The week in foreign policy

Whilst Coronavirus dominates the news agenda, the bandwidth of governments and the daily lives of billions around the world, there are few areas of foreign policy which aren’t being put on hold. However, despite Brexit talks and preparation for ‘Global Britain’ taking a back seat, there are still key areas of UK foreign policy that are ticking along. Every week, we’ll keep you updated on the week in foreign policy:

In the National Interest, Sumit Ganguly argues that discussions on human rights took a back seat during talks between Donald Trump and Narendhra Modi. According to Sumit, ‘Trump and Modi have built a personal rapport. The U.S. president’s 36-hour visit to India – named “Namaste Trump” – is seen as India returning the favor for “Howdy Modi” – a rally in Texas in fall 2019, where the two leaders appeared together.’ In a long read on the relationships between US Presidents and Indian Prime Ministers, Ganguly notes that ‘Trump’s visit diverges from this past of U.S. presidents alternately celebrating and critiquing democracy in India. Trump seems to be focused on material issues – primarily India’s increasing spending on U.S. military supplies.’ The article argues that this is in stark contrast to the likes of President Obama, who made several comments on freedom of religion, for example. 

Elsewhere in the week in foreign policy, Reuters documents the virtual meeting between the Taliban and Afghan government, which ‘breathed life’ into peace negotiations, according to Abdul Qadir Sediqi. With the video call focussed on discussing the release of prisoners, some officials are keen to herald the talks as a key step closer towards peace. Abdul Qedir Sediqi wrote that: ‘The two sides spoke for over two hours in a Skype meeting facilitated by the United States and Qatar.’

Even in the Covid-19 period, key issues such as disinformation on social media are at the fore of international affairs. In The Hill, Chris Mills Rodrigo notes the issue of disinformation spread by China on Coronavirus, and Twitter’s failure to clamp down on it. Rodrigo says: ‘the social media giant said it would require users to take down posts that deny expert recommendations, promote fake treatments and prevention techniques, or misleadingly claim to be from authorities. It also said it would take action against posts alleging that any particular group or nationality is more or less susceptible to coronavirus.However, he notes that Twitter has argued that misinformation spread by the Chinese government does not currently violate their policies – prompting further discussions about how best to police fake news online.

In the Conversation, a fascinating read that is relevant, to an extent, to the current crisis,  on how Mount Everest helped the United Kingdom come out of World War 2 with ‘Global Britain’ credentials. Richard Woodward writes that: “Britain’s foreign policy makers quickly spotted Everest’s potential as a soft-power tool. Writing in 1906, George Curzon, the Viceroy of India, worried about “alien hands” snatching the “prize” from Britain. By 1921, officials were referring to Everest’s conquest as a matter of “national importance”. Henceforth the British state intervened systematically, lending British expeditions both diplomatic and material support. Officials machinated to secure British expeditions access to the mountain and, simultaneously, deny it to their rivals.” Certainly, as Britain looks to revisit its Global Britain position in the world, soft power tools and victories can be a key area of focus.

Finally, after years of delay, North Macedonia and Albania have been given the ‘OK’ to start EU accession talks. According to a correspondent from RadioFreeEurope, European Union ministers say they have approved beginning membership talks with North Macedonia and Albania, with a top German official calling it “good news in these gloomy times.” Though no date has been set for the talks, diplomats have said they’re likely to start in Autumn. Some member states have pressed to move quickly on bringing the two small states into the bloc as an effort to slow moves by Russia and China to increase their influence in the region.

The British Foreign Policy Group is an independent, non-partisan think tank based in London. Through dynamic research, events and networks, we seek to strengthen the UK’s international engagement, and advance our understanding of global affairs in the 21st Century.

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Matt Gillow

Matt is the Communications & Events Manager at the British Foreign Policy Group.