Cameron’s foreign policy and Chaos Theory

As the frontlines in Libya have swayed back and forth, just as they did almost seventy years ago, so the advisability of David Cameron’s foreign policy adventure has ebbed and flowed. Before Cameron became Prime Minister, the Conservative Party was markedly cautious about an interventionalist foreign policy and said that their foreign policy would: “promote human rights, economic liberalism and political freedom, with humanitarian intervention when it is necessary and when it can be effective”. When he became Prime Minister Cameron continued in this vein and also suggested that, especially in a time of economic stringency, British foreign policy would have to be directed most at what was in the national interest. However, he also raised a few eyebrows by suggesting (accurately) that Britain was the junior partner to the United States today in foreign affairs but also that that was the case in 1940 during the Second World War (Pearl Harbour was in December 1941).

Cameron has managed a number of other foreign policy gaffes suggesting that Iran had a nuclear weapon, that China represents a nuclear threat to the UK and in whilst India, he managed unfortunate remarks about Pakistan facing both ways on terrorism. He may largely have assuaged Pakistani irritation with his latest visit there though at least some in India have latched onto the suggestion that his return visit is an apology trip.

Cameron has managed thus far to avoid the epic foreign (and domestic) policy disaster which was Tony Blair’s helping the American invasion of Iraq. Despite that the Conservative foreign policy fronted by Cameron and Hague has been anything but surefooted.

Foreign policy is always a colossally difficult issue with often random events or connections creating disasters or other times triumphs on the international stage. The Conservative Party, despite its pretentions otherwise, has a less than stunning record when it comes to foreign affairs.

Since the last World War, Tory governments have had many more years in office but have also managed to preside over most of the foreign policy disasters of the post war period. Anthony Eden was the Prime Minister last time Britain tried intervention in North Africa producing the total humiliation which was Suez (unmatched as a disaster until Mr. Blair’s time). Harold McMillan was somewhat more successful and was, with Kennedy, one of the great proponents of the “Special Relationship”. Ted Heath’s great legacy was getting Britain into the Common Market; which would for its supporters be one of the great achievements of post war British foreign policy but for its detractors (many of them Tories) one of the greatest errors.

Margaret Thatcher is often perceived as one of the giants of British foreign policy with her support of Regan and the Falklands War. What is often conveniently forgotten is that it was the Thatcher government’s defence review which resulted in the proposal to scrap HMS Endurance which, along with the foreign office ignoring the warnings about Argentine activity, spurred the Argentineans into invading. Had Thatcher’s defence review been followed through there would have been no aircraft carriers and as such no possibility of regaining the islands.

That, however, is one of the legacies which good luck, brilliant military (especially naval) inventiveness and the courage of British service personal managed to salvage. Thatcher’s problems with the Falklands were in large part due to her government’s aggressive cut backs to defence spending: cuts less stringent than the current government has introduced in defence (as elsewhere). The irony is that those very cuts indirectly led to her being heralded as the Iron Lady of Tory folklore. Whether Cameron can be so lucky remains to be seen. In foreign affairs Chaos Theory seems a reasonable mechanism for predicting outcomes.

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  • Niall

    Cameron is worse.

    See, Minister Greg Barker comments yesterday on government spending plans. He said the government was “making cuts that Margaret Thatcher could only have dreamt of”.

    So these bastards are determined to smash the social welfare system, demolish the NHS, protect only the elite within society and adopt a foreign policy which is alienating the UK throughout the world.

    I see only one solution; we must immediately accede from the UK and look for alternative sovereign opportunities. Do you think the South would still take us, or are we still damaged goods.

  • Drumlins Rock

    yup, we would be so much better of in a bankrupt state that hasn’t got a NHS, where the state passes the elites bad debts onto all taxpayers and who’s foreign policy consists of an annual bowl of Shamrock to the west and a monthly begging bowl to the east.

