An Ethical Foreign Policy?

by Samuel Brittan

Hinton Lecture 11/24/99



It is an honour to be asked to give the second of your annual Hinton Lectures. I did not have the privilege of knowing Nicholas Hinton, after whom this series was named. Hinton was best known for his ten years running Save the Children. After that he became first president of the International Crisis Group and died from a heart attack while working for the group in Croatia in 1997. His example has encouraged me in giving this lecture an international flavour.

I have always been a great believer in voluntary organisations. This is not just a conventional platitude. It arises from the view that a free society cannot function if the only force modifying the individual's own self interest is the state. The case for intermediate organisations to carry out activities of public or group interest without compulsion was most eloquently put forward by the 19th century French writer, Alexis de Tocqueville, in his famous book Democracy in America (1). He was struck by the large number of organisations of every kind to which citizens belonged; for him this was just as important as the American constitution or the free market in promoting the health of the new society which he found there.

But what in my case has enlivened this belief has been the fate of the former Soviet Union after the collapse of Communism. There are of course a few political parties and pressure groups. But there is nothing like the complex network of voluntary bodies which exists in Western Europe and the United States and which are beginning to emerge in other former Communist countries such as Poland and the Czech Republic. These constitute what the Czech president Vaclav Havel, among others, calls civil society. Their absence has surely a great deal to do with the disorder into which Russia has fallen and the prevalence of what is called rather charitably "Mafia capitalism". When there is only the state to promote public spirited action, then the state itself is likely to lose much of its authority.

But having made this strong statement, I have to confess that I have had little experience myself of working for voluntary organisations. My decision nevertheless to accept your kind invitation was strongly reinforced by the example of Lady Warnock, who chose to make her subject a fascinating series of moral reflections on the nature of altruism. I have to admit that her lecture has provoked me into stating a somewhat different position. Indeed I am citing overseas military intervention mainly to illustrate a view of good conduct I have long held, which differs both from the conventional pieties and from hard-boiled cynicism.


Morality and Foreign Policy

Unlike Lady Warnock, I am not a professional philosopher. But "philosophical" problems are thrown up all the time in both our public and our private lives. Nor do I believe that everyone's opinion is as good as everyone else's. Scholars who have spent their careers investigating the logic of moral and other statements have had an indispensable contribution to make from Socrates onwards. But unless the discussion is to be confined to the two extremes of the academic world and the bar room pundits, there must be room for those of us who have reflected on the logic of some moral issues without any claim to professional status. To put it in the vernacular: a cat may look at a king.

My subject - what we might mean by "a foreign policy with an ethical dimension" - is concerned with high politics rather than the voluntary activities to which you give such dedicated service. In fact Hinton in his last years not merely gave a lead to voluntary effort in the world's trouble spots. He also undertook a rigid scrutiny of the claims of the Nato Command and the Organisation of Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) which ran the Bosnia elections. But my main excuse for concentrating on government actions rather than voluntary effort on the ground is that my day job has always been concerned with policy analysis.

The subject of "Morality and Foreign Policy" is one which has preoccupied me for a very long time. Indeed, it was the topic of my own first extended essay after I had ceased to be an undergraduate (2). It was written in the aftermath of the Suez crisis of 1956 in which the Eden government and its French allies colluded with the Israelis to find a pretext for invading Egypt in the unfulfilled hope of overthrowing the government of Colonel Nasser which had seized the Suez canal.

At the time of Suez there was a fierce argument between those who thought that foreign policy should be concerned with so-called national interest and those who believed that it should be governed by moral considerations as well, one of which included an inhibition on invading another country whose government had not committed physical aggression or embarked on gross violation of human rights.

Over the years the protagonists have changed position. At the time of Suez, it was the hard-boiled realists who were in favour of military intervention and the moralists who were against it . In recent instances, such as Kosovo, the moralists of the centre left have been the greatest enthusiasts for such intervention, and it is the hard-boiled right who have been hostile, or at least very cautious. But although the protagonists have changed sides, the underlying issues remain the same.


