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The Blair Doctrine | Historical Perspective

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Politics
Wordcount: 6232 words Published: 21st Mar 2019

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The Tony Blair Doctrine and its Interpretation in History 1997 – 2007


The ‘Blair doctrine’ and its interpretation in history 1997–2007 exemplify a Britain reliving the past in its foreign affairs ideology. Predicated on ‘Liberal Humanitarian Intervention’ and the ‘Just War Theory’, the ‘Blair Doctrine’ of 1997–2007 is a sort of nostalgia. Demoted Britain revealed its insecurity attempting to give to the world a ‘global value.’ Empirical liberal interventionism of 1997 was not novel to Great Britain that was a supra power in the 19th and early 20th century. The ‘new’ in it was Blair’s moralistic twist suited to Britain’s image quest post-World War I. The ‘Blair doctrine’, a recast to the 1840s foreign policy of Lord Palmerston would swivel on the ethical tradition of global interdependence and humanitarian intervention. Reviving Pax Britannica through the Blair doctrine requires relevance and value. Remaining a child of controversy even in 2017, the nature of this doctrine is appraised within the international system. This paper discusses the ‘Blair doctrine’ and its interpretation in history 1997–2007. It states that every policy in diplomacy symptomises insecurities in the international system and concludes that the Blair doctrine on liberal humanitarian intervention if unobstructed by national interest or influence is worthy in itself. 197

KEYWORDS: Blair Doctrine, Liberal Humanitarian Intervention, International System, Peace of Westpharlia


Great Britain, in its golden age as the foremost global power before expiration in the early twentieth century, was a watchdog and a balancer in global politics. Reduced to a middle power by America and Germany, British foreign policy was marked by the different approaches of its Prime Ministers especially post-1945 and post-Cold War. Relevance for Britain became predicated on the curated policies of its statemen. This informed Blair changing to ethical values as “a force for good in the world”; away from the realpolitik of the days of Margaret Thatcher and John Major. Working with the “Just War” tradition and Liberal-Humanitarian Interventionism, Blair on the 22nd of April 1999 outlined the “doctrine for the international community” countering not only Article 2(4) and 51 of the United Nations Charter, but the 1648 Westpharlian peace document. This document was the global principle of non-interference in the domestic affairs of nations. “Blair Doctrine” is a tripodal concept of: Britain carving a global identity to relive the past, an ethical internationalist approach to contain despotism, and spreading liberal ideals of democracy, free trade and capitalism. This doctrine appears humane excepting ulterior motivations. However, its functionality required America’s economic and military surrogate. Unfortunately, Blair’s attempt in global politics haunts history with nostalgia. In three parts this paper examines the nature of the “Blair doctrine” in global politics from 1997–2007. The first part examines liberal-humanitarian ideology; the second analyses Blair doctrine; while the third critiques this doctrine. 243

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Liberal and Humanitarian Interventionism

At the height of the Operation Allied Force in Kosovo in 1999, on 22nd April, British Prime Minister Tony Blair on invitation to an Economic Club in Chicago, gave a speech on the approach to the international system titled “the doctrine of the international community” also known as the “Blair Doctrine”. Blair believed leadership void occured when Britain, a global power for over a century, was sapped of its economic and political strength at the expiration of the First World War. Nonetheless, was replaced by America and the Soviet Union in bipolar structure at the end of World War II. Thereafter, the intricacies of bipolarity built into proxy Cold wars, from 1945–1989. Marked by the death of communism in 1990, the international system evolved into a unipolar system led by the United States. Relegated Britain—‘a middle or third class power,’ from 1979–2007 created relevance, innovated in the linear principles of the foreign policy adopted by Margaret Thatcher, John Major and Tony Blair, though in different approaches. Blair, in a foreign affairs policy strategy introduced a doctrine, premised on “liberal and humanitarian interventionism.” It was set to displace the doctrine of the 1648 Westpharlian system, The United Nations, and the International Law guiding international relations, in an attempt to relaunch Britain as a point of reference in international politics. The operational principles of these three on: equality of sovereign, right to political sovereignty, and non-intervention in internal affairs of another; Blair considered obstruction, (Peace of Westpharlia; Derek Croxton, 1999: 569-591). 248

