Monthly Archives: February 2015

A Better Understanding of Intervention

The Libyan government has retreated to a ship off the coast. The President of Yemen has fled from his capital – apparently disguised as a woman. Boko Haram controls swathes of Northern Nigeria. South Sudan – the newest country in the world – celebrates its independence in Civil War. Over 10,000 civilians were casualties in Afghanistan last year. (And if we don’t concentrate on Darfur, Somalia, Israel-Palestine, or Pakistan, it is not because their issues are resolved, but simply because of the scale of horrors elsewhere). All this before we return to Syria’s 3 million refugees, or the Islamic State, which now occupies an area larger than the United Kingdom, spilling across Western Iraq. Or the accelerating advance of the Russian-backed ‘separatists’ in Ukraine. The world has not been this dangerous or unstable for 20 years. And we have – it seems – no confidence that we can do anything about any of it.

But only fifteen years ago, the West felt it could deal with such situations. Scholars studied how the US had worked in the Philippines before the First World War, the Marshall plan for Europe after the Second World War, and the British-Malayan Emergency. And believed that they could extract lessons for success, from the reconstruction of Germany, or the success of Malaysia. The US Rand corporation wrote a book called ‘the Beginners’ Guide to Nation-Building” which specified exactly how many foreign troops would be required to stabilise another country (it insisted that the culture or the history of the country was largely irrelevant – what mattered was the numbers). The UN asserted a ‘responsibility to protect’, encouraging States to lead humanitarian interventions. And when the interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo or Sierra Leone seemed relatively successful, the only regret seemed to be that we had not intervened more in other countries – such as Rwanda or Darfur.

The recipe, people believed, was called ‘state-building.’ Paddy Ashdown liked to emphasise ‘security’ first, the current President of Afghanistan, ‘the legitimate monopoly on the use of violence’, Ban Ki Moon liked ‘governance”, (‘bullets kill terrorists,’ he said, ‘but good governance kills terrorism’), and British Prime-Ministers liked to talk about ‘capacity-building’ and the ‘rule of law’. Sill others emphasised employment, rights for women, primary education, or in the case of a celebrated Peruvian economist, the importance of property rights. But in the end it all came down to ‘fixing failed states.’

Then Iraq and Afghanistan became vast laboratories for testing these theories – ultimately employing over a trillion US dollars, and over a million foreign soldiers and civilians. And the people trying to do these things – even in Iraq – were more intelligent, thoughtful, and dedicated than they appeared from the outside. But the projects failed. And we have since struggled to find an alternative to nation-building under fire.

In 2011, for example, we tried a new model in Libya – of intervention without ground troops. It too failed – Libya is torn in two: armed militia gangs dominate the cities, and its shattered economy. As recently as three years ago, people wondered if there were a better model, nearer to home. Perhaps, argued an Austrian friend of mine, the European Union might be the magical ingredient. The European Union, which had transformed Greece, would now bring prosperity, peace and democratic structures to the edge of Russia and the Middle East. The key, he said, was to embrace Turkey as a model for the region, and support the European Enlargement to eventually encompass Ukraine – and even at last perhaps Belarus. But then Greece collapsed, and Erdogan and Putin began to develop troublingly similar styles of rule. And European Union and NATO expansion began to seem less like the solution to Ukraine, and more like one cause of its woes.

Now we have run out of theories. In Libya, no-one can agree whether the problem was that we did not do enough ‘post-war reconstruction’, or whether the problem was toppling Gaddafi in the first place. The distinguished professor Avi Shlaim argues that it would have been better to leave him and Saddam in place. And yet, in Syria – where the West has not intervened against the dictator – he criticises the West for not supporting civil society, democracy and the moderate opposition. We do nothing in Libya, nothing in Yemen. Precious little in South Sudan. People are beginning to openly question our commitments to NATO – whether we should have promised to defend the Baltic states, or even whether we should have promised to spend 2 per cent of our GDP on Defence. In Syria, we continue to talk about the Free Syrian Army – but with little conviction. A ‘coalition’ has committed to ‘degrading and destroying “ISIS” in Iraq but if you read the small print, it seems to be an attempt to repeat the US surge of 2007, except with about one hundredth of the resources, manpower, or support. We are running out of ideas in Ukraine too.