  • Just on the 1940 gaffe, I believe that was a slip of the tongue, rather than lack of knowledge of crucial historical dates. I recall a previous speech last year in which David Cameron described 1940 as “Britain’s proudest moment” when it “stood alone”

    Still, the verbal gaffes are mounting and they need to be checked.

    Foreign policy is a game of luck because it is quite often dictated by events which are unexpected. Also, a lot of foreign policy is that it is often dictated by secret information and/or secret thinking. It rarely fits the policy template. With the Libyan crisis, there is no doubt that the Libyan dictator breached international law and the military intervention which followed was legally justified.

    However, you could say that about other regimes around the World where intervention has not taken place. What we dont hear about is the ulterior motives, such as securing the world’s energy supplies. This seems to have been one of the legacies of the Suez crisis, which you have interestingly mentioned.

    It may take another watershed event before we have some honesty in foreign policy.

  • ItwasSammyMcNally

    Libya would have been almost impossible for Cameron not to have joined in with not because of American involvement but becuase of Amercian and French involvement.

    I dont think it would have been politically accpetable to the Tories(British) for the French to be operating in a special-relationship-kind-of-way with the Amercians with Britain looking on from the sidelines.

    Even the BBC reporting of this was a little strained at times concentrating more on where the Briitsh planes – were or were not – rather than on the fact that the French planes were actually bombing.

    On balance, though probably a good idea to go in but I’m not entirely sure if the rebels and protesters were not encouraged into action by the West and when then faced with the inevitable retribution the West had to do its saviour act. Something of an old trick, admittedly, but a pretty effective one.

    .. .hopefully the West will cut a deal and leave soon.

  • Cameron has managed thus far to avoid the epic foreign (and domestic) policy disaster which was Tony Blair’s helping the American invasion of Iraq.

    Oh, you think the Libyan adventure is not an epic foreign (and domestic) policy disaster, Turgon, with the following as justification for it ….

    And it appears now that NATO are doing the fighting for the rebels/dissidents/Al Qaeda/ whenever their advances are counterattacked and they are driven back.

    The irony appears to be that the UK and Uncle Sam and NATO are doing exactly what Libya is accused of, and Uncle Sam supported with Noraid …. supplying support to terrorists/freedom fighters/call them what you will.

    You can be sure though that there will western agent provocateur on the ground in amongst them, doing what they did for forces opposing the British army and trying to destabilise the state. With some cowboy friends , one doesn’t need any enemies.

    Oh, and by the way, with regard to …”In foreign affairs Chaos Theory seems a reasonable mechanism for predicting outcomes.“…. please be advised that there is chaos and there is CHAOS, and only Clouds Hosting Advanced Operating Systems guarantee predictable outcomes. And don’t bother asking me about that for confirmation, give Palace Barracks’ new Loughside Cyber Security Operations Centre desk, a bell, for are they not supposed to know everything that’s going on here on the island/in the province …….. or is that just them zeroday dreaming?

  • When the history of the Libya thing comes to be written, the questions to ask are:
    ¶ why?
    ¶ how?
    ¶ what was the expected end-game?
    Since, as far as I can determine from our Lords and Masters the only answers to date are “Eh?”

    What amazes me is that only 13 MPs (lest we forget, plus the two tellers) voted against intervention.

    The wisdom of Obama, and all that US tardiness become more worthy by the day.

    Anyway, when we’ve partitioned Libya (the only outcome currently on offer), what will have been achieved? Excepting, of course, any boost to the credibility and re-election chances of of Dave Cameron’s gung-ho French mate, Nicholas.

    brilliant military (especially naval) inventiveness … Did we all spot the heady symbolism of a UK aircraft carrier cruising past the Gulf of Sirte on its way to … a Turkish breakers’ yard?

  • FuturePhysicist

    A pedantic detail in comparing Foreign Policy to Chaos Theory …

    “Foreign policy is always a colossally difficult issue with often random events or connections creating disasters or other times triumphs on the international stage.”

