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William Norton

Another excellent article, with a commendable absence of Whigs. As a blue water Tory, though, I'd like to have seen more discussion of the option of buying foreign countries rather than invading them. Probably cheaper.

Robert Thompson

The comparison of tyranny in a foreign country and domestic violence leaves one major question unanswered. If there are many houses in the street where domestic violence is taking place, upon what basis does he decide in which domestic dispute to intervene? As no country has the resources to intervene everywhere, how would he decide which country to invade? Draw names out of a hat perhaps?

Surely, the only sound basis for foreign intervention is the defence of the British national interest.

Malcolm Dunn

Well in that case I will have to be comfortable being described as selfish and dishonourable.
I simply do not believe that we should be risking the lives of our servicemen and women when Britain or its interests are not being threatened.


What happens when after you have “sorted out” your bad neighbour, your other (not so bad but not good) neighbours start to shun you? What if the owners of your local Indian or Chinese takeaway refuse to take your custom? What happens when some of your own family start complaining that you are spending too much time sorting other people’s problems out?

I think I sit between your duty-driven imperialism and the collectivist view, I would gather a few mates up before I went round and we would give ourselves a fancy name; something like Neighbours Against Terrorizing Others.

Andrew Lilico


The fact that we cannot prevent all the unpleasantness in the world at once does not absolve us from doing what we can. We should work our way through the list of oppressive neighbours, beginning with those easiest to stop who are beating their families most viciously. There will usually be judgement calls about who is best to go to next, and which intervention creates the greatest risk that all my neighbours might gang up against me. But again, the fact that we have to make a call and that someone might dispute our priorities is not an argument for not acting at all.

Jonathan Powell


Excellent article, but I would still class you as a neocon. You're forgetting 2 things: (1) neocons are not all of the same mind, and (2) Rumsfeld is not a neocon--he has always been a Kissenger realist who believes in a small, high-tech, military acting only in America's interest.

Thus, I would argue that many neocons, such as Bill Kristol and John McCain would largely agree with you about the "you break it, you bought it" aspect, and are much more concerned than the faux neocons like Rumsfeld and Cheney about maintaining order post-invasion. I think Kristol, in particular, subscribes to the notion of a benevolent American Empire which upholds the American view of individual rights across the globe.

However, I do think you have a point about the misguided appetite for immediate democracy amongst American neocons, so perhaps you should distinguish yourself simply as a "British neocon", free of the pro-democracy baggage which characterizes Americans but otherwise comfortably within neoconservatism's big tent.

Regarding the issue raised by Robert Thompson, I would argue that we should do what we can, as Andrew says, but the priority should be those neighbours/countries which are the greatest threat to our own self-interest. This is why Iraq/Iran should be a higher priority than Zimbabwe, for example.

Robert Thompson

We are not talking about our neighbours here are we though? We are talking about countries in Africa and Asia. As we won't be intervening in pursuit of the national interest, any decision to intervene will be an entirely arbitrary one, quite possibly based upon flawed or incomplete information. I do not believe that the public will allow British blood and treasure to be wasted clearing up someone else's mess unless they feel that it is vital for Britain.

Britain must surely come first in any foreign policy decisions and what you propose is an abandonment of this sound principle of government.

Old Hack

Two words: Over reach

We simply cannot solve every human misery in the world.

We have to look after number one. So for instance if that meant nuking Mugabe then so be it. But otherwise he's South Africa's problem, not ours.

Furthermore, at what point do we tool up for a big geo-political punch-up which would be needed for a military resolution in Burma for instance?

There are practical limits to what we can achieve either militarily or diplomatically.

At the end of the day you have got to look after your interests as best you can. That means good military and good diplomats.

At the moment we have underfunded and undermanned armed services plus Miliband.

Moral minority

A truly confused article. Lilico is arguing, like neo-cons, for freedom and democracy to be imposed by force, i.e. bullets and bombs. You cannot win the hearts and mind of the people by destroying their infrastructure, sanitation and healthcare.

Thank God that Ron Paul, through his campaign for the Republican Presidential nomination is taking on the neo-con, "Israel first" cabal that has hijacked the GOP. Despite being largely ignored by the media, he raised an amazing $4 million dollars online yesterday.

Tony Makara

It is very easy to make the case for intervention from the comfort of an armchair. Many political commentators do this and often such calls gain momentum and develop a dynamic which in turn influences politicians. This is a dangerous game, a game that costs lives and destroys nations.

Intervention, if it is necessary, should be carried out through the auspices of the United Nations and not undertaken unilaterally. Having to go through a body like the UN qualifies any such intervention.

The Jews, known for their timeless wisdom, have a saying which states "Before you start something always think where it might end" That is advice that everyone should take. It is all too easy to sleepwalk into a situation of intervention, seduced by concepts of valour and having the moral high ground.

