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Dr Liam Fox: More Palmerston than Blair?

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When the Defence Secretary Dr Liam Fox referred to himself as "more Palmerston than Blair" in an interview with The Times, it can be safely assumed he was not alluding to the fact that Lord Palmerston began his parliamentary career as a Tory, and ended it as a Liberal.

Palmerston was famous in foreign affairs for his use of gunboat diplomacy. James Cable, a diplomat and naval strategist, defined gunboat diplomacy as "the use or threat of limited naval force, otherwise than as an act of war, in order to secure advantage or to avert loss, either in the furtherance of an international dispute or else against foreign nationals within the territory or the jurisdiction of their own state."

During the Don Pacifico Incident in 1850, Palmerston mobilised the Royal Navy against Greece in defence of a British subject. The promise of protection for British subjects, just as the Roman Empire guaranteed the rights of its citizens, is conceptually similar to the justification used by both Tony Blair and Liam Fox regarding Afghanistan.

On 7th October 2001, after American and British forces had begun operations against the Taliban in Afghanistan, Tony Blair stated that "the murder of British citizens, whether it happened overseas or not, is an attack upon Britain...we have a direct interest in acting in our self-defence to protect British lives." On 21st May 2010, Dr Liam Fox said that "we are there so the people of Britain and our global interests are not threatened."

A lack of territorial ambition links the Blair doctrine of intervention based on values with Palmerston's famous quote from 1859 warning against turning overseas interest into occupation:

"We do not want Egypt for ourselves any more than any rational man with an estate in the north of England and a residence in the south, would have wished to possess the inns on the north road. All he could want would have been that the inns should be well kept."

It is clear that Lord Palmerston, Tony Blair and Liam Fox all placed a premium on national security, even if their policies diverged after an initial intervention overseas.

Please note: Views expressed are those of the author.


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