As a result, in 1999, Blair developed the ‘Blair doctrine’ from the values of the principles of liberal internationalism propagated by the United States. Historically, liberalism a rational approach emerged in England and Holland in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries in response to the coincidental emergence of Christian denominations and characteristic absolute monarchy or ‘doctrine of divine right of kings’. (Peace of Westpharlia; Derek Croxton, 1999: 569-591).Its founding fathers saw the propositions as ushering in a new world order of peace, promoting human dignity, religious tolerance, and the right to property; as well representative government based on elective principles. Versions of liberalism were articulated by Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill, Adam Smith, David Ricardo, and John Locke among others, (Bertrand Russell, 1997: 577–583). Liberal internationalism or interventionism is a foreign policy doctrine, which argues that “liberal states should intervene in other sovereign states to pursue liberal objectives, with ideals of democracy, free trade and capitalism”, (Radical, Jackpine, 2015). The objectives are based “…on the beliefs that democracy and democratic institutions provide the best form of government; able to achieve global structures, inclined to a world built on the ideals of liberalism. These ideals have bases on ‘global free trade, liberal economics and liberal political systems,’ (Radical, Jackpine).”  What Blair’s doctrine imagines and encourages as possible output from such ideals or global order is a ‘peace dividend’ from the liberals’ thesis of non-violence. Therefore, the Liberal tradition “sees itself as modern, superior and the one true way,” practicing “soft power” or according to Nick Tyrone (1–4), the heart and mind diplomacy. 246

Meanwhile, the world in constant spatial interactions meant the Westpharlian system of non- interference is not eternal. Especially, Adam Smith’s An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations voiced interdependence in division of labour, laissez faire and economic interrelationships. Similarly, symbiosis in human existence rubbed off on Jean Jacque Rousseau (1712–1778) “body politic” or State, by which the States acquire the pattern of human sociological interdependence, (George H. Sabine and Thomas L. Thorson, 1973: 529–548). The state not limited to geopolity as unitary agent but extending outwards in foreign affairs and interrelations in a continuous pattern of interactions attains international integration. Stephen Benedict Dyson, (2006: 289–306) emphasized this global interdependence quoting Thatcher’s speech:

No country can today escape economic involvement with the economies of others. …our economic welfare is increasingly affected by the operation of the market…there is a constant threat of disorder in the world oil market…the precarious balance of the world economy could at any time be shaken by political upheavals in one or more countries…in these circumstances, we all have a direct practical interest in the orderly settlement of political disputes.

The signing of alliances; forming international organisations, already bequeathed a pseudo status to sovereignty. Therefore, interdependence had evolved to globalization especially during the 1980s and 1990s eroding Westpharlia. Blair’s exploration of global interdependence seeded an effort at an approach to the international system: to justify the renunciation of Westpharlia through Liberal internationalism, and effort at reliving Britain’s past, (Peace of Westpharlia; Derek Croxton, 1999: 569-591) 252

Blair’s Doctrine

Blair’s foreign policy to promote liberal interventionism was given the ‘ethical dimension’. In 1999, Blair announced: ‘I set out what I described as a doctrine of international community…to justify intervention, including if necessary military intervention, not only when a nation’s interests are directly engaged; but also where there exists a humanitarian crisis or gross oppression of a civilian population’,(John Lairdaw, 2011). Military interventions are interjoined to humanitarian relief, as recast to intervention. ‘Ethical dimension’ was a new toga to British liberalism trying to contain despotism. Liberal interventionism, whose emergence is linked to the British Prime Minister Lord Palmerston (1784–1865) in the nineteenth century, was not a humanitarian endeavour but national interest. Intervention was carefully mentored at no damage, but on the scale of greater benefit to Britain. U.S. President Woodrow Wilson replicated this, in the second decade of the 20th century, constrained by the non-interference of the 1823 Monroe Doctrine,(Liberal internationalism; Norman A. Graebner, 1960: 740). Meaning the US—UK practiced liberalism in the same manner until Blair. Blair’s New Labour Party, commited to ‘restore Britain’s pride and influence as a leading force for good in the world’. The “‘ethical dimension’ was set to ‘rethink’ foreign policy, to change the world, reorder it, and spread democratic values,” through cooperative intervention. (Caroline Kennedy-Pipe, 2007: 205–221) Blair subordinated immediate national interest to international collaborating interest, announcing: ‘We are all internationalists now’. For Palmertston, “no gains with too much at risk meant Liberal-Britain was unlikely to help…In international relations—‘no eternal friends, only eternal interests.’” (“Comparing and Contrasting Palmerston and Blair,” David Vance) 263

