Coffee House

The Cameron doctrine: Britain’s new foreign policy

1 February 2013

9:17 AM

1 February 2013

9:17 AM

David Cameron is continuing his tour of Africa today and is — according to the New York Times — ‘boasting a sheaf of commitments to new partnerships in the fields of defense, counterterrorism, intelligence-sharing and military training’. He was in Tripoli yesterday, where his approval ratings ought to be sky high having been instrumental in the operation to depose Gaddafi. He was urging a no-fly zone at a time when even the Pentagon was mocking him for the idea.

Last week, he upped the stakes and spoke of a ‘generational battle’ in Mali. The PM is turning into quite the hawk: after Afghanistan and Libya, the decision to contribute C-17s and 330 troops to the French effort can count as his third war in just over two years. The decisions he is taking, and the speeches he makes to justify them, are reshaping British foreign policy. I look at this in my Telegraph column today. Here are the main points:

1. Cameron has changed his position on foreign affairs. George W Bush famously scorned the idea of nation-building before he became president. Cameron began seeing foreign policy as a series of trade missions, and embassies were instructed accordingly. This was a rather tawdry policy, that meant he was in the Gulf with a bunch of arms dealers when the Arab Spring kicked off. It was not a good look. During that trip — in Egypt — Cameron was taking swipes at Blair saying he was not a ‘naïve neocon’ who thought you could ‘drop democracy out of an aeroplane at 40,000 feet’.

He was right: the  Tomahawk missiles he ordered just three weeks later cruised at 400 feet before hitting Tripoli — and, yes, ushering in a new democracy. Cameron  was being cheered in Liberty Square in Benghazi just a few weeks later, and went back to Martyrs’ Square in Tripoli yesterday as a follow-up. He is visibly warming to all this.

2. All this is personal for Cameron. You can hear more his voice in more than any other area of government policy. Even the military chiefs were anxious about Libya (and still are about Mali) but Cameron is simply giving voice to a policy decided by a committee. He is leading, something that doesn’t happen enough. His European speeches may have an elephantine gestation period, but his foreign intervention declarations trip off the tongue. He’s going with his instinct, and the foreign policy is being formed in the process.

3. So let’s look at the Cameron doctrine, in his own words:

‘Together with our partners in the region, we are in the midst of a generational struggle against an ideology which is an extreme distortion of the Islamic faith, and which holds that mass murder and terror are not only acceptable but necessary… We must frustrate the terrorists with our security, we must beat them militarily, we must address the poisonous narrative they feed on, we must close down the ungoverned space in which they thrive, and we must deal with the grievances that they use to garner support.’

This is not a doctrine you will find in any Foreign Office document. It declares that  France’s struggle against Islamic tribesmen should be regarded as Britain’s struggle. It states as UK objective the defeat of the Saharan jihadis and commits Britain to ‘close down’ an ‘ungoverned space’ as big as France itself.


4. Cameron is volunteering Britain’s services as a roving African policeman ready to track down Islamic jihadis in this ‘generational struggle’. And God knows there will be more opportunity to do this, as the Arab Spring will create more opportunities for the Islamic nutcases whom the old dictators threw in jail. You can think Cameron’s wide brief is a good thing or a bad thing (I’m in favour) but it does have implications about the use, and the budget, of the British military.

5. There is nothing in Mali that directly threatens Britain. This ‘al-Qa’eda in the Islamic Maghreb’ (AQIM) is a scary name given to what started out as an Algerian insurgency (rather than a Bin Laden offshoot). The current lot, ‘Those Who Sign In Blood’, used to make a living a bunch as smugglers and kidnappers. They grew stronger and richer when the French were dumb enough to pay up.

So AQIM is not like al-Qa’eda in Yemen, whose key asset is an innovative bombmaker who made the printer bomb (found in East Midlands Airport) and the metal-free underpants bomb (which malfunctioned on a flight to Detroit). The Yemeni division of al-Qa’eda spend their time thinking of how to blow up aircraft, etc. There is no evidence that the Saharan lot — or the leader Mokhtar Belmokhtar — have much any interest in anything in Europe. Belmokhtar, an Afghanistan veteran, avowed himself to al-Qa’eda in 2006 creating lots of headlines (which is what it’s all about) but later fell out with them. His four wives are from Mali, hence the links. But the Tuareg will work for the highest bidder: they are mercenaries, not jihadis.

