Andrew Mitchell goes to war

Andrew Mitchell, the British development minister, has just given a well-argued speech about the need to “spend more of the UK’s aid programme in conflict and fragile countries.”  I’ll do a more detailed analysis later today.  But Mitchell did a first-class job of demolishing the idea – current in parts of Whitehall – that the UK should give up on foreign entanglements and concentrate solely on homeland security:

In short, when it comes to conflict in the developing world, a philosophy of “out of sight out of mind” is simply naive. The indirect consequences of overseas conflict represent a real and present danger, a danger that cannot be dealt with exclusively by counter-terrorist means. A danger that we cannot hope to address by staying at home, bolting the door and drawing down the shutters.

The speech also contains interesting hints about how the UK can combine handling fragile states with diplomacy with rising non-Western powers.

One supremely powerful nation or a small group acting in concert can win a war. But winning the peace takes many nations, working with international agencies, NGOs and others.

In Kenya, we saw the unique pressure that regional organisations can bring to bear when former United Nations’ Secretary General, Kofi Annan – working on behalf of the African Union – successfully brokered a cessation to the post-election violence.

So, tackling conflict in today’s world means working harder with old partners and reaching out to new ones. The Foreign Secretary has talked about a “networked world” and about the foreign policy tools that will influence states which will come to dominate our times.

Development policy must be similarly networked. We must engage multilateral and bilateral donors not only through established mechanisms but through innovative collaborations with new partners – like India and China, Indonesia, South Africa, Turkey, Mexico and Brazil – partners whose reach is crucial if we are to tackle conflict and promote development. I will say more on this subject later this year; it is an important area and one where I want to see DFID charting new territory.

It’s good to see a minister stand up for foreign engagements – and even better that he’s framing them in terms of the changing world order too. More on the details of the speech, and their implications for British policy, later on.