Successive Circles

Analysis has been bedevilled by two extreme, but widely held views. The first might be called universal moralism to which I will come in a minute. The second is the view that foreign policy should be exclusively concerned with national interest. The French raison d'etat conveys the meaning better. For it really has nothing to do with modern nationalism as such. It could equally be the view that foreign policy should have been exclusively concerned with promoting the interests of the multinational Hapsburg empire of the 19th century, or for that matter of the ancient Roman Empire.

The second and opposite extreme might be called universal moralism. The best way into is to re-examine the so-called golden rule. which is widely regarded as the foundation of good behaviour. I have seen this stated in at least two different ways. The first is:-"Do unto others what you would that they should do unto you"

The second is:-"Love thy neighbour as thyself."

With the first version, I have no quarrel, despite Bernard Shaw's flippant remark that other people might have different tastes and dislike intensely things that you might not mind having done to yourself. I am sure this form of the rule can be rephrased to counter Shaw's objection!

I have greater problems with the more familiar "Love thy neighbour as thyself". I am going to suggest that you should have some degree of love for your neighbour, but that it need not be the same as for yourself or your immediate family.

To elaborate just a little: there is nothing to be ashamed of if you give the greatest weight to our own family circle; a good deal of weight, but not quite so much, to your friends or professional associates; some weight to fellow citizens of your own country, and lesser but by no means negligible weight to other people in distant areas.

I have called these the successive circles of obligation. They will vary from person to person. Some people, if they are being honest, would give more weight to members of their own profession or people with similar interests in other countries than they would to distant and unknown citizens of their own country.

My point is that we can live with these successive circles of obligation. The result is likely to be a more humane and altruistic world than if we pay lip service to a system of equal obligation to everyone, but are almost never able to live up to it in practice. What I cannot accept is that we replace the old diplomacy of non-intervention in internal affairs with some new principles of abstract justice to be pursued though the heavens fall.

What I am saying is thus somewhat opposed to the view that moral principles are universal prescriptive statements. Prescriptive yes, universal no.

Some philosophers maintain that universalism is a purely logical thesis deriving from the meaning of moral terms. But if it is a purely logical principle, this means that it depends on the definition of words and nothing can follow about actual conduct.

Many of the considerations which philosophers have in mind when they say that moral principles must be universal can be taken care of by a less ambitious word such as "impersonal". When we come to public policy, some such concept is necessary if those in authority are to do something other than just promote their own personal preferences.

My argument is with those who do assert universalism as a actual substantive norm. They concede that human beings are often not able to live up to it, but insist that they should carry on trying. One danger is that people give up the effort as too difficult and lapse into indifference An alternative route -- which leads to the greatest disasters -- is to restrict its scope to fellow nationals and give zero weight to people in other countries. This is a bad moral position, but is sometimes disguised as a positive statement about the world, e.g. when it is said that foreign policy is only concerned with national interest.

Another way out is to stick with the universalist prescriptions; but to go on to say that the best way to observe them in practice is for people to carry out their local and immediate obligations; and if they do so human welfare will be served better in total than if they try vainly to give as much attention to Mongolian peasants suffering from war or famine as to their own children, parents or spouses.

For instance, it is said, that even if her objective is to promote equally the welfare of all children in the world, each mother would serve this purpose better by giving closest attention to her own children and promoting the welfare of others only as a subsidiary activity.

This is better than either extreme of saying that other children do not matter or neglecting one's own children for the sake of the world. But, like most rules of thumb, it has severe limitations. To begin with, it is not entirely honest. The view that we have primary responsibility to our own children does not depend on the belief that we are also serving other children best that way. Looked at from the altruistic point of view, it may not even be sufficient. One's obligations to other children may be less than to one's own; but it may not be true that these lesser obligations are best promoted by forgetting about them and by preaching to others to look after their own.