During the Algerian gas plant siege Belmokhtar asked for the release of the Blind Sheikh in America which was taken by some to indicated that he did have global ambitions and that Mali was the new Afghanistan. But this demand can be better-understood as laying a claim to grandeur. A bit like the bit in Die Hard, where Hans asks for the release of members of Asian Dawn in Sri Lanka – he just wanted to give off the vibe of having an international agenda. But there is no evidence of any links between AQIM any British terror cell, or anything in mainland France.

That doesn’t mean such links may not be built, that Belmokhtar has his Islamists are not truly evil (read this report about what the Islamists did to Timbuktu for proof of that) or that he does not threaten British interests (i.e. expats and factories) in Mali.

But it’s important to draw a distinction between the opportunistic Belmokhtar and, say, the badlands of Pakistan (still the no. 1 threat to the UK) where there is much more traffic to the UK and there are still terror camps that train jihadis to strike back here.

6. The ghost of Bosnia. When trying to understand why Cameron feels so strongly about this, one ought to remember Bosnia. The last Conservative government failed to act — in common with other European powers and the pathetic UN — and the result was the 1995 Srebrenica massacre. A striking number of those in No. 10 have either worked in Bosnia or know it well. William Hague’s special adviser came to Britain as a Bosnian refugee. So yes, deploying the military has its risks. But sometimes, the consequences of failing to deploy the military are even greater. This was the lesson of the mid-1990s. It’s seldom mentioned but the ghost of Bosnia still haunts the Conservative Party, and when Gaddafi was getting ready to move into Benghazi one argument being deployed was that Britain cannot stand back and witness another Srebrenica.

7. Cameron and Osborne have swapped sides. In 2003 when they were prepping Michael Howard for PMQs, Cameron would tease Osborne for being a ‘neocon’ his enthusiasm for the war on terror.  But now, I gather, Osborne is the one nervous about Libya and Mali. He regards war as a huge expense that doesn’t win votes (Libya cost about £200 million). To Cameron, it’s about the national interest — and hang the cost.

8. But Cameron needs to fund the military to meet his ambitions. When he was deciding the latest military budget, Cameron said at one point ‘We’ve had enough pain — what about some fudge?’ And there was fudge aplenty, especially in the odd plans to double the size of the TA when they can’t even fill it to its 15,000 strength right now.

9. Cameron wants an army that can fix problems from the Hindu Kush to the Sahara. And one that can voluntarily join countries like France in missions that don’t affect Britain because Cameron thinks it’s he right thing to do. This is a noble position, quite in line with Britain’s traditions and role in the world. It is almost pointless deciding foreign policy before entering office — it is decided by world events and the PM’s response to them. Cameron has responded quickly and (I think) brilliantly. His decision is that Britain is a country that tries to shape the world, rather than be shaped by it.

10. Cameron has surprised others — and perhaps himself  in the decisions he has taken about foreign policy. He spoke about a generational struggle  the same day that Obama said ‘a decade of war is now ending’. Of the two, I think Cameron is being more clear-sighted while Obama is being too dismissive. But the lack of American interest means a lack of American arms: already the French are going begging for equipment (C-17s, drones) and if this is the new world then it will be even more expensive.

Tony Blair caused great damage to the UK military by over-stretching it. The victims were not just the soliders who died from lack of proper protection but the people of Basra who lived (and in many cases died) under the Shi’ite death squads because the UK presence there was too small to protect them. Blair was so lucky that the media didn’t really pick up on this. I’ve long argued that the way we left Iraq, not entered it, was Blair’s real war crime.

In opposition, Cameron rightly lambasted Blair for fighting two wars on a peacetime budget. In office, he cannot very well fight three on even less money. His decision to cut the MoD budget by as much as he increased the aid budget was bizarre, for a PM already at war. If he was going to ignore Mali, he could perhaps have justified the military cuts. But he wants an army capable of solving problems Sangin to the Sahara — and rightly so. The Spending Review comes in June. Cameron has decided what sort of military he wants. Now, he has to pay for it.

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Show comments
  • Ken

    France created Mali, France created the mess, let France deal with it – and let France deal with the influx of refugees, who are more likely to speak her language than ours.

