Wilberforce’s Way

The Tories need a signature foreign policy issue. It should be genocide prevention

Few Conservatives would dispute the shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague’s injunction that “it is not in our character to have a foreign policy without a conscience: to be idle or uninterested while others starve or murder each other in their millions is not for us.” However, party leaders cannot expect to win sustained public support without proving that their brand of “liberal-conservative” foreign policy represents a clear alternative to the shabby dealings of the present government. To achieve this, the Conservative foreign policy agenda must convey a sense of renewed vision and purpose. One way to do to this is to identify a signature issue which symbolises the convergence of the national interest and the pursuit of international peace and security.  That issue should be genocide.

The persistence of genocide best illustrates the need for a foreign policy which recognises the intersection of principle and pragmatism, and the Tories can make this issue the flagship of a wide-ranging agenda of domestic and international reform. 

The international community’s failure to prevent and arrest genocide stands as the central moral challenge of the 21st century, and represents one of the greatest deficiencies of the postwar international system. The five genocides which have occurred since the Holocaust — Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, Darfur and Saddam Hussein’s campaign against the Kurds — have been
affronts to both human decency and global security. 

By addressing this undisputed evil, a Conservative government could begin to broach the problems which have allowed genocide to persist. These include the failures of the politicised Security Council and the practical implications of the groundbreaking “Responsibility to Protect” doctrine, which holds that sovereignty is contingent upon protecting one’s own population, and that the protections of sovereignty must be proscribed if the state ignores this responsibility. 

One early Conservative reform should be the establishment of a genocide-specific early warning apparatus within the Foreign Office, whose institutional culture has entrenched discredited paradigms and elevated process over results. Its obfuscatory stance towards Darfur is the most obvious and appalling example.

The moral case for putting genocide prevention on the agenda is consistent with a tradition of far-sighted foreign policy stretching back to William Wilberforce, of whom William Hague has written a well-received
biography. He would do well to reflect on one lesson of history: Wilberforce triumphed.

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