Amb. Tony Brenton (Former Ambassador of the UK to Russia)

29.04.2011 - Interview conducted by Lynnette O’Leary & Merida Mathen

Q1. Given the UK and Germany's different geographical location in relation to Russia, how similar are British and German interests in the country, furthermore, do you think it is both possible and if so the right option to create a common European foreign policy towards Russia?

I think our interests towards Russia are very similar, obviously we've both had very large commercial interests and we are both very keen to help Russia to play a constructive role on the big issues that face us, in the Middle East, North Korea in Iran and so on and our approach has been slightly different, Germany has tended to approach things in a quieter way than Britain government but our objectives, I think, have been similar.

Whether it is possible to achieve a common European foreign policy towards Russia seems to me to be a big question. States like to maintain their own links and their own contacts and to handle their own problems. I'd say for example that it is very difficult for the EU to pull together with regards to the United States and to China and those similar difficulties apply to Russia as well.

Q2. How do you think that both British and German foreign policies are perceived around the world and do you think these perceptions are accurate in terms of what the respective countries are trying to achieve?

I can't really speak for the German foreign policy. I think Britain's objectives in the world are pretty clear. We support European values, democracy human rights etc. We support good government. We have been actively interventionist; we are now intervening in Libya we are active in Afghanistan. We support global free trade, free movement of capital and goods, global development, global effectiveness in dealing with problems like climate change and I think in Germany, again the objectives are very similar. There is a difference in that the UK has a tradition of being very active international whereas Germany has tended to be, for historical reasons, more self facing and I think that's a pity, I think, and we all hope, since we share so many values, to see Germany will play a more activist role on the international stage in the future.

Q3. Do you think there is a future for a European standing army and do you feel that it might be a possibility for the UK to have a leading role in this?

I think a European standing army is a very long way off. It is necessarily a very complicated business to have troops from different national jurisdictions working together in a reliable and coherent way. What you've seen are some small steps in that direction; I think there is a shared brigade between Germany and France, we and the French are now well on the way to sharing various bits of equipment, aircraft carriers and so on. I think progress towards raising a European co-operational defense is more likely to be through that sort of small step between particular groups of countries than through a sort of great big bang in establishing a European army.

Q4. You've described globalization as a village growing ever smaller, with the village elders needed to solve village problems. Do you believe that countries such as the UK and Germany will continue to fulfill their role as village elders?

Well I hope so, as I've said in the village you do need some people that think beyond their own narrow national interests to worrying about the communal problems that we all share. And as I've also said the UK has a tradition of activism we have a permanent seat on the Security Council, we have a very large aid budget, we have instruments which we actively use, as we see it, to improve the world. Germany actually has a much bigger economy than we do but has a much lesser tradition of that sort of activism, and again as said earlier I would hope to see Germany become more active in this respect.

Q5. Germany has indicated that it wishes to stop the use of civil nuclear power where the UK has not. Does this mean that Germany will have to forge a much closer relationship to Russia, and how will that affect its relations with other European states?

I think Germany is going to have to make some very difficult energy policy decision, the decision to begin to phase out nuclear power was taken quite some time ago and Germany was not able to implement it because of the lack of alternatives and Germany is necessarily cautious about making itself more dependent on a single source whatever it is. So quite how Germany is going to manage this transition over the next few years will be very interesting for us all to see.

Q6. As a diplomat with extensive experience in diplomatic processes, how far do you believe bi-lateral diplomacy was in solidifying peace in Europe?

I think it's been very important. I've work in Brussels so I've done both multilateral and bilateral diplomacy. Multilateral, you sit around a table with a lot of other diplomats and negotiate texts, which is intellectually stimulating and produces important agreements but the background for those agreements has to be good understandings between governments and between peoples and it is the bilateral diplomats who get to know the people in the country that they are work in, who get to understand what really drives that country and who therefore can advise the multilaterals on what is and is not possible in terms of wider agreements.