Home > Website archive > News and media > News archives > 2015 > 11 > LSE Diplomacy Commission warns of crisis of confidence for Britain's foreign policy

LSE Diplomacy Commission warns of crisis of confidence for Britain's foreign policy

DiplomacyThe UK has become increasingly insular, with a succession of governments shying away from significant foreign policy engagements. As a result, British foreign policy lacks a clear purpose and suffers from an incoherent approach to the distribution of resources.

This is one of the conclusions of the LSE Diplomacy Commission report, published today (9 November). The Commission was convened by LSE IDEAS, LSE's Foreign Policy think-tank, to understand Britain's place in the world and included amongst its members Dr Tarak Barkawi, Pauline Neville-Jones, and Stephen King.

It calls for the government to recognise this crisis of confidence and take a broader approach to foreign policy rather than thinking in terms of narrow British interests. The Commission argues that the UK’s diverse society, language, centrality to global finance and significant soft power make it particularly well placed to act as a global diplomatic power. Its strengths, however, are being eroded by an increasingly insular view of Britain’s place in the world and funding cuts to the Foreign Commonwealth Office, which has turned the country into a “reluctant internationalist”.

This can be seen in the government’s current ambivalence towards European integration, its approach to immigration, in particular restrictions on student visas, and to the refugee crisis. These attitudes, along with the dominance of narrow commercial interests in recent British foreign policy, the Commission states, threaten to undermine not only the dynamism of British economy and culture, but also damage Britain’s reputation as an open and fair society.

The Commission stresses that Britain operates in a complex and increasingly globalised international system .The UK, being home to the most ethno-culturally diverse society in the world, is 'hyperconnected' within that system: a unique advantage that provides an opportunity for Britain to play significant convening and entrepreneurial roles in addressing global challenges.

However, the Commission notes that for too long the UK’s approach to international strategy has failed to engage the realities and experiences of its diverse society. And in recent years the protection of particular departments over others has built arbitrary and peculiar incentives into the process of strategy: the report brands mandatory GDP-based targets for departmental budgets as "strategically and economically incoherent".

The report calls for foreign policy to be the subject of a broad and open debate that includes all elements of British society, and that thinks strategically about the UK’s role in the world.

Dr Nicholas Kitchen, Executive Director of the LSE Diplomacy Commission, said:

“The UK is a significant international actor, but in recent years it has been at best absent from key global debates and at worst actively insular, with foreign policy dominated by narrow commercial concerns. This approach ignores the UK’s international assets and threatens to undermine our influence in the long term. We need a change in strategic mentality that recognises the key role of diplomacy in sustaining our networks and connections, and that enables the UK to be at the table on international issues and prepared to do more than just its fair share." 

Susan Scholefield, who served on the Commission following a long career in government, said: 

Our country needs the most skilful diplomats we have ever produced to support our Government's foreign policy in these interesting times.

The important work of this Commission offers expert advice on the challenges we could face and how to find and develop the remarkable people we need now and in the years to come.”

Professor Michael Cox, Director of LSE IDEAS, said:

“We convened the Diplomacy Commission because we recognised a deep sense of disquiet and drift within the UK diplomatic community. What we propose here may not solve that overnight – it is not a blueprint for policy – but it is a call to debate: for UK citizens of all backgrounds to reengage with foreign policy and for foreign policy specialists to reimagine the role of diplomacy. Britain has always benefitted from being an open and globally connected society, this report offers the opportunity for us to renew our commitment to international order."

More on Investing for Influence: the report of the LSE Diplomacy Commission at  www.lse.ac.uk/influence



LSE IDEAS Communications Officer Joseph Barnsley: J.Barnsley@lse.ac.uk

Dr Nicholas Kitchen, LSE IDEAS, n.j.kitchen@lse.ac.uk

Or Jess Winterstein, LSE Press Office, 020 7955 7060, j.winterstein@lse.ac.uk

Notes for editors

About the Commission

LSE IDEAS, LSE's foreign policy think-tank, convened the Diplomacy Commission as a forum for informed, private and strategic discussion on the future of British diplomacy and foreign policy. We sought Commissioners with experience at highest levels of government, the civil service and the intelligence services, and put them together with perspectives from journalism, civil society and academic expertise from the LSE and beyond. The Commission conducted its work through a series of hearings, where expert witnesses presented evidence to the Commissioners and answered questions from them. To promote discussion, these hearings took place in private and witnesses will remain anonymous. They included expert practitioners and academics from diverse fields: from finance to cyber, from international development to counter-terrorism, from transnational business to charities and NGOs. The discussion and debate of Commissioners stimulated and informed by those Hearings are summarised in the report.

Members of the LSE Diplomacy Commission:

Sir Michael Aaronson is a Professorial Research Fellow and Director of CII – the Centre for International Intervention - at the University of Surrey. 

Professor Michael Cox is Founding Co-Director of LSE IDEAS and Emeritus Professor at the International Relations Department at the LSE.

Dr Tarak Barkawi is Reader in the Department of International Relations, London School of Economics.

Sir Richard Dearlove is currently the Master of Pembroke College Cambridge and newly appointed Chair of Trustees of the University of London. He served as Chief of the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) from August 1999 until his retirement in July 2004.

Professor Rosemary Foot is Professor of International Relations, and the John Swire Senior Research Fellow at St Antony's College, Oxford University.

Professor Christopher Hill is Sir Patrick Sheehy Professor of International Relations, and Head of the Department of Politics and International Studies (POLIS).

Lord Frank Judd is an Emeritus Governor of LSE and Labour Peer since 1991.  He has served as Minister for Overseas Development in 1976-77 and Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office between 1977-79. 

Bridget Kendall was appointed as BBC diplomatic correspondent in November 1998.

Stephen King is HSBC’s Group Chief Economist.

Jonathan Luff is a former diplomat and advisor to the Prime Minister on innovation and international issues.

Sebastian Mallaby is the Paul A. Volcker senior fellow for international economics at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).

Sir Christopher Meyer is a former British ambassador the United States and Germany, as well as former chairman of Press Complaints Commission.

Baroness Pauline Neville-Jones is a former BBC Governor and Chairman of the British Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC).

Gideon Rachman became chief foreign affairs columnist for the Financial Times in July 2006. He joined the FT after a 15-year career at The Economist, which included spells as a foreign correspondent in Brussels, Washington and Bangkok

Susan Scholefield held a distinguished career in the Civil Service. Roles in the Balkans Secretariat, Northern Ireland Office and in the Cabinet Office as head of the Civil Contingencies Secretariat were followed by a series of top level positions in the MOD culminating in her most recent role as Director General, Human Resources and Corporate Services.

Lord Wei of Shoreditch is the Chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for East Asian Business, Hong Kong Sub Committee Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on China (APPCG) and also the Treasurer of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Trade & Investment. He is the youngest member of the House of Lords and the only active ethnic Chinese member of it; additionally, he is the most senior ethnic Chinese politician in the European Union.


LSE IDEAS LSE's foreign policy think tank. Through sustained engagement with policymakers and opinion-formers, IDEAS provides a forum that informs policy debate and connects academic research with the practice of diplomacy and strategy. Find out more at www.lse.ac.uk/IDEAS

9 November 2015