Friday, September 29, 2006

Report from Beirut

Here is Marion's latest thoughts on the situation in her homeland of Lebanon. I apologize to Marion for taking so long to get it up on the blog as she sent it to me over a week ago. After moving house a couple of weekends back I haven't had any internet access at home and have been very busy at work - including trips to Brussels and London (which I might try and write something about soonish) - so my apologies once again!

A month has passed since the Israeli war on Lebanon stopped. All we see and hear on the news are UN troops arriving to Lebanon from European countries and the further deployment of the Lebanese army in the southern villages.

Internally, it has been a complete chaos between the different forces in the country. Hassan Nassrallah and his allies have been verbally attacking the government via the media, accusing them of being an ally to Israel and demanding that it resigns allowing a new government to be formed where Hizaballah and its allies will have more seats in order to have more power over decision making. From its side the government is promising not to quit and is not commenting on Hizballah’s accusations.

To make things even worse the report of Serge Brammertz, the Belgium prosecutor investigating for the UN the assassination of our former prime minister Hariri in February 2005, will be out end of this month. A lot of rumors have already been circulating that the Syrian president Bashar al Assad along with the Lebanese current president Emile Lahoud will be directly blamed for the planning and assassination of Hariri.

In the middle of all this chaos, Lebanese citizens barely were able to digest this ugly war, that the struggles inside the political forces have made the citizens’ lives more stressful. Yet, they are trying to rebuild again and move on with their lives and try to put the terrible war behind them. It is only in last weeks or so that the country has started to be a little more lively. I see people in shopping malls now, and the coffee shops and restaurants are filled again with people. Work has progressed everywhere, though slowly. But better than no progress at all. The people who fled the country during the war have returned in order to prepare for their kids’ new year at school. However, in the middle of all this progress, Lebanese are still fearful. Hizballah still has its arms, though it lost some to the Lebanese army when they were inspecting the southern villages.

The refugees have now all left the schools and gardens and places they went to during the war. Some of them went back to check their homes and repair any damage. Others who found that their homes had completely vanished as if they never existed in the first place, are now living with relatives or friends until they are given money from the government in order to rent houses or rebuild again. Until now the government is still getting help from many countries around the world for this purpose.

That is Lebanon’s situation currently. No one is sure what will happen. Will we reach the safe grounds of a peace with Israel and Hizballah surrendering its arms? Or will we be once again the pitch upon which other countries play out their violent games? The country is standing on the edge of an unknown destiny.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Big ship, little ship

I've have had a print-out of this picture on my office wall for some time - and whilst staring at the wall whilst avoiding doing any work I suddenly thought I should blog it. I think I once used the picture in a lecture although I can't remember on what. Scribbled on the print-out is the following:
"Left: a US Nimitz-class aircraft carrier. The United States has ten of these. Right: an Invicible -class carrier of the Royal Navy - the largest ship in the Royal Navy. The UK has three of these."
I'm sure you get the point.

For any ship-spotters out there, the US carrier is the USS John C. Stennis and the UK one, HMS Illustrious.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

My fellow Europeans...

Sorry to the any non-Europeans, you can't take part in this :-(

Sign the "One Seat" petition to stop the ridiculous monthly trucking of the entire European Parliament between Brussels and Strasbourg, you'll be with over a million other sensible fellow EU citizens. Having been at the European Parliament building in Strasbourg when it is not in session it drove home to me what a completely idiotic idea it is to have two buildings for one Parliament 480 kms apart. It was spookily empty - I'm sure it could be used as a convention centre or something so France doesn't need to whine too much.

Friday, September 15, 2006

How do you identify a Finnish Policeman?

There has been a huge amount of coverage and discussion in Finland this week about how the "Smash ASEM" demo was policed last weekend. Basically timed to coincide with the really boring Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) (held here in Helsinki because Finland currently holds the EU rotating presidency), was a demo organized by a bunch of anarchist. They didn't really seem to protesting about anything in particular - it seemed more a chance to wear your Che Guevarra t-shirt and Palestinian scarf and be really "radical" by shouting at the police. I don't think many who turned up to "Smash ASEM" had gone in solidarity to the Burmese refugee protests (who I cycled past the other day standing in dignified silence holding their signs) or the Falun Gong protests. The main activity seemed to be filming each other so you can later put your mates on YouTube.

Various websites had been promising general anarchy and disorder for weeks in advance and unsurprisingly the Finnish police took this as a bit of challenge (plus they probably wanted to see if their riot training actually works!). Anyway not much happened in comparison to a real riot but lots of people got arrested probably in the case of many unnecessarily as a number were journalists. Anyway there has now been an unprecedented number of complaints to the Parliamentary Ombudsman.

I just have one question - if you get assaulted by a Finnish riot cop, how can you know who it was? I've seen loads of pictures of them in news magazines and the papers and from what I can see they have no distinguishing marks. As I understand it in the UK, since some police brutality during some violent labour disputes in the 1980s, riot police have had to have their badge numbers clearly visible so if they individually commit a crime, they can be held accountable. Is there anything similar for Finnish police - and if there isn't, should there be?

