From Cook’s Ethical Foreign Policy to the Gibson Inquiry
In May 1997 Robin Cook attempted to launch an ‘ethical foreign policy’ for Britain. He wrote: “I invite you today to work together with us in a joint project to make Britain once again a force for good in the world.”
The Labour Government does not accept that political values can be left behind when we check in our passports to travel on diplomatic business. Our foreign policy must have an ethical dimension and must support the demands of other peoples for the democratic rights on which we insist for ourselves. The Labour Government will put human rights at the heart of our foreign policy and will publish an annual report on our work in promoting human rights abroad. (‘Robin Cook’s speech on the ethical foreign policy’ 12 May 1997)
It ended in disaster, in Iraq and elsewhere and the dangerous shambles we face today of drones and a steady stream of atrocity revelations. It’s a perfect example of why Britain doesn’t work. Supposed good intention are trumped by the undisclosed drivers of the British State [for a full demolition of Cook’s policies as Foreign Minister see Media Lens here.]
And so we come to a possible lowest low point for the No campaign in October this year when Theresa May sallied North to offer up dark warnings of an increased security threat if recalcitrant Scots vote Yes next year.
The UK currently boasts “some of the finest intelligence and security services in the world”, she warned but Scotland would lose access to them and have to establish its own spy networks, according to the latest report by the coalition government on the prospect of independence.
“The national security risks the UK faces are complex and changing,” she said on a visit to Edinburgh. “Terrorists and organised criminals will seek new ways to exploit any weakness in our justice and policing capabilities, and the scale of emerging threats such as cyber-crime demands a comprehensively resourced response. Now is the time to work more closely together for the security of all citizens.”
At the time Unionist commentators and politicians tumbled over themselves to back her up and join the chorus of foreboding and fuel the sense of unease. The ongoing line was that Britain remains a paragon of security, rule of law and all things upright. By default the British State is a bulwark against a mad and dangerous world, without which poor defenceless Scotland would be vulnerable. It was a shameless claim based on complete lies.
This morning we learn from the Gibson Report that – quite in reverse from John Major’s utterances about Britain being renowned globally for the ‘rule of law’ – in fact we’re guilty of collusion and torture (‘MI5 and MI6 face questions over torture of terrorism suspects‘):
In a damning report that swept aside years of denials, the Gibson inquiry concluded that the British government and its intelligence agencies had been involved in so-called rendition operations, in which detainees were kidnapped and flown around the globe, and had interrogated detainees who they knew were being mistreated.
MI6 officers were informed that they were under no obligation to report breaches of the Geneva conventions; intelligence officers appear to have taken advantage of the abuse of detainees; and Jack Straw, as foreign secretary, had suggested that the law might be amended to allow suspects to be rendered to the UK.
This is a massive blow to those who hold up the British State as a comfort blanket and source of security. A further dose of cold reality comes in the news that British security services freed Michael Adebolajo from a prison in Kenya in the hope to turn him into a double agent.
The British security services are only part of the problem, the real issue lies with our disastrous foreign policies of the last twenty years. This has made us a victim and a target with no discernible victories. Labour under Blair are as guilty, if not more so than the Coalition. It’s sad but true that you can’t disentangle these illegal wars and atrocities from the horrific events in Woolwich.
As Seamus Milne writes:
To say these attacks are about “foreign policy” prettifies the reality. They are the predicted consequence of an avalanche of violence unleashed by the US, Britain and others in eight direct military interventions in Arab and Muslim countries that have left hundreds of thousands of dead. Only the willfully blind or ignorant can be shocked when there is blowback from that onslaught at home. The surprise should be that there haven’t been more such atrocities.
In Afghanistan, echoing George Bush in Iraq ten years before, David Cameron announces ‘Mission Accomplished’. Chris Nineham at Stop the War introduces some reality constraint to the rhetoric:
A recent report by the US said that, while 68 per cent of the country was open for reconstruction in 2009, the figure is now 45 per cent and falling fast. Next year the report predicts there will only be “oversight bubbles” left in Kabul, Kandahar and Herat.
Since the surge in 2006 NATO’s night raids, bombing campaigns, drone attacks have wreaked terror across the country and fuelled the revival of the Taliban who are now in the position of being able to organise attacks on all the major cities. One of the few concrete achievements the west likes to point to is the creation of a 300,000 strong Afghan security apparatus. Unsurprisingly, this western creation has done nothing to stem the violence. Agencies report that violence is on the increase and that last year there were several thousand civilian deaths as a result of the war.
The wider background to this foreign policy disaster zone and this descent into illegality is the ongoing narrative about ‘foreigners’ ‘migrants’ and the potential of us hurtling towards exit from the EU in a cart with two horses: UKIP and the Tories. But they’re not alone. David Blunkett’s extraordinary Powelitte comments about ‘an explosion’ against the Roma community shows a convergence of the common acceptability of racism that is extraordinary to behold (‘David Blunkett Backed by Nigel Farage’).
This is a country where racism is fostered daily by a right-wing press and a pliant tabloidised political class. As Iain Macwhirter put it (‘Time to Look Behind the Immigration Claims’):
The year 2013 will go down as the one when British attitudes to immigration underwent a profound change.In England at least, xenophobia has come in from the cold. Those advertising lorries cruising London boroughs calling on asylum seekers to “Go Home” were the most obvious manifestation of the change. But the whole manner in which immigration is discussed in Westminster has altered. “Migrant” has almost become a term of abuse.
The series of foreign misadventures and the imperial drive of the UK forces has made Scotland more vulnerable than ever before. The location of WMD on our soil and the use of our runways for extraordinary rendition is a national disgrace we can rid ourselves of. It should be a spur to anyone considering their options for a better future in September 2014.
The sign at Camp Delta reads ‘Honour Bound to defend Freedom’. Not in my name.