So in fifteen years we have lurched from confident solutions to despair, and the challenge for the next fifteen will not be to avoid intervention, but to avoid total isolation. We must try to understand our failure, and acknowledge it publicly. But we also need to remember that the peace of the last seventy years in Europe was not achieved through isolation or inaction. As Syria and Ukraine shows us daily, problems don’t just go away, when we ignore them. Bosnia proves that it is possible to intervene without losing lives, and by doing so punish war criminals, disarm militias, return refugees, and end wars, which kill a hundred thousand people. It is still possible to help to arrest the descent into chaos, spreading from the Western Mediterranean to the Black Sea. It requires humility – a sense of our limits and our failures; it requires developing a far more granular knowledge of other people’s countries. It will require patience and courage. And above all it requires, what we lack: a better understanding of intervention.

Ukraine proves defence spending cut would be ‘big mistake’

Rory Stewart, the Chairman of the House of Commons Defence Committee, has said it would be a “big mistake” for spending on Britain’s military to fall below the Nato target of two per cent of the national budget.

He warned that recent actions by Russia in Ukraine illustrated that spending needed to be maintained as a “symbolic” message to President Vladimir Putin.

Reports have suggested that George Osborne, the Chancellor, has told the Prime Minister that spending was on course to fall below the target within two years, and that he was content for it to do so.
Mr Stewart told Radio 4’s Today programme: “The view of the Defence Committee is that that would be a big mistake, because that commitment came out of a Nato summit that was directed against what’s happening in the Ukraine.

“It really happened in the context of demonstrating to Putin that the whole of Nato, that’s not just Britain and the United States but all the other countries, were committed to spending 2 per cent on defence.

“Putin’s an opportunist, he’s looking for signs of weakness, he’s testing the alliance so it’s very important symbolically that we hold to that two per cent commitment.”

World leaders including American President Barack Obama and Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the Danish former head of Nato, have urged Britain to maintain the target.

Mr Stewart also backed David Cameron’s decision to send a small military training force to the Ukraine, and added that other steps were needed.

“Yes I think the Prime Minister has made the right decision,” he said. “It’s certainly a change, it’s really a sign that as the current ceasefire agreement seems to be fraying, Britain and the US and Canada and others are prepared to provide support for the Ukrainian government and I think that’s the correct thing to do.

“These people are not primarily trainers, they’re there to give a sense of the options and the ground truths.
“We need intelligence on the ground to publicise what Russia has been doing, its basically flagrant lies and abuse over the last 12 months.

“It’s a way of showing to Putin that there is support for the Ukrainian government and that there are limits to how far he can push, if people are thinking of pushing on to Mariupol or Odessa, right along the Black Sea coast there needs to be a sense that the West are serious about this peace agreement.
Mr Stewart admitted however that there were dangers in sending troops to the region.

“This is the tightrope, I think people are very aware how dangerous this is,” he said. “What one doesn’t want to do is further alienate or provoke Putin which, of course, is the risk in doing something.

“But equally, we have to be clear that the policy that has been followed since the middle of last year, which has been to essentially hope that Putin is going to be satisfied with the territory he’s taken, hasn’t worked, so I think it is genuinely very, very difficult.”

The Community of Cumbria

Last Friday, I came home on the train, feeling that parliament and even Britain was out of sorts. But twenty separate meetings – starting in Penrith, on to Wigton, and finishing at a memorial service for Mary Burkett in Carlisle – changed my view. First, we broke the foundations for the new Sunbeams Music Centre, framed by the distant ridges of the East Fellside. (Annie and her team had managed to raise almost two million pounds for their music therapy). Then, at Wigton, I saw the foundations of a factory which will make the five and ten pound bank-notes for the Bank of England, creating more than a hundred new jobs.

One community group had saved the Wigton Swimming Pool; a second group had a plan to restore the beauty of the Georgian market town, one shop-front at a time. Four boys, who had just completed a course in documentary-making, showed me a fifteen minute film, on their experience in foster-care, which was beautifully made and observed.  Next door, school-children had taken the 120 names from the War Memorial and were plotting these soldiers’ homes on a map of Wigton – connecting the almost unimaginable scale of the killing to their own local history, and to houses, which they knew.

The people behind these projects included civil servants, business people, charity workers: people who were paid, and people who were unpaid: a seventy-six year old was leading on the market town – a thirty-year old woman was the project manager for the twenty million pound factory, a seventeen year old directed the documentary. Some were exhausted by the relentless modern demands for plans, regulations, and funding. And yet they felt pride – in some cases in buildings which will last for fifty years; in other cases, through linking people to music or the past; or, in the case of the documentary, through investigating the present moment. And although many of these people were born in other places, all were proud of being Cumbrian.