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Norwegian Goats

Between getting ready to move house at the weekend and too many things happening all at once with work, I've been getting pretty exhausted and haven't thought of much to blog coherently about. So here instead, for your amusement dear readers, are some Norwegian goats.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Tony and the Taliban

Radio Open Source is airing a show tonight on Blair's Long Goodbye. I mentioned in the comments thread that I had written an essay attempting to understand his foreign policy four years ago, but that I still felt was relevant today for understanding him. What follows is the original English version of an essay I wrote in March 2002 about British commitment to the invasion of Afghanistan and the over-throw of the Taliban. It was published in Finnish translation in the 01/2002 edition of "Ulkopolitiikka" (Foreign Policy). This original version was never edited so please excuse any typos or other mistakes. Also sorry for the huge sub-titles, I can't seem to sort out the formatting to make them all the same size!

Tony and the Taliban: Explaining British Commitment to the ‘War against Terror’.

Tuesday 2 October was a heady day for Britons of an internationalist nature. In front of the world’s media Tony Blair stood up to make the keynote speech at the Labour Party conference. The emotional sentiment resulting from the September 11 terrorist attacks was still heavy, yet at the same time US, and to a smaller extent, UK forces were converging on Afghanistan, war was certain but the outcome was not. Could attacking this already pulverised country be the right action? Would this make things better for the people of Afghanistan? Was the war to come simply the UK’s pandering to US wrath? In times of uncertainty people look to their leaders.

The speech that followed declared war not just on global terrorism, but on global poverty and injustice. Blair denounced the false separation of domestic and international politics, pointed to the connection between social justice and peace, between poverty and the anger that fuels terror and he repeatedly made the point that no country could stand alone. Isolation holds no answer – for a better future cooperation is the only way:

“So I believe this is a fight for freedom. And I want to make it a fight for justice too. Justice not only to punish the guilty. But justice to bring those same values of democracy and freedom to people round the world. And I mean: freedom, not only in the narrow sense of personal liberty but in the broader sense of each individual having the economic and social freedom to develop their potential to the full. That is what community means, founded on the equal worth of all.

The starving, the wretched, the dispossessed, the ignorant, those living in want and squalor from the deserts of Northern Africa to the slums of Gaza, to the mountain ranges of Afghanistan: they too are our cause. This is a moment to seize. The Kaleidoscope has been shaken. The pieces are in flux. Soon they will settle again. Before they do, let us re-order this world around us.”[1]

In the days that followed debate raged over the speech, the Guardian (the leading left-liberal broadsheet, that although generally seen as a “Labour” paper has been at times highly critical of the Blair government. Post 9-11 a debate has raged in the paper between liberal-interventionist who have supported the ousting of the Taliban, and more post-modern critics who accuse the west of trying to impose its norms upon others.) points out it seemed to have “enthralled and infuriated in equal measure”[2]. Old critics denounced it as ridiculous posturing, other saluted a leading politician willing to argue for the complexities of interdependence over quick-fix solutions. Nevertheless the actions that followed showed that this was far more than mere rhetoric on the part of the British Government.

Tony Blair has made six international tours since the 9-11 attacks and has been central to building the coalition against terrorism, particularly in the Arab states where support was anything but certain. He visited countries where the welcome was anything but warm, most notably Syria where he was publicly lectured on justice, somewhat ironically by President-for-life Bashar Assad, who’s father when president used tanks and slaughter to quell internal dissent. Most recently he visited the Indian subcontinent, holding talks with both Delhi and Islamabad, to try and lower the tensions on the Indian-Pakistan border – a spin-off conflict of 9-11.

The British military contribution to the Afghanistan conflict has also been significant; Royal Navy submarines launched cruise missiles on the first day of the war along with US ships, and significant amounts of air to air refuelling for US combat planes plus surveillance has been carried out by the RAF[3]. Although not officially acknowledged it is widely known that British special forces along with Australians have been operating in Afghanistan with US special forces, hunting for Taliban and Al’Qaida targets. Yet perhaps more important than this has been the British leadership and commitment to the International Security Force for Kabul (ISAF)[4] over 1 500 of the troops in this force of 5 000 are from the UK, and it was British troops who were first to arrive and patrol with local police to the delight of many Kabul citizens.

So why is the Blair government willing to risk and pay so much to be involved in the ‘war on terrorism’? It is not just the lives of British soldiers in Afghanistan at risk but the possibility of attacks on the UK itself, as a response to Britain’s support of the US. No other country has supported the US to quite the degree that the UK has, so how can this be accounted for? This question will be considered in three ways below: Britain’s interests, the Labour government’s foreign policy since coming to power in 1997 and finally the moral and religious convictions of Tony Blair himself.

Rule Britannia

Robin Harris writes: “The Victorians generally assumed that what was in Britain’s interest, must also be in the world’s interest”[5] but those times of Imperial self confidence passed with carnage of the First World War and subsequently the UK took the Realist line of national self-interest. Some aspects of classical national self interest can be seen in the current British policy on Afghanistan but they are perhaps not so obvious as some critics would wish.

