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The case for investing in foreign policy

18 April 2024 · 2 min read

The case for investing in foreign policy

On Wednesday 17 April 2024, Atalanta’s COO, Elizabeth Ames, took part in the launch of the New Diplomacy Group’s latest paper, setting out the case for 3% of GDP being spent on UK foreign policy by 2029/30.

The packed event in Portcullis House was chaired by Peter Dowd MP, and alongside Elizabeth, featured contributions from UK foreign policy experts, Lord Ricketts, former British Ambassador to France, Sir Ciarán Devane, former Chair of the British Council, and Wayne David MP, Shadow Minister for the Middle East and North Africa.

With a UK general election on the horizon, conflict and instability in the Middle East and in Ukraine, and funding for foreign policy in decline, a conversation about the role and funding for Britain’s international engagement could not have come at a more critical time. Drawing on her own experience in the Australian foreign service and as the former Executive Director of the Australia-United Kingdom Chamber of Commerce, Elizabeth brought a unique perspective to the launch.

Funding was at the heart of the discussion–with all speakers agreeing that to maintain a credible global standing it ultimately takes money. The New Diplomacy Group’s report highlighted that under the Conservative government, spending on frontline diplomacy had fallen under 0.1% of GDP. Lord Ricketts asserted that the recent approach to funding was an acute case of short-termism.

As a consequence, this financial instability is directly impacting the number and influence of British diplomats. To maintain British soft power, Elizabeth argued that consistent, predictable, multi-year funding is crucial to the ability to build relationships abroad. This predictability also helps forge partnerships in the private sector, where Elizabeth observed that there was a hesitancy among British diplomats to engage compared with Australia, which has used private sector connections to bolster its diplomatic and security ambitions.

In the report, and among the speakers, budget cuts to language training were also a significant concern. Elizabeth argued that languages need to be a priority for British diplomats, who she said have a tendency to revert to English, even abroad, relying on the linguistic skills of their hosts.

As a strategic communications and global public affairs agency, the Atalanta team speak no fewer than 10 languages - which are crucial for building relationships and effective collaboration. A fluent Italian and French speaker, Elizabeth cited her own experience as an Australian diplomat in Libya, where she found that her meetings with European counterparts were often more insightful than those of colleagues without additional language proficiency.

No matter the country, strong people-to-people links are critical to build resilient and successful foreign policy. The Atalanta team has a deep understanding of the role of these links, having worked across the Middle East and North Africa, and multiple fragile and conflict-affected states, particularly supporting women political candidates running for office and bolstering peacebuilding processes.

If you would like to discover more about Atalanta's work and our ability to support clients' efforts to build links between the UK and overseas, click here or reach out to us by filling out this form.

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Atalanta Limited is a private limited company registered in England and Wales, with company number 10924770. Registered address: First Floor, 5 Fleet Place, London EC4M 7RD, United Kingdom.

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