The humanity part of war had been theorised, Blair was interested to institutionalise. Blair wanted equity in a situation of outright aggression of a ruling tyrant; or giving humanitarian aid in a situation of natural disaster. The English liberalist, John Stuart Mill (20 May 1806–8 May 1873), and the Dutch pioneer of international law Hugo Grotius (1583-1645), felt that international relations and international law ought to have a place for humanitarian intervention. Grotius (2006: 16–17) wrote:

The law of humanity or of human society is more worthy of respect than the rights of sovereignty and independence of states; wherefore when a government within its sovereignty, violates the rights of humanity, either by measures contrary to the interests of other States, or by excessive injustice or brutality, which seriously injure morals or civilization, the right of intervention is legitimate.

Broadly, by inference, ““humanitarian intervention” is a use of humanitarian aid; international sanctions; or military force against a sovereign state or states to…end human-rights violations…or alleviate massive human suffering within sovereign border(s).” (Cottey, Andrew, 2008: 429–446). According to David Rieff (2011), “…the fundamental premise is that external powers have the right and, perhaps, under some circumstances, the duty to intervene to protect people…being victimized, even in intra-conflict.” Rieff stresses that the index or scale of measurement for intervention is the effect of conflict on civilians (that is deontology) and not considerations of the political rights and wrongs of a given conflict or State sovereignty (consequentialist). 237

Therefore ideology—‘Blair doctrine’ is a socio-political construct based on ambiguous policy analysis approach of the New Labour government’s ‘Welfare to Work’ domestic policy; and the ‘Communitarian’ diplomacy shaping foreign policy. According to Ruth Levitas, the ‘Welfare to Work’ is a ‘social inclusion’ strategy, an uneasy amalgam of ‘SID’, ‘MUD’ and ‘RED’ ideologies. The ‘social integrationist’ or ‘SID’ emphasizes paid work; the ‘New Right’ moralist-behaviour or ‘MUD’; and the Old Left or Labour redistributive-egalitarian or ‘RED’ are social inclusiveness, (Ideology, 184–207). Labour’s ideology package was to reduce public spending and ‘dependency’, to foster ‘inclusion’ and to promote equality by raising the incomes of the worst-off. It tallies with the ideology of the variant ‘new’ Liberalism which developed in the late nineteenth century, when individualism came to be viewed as an individual self development rather than simply asserting individual rights and negative liberty. Riding energetically on the maxim—‘what counts is what works’, Blair situates the New Labour politics and policy within ‘social democracy’ or Old Labour-style statism and Thatcherite individualism, in which there is a role for both state and market. The party was pragmatic jettisoning the traditional Labour dogma. Blair successfully achieved this through the party’s ideology labelled the ‘Third Way’ or a ‘middle way’ revived under Neil Kinnock the party’s leadership, between 1983 and 1992. The restructured Labour dropped the 1918 Clause IV in its constitution, which foisted socialist programme of nationalisation and public ownership; and replaced with a commitment to opportunity and equality, hence ‘New Labour’, (Ideology; Ian Kershaw). 256