The hard left, including many in the UK, have dismissed the war in Afghanistan as just another ‘oil war’[6]. This claim might fit a pattern of state self interest but there is no real evidence for it. Ahmed Rashid who coined the phrases “the New Great Game”, points out that the major players in the potential oil and gas routes through Afghanistan were a group of US firms on one hand and an Argentine firm as their competition, there was no British involvement. The whole concept of Afghanistan as an oil war is spurious as even if US policy on the country post-Soviet withdrawal, did seem to only be to support American firms’ interests there and nothing more, those businesses ultimately fell foul of Clinton’s desire to maintain the electoral support of the feminist movement who orchestrated a highly successful campaign against any US involvement in Afghanistan whilst the Taliban were in power.[7]

Direct economic or geo-military reasons cannot account for the UK interest, it is far easier to make an argument on the basis of British foreign and defence policy. Policy since the end of the WWII has been to maintain US engagement in Europe. NATO is the centerpiece of British defence policy and US involvement is obviously crucial to NATO’s continued credibility. The idea of the “Special Relationship” between the US and UK is central here. Whether the relationship really is special or not is another question, but the idea is held as something of a universal truth by the British public, academics and commentators discuss its ups and downs and politicians claim to do everything to defend it. The Thatcher-Reagan partnership is often portrayed as the high point of the relationship, but British involvement in the Gulf War, Kosovo and now Afghanistan shows that the alliance that goes back to WWI refuses to die – despite the regular comments to that end, in both British media and academic discussions. Britain is often seen in the Arab world as the United States’ ‘lap dog’, but Thatcher’s now famous comment to Bush senior of “Don’t go wobbly on me now George!” as he procrastinated in the early stages of the war against Iraq, is curiously reminiscent of Blair’s constant pressure on Clinton throughout the Kosovo campaign to not give in until Serbia met NATO’s demands. Central to that pressure was Blair’s public readiness to commit the British Army to a land invasion, something that the US was not ready to consider. These examples do raise the question of whether it is the US who always leads in the ‘Special Relationship’.

It has been suggested that the British government by aligning itself so closely to the US, is trying put itself in a position where it can exert a moderating influence on US policy. Yet US policy on ‘the war on terrorism’ is very different from the at times tentative US commitment to the Kosovo campaign where there was much doubt over what the US’s interests where there. It is even different from the Gulf War where president Bush built a coalition under a UN mandate to remove Iraq from Kuwait. The new Bush Administration had showed itself to be unilateralist before 9-11, the rejection of the Kyoto protocol and the ABM treaty being the most obvious signs of this. It is unlikely that the British Government believed that it would really be able to influence US policy in any meaningful way on how the war was prosecuted. Nick Cohen writes that:

The US didn't need British help in Afghanistan; it could fight the war, and is, in fact, fighting the war on its own, with the assistance of the bribed dictators of Uzbekistan and Pakistan. You may remember that NATO offered the US its support at the start of this mess. Washington ignored the offer, and finished off NATO as a military alliance.”[8]

There is undoubtedly large amounts of goodwill to Blair in the US, but it seems that no one really believes that the UK is influencing how the war is fought. British diplomatic representatives have visited the UK citizens held by the US at Camp X-ray in Guantanamo Cuba, whilst Swedish diplomats have still not been informed when they will be given access to a Swede being held there, but even this ‘concession’ seems like a tit-bit thrown to the dog, considering that the only US citizen captured fighting for the Taliban, Jon Walker Lindh, is facing a civilian judge and being tried on the US mainland in a civilian court. The US’s double standards are clear, and the lower standard has been applied to the captured citizens of its ‘staunchest ally’.

What then does Britain have to gain by standing “Shoulder to Shoulder” with America? Influence gained seems minimal at best, but without doubt the public nature of Britain’s support has earned perhaps even more anger from radical Islamist groups than was already there; Osama Bin Laden himself warned British Muslims not to live in high buildings or travel by aeroplane in the early weeks of the war. Two possibilities present themselves.

Firstly there is a consideration of what the US wishes to do next and how that could effect the UK. Bush’s “Axis of Evil” that includes Iraq, Iran and North Korea raised fears again that the war on terror would be used to settle old scores. Iraq is probably most pertinent here – The RAF has been jointly patrolling the no-fly-zones over Iraq with the USAF since the Gulf War and has been involved in numerous attacks on and skirmishes with Iraq over that period – the most notable being the “Desert Fox” bombing campaign of December 1998. If the US does go to war with Iraq, Britain would almost certainly be involved and whilst Britain would not object to the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, it would want to have it voice heard on how this was done, particularly as this could be an extremely prickly subject for the other permanent seats on the UN Security Council; Russia, China and perhaps most importantly to the UK currently, France.

Secondly there is the issue of the maintenance of the NATO alliance. As stated above this is the golden rule of British foreign and defence policy. In the quote above Nick Cohen writes that the US’s unilateralism over Afghanistan has effectively finished NATO. This is a bold statement as reports of NATO’s demise over the years have been regular as well as wrong. The UK believes that it needs NATO, therefore it has wanted to show the US the value of having allies. The only problem is that in this ‘war on terrorism’ the allies besides the UK, Turkey and perhaps France have no real value to the American operations beyond moral support.

