October 1, 2011

THAT'S A YOU PROBLEM:

Once Upon a Time in Westphalia (Geoffrey Wheatcroft, August 24, 2011, National Interest)

It was not until 1997 that Robin Cook, Tony Blair's first foreign secretary, said that "our foreign policy must have an ethical dimension," but he was only formulating a concept that found its origins in the early nineteenth century if not before. The English had persuaded themselves that their foreign policy was, and if necessary their wars were, justified by moral purposes, for the greater good of other countries where liberty and enlightenment should be spread.

One of Cook's predecessors is George Canning, foreign secretary in the 1820s, who proclaimed himself "an enthusiast for national independence" and supported the new South American republics which had rebelled against Spain. As foreign secretary three times, Lord Palmerston called himself Canning's heir, supported the forcible restoration of constitutional government in Portugal, acclaimed the new liberal tide throughout Europe, and blusteringly insisted that "a British subject, in whatever land he may be, shall feel confident that the watchful eye and the strong arm of England will protect him against injustice and wrong." This coincided with the rise of a newspaper-reading middle class that could be swayed by moral or emotional arguments.

And it was this new zeal for what would later be called liberal interventionism that Smith had in mind with his sardonic words. For the best part of two hundred years since, his successors have tried to argue against the use of force to make all men good, sometimes with success but too often without.

EVER SINCE, noninterventionists have been subject to misrepresentation and caricature, as heartless cynics who would stand idly by rather than fight for right against wrong. But they do not deny the existence of suffering and injustice, they only ask whether right should, or can, anywhere and everywhere be imposed by force of arms.

The question they ask is rather different: why should I put myself at risk just because you suffer from injustice?


Posted by at October 1, 2011 7:38 AM
  

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