In my original paper I expressed myself in favour of a weighting system, whereby different weights were assigned to interests of people outside our own circle in diminishing circles of obligation. But I am now in two minds about how far to go down the road of quantification. Few people would be able even with the help of a professional moral tutor -- if there is such a thing -- to quantify such weights. They would differ not only from individual to individual, but even in the same person at different times.

These doubts lessen if we move from personal dealings to national policy. There is no way governments can implement the contradictory and changing sets of obligations of every one of their citizens. They have to take some view which they hope will be moderately acceptable and which will at least not dumb down the level of moral aspiration of their own populations.

There is an analogy here with decisions about where to put new airports, or new housing or industrial development. You can take an absolutist point of view that no area of natural beauty, no distinguished architectural building, or much loved familiar landmark, should ever be adversely affected. But this will never happen. Nor would it be particularly moral if it did. Those specialists who carry out cost benefit analysis often have to ask what value is put on a unique perpendicular church or an attractive piece of woodland, in order to balance it against the advantages of the proposed new development. If they simply say that the value of the old landmarks is immeasurable, they are simply not telling the truth

In every military decision, even in every decision of foreign policy, there is an implicit weighting system. Economists will be accused of having a professional bias towards making this explicit. Yet doing so might make for better or at least clearer decisions.


The Role of Intervention

Let me now turn to the other extreme view, that foreign policy should only be concerned with national interest or raison d'etat.

There are two very different justifications advanced for saying that foreign policy should be based on hard-headed calculations of national self interest and not at all on supporting human rights or preventing atrocities. One is simply to assert that foreign policy has no concern with such matters. That is the traditional view of many diplomats and statesmen such as the French Cardinal Richelieu, the Prussian Otto Bismarck and even our own Disraeli.

But we do not need to go back to the 18th or 19th Centuries to find examples of this attitude. For instance, Lord Bridges has told the House of Lords that he drafted a speech for Lord Home in 1963 "which took a strong line that there should be no connection between ethics and foreign policy". To be fair this is not the attitude that Lord Bridges now takes; and even in 1963 the draft might have been tongue in cheek, It has also be said that Lord Home read these notes in the middle of a long air journey from Karachi to London and became so angry that he there and then produced the draft of an alternative speech.

But whoever espouses it, the pure "national interest view" is in fact a moral position disguised as some profound statement about the nature of international politics. It is a position that we are free not to hold; and it is in my view a reprehensible one.

There is another very different justification. This is to say that in practice the main results of trying to interfere in the affairs of other countries, when there is no pressing hard-faced reason for doing so, is to increase rather than diminish the sum of human misery. This was the view of the great 19th century Liberal, Richard Cobden; and it has been forcefully restated by the distinguished US diplomat and historian George F Kennan.

In our own day Lord Dahrendorf has taken a similar position that "not everything that is morally unacceptable can be rectified by governments"(2a). But he added that non- governmental organisations, such as Amnesty, can do a great deal to assist the victims of oppressive regimes or to care for the victims of torture. Moreover governments can help create a climate that is friendly to such non governmental activists. He also hoped that human rights could become civil rights entrenched in law. The UK for instance is committed to ratify the statute for an international criminal court.

I feel sure that Cobden could have accepted these emendations of his original statement. But what do we do today if powerful governments do not follow Britain in accepting this new court? It is not only Russia or China that refuses to do so, but also the United States. We are then back to the Kosovo dilemma. Do we wait for an effective system of worldwide law; or should a smaller group of countries accept and enforce the court's findings?

There are numerous arguments that can be given to support the non-interventionist position. Historically, moral self-righteousness has led to doctrines such as Unconditional Surrender. These tend to prolong bloodshed and suffering compared with a willingness to negotiate a peace treaty at an earlier stage. They may even have played a part in establishing Communist rule over parts of central and eastern Europe at the end of World War Two.

