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Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Blair and preemptive use of force

Does anyone doubt that British Prime Minister Tony Blair is far more articulate and eloquent than George W. Bush?

If Blair is the superior political communicator, as I believe he is, then none of us should be surprised that Blair turns out to be a far superior advocate of the Bush Doctrine than is the President.

Today, I read Blair's March 5, 2004, address "Prime Minister warns of continuing global terror threat." This is a fine passage, though Blair one year after attacking Iraq, like Bush, now emphasizes the humanitarian case for war rather than the WMD security threat:
The best defence of our security lies in the spread of our values.

But we cannot advance these values except within a framework that recognises their universality. If it is a global threat, it needs a global response, based on global rules.

The essence of a community is common rights and responsibilities. We have obligations in relation to each other. If we are threatened, we have a right to act. And we do not accept in a community that others have a right to oppress and brutalise their people. We value the freedom and dignity of the human race and each individual in it.

Containment will not work in the face of the global threat that confronts us. The terrorists have no intention of being contained. The states that proliferate or acquire WMD illegally are doing so precisely to avoid containment. Emphatically I am not saying that every situation leads to military action. But we surely have a duty and a right to prevent the threat materialising; and we surely have a responsibility to act when a nation's people are subjected to a regime such as Saddam's. Otherwise, we are powerless to fight the aggression and injustice which over time puts at risk our security and way of life.
Blair clearly grasps the stakes for the rest of the world, and quite coherently and cogently replies:
I understand the worry the international community has over Iraq. It worries that the US and its allies will by sheer force of their military might, do whatever they want, unilaterally and without recourse to any rule-based code or doctrine. But our worry is that if the UN - because of a political disagreement in its Councils - is paralysed, then a threat we believe is real will go unchallenged.
This is what Blair would do to resolve the problems:
Britain's role is try to find a way through this: to construct a consensus behind a broad agenda of justice and security and means of enforcing it.

This agenda must be robust in tackling the security threat that this Islamic extremism poses; and fair to all peoples by promoting their human rights, wherever they are. It means tackling poverty in Africa and justice in Palestine as well as being utterly resolute in opposition to terrorism as a way of achieving political goals. It means an entirely different, more just and more modern view of self-interest.

It means reforming the United Nations so its Security Council represents 21st century reality; and giving the UN the capability to act effectively as well as debate. It means getting the UN to understand that faced with the threats we have, we should do all we can to spread the values of freedom, democracy, the rule of law, religious tolerance and justice for the oppressed, however painful for some nations that may be; but that at the same time, we wage war relentlessly on those who would exploit racial and religious division to bring catastrophe to the world.

But in the meantime, the threat is there and demands our attention.

That is the struggle which engages us. It is a new type of war. It will rest on intelligence to a greater degree than ever before. It demands a difference attitude to our own interests. It forces us to act even when so many comforts seem unaffected, and the threat so far off, if not illusory. In the end, believe your political leaders or not, as you will. But do so, at least having understood their minds.
Blair is right.

I may not agree with him, but his arguments (though admittedly not all that different from Bush's) merit attention and discussion.

Perhaps this is why the UN Secretary-General's High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change made some similar points in December.

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