The militaries of the European NATO members are hopelessly antiquated in comparison to the US, designed for the wrong type of war in the wrong place. There is no question that the current British government is very aware of this and its potential repercussions. From their coming to power in June 1997 they have set out to do something about it.

New Labour, new policies?

The foreign and defence policy of the Labour government since it came to power in 1997 seems radically different to the Conservative governments that went before. In particular the vicious infighting that debilitated the last Major government (1992 – 1997) seemed to suggest that within the conservative party at least euroscepticism was in the ascendance. The Conservatives vigorously opposed moves towards European defence integration and that seems to fit the standard atmosphere within the Tories of hostility to all things European, but it is not as simple as that.

Within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and the Ministry of defence (MoD) policy has been since the end of WWII Atlanticist rather than anti-European. Maintaining US commitment to NATO was the central priority and policy is changed to fit this need. For example, in the 1980s, calls for more European defence cooperation were generally made in France and were aimed at gaining Europe more autonomy from the US. Britain stood strongly against any ideas like this because it saw the need to keep the US engaged and avoid US unilateralism. With the end of the Cold War and all states looking for the peace dividend, voices within the US started questioning the financial commitment of the US to the security of Europe. The old question of burden sharing came to the fore again and this was only enforced by the failure of the European allies to be able to operate effectively in the Bosnia, and then Kosovo, with out US military leadership. The Major government were aware that increasingly a more active role for the Europeans within NATO was necessary to maintain US engagement, rather than the previous situation where it was seen as having the opposite effect. Jolyon Howorth notes that the January 1994 Brussels meeting of the North Atlantic Council successfully produced what was called the European Security and Defence Identity (ESDI) and that it was Britain that was instrumental in bringing the French and the US positions together.[9] Howorth continues: “It is important to stress… that even as that general ossification of other areas of Tory European policy was taking place, the UK played a leading role in creating the bases for a European defence and security capacity – but one in which the NATO reference remained primary.”[10]

The changes in policy under New Labour post-1997, in this light seem less radical. Without doubt they have been much more open to European cooperation, particularly outside of NATO, but at the same time the aim remains the same - to keep the US engaged. When New Labour first came to power there was immediate disappointment in various European capitals; one of the new governments first acts was to veto a 10 EU member state proposal to integrate the WEU and EU. This coincided with the collapse of French attempts to build further on the ESDI initiative within NATO, mainly due to inherent problems in the central idea of Combined Joint Task Forces (CJTF) - NATO lending assets to the WEU to carry out EU decided missions.[11] France’s failure to make headway with this institutional arrangement and the new administration in the UK meant that the time was ripe for a new approach.

Two processes were stared within the government, the first was the Strategic Defence Review (SDR)[12]. The SDR looked at what would be needed from Britain’s military in the future, and what resources and organisations would be necessary to achieve this. It focused on deployability and sustainability of forces in the field; terms such as “Rapid Reaction Force” came into use and amongst the major shortcomings identified was a lack of Force Projection and related Strategic Lift capability. The SDR was greeted with delight in Washington, and it is generally accepted that Britain is leading the way in creating modern military forces that could easily be sent to wherever they were needed, and just as importantly once there they would be able to operate efficiently. The UK military is unique in Europe for being fully professional, relatively small and supported by extensive amounts of modern equipment. By no means were things perfect as the SDR pointed out but change for the UK military establishment is much easier than it is for the continental allies with large conscript armies. It is worthy of note that of NATO members Britain along with Turkey spend the greatest percentage of their defence budgets on hardware (both 27.5%) ahead of the US (24.4%), Italy only reaches 12.7% and 72% of its defence budget goes on military pensions and maintaining its national conscription system.[13] To be able to take an active and useful part in joint operations like Bosnia, and subsequently Kosovo, the type of militaries that in Europe only the UK and France (increasingly with it move to full professionalisation) possess are needed.

The second process is the ‘Saint Malo Process’, and according to Howorth it “owes its origins to the intense frustrations felt by Tony Blair throughout 1998 as he struggled to formulate a policy on the Balkans.”[14] The groundwork for St Malo was laid by Blair at the Pörtschach informal summit meeting of EU Heads of State 24-25 October 1998, where it was made clear that the UK government wanted to see defence and security capability realized in Europe although no specific options were put forward – just a number of possibilities.[15] The British and French government met at St Malo on 3-4 December 1998 and the product was the joint Declaration on European Defence[16] often simply called the St Malo Accord. St Malo was a compromise between the UK and French position; that NATO would remain the basis for European collective defence but the EU would be given the capacity to act autonomously to crisis situations that require the use of military force. St Malo and British pressure within the EU led to “the Köln EU Council’s proposal on institutional arrangements (June 1999) and the Helsinki EU Council proposal on military capacity (December 1999)”[17], where it made Common European Security and Defence Policy (CESDP) a reality.

St Malo was greeted in Britain with the predictable cries of outrage in the eurosceptics press[18], that the Labour government were creating a ‘European Army’ and this would probably lead to the collapse of NATO. Of course the opposite was true – European security capability is necessary to maintain US commitment to the NATO alliance.