There is also an element of self-deception. The late Professor Herbert Butterfield recalled "the tremendous shock which Hitler's invasion of Norway in 1940 gave to people's moral susceptibilities. "A pupil of mine, who had been one of the most authentic of conscientious objectors, and had been exempted from military service, was so appalled by the attack that his whole attitude was shaken and he died not very much later in naval service. I have wondered sometimes what his reaction would had been if he had lived to know that Great Britain had had a prior intention of invading Norway - and this even irrespective of the desire to help Finland - and that Hitler, initially unwilling to undertake the adventure, had decided to forestall us.".

Another consideration is that it is presumptuous to suppose that we know enough about the affairs of other people to intervene successfully in their affairs. Often, with the best of intentions, we make matters worse. As Cobden once wrote: "In all my travels ... three reflections constantly occurred to me: how much unnecessary solicitude and alarm England devotes to the affairs of foreign countries; with how little knowledge we enter on the task of regulating the concerns of other people; and how much better we might employ our energies in improving matters at home".

The pragmatic objection to high principled intervention can never be absolute. But it does suggest that we should be extremely careful before embarking on righteous crusades. The Crusades of the Middle Ages were themselves examples of actions, which were at least in part high-minded, but led to the pillaging and destruction of civilisations far more advanced than western Christendom.

Perhaps the worst example of the moralistic approach is that it tends to deprive diplomacy of its normal function of attempting to ease disputes without recourse to war and of negotiating a settlement when war has broken out. For once a dispute as seen, not as a conflict of interest, but of struggle between good and evil, then bargaining with the other side is seen as at best an odious expedient, and at worst a betrayal of all that is sacred. This process was at work during the 17th century wars of religion. In the 20th century its most disastrous fruits have included the war guilt clauses of the Versaille Treaty and the doctrine of unconditional surrender employed by the Allies in World War II.

There is an opposite kind of error. This is to smother with embraces an unpleasant dictatorship. We obviously need to deal with Communist China; and it would not help either us or the Chinese dissidents to cut off trade or diplomatic relations. But welcoming these awful people to Buckingham Palace is surely an unnecessary act of self-degradation. It is reminiscent of the way in which the Royal Family were forced to embrace the rulers of the Soviet regime which had murdered the Romanovs, who happened to be their cousins.

There will always be exceptional cases when the evil being done is clear and obvious and the dangers of counter-productive action much smaller. An example of the moral absurdity of the conventional diplomatic view is the alleged reluctance of the British Foreign Office to take action to save Jews in Europe at a time the Holocaust and the tendency to play down about what was happening.

To come to more recent history. It is not realistic to criticise the American public for not giving the same weight to the life of an American soldier as to a Serbian civilian or a Kosovan victim of Serb atrocity. But American policy can be criticised for behaving as if the lives of these non-Americans had zero weight by comparison with those in their own armed forces.


Blair's Principles

The British prime minister, Tony Blair, has suggested five considerations which should govern intervention in favour of human rights (Speech at the Economic Club of Chicago, April 22, 1999).

- We must be sure of our case.
- We must have exhausted all diplomatic options.
- There must military operations which "we can sensibly and prudently undertake".
- We have to be prepared for the long term, so as not to have to return for a repeat performance.
- The case for intervention is strengthened if national interests are involved.

These considerations are an attempt to justify some military intervention without going to the extreme of "trying to right every wrong that we see in the modern world, in which case we would do little else than interfere in the affairs of other countries."

These five considerations were not written by Alastair Campbell. They were obviously an early attempt to rationalise what governments have drifted into doing; and pedantic quibbles are out of place.

The first four considerations are to my mind broadly acceptable. The fifth, about the existence of national interest, is an attempt to offset the first four by more hard- headed considerations which could limit the degree of intervention. But there is some obfuscation on what national interest means.

The Prime Minister interpreted it to mean that the Kosovo atrocities and expulsions were "taking place in such a combustible part of Europe." An alternative justification is that we have a special sympathy for people who are geographically close to us and with whom we can identify - but unfortunately this would not have been regarded as a "politically correct" way of putting the matter.


