Wednesday, November 23, 2005

New neo-conservative society launched in the UK

The UK's neo-conservatives have a new home: the Henry Jackson Society. Launched in the last week, and named after the US Senator Henry "Scoop" Jackson, the society is not beating around the bush. Its aims are announced very clearly on its homepage:

The Henry Jackson Society is a non-profit organisation that seeks to promote the following principles: that liberal democracy should be spread across the world; that as the world’s most powerful democracies, the United States and the European Union – under British leadership – must shape the world more actively by intervention and example; that such leadership requires political will, a commitment to universal human rights and the maintenance of a strong military with global expeditionary reach; and that too few of our leaders in Britain and the rest of Europe today are ready to play a role in the world that matches our strength and responsibilities.

There is much that is interesting about this. Firstly, the name: Jackson was a Democrat, and a reasonably left-wing one at that. He was, however, dismayed by the failure of the left to seek to promote the values of liberal democracy abroad, often by implication thus approving, or at least not taking sufficient action against, some pretty brutal regimes (Something like Richard Rorty's provocative claim that, far from being immoral to export our values to foreign countries, "it would be immoral not to"). The Guardian has an interesting analysis on the schism that this provoked in the left in the US, suggesting that the UK is ripe for something similar, with old left/right distinctions on the role of the market in health, education and other services, not to mention foreign military intervention, becoming more and more blurred under Tony Blair.

Also interesting is the role perceived for Europe in the above paragraph. The EU is first put on a par with the US, but this equality of footing is immediately and significantly qualified by the phrase "under British leadership". The implication is clear: it is to be the "new" Europe, led by the UK, that is to prevail - the Europe that approved the Iraq war - and not that of France or Germany. In short, it is to be the Europe of which US neocons approve that is to come to the fore.

Lastly, there is an unashamedly imperialistic tone (and I suspect that members of the society would not complain overly about my use of the term "imperial" here), in that the West is to "shape the world" in its own image, to adopt a "leadership" position at the head of a military machine with "global" reach and concerns. To this extent, it is not even the "new" imperialism of economic globalization that is envisaged as the main tool for spreading democracy, but its much older, armed relative.

All of this points to, if not a change in direction, then at least a significant clarification of rhetoric for certain areas of the British political spectrum. It will be interesting to see, in the weeks and months to come, what influence, if any, this society will have on the foreign policy debates in the UK; and, crucially, from what "sides" it draws its adherents.

One Labour MP, Gisela Stuart, has already signed up.

1 comment:

Jack Thompson said...

This is fascinating news and I want to thank Euan for posting it. There are two points I want to make in response. First, even though my knowledge of the British political scene is still rather limited, I feel comfortable forecasting that The Henry Jackson Society will have, at most, a limited impact on British politics. I think the neocons will be one of those uniquely American institutions, like the pick-up truck, that never really flourish in other countries (and probably shouldn't). Second, while the neocons are rightly mocked for seeking to spread democracy at gunpoint, they give democracy promotion a bad name. While this may seem an obvious point, many intellectuals seem to argue that any and all cultural transmission from "developed" to "developing" countries is imperialistic and bad.
Europe and the US (along with other "Western" nations) have enormous "soft power" that is often overlooked. The positives that come with democracy and market economies and that influence non-democratic societies are vital in the construction of civil society. Ask the teenagers who pack Tehran's internet cafes or the tens of thousands of "third-worlders" who have received free university educations in Germany. I often doubt that the US can be an effective example of democracy, given its proclivity to drop bombs, but surely the EU can do more in this area in terms of supporting nascent democratic movements abroad. I don't know if this is all that relevant to Euan's post but am curious as to how others will react.