Porous borders and unpredictable foreign policy

Philip Stevens in the FT today probes several issues that will preoccupy British foreign policy makers for generations to come, not least in an era of open borders how foreign policy can have profound impacts inside what were once entirely discrete entities – ie nation states.

The Foreign Office is keen to connect the myriad challenges of globalisation, from competition for finite energy resources to the cultural conflicts between the west and Islam. It is updating the strategic priorities which serve as a compass for Britain’s foreign policy. I have heard Douglas Alexander, the minister for Europe, speak convincingly of the shifting power relationships that now overlay and complicate classical diplomacy.

In a world of porous national borders, foreign and domestic policy are ever more intertwined. Instant communications alongside cheap travel mean that non-governmental organisations and, as during the recent cartoon controversy, the crowd in the street can be important foreign policy actors. Cultural and religious networks are a new and potent force in global affairs.

For all that, the parameters of British policy have remained fixed. The government’s outlook is rooted in an era when the Atlantic alliance was sufficient explanation of the national interest. Britain still sees itself as the pivotal power described by Harold Macmillan nearly half a century ago. Recalibrating its role to a different set of geopolitical contours thus becomes the task for Mr Blair’s successors.