Hawks and doves: equidistant foreign policy?

Five years ago, the Liberal Democrats held the centre ground in the coalition formation negotiations between left and right. Equidistance is a loaded word, one that cynics will laugh at as vacuous. However, five years later, neither of the two main parties seem sufficiently interested in foreign affairs.

This party could be equidistant between doves and hawks in foreign policy. To illustrate the dove-hawk twin hybrid, below are three examples. I am not necessarily endorsing the following as solutions and they are not exhaustive in terms of detail. They are merely prompts for a debate.

Syria: The Dove stance might be to persuade neighbouring countries to take more refugees through backroom diplomacy. The Hawk stance alongside this would be to embed UK military personnel with the Kurds and other anti-Islamist forces. Moreover, a temporary arrangement with the Assad regime, and by extension Putin’s Kremlin, might end the immediate existential threat of Syria becoming a launchpad for terrorist attacks against Europe. Christian and Alawite concerns over radical Sunni militants should be recognised as legitimate.

A temporary truce with the lesser ‘Satanic’ force might stop any further slaughter of innocents, and young Syrian boys and men being drafted into the Syrian Army and the ranks of the moderate rebels. We have to respect the sacrifices of young Syrians who have already died in this horrendous conflict. This means ending the war to prevent further loss of life, while respecting the fact that any peace settlement must leave both Government loyalists and moderate rebels satisfied. The deaths on both sides, as well as civilians, cannot be in vain.

Peter Hitchens makes a good point on current foreign policy, highlighting that much of contemporary debate is within the parameters of what makes us feel good about ourselves rather than what would achieve good in practice. A shift from focussing on good intentions to good outcomes would require a hawkish slant on ending the civil war, coupled with a dove compassion for refugees and the families of soldiers in the civil war.

Ukraine: Liberal Democrat doves could press for more negotiations and offer the Russian Federation future trade benefits, for instance through TTIP, in exchange to an end to the conflict. An early end to the conflict to prevent it dragging on like the Syrian civil war stalemate might also require hawks to show to the Kremlin that the UK will not waver in its support for the Kiev Government, offering military support on the ground.

China and Russia: Historian Niall Ferguson talks of Chimerica. Nick Clegg has also discussed the rise of China as a potential cause for concern. The Liberalism of the USA could be diluted through its interfacing with China. Authoritarianism in China might be pigeonholed as a liberal autocracy, but it is something that this party should start to consider. Similarly, Russia is an illiberal democracy, and with these two nations hardly cheerleaders of liberal democracy, at this stage the Liberal Democrats should begin to formulate a dove-hawk approach to preserving Liberalism and liberal democracy in this century.

Incumbent parties can be heartless, but not hopeless; a party with a rump of MPs in the single digits needs to offer hope and compassion on foreign affairs, as equally as it must draw on its five years of hard-headed government experience already on its collective CV.

The British public will respect a party that has a track record of principled opposition to war as an opposition party and a proven steady hand related to foreign affairs as a junior governing party. It might not reward such a party, but gratitude is a rare commodity in politics.

However, respect for the party’s foreign policy would be a good start. Time to get started.

* Michael Cooke is the writer's pen name. He is an economic and EU policy analyst within local government with a Master's degree in EU Governance. The identity of the author is known to the LDV team.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Eddie Sammon 5th Oct '15 - 11:36am

    I agree that a middle-way between dovism and hawkism needs to be chartered. However sometimes ones instincts divert away from the centre-ground as interpreted by the media and politicians.

    I’m hawkish when it comes to ISIS and was delighted to hear that David Cameron has ordered 20 new drones. Considering the damage that these terrorists would be willing to do to us I don’t understand the hesitancy to hit them. Legal concerns are fair, but we still should be able to express support in principle, depending on the legal situation.

    You are also right that both sides in the Syrian civil war need to feel that they have come away with something, which is why Assad eventually has to go.

    When it comes to Ukraine: I see this conflict as diplomatically even more difficult to solve than the Syria one. Russia and “the West” appear to have a strong disagreement on the facts of the crisis, so I think it makes a solution more difficult to find. It is no use just saying “we are right” when many Russian speakers in Ukraine think Russia is right.