  • Barbara Stevens

    The Spending Review comes in June, what will he cut here at home to pay for the upkeep of his new world army police force? Why should we become the world’s policeman, who as given him the mandate to do it? Certainly not his party, not the electorate, and opinion is against him on all counts. It may feel right to some, but not to those who pay the price for this idealism. These people are the poor here, the elderly, the unemployed, who face the draconian cuts that are hurting badly.

    We have a decreased militery, thousands given the boot, we have a navy with no carriers and no airplanes to go on them, let alone the money to run them. We are no longer a world power, that is why the USA is cutting it’s committments to wars, and wants us to remain within the EU, to share the burden. Yet they do not share the burdens when its a shooting match. Mali as proved to be a slight war, nothing major, yet. Iraq and Afganistan was war and we suffered great loss of life. The West is in danger but not all will meet the dangers, it is not fair or right that we should be asked to meet all the dangers or be willing to commit to do so. Not fair also to pay billions in foreign aid, while our own beg in food banks. Journalists, and MPs can speak about what we should so, but reality and what we the electorate are prepared to do and pay for is very different indeed. We are not prepared to sacrifice any more, or pay and be taxed to death, for PM and governments ideas to pontificate on the world stage. It as to stop; the sooner all get the message the better.

  • celtthedog

    Yes, well, this sort of mentality is hardly new — we used to have it in spades….
    …just before 1914.

  • HooksLaw

    ‘Cameron wants an army that can fix problems from the Hindu Kush to the Sahara’ –
    Mr Nelson, Cameron does not want an army that can do that.
    Indeed he has shown himself anxious to pull out of Afghanistan and rather than intervene with troops in the Pakistan border he wants to use aid, money, to gain influence.

    The reality is that Syria is being undermined by surrogate rebels, Iran will probably go the same way Afghanistan can be controlled to protect our interests with the local government and air power intervention.
    Problems in the wastes of west africa are controllable, the local states are showing willing in addressing the problems themselves and do not equate to the jungles if indo china.

    Our future safety relies on a stable government and democracy in Pakistan. I do not see, no matter how many times UKIP double our defence budget, that we have any interest in invading there.

    • Rhoda Klapp

      “Our future safety relies on a stable government and democracy in Pakistan.”

      Then we are stuffed.

  • Rhoda Klapp

    Take up the White Man’s burden–

    The savage wars of peace–

    Fill full the mouth of Famine

    And bid the sickness cease;

    And when your goal is nearest

    The end for others sought,

    Watch sloth and heathen Folly

    Bring all your hopes to nought.

    ..another RK.

  • Rhoda Klapp

    Displacement activity. Look it up if it’s not familiar.

  • chan chan

    Cameron yesterday gave an ‘inspirational speech’ to police recruits in Libya. When he finished, he said his final few words in Arabic, and they all shouted “Allahu Akbar!”. Nobody at the BBC seemed to notice…

    • Tom Tom

      Anthony Eden used to visit Cairo and quote verses from the Koran in Arabic as he was an Arabist……did him a lot of good over the Suez Canal !

    • HooksLaw

      Night God Bless to you too.

      • chan chan

        No, hookslaw, it doesn’t mean that.

      • Barbara Stevens

        I beleive it means ‘God is great’.

    • Fergus Pickering

      Well of cours they didn’t No-one in the Beeb can speak French, never mind Arabic.

  • Tom Tom

    Yeah Bosnia was fun. Clinton facilitating Iranian airlifts of arms to Bosnia at night and Revolutionary Guard units. Backing the UCK gangsters and bending over backwards to appease Muslim interests – surely Britain should be helping Al-Aqaeda topple the Saudi regime and liberating the Shias in the Hejaz ? We fought Saddam out f Kuwait and stopped when Saudi told us not to remove Sunni control in Iraq so the Shias were encouraged to revolt and get massacred; so second time around we toppled Saddam and handed over Iraq to Shias boosting Iran against Saudi which now sees Syria as a quid pro quo. So if we throw in our lot with Islamic Fundamentalism we could save so much time rather than this convoluted Blair-Cameron Mobius strip of Policy. ………Blair and Cameron are silly public schoolboys playing Sanders of the River…….too much Edgar Wallace

  • Prodicus

    EDITOR: would you mind editing this piece? Some of it is such gibberish that it conveys no meaning whatsoever. Thank you.

  • Its_not_craig

    Fraser, your own position on Cameron’s doctrine is as embarrassingly confused and strategically inept as his own.