Whereby, Blair attempted bequeathing to the world global values and a new age to erode Islamic extremism that threatens to grow into a global movement, tinkering with values. In post-World War II, earth planet had two distinct values—communism and democracy. Before the formal exit of communism the committment and the danger posed by Islamic extremism was silent. But a world rid of communism became sensitive to the gradual and infiltrating moves of extreme fanatism spreading terrorism through sabotage in the Middle East and security threat within its regional origination and other parts. On this mission are: “…a mixture of foreign jihadists, former Saddamists, and rejectionists’ insurgents in Afghanistan, a combination of drug barons, the Taliban, and al Qaeda,” (Tony Blair, 2007: 79-90). The claims that: democracy is a Western concept, the intent of the West to seize Iraqi oil, and the designs of imperial domination; were dubbed conspiracy theory by Blair, (Blair, 2007). The strength of such argument lies for example in the murder of a UN staff in August 2003 by Afghans, indicating another Taliban or Saddam Hussein in the offing. Strategising from the Kosovo ethnic cleansing and the terrorist attack of September 11, the modality of Blair’s doctrine proposed the combination of the hard (force) and soft (value) in global politics, a fusion to destroy the ideas of Islamic fanatical ideology or any whatsoever,  (Blair, 2007). 239

The foregoing poised this doctrine as a new content for existing theories and ideologies in the international system. Especially, the post-Cold War presented a new international environment in international relations, thus the international system aimed at finding a model to effectively support stability and global security, herewith containing and controlling regional conflicts. Britain in phobia felt exposed and vulnerable (Ioan Dragos Mateescu, 2013: 11–21). Unfortunately, in its helm days, having fought a recorded 137 wars from 1700–1850 and others after this period, (Peace of Westpharlia), it was exhausted in the military and economic capacity, in which its transatlantic American neighbour is vim. Strategising, Blair decided that Washington would lead the pack, and “London would influence from behind closed doors.” Fixed on the linear principle of “power maximisation” (Peace of Westpharlia), and the return to the status of a great power, Blair’s approach was a combination of realism and idealism,(Judi Atkins). While realism revers state’s autonomy and protection of its interests in a characteristic anarchic international arena (Carr, 1946; Morgenthau, 1985); Idealists, advocate a new world order secured on states interdependence. This basic premise Blair stated stating: “it is very rare today that trouble in one part of the globe remains limited in its effect. Not just in security, but in trade and finance—witnessed in the crisis of 1998 which began in Thailand and ended in Brazil—the world is interlocked, (David Vance: The Blair Doctrine, 2002: 1). However, combining these two theories contradicts, working at cross-purposes. The realist principle of state autonomy and non-intervention principle puts Blair’s ‘ethical dimension’ in dilemma, (Judi Atkins). This is where Blair doctrine is critiqued. 272

Critiquing Blair’s Doctrine

The ‘doctrine of the international community’ is a pull on Western philosophy; attempting extrication would reveal a Just War tradition (Tony Blair, 1999; A. Bellamy, 131–147; Burke) robed in three major ethical theories. These ethics: Consequentialism, Deontology and Virtue are founded on universal rights and responsibilities; and substantiated by ius ad bellum, (Atkins). Where Consequentialism, considers after effects of action; deontology, emphasizes duties to others; while virtue focuses virtuous individual and inclinations. Ius ad bellum that is ‘justification for the resort to warfare’ stipulates four criteria. There is ‘legitimate authority,’ which queries ‘the right to the use of force and its justification’; ‘just cause,’ demands ‘a just cause for war’; ‘proportionality’, ‘requires proportionate response to the injury that has been threatened or received’; and ‘right intention’, concerns the motive of the war agent, (Atkins). When Blair’s five considerations,(Vance) for warfare are juxtaposed with the set conditions of ius ad bellum to validate ‘just war’ claim, its humanity appears opaque, therefore a doubting semblance. Whereby Blairs’: ‘Are we sure of our case’; ‘Have we exhausted all diplomatic options’; ‘Are there military operations we can sensibly and prudently undertake’; ‘Are we prepared for the long term’; and ‘Do we have national interests involved’; all ended as ‘proportionality’ after analyses. Therefore, Blair’s doctrine weighing more as ‘proportionality’ shows its heavy reliance on consequentialist morality of war, collapsing into realism. To this extent, humanising this doctrine with ius post bellum that addresses reconstruction in the target state after hostilities seems out of course, (Burke). 254