At this point the question of ‘what is the connection between European defence and war against terrorism?’ must be addressed. The New Labour government and the Clinton administration had close relations, particularly because of the friendship that developed between Blair and Clinton, both relatively young left-of-centre leaders. With the Bush administration coming to power in 2001, how the relationship would change was a serious question. The British Labour Party had sent election campaign specialist to help the Democrat campaign and various stories surfaced in the press of people within the UK government’s disdain for George W. Bush[19]. The British Conservative Party had far closer links to the new Republican administration than the UK government did in the beginning. The new US administration’s policy on CESDP was not certain at times it seemed supportive, at times there were reservations expressed. This became an issue of UK politics when Blair said “They [the Bush administration] have had poison poured in their ear by the present Conservative Party going over there and saying, this is all about ripping apart NATO, it’s a French plot to destabilize…”[20]. The Labour Government through the spring and summer of 2001 tried to explain their vision of CESDP in the US, this job has become much easier in the aftermath of 9-11 when even the hawks in Washington look to see who their closest and most trusted allies are. William Pfaff writes: “Mr. Blair’s closeness to Washington has allowed him calm those in the Defense Department and Congress most alarmed by the European force, while making no real concessions on its autonomy.”[21]

Maintaining US commitment to NATO is central to British defence and foreign policy, even if with its support for CESDP, the policy looks radically different from the Conservative governments that preceded New Labour. UK support for the US in the ‘War against Terrorism’ consolidates the longstanding bi-lateral relationship and calms American fears over the potential direction of European security and defence integration.

It should be mentioned briefly that of course the Labour government wants more out CESDP than to protect NATO. It is also acknowledge that defence and security is one area within the EU where the UK plays perhaps the leading role. Even the French acknowledge that currently the British military is the best prepared for crisis management and would be vital for any joint European operation. Tony Blair is “the most unambiguously pro-European Prime Minister since the UK joined the then EEC in 1973”[22], and with the UK currently staying out Monetary Union this is the one area where he can be the leading player on the EU scene. Secondly CESDP will lead to the consolidation of the European defence industry and this is necessary if European firms wish to remain competitive against the American defence and aerospace giants. Many British jobs rely on the defence industry so this is a major domestic consideration. Thirdly creating an EU capability for crisis management fits with the new governments belief in humanitarian intervention. The difficulty of getting the US to risk its soldiers in crisis management has convinced some in New Labour of the necessity of an autonomous European capacity. This attachment to the idea of humanitarian intervention will be consider more below.

Tony Blair

Blair’s commitment to Kosovo, Sierra Leone, African development in general and humanitarian intervention set him apart from previous prime ministers. His internationalist outlook and beliefs that we have universal responsibilities and not just national ones, are explored below.

As Blair, tie-less and with shirt sleeves rolled up, walked through the refugee camps of northern Macedonia in the spring of 1999, his tearful wife by the side and the crowds of thousands of now homeless Kosovars cheering “Tony! Tony! Tony! Tony!”, the Serbs should have known they were going to lose. Perhaps they did. It is interesting to contrast his approach on Kosovo, with the former government’s approach to Bosnia. Douglas Hurd, Foreign Secretary at the time has been accused by Tadeusz Mazowiecki who was investigating human rights for the UN in the Balkans at the time, of blocking all attempts at intervention against the Serbs.[23] The British administration then looked at Bosnia in the light of Northern Ireland and took the attitude that all sides were as bad as each other and therefore nothing could be done, but Blair’s approach to Kosovo differed radically. Blair had already staked a lot in his personal involvement in pushing the Northern Ireland peace process forward, and a number of times he has cited it as an example for other parts of the world where conflict seems intractable.

What ever was his reasoning, Blair brought a revolution to British policy in the Balkans and risked a lot in doing so. Andrew Rawnsley, the chief political columnist for the Observer and known for having high up sources within the government, wrote that both aides and civil servants repeatedly warned him that his position on Kosovo could cost him his premiership, but when they “urged him not to screw his reputation to the pledge to expel the Serbs, Blair replied that he knew ‘this could be the end of me’, but it was ‘shit or bust’.”[24]

The Secretary of State for International Development, Clare Short who in the past was a vocal critic of Blair and his policies became a supporter after Kosovo stating simply “he did the right thing”.[25] This has been echoed by other Labour politicians, past and present, none of whom have had trouble free relationships with him. Mo Mowlam the outspoken former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has said: “He cares”, Gordon Brown, the Chancellor of the Exchequer say that he has “a deep commitment to society”, and Bryan Gould a former candidate for the leadership of the Labour Party who has fought with Blair in the past but has now left politics says “I don’t think he is a politician at all! He doesn’t have any politics. He has principles, courage…”[26] Not even Blair’s enemies seem to suggest he seeks power for his own sake, or because he believes it is somehow owed to him, as has been argued of George W. Bush. Ian Duncan Smith, leader of the Conservatives has called him a “utopian internationalist”[27], Blair would refute the utopian claim, but would have no problem with being called an internationalist. In one interview talking about his commitment to the ‘War on Terrorism’ – and meaning it in the much wider sense than the US administration does - he said “I know some people think this is a utopian idea… but I actually find it pretty much realpolitik, from where I am sitting anyway.”[28]

