British Neoconservatives Publish Manifesto


The Henry Jackson Society (HJS) is a British organisation that wants to spread “liberal democracy” across the world through an interventionist policy. It posits that the United States and the European Union – under British leadership – must “shape the world more actively” and, to this end, “[maintain] a strong military with global expeditionary reach.” The HJS Principles are supported by eminent British journalists, intellectuals, politicians and military men, such as Gerard Baker, assistant editor of The Times, Prof. Vernon Bogdanor of Oxford University, Colonel Tim Collins, the commander of the First Battalion Royal Irish Regiment in Iraq in 2003, Sir Richard Dearlove, former head of MI6, Jamie Shea, NATO’s Deputy Assistant Secretary General for External Relations, Nobel Peace Prize winner David Trimble, Michael Gove MP, the Shadow Minister for Housing, David Willetts MP, the Shadow Education Secretary, and others.
The HJS manifesto “The British Moment: The Case for Democratic Geopolitics in the Twenty-first Century,” written by a group of eight young academics based at Cambridge University, has just been published by the London think tank The Social Affairs Unit (SAU). The authors argue that it is time for Britain to “reclaim the noble tradition of liberal interventionism.”

Credit is due to the Social Affairs Unit for enabling the publication and dissemination of controversial opinions, so necessary to the broader political debate. The British Moment makes a determined and eloquent case for not less but more British involvement in world affairs. While this argument may be a little more popular than polls would suggest, it is certainly not mainstream. It is the stuff of hardened policy wonks, not of politicians reliant on their constituents’ votes. And it is remarkably refreshing for it.

The HJS is named after Henry ‘Scoop’ Jackson (1912-1983), the American isolationist-turned-interventionist, and they maintain his absolute conviction that democracy is morally superior to the alternative forms of government. This not only provides an ideological homeland for those on the political right, but also – as Oliver Kamm, argued forcefully in Anti-Totalitarianism: The Left-wing Case for a Neoconservative Foreign Policy (also published by the SAU) – for leftists who have found themselves abandoned by their comrades (historically the real proponents of the spread of global democracy and real freedom).

The HJS are noble and highly optimistic. They believe Britain still can and should be Great, with a major role to play in uniting the strong democracies behind the one cause (specifically reconciling the US and the EU). They remind us that principled political action is ingrained in British foreign policy, citing the intervention against slave-trading as a prime example. And – to set minds at rest – while advocating military intervention where necessary, they want Iraq to be the last large-scale military intervention in the Middle East, not the beginning of a chain.

“We are not Jacobins,” they cry. But methinks the young academics do protest too much. The HJS are hardliners, “liberal interventionism” in common parlance being a direct translation for “willingness to invade.” And they are talking about going to war to free their oppressed brethren, in a very (French) revolutionary way.

Unlike modern Tories, they maintain, theirs is not a “realist” foreign policy: Jackson’s fundamental moral principles, to which they adhere, make it clear that there is no moral parity between democratic nations and undemocratic ones. There should be no deals with dictators. The UN, therefore, is by implication deeply flawed in treating all states as equals. But The British Moment insists that this is not simply a “utopian” or “evangelical” stance; rather it is overturning strategically and idealistically ineffectual realist trends – the sort of trends which got us into so much difficulty in the Gulf, the Balkans and elsewhere in the last two decades.

They argue that we in the West have gone too far, demanding moral standards of ourselves that we do not of the Saddams, Osamas and Mugabes of this world. This is certainly not hard to find – the media are rightly criticised for fuelling this bad habit – but it begs the troubling question: if we object to all “evil” nations, why in fact do we tackle so few, and who decides the pecking order?

The British Moment tries to pre-empt argument over the very grey areas, such as how one makes sense of armed intervention if one does not then impose democracy on people. The unconvincing assumption (a la Fukuyama) is that democracy – even a “locally and culturally specific” democracy – will inevitably take root as the preferred system of government of all free(d) peoples. As Rory Stewart’s recent Occupational Hazards makes plain, this mistaken assumption is by no means the exclusive preserve of pro-democracy zealots. That people want freedom from tyranny (to quote Tony Blair) is undeniable; but that they all see this “freedom” manifesting itself in liberal democracy is not so clear.

