Magazine article The Spectator

Our Metternich in Reverse

Magazine article The Spectator

Our Metternich in Reverse

Article excerpt

IN HIS interview with the American magazine Newsweek - a strange choice, but an improvement on Richard and Judy Tony Blair spelt out a doctrine which breaks as completely with traditional British policy as anything this quietly revolutionary government has done to date. `We are fighting,' wrote Mr Blair, `for a world where dictators are no longer able to visit horrific punishments on their own peoples in order to stay in power . . where dictators know that they cannot get away with ethnic cleansing or repressing their peoples with impunity. . . where brutal repression of whole ethnic groups will no longer be tolerated.'

This, then, is the Blair Doctrine. He calls it the `new internationalism'. In fact, it amounts to a repudiation of the United Nations charter. What the Blair Doctrine says is that we - meaning the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation -- assert our right to intervene in the internal affairs of any sovereign state to prevent not just ethnic cleansing but repression of any sort.

Though breathtaking, it is not difficult to see where this doctrine originates. From this government's earliest days two years ago, its improbable Foreign Secretary affirmed his intention to pursue an ethical foreign policy (as opposed, in Mr Cook's case, to an ethical private life). Almost at once, Mr Cook's contortions over Sierra Leone gave the lie to that grand phrase. The crisis in Kosovo, however, has allowed the government to try again.

More importantly, the Blair Doctrine is based on a distinctive and deeply misleading view of the past. The key is the allusion in Mr Blair's article to what happened 60 years ago, `We have learnt,' he writes, `not to appease dictators.'

Now, I have no doubt that the Yugoslav forces are committing massacres in Kosovo, as they committed massacres in Bosnia before. Whether they are attempting the annihilation of an entire race in the way that Nazi Germany attempted to annihilate the Jews is another question. But let that pass. According to the international law definition of genocide, a crime is very probably being committed in Kosovo. And it is worth remembering that, though the Nazis ultimately killed six million Jews, they began with forced expulsions and mass graves.

Hence Mr Blair's parallel with Nazi war crimes. To see how potent that assertion is, you need only consider how the German public has reacted to this war. The Gulf war was hugely unpopular in Germany and led to large pacifist demonstrations against Kohl's decision to contribute a few Luftwaffe jets. True, the war over Kosovo is an embarrassment to many Social Democrats and Greens; but it is much harder to work up the same pacifist ardour this time around. The German guilty conscience about the Holocaust is in collision here with postwar anti-militarism.

Yet there is a difficulty with the Holocaust parallel (and I do not just mean the Israeli foreign minister's rejection of it). The ending of the Holocaust was, in truth, a happy byproduct of Germany's defeat, but not the reason for the war. The Red Army did the lion's share of the fighting which won the land war: troops loyal to a regime which had already before the war had even begun -- murdered more of its own people than Hitler managed to murder Jews.

The supposed historical basis of the Blair Doctrine is therefore bogus. If there is a lesson to be learned from the second world war, it is this. The Yugoslav army can be defeated, but not by an air force, only by a superior army. If Nato air-strikes do eventually topple or tame Mr Milosevic and restore the population of Kosovo to their smouldering homes, it will not be a result of learning from the past. …

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