Restructuring this doctrine displace any ideology that infringes on spreading Western ideological-political culture—democracy, free trade and capitalism. The focal summary of the Blair agenda was on globalization, economics, politics and security, with particularised attention on military intervention, (Kershaw). Liberalism without military intervention is ideologically incoherent. America revealed the plot when President John F. Kennedy in 1961 assured Americans and the western world that America was strong enough to ‘‘pay any price, bear any burden’’ to ensure the success of liberty,(Henry Kissinger, 1994: 56). This internationalist status was attained post-Cold War. Subsequently, the end of the Soviet Union and the defeat of Iraq in 1991 led to talks of a ‘new world order’ and the ‘end of history’. Francis Fukuyama a leading scholar contended that this meant the triumph of liberal democracy and a common search for a market economy. It was the end of history in the sense of end to major wars and searching for the best system,(Francis Fukuyama, 1992, 39 – 55). But as noted by David Cameron five years after, the Allied powers soon came to realise that democracy, “cannot quickly be imposed from outside”, just as “liberty grows from the ground—it cannot be dropped from the air by an unmanned drone”. (Matthew d’Anacoda) Aggressive military response in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq were positive short term dividends. The wars were won but US—UK led coalition failed to win the peace—a bad situation was made far worse. The puzzle then is…the justification for attack, having failed to achieve desired result, (d’Anacoda).

But then, the above just zinc perfectly with Blair’s ambition. Every British stateman bore the burden of Britain’s great historical past. Britain’s organically evolved institutions had pioneered the modern world, building the largest empire on naval strength. British institutions inspired the Enlightenment philosophers and loaned the world representative liberal democracy. Pax Britannica covered more than 22% spatial mass and more than 20% of the world’s population. Unfortunately, Britain got crushed by global interests, global order, European system; and financing the Second World War, (Abby Rogers, 2011). Thatcher, reclaiming the Falkland Islands from Argentina in 1982 was for Blair possibilities, when a leader is willing to risk political status and use character, (Tod Lindberg)

Blair, despite high degree of diplomacy, could not actualise what the Brits could not sponsor through a US that had the carrot and the stick to police the doctrine of a global community. Down the line, although intermitted, Britain had a history of ‘special relationship’ with America developed through President Woodrow Wilson to Margaret Thatcher. Winston Churchill traced the basis for this partnership to “proximity and commonalities in shared culture, juridical systems, language and diplomacy,” and liberal interventionism. This was the reason Winston Churchill of Britain and Roosevelt of America formed the Atlantic Charter of August 1941, through which the global order became the responsibility of the two countries and others (Europe). Little wonder Margaret Thatcher considered the 1989 acquaintance between Bush administration and the German chancellor, as misplaced. The breath for the Blair doctrine then becomes the ‘special relationship’ between Britain and America built on a kind of partnership for the two countries to be ‘the engine of effective multilateralism’ providing leadership in reshaping global order. Again, it accounts for the British foreign and defence policies appendaged to the ‘special relationship’ since post-World War II. Lessons from history informed Blair of the importance of personal relationship as strength to the US–UK relationship and alliance; demonstrated between Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan (1979–1989). Therefore, cultivating friendship with America would give legitimacy and strategic direction to the Blair agenda of promoting liberal ideals, which aligns with liberal-America’s interest. Blair’s decision was thus to be a yes-man to the whims of Bush to make this partnership operational despite all odds. As such, Blair’s “Personalization” and “stifled communications” denied Britain the opportunity to effectively impart on US and the Middle East; and reap any meaningful policy concessions from the Bush administration. (William Wallace and Phillips Christopher, 2009: 263–284; Matescu) 300