His belief is that the international and the domestic can not be separated. Blair first made his view clear on this in a speech in 1999 in Chicago where he said “Financial instability in Asia destroys jobs in Chicago and in my own constituency in County Durham. Poverty in the Caribbean means more drugs on the streets in Washington and London… These problems can only be addressed by international co-operation. We are all internationalists now, whether we like it or not.”[29] This view might be even more apparent in the UK than in some other countries. For example you cannot understand the electoral politics of a city like Bradford in northern England with out a reasonable understanding of the Kashmir situation. Bradford West is considered traditionally one of the safest seats in the UK for Labour, but in the last election Labour’s majority was slashed – the main reason being that the candidate selected was Sikh and not Muslim[30]. The riots across the north of England in the summer of 2001 are likewise connected to the politics of the sub-continent. In this sense it is understandable why Blair would want to help resolve the situation between India and Pakistan, he sees that not only is it the ‘right’ thing to do, it will have positive effects in the UK. Similar arguments are made that instability in other countries causes refugee flows which eventually become the asylum seekers so reviled in the British tabloid press. These kind of points Blair has made numerous times to the domestic audience post 9-11.

Yet ultimately, this claim to realpolitik is either disingenuous and aimed at domestic critics attacking him for not caring about the UK, or does a disservice to situations where Blair has shown that Britain can be as he claimed in Bangalore recently “a force for good”[31]. British involvement in Afghanistan is neither solely for humanitarian reasons or for national reasons. Similar comments can be made about Kosovo, Adam Roberts writes: “the available evidence suggests that the critical considerations impelling NATO to take action were those of humanity and credibility”[32] but there are cases under Blair’s premiership where there is no obvious dual motive.

Sierra Leone is one such example. In committing British troops to Sierra Leone, Blair stood to lose far more than he would gain. Very little credit was accrued by the Government domestically, and it only really became an issue first with a minor scandal over arms shipments to the democratically elected Sierra Leone Government and secondly, in September 2000 when a number of British soldiers were taken hostage by a paramilitary group known as The West Side Boys. The hostages were freed in a daring military operation in which one British soldier was killed. There were calls in Parliament for all British troops to be removed after this incidence but the Government maintained its commitment, of both troops and large amounts of development aid.

The scandal was somewhat ironic in that Britain pushed an arms embargo on Sierra Leone through the UN Security Council with the intention of stopping weapons reaching the RUF Rebels. Unfortunately its wording covered the whole country. A British private defence/mercenary firm, Sandline, were contracted to supply the Sierra Leone government forces and ECOMOG (a rather ineffectual Nigerian led West African ‘peacekeeping’ force) with weapons to retake the capital Freetown after it had been lost to the RUF and the government fled into exile. The head of Sandline met various UK officials who knew of the deal despite the fact that it broke the embargo. When this came out a Parliamentary enquiry was started in Britain that focused on the Foreign Secretary Robin Cook and the FCO. Cook was absolved of any wrong doing but he had recently launched Labour’s new foreign policy which promised to include a much touted “ethical dimension”, and the media focused on the supposed hypocrisy of New Labour, not on Britain’s attempt to support a fragile democratic government against a rebel army famed for the mass amputations by machete of civilians’ arms or legs. The irony was double in that due to a totally unrelated matter the deal never went fully ahead and very few arms were delivered.[33] Nevertheless Freetown was liberated and the Sierra Leone government restored. John Hirsch writes “Prime Minister Tony Blair publicly supported the outcome if not the method.”[34]

Sierra Leone might well have been the seed, but Blair’s interest in all of Africa has grown. In the general election campaign of 2001 he pledged to make Africa a priority in his second term. In his speech to the Labour Party Conference he fitted the need for international action to help Africa into his vision of a war on terrorism, saying “the state of Africa is a scar on the conscience of the world”[35]. By 2003 development aid to the continent will have increased 60% since Labour came to power[36], in January 2002 Blair sent his foreign minister Jack Straw with his French counterpart Hubert Vedrine, on an unprecedented Anglo-Franco mission to the Great Lakes region of Africa to see if some negotiated peace could be brought about in the so-called ‘Great War of Africa’ in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The mission was not successful, but the coordination of UK and French positions on Africa will greatly increase the potential for European assistance to the continent and hopefully end the jealousies between the UK and France over involvement in Africa. Blair himself visited a number of African states in February 2002, whilst more quietly the UK has been assisting African states in the New Partnership for Africa’s development (NEPAD) and Blair has been serving as advocate for the involved nations within the G8[37].

It is a sad truth that there are no votes to be gained in African development for a British politician, and beyond the rather vague interdependence thesis (although it is now more stark post 9 – 11) the government has not tried to justify this commitment beyond it being the right thing to do. In the cynical world of politics this candour is refreshing.