Test Cases

Let me try to draw some tentative conclusions about recent events. It is far too early to say anything final; and in any case I am not enough of a Balkan expert -- and still less of a military expert -- for any convincing judgements on the Kosovo War (6a). What I would really like to do is to offer a sort of template -- some pointers to look at -- which could have been helpful at the time and which might help in judging other situations.

Let me start by saying that the murder and torture of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo was prima facie an international crime. If one were looking at the pre-history of the episode, the real Nato blunder was not to intervene much earlier after Milosevic started his campaign against Kosovan Albanians. It was the failure to act then which made the Serb leader suppose that he could get away with it and also led to the shift of support from the earlier moderate Kosovan leadership to the KLA. I wish I could suppress the thought that these errors of timing had more to do with President Bill Clinton's domestic political agenda than with faulty Balkan intelligence.

But we need to tread carefully here. Earlier American blunders were water under the bridge: and continued US unwillingness to risk lives was a hard fact which the British Prime Minister was told in the strongest possible terms to take as given.

Accepting this background, I will take a sample of the common objections to the military campaign, not in any particular order, and indicate what I think their force to be.

The most basic objection is that governments should not interfere in the internal affairs of other countries. I have dealt with this earlier. It is a good rule of thumb. But it is not an absolute principle and can have exceptions. We have the word of the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan that "nothing in the UN charter that precludes a recognition that there are rights beyond borders(2b). If we are very confident that the suffering resulting from turning aside is greater than that of involvement - even when putting a higher value on our own fellow nationals - then the rule of thumb should be suspended.

But in making the assessments we have to allow for the damage done to the presumption in favour of non-interference and the danger that the intervention would encourage a crusading mentality in which various demagogues felt free to disrupt the peace of the world in the pursuit of their own proclaimed views of political justice. Intervention by regional blocs such as Nato has the advantage of bypassing the Security Council's veto, but has the danger in Annan's words "of setting dangerous precedents for further interventions without a clear criterion to decide who might invoke these precedents and in what circumstances".

A more convincing principle is that we should not attempt to impose by force our own systems of western democracy on countries that reject them or are not ready for them. But what was at stake in Kosovo was not the absence of elections or free speech but a reign of terror on a whole ethnic group.

"No national interest was involved." The Prime Minister obviously thought there was. Former Yugoslavia is opposite Italy, a founding member of both Nato and the European Union. If Milosevic had been allowed a triumph first in Bosnia and then in Kosovo, his destabilising influence could well have penetrated into western Europe. But my argument does not depend on Blair being right on this point. Even if we want to say, for the sake of argument, that there was no national interest at stake, that still does not give us leave to turn the other cheek.

Incidentally, it is entirely in accordance of what I have been saying about successive circles of obligation that Australia should take the lead in East Timor just as western European countries should have done in the former Yugoslavia. The heavy American involvement came from the inability of the European Union countries to get their act together, but that, thank God, is a separate subject.

The anti-interventionist argument that instinctively appeals to me most strongly is that there is so often an element of hypocrisy. East Timor is perhaps a better example here than Kosovo. One of the most forceful comments I saw was a cartoon in The Times in which Tony Blair says "We need a hawk. Here is one." And he was shown piloting one of the Hawk aircraft which the UK had been sending to Indonesia for many years for the use of General Suharto, the unscrupulous dictator of Indonesia. As Amnesty International put it in a masterful piece of understatement: "Despite the leadership of the Prime Minister... the Department of Trade and Industry, in particular, is not meeting its responsibility to promote trade in a manner which is not harmful to human rights."

