The writer adds “Russia’s attacks on Ukraine have meanwhile stirred the NATO alliance, of which Britain is, even after recent defence cuts, probably the second-most capable member after America. This has raised questions about not merely the scale of the cuts, but also the purpose of Britain’s armed forces. The shrinkage they are undergoing—which by 2020 will reduce the regular army to 82,000 and cost it most of its heavy armour—is based on a notion that Britain no longer faces a serious conventional threat. Yet that is what Russia represents to NATO’s eastern flank. There is more than this for the next foreign secretary to worry about. Among failing states, Libya, northern Nigeria, Yemen, Afghanistan and Pakistan all represent particular British interests or responsibilities. Meanwhile Iran’s quest for a nuclear weapon, Europe’s to regain competitiveness and America’s for new Asian allies are strategic issues Britain is struggling to understand, let alone respond to”.

Pointedly the piece notes that “The world has been busy before, of course, and it is not easy managing a power that is fated—despite Mr Blair’s raging against the dying of the light—to decline in relative terms. These crises nonetheless amount to an important test of Britain’s ambition to be an active, collaborative, medium-sized Western power, which its leaders are flunking”.

The author adds that “The Foreign Office is underfunded and demoralised. The Conservative foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, is a competent manager with little enthusiasm for the wider world (a senior security official describes him as “not exactly a little Englander, but…”) Every other week a retired British general denounces the defence cuts. These were supposed to shrink the defence budget by 8%, but thanks to a historic shortfall of £45.6 billion in the kit budget and a decision to shift responsibility for maintaining Britain’s nuclear weapons to the defence ministry, the squeeze has been closer to 25%”.

Worryingly the author makes the valid point that “Neither the Tories nor Labour appear hugely troubled by this diminution. Bruised by economic weakness, the failures of Mr Blair’s hyperactivity and their own unpopularity, both parties seem increasingly resigned to Britain playing a sharply reduced role in the world—which is much less than the coalition government at first promised. Though it had little choice but to cut the defence budget, the government’s strategy review in 2010 promised a security policy with “no less ambition for our country in the decades to come”—and David Cameron at first seemed to mean that. He founded an admired National Security Council, set William Hague, as foreign secretary, to pep up the Foreign Office, showed enthusiasm for Britain’s military intervention in Afghanistan and launched a new one, alongside France, in Libya in 2011”.

The report adds “Libya is now a mini-Iraq, a source of extremism and regional instability, and Mr Cameron’s new model mainly looks like intervention on the cheap, without responsibility. The alacrity with which the prime minister washed his hands of Libya has done yet more damage to Britain’s reputation in the Arab world. If that suggested a prime minister with a sporadic interest in foreign policy, he has reinforced the impression. History must judge whether he was right to advocate bombing Syria’s regime in 2013, after it used chemical weapons against its people. But it is already clear that, having failed to win Parliament’s approval for that campaign, Mr Cameron has lost much of his former appetite for bold action abroad”.

He concludes “If the Tories return to power, even with a majority, there is no reason to expect a more ambitious or coherent foreign policy. Mr Cameron would remain ready to go to war, but perhaps only if it didn’t involve difficult rows in Parliament or look too expensive. The rise of IS and Russian marauding has made the threat assessment underpinning the strategic review look sanguine; but they have not persuaded George Osborne, the chancellor, against making further cuts to the defence budget. It is already bound to shrink below 2% of GDP—the level that NATO demands and which Mr Cameron endorsed passionately at the alliance’s summit last year. He can do passion, he can do intervention and, with his presentational gifts, he can look statesmanlike at times. But in foreign policy, as otherwise, Mr Cameron lacks the sustained grip that strong leadership requires”.

He concludes “The prime minister’s Europe policy is further evidence of this. Having sworn to stop his party “banging on” about Europe, he was bullied by those same head-bangers into promising a referendum on Britain’s EU membership by 2017. This would be a costly distraction and, in the event of an “out” vote, which Mr Cameron does not want, it would speed Britain’s global decline. (That is even before contemplating the prospect of Europhile Scotland demanding a fresh independence referendum, as it would, and seceding.) An “in” vote looks more likely. Even so, the exercise would cast additional doubt over Britain’s global posture and offend old allies. It already has—as witnessed by Britain’s no-show in a Franco-German effort to make peace in Ukraine. If Britain is feeling increasingly averse to its European friends, the feeling is mutual. Yet if it is not with Europe, where is it? The trans-Atlantic alliance is weakening with Britain’s wilting military punch—America has also warned Mr Cameron against further defence cuts. The Commonwealth, which Eurosceptic Tories dream of refashioning into an Anglophone trading block, is a non-starter: almost none of its members wants that. Meanwhile the government’s effort to improve relations with China and India, though good in itself, has seemed more craven than productive. Irked by its decision to join a new Chinese financial institution that might one day rival the World Bank, America snapped at Britain’s habit of “constant accommodation” to China”.

He makes the point “Labour should not find it too hard to improve on this record. And indeed, Ed Miliband’s refusal to match Mr Cameron’s referendum pledge looks sensible. So does the gist (despite its annoying name) of the “progressive internationalism” outlined by Douglas Alexander, the shadow foreign secretary. This would include more effort to build alliances—by which he mainly meant in Europe—and uphold the UN. Europe aside, in fact, there is not much to separate the two parties. Despite his refusal to support action in Syria, Mr Miliband is not flat against force: he voted to bomb Libya and Iraq. Labour shares Mr Cameron’s slightly quixotic commitment to spending 0.7% of GDP on foreign aid. Perhaps Labour would spend a bit more on the armed forces, given its historic reputation for being weak on defence. So the question is whether Miliband would be a stronger ambassador for British values and interests than Mr Cameron has been; and the answer is, maybe not”.

Worryingly he writes that “While instinctively comfortable in Europe, Mr Miliband shows little interest in Britain’s evolving role there, as a big economy outside the euro zone. As Labour leader, he has made only a handful of foreign trips. His critique of British capitalism takes such little note of global trends as to seem naive. Perceived in Washington as the villain of the Syria vote, he faces an uphill road there. “Ed doesn’t really do abroad,” a member of Mr Miliband’s shadow cabinet has quipped”.