Six (wonky) things I’ll be looking for in tonight’s foreign policy debate…

Which leader is best able to talk convincingly about the global risks the UK faces?

In the past decade, all the key game changers have been international: 9/11, the food price spike, and the financial crisis. But the international agenda is much harder to explain to voters than local concerns about hospitals, schools, or crime. Which party has a coherent narrative about the UK’s place in the world?

Which leader is up for a fundamental rethink of everything the UK does internationally?

An accelerating shift in the global balance of power, combined with rapid technological change, mean that every aspect of the how the UK operates overseas should be open to question. Our diplomatic, military and development programmes are all struggling to meet policy objectives. Which party is prepared to countenance a genuinely fresh start?

Is all the UK’s international expenditure under review?

Only the Lib Dems are prepared to put Trident on the table. All parties assume that development spending will be ring fenced. And there’s a general assumption that the foreign service will continue to be starved for funds. But strategy (and the need to close the budget deficit) should drive funding decisions – not the need to protect sacred cows.

Does the leader have anything fresh to say about the UK’s alliances?

Can the European Union ever become an effective foreign policy actor? How? What policy results do we expect from the transatlantic relationship? Can the UK seize a brief window of opportunity to make the G20 function effectively? (BTW – ten points are subtracted from the first leader to get misty eyed about the Commonwealth.)

Who is most convincing on Afghanistan?

Clearly, the NATO mission in Afghanistan is in deep deep trouble – with few signs that the insurgency is being tamed or that the Karzai government is getting a grip on the country’s problems. Something has to change, but I’ve no idea what. Does Cameron, Clegg or Brown?

What about the NPT review?

Doha and Copenhagen have shown that the international system is unable to cope with global problems. The odds suggest that the NPT will fail as well, as the pace of nuclear proliferation picks up. The review conference starts immediately after the election. Will the new government bring any fresh ideas to the table?