“hawks” vs “doves” in the war on terror

FT columnist Janan Ganesh explains how the so-called “war on terror” differs from the cold war.

The cold war carried the highest stakes in history – nuclear weapons saw to that – but it was essentially rational. There were spheres of influence, the dark logic of deterrence and even some grown-up bartering over arms and territory. So when David Cameron watches a video of what seems to be a fellow Briton murdering a journalist in the name of a clerical insurgency in the Middle East, the prime minister’s disgust must vie with nostalgia for the great planetary conflict of his youth. Religious extremists are shapeless, being both sub-state and cross-border, and unrestrained in their violence. There is no Andrei Gromyko, the old dealmaking Soviet foreign minister, to haggle with here.

Another advantage enjoyed by national leaders during the cold war was the legitimacy of their intelligence and security agencies. ….

The greatest threat to UK security is the fraying of this consensus. It began with end of the cold war, when an existential menace disappeared, and continued with peace in Northern Ireland, when paramilitarism declined. Suddenly the security state had to account for its existence. Then came an Iraq war founded at least in part on erroneous intelligence and, more recently, the revelations of British and American surveillance by Edward Snowden, the former US National Security Agency contractor. ….

This is why the talk of “hawks” versus “doves” is so misleading. It is perfectly possible to oppose intervention in another continent while favouring a ruthless defensive posture, including the empowerment of intelligence agencies to track threats of unprecedented elusiveness.

Janan Ganesh, “Cynicism is no match for the mortal threat posed by Isis“, Financial Times, 26 August 2014.

Mr Ganesh (born 1982) joined the FT in August 2012. He is author of George Osborne: The Austerity Chancellor (Biteback Publishing, 2012) and was previously a political correspondent at The Economist.

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