Important interventions

Ben Dilks with the latest from the wonk world

There was an understandably sombre atmosphere at the launch of The Cost of Doing Nothing: The Price of Inaction in the Face of Mass Atrocities, recently published by Policy Exchange. This was partially a result of the grave subject being discussed, but also due to the context in which the report had been completed.

The project was conceived with the involvement of the late Jo Cox, who had a strong interest thanks to her experience as a former humanitarian worker. It was postponed after her murder but, with the blessing of her husband Brendan and help from colleague Alison McGovern, the publication was revisited and now serves as a fitting part of her legacy.

Both Cox and co-author Tom Tugendhat, a Tory member of parliament and former military man, have emphasised their opposition to the Iraq war. But the cross-party report expresses dismay that the aftermath of the conflict was allowed to contribute to a ‘new anti-interventionist consensus [that] emerged in sections of the main [British] political parties and elements of the press’.

The report provides a comprehensive history of British interventions, thanks to the contribution of John Bew. In particular it takes stock of the successful interventions in Kosovo and Sierra Leone, while recounting the horrors that took place in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia after the international community failed to act.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given how events have unfolded, there is unabashed condemnation of the United Kingdom’s decision – following Ed Miliband’s successful efforts to block a government motion in parliament – not to intervene in the early stages of the Syrian civil war. Rather than dwelling on the shameful partisan politicking that took place during that episode, the report takes the more constructive approach of proposing a list of ‘guiding principles’ that it is hoped will help Britain to ‘uphold its responsibility to protect civilians and prevent mass atrocities’ in future.

Cox and Tugendhat note that the ‘kneejerk isolationism’ they denounce combines a revival of long-held views with ‘a heightened sense of helplessness and doubt about Britain’s place in the world’. This theme, termed ‘a new age of anxiety’, is one which is explored in more detail as part of a new report from Demos: Nothing to Fear but Fear Itself.

The research seeks to map and respond to ‘the rising culture and politics of fear in the European Union’, with a particular focus on the social and political climate of the UK, Germany, France, Spain, Poland and Sweden.

Noting ‘declining levels of political engagement and trust, the growth of populist parties and anti-immigrant sentiment’, the paper’s authors urge an urgent re-evaluation of politicians’ tendency to appeal to voters in primarily economic terms: ‘political leaders, from both the left and the right … have missed simmering social and cultural crises that can feel more important to ordinary people’s day-to-day lives’.

The national surveys that were conducted found most respondents to be overwhelmingly pessimistic about the prospects of their country for the coming year. Despite this, the research unexpectedly found significant majorities who considered the trend of ‘a more interconnected world [with] money, people, cultures, jobs and industries all moving more easily between countries’ to have had a positive effect on their lives.

This spirit of enthusiasm was one that participants sought to embrace at an event held jointly by Policy Network and German counterparts Das Progressive Zentrum late last month. The gathering at Google’s Campus London was sold as a tonic for ‘the tedium of discussions over the minutiae of any potential post-Brexit settlement’ and brought together young people from startups, the third sector, academia and the media. They debated digital innovation, cultural exchange, educational cooperation and tackling populism – all in a gallant effort to inject a sense of renewed positivity about the prospect of future pan-European cooperation.

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Ben Dilks is commissioning editor at Policy Network. He tweets at @BenDilks

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