Deputy Editor
"A man was walking along the beach one evening and saw a little boy throwing starfish that had been washed ashore by the tide into the sea. He thought the boy was silly in trying to save the starfish, as he knew it was impossible to throw every single one of the starfish back into the sea, with the tides washing them up. The boy picked up a starfish, looked at the man and said, 'But sir, it matters to this one.' After saying that, he threw the starfish back into the sea."
Andrew Lilico

Old Hack@11:50

Our options are not: (A) Solve every human misery in the world; (B) Look after number one. There is also, for example, (C) Do what we can to alleviate the suffering of those in foreign parts, even when it is not in our own interests to do so.


Tony Makara: "Intervention, if it is necessary, should be carried out through the auspices of the United Nations and not undertaken unilaterally. Having to go through a body like the UN qualifies any such intervention."

Genuine question, Tony: Given that China and Russia have to approve in order for the UN to decide that some action is legitimate, do you not agree that we need an alternative to the UN?

I'm sure the people of Darfur and Rwanda will agree.


Are we now saying that all illiberal states should now be converted to liberal states? How (and when) should we decide whether to invade? What if, in seeking to create liberal states elsewhere, we destroy our own liberal state in the process?

Robert Thompson

Leaving aside all the arguments about the basis upon which foreign policy ought to be conducted for a moment, isn't this all pie in the sky stuff?

Our armed forces are massively over stretched fighting difficult wars on two fronts and likely to remain heavily committed to fighting the "war on terror" for the foreseeable future. Where then will the extra resources come for humanitarian intervention all over the world? As was said earlier, this is surely a recipe for massive over extension?

Moral minority

Around a million Iraqi civilians have died as a result of the invasion, suicide bombings, murders etc. That, along with rendition and illegal torture, is Bush's and Cheney's disgusting legacy.

Umbrella man

Where do you get that one million number Moral minority?

Tony Makara

Editor, as you correctly point out there are problems with the UN and the machinations of major powers like China and Russia makes consensus more difficult. Rather than an independent alternative to the UN it would be better to work within the UN but with qualified support. It is was very hard for the US to gain the support of Russia over Iraq because the invasion was deemed to be unnecessary and unjustified.

Jonathan Powell

the neo-con, "Israel first" cabal that has hijacked the GOP.

There is no such cabal, and it's clear what you mean by this no matter how you dress it up. Why don't you take your paranoid, antisemitic conspiracy theories elsewhere.

Chad Noble


I understand your frustration at the UN, but sidestepping Chinese or Russian opposition to action by creating a vehicle that removes their veto is not going to actually remove that opposition is it?

In fact, it could simply transfer it from the discussion table to the battlefield considering that vested interest would have driven the opposition in the first place.

Surely the UN's incompetence is due to conflicting interests which will persist if the UN continues or crumbles. The UN is simply a mirror for the corrupt world we live in, not the creator of it.

As for Andrew's article, I'd say that charity starts at home, and we have more than enough 'starfish' of our own piling up on the beach to worry about throwing back other countries' starfish.

Simon Newman

I think this article has a ridiculously over-inflated view of the West's power to solve the world's problems (ie, impose Western democracy) through violence. It's only fractionally more intelligent than the "everyone wants freedom/democracy" Wolfowitz version.

Jon Gale

Yes of course you have an obligation to intervene if your neighbour regularly beats up his wife and children.

But your neighbour is part of your community, your countryman, and it is happening under your nose. You are the man on the spot.

You do NOT have an obligation to intervene in domestic violence in communities on the other side of the planet. That is the obligation of their own neighbours/community.

And if your community elects a Committee to organise communal things, maintain order, promote, improve and look after your community, then that Committee is not obligated to provide the same services to all other communities in the world (at your expense), let alone engage in perpetual war against the wishes of its elecorate to do so.

Andrew Lilico

Robert Thompson@12:27

We choose our resourcing to meet our objectives and current commitments. Thus, you may be right that we would need a larger army/navy/air force to deliver the kind of programme I would prefer. In which case, we should get a larger army/navy/air force. But it would be the wrong way round to get a larger army first and then wonder what we fancied doing with it - don't you think?

William Norton

Robert Thompson: agreed, we should only intervene when it is in Britain's interests to do so, but the question still arises as to whether we have an interest in dealing with rogue states. If, say, there was an elephant in the room you have an interest in making it leave even if it isn't your elephant.

Tony Makara: relying on the UN is like waiting for the zookeeper to turn up and collect the elephant - but what happens if it's the zookeeper's day off? The view that a state can only act with UN sanction is as unhelpful as saying a state can always act unilaterally. In effect you're giving Russia and China a veto over Britain's use of force.

Old Hack: I don't think Andrew is proposing to act beyond our military capabilities. Overstretch would obviously be a factor in any decision to intervene anywhere, as would whether we were the best placed state to intervene (Zimbabwe, for instance, is really South Africa's primary concern).

Umbrella man

I wonder if Tony Makara is a EUrosceptic?

All EUrosceptics should be UNsceptics too.

They are both dreadful and inward looking multilateral organisations.

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