    As you suggest, Blair was rightly criticized after leaving office for criminally overstretching the military. He was also rightly criticized (never mind Iraq) in office for his messianic tendencies in determining foreign policy and military interventions. Yet when Cameron continues to use our military to support his silly need for a Worldwide legacy – you claim it is exactly the right thing to do.

    In much of what you write Fraser, you exhibit a tendency to present facts that point to the absurd with this government (debt reduction for example) but then go on to declare undying love and support for their policies which led to the situation in the first place. It’s beyond bizarre.

    You claim to support Cameron’s aim to police Africa – but then ignore that Cameron has already cut the military budget to the point of operational ineffectiveness. Conservatives want an effective Prime Minister who supports our National interest…you point out (quite correctly) that Mali has no impact on UK interests…but then support Cameron’s desire to spend millions policing an area the size of France.

    And we wonder why our chances of a majority in 2015 get less every day. Our leader’s utter incomprehension of the confusion he causes is supported by a press that prefer to laud him than challenge him to get his house in order.

    • HooksLaw

      Cameron does not want to police africa. Where is the evidence for that? We are training locals to help themselves. The opposite of what you claim.

      • Barbara Stevens

        You may be right, we will see, but it begins like that then we get in deeper and in the end the British people land up paying in life an limb and money. We’ve seen it all before so we now know how it works, those that pontificate on the world stage and propose such things are not the ones who suffer the consequences of their decisions.

    • Fraser Nelson

      I’m not sure I’m with you: Afghanistan and Iraq caused the deficit? My point is that, having decided what he wants from the military, Cameron should pay for it. Libya was about £200m which 11 hours of deficit…

      • Its_not_craig

        Come, come Fraser. I in no way made the inference that Afghanistan or Iraq caused the deficit. If my comment reads like that, sincere apologies.

        My point is; you personally have made a number of rebukes on this government’s performance but still seem 100% to support every Tory word. Let me explain. 2 examples of your entirely correct analysis:
        – Coalition economic policies are not reducing debt as Cameron and Clegg claim – rather increasing it in 5 years by more than Labour did in 13; and
        – Cameron has decided he wants the military to intervene in Africa so it’s odd that he’s cutting military spending so much.

        But your publicly stated positions on Tory positions are:
        – I support Tory economic strategy because Osborne raises public debt “with a heavier heart than Labour”; and
        – I think it’s right that the UK military polices Africa and cuts military spending (to support Osborne’s austerity) even though the situation in Mali and the rest of the continent will more than likely never have any impact on the UK.

        I find it bizarre.

        These feel like classic New Labour positions – and if that lot were still in power you would be rightly lambasting them to high heaven for just these 2 examples.

        I wish rather than slavishly supporting Tory policy you and the Speccie would actually put some pressure on our worst ever party leadership. Otherwise – we are toast.

        • the viceroy’s gin

          Alas, you’re asking too much. The Speccie teenager is Cameroon, through and through, bought and paid for.

          And as his Cameroon heroes are set to be cut down at the knees over the EU, and obliterated over the economy, and lambasted over the deficit and debt, the teenager’s only recourse to fulfill his commitments is to swoon over the Cameroons’ valiant expeditions abroad.

          Did anybody read that blogpost all the way through? Was there any need?

      • Barbara Stevens

        You mean the people of the UK will pay for it by cuts to services, and pay for the extra borrowing, its madness and I’m surprised you support it, where is the aligence to UKplc for a change, the rest do not matter charity begins at home.

  • Colonel Mustard

    The office of Prime Minister is not really intended as a vehicle for the occupant to pursue his personal ambitions or exercise his personal beliefs. It is a responsibility on behalf of the people of the UK. But both Blair and now Cameron have used it in that way. Were Britain a successful, wealthy, stable country with few internal problems it might be justified if not warranted, but when the domestic situation is so dire and there is already so much that needs resolution here the behaviour is incredible.

    I do wonder what part of “The money’s all gone” the muppets in Coalition fail to understand.

    • Tom Tom

      The Office of Prime Minister is not really anything more than the leader of a Cabinet Committee of the Privy Council able to pass a Budget for The Crown in The House of Commons. If the Members cannot hold the individual to account it has failed as an institution and should be abolished as it is simply a Soviet-style conveyor-belt transmitting decisions of a dictator to the masses

    • dalai guevara

      Bang on – with the deployment of the 350, DC has his eyes (and the little finger) in the French pie.

