The UK’s new Foreign Secretary has hit the ground running. From holding numerous meetings with her counterparts, to chairing her first P5 members meeting at the UN Security Council, to flying to Mexico, it’s been a busy start to her new brief.
And it doesn’t stop there. The rest of 2021 involves overseeing the rollout of the Prime Minister’s Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy, continuing to hold the G7 Presidency, responding to the ongoing Afghanistan crisis, and organising two major global summits. In order to do this successfully, the new Foreign Secretary will need to be across a number of complex and challenging briefs. One of these will be figuring out how Global Britain can deliver on its ambition of ‘being a force for good’ in the world.
This is where we, at the International Rescue Committee (IRC), can help. The IRC was founded in 1933 at the call of Albert Einstein, and today we work in over 40 countries around the world, helping people whose lives have been shattered by conflict and disaster survive, recover and regain control of their future. We share the Foreign Secretary’s ambition to deliver a foreign policy that addresses the greatest global challenges and delivers for people across the UK and beyond.
But with a myriad of crises and endless competing priorities facing the Foreign, Development and Commonwealth Office, we have identified three key areas where the Foreign Secretary can lead the way and help Britain be a force for good on the world stage.
Prioritising fragile states
By 2030, 85 percent of the extreme poor—342 million people—will live in fragile and conflict-affected states. These are places like Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen and Nigeria. We know that prioritising investment in these countries provides the greatest opportunity to drive down global humanitarian need, and create more stability and prosperity in fragile regions, which in turn is beneficial for the UK.
Humanitarian and development assistance can play an important role in addressing and reducing the suffering caused by conflict, supporting the ability of local communities to survive and recover and improving local governance.
The forthcoming International Development Strategy that will be published later this year provides an opportunity to strengthen the Government’s approach in this area. Having the Foreign Secretary commit to spending 50% of the aid budget to fragile and conflict-affected states, and ensuring aid is spent effectively, would be a strong start.
Leading global efforts in humanitarian diplomacy and tackling impunity
In many of the settings where the IRC works, restrictions on humanitarian access, the denial of aid, and attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure - all violations of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) - are aggravating pre-existing crises by undermining both people’s access to food and lifesaving services, and limiting the reach of humanitarian assistance.
We have seen this play out all too many times. From attacks on hospitals in Syria, to access denied to humanitarians in Yemen. Children and their families are the ones who always end up bearing the brunt.
The Integrated Review set out a welcome ambition to “champion International Humanitarian Law and humanitarian access and provide principled humanitarian assistance at moments of crisis”. And as one of the permanent members of the UN Security Council, largest members of NATO and a leading member of the G7 and G20, the UK is in a strong position to make a difference on this agenda.
The Foreign Secretary can build on Global Britain’s existing strengths and commit to humanitarian diplomacy by leading efforts to secure life-saving access in hard-to-reach contexts, including ensuring British Embassies have the capacity to lead and support access negotiations on the ground. She would also have the opportunity to demonstrate leadership in multilateral institutions through Britain’s role as penholder by driving UN action on crises and advancing accountability for violations of IHL. And finally, investing in the capacity of frontline responders and encouraging other partners to do the same remains vital in responding to complex crises such as Afghanistan.
Putting women and girls at the heart of UK foreign policy
The Foreign Secretary is in a uniquely placed position to combine her role with that of her role as Minister for Women and Equalities to deliver for women and girls both in the UK and abroad – creating a direct link between domestic and international policy success.
Investing in women and girls is not just the right thing to do but the hard-headed approach. As the World Bank attests gender equality is "an important element in economic development and a critical predictor of stability and security." Empowering women and girls will not only be vital in supporting an inclusive global covid recovery, but it is also in the UK’s economic and security interests.
The UK has built a strong reputation on empowering women and girls across the world. These efforts have been maintained by this Government’s ambition of achieving 12 years of quality education for girls and investments in life-saving programming to prevent violence against women and girls. It was therefore welcome to see the new Foreign Secretary continue to push this agenda in her meetings this week at the UN General Assembly.
But we know more can be done to prioritise these efforts to drive further reform. This means funding to support women to prevent and recover from violence, to empower women-led businesses, and to provide healthcare services for women. And ensuring that funding is backed up by intense diplomatic action in support of women’s rights. All of which the Foreign Secretary and her department can lead on as they engage with their counterparts across the globe.
As the Foreign Secretary embeds herself into the best job in cabinet, she will have a range of assets across diplomacy and development to harness towards delivering on Global Britain’s ambition of being a force for good. By leading efforts to tackle humanitarian crises with global partners, ensuring aid is spent effectively and in the right places, and being a champion of women and girls, Liz Truss will have an opportunity to deliver transformational change to some of the most complex challenges, all whilst demonstrating how a strong UK foreign policy can deliver for both people in the UK and across the globe.