Iraq ‘disastrous’ for UK foreign policy, report claims

The UK’s involvement in Iraq risks undermining its future efforts towards an ethical foreign policy and inflaming global insecurity, two critical reports have concluded.

The “disastrous” intervention in Iraq has undermined the UK’s influence abroad, an Oxfam report concludes. However, as Tony Blair prepares to leave Downing Street, it calls on his successor not to allow the prime minister’s legacy in the Middle East to deter future attempts at humanitarian intervention.

Iraq must be not allowed to become another Somalia, Oxfam urges, noting that the failed UN intervention in Somalia is widely held responsible for the international community’s inability to then act to prevent the genocide in Rwanda.

While public opinion has turned against the war in Iraq, there is still considerable support for an ethical foreign policy, the report claims, pointing to the Make Poverty History campaign as evidence of Britons’ commitment to helping civilians around the world.

The Liberal Democrats welcomed Oxfam’s report as proof Iraq has undermined the UK’s ability to fight human rights abuses and missed the opportunity for an ethical foreign policy.

“The disaster in Iraq has squandered British influence abroad,” said foreign affairs spokesman Michael Moore. “Despite everything, people in Britain are still willing to support a principled foreign policy with an emphasis on sorting out humanitarian disasters.”

When Mr Blair first came to power he promised to champion an ethical foreign policy, after what was seen as an inward looking and overly cautious approach followed by the Major government.

Mr Blair has gone on to dispatch UK troops overseas more than other recent prime minister. Despite criticism from some, early interventions, such as Kosovo, were widely interpreted as following a humanitarian agenda.

But support for Mr Blair’s foreign policy has declined since his close involvement with the US-led ‘war on terror’, which emerged after the September 11th terrorist attacks.

Oxfam’s A Fair Foreign Policy concedes that much of the criticism for Iraq is justified but it would be “dangerous” to now adopt a more cautious approach. Instead Mr Blair’s successor must acknowledge the UK’s failings and say “never again”, both to past mistakes in Iraq and, as importantly, a past failure to act, for example in Bosnia or Rwanda.

Instead, the UK should seek a consistent multilateral foreign policy, involving international development and diplomacy.

The report recommends foreign policy follows five guiding principles: to actively work to protect civilians; to challenge abuses of humanitarian law and human rights; to deliver on policies like the Arms Trade Treaty which save lives through international agreement; to meet the challenges of the modern world, including new threats like terrorism; and strengthening multilateral institutions, with the UK taking the lead to reunite the UN.

The Foreign Office rejected Oxfam’s more damning claims but said it agreed with some conclusions.

A department spokesman said: “The UK has pursued an effective foreign policy in the last ten years, which has been values driven, activist and multilateralist. We have rightly focussed on ‘hard’ security issues such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kosovo and Sierra Leone as well as ‘softer’ issues such as climate change and poverty eradication.”

He continued: “We disagree that the UK now exercises less influence because of Iraq. On the contrary the UK remains at the heart of every major international debate and our influence as consensus builders is recognised worldwide. As the government has consistently argued, we also believe that our intervention in Iraq was justified.”

And the Department for International Development (DfID) maintained the UK is still pursuing humanitarian goals. A spokesman said: “DFID continues to deliver effective humanitarian support and aid to developing countries, lifting three million people out of poverty every year.

“In their most recent peer review last year, the OECD praised the UK’s humanitarian role around the world, noting that the UK is currently seen by many aid workers and donors as one of the models for development today.”

The Conservatives said Oxfam’s report posed a challenge to all governments to “give some muscle” to the UN’s Responsibility to Protect.

“At the moment this a concept of neither meaning nor effect for the millions of people languishing in terror in Darfur,” said Andrew Mitchell, shadow secretary of state for international development.

A second report from the Oxford Research Group has also been highly critical of the UK and US foreign policy, labelling it a “threat to world peace”. Beyond Terror: The Truth About the Real Threats to Our World argues foreign policy has “treated the symptoms” and not “cured the disease”.

The report argues a reluctance to take the radical changes needed to address the root causes of instability has led to rising support for political Islam, the re-emergence of the Taliban in Afghanistan, increasing global terror attacks and the a “state of bloody chaos nearing civil war” in Iraq.

A focus on terrorism had seen the US and UK ignore other global dangers, argued lead author Chris Abbot. “There is a clear and present danger – an increasingly marginalised majority living in an environmentally constrained world, where military force is more likely to be used to control the consequences of these dangerous divisions,” he said.

“Add to this the disastrous effects of climate change, and we are looking at a highly unstable global system by the middle years of the century unless urgent action is taken now.”