VietnamHas Britain given up on foreign affairs? Many say ‘We don’t have an Empire anymore’; or that ‘We are not a rich country.’ That has been said since Indian independence in 1947, or perhaps since our economic fragility was laid bare at the end of the First World War. Some ask ‘What right have we got to tell others how to live their lives?’ That question has been gathered momentum since the 1960s. Some ask ‘What business is it of mine?’ That attitude has been going on since the Old Testament.

Meanwhile, the balance of power is shifting to the people, quickly. Parliament blocked government action on Syria. There was the referendum over our membership of the European Union. There is disquiet over our aid programmes. Many fear it is a sign that populism or domestic priorities are undermining Britain’s place in the world. They worry too that people don’t know about the complexities of foreign affairs and don’t care. About this last point, at least, I think they are wrong.

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eurozone crisis

This morning, I saw David Cameron on his way to negotiate the treaty on the bail-out of the Eurozone. He looked surprisingly calm, given the worries of the last fortnight:  Britain has announced its worst economic figures since the Second World War; Egypt’s economy is collapsing; Syria is approaching civil war; Iran has taken another step […]

referendum on the eu

Last Monday was the first revolt I have seen in Parliament. It broke almost without warning. Things had seemed calm until then: three and a half years to the election, the conference tranquil, the Prime Minister popular, Gaddafi dead, the Foreign Secretary on his way to the  Commonwealth meeting in Australia. Then the back-bench business […]

Iranian Girls

First Published in Prospect Magazine   They are not free because their minds are not free,” said the headmistress, introducing me to my first class. “You are not here only to teach them English, you are here to open their minds.” Ten women were seated around a table in the over-heated room. All except two […]

What can afghanistan and bosnia teach us about libya?

I have spent most of my adult life working on, and in, interventions. I began as a junior diplomat with East Timor, served in the Balkans and inIraq, then spent a few years in Afghanistan. But none of this made me feel I could predict the future of Libya as I entered Tripoli in August. There were echoes of […]


Article first published in the London Review of Books on 22 September 2011. Entering Libya four days after the fall of Tripoli did not seem, at first, very different from trips I had made to Kosovo, Baghdad and Kabul shortly after those interventions. There were as yet no formalities, still less visas, at the Libyan […]

Here we go again – the libyan intervention

Published by The London Review of Books, 18th March 2011 Until yesterday, I thought we were at the end of the age of intervention. The complacency that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union had been shattered by the Balkan wars; despair was followed by the successful interventions in Bosnia and then Kosovo; then triumphal […]

libya and the middle east

It is two in the morning. The House of Commons debate today was on Libya and the UN resolution passed three hours ago. There is talk of planes flying tonight. On the radio, Gaddafi’s spokesman rattles off UN jargon in English: ‘the technical aspects of the cease-fire’, ‘some concerns over the text’. The spokesman – […]

Nine non-violent options for action in libya

Nine non-violent options for international action in Libya by my friend Carne Ross:   1.  Establishment of an escrow account for Libyan oil revenues: this would require further UNSC chapter VII authorisation.  At present, it appears that all oil revenues, including from oil produced from rebel-held areas, flows to the Libyan government.  All payments should […]

Expert: Afghanistan Policy Bound to Fail

First Published as a conversation on National Public Radio Transcript GUY RAZ, host: This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I’m Guy Raz. This hour, we’ll check in with the biggest pop star in Italy and get an update on the mass protest movement in Iran. But first, to Afghanistan, where in these first […]