Liberal warmongers have a lot of awkward questions to answer

My foreign policy requires that we employ more soldiers, equip them better and use them more often

IT WAS about three weeks into the Nato bombing of Yugoslavia, and I felt myself being swept away on the mighty tide of the Veteran Journalist's contempt. I was in one of the BBC's radio cubicles at Millbank, and the VJ's voice was coming down the line from one of those pleasant-sounding (but actually ramshackle and coffee-stained) places, usually referred to as "our Winchester/Stratford/Perth studio". I forget which it was.

The war was not going well, and we liberal warmongers were under pressure to justify Nato strategy; radio presenters are rarely on the wrong side of a running argument, and their scepticism at our belief in the need for intervention was becoming almost physical.

This, they were suggesting, was what happened when ex-hippies got to starting wars. But even allowing for this atmosphere of hostility, I was not prepared for the scale of the VJ's assault. The words he used were the words of complete dismissal: incompetent, ludicrous, absurd, misconceived, stupid and so on. "This New World Order," he finally spat, "I hate it."

But what's to hate? The New World Order, a relative of the Ethical Foreign Policy, connotes a very loose post-Cold War agreement on how, and according to what principles, the world should now be policed. Based substantially on the wealth and armed might of the world's one remaining superpower, the United States, it suggests that the more that can be done to make all countries into liberal, minority-loving democracies, the better it will be for everyone. In other words, let us help them to be more like us.

For 40 years this is not what we said. Then our enemy's enemy was our friend. "He may be a bastard," as an American president once remarked of a client dictator, "but he's our bastard." A highly pragmatic diplomacy operated, aimed at consolidating spheres of influence.

But where do we stand now? These days, any Tom, Dick and Harriet thinks he or she owns our foreign policy. You get a few heads on sticks, and the shout suddenly goes up for intervention, for troops, for anything. What, the VJ might ask, have the Indonesians ever done to us? Or the East Timorese done for us? How many of the inhabitants of, say, Carlisle, can place Dili within the correct hemisphere? What happened to West Timor? Is there one at all, or does Timor just end abruptly in the middle? It is, the VJ may well argue - deploying his armoury of heavy-calibre words - absurd, ludicrous and misconceived for us to get involved.

Heads on sticks. Terrified women pushing their kids over the UN compound wall. Guys in fatigues wielding machetes. Shades of Rwanda, shades of Bosnia, shades of the pogroms. Who could name the capital of Rwanda, until suddenly it was full of the corpses of Tutsis? But let me ask you this: knowing what you now know, what would you give to be able to turn the clock back, and put Western armoured cars between the Interahamwe and those they were about to slaughter? Would it be worth pounds 100? More?

This is not a costless world, unless you are a radio presenter. Or a cartoonist. Only they can portray Western intervention as a bumbling, ithyphallic Clinton astride a Cruise at one moment, and then draw a gasbag UN blethering as children die the next. Heads he wins, tails you lose - if only satirists ruled the planet.

So New World Order people like me (and maybe you) - we softies who cannot bear to see heads on sticks - have a lot of awkward questions to answer. Earlier in the week, Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary-General, was asked about the deployment of an armed UN force to police the passage of East Timor from Indonesian rule to the independence that the people had just voted for. "I wish," he said rather gently, "it were that easy to convince the governments to give you troops for some of these operations. Even in some situations when we've been given a clear mandate with a need for a peace- keeping force we've not been able to get the forces from them."

If we NWO types had our way, this situation would be much worse. When Mr Annan refers to peace-keeping he's primarily talking about standing between two antagonists, whose conflict might threaten world peace. But I also want the ability to intervene in the domestic affairs of sovereign nations, where that is the only way of protecting large groups of civilians from being massacred. My conscience requires lots and lots of troops.

In East Timor, Britain is unlikely to be asked for more than logistical support for an Australian-led operation. The Americans (naturally) will be leant on to contribute rather more. I imagine that the Portuguese, as former colonial rulers, will also want to do their bit. But it doesn't change the fact that this need to set the world to rights is an expensive and a difficult business for us as a country.

A large part of our armed forces is now tied up in Bosnia, Northern Ireland and Kosovo, and will be for a long time. Another international crisis, and we would be unable to do very much to help. And my foreign policy requires that we employ more soldiers and pilots, equip them better, and use them more often.

This is hard for me, since - like many liberals - I am very uncomfortable about guys with guns. The very characteristics that might make fighting people effective (such as controlled savagery), scare the living daylights out of me. My idea of absolute hell is Saturday night in the Squaddie's Arms, Aldershot, and yet here I am advocating that it is time to beat our ploughshares back into swords.

And, although I dislike the notion of imperialism, my policy also requires sometimes substituting my judgement for that of rulers in far-off lands. How confident am I that UN intervention in East Timor will not strengthen the hands of those in Jakarta who oppose reform? Might it not be better to turn the clock back to the days of nudging dictators in the right direction, and of keeping the troops at home?

That, of course, was the Old World Order. Let us recall its other great successes. It delayed for over 30 years the implementation of sanctions against the apartheid regime in South Africa. It gave covert military support for Unita in Angola, Renamo in Mozambique and the contras in Nicaragua, thus blighting three poor countries for a generation. It connived in the 40-year marginalisation of the Palestinians. And it permitted the Indonesians to annex East Timor, using weapons supplied by our arms industries.

That was only the West. Meanwhile the Russians were busy giving it out from the other side of the great divide. Communism's greatest export turned out not to be the empowerment of the masses, but the Kalashnikov.

So East Timor may provide a challenge to the New World Order, but it also shows the fatal flaw in the Old one. Which is that what goes about, comes about.

Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat

Arts and Entertainment
A sketch of Van Gogh has been discovered in the archives of Kunsthalle Bremen in Germany
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Eleanor Catton has hit back after being accused of 'treachery' for criticising the government.
books
Arts and Entertainment
Fake Banksy stencil given to artist Alex Jakob-Whitworth

art

Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
    Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

    The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

    Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
    Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

    A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
    How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

    How books can defeat Isis

    Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
    The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

    The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

    The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
    Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

    Young carers to make dance debut

    What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
    Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

    Design Council's 70th anniversary

    Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
    Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

    Dame Harriet Walter interview

    The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

    Bill Granger's winter salads

    Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
    England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

    George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

    No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
    Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links