A core component of Blair doctrine is Britain’s public loyalty to US in exchange for influence on ‘the naïve American giant.’ The first step in practicalising this was in 1999 Kosovo conflict. The consensus was for a NATO bombing campaign against Milosevic’s Serbia in March 1999. But the Lewinsky scandal at the White House made Clinton reluctant to deploy the ground troops. Blair tried to sway Clinton’s favour to ground troops for early victory. In the midst of prevarication, Milosevic’s withdrawal without a NATO ground invasion was believed by Britain a consequence of its suggested threat of land troops. Then came the historic 9/11 attacks, Bush Jr. was raging and America was spoiling for revenge, but Blair seeing beyond the emotions advised that the ‘war on terror’ should first be launched on Afghanistan before Iraq. Again, the outcome, that Afghanistan and not Iraq was targeted, made Whitehall claim diligence at restraining the bellicose Americans. (Wallace and Christopher) Then, Iraqi War of 2003 produced a watershed in Britain’s foreign policy. Britain was ready to war at the insistence of America, even against Blair’s doctrinal conscience. But Canada, France and Germany were recalcitrant, refusing to war despite previous collaborations with U.S. military efforts, including the 1990–91 Persian Gulf War, Afghanistan War and Korean War. Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chrétien was adamant without a second UN resolution for war, notwithstanding America’s blackmail. Chrétien believed there were no weapons of mass destruction making Iraq a no danger to the world, and was aversed to Canada being in war everytime to redress situations of dictatorship. (Sunny Freeman) Blair went against the British opinion of ‘No to war’ to join America and the 49 counntries of the ‘coalition of the willing’ to fight Iraq and chase out Saddam Husseini-led Ba’athist regime.

The notion of nations going to war, not for territorial interests, but in order to save the lives of peoples threatened by humanitarian disaster, whether genocidal or nongenocidal is potentially a noble and inspiring concept. The misapplication of humanitarian intervention is not logic for its total condemnation, once there is strong prove of genocide or the abuse of humanity in any mode. Though camouflaged humanitarian intervention cannot be absent, likewise its goodwill and impact cannot be ignored when the famine of 1896 in Armenia is recalled and when a nation spits “Putin doctrine”, in a radical show of eccentricity by Russia in 2016, (Sergiy Fedunyak, 2014). Truisms as these authenticate outfit such as humanitarian intervention or its subsidiary ‘Response to Protect’ (R2P). What the world needs to deal with is the animal, greed and selfishness in man identified by John Locke, which are being dealt with by the complicated checks and balances in the international system. The intricacies of nature will provide the theory of plus and minus by which demagogues will always be checked no matter the arsenal being projected.  The Blair doctrine lost its framework and imperatives of ‘war on terror’ especially with the events of 2001 September 11. Violent response to cleansings in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq hiccupped; tied to the table of time, as the US—UK coalition won the war but lost the peace. Consequently, the justifications for attacks have grown thin overtime. 237


In concluding, the ‘ethical dimension’ to Labour’s foreign policy has been mired in criticism and controversy since its’ first announcement in 1997. There were fundamental tension between domestic interests and the ‘ethical dimension’ to foreign policy which could not be reconciled because of competing economic interests and the subordination of the ‘preventative action’ to the hostile US ‘preemptive action’ ideology. The outcome was the fall of Britain’s proclaimed moral standing in foreign relations. If it is true that good leadership creates its own luck, then, Scholars are right to assert that Prime Ministers are not judged by posterity on social issues but by the One Big Thing that happens during premierships. That is why Neville Chamberlain’s Munich Agreement, Anthony Eden’s Suez Crisis, Edward Heath’s Three-Day Week, and John Major’s ERM debacle have the failure stigma, (Kershaw, Graham Vanbergen). Although Labour undoubtedly highlighted the role of ethics in foreign policy, over the two terms which Blair’s government served, it is inconclusive if Britain fulfilled its desired post-Cold War role as a ‘force for good in the world’, especially with the fate of the doctrines’ consequences hanging on Britain post-Blair. With the much awaited BREXIT out of the way in June 6th 2016 and Blair out of office shortly after, Tony Blair is still dealing with the consequences of actions taken in what has been called “an illegal war” in Iraq despite the Chilcot Inquiry Report of July 2016, judging him not guilty.


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