Friday, January 12, 2007

LONDON — Prime Minister Tony Blair said yesterday that Britain’s influence on the world stage and ability to right global wrongs depends on active engagement, and the country cannot defend itself from terrorism by retreating into isolationism.

He told Royal Navy personnel aboard a warship that Britain must be willing to commit to military action when necessary to pursue laudable goals.

Diplomacy alone cannot solve the world’s problems, Mr. Blair said in a policy lecture to British servicemen and women aboard HMS Albion, in Plymouth harbor, southwestern England. It needs the military to complement it, he said.

“The risk … is that the politicians decide it’s all too difficult and default to an unstated, passive disengagement, that doing the right thing slips almost unconsciously into doing the easy thing,” Mr. Blair said. “Many countries are already in this position, but the consequences for Britain are hugely significant.”

The lecture was the sixth in a series of policy speeches he has made since the middle of last year.

The prime minister said terrorism cannot be defeated without military force, despite flagging public opinion. The war in Iraq has been deeply unpopular from the beginning, causing major political trouble for Mr. Blair and helping fuel a rebellion in his Labor Party.

He said the public must see operations in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan as a “necessary engagement” to protect security and advance British interests globally.

Mr. Blair is to leave office later this year, but he has not said when. The speech appeared to lay out his thoughts on what British foreign policy should be once he leaves 10 Downing Street.

He encouraged a continuation of Britain’s alliance with the United States and urged Britain to extend its influence in the world.

“My choice is … for us as a nation to be as willing to fight terrorism and pay the cost of that fight wherever it may be, as we are to be proud champions of the causes of peace in the Middle East, action against poverty, or the struggle to halt the degradation of our environment,” he said.

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