    I’m softening my stance on China slightly, because I was becoming strongly opposed to the Chinese Communist Party. It is not just the fact they are anti-democratic, but they also threaten their neighbours. However we have to recognise that they were voted to be a member of the UN.

  • “Five years ago, the Liberal Democrats held the centre ground in the coalition formation negotiations between left and right”

    I think that’s where you lost a lot of readers. It’s certainly where you lost me.

  • David Allen 5th Oct '15 - 12:40pm

    Jennie, yes that’s an appalling sentence. However, it should be ignored. The rest of the post talks about a totally different subject, which has nothing to do with the left vs right issue!

  • Geoffrey Payne 5th Oct '15 - 1:04pm

    Apologies if I sound like a broken record. The real issue is the diminution of western power that has led to foreign policy disasters in the Middle East and Ukraine.
    That is what we need to come to terms with, not finding the mid point of a tape measure.

  • “Peter Hitchens makes a good point on current foreign policy, highlighting that much of contemporary debate is within the parameters of what makes us feel good about ourselves rather than what would achieve good in practice. ”

    This has become the modus operandi of much of the left over the last decade – an abdication of responsibility and action in the name of principle (much if the blame being laid at the door of Blair and Bush for their Iraq debacle).

    The world is a hard, cruel and dirty place and sometimes my enemy’s enemy is my friend. We managed to treat with Stalin 70 years ago.

  • Patrick Murray 5th Oct '15 - 2:39pm

    a resolution in Ukraine may be closer than this piece makes out, if one can believe this report from a couple of days ago http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/oct/01/as-russia-enters-war-in-syria-conflict-in-ukraine-begins-to-wind-down

  • It’s silly to boil complex issues down to hawks and doves rhetoric. For every pacifist accused of hand wringing there are a few hundred armchair warriors sat at their computers flooding the Daily Mail comments section demanding action even if that action is basically a COD fantasy. Wars should never be entered into lightly because people end up dead. And there is no equidistance involved. An action is either strategically sensible or it isn’t, interference either improves a situation or worsens it. In short there is no equidistance between right and wrong except muddled and therefor worse.

  • Peter Bancroft 5th Oct '15 - 5:21pm

    Hawkish and dovish aren’t philosophies about foreign affairs, they’re just a comment as to the level of hard power we would want to dedicate to a given problem. Always being in the middle is incoherent – sometimes we will be against all forms of military intervention, sometimes strongly in favour and other times we might recommend something tactical.

    The problem we have is that Blair’s view of foreign policy looked a lot like liberal interventionism and the Iraq war utterly destroyed the doctrine’a credibility as well as attracted people to the party who are essentially pacifists. That doesn’t mean we necessarily need to take no position – the vast majority of foreign policy is non-violent and therefore we should be able to put together a strongly liberal approach.

    The party is disproportionately of the view that we’re associated with Europe, so perhaps looking at Ukraine, Belarus and Azerbaijan in our neighbourhood would be good places to start. We also have a post colonial past, so a continued interest in Africa (especially where we have good local partners like in SA) might be good. it should go without saying but I know liberalism is controversial in the party, but we should stand for liberal democracy, free markets, anti-corruption, human rights and economic development.

  • Steve Coltman 6th Oct '15 - 12:12pm

    An excellent post, and I agree that we should not be concerned about feeling good about ourselves but rather doing good. I agree with Geoffrey Payne’s comment about the diminution of western influence in general. We need to strike a balance between thinking we (the West) rule the world (we don’t) and veering the other way and thinking we can do nothing (also not true).
    A separate point: this Internationalist party has no AO or SAO devoted to foreign policy, defence and overseas development. We need one as a forum to discuss these matters in more depth.

  • Peter Bancroft 8th Oct '15 - 11:30am

    The party does have the Liberal International British Group which covers international topics (in addition to relations with liberal parties around the world) as well as the International Committee which… talks about stuff as well as offering direction on work with the Westminster Foundation for Democracy. I don’t think another group or committee would help, but I do agree that we have been following Cameron’s lead towards a UK without a real foreign policy

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