Such arm sales are utterly wrong. Perhaps it takes a market economist to realise that it is not even a regrettable necessity to safeguard British jobs. The Blair Government has, to its credit, tightened restrictions on the sale of arms and taken the lead in setting up the European Code of Conduct, adopted in 1998. The view that this or any other country cannot prosper and provide employment, without arms sales belongs not to real economics, but to the second rate version (which I call Lumpeneconomics) pedalled by governments and self-interested businessmen.*

* British arms sales of £2bn p.a. in 1998 may be compared with total exports of goods and services, which amounted in the same year to £224bn. If all arms exports had been stopped and it had been necessary to replace them with either exports or import substitutes, what would have been the consequences? Many international trade studies assume an export elasticity of demand of two. This means that the UK would have had to shift nearly £4bn of extra resources into civilian exports or import substitutes. Some £2bn of these could have come from workers and equipment previously devoted to arm sales; but another £2bn of net exports would have been required to offset the deterioration in the terms of trade. This £2bn represents less than ' per cent of gross domestic product.

The estimate is probably a big exaggeration, as a large proportion of arms go to NATO or EU allies or Australia and can be justified on grounds of division of labour. Even a once-for-all loss of 1/8th of a per cent of GDP does matter. But it is still a small price to pay for stopping the sale of limb-destroying mines or long-range guns to odious dictatorships.

At this point I have to suppress my emotions. We need to make a distinction between our judgement of people and our judgement of actions. It is a distinction that I have only begun to appreciate properly in the course of preparing this lecture. The sale of arms to dubious dictatorships was a stain on the record of the last government. Their continuation is a stain on the record of the present government; and one that is particularly difficult to take calmly after all the talk of an ethical foreign policy. But bygones are forever bygones. It would be far far better if Indonesian forces did not have British or any other western arms to shoot down opponents. We are where we are; and the question is whether more net harm or good is done by sending in a armed peacekeeping force.

The charge of hypocrisy is a valid reason for not embarking on a conflict, only if the hypocrisy relates to the effects of the action itself. It is for this reason that I am completely unrepentant about having opposed the Vietnam War. It was supposed to be to prevent a Communist takeover of south-east Asia. Yet the only legitimate reason for using military force against Communism was the suppression of human rights. The political or economic system of former Indo-China was the business of the inhabitants. In fact so far from protecting human rights, the American forces propped up a corrupt dictatorship, which inflicted as much harm as the Communists did; and in the course of the action villages were burnt, forests set on fire and atrocities committed, the total impact of which was in my view much more harmful than allowing a Communist regime to take over - which, in any case the War did not prevent from happening.

One instance of alleged hypocrisy is that there has been no intervention in Chechnya, where to assert the abstract principle of established national boundaries and to prevent secession, thousands of civilians have been killed. The worst immediate after-effect of the Kosovo campaign was indeed likely to be the licence that it appeared to give to the Russian wars against Chechnya. These have already almost certainly led to far more death and destruction than Serbian activities in Kosovo, but are now justified even by moderate Russians as comparable to the Nato war against Serb terrorism. As the historian, Norman Davies, has remarked: "After a decent interval the liberators of Chechnya can expected to be feted at Buckingham Palace like the liberators of Tibet."

The support that the West insisted on giving to the Yelstin regime when it was long past its moral sell-by date well illustrates Cobden's dictum against ignorant involvement. Nevertheless it would not be possible to intervene in conflicts such as Chechnya without risking a Third World War -- which is the reason General Sir Michael Jackson rightly gave for disobeying an order to remove the Russians from the airfield in Pristina.

But without going that far it would be possible for the West to stop treating the Yeltsin regime as a friendly one, to whose misdeeds we can turn a blind eye. At the very least, while actions such as the Chechnya war continue, all western aid for that regime should be suspended -- including aid from the IMF and World Bank, which in this case are just a front for American involvement.

The kid glove treatment of the Yeltsin regime is an example of the biggest single error of western foreign policy since the fall of the Berlin Wall. This is to pick out a particular regime to back, as happened with Gorbachev and has continued with Yeltsin. How much better would be a degree of disengagement; and if international organisations have to make decisions, for instance on the dispersement of aid, they should be based on clear principles rather than keeping in office favoured individuals.

