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Government today often boils down to a mindless activism, manifest in endless initiatives which evaporate once the news agenda has moved on. In foreign policy, such activism consists of a free-floating moralism, divorced not merely from national interest but from the wellbeing of the objects of concern, about whom all of us also "care". 

The former diplomat and minister George Walden once wrote that morality is to moralism what "art is to artiness, sentiment to sentimentality, and faith to religiosity". It is the "evasion or abandonment of ethical responsibility". 

There has been a proliferation of agencies that seek to butt into any conflict, from human rights lawyers to groups devoted to conflict resolution. At its worst, this can consist of tourism for the self-righteous, often with dire consequences for the people who have to exist amid conflicts that such interventions inadvertently prolong.

Small countries, such as Ireland or Norway, have punched above their weight by acting as the emotionally-literate consciences of the world. Now that Britain is no longer a global military power, this seems to be the role espoused by our current Foreign Secretary, although his jejune moralism had a precedent in the "ethical foreign policy" of the late Robin Cook.

Several personalities from the Blair-Brown era think that they can export the experience of Northern Ireland — where it took 30 years militarily to neutralise a terrorist organisation before democratic politicians could talk — not just to our EU partner Spain, where the problem with the Basque ethno-nationalist Eta terrorists has some superficial affinities, but to more exotic locations. 

British ministers have been prodigal with their advice to the Israelis, Pakistanis and Sri Lankans. Former terrorists have got in on the act, too, with Martin McGuinness, the former IRA commander, popping up in Finland to reconcile Iraqi Shias and Sunnis. The former MI6 agent Alistair Crooke has ensconced himself as a freelance conflict mediator between the Israelis, Hamas and Hizbollah, although his involvement is certainly unwelcome to the first. 

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