In knowing how we relate to others, we first have to ask ourselves how do we define ourselves? What matters? What are we trying to achieve internationally? How can those ends best be met?
What defines Britain more than anything for me is that we are a legal democracy. We are a free country and as such we are a democracy, but those freedoms are enshrined and protected by law. Magna Carta does not just mean that there is no divine right of Kings and that the rights of Kings are subject to the rule of law, but also that Prime Ministers, Parliaments and even the people are subject to Common Law.
Common Law is an important part of our heritage. As a nation, the majority could desire to persecute a minority, but that would still be wrong, however much you passed laws and declared it legal. When the nation came to its senses again, people who pursued those policies could still be prosecuted, even if while they did it was not illegal at the time because some things are always wrong.
We do not always live to those truths, but at our best it is who we are and hopefully will always be. Therefore, our interaction with the rest of the world should never just be about our own interests, because we are human beings, and as John Donne said.
No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man’s death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
As World War II was finishing Churchill worked to establish the Human Rights Convention and the institutions to support these rights which became the European Court of Human Rights. While Britain has been a colonial power and a slave trading nation, it also helped to abolish the slave trade and its own empire.
Britain should always promote the rule of law and human rights internationally, and work with other nations to promote peace and the rule of law. What the UN can achieve is limited but Britain should work with other nations who will, particularly through the Commonwealth, and also with Europe (whether in the EU or outside it) to support human rights. A world that supports human rights is a safer place.
Therefore, international aid should be linked to the rule of law, of human rights and of freedom.
When states or non-state organisations flout human rights we should oppose them. Military action is not always appropriate, but whenever used should be on the basis of law. We should work for independent international justice. The world and nation states need policing.
It seems at times that we have lost faith in legal democracy ourselves, both democracy and legality have their issues, but together form a powerful combination. As a nation we should promote these values across the world, and work with other nations with similar values to do likewise.
The great weakness of NATO is that the Americans do not believe that internationally the rule of law should apply to them and will not sign up to international justice. I do not advocate leaving NATO, however I believe forming other alliances based on the rule of law beyond NATO would be beneficial both for Britain and the World.