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9 June 2011

Archbishop of Canterbury interviews William Hague

The pair discuss Libya, the use of torture, killing Bin Laden and the limits of intervention.

By New Statesman

In this week’s New Statesman, Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams speaks to Foreign Secretary William Hague about Libya, the use of torture, killing Bin Laden and the limits of intervention.

Of the “ethical foreign policy” proclaimed by the previous government when it came to power, Hague says:

“Where defining foreign policy as “ethical” went wrong was that it implied that all decisions would be exclusive in every respect of any dealings with unethical regimes. And then it was easy to pick holes in it. I have always thought that foreign-policy idealism has to be tempered with realism. You do have to do business with and to try to influence people you don’t agree with, or find disagreeable, so it’s important to stress that balance.”

Pressed by the Archbishop on the strength of the prohibition on the use of torture and extraordinary rendition, Hague replies:

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“[I]n opposition I criticised Guantanamo Bay and rendition flights that were thought to have led to people being tortured. And British governments have a strong record on the absolute prohibition of torture, or complicity in torture. We have published the guidelines for intelligence officers in the field and I have published for the first time Foreign Office guidelines to our own officials.”

Discussing the Arab Spring, Hague says that the west “mustn’t lecture” governments in the Middle East.

“[Egypt] is a proud nation with a longer history than ours and Egyptians are not easily going to be told from London or Paris or Washington what their democracy should look like.”

On the crisis in Libya, the Foreign Secretary says that a condition of Britain intervening there was co-operation with the Arab League:

“We have to find our allies among the Muslim nations, of which there are many to be mobilised. In the Libyan crisis, we have taken great care to be part of a broader coalition than the western nations. In fact, we could not have embarked on what we have done if it had not been for the clear call from the Arab League for action to be taken and then the support of the United Nations Security Council, including the votes of African countries in favour of the resolution. That means that the situation in Libya is not the west trying to impose our view on Libya. It’s a variety of nations, including Arab nations, responding to a cry for assistance”

And acting in a multi-polar world in which China exerts increasing geopolitical as well as economic influence, Hague insists that “vigorous exchanges” with the Chinese on human rights and the “nature of democracy” should not obscure what they have achieved over the past 30 years:

“We must respect that the Chinese have achieved an extraordinary amount in their own country over the past 30 years. They don’t share our political system and there have been some vigorous exchanges about the nature of democracy and so on. But they have undoubtedly achieved an enormous improvement in the economic opportunity and, in many ways, the social and economic rights of hundreds of millions of people. I think it’s always very important to appreciate that in dealing with China”

To read the full interview, pick up a copy of the New Statesman, on news-stands now.