Then I went to Mary Burkett’s memorial service. Two years ago, she had heard that Shoshana and I were walking from Ullswater to Maryport, and invited us to stay. I knew nothing about her house; as we walked up the long avenue of trees, it did not seem real. One end was formed of a thick pink-plastered peel tower, abutting a long facade of miniature multi-paned windows – apparently untouched for five hundred years. Mary stood at the threshold with a smile that revealed every tooth. It was difficult to know how tall she had once been, but now she was tiny, dressed in rubber-soled shoes and a striped skirt.

She was living alone at the age of 88 in an unheated house that seemed to consist of a hundred tiny rooms, many unfurnished, or decorated only with Central Asian felts, which she had collected on trips around Afghanistan. Having guests must have been exhausting for her, but she did not show it. At supper (we went out since she kept no food) she described trying to get an English archaeologist, who wore a watch-chain and a three-piece suit, out of an Afghan jail. She talked about Kushan jewellery and about Lady Anne Clifford – who as a single, widowed woman – had restored so much of Cumbria in the seventeenth century. And she put us up that night under six felts on a horse-hair mattress. The next morning, she invited her friend Julian, a painter, to walk with me. I looked back at her, tiny against the façade, on that ridge above the river and the Jacobean garden, and wondered who would ever have the confidence to inhabit such a house after she was gone.

Melvyn Bragg in his address in Carlisle Cathedral on Friday night made Mary a symbol of the ancient Kingdom of Northumbria-Cumbria. He described how for more than twenty years as the director of Abbot Hall she had built the staff from four to forty, had discovered seventeenth century and contemporary Cumbrian painters, and championed Cumbrian poets like Norman Nicolson. Professor Rosemary Cramp, who is almost Mary’s age, read from Alfred Wainwright’s description of Stickle Pike; and she was followed with a description (by Robert Byron) of a eleventh century tower in Eastern Persia; and a good reading from the Wisdom of Solomon. And then the Bishop of Carlisle wove her life into concise, and striking moral lessons.

I sat at the very back of the Cathedral. It was night behind the stained glass windows, and the blue ceiling, set with suns and stars, stretched on into candlelit darkness. Every seat was taken. Some people had come with all their children. I had begun the day, feeling the world was fragmented; I ended it, linked to the people around me – to Henry, for example, in the choir-stall, whose voice I recognised from when I first heard him sing, twenty-nine years ago. Along the line of tall wooden thrones, that formed the canon’s gallery, were Cumbrians who had travelled not just from the other end of Cumbria (Hugh had come from Cartmel), but from London, and before that Tunisia. Some of them came from families that had sat in the cathedral before the reformation, many – like Mary herself – were originally from other places. There were painters, civil servants, sheep-farmers, archaeologists. Mary had half-created through her life, as much as through her work, the idea of a Cumbrian civilisation. She had formed the community of Cumbria who had to come to remember her on that night.


Rory Stewart MP on Friday visited Penrith Rugby Club to help celebrate their £60,000 National Lottery funding win from the Inspired Facilities fund to upgrade the floodlights on the second and third team pitches, which is also the area used for training. This upgrade will help protect the improved ground and allow the area to be used all year round, benefiting all those who use the facilities at Winters Park.

Rory was welcomed by Club Chairman Geoff Mathews who showed him around the clubhouse and existing facilities, before viewing the floodlights from the upstairs bar area and they were joined by Glenn Savage (Grant Funding Coordinator).

Club Chairman, Geoff Mathews, said: “We are delighted to have secured this investment, which means we can upgrade the quality of our floodlights which covers the ground we have recently spent a lot of money on. This will allow this heavily used area to be more sustainable and usable throughout the season, which has not been the case for a number of years, This will greatly benefit of all the young people who are now involved in rugby. We’re delighted to have had Rory’s support.”

Rory Stewart said: “I was delighted to learn that the Penrith Rugby Union Football Club had benefited from a Sport England grant of £60,000, and to see the floodlights in person is very impressive. This is an amazing result and is hugely deserved, enabling the Club to upgrade its floodlights and to make the experience for players and fans much improved. As a community group the Club is a great example of one that works very closely with local residents, and is an integral part of Penrith’s heritage. I would like to congratulate them heartily on this achievement.”