Unsurprisingly, the HJS find themselves forced to accept certain levels of realism: “sometimes we have to compromise.” And they criticise, for example, hardliners who would risk civil liberties in the name of security. But if all their themes are followed to their logical conclusions, they seem to be suggesting that we disregard our alliance with the US (“rendition,” for example, being totally unjust) while arguing for the inclusion of Turkey in the EU, on the grounds of cultural strategy. And only on paper can you cut – as they suggest – EU trade deals with China in order to enforce a blockade of Iran without turning a blind eye to the issue of human rights.

For all the difficulties of turning any theory into practice, the moral core of this book is compelling, and it is well worth reading carefully (the chapter on Britain’s role in Africa is particularly good), regardless of personal politics. With the very real prospect of a Conservative government on the electoral horizon, anyone with an interest in foreign policy would do well to acquaint themselves with the views of the Henry Jackson Society and its various eminent signatories.


The British Moment: The Case for Democratic Geopolitics in the Twenty-first Century – A Manifesto of The Henry Jackson Society
The Social Affairs Unit (SAU), London, 2006, £13.99
ISBN 1 904863 15 9

End of the road

@ Kapitein

It is obvious that we have come to the end of the road in this discussion.  Your latest response is a mixture of 'strawmen' and beside-the-point opinions

I made two distinct points.

-- There is ample evidence of numerous "direct interventions by the US since Vietnam".  You continue to deny this point against the empirical evidence.

-- The US is a relatively OPEN economy.  That empirically observable fact supports my contention that there is a political culture, a public acceptance, of the notion that "competitiveness and wealth of other nations is not at the 'detriment' of any nation".  Your micmac of opinions does not address this point either.

In addition, you have posited a number of 'strawmen', i.e. you have attributed to me a number of presumed opinions which I do not hold.  They will have to be addressed and cleared up some other time, preferably one by one.  A discussion can only be useful if it is focused.  Please limit your topics to a manageable number per posting.




Splitting hairs #2

@ Kapitein

I will make the rather 'wild' assumption that your comments are addressed to me, since you certainly did not deal specifically with the various points I made in my commentary.

Two further points.

-- Perhaps Panama, Haiti, Grenada and others can be seen as "small" direct interventions, but the first Gulf War, Bosnia, Kosovo, and Irak cannot be, really.  In any case  your claim of "abandoned direct intervention after Vietnam" does not stand.

-- Compared with most countries, the United States is a relatively "open" economy, in terms of movements of capital, goods, services and even people. In a democratic environment such 'facts' are reflective of a political culture, or of an acceptance by the public at large.  That is what I meant by "instictive grasp" of the American people of the notion that "competitiveness and wealth of other nations is not at 'the expense' of any nation".   You obviously do not share that "grasp", perhaps because of your mistaken notion that this is related to the 'quality' of "the k-12 education system".   Presumably by quality you mean here 'writing, reading and arithmatic'. However, don't underestimate the potential negative impact of 'culture' (especially as espoused by ideological elites) in undoing 'quality education'.  For instance, if today the majority of Belgians and Spaniards think that totalitarian China and Islamofascist Iran are 'better' countries than say democratic America, what does that say about the 'quality' of their education systems?  About their ability to make empirical observations and reasoned judgements, rather than parrotting orthodox ideology?  

Actually, after Vietnam the

Actually, after Vietnam the United States did abandon "direct" intervention until the Gulf War, where the military relied on aerial supremacy (i.e. the RMA) over ground forces to minimize casualties. The press was muzzled, and the Pentagon was terrified of a public backlash until it was obvious that the campaign was a tactical success. Subsequently, the Pentagon has eased into "directness," however, the occupation of Iraq was perhaps too soon and over-enthusiastic in light of Coalition and Iraqi casualties.

Firstly, these statements are far too general and black-and-white. Secondly, assuming these precepts are true, they do not indicate an "innate" knowledge of macro-economics. Thirdly, macroeconomics is far too complex for your Adam Smith-esque blurb e.g. economies of scale arise in areas of market failures; the public sector is more efficient than the private one in certain areas. Fourthly, define "expense."

I am quite certain that Belgians and Spaniards do not regard the United States as "inferior" compared to China, Iran, or the Islamic (no suffix) World.

However, there is a great deal of constructive criticism that can be levelled at American foreign policy (economic and military).

Your "with us or against us" attitude is diametrically opposed to liberal democracy. Quite frankly, if the government is going to spend or "waste" money, I would rather it be on healthcare and education than futile military endeavours that can never succeed short of genocide or regime change to keep bananas from the UFC cheap.

