Editorial from the February 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard
Former Labour Cabinet Minister, Claire Short, describes Tony Blair as "delusional". We don't know about that, but he does seem to think that he too, like his buddy George Bush, is the commander in chief of his country's armed forces.
Last month he was televised making a speech on board a warship in the Plymouth naval base surrounded by khaki-clad soldiers and camouflaged armoured cars.
Exactly the sort of background Bush chooses to make his pro-war pronouncements, but he has an excuse in that, constitutionally, he is the commander in chief. Blair is just the Queen's first minister.
Blair told the assembled military personnel that he wanted them and the rest of Britain's armed forces to be "warfighters" and not mere "peacekeepers", and pledged to prepare for the future wars he foresees," increased expenditure on equipment, personnel and the conditions of our armed forces".
It was an extraordinary display of gung-ho militarism from the head of a Labour government whose first Foreign Secretary declared that Labour, unlike the Tories, would pursue "an ethical foreign policy" and from the leader of a party that once used to pride itself on being the peace party. But, given world capitalism, his argument has a ruthless logic.
Blair drew a distinction between "hard power" (military might) and "soft power" (diplomacy) and argued that if Britain "retreated" into maintaining its armed forces merely for peacekeeping then "inexorably" its "soft power" would be weakened too.
According to the Financial Times (12 January),he said that "the main risk for the future was not gung-ho leaders too keen to embark on military adventure - but those who concluded that military engagement was too difficult and thereby fall into a passive disengagement"; in which case "the result would be 'Britain's reach, effect and influence qualitatively reduced'".
It's an argument that can't be faulted. Capitalism is a world-wide system involving a competitive struggle for profits in which all states vie with each other to influence the course of events in favour of profit-seeking enterprises from within their borders. Normally this takes the form of diplomatic initiatives and manoeuvrings but the weight other states attach to these depends on whether they think the state in question has the means - and the determination - to back them up.
The means can be - still in the realm of Blair's "soft power" – economic retaliation or sabre-rattling, but to be credible a state must ultimately be prepared to do more than merely have big sabres or just rattle them.
Blair's model, Mrs Thatcher, understood this well (even if at the time he himself didn't, sporting as he then did a CND badge). Which is why when third-rate power Argentina took over the Falkland Islands she sent out the "task force" to recover them. If she hadn't, Britain's credibility and standing in the international pecking order would have gone down.
So Blair is right. Without armed forces trained and equipped for "war fighting" (and killing and dying) beyond its frontiers, Britain's "reach, effect and influence" to further the interests of its capitalist class in the international arena will be weakened.
The terrifying fact is that it is not him who is deluding himself (at least not on this point) but those who believe that an ethical foreign policy is possible.
The international state-system that world capitalism has engendered is not one where there are any rules. It's every state for itself, no favours given and woe to the weak. If Britain's rivals on the world stage thought that its government had moral scruples about going all the way in employing its armed forces they would give less weight to its diplomatic initiatives in defence of its capitalist class.
So, what are we to conclude? By all means let those who want a world without war denounce every war that takes place but without the illusion that we can get states within capitalism to renounce war as a policy option.
This will never happen as it goes against the whole logic of the capitalist state-system. Once again, it is quite literally true that world-wide socialism is the only framework within which a lasting peace can exist. Let us, therefore, work for it as the priority of priorities.