The war on terror has shaped and defined the first decade of the twenty-first century, yet analyses of Britain's involvement remain limited and fragmentary. This book provides a comprehensive, detailed and critical analysis of these developments. It argues that New Labour's support for a militaristic campaign was driven by a desire to elevate Britain's influence on the world stage, and to assist the United States in a new imperialist project of global reordering. This included participation in the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, support for extra-legal measures and a diminution of civil liberties through punitive anti-terror legislation. Ostensibly set within a political framework of promoting humanitarian values, the government's conduct in the war on terror also proved to be largely counter-productive, eroding trust between the citizenry and the state, putting the armed forces under increasing strain, reducing Britain's global position and ultimately exacerbating the threat from radical Islamic terrorism. While new imperialism is typically treated as either an ‘economic’, ‘political’, ‘militaristic’ or ‘humanitarian’ endeavour, this study seeks to enhance current scholarly accounts by setting the events and dynamics of the war on terror within a more holistic and multi-dimensional account of new imperialist forces.
The United States' abandonment of a new imperialist strategy in favour of a military surge in Iraq was not only ambiguous in its effects, but clashed with the divergent move towards a military withdrawal that was now being pursued by the New Labour government. Uncertainty over the status of Britain's mission in Iraq was also reflected in growing confusion over the nature of the military campaign in Afghanistan, public support for which was now in steady decline. With his political fortunes facing a similar challenge, Prime Minister Gordon Brown turned to the issue of national security as a means of bolstering his leadership credentials. In particular, this focused on a new round of anti-terror legislation, central to which was a renewed attempt to extend the period of detention without charge for terrorist suspects. Being driven to a large degree by political concerns, the new proposals, along with renewed controversy over ministerial complicity in extra-legal measures, did little for the credibility and coherence of the government's ‘values-based’ approach to the war on terror.
The end of George W. Bush's regime, and its replacement by a new Democrat administration headed by Barack Obama, was hailed as a sign of positive directional change in the war on terror. Yet despite key areas of difference, continuities in the United States' policy remained apparent. The most significant of these centred on the war in Afghanistan. In Britain, where domestic support for the campaign remained weak, ministers continued to emphasise the national security imperatives of defeating the Taliban in an ever more forlorn attempt to justify the mission with reference to the fight against international terrorism. Alongside these events, domestic anti-terror measures, including a new counter-terrorism framework, also continued to feature strongly on the political agenda. On a similarly recurrent note, the government's attempt to foster a values-based approach to the war on terror was further undermined by controversy over Britain's role in its extra-legal practices. The political consequences of these various issues also proved to be substantial, helping to send New Labour down to a heavy defeat in the General Election of May 2010.
The launching of the war on terror in September 2001 was shaped by two immediate factors: the new imperialism adopted by the United States from the end of the Cold War, and the specific form and character of the George W. Bush administration. Seeking to craft a new world order more conducive to U.S. interests, Washington's response to the al-Qaeda attacks of 9/11 was driven by military measures designed to expand free market democracy in the Middle East and to establish a credible willingness to use force in defence of its interests. In this, the Bush regime was assisted by a New Labour government anxious to elevate Britain's power and influence on the world stage. In reality, the primary means of achieving this became one of unflinching and uncritical support for the actions of the United States. The British approach not only hampered any critical analysis of the underlying causes of radical Islamic terrorism, but acted to sustain the very conditions on which it thrives.
Launched by the United States in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the overarching objective of the war on terror was to advance a wide-ranging project of geo-strategic reordering designed to extend and enhance U.S. global dominance. This book explores the course of British foreign policy since 1945; considers the centrality of the U.S. special relationship to New Labour's geopolitical strategy; examines the utility of ‘new imperialism’ as a conceptual framework for analysing contemporary international affairs; considers the underlying dynamics of the war on terror, the rise of New Labour in Britain, and the emergence of radical Islamic terrorism during the 1990s; looks at the events surrounding the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq; discusses New Labour's domestic anti-terror strategy and its response to the increasingly prominent theme of radicalisation following the terrorist attacks in Madrid and London; describes the transition from the final period of Tony Blair's rule and the initial phase of Gordon Brown's tenure as Prime Minister; and charts the final demise of New Labour in the General Election of 2010.