I am more uneasy about the lack of decisive action in Rwanda, where far more people were probably killed than in any other of the cases. At least 100,000 people - nearly all civilians - were killed in the town of Butare alone in April and May 1974. (10). As they say in the playground, two wrongs do not make a right. The failure of the West to intervene in Rwanda - explained but not excused by an earlier US humiliation Somalia - was not an argument for continuing the neglect in East Timor or Kosovo.

"The British bore a disproportionate share of the responsibilities and risks compared with other Europeans." This cannot be decisive. The Good Samaritan in the familiar story could have said that he was taking too many risks in helping the man who had fallen among thieves and that others should have shared the burden. So they should have. But this does not make the Samaritan's act a mistake.

"The unwillingness of the Americans, without whom the action could not have taken place, to risk any serious casualties." Early in this lecture I risked offending more rigorous moralists by saying that it was reasonable to put a greater weight on one's own circle than those more distant from us. But this does not justify a zero weight on the lives of either Kosovans or Serbs. The unwillingness to launch a land war probably did result in a prolongation of the conflict and a greater number of casualties, even though they were not Allied ones. The mass bombing of Serbia and the inevitable civilian suffering were a partial substitute for a land campaign.

To my mind there is only one genuine objection to the Kosovo undertaking. This is that it caused more suffering than it prevented. According to one of the most thorough studies of the war so far, "had Nato not bombed, Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic still would have moved against the Albanian population (as he had the previous year), but the Serbians might not have accelerated the killing or expanded their deadly reach to so many communities for fear of provoking Nato intervention." Exposure of the myths about mass graves should not lead us to minimise the extent of Serbian atrocities both before and after the Nato bombing. The head of the Spanish forensic team attached to the International Crime Tribunal, Emilo Perez Pujol, has frequently been quoted saying that he found a total of 187 bodies; but he did estimate that 2,500 Kosovans were killed altogether by Serb action - below the upper limit previously mentioned. John Pilger has probably got it right when he says that "the numbers of dead so far confirmed suggest that the Nato bombing provoked a wave of random brutality, murders and expulsions, a far cry from genocide".

Nor can we ignore Serbian casualties. The Economist Intelligence Unit reported that Nato, during its 11-week bombardment produced an estimated death toll of 1,500 civilian deaths and 8,000 wounded. At least 450 of the deaths were due to admitted Nato mistakes. In addition there were the civilian casualties in Kosovo due to unexploded cluster bombs, estimated by The Times to number 14,000. In the first month after the bombing ceased such bombs are estimated to have killed or maimed an average of five persons a day. It is indeed possible that Nato killed more innocent civilians on both sides than the Serbs did.

As Davies has said: "The smart way to wage wars these days is to...bomb and blast the adversary from heights where tanks cannot be distinguished from tractors and Chinese embassies can be mistaken for command posts... Sooner or later, one can claim victory amidst a sea of rubble and refugees. No matter that Milosevic, like Saddam, is still in office."

While questions of cost should not be decisive when human rights are involved, it is at least worth noting an estimate of the cost of the war at almost $100bn. Of this some $60bn was accounted for by economic damage by Serbia. This means that the war costs the equivalent of $50,000 for every inhabitant of Kosovo.

A subsidiary question is whether the Kosovan Albanians wanted allied intervention. My impression is that most of them did, despite the additional suffering. But this cannot be decisive. If you are going to take risks with your own life to prevent harm, you must be the judge of whether you are preventing it or not.

At the end of the day the Kosovo intervention appears to me on balance harmful and the East Timor one beneficial. Hindsight is terribly easy. The question in Kosovo was: could the result have been reasonably expected beforehand?

We are told that elements in the US government really did believe that Milosevic would surrender after a few days of bombing. As we know from discussions of recent accidents in this country, failure to brief oneself adequately, when human lives are at stake, is indeed culpable. For what it is worth, I never thought myself that a few days of bombing would be enough and was indeed surprised that Milosevic retreated when he did; and the possibility, even if not the probability, that the Americans might land after all, was at least one factor in his final decision.

