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UK Needs Deep Foreign Policy Expertise, Say MPs

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TEHRAN, May 12 (ICANA) – The British Foreign Office must have skills and resources to fulfill vital foreign policy functions, according to an all-party committee of MPs.
Thursday, May 12, 2011 8:32:46 PM
UK Needs Deep Foreign Policy Expertise, Say MPs

The Foreign Affairs Select Committee said that the department will not be back at the centre of government and able to lead UK foreign policy in line with its ambitions, “unless it can provide deep foreign policy expertise and judgement to underpin and implement government decision-making.”

“The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) must have the resources and skills required to fulfil this role, especially specialist geographical expertise and knowledge of foreign languages,” it said in a report published Thursday on its role in government.

The MPs said the department has a “vital role to play for the government, namely the timely provision of world-class foreign policy information, analysis, judgement and execution.”

Committee chair Richard Ottaway said there had been “many public expressions of concern about the state of the FCO in recent years, as well as a lively academic and practitioner debate about the contemporary role of foreign ministries.”

'Although our witnesses largely told us that the FCO continues to be seen as one of the world's most accomplished diplomatic operations, we were concerned to hear claims that the FCO's foreign policy skills, including its geographical expertise, have weakened in recent years,” Ottaway said.

During its inquiry, the MPs questioned and heard testimonies from no less than five former foreign secretary as well as the present incumbent William Hague.

Ottaway said complaints about excessive 'managerialism' at the department were another of the strongest themes in the evidence and warned that although finances, people and buildings must be well-managed, “managerial requirements must not divert time and focus disproportionately from the FCO's core foreign policy functions.”

In particular, he criticised recent transfers of further jobs in FCO overseas missions to local staff as a speedy cost-cutting measure that “may have damaging consequences for the UK's diplomatic capacity”.

The committee said it regarded the network of overseas posts as “integral to the department's ability to discharge its functions” and recommended that the FCO should seek to maintain a global UK presence.

In response, Hague said that he welcomed the timely report, but argued that he has already done a lot of work to address some of issues raised, including the development of the country's network of diplomats together with an Excellence initiative he instigated six months ago.

“This places a renewed emphasis on policy creativity, on in depth knowledge of other nations, on geographic and linguistic expertise and the enhancement of traditional diplomatic skills in a manner suitable for the modern world,” he said.

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