    Chaos Theory deals with “deterministic chaos”, there are no random elements involved, it deals with how small changes can lead to a system limited to one path having multiple paths and how only the iterative method can determine future behavior. Ironically the Thatcher example is a better example here.

  • Alias

    Plus, of course, it has no application to political systems. 😉

  • tacapall

    Turgon how many of those rebel leaders in Libya were released from Guantánamo bay after being captured in Iraq or Afganistan fighting the British and Americans. Foreign Policy is just another word for modern day imperialism.

  • The Word


    I think this is a world where war serves little purpose other than to expose raw nerves about the nature of the world we live in.

    I don’t war is ever rewarded, certainly not in the way that the protagonists think.

    I once knew a man who seems to be a bit like you, Turgon. A bit of a warrior. He was a workmate of a friend. He loved rugby in Ballymena and played at the heart of the scrum.

    One night in Belfast he came out with me and my friend. The craic was good but just my friend and me were beginning to get interested in the women there, he turned to me, and I was a big strong man too, and he suggested that we should charge into the crowd of men next to us and fight them all.

    A fighting man or a man trying to conceal something? A warrior or a man who assumed that that’s all us Catholic want? So I wouldn’t necessarily impute wrong in him in the context of the Troubles raging then.

    But the next time I saw him was when I was crossing the Craigavon Bridge and there he was carrying the ceremonial sword of the lodge he was marching with in Derry.

    “Those Catholics, you know, all they want is war,” he seemed to saying, which might sum up the unionist experience since coming here.

    I played all sports even rugby a couple of times. I played for City of Derry Colts when I was 18. We played a game against the RUC cadets team. We were losing badly because one man kept rushing our defence. Nobody wanted to stand in his way, but I decided that that needed to be done. I just waited for him to run at me and I grabbed by the ears and thrust his head into the soil. That was the first time somebody stood up to him.

    So I’m not sure about the bravery of the warrior. The Bagavad Gita suggests that God is a warrior of sorts, but that bravery is something that is expressed in beauty and in wisdom.

    But real warriors are brave in their very essence, like the Gaelic footballer, and don’t need to contrive circumstances to make others think that they are brave.

  • Munsterview

    Turgan is somewhat sparing in his reference to Africa: much more than the Suez Canal was involved !

    Behind Turgons magisterial overview and rational detached assessment or British Foreign Policy, there was another reality on the ground that African peoples paid a terrible price for, just as the Irish people did for British Imperialistic occupation and plunder in Ireland.

    The following item currently running on Celtic League site is a reminder, lest we forget.

    What a glorious record of Imperial Achievement and how fortunate that those who forged these blood soaked pages of history are so well served by a faitful son of the Empire such as Turgan to explain it all to us with such marvelous objective detachment unlike these Kenyan ‘Long Kesh type camp ‘detainees’ survivors who were castrated and consequently tend to become emotional subjective when referring to this period of their lives, and, need one add, their missing testicles.

    Times like this when I see Turgon rooted so comfortable in this British Imperial past and being such a natural part of it all, I almost envy him, having come from a dispossessed people, I have, I must admit, empathy for similar disposed peoples in other British Occupied Lands and consequently I tend to be unappreciative of the instinctive stirring of the blood that comes so naturally to Turgon when unapologetically, eulogizing British Imperialistic Occupation and Land Grabs in other British invaded countries.

    Kind readers one and all, please forgive my limitations and lack of detached objectivity in this regard but we cannot all be Turgons you know.



    The case brought this week by five Kenyan citizens in the UK High Court has the potential to open up to scrutiny the vicious campaign waged by the British government and colonial authorities to suppress the nationalist uprising of the Kenya Land and Freedom Army in the 1950s. Many of the violent techniques used by the UK were eventually deployed elsewhere including in Ulster. Many of the British army officers who honed their violent and torturous counter-insurgency skills in Kenya went on to train those who served in Ulster.

    In fact so deep-seated were the `lessons’ of the Kenya conflict that the British Army in Iraq was perpetrating the same techniques of torture on detainees as their predecessors had done half a century before.