Thus although my emotional sympathies were much more with Blair than with his opponents on Kosovo, in the end the action was probably a blunder, and one from which we need to learn.


The Pinochet Precedent

Let me come to a last uncomfortable example. At least until recently, General Pinochet could not be tried in Chile because of the settlement which restored democracy and civil rights to that country. One aspect of this was that neither Right nor Left would try to settle old scores.

Does that give the authorities of any other country the right to try the general? In this specific case a Spanish judge applied to extradite him from the UK because of atrocities alleged to have been committed on Spanish citizens in Chile during his period in office.

I feel tempted to say it is a very good principle that anyone who believes that he may achieve his ends by torture should know that he cannot rely on being safe from justice wherever he goes in the world. The attraction should not lie in the pleasure at the thought of punishment but in the deterrent effect it might have on anyone contemplating atrocities in future.

Let me give another example of how the principle might work. Terrorist thugs have been let out of jail in Northern Ireland because the government believes that however distasteful the process, it will help bring about a settlement which will lead to fewer killings and other outrages in future. Governments have always negotiated with terrorists, whatever they say to the contrary.

Suppose however - as is perfectly possible - that some of the victims of Ulster victims were Australian nationals and one of the terrorists was rash enough to go to France. The principle would then suggest that, although the British government has decided to let bygones be bygones, the French should be prepared to extradite him to Australia. My own inclination would be to accept this implication. But we need to think this through carefully together with an any other difficult implications.


Provisonal Conclusion

What I have been attempting to do in this lecture is not to provide a cut and dried answer to every problem, but to suggest a few guidelines to aid the exercise of judgement.

I started off by querying one popular form of the golden rule: that we should love our neighbour as ourselves. Most attempts to follow it in practice lead to a very narrow definition of "Who is my neighbour?", which only reinforces group conflicts and the terrible crimes committed in their name. It would be just as immoral to say that that we should have some regard for the interests of others, although this cannot be as much as for ourselves, our families, our immediate circle and our own nation.

If I had had time and knowledge I could have tried to take this principle into many different areas, including charitable work, relief operations and so on. I could also - as no doubt some of you were expecting - have tried to work out the implications for domestic government policy in areas such as poverty relief and income and wealth distribution and also entered on the vexed question on the value or otherwise of overseas official aid.

Instead, I have tried to concentrate on the area to which I have devoted most thought over a long period: namely ethics and foreign policy; and even here I have confined myself mainly to military intervention in aid of human rights and not tried to cover much of the material of conventional foreign policy, such as the formation of alliances, armaments and disarmament and so on. Nor have I even covered economic sanctions.

I have rejected the metaphysical principle that foreign policy can have no concern with human rights or any other matters affecting the well being of non-nationals. There is however a pragmatic argument for thinking many times before we try to introduce justice into the affairs of other people. This is simply that - even assuming our leaders are always well intentioned - they do not know enough to do so and the result is often more misery than following a presumption in favour of non-intervention. I do not know what has done more harm: the belief in the inviolability of national sovereignty; or the moralistic urge to intervene when we do not know what we are doing.

But a presumption is only a presumption. It can be overthrown by a sufficiently compelling circumstances, such as genocide in Nazi Germany, the present day Balkans or in Indonesia. Judged by facts and probabilities which ought to have been knowable in advance, the recent war in Kosovo was a blunder, while the peacekeeping force in East Timor is so far a success. These are all of course provisional judgements which could be overthrown in the light of further information and events.

My personal view is that the first priority in foreign policy, as in many other matters, is the negative utilitarian principle "Do not do harm." Let us start by putting a stop to the worst of British arms sales and refrain from entertaining at a royal level leaders of unsavoury dictatorships. If we did make a start here, we might then be in a better position to appreciate those occasions when carefully considered intervention might do some good.

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