British foreign policy after 1945 was intended to establish closer ties with the United States as a means of compensating for Britain's decline as an independent Great Power. Yet relations with both Europe and the United States remained variable during this time, and the problems of decolonisation and decline continued unabated. The coming to power of the New Labour government in 1997 portended a self-conscious attempt to resolve these issues. Framed as a transatlantic bridge strategy, the key aim of this was to elevate Britain's global influence by establishing mutually reinforcing ties with each side. Altering both the nature and the balance of power on the world stage, these changes proved to be crucial both for the success of the transatlantic bridge approach, as well as for the dynamics of the war on terror. This chapter explores the course of British foreign policy since 1945, considers the centrality of America's special relationship to New Labour's geopolitical strategy, and examines the utility of ‘new imperialism’ as a conceptual framework for analysing contemporary international affairs.
The onset of the war on terror was shaped by both long-term and immediate factors. In the first of these, the geo-strategic dynamics of Cold War rivalry in the Middle East helped to create the conditions for the globally oriented threat of radical Islamic terrorism. The second series of factors centred on the particular characteristics of the U.S. and British governments during the early years of the twenty-first century. In the former, a Republican administration headed by George W. Bush sought to capitalise on the position of the United States as the sole remaining superpower by launching an expansionary project of global re-ordering following the terrorist attacks of 9/11. In the latter, a New Labour government anxious to elevate the influence of the British state on the world stage provided a ready source of political and military support for this endeavour. The ramifications, involving an invasion of Afghanistan, the adoption of extra-legal practices, and restrictions on civil liberties in the name of national security, would dominate international and domestic politics for the rest of the decade.
Following the overthrow of the Taliban, the war on terror moved rapidly towards its second phase. The principal theme in this was the pursuit of regime change in Iraq, ostensibly as a means of defusing the threat posed by its illegal weapons of mass destruction (WMD), but in reality it was a policy designed to enhance the global influence of the United States, not least by promoting the spread of free market democracy in the Middle East and by establishing its credible willingness to use force. For the New Labour leadership, the focus on WMD was adopted as a strategic means of overcoming the political and legal obstacles to Britain's participation in military action. Anticipating a rapid transition to democratic governance, U.S. plans for the post-war situation proved to be dangerously inadequate, leading to an outbreak of chaos, disorder, and insurgency. Compounding this, political pressures over the war also mounted as the hunt for WMD drew a blank, and as the diversion of resources from Afghanistan allowed the Taliban and al-Qaeda to regenerate their capabilities.
Along with military interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, one of the central features of the war on terror was the use of extra-legal measures by the United States. These involved indefinite detentions at Guantánamo Bay and so-called ‘black site’ facilities at secret locations around the world, the use of extraordinary renditions and the deployment of ‘controversial’ interrogation techniques. As details about these practices emerged, New Labour officials in Britain came under increasing pressure over their tacit support for, as well as their complicity in, such activities. At the same time, developments in the government's own anti-terror strategy also proved to be contentious. Involving a further recalibration of the balance between civil liberties and the security provisions of the state, this included the introduction of a regime of control orders and an extension of the period for which terrorist suspects could be held without charge. Accompanying this, terrorist attacks in Madrid and London placed the issue of domestic radicalisation, and questions about a blowback effect from the invasion of Iraq squarely on the political agenda.
The context for Britain's role in the war on terror shifted significantly during the course of 2006. As conditions in Afghanistan and Iraq continued to deteriorate, the government's strategies in both theatres underwent considerable adjustment. While the military campaign in the former was dramatically expanded as part of an effort to combat the ongoing resurgence of the Taliban, officials in Iraq began to emphasise a tentative move towards withdrawal. This created tensions with Washington, whose strategic approach had now embraced a large-scale troop surge designed to quell the ever-rising violence of the insurgency. Events elsewhere in the region also had a dramatic impact. In particular, the outbreak of war between Israel and Lebanon led to a critical weakening of Tony Blair, with his unyielding support for the United States' position hastening his eventual departure from office. Under Gordon Brown, however, similarities with the previous regime remained clear. In particular, the new administration refused to accept any causal role for foreign policy in the threat from international terrorism.