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Liberal interventionism: an excuse for yet another war

For 10 years the peace movement has been on continuous high alert. We have had ‘liberal intervention’ in Afghanistan, Iraq and most recently in Libya. Even before September 11th 2001, we had NATO intervention in Yugoslavia and regular US/UK bombing raids over the misnamed ‘no fly zone’ of Iraq.

During this time, public opinion in the UK has shifted against military action. It remains mostly loyal to servicemen and women in the armed forces but this period has seen significant decline in support for politicians’ decisions. Each war appears to have been less popular than the previous one.

In 1999 in a speech in Chicago Tony Blair set out a position which many regard as the bible of ‘liberal interventionism’. Blair cemented this by supporting the invasion of Iraq. Subsequently, people questioned whether this doctrine would outlive his premiership. David Cameron actually critiqued ‘liberal interventionism’ in a 2007 speech to his German sister party in an attempt to distance himself from Blair.

However, despite the public’s unease and the present Prime Minister’s earlier response to this, it is clear that many politicians are determined to make sure ‘liberal interventionism’ lives on. While the public has been sceptical of the recent military intervention in Libya, Westminster (and much of the media) has been overwhelmingly in favour.  Successive wars have resulted in what is now a familiar but repetitive line of argument for any international crisis that Britain ‘can’t stand idly by’. At that point the peace movement is expected to acquiesce to the political elite’s charge towards another military conflict.

Jim Murphy, the shadow Defence Secretary rejoices: “Thousands are today alive thanks to NATO. A new Libya is on the horizon.” His attitude to the future is manifest when he continues:

Defence must be viewed as more than reactive military conflict management but also pre-emptive deterrence of aggression and the circumstances in which it thrives, sitting as part of our wider foreign and development policy.”

In other words, Britain should prepare for more wars to assert its ‘values’ across the world. No mention is made of the important roles of diplomacy and dialogue, or how to end Britain’s repulsive love affair with the arms trade.

As CND Council Member and MP Caroline Lucas said in the House of Commons:

We cannot ignore our own complicity in arriving at this point. We cannot continue to arm regimes that abuse their own citizens, and try to claim the moral high ground when addressing the conflicts that those same arms have helped to perpetuate.”

The disconnect between the language of the political class and the public’s opposition to war requires a response from the peace movement. Pro-war politicians want us to ‘move on’ from Iraq by categorising the war as an aberration. But the peace movement and the public want to move on from war altogether. As Yasmin Qureshi MP warned at the outset of the intervention in Libya:

In the past 10 or 12 years, America, ourselves and others have spent trillions of dollars on being involved in conflicts in the middle east, and what have we left? We have not resolved any of the situations involved or made countries any better than when we went into them.”

A stronger peace movement in Britain is vital. CND’s first strategic objective includes the prevention and cessation of wars in which nuclear weapons might be used. It therefore has a critical role to play in opposing UK involvement in the nuclear-armed NATO wars of ‘liberal interventionism’. The phrase is a code for an approach to western politics that says the way to approach world politics is to have war after war after war.

This was originally published in ‘Campaign’, the magazine of the Campaign Nuclear Disarmament.


  1. Iain says:

    The bigger and more important question: how do we compel our “democratic” governments to govern in line with public opinion across the board? We must fight for binding referenda on all important issues. Politicians persist in arguing that we have delegated power to them, while demonstrating again and again that they are not competent to exercise that power.

  2. James McNiven says:

    Jim Murphy really is spot on in this, arguably Labour’s best shadow cabinet member.

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