Iraq has severed the thread of Blairite foreign policy. This fifth war may turn out to have been his lastby Charles Grant / October 20, 2003 / Leave a comment
Published in October 2003 issue of Prospect Magazine
Few 20th-century British prime ministers have been strongly associated with a distinctive brand of foreign policy. Macmillan, Wilson, Callaghan, Major: none had a particularly original view of Britain’s role in the world. Thatcher had her tryst with Ronald Reagan and fought against Brussels, but that hardly amounted to a coherent doctrine of foreign policy. Heath and Churchill had strong views of their own. So did Chamberlain and Eden, although foreign policy destroyed them both.
Tony Blair took charge of the country with no foreign policy experience and, apparently, little interest. So it is remarkable that he has developed a recognisably “Blairite” foreign policy, sometimes in opposition to the views of the foreign and commonwealth office.
Blair’s most distinctive position is that Britain should be prepared to intervene militarily in other countries, when it is practicable, and when there is a strong ethical justification. Thus Blair led the Nato countries into the bombing of Serbia in 1999, to prevent ethnic cleansing; he sent British forces into Sierra Leone in 2000, to end a bloody civil war; and he took part in the US-led attack on Afghanistan in 2001, to purge that country of al Qaeda. When Blair set out the criteria which would justify humanitarian interventions in a speech in Chicago in April 1999, he did not consult the foreign office, many of whose diplomats (and lawyers) were horrified by what they regarded as his naive idealism.
The second central idea of Blairite foreign policy is the attempt to balance strong Atlanticism with a deep commitment to Europe. Britain should be a leading member of the EU, shaping it to become more outward-looking and effective. But at the same time Britain should be a loyal partner of the US, showing it that multilateralism and working with allies pay. Blair is not the first prime minister to talk about Britain as a “bridge” between the US and Europe, but he has emphasised it more than most, and argues that Britain must avoid having to choose between its European and Atlanticist vocations.