  • Russell

    Must be a speccie scoop here that Cameron is sending 330 troops to Mali, although I am sure the BBC will say the same as in fact labour MP’s are already falsely claiming.
    I was led to believe that 40 military personnel are in Mali to support the two C17’s.
    The remainder of the total of ‘troops’ are in fact trainers being sent to surrounding friendly non combat zone countries as well as some to Mali.

    • Tom Tom

      JFK sent 400 Green Beret “Advisers” to Vietnam May 1961 and soon had 16,000 there

      • Russell

        It isn’t 400 SAS or commandos being sent to MALI!
        It is 40 RAF personnel including Aircraft maintenance fitters and no doubt some RAF Regiment to protect the planes and ground crew.

        • Tom Tom

          You have that from your MI6 Briefing or from Langley ?

          • HooksLaw

            And your briefings? huh – from UKIP central? You are the one repeating the same old same old rubbish all the time. You have good company from the other usual hysterics.

            • Tom Tom

              UKIP ? What’s that to do with me ? You are the obsessive

          • Russell

            Simply watching BBC parliament channel and listening to the Minister of Defence.
            Do pay attention at the back of the class.

            • Tom Tom

              Yes and just how often do Ministers announce deployment of SAS soldiers or SBS ? How many were in Syria ? How many are in Yemen ? How many are deployed in Afghanistan currently ? Can you tell us when a British Minister ever revealed to the BBC Parliament Channel deployment of Special Forces troops – whether Airborne or Seaborne ?

            • HooksLaw

              Fat chance.

      • HooksLaw

        What a pathetic comparison. There is no relation to the two. You are just a wild hysteric on every topic you spout on.

  • Jules

    I despair, I truly do. When are we going to get a leader who puts Britain FIRST, and stays out of the business of others? The only good thing is it looks a near certainty that Cameron will no longer be PM after 2015 because the Tory party aren’t going to win an election when this is their priority. It’s not Cameron’s approval ratings in Benghazi he needs to be worried about!

    • Macky Dee

      Staying out of the business of others, means first of all ignoring, or, leaving it to others to – free people from death on their doorstops. There are women and children being tortured and killed in the most horrendous of ways but yeah, let’s leave ’em to it eh?

      • Colonel Mustard

        So, bearing in mind this is happening all over the world all of the time, where would draw the line? At which point would you call a halt to the expenditure of British time, money, and resources on foreign problems? Is Britain the world’s government, policeman and social services worker? Hmm, don’t think so.

        But there speaks the voice of the socialist. Always wanting to interfere in and control everything, everywhere, regardless of cost and regardless of the escalating human misery it often causes – but, yeah, because it makes you feel so good, eh?

        • Russell

          Didn’t Cameron say prior to Libya, just because you can’t do everything doesn’t mean you have to do nothing?

          • Tom Tom

            Yes he tried ardently to join the Armed Forces ever since a schoolboy but his basic stupidity meant he never was selected

        • Barbara Stevens

          Like I said above, demonising our own young, 50% of them unemployed, and saying they want to become pop stars, is degrading to say the least. I agree with your sentiments entirely.

      • Tom Tom

        Why are you waiting…we’ll all come to the airport to give you a send off when you go to fight injustice all around the world

      • Barbara Stevens

        We cannot become, or want to become, the worlds policeman. We have many other members of the EU who choose to ignore what you mention. They don’t rush to spend their countries money, or borrow to spend it, they keep quiet, and let fools like Cameron and Blair do it for them. Meanwhile we have families here begging in food banks, armies of unemployed, elderly on the lowest pensions in Europe; the list is endless. We owe these people nothing, we can offer sympathy, and money if we had it, but we don’t. It is not our responsiblity to educate all of Africa, and meanwhile, demonise our own young as Cameron as done today. He has to go.

    • HooksLaw

      Making the world safer, supporting fledgling democracies is in Britains interest.
      You like Mr Nelson are verging on the hysterical.
      Its French troops doing the fighting with pan african help led by Nigeria. You are going apoplectic over 2 troop transports and 50 training people.

      As for Libya Mr Nelson should realise that what prompted Britains and NATO’s intervention was the promise of genocide in Bengazi.

      Just what is in Britains interest? We are defended by NATO. Who do you want to invade with our armed forces. if you do not want to use them why do we need a bigger army?

      • Colonel Mustard

        Fledgling democracies? That’s a good one.