The Henry Jackson Society

The British Moment, the foreign policy manifesto of the Henry Jackson Society

To the launch of a new book by the Henry Jackson Society, “The British moment”. The book is based on the belief that foreign policy should be based on values rather than interests, and that Britain in particular should adopt such a policy. We should have a different approach to dealing with democracies from that we take towards autocracies; other states should not be treated as simple black boxes. (The society takes its name from the American senator Henry Jackson, who took this view during the cold war. Read about the society here, and you can order the book here.)

Now, I like the idea that foreign policy should be based on values and not interests. Put another way, our interest is served by the spread of our values. And the suggestion that one country’s constitution is of interest to its neighbours appears in the work not only of Henry Jackson but also of Altiero Spinelli. (Read this section in the Ventotene manifesto.)

But what are those values? How are they defined? Where are they applied? The Henry Jackson Society doesn’t say. I tried to find out what they are by working backwards from the policy recommendations, but without success.

For example, what can one learn from a stance on Iraq that claims to be not “pro-war” but “post-war”? The war is still going on, in case they hadn’t noticed. Actually, they have noticed, and their view is that the allied forces should stay “for as long as the new Iraqi government wishes them to stay.” Well, that’s a clear position, but it doesn’t really answer the question about values. All they are doing is asking a foreign government rather than our own to take decisions about the deployment of our forces: I am asking about the principles by which any government might take such decisions.

The reason why this question needs answering is the possibility that the presence of foreign forces is a greater destabilising factor than their absence. (This is what the Euston manifesto people do face up to, either.) In the case of Chechnya, the authors take the view that “Russia’s brutality in Chechnya has effectively generated an Islamist insurgency in the region.” If the Russians might be doing this, why not the Americans? I don’t know what the Henry Jackson Society wants.

On Europe, we learn from the rejection of the constitutional treaty that “Europeans oppose an unrepresentative supranational government overriding the wills of our national parliaments.” Worse, “The break-up of Yugoslavia and the war that followed should serve as salutary reminders of the sort of nationalist backlash that supranational federalism can provoke”. However, in Africa, the opposite is true:

“It is a positive development that the Organisation of African Unity, with its rigid insistence on state sovereignty, has given way to the African Union, which explicitly recognises a common continental commitment to democracy and the right of African states to help their neighbours secure security and good governance. Trends such as these should be supported.”

So is protecting national sovereignty a good thing or a bad thing? It’s quite a fundamental question – in the eyes of this blog, perhaps the fundamental question – but it’s a subject on which the Henry Jackson Society is silent.

The problem of Europe is deeper than just their view of sovereignty, though. Their proposed British policy towards China, trying to ostracise it in international institutions, is “a strategy that may entail mobilising EU support.” Now, one of the main reasons why EU support is hard to mobilise at present is the lack of a suitable institutional mechanism through which to take and implement the necessary decisions. The remedy? The constitutional treaty, but that’s something which the Henry Jackson Society seems not to have wanted.

I was tempted in this blog entry to be very critical. I mentioned to a friend that I was going to an event intended to honour what they call “the noble tradition of liberal interventionism.” “Nonsense,” he said, “dangerous nonsense.” And in some senses he is right.

Regarding Iran, we read that “A ‘ground invasion’ of Iran, on the Iraq model, should be ruled out for the moment.” Reassuring words, those, “for the moment”. But looking to other parts of the world – Africa, say, or China, they are much closer to the mark.

On China, they say that:

“Britain’s interests are best served by the containment of China in a liberal-democratic world order, rather than through an attempt to match China’s military might or stifle its economic expansion. This means putting values to the fore.”

Quite right. But what is a liberal-democratic world order? What is it made of? What does it look like?

The book allows itself to tilt at “windy multilateral rhetoric” (meaning Francis Fukuyama’s recent book, “After the neo-cons”) but actually there is more to multilateralism than they give it credit for.

Fukuyama himself writes of the importance of institutions in his book, and says that they are very difficult to establish. But the experience of the European Union is that they matter:

“One of the most successful engines of institutional reform has been the European Union’s accession process, which has transformed the institutional landscape in Eastern Europe and beyond.”

Those institutions take time to build, and will be built in stages, but there must be no doubt that their construction is nevertheless the objective of policy. This is the method of Jean Monnet that has taken the European Union as far as it has gone today.

Let us adopt democracy and human rights as our values, yes, and let’s build the system of governance that will protect them. As Spinelli remarks in his essay “The United States of Europe and the various political tendencies”, it is perfectly natural to say such things within an existing state, but it becomes a shock to say them at international level. It must not be a shock, it must become normal.

I don’t think it is Henry Jackson who should be the inspiration of our foreign policy, perhaps, but Altiero Spinelli and Jean Monnet. Values, yes, but also the means and the methods to achieve them.

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