Occupy Afghanistan - Yes. Iraq - No.
Regime Change in Cuba - Yes. Guatemala, etc. - No.

Fund the Northern Alliance - Yes. Osama - No.

Free trade with Canada (softwood lumber) - Yes. Out-sourcing for below-market costs - No.

Billions to corporate overhead (Katrina, the War) - No. Billions to inhibit the spread of AIDS within a decade - Yes.

Un-realism squared #2

@ Kapitein


-- The (changing) "enemy" will ALWAYS be willing to fund despots etc... There is nothing new under the sun.  The world will always be primarily divided by genuine 'democrats' and totalitarians, and secondarily by 'democrats' who can act and 'democrats' who can only talk.  

-- Your comment on 'Pinochet' is pure nonsense, or straight parrotting from naive-left media.  Pinochet may not be a sympathetic person, but he was no "despot".  I know of no despot who has ever voluntarily surrendered power (what Pinochet did).  And "big business" prefers much more to do business with true despots - like the Chinese Politbureau today for instance - than with leaders who force them to compete.  Pinochet brought, on the whole, market liberalisation and competition to Chile.

--  No "youth", including the American one, was and will never be "eager to go to war".  The necessity of war at times has nothing to do with youth's eagerness, and neither does the possible avoidability of war have anything to do with it.    


Un-realism squared

@ Kapitein

I am not going to comment on the British Neoconservatives' manifesto.  But, in your attempt to discredit them, you display a remarkable amount of "un-realism" yourself.

-- You claim that the US "abandoned" direct intervention following Vietnam.  I can't give an exact number, but in actual fact the US has made significant "direct interventions" since Vietnam on many occasions, somewhere between 10 and 20, perhaps even more.  And, thank God for that.  The world would be a much worse place if it hadn't.  While it is likely that a new 'isolationist American phase' may be approaching, historically such phases of American isolationism have meant disaster for the world.

-- The public in a democratic polity is always "disgruntled".  It is in the nature of "democracy".

-- "Global support" will and can never be guaranteed.  Korea was an exception, because it occurred at a very special '"American Moment", so close after WW2.

-- You do not seem to understand basic macroeconomics.  The competitiveness and wealth of other nations is not "at the expense" of any nation.  It is much better - for the purpose of own wealth creation - to be surrounded by rich nations and engage with them in market competition, than to be surrounded by poor nations.  While most people in the world do not understand basic macroeconomics, americans typically have a better instinctive grasp of this idea than most others.  


Splitting Hairs ...

Following the close of the Vietnam War, the United States did not engage in such large-scale direct intervention until the Gulf War; even then the Bush Sr. administration was wary about casualties and so allowed Hussein to languish in power until George W. committed American infantry to the ground in Iraq and prior to in Afghanistan.

After Vietnam, the United States was no longer willing to expend a great deal in men and materiel to "rescue" a country from Communism. Which was to some extent a shame as one can see from looking at South Korea, Japan, West Germany, etc.

The United States has not been a major power long enough for it to be known what its isolationism entails "historically."

Like it as not, the deployment of American forces to South Korea, Japan, and West Germany are expensive and use individuals who could be engaging in the domestic economy. Only now is South Korea starting to come close to self-sufficiency in terms of defense...

I'm afraid that Americans don't have an "instinctive" knowing of macroeconomics, ith practically the worst K-12 education system in the West.


The United States abandoned direct intervention following the Vietnam War for good reasons:


  1. Not all peoples were the same (South Koreans vs. South Vietnamese).
  2. The American public was was disgruntled at the number of deaths and the cost of intervention since 1945 and even before.
  3. Global support (a la Korea) was not guaranteed.
  4. "Assisting" Western Europe, Japan, and South Korea improved their economic competitiveness at the expense of America's.*
  5. The "enemy" was more than willing to fund despots so long as they supported Moscow.
  6. Support of despots like Pinochet was good strategically and economically for big business.
  7. American youth were no longer eager to go to war as they had been in 1941...

The UK will never engage in such intervention again unless there is a clear and present danger to its national security. Nor should it. Foreign policy based on a sense of moral superiority is a slippery slope. What happens when social democracy is not "democratic enough"?

Liberal democracy is a choice that a people must collectively come to and grow into. That doesn't mean that pro-democracy NGOs cannot receive considerable support, but that the threat of intervention causes non-democracies to become more hardline...