Sport England Property Director, Charles Johnston, said: “The Inspired Facilities Fund has had a huge impact on grassroots sport across the country. Since 2011, we’ve invested £88 million into more than 1,600 projects to improve and refurbish sports clubs and transform non-sporting venues into vibrant community sports clubs. It’s great to see Penrith Rugby Club join the long list of successful clubs to benefit from this fund.”

rory_penrithrufc (1)


Rory Stewart paid a visit to the new 20m pound Wigton Innovia Security
site on Friday ‎to congratulate the company on a “fantastic result”
for Wigton. The new factory, located next to the existing Innovia
Films’ operation, will produce the polymer substrate for bank-notes
for the Bank of England. The MP supported the company’s bid with the
Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Governor of the Bank of England,
and has since supported the company’s bids for contracts in other

The new facility, dubbed ‘The future home of Guardian®’, will produce
the polymer substrate which will be used for the next generation of £5
and £10 banknotes, featuring Sir Winston Churchill and Jane Austen

Last month, the MP called on the Governor of the Bank of England Mark
Carney, who said that he was very much looking forward to visiting the
site in the near future. The Wigton plant, which will be completed in
2016 and will create 80 new jobs in the community, is being
constructed as part of the company’s agreement to supply the Bank of
England with Guardian® substrate for the new polymer banknotes to be
launched starting with the £5 in 2016 and the £10 approximately 12
months later.

Rory met with Innovia Films’ finance director Dominic Heaton, Innovia
Security Group project manager Joanne Young, and Alistair Grant,
construction director for Story Contracting, at the site where he was
joined by Wigton Mayor Joe Cowell and Cumbria County Councillor Duncan
Fairbairn. He said: “This is such a great accolade and testament to
the great work that Innovia do for and in Wigton, and I am thrilled to
see such a major investment in the community. I am glad to have
contributed in a small way to helping Innovia Security to secure this
incredibly important contract, showing that we have world-beating
businesses right here in Cumbria and we should all be very proud that
a company like Innovia is flying the flag for Cumbrian manufacturers.”

L-R: Mayor Joe Cowell, Rory Stewart MP, Joanne Young (Group Project Manager, Innovia Security), Alistair Grant (Construction Director, Story Contracting), Dominic Heaton (Finance Director, Innovia Films) and Councillor Duncan Fairbairn.

L-R: Mayor Joe Cowell, Rory Stewart MP, Joanne Young (Group Project
Manager, Innovia Security), Alistair Grant (Construction Director,
Story Contracting), Dominic Heaton (Finance Director, Innovia Films)
and Councillor Duncan Fairbairn.


Rory Stewart on Friday met with Network Rail and Virgin Trains to confirm the details of the £3.3m ‘Access for All’ upgrade at Penrith railway station, which will provide a lift for the station. Network Rail confirmed that survey work will begin later this year, with the lift due to be installed in 2016.

Rory has heralded the upgrade as a “triumph for community activism”, praising the many residents of Penrith and The Border who have supported the MP and local Eden District Councillor John Thompson in their bid to obtain long-awaited funding for a lift and improved disabled access at Penrith station. The victory is the result of intense lobbying efforts by the local MP, including numerous meetings with rail companies, Ministers and West Coast franchise bidders, a site visit to the station with Secretary of State Patrick McLoughlin (picture attached), and the initiation one year ago of a well-attended Parliamentary debate on disabled access.

Chris Winfield, a member of Network Rail’s Route Investment Team, met Rory and John Thompson on-site to show them the exciting plans for the station, which has recently seen an increase of 11% in passengers using the ever busy station. Survey work will begin in one month and will involve a detailed general overhaul of the station’s cladding and structures as well as the construction of two lift towers, new staircases, and a connecting bridge. The outdated barrow crossing will be removed, whilst passengers can look forward to a cafe and shop.

Rory Stewart MP said: “Penrith Station is going to receive the important improvements that the people of my constituency deserve. I am thrilled that Network Rail are really investing in making the station an accessible, modern, comfortable place to spend time. I for one am very much looking forward to seeing the results of what sounds like a very exciting engineering project. This is a win for Penrith, and I would like once again to sincerely thank all of the constituents who have sent in stories to help bolster our case, and the local councillors and residents who have supported me, and of course Virgin Trains for being strongly supportive of our campaign and for the exellent service their staff continue to provide at Penrith.”

It is hoped that the project will reach completion by Easter 2016.

Rory Stewart MP and Secretary of State for Transport Patrick McLoughlin at Penrith Station

Rory Stewart MP and Secretary of State for Transport Patrick McLoughlin at Penrith Station

L-R: Suzanne Wardle, Penrith Station Team Leader; Rory Stewart MP; Councillor John Thompson; Mike Byrne, Penrith Station Manager; and Chris Winfield, Network Rail

L-R: Suzanne Wardle, Penrith Station Team Leader; Rory Stewart MP; Councillor John Thompson; Mike Byrne, Penrith Station Manager; and Chris Winfield, Network Rail

Penrith Station CGI’s Feb 2015