Fighting terrorism is priority number one: "Fighting terrorism is the most consuming concern for modern government."

A new Foreign Affairs advisory group: "I have established a Foreign Affairs Council to access the advice of a wide range of senior former diplomats and service personnel.  It includes, for example, Charles Powell and Charles Guthrie, as well as historians and former ministers, and will help me formulate foreign policy for the next Parliament."

Foreign policy cannot be reduced to soundbites: "It is not responsible to try and polarise debate through simplistic exercises in political positioning.  If you question the approach of the US administration, you’re “anti-American.”  If you support what the United States is doing, you’re “America’s poodle.”  If you care about civil liberties, you’re “soft on terror.”  If you back an extension of our security laws, you’re “building a police state”."

The terror threat is unprecedented: "This terrorist threat is clearly different from those we have faced before.  We are dealing with people who are prepared to do anything, kill any number, and use suicide attacks to further their aims.  These people include a number of our own citizens.  They are driven by a wholly incorrect interpretation – an extreme distortion – of the Islamic faith, which holds that mass murder and terror are not only acceptable, but necessary."

Neoconservatism – its successes and failures: "There is a wide-ranging debate about exactly what neo-conservatism is.  But for the purposes of my argument today, we can focus on three propositions that are most commonly understood to represent the core of neo-conservative thinking.  First, a realistic appreciation of the scale of the threat the world faces from terrorism.  Second, a conviction that pre-emptive military action is not only an appropriate, but a necessary component of tackling the terrorist threat in the short term.  And third, a belief that in the medium and long term, the promotion of freedom and democracy, including through regime change, is the best guarantee of our security.  We must be honest in looking at what has happened in the world during the five years that these beliefs have been the guiding principles of British and American policy.  It is, of course, a mixed picture.  We have managed to avert further terrorist attacks on the scale of 9/11, and our security services deserve all our thanks for the brave and painstaking work they do.  And yet across the globe, terrorists are being recruited in increasing numbers and are active in many more areas than before September 11th."

The importance of the relationship with America: "The fact is that that Britain just cannot achieve the things we want to achieve in the world unless we work with the world’s superpower.  So when it comes to the special relationship with America, Conservatives feel it, understand it and believe in it.  All Conservatives share this attitude.  I cannot think of a single Conservative Member of Parliament who does not think the same way.  That is a source of great strength for any Conservative leader in their dealings with America.  We do not have to worry about a divided party at home.  It is precisely this strength of feeling that gives us the confidence to speak freely to any American administration."

How David Cameron’s liberal conservatism differs from neoconservatism: "I believe that in the last five years we have suffered from the absence of two crucial qualities which should always condition foreign policy-making.  Humility, and patience.  These are not warlike words.  They are not so glamorous and exciting as the easy sound-bites we have grown used to in recent years.  But these sound-bites had the failing of all foreign policy designed to fit into a headline.  They were unrealistic and simplistic.  They represented a view which sees only light and darkness in the world – and which believes that one can be turned to the other as quickly as flicking a switch.  I do not see things that way. I am a liberal conservative, rather than a neo-conservative.  Liberal – because I support the aim of spreading freedom and democracy, and support humanitarian intervention.  Conservative – because I recognise the complexities of human nature, and am sceptical of grand schemes to remake the world.  A liberal conservative approach to foreign policy today is based on five propositions.

  • First, that we should understand fully the threat we face.
  • Second, that democracy cannot quickly be imposed from outside.
  • Third, that our strategy needs to go far beyond military action.
  • Fourth, that we need a new multilateralism to tackle the new global challenges we face.
  • And fifth, that we must strive to act with moral authority."

The importance of soft power: "Intelligence, economic development, educational training, support for pro-democracy groups, international law, foreign aid, sporting and cultural initiatives can all play their part.  Britain has a huge contribution to make here, from the knowledge and experience of our diplomats abroad, to the work of the British Council, to our expertise in culture, media and communications.  As the limits of military power become more obvious, we must use our non-military power to better effect.  So force should be a last resort."

New forms of multilateralism: "I believe we will need to both reform existing institutions, and develop new ones if we are to have the range of response mechanisms we need for the range of security challenges we face.  In deciding the most appropriate instrument for action, we will need to balance two factors: legitimacy, and effectiveness.  These factors tend to work in opposite directions.  The United Nations, for example, confers the ultimate legitimacy on any multilateral action.  But the very process of securing that legitimacy can undermine its effectiveness – as we saw, for example, in the Balkans.  We have seen another example more recently. Darfur is at the risk of genocide from the Government of Sudan.  Yet Sudan has been able to ensure that the UN is effectively unable to act.  So we may need to fashion alliances which can act faster than the machinery of formal international institutions.  We must also use our considerable historic, cultural and trading links with Islamic governments that seek cooperation rather than confrontation, to strengthen their position domestically and within the Islamic world.  For instance I regret that our Government has been so indifferent to the views, and neglectful of our friendship with, the Gulf states."

We must guard our highest principles in this war:
"We must not stoop to illiberalism – whether at Guantanamo Bay, or