Some have detected what has been called a ‘missionary zeal’ in Blair’s policies and this calls into question his faith. He is clearly a committed and practicing Christian, but unlike in the US, British politicians tend to stay well clear of religious issues, as they tend to alienate British voters more than they attract. Blair said to Newsweek “I’m incredibly wary about talking about [my faith].”[38] When he has talked about religion he tends to stress the Christian Socialist movement and how his faith informs his belief in community and society[39] Without doubt he strongly believes in concepts of absolute right and wrong, Kamal Ahmed interviewed the Prime Minister in October 2001 and notes that Blair told him about a Afghani woman reporter who he had recently met She was now working for the BBC, having fled from the Taliban. Blair said only one word came to his mind as he listened to her story – injustice[40]. Yet he rarely uses those ideas in debate, rather trying to find a seemingly practical, self-interested reason for a policy, perhaps aware of cynicism that pronouncement on morality by politicians tend to attract.

In Conclusion

Politics is never neat; it is rarely possible to say in a sprawling democracy that one certain thing was the reason behind a certain policy. Ideology, vested interests, indifference, lack of time, compromise, mistakes and sheer chance may all play a role in how policy is produced. Nevertheless policies can change radically as a result of a change of government. This has been shown above in the cases of British policy on the Balkans, humanitarian intervention more generally, third world development and European defence. If one person within government can exert significant influence it is the Prime Minister, particularly in the case of Blair who has been centralizing power through his period in office, with the claimed intention of creating better coordination between the different sections of government[41].

Blair stands out amongst world leaders in that he not only has a vision of a better world beyond the borders of his own country, but he is willing to use the resources of the state he leads to try and achieve it. We are seeing this again in Afghanistan. Of course this whole vision might turn out to be a monumental folly; his rhetoric might create expectation in poor countries that will remain unfulfilled leading to cynicism towards all efforts of the rich nations to assist. Blair is already seeing domestic anger over the perception that whilst he is off fighting the war against terror, the British rail network is in disarray and other public services are not improving as promised. Yet the news footage of the cheering and dancing citizens of Kabul, greeting the first British paratroopers as they marched out onto the streets of that city alongside the local police should perhaps make one forget the cynicism, at least for awhile.

[1]Tony Blair, Speech to the Labour Party Conference 2 October 2001. Available at:

[2] The Guardian 1February 2002 “‘Missionary’ Blair’s African Crusade” Available at:,11538,642774,00.html

[3] for information on Operation Veritas, the UK contribution to ‘Enduring Freedom’ see:

[4] the UK contribution to ISF is called Operation Fingal, for more information see:

[5] Harris, Robin (2001) “Blair’s ‘Ethical’ Policy” The National Interest Spring 2001

[6] Interestingly the hard left in the UK also proclaimed Kosovo as an oil war, a claim that seems to make no sense even to the most greedy of oil executives. It is worthy of note that a number of small but influential publications, most notably LM (Living Marxism) were consistent supporters of Milosovic and Serb nationalism across the former Yugoslavia and have made the ‘oil’ argument.

[7] Rashid, Ahmed (2001) Taliban: The Story of the Afghan Warlords Pan Books, London (see Part 3, chapters 11-15)

[8] Nick Cohen (2002) “Time to Bite Back?” The New Statesman 28 January 2002. Available online at:

[9] Howorth, Jolyon (2000) “Britain, NATO and CESDP: Fixed Strategy, Changing Tactics” European Foreign Affairs review no. 5, 2000 (p.380)

[10] ibid. (p.380-381)

[11] Mathiopoulos, M. and Gyarmati, I. (1999) “Saint Malo and Beyond: Towards European Defense” Washington Quarterly Autumn 1999 (p.66) and Howorth, Jolyon (2000) (p.381)

[12] for more information see the Strategic Defence Review webpage at:

[13] Yost, David (2000) “The NATO Capabilities Gap and the European Union” Survival Vol.42 No.4 Winter 2000-01 (p.100)

[14] Howorth, Jolyon (2000) “Britain, France and the European Defence Initiative” Survival Vol.42 No.2 Summer 2000(p.33)

[15] Whitman, Richard (2000) Amsterdam’s unfinished business? The Blair government’s initiative and the future of the Western European Union Occasional Paper 7: the Institute for Security Studies, Western European Union (p.6-7)

[16] the full declaration is available on the FCO website:

[17] Howorth, Jolyon (2000) ) “Britain, NATO and CESDP: Fixed Strategy, Changing Tactics” (p.383)

[18] note the title of the Telegraph article on the summit “The old port where French pirates lurk” Daily Telegraph 4 December 1998

[19] Harris, Robin (2001) (p.25)

[20] “US launches attack on Euro army” Daily Telegraph 18 March 2001

[21] Pfaff, William “Tony Blair Tours the World, and the American Empire Expands” International Herald Tribune 14 January 2002 (p.6)

[22] Whitman, Richard (2000) (p.10)

[23] Woollacott, Martin “Wrong Wars” Guardian 3 November 2001 (p.10)

[24] Rawnsley, Andrew “Ready to go to the People” Observer 6 May 2001 (available on line at:,5673,486839,00.html)

[25] ibid.

