The difficulties of shaping a stable world

As the world wrings its hands at the slaughter in Syria and ponders what, if anything, it can do, the precedent of intervention in Libya constantly raises its head. Why was it right and proper for us to intervene in Libya to prevent humanitarian catastrophe, but we are choosing not to do so now in Syria? The most readily available response is that “Syria is much more complicated than Libya”, but this hardly seems to help our understanding.

For a country such as the UK, these are not only tricky questions of foreign policy; they also serve to throw into the spotlight that most tricky question of all: what sort of player should Britain be on the international stage in the twenty-first century? Are we at the vanguard of the free world, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with our American cousins in spreading democracy, liberal values and universal human rights around the world (a process that the UK government calls “Shaping a Stable World”), or are we – realistically – just a medium-sized European power with fairly limited military capabilities? As a Conservative back-bencher described it, in rather discourteous terms, is Britain fast becoming just a “Belgium with nukes”?

These and related issues are discussed in Julian Richards’ new book: “A Guide to National Security: Threats, Responses and Strategies”; read the full details here on the Oxford University Press blog: http://blog.oup.com/2012/03/syria-libya-stable-world/

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