Keir Starmer’s foreign policy lacks substance

The Conservatives are in trouble. Their current unpopularity might pass, but Keir Starmer could soon become prime minister if Tory fortunes do not improve. For that reason, we ought to study his foreign policy in detail, as in office he would instantly become a world leader. 

Like President Biden, Starmer wishes to present his foreign policy as a “return to normal”, and yet his programme remains rough. He has failed to lay out any detailed doctrine. Some might say this is understandable on the basis that Starmer was a career lawyer, not heavily involved in international affairs, and thus his foreign policy is cobbled together from recent history. But even then, there is much to criticise. He opposed British jets fighting the Islamic State group in Syria, for instance.

It is true that he is a vast improvement on Jeremy Corbyn, who would have taken Britain out of the international mainstream. Yet, two years since becoming Leader of the Opposition, Starmer remains unprepared and seemingly without the capacity to make significant decisions. Most of his day-to-day foreign policy pronouncements are dictated by the advantage they confer in domestic politics. His speeches on the world read as if he derives his foreign policy from a form of legalism. 

Let me expand on this. Like a lawyer, in politics Starmer emphasises process and formality. He has done this when addressing Brexit and recent foreign policy crises like the Iraq War and intervention against the Islamic State in Syria. And like a well trained barrister, since he became Labour leader, he has also shown examples of what I term “strategic silence”. This consists of saying the “right” things on international affairs, but proposing essentially no action. He expresses attitudes, but few concrete policies.

What are these attitudes? Apart from what one would expect – maintaining Britain’s existing alliances and wanting to strengthen the relationship with Joe Biden and the European Union – he has been a consistent and vocal critic of Mr Trump, and British politicians who dealt with Mr Trump in office. His hostility to the Republican party is not deeper than Mr Corbyn’s, but it could still prove a problem. In government, Labour leaders have had to work with Republican presidents, and have found ways to form personal relationships with them.

This is short-sighted. A Republican president in the mould of Mr Trump, such as Florida governor Ron DeSantis, could offend Sir Keir personally and jeopardise British-American relations with the Labour leader in power. Starmer must show that he is able and willing to work with an American president no matter their party, as Tony Blair did.

To his credit, Starmer has in recent months shown an intent to do more on foreign policy, galvanised by Russian aggression towards Ukraine. His Labour party has become an advocate of arming Ukraine, sanctioning Russia, and revitalising Nato and European self-defence.

In a speech given at Tufts in March, David Lammy, Labour’s shadow foreign secretary, described Mr Putin as taking advantage of the end of American hegemony to invade Georgia, annex Crimea, and keep Bashar al-Assad in power in Syria. This shows a serious mindset, but it has not yet been replicated in other areas.

Britain’s allies remain sceptical, and that’s the central problem. Would a Prime Minister Starmer help to contain Chinese expansionism, join a new counterterrorism mission in the Middle East, or intervene to punish the use of chemical, radiological, biological or nuclear weapons? Is Starmer trustworthy? They just don’t know.

In short, Keir Starmer’s Labour must develop a foreign policy that is more than just attitudes. It must be tangible and discernible; realistic, just, and pragmatic. It could set up his party for an ambitious and fruitful time in government. But the work must begin now.


Dr Azeem Ibrahim is a Research Professor at the Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College and served as a foreign policy advisor to the Biden Campaign

Related Posts

zelenskyi told how many settlements have already been liberated by

Zelenskyi told how many settlements have already been liberated by the Armed Forces of Ukraine and how many still remain

The President stressed that Ukraine has no right to leave any of its people in Russian occupation and Russian infiltration camps. Zelensky called the war in Ukraine…

caught in a landmine trap a group of policemen was

Caught in a landmine trap: a group of policemen was blown up in the Kherson region (photo)

Four more police officers are in the hospital. Doctors are fighting for their lives. A group of policemen died in Kherson Oblast \ photo by In the…

it is absolutely impossible to raise the tariff for the

It is absolutely impossible to raise the tariff for the transmission and dispatch of electricity during the war – the head of the association of entrepreneurs

Illustration by REUTERS The increase in tariffs for transmission and dispatching of electricity, which is initiated by the energy regulator NERCU, will be a devastating blow to…

in odesa district water supply has been restored in almost

In Odesa district, water supply has been restored in almost all communities

The water disappeared in the area due to a rocket strike by the enemy on December 5. Water was given in Odesa district / photo Water supply…

the pope compared the actions of the kremlin in ukraine

The Pope compared the actions of the Kremlin in Ukraine with the actions of Nazi Germany

He emphasized that history is repeating itself today. The Pope again mentioned the war in Ukraine photo by REUTERS During the general audience, Pope Francis again recalled…

after the war the border regions of the russian federation

After the war, the border regions of the Russian Federation – Podolyak will be demilitarized

According to him, there will be a convention war, which Russia will lose. The Armed Forces will push the Russian invaders 100 km from the borders of…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *