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The 'achievement' of our beloved Foreign Secretary lauded in today's Guardian. You can e-mail a response for the letters page to email@example.com Gabriel voices uk ********************************** Putting ethics on the map Robin Cook's achievement deserves support Leader Monday April 9, 2001 The Guardian Ethics, that is to say the application of morals to human conduct, has always been a difficult area. Even Plato had his problems. So when Robin Cook added an ethical dimension to British policy in 1997, the Foreign Office's answer to Socrates seemed to be just asking for trouble. In the peripatetic school of modern politics, low-brow pedestrians of all parties, egged on by the press, were only too happy to put the boot in. What vain and foolish posturing, they cried. What hypocrisy! Mr Cook has been trying to act philosophical ever since. What is rarely, if ever, noted is that Mr Cook's attempt publicly to anchor policy in morality, while easily mocked and obviously imperfect, was a brave and creative step. The foreign secretary is said to believe that helping depose Serbia's Slobodan Milosevic is his most important achievement to date. But the emphasis he has placed on human rights may have a more lasting impact. No future British government will be able to ignore the much derided ethical dimension. Nor, as foreign policy is increasingly collectivised, will any other EU member state. In effect, Mr Cook has attempted that most difficult of things: to change attitudes. British diplomats now receive human rights training as a matter of course. Mr Cook has established de facto criteria by which all future policy will be judged, be it overseas arms sales, bilateral aid or humanitarian intervention. Britain has championed the UN's international criminal court. And in East Timor, Sierra Leone and Zimbabwe, for example, Britain's actions have gone well beyond narrowly defined national interest. Its position was all the stronger for being morally justified. There remains plenty of cause for complaint, about lack of consistency and apparent blindspots. In a recent speech on the government's human rights record, Mr Cook criticised China's numerous abuses but made no reference to Russia's appalling behaviour in Chechnya. For many people, Mr Cook's words have not been reflected in policy in Iraq, in Kurdish areas of Turkey and in respect of Israel's conduct in Palestine. Draft arms exports regulations have been slow in coming and contain serious loopholes. And Britain is still reluctant to criticise Saudi Arabia and the US over such matters as the death penalty. But in a world mostly beyond Britain's control, Mr Cook's overall effort to raise expectations and set standards deserves support, not scorn. -- ----------------------------------------------------------------------- This is a discussion list run by the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq For removal from list, email firstname.lastname@example.org Full details of CASI's various lists can be found on the CASI website: http://www.casi.org.uk