    Already solicitors acting for the five have forced the United Kingdom government to admit that a staggering fifteen thousand documents previously thought lost which were removed from Kenya just prior to independence are still in existence. Many of these files document in graphic detail the abuse meted out by the British to detainees.

    The admission has implications for similarly bloody episodes in the UK colonial past with hitherto unseen files on British `insurgent’ suppression operations in Malaya, Cyprus, Palestine and Aden thought to be gathering dust in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office archives.

    It’s a testament to the success of British government propaganda that for over fifty years the rising by what were termed `Mau Mau’ insurgents has seen the Kenyan freedom fighters portrayed as bloodthirsty and vicious with most of the publicised atrocities laid at their door.

    The truth which has started to emerge in recent years has reflected that there was indeed a vicious war fought in Kenya but most of the atrocities were committed by the security forces and documented testimony indicates that the British Army, Police and Auxiliaries engaged in acts which were not only violent but bestial and depraved.

    The three men and two women involved in today’s case say they suffered castration, sexual abuse and severe beatings in detention camps administered by the British rule and now want an apology and financial compensation. Their claims and the recently revealed `secret’ files will give increased credence to recent more objective books on the fight of the Kenya Land and Freedom Army including David Anderson’s (2005). Histories of the Hanged: The Dirty War in Kenya and the End of Empire and by Caroline Elkins (2005). Britain’s Gulag: The Brutal End of Empire in Kenya.

    Anderson’s book reveals a staggering 1090 executions of insurgents occurred and Elkins puts the death toll caused by the counter-insurgency at over 70,000 (and possibly in the hundreds of thousands).

    Techniques learned in Kenya were exported elsewhere to deal with problems in other areas the British regarded as trouble-spots. Kenyan security techniques were even extrapolated to the British Isles where the practice of running counter-gangs and murder squads was used to infamous effect by the British security forces in the six counties with protestant paramilitaries playing the role of `compliant natives’.

    Related articles on Celtic News here:

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  • tacapall


    Unpeople: Britain’s Secret Human Rights Abuses

    “Using declassified government files, historian Mark Curtis has exposed Britain’s ‘dirty war’ in Yemen in the 1960s, which he describes as one of the ‘least known aspects of recent British history’. The war lasted almost a decade under both Tory and Labour governments, and cost around 200,000 lives.

    Even today, Curtis notes, the files are heavily censored: ‘probably more so than in any other foreign-policy episode I have looked at.’ The official reason for the secrecy is ‘national security’. The actual reason is to protect the reputations of ‘the people with blood on their hands’: the leading politicians of the day, including Harold Wilson, Denis Healey, Alec Douglas-Home and numerous other officials.

    Curtis describes how, in September 1962, the Imam of North Yemen was overthrown in a popular coup. Until then, 80 per cent of the population had lived as peasants under a feudal system of government, with control maintained by graft, a coercive tax system, and a policy of divide and rule. The coup was led by Arab nationalists within the Yemeni military who supported Egypt’s reformist president Gamal Abdel Nasser. In turn, Nasser sent troops to bolster the new Republican government. Royalist forces supporting the deposed Imam fled to the hills and began an insurgency backed by Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

    Curtis notes that Britain ‘soon resorted to covert action to undermine the new Republican regime, in alliance with the Saudis and Jordanis’. British officials privately recognised that they were thus supporting a ‘monopoly of [royal] power’ that was ‘much resented’ by the Yemenis. But the Foreign Office’s ‘pragmatic’ concern was that the nationalist uprising might spread to neighbouring Aden, then a UK colony, where Britain was ‘supporting similarly feudal elements against strong popular, nationalist feeling.’

    Why? For longstanding reasons of ‘national interest’. Curtis explains: ‘The military base at Aden was the cornerstone of British military policy in the Gulf region, in which Britain was then the major power, directly controlling the sheikhdoms of the Persian Gulf and with huge oil interests in Kuwait and elsewhere.’