Armour-Plated Liberalism

Liberalism, Churches and Funny Pictures

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A Bullish Anarchist

How does the world work and what role should Britain play in it? These two important questions frame this question-and-reply post to Olly Neville. In the first part, I offer some questions to Mr Neville to try and help him frame a wider post on his whole world view. In the second, I pick out my vision of Britain, what this means for war and some disagreement with Mr Neville on its usefulness.

Olly Neville, lately of UKIP, has recently contributed a pair of posts to the blog site BackBencher on the subject of foreign policy. I find his approach to international relations particularly interesting; especially given that he has focused on intervention, an area I have written, both on this blog and elsewhere, and am currently working on my first journal article on this very subject. Whilst it is always an engaging and important debate to have, I want to use intervention as a gateway to present a two-step case here - first, a question to Mr Neville and those who agree with his world view, and second of all a firm restatement of my own beliefs with regards to Britain’s role in the world.

The question I want to pose is, essentially, this - how does the world work? Answering this question must come before any attempt to wrestle with more specific issues, such as whether humanitarian intervention is desirable. My own training is centred around international relations (IR) theory, which struggles with that question through a variety of schools of thought. Therefore, my approach to this question is going to be intellectually different to Mr Neville’s. However, I think there is some merit in bringing the language of IR to bear on this question, and to try and use it to shape any response he may care to give to that question.

As an IR scholar, I try and understand how the world works through models which discuss anarchy, states and so on to varying degrees of complexity. Foreign policy is then viewed through the prisms constructed by the outcomes of these discussions. As I can’t very well expect Mr Neville to wade into IR theory and come out with a fully-formed answer in light of the outcomes of those discussions, I’d like to tender 3 supplementary questions that IR scholars often deal with to help him shape his answer into a form that is more recognisable to us. They are:

  1. Who are the actors that matter in international affairs?
  2. Why do they behave the way they behave?
  3. How do we know they’re important?
I hope these questions are readily comprehensible to a non-specialist, and enable the provision of an answer that can be readily decrypted by specialists; in essence, questions that enable an answer in the middle ground between us. If Mr Neville furnishes us with an answer, and he is willing to grant me the chance to do so, I would like to engage with that answer as an IR scholar, to offer my perspective on his world view.

That view of international relations, much as my own, will shape his response to the second part of the issue - the nature of Britain’s role in the world. I’ve written before here on what I believe Britain’s role should be, and therefore what my party should be pressing for. Here I will offer some agreement and disagreement with Mr Neville’s blog post on Blowback, as well.

Broadly, I believe Britain is best served by a leading international role. A co-incidence of history, politics, geography and economics in particular drive this country to the forefront of the international stage, and there she should remain. My own IR sympathies lie with the English School and the likes of Hedley Bull, whose model of a ‘Great Power’ is one I think is worth exploring and adopting for Britain today. Bull’s Great Powers are the managers of the international society; they lead on setting and enforcing the rules by which it is governed and they lead on the management of their operation. When rules are broken and order is threatened, the Great Powers take the lead in restoring order and upholding the rules; the classic example of this I would cite would be the First Gulf War. Because of hard fact and historical pressure, Britain needs to remain at the top flight of international politics, I would contend, or face a decline not only in distant prestige, but in domestic life as well.

This means that my agreement with Mr Neville’s discomfort with interventionism only goes so far. I have a general problem with humanitarian intervention - the principles underpinning it are too selective, the rules too vague and its supporters are too skittish about calling it what it is; war; for my tastes. So on that, I would probably agree with him - too often, interventions are ill-planned and go awry, leaving a bitter after taste and creating the risk of blowback. Indeed, as a war, humanitarian intervention is all hell. Wars are violent, unpleasant and brutal things that lead to chaos, death and destruction on an industrial scale. They are not to be entered into lightly, in short.

But that does not mean we should remove the tool from the kit of the statesman. War has long been an essential part of international relations; Bull lists it as one of the 5 institutions he believes are responsible for the maintenance of order in international society. Diplomacy will only ever carry us so far; sometimes, all that is left is to (to quote an old RAF hand) “kill people and break stuff”. The reputation for military action that Mr Neville discusses is, from an IR perspective, a part of that management role that the Great Powers have. When a country invades another sovereign state, then the rules of the international society must be upheld, and that means using physical force to remove the aggressor state from the territory of another.

As war moves inside states and involves actors that do not constitute states, this becomes a harder role to fulfil  I would contend. But the need to manage war, and occasionally use it as a tool to enforce the rules of the international society, does not go away. I would so far as to say this - so long as we live in states, we will have war among ourselves. Why we live in states is another, deeper matter; but my ultimate point is that war needs to remain on the table, as a tool for ensuring that the international society operates in a relatively orderly way.

As a consequence, Britain is going to commit herself to future wars in an effort to make sure that the international society remains orderly, if she remains in the top flight of international powers. As I’ve said above and elsewhere, I believe that she must remain in that position; her open, international-facing economy and society rely on having a world favourable to her interests in order to function well and deliver the means for prosperity at home. The best way to make sure the world remains as such is to remain in the front row, and that means a considerable expenditure. I maintain this is a price worth paying, and that extends to keeping the need for Britain to act - either on her own or, more likely, in tandem with others, in war to uphold order in the society.

Filed under international relations theory international relations war Hedley Bull English School foreign policy Mali Libya politics

  1. aremay posted this