UK’s values as well as its interests, with a clear focus on supporting poverty reduction in partner countries alongside clear and actionable commitments on human rights. Focusing new trade deals on supporting economic development in partner countries, would help meet the Government’s manifesto commitment to ‘do more to help countries currently receiving aid become self-sufficient’ whilst strengthening bilateral economic ties and strategic cooperation.[27]


A pivot to the UK’s Euro-Atlantic Neighbourhood will need to consider the extent to which the UK has previously worked with or through EU mechanisms, such as in Ukraine, Moldova, the Western Balkans and the South Caucasus where Eastern Partnership, and for some countries putative future enlargement, are still an important part of the landscape. Effective UK policy in this region will require enhanced engagement with regional institutions notably the OSCE (and in some areas with the Council of Europe) as well as through boosting bilateral diplomacy. Though institutions with many challenges, the OSCE and Council of Europe’s mechanisms play a vital role in trying to defend values of democratic elections, media freedom and human rights against increasing pressure from their more authoritarian member states.[28] In this context, it is deeply worrying that the UK Government seems to be reviewing its continuing participation in international election observation. At time when the OSCE is under pressure and fake monitors are trying to undermine trust in elections it is essential for the UK’s values and its commitment to the Euro-Atlantic region, for British foreign policy to be protecting the gold standard of the OSCE ODHIR’s long-term missions rather than potentially undermining it.


Image by FCO under (CC).


[1] Whilst there is neither the time nor space to write down the full list of failings of the Iraq war, one area that is relevant to here is that the way in which UK participation was framed domestically as a liberal intervention against an out of control dictator (and to some extent tried pursue objectives that ran in line with this). In a way that did not entirely mesh with US objectives and arguments ranging from the related but distinct neo-conservatism (see here for some differences: David Bosco, What divides neocons and liberal interventionists, Foreign Policy, April 2012, to a blunt assertion of US regional interests and the American domestic political opportunity to act provided in the wake of 9/11. This analysis above seeks to make a differentiation between Liberal Internationalism and Liberal Interventionism, when the terms are sometimes used synonymously (as indeed Liberal Interventionism and Neo-conservatism sometimes are by their critics). As framed here it sees all three as overlapping positions in the realm of values focused foreign policy placed on a spectrum relating on the one hand relating to the importance role of military intervention and on the other to the importance of international law and institutions (running from a Liberal Internationalism more sceptical on proactive military intervention but in-favour of work through international and multilateral forums through to, put crudely, neo-Conservative preferences for more war and less law). Beyond these frameworks are also a range of socialist, radical and increasingly now traditionalist or nationalist internationalisms- for more on the latter see: The Rise of the Casey Michel,‘Traditionalist International’ March 2017, People for the American Way,

[2] Russian interference highlights Britain’s political failings, The Economist, July 2020,

[3] FCO and The Rt Hon William Hague, Britain’s Foreign Policy in a Networked World, Government, July 2010,–2; See also the 2010 National Security Strategy and the Strategic Defence and Security Review – UK Government, A Strong Britain in an Age of Uncertainty, October 2010,

[4] The democratic system of government in which individual rights and freedoms are officially recognised and protected, and the exercise of political power is limited by the rule of law and with pluralist political organisation and free and fair elections. This essay contribution does not in any way argue for uniformity in political structures or policy outcomes merely that citizens of each country should be freely able to decide what they should be, with space protected for a range of different views;

[5] The Freedom House rankings have shown consistent decline in global freedoms since 2005: Freedom House, Freedom in the World 2019: Democracy in Retreat,

[6] Shadi Hamid, Reopening the World: How the pandemic is reinforcing authoritarianism, Brookings, June 2020,

[7] The rise of illiberal civil society in the former Soviet Union?, FPC, July 2018,; The information battle: How governments in the former Soviet Union promote their agendas & attack their opponents abroad, FPC, March 2017,; and, Sharing worst practice: How countries and institutions in the former Soviet Union help create legal tools of repression, FPC, May 2016, These reports show both the role played by Russia and China in encouraging the reduction in freedoms but focus on the agency of local regimes and political actors. Michael Allen’s essay in this collection also outlines these issues in detail.

[8] While Russia and China share an antipathy towards many aspects of ‘the West’ and work together to promote authoritarian collaboration through the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) it would be wrong to see them as a uniform block- not least because to strategic concerns Russia over the security of its far-Eastern territory and some nervousness (albeit mostly suppressed) over China’s rapid expansion into Central Asia and to a lesser extent the South Caucasus through Belt and Road.

[9] For example the failure to properly support political transition in Ukraine both in 2005 and since 2014, the later albeit substantially impacted by Russian invasion.

[10] Revisionist powers are driving the world’s crises, Financial Times, June 2014,; Cabinet Office, Integrated Review: call for evidence, August 2020,

[11] Government, Integrated Review: call for evidence (PDF), The list of high level outcomes it sets out are:

  • a more resilient UK: open from a position of strength;
  • a secure, stable and prosperous Euro-Atlantic neighbourhood, which enables our security and prosperity at home;
  • a world order in which open societies and economies flourish;
  • a more resilient world, well on the path to net zero by 2050;
  • strong science, technology & data capabilities; and
  • a reformed and refocused approach to defence underpinning all of the above

[12] As addressed below in this essay, this is not to say all democracies will necessarily support the UK or wider Western perspectives, particularly given colonial legacies that shape international attitudes in a number of cases, something the UK and others need to continue to do more to understand and respond sensitively (such as by improving the UK’s ethical practices and using new tools such as its trade policy to promote pro-poor growth in developing state partners) to if it is to build wider and deeper diplomatic alliances.

