Anne Penketh: It might just as well have been his old master's voice

Saturday 19 April 2008 00:00

You could call it the battle of the doctrines. Nine years ago almost to the day, Tony Blair delivered a speech in Chicago which laid down the rules of what became known as the "Blair doctrine".

Mr Blair, the first serving British prime minister to visit the Windy City, used his speech on 22 April 1999 to justify the principle of humanitarian intervention, against a backdrop of the Nato bombing campaign in Kosovo which was in full swing. "We are all internationalists now, whether we like it or not," Mr Blair famously said as he urged the Clinton administration to eschew isolationism.

"We cannot turn our backs on conflicts and the violation of human rights within other countries if we want still to be secure."

Yesterday Gordon Brown seized the opportunity to set out his own guiding principles, standing on America's eastern seaboard in the heartland of the Kennedy clan and delivering a call for a "new dawn" of co-operation between Europe and America. He could not resist a dig at his predecessor. "To say we are all internationalists now ... will change nothing in itself," he said, calling for "practical co-operation" in an era of "interdependence". Local problems need local solutions, while global problems such as climate warming, terrorism and poverty need global solutions, he said.

What a difference a decade makes, you might think. But in fact there were some striking similarities between the speeches of Mr Blair and Mr Brown, who was of course his Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1999.

"We need new rules for international co-operation and new ways of organising our international institutions." That was Tony Blair speaking. In his Chicago speech, he urged the reform of the UN Security Council, measures to stop global warming and a "far-reaching overhaul" of international financial regulation.

Nine years on, Mr Brown found himself saying much the same thing. Since setting out foreign policy priorities at Guildhall last November, he has stressed his multilateral credentials, distancing himself from the pre-emptive unilateralism of George Bush, and Tony Blair who took Britain into five conflicts.

Calls for the reform of multilateral organisations such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the UN are a leitmotif of the Brown government, which is urging a greater weight for the emer-ging powers of China, India, Mexico and Brazil. Yesterday the Prime Minister reiterated the main planks of the "Brown doctrine" – and even cracked a joke.

But he had another rival yesterday in the battle of the doctrines. Pope Benedict XVI delivered his own statement on foreign affairs in the formal setting of the UN General Assembly. And he had a message for the big powers who think they can sort out the world's problems themselves. Human rights, rather than force, hold the key to ending wars and poverty, he said, strongly criticising countries which act unilaterally and undermine the UN. International co-operation, he said, was threatened by "the decisions of a few." The Pope argued that if countries did not protect "grave and sustained violation of human rights", the international community should act collectively to ensure they do. Did the pontiff have Zimbabwe or Darfur in mind? He did not say.

Likewise, Mr Brown addressed the issue of "failed and failing" states, saying that a threat to justice anywhere "is a threat to justice everywhere".

"And that is how we must respond: not walking away as we did in Rwanda ... but by engaging as hard-headed internationalists – through diplomatic, economic, and yes, when necessary, military action – to prevent crimes against humanity when states can no longer do so".

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in