‘All overseas invasions should be banned!'
Some experts have seized on this week’s withering Chilcot report to criticise the policy of ‘regime change’ which started it. Should we resolve never to invade another country again?
‘The policy of my government is the removal of Saddam. And all options are on the table.’
These were George W Bush’s words in April 2002. Eleven months later, the US president authorised the invasion of Iraq. Faced with a stark choice, Tony Blair — who said his policy was Saddam Hussein’s disarmament — sent 45,000 British troops to fight on land, sea and air.
It was a fateful decision. The overthrow of the Iraqi leader created a power vacuum which was filled by corrupt governments and sectarian mass murderers. Islamic State (IS) now operates across swathes of the country. And this week’s Chilcot report revealed that Blair’s decision-making was deeply flawed.
What lessons can be learnt? Chilcot said ‘really careful challenge, analysis and assessment’ would be needed before similar interventions in future. David Cameron warned against the potential to ‘shrink from its role on the world stage or fail to protect its people’.
But for some, the policy of ‘regime change’ has been indicted. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn called for ‘a foreign policy which always seeks peaceful solutions to international disputes’.
In its history Britain has invaded nearly nine in ten of the world’s countries. Some became part of the British empire; others were merely places where pirates, privateers or explorers went with government approval. Incursions such as the attacks on several European countries during the second world war are now mostly lauded; others are condemned as acts of aggression or blunders.
Since Iraq and Afghanistan, the UK has not been involved in a comparable military engagement. It has launched airstrikes on Libya, Syria and Iraq since 2011 and reports suggest British special forces are fighting against IS. But politicians seem to be losing their appetite for military action and the prime minister has ruled out using conventional ground troops.
Should the UK now declare it will not invade a foreign country again?
Defence and attack
There is no need to overthrow foreign leaders in the modern era, say some. No major states pose an existential threat to western nations; if anyone did, they would possess nuclear weapons, making invasion suicidal. The main threat is now Islamism, which does not require state support. Any warfare the UK engages in should be strictly limited.
Invasion remains a necessary option, respond others. Free nations must be prepared to eradicate threats and deter and defeat tyrants. Imagine if a jihadist government tried to get a nuclear weapon, or Vladimir Putin installed an illegitimate government in eastern Europe. Perhaps, as David Aaronovitch of The Times says, one of Iraq’s biggest tragedies is the West’s subsequent isolationism.
- Would you ever be prepared to use violence to achieve an objective?
- Should the UK declare it will not invade a foreign country again?
- Write down a list of five people you would like to interview about the decision to go to war in Iraq. What would you ask each of them? Discuss your list as a class.
- Choose a major invasion in Britain’s history. Prepare a three-minute presentation explaining what happened, why it was launched and whether you think it was justified.
Some People Say...
“Self-defence is the only justification for war.”
What do you think?
Q & A
- I’m not going to join the armed forces. Why would an invasion affect me?
- Whether you would be involved or not, military action could be ordered on your behalf. And when you have the right to vote, you will be able to choose leaders who reflect your view of the world: you may want someone prepared to use force to defend your country’s interests and values, or you may prefer someone who does not take risks you consider unnecessary.
- Isn’t this just a long report on an event which happened ages ago?
- The fighting in Iraq is still continuing today and the UK is again involved — albeit this time only from the air — against IS. The invasion of Iraq was one chapter in the ongoing instability in the Middle East — which is now beset by wars and uprisings and from which many refugees are fleeing.
- This could have meant Saddam would not have to be removed.
- Only France has a comparable record.
- Author Stuart Laycock researched the history of every country in the world for his book All the Countries We’ve Ever Invaded: And the Few We Never Got Round To.
- The US led invasion of Afghanistan, after the terrorist attack on 9/11, aimed to kill and capture fighters from al-Qaeda, who planned the attack, and overthrow the Taliban, who sheltered them. The last UK combat troops left Afghanistan in 2014.
- Colonel Gaddafi, Libya’s leader, was overthrown by rebels, not an invading force. The government withdrew a plan to attack the Assad regime in Syria in 2013 after losing a parliamentary vote. In the first three months of the engagement against IS in Syria, the UK launched just 33 successful air strikes. And military experts estimate defence cuts have reduced Britain’s armed forces by a third in five years.
- Aaronovitch particularly cites the West’s relative lack of action in Syria, which he calls ‘the true disaster of our era’.