The Prime Minister will be deep in preparation for the Conservative party conference, which starts on Sunday. After Labour’s strong showing, he has some work to do.
For that reason not he but Nick Clegg spoke before the UN General Assembly in New York today. Addressing the chamber Clegg—perhaps having dipped into Karl Popper during his flight—stressed the “remarkable resilience of open societies and the acute need for international cooperation in today’s world.”
He reflected on the Arab Spring, setting out how in Libya and across the Middle East the west had helped to provide “the nuts and bolts of successful democratic transition.”
He then came to the three most pressing current international situations. First, he welcomed the progress that is being made in reaching an agreement on Syria’s chemical weapons, saying that “we hope to adopt very shortly a Security Council resolution establishing binding legal obligations on the Syrian regime, for the removal and destruction of Syria’s vast chemical weapons arsenal.”
Second, he spoke approvingly of comments made by President Hassan Rouhani of Iran, who spoke of his willingness to discuss his country’s development of nuclear technology. “I am pleased that negotiations on Iran’s nuclear programme will restart in October,” said Clegg. “If Iran’s words are followed by concrete steps,” he said “then there is a real opportunity to make progress in resolving the serious international concerns.”
And third, he heaped praise on John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, for engineering the peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians and reasserted the British government’s support of a two state solution.
Clegg also noted the aid money that Britain disburses and regarding Afghanistan, said that “we strongly believe that there is room for optimism about the country’s long-term future,” a view that is surely open to challenge.
In this way, he covered off the greatest international questions that the world must now confront. But it is striking to consider how peripheral Britain is in each case. British development aid and withdrawal from Afghanistan are of great significance—but the negotiations over Syria, Iran, and Israel are all being overseen by the US.
So now, when it comes to the most pressing foreign policy questions, is it Britain’s role to hop up and down and wait for the US to do something? It is not a comfortable question.
And if the answer is “yes,” is that a role that Britain must now accept?