[13] Dominic Raab – 2020 Statement on Britain in the World, UK POL, January 2020,

[14] Cabinet Office, Integrated Review: call for evidence, August 2020,

[15] And it is to some extent exactly what those revisionist powers are doing themselves, albeit where national interest is made synonymous with protecting the interests of their autocratic rulers.

[16]Attest and Protection Approaches, ‘British society – How do you feel? 2019’, social attitude survey, January 2019 from Kate Ferguson’s essay in this collection.

[17] See Edmunds, T. Gaskarth, J. and Porter, R. British Foreign Policy and the National Interest. Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2014; Kratochwil, F.  ‘On the notion of “interest” in international relations’ International Organization, 36,1,1982: 1-30.

[18] Also Cabinet Office, Integrated Review: call for evidence, August 2020,

[19] To the extent such an approach can be taken by a country of the UK’s size and reputation. The UK of course would wish to avoid the terminal outcome experienced by the bee upon completion of the stinging process, something that in the relative absence of the institutional backup and political cover provided by EU joint positions will involve both strategy and precision to pull off effectively.

[20] Addressed later in this publication series and previously in Finding Britain’s role in changing world, FPC and Oxfam, March 2020,

[21] Hans Kundnani, What is the Liberal International Order?, The German Marshall Fund of the United States, May 2017 gives a good analysis of

[22] For example Ikenberry highlights the problems caused to liberal international systems by growing inequality and the conflation of globalisation with the liberal international political order, G John Ikenberry, The Next Liberal Order, July 2020,

[23] There is not the time or space here (nor frankly the need given the weight of literature on the topic) to chronical the impacts of debt and other lending being used to push particular economic policies on developing and other debtor countries, from the ‘structural adjustment’ of the 1990s to 2009 Greek debt crisis. Both the often-significant inequality and the overriding of domestic political preferences in favour of those of the lenders have played their part in sapping trust in the post-cold war international order. This does not preclude donor advocacy of their preferred economic strategies, nor completely rule out conditionality on transparency and human rights grounds as well as ensuring a reasonable prospect of repayment but without forcing sovereign governments to adopt a donor’s economic approach against their will. Indeed, in this author’s humble opinion, perhaps one of the decisions that has most led to the undermining of the liberal international order and liberal democracy was the use of Russia as a laboratory for ‘economic shock theory’ (as well as the lack of a ‘Marshal Plan for Russia comparable with the level of investment and support provided to former Eastern bloc states outside the former Soviet Union) that played such an important role in its failure to transition to being a stable democracy and becoming instead the global disruptor it is today (though it is worth noting that more than in some other country cases such policies found support in sections of the early 90s Russian elite).

[24] DFID, FCO, Prime Minister’s Office, 10 Downing Street, and The Rt Hon Boris Johnson MP, Prime Minister’s statement to the House of Commons: 16 June 2020, Government, June 2020,; The Prime Minister (Boris Johnson), Global Britain, House of Commons Hansard, June 2020,

[25] A recent Chatham House paper, by Lee Jones and Shahar Hameiri highlights the importance of not overstating this case, particularly in relation to asset seizure. (See Lee Jones and Shahar Hameiri, Debunking the Myth of ‘Debt-trap Diplomacy’: How Recipient Countries Shape China’s Belt and Road Initiative, August 2020, However, from the FPC’s own work in Central Asia for example it is clear that Belt and Road creates leverage both from the good will generated in some cases and in the way debt can be used to ensure Chinese interests are prioritised, as for example in the case of gas flow prioritisation from Turkmenistan as set out in the 2019 Spotlight on Turkmenistan publication (Adam Hug ed., Spotlight on Turkmenistan, July 2019, Of course it is important to consider the ways in which debt was used by Western Countries and the International Financial institutions to enforce dubious and often harmful economic programmes on the debtor country, something that led to the somewhat successful efforts in the late 90s and 2000s to ‘drop the debt’. The hope is to try and learn from the mistakes of the past rather than repeat them.

[26] Anadolu Agency, Russia to build military bases in 6 African countries: Report, Daily Sabah, August 2020,; Svoboda Radio, Twitter Post, Twitter, July 2020,

[27] The Conservative and Unionist Party Manifesto 2019, Get Brexit done: Unleash Britain’s Potential,; Whilst more detail on what such arrangements might look like will be set out in future publications in this series new UK trade deals should seek to support rather than undermine regional trade integration by partner countries, learning from the mistakes of the EU’s Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) in Africa and with an emphasis on it being a partnership. The UK should seek to give developing country partners greater flexibility on tariffs, including a more flexible interpretation of the ‘substantially all’ requirement so they can protect infant industries, longer phasing periods and a pro-development use of schedules; along with rules of origin requirements that work to support regional cooperation in supply chains rather than pull against it (except in cases relating to contents subject to conflict or human rights restrictions); and the maximum policy space possible to allow them to implement rules in ways most suitable to their development. The UK should be wary of reliance on ISDS and instead look to coordinate with its aid policy by supporting rule of law initiatives in partner countries. For discussion on this issue see: Royal African Society and APPG on Africa, The Future of Africa-UK Trade and Development Cooperation Relations in the Transitional and Post-Brexit Period, February 2017,; and the upcoming contributions in this series by Ruth Bergan who advised on the suggestions above.

[28] As documented in the FPC’s Institutionally Blind series

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