[26] all quotes from Klein, Joe “Profile: Tony Blair – True Colours” Guardian 7 June 2001 (available on line at:,9407,502935,00.html)

[27] Daily Telegraph 31 January 2002

[28] Newsweek 3 December 2001 (p.44)

[29]speech by the Prime Minister Blair, to the Economic Club of Chicago, Chicago, USA, 22 April 1999


[30] see the BBC 2001 General Election website:

[31] the speech is on the UK High Commission in India website:

[32] Roberts, Adam (1999) “NATO’s ‘Humanitarian’ War over Kosovo” Survival vol.43, no.3 Autumn 1999 (p.109)

[33] Hirsch, John (2001) “War in Sierra LeoneSurvival vol.43 no.3 Autumn 2001 (p.153)

[34] ibid.

[35] Tony Blair, Speech to the Labour Party Conference 2 October 2001 (see note 1)

[36] “ ‘Missionary’ Blair’s African crusade” Guardian 1 February 2002

[37] “Blair’s mission possible” Observer 3 February 2002

[38] Newsweek 3 December 2001 (p.50)

[39] Klein, Joe “Profile: Tony Blair – True Colours” (see note 26)

[40] Ahmed, Kamal “You can’t talk… you’ve got to go and beat them” Observer 14 October 2001

[41] see for example “The new centre” The Economist 19 January 2002 (p.36)

Getting ready to move house

My missus thinks that I have a fetish for rucsacs:

Do you think she might have a point?

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Bizarre fact for the day

Did you know the first officially organised international sporting event was a cricket match between the national teams of the United States of America and Canada? It was held in New York in 1844 and 10,000 people went to watch. You can learn all sorts of strange things listening to the radio.

More on US and Canadian cricket here and here for the truly obsessive.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

"Islamo-fascism" again - more food for thought

I'm going to write more on why this is an ugly phrase for cynical politics soon, but I heard another short radio programme today discussing the use of the phrase and its well worth a listen if you are interested in the implications of political discourse. If you want the show as a downloadable MP3 you'll have to find the show "Here and Now" (from WBUR/NPR) on Itunes, otherwise just click here and listen with realplayer. Speaking are Peter Canellos, the Boston Globe's Washington bureau chief and Igor Lukes, professor of history and international relations at Boston University.

Friday, September 08, 2006

A Friday thought - President Bush and "Islamic-fascism"

All of a sudden its word of the week, the Whitehouse puts it on their talking points - Bush and Rumsfeld both make major speeches that use the term and everyone is talking about it.

It was a pleasant autumnal morning as I road to work this morning, and I took a longer route to have time to listen to the whole podcast of Wednesday's "On Point" show from WBUR in Boston that focused on this term. Notably all their pundits from across the political spectrum agreed that Bush using the term was centrally political rhetoric for the US audience, even Steven Schwartz (an interesting character well worth listening to even if you don't agree with anything he says) who also claimed that he and other "Muslim intellectuals" coined the phrase to express originally a specific and analytical concept.

On the programme Walter Laqueur, the grand old man of the academic study of totalitarianism, made the interesting point that the term doesn't have much impact within the Muslim world as they do not have the same visceral reaction to the idea of fascism that the west does after the Nazis. Therefore it is really a phrase for domestic consumption - designed to remind people in the west of the totalitarianism and violence of the Jihadis. It should come as no surprise then that we have seen Senator Rick Santorum (a very rightwing Republican from Pennsylvania for those who don't follow US politics) pushing the phrase so hard over recent months, doing more to bring it to main stream attention and out of the still slightly rarefied world of the blogosphere and certain online and paper journals and magazines. Santorum looked until recently like he was going to hammered in the November mid-terms, but he has fought a smart and hard campaign running straight to his base, banging away to show his strong rightwing credentials. Santorum addressed the National Press Club in July and "Islamic fascism" was the central point of his high profile address.

It seems as things look "pretty dire" for the Republicans in November (and I quote Tony Blankley the conservative columnist from the Washington Times and not a man averse to using the Islamo-fascism term himself), the Whitehouse has also decided to appeal to its base by using these kind of terms which are flags being waved to a certain constituency. You can argue all night whether any aspects of the Salafi-Jihadi movement or Islamism more generally resembles classical European fascism (some do, some don't in my opinion) - a thousand rightwing blogs will tell you why they are the same if you interested - but that is all rather beside the point. The most poignant caller into the show was an American-Muslim who said that the label was effecting how people see his young daughter at school.

Plenty of rightwing commentators have laid into Bush and Blair for labeling Islam "the religion of peace" in the past. The critics are correct to a certain degree that this is disingenuous as there are plenty of Muslims who see their religion as justifying certain acts of violence just as can be seen in most (all? See the "fascist" Sinhalese-chauvinist monks in Sri Lanka before anyone trots out the "all Buddhists are lovely" line) of the world's religions, but I think most would understand that their hearts were in the right place when they said it. But now we have gone from the President of the United States talking about Islam being a religion of peace to talking about Islamic fascism in just a few years. I'm sure if pressed the President would say that the latter is just a minority and doesn't make the former concept false, but I'm sure this will be lost on many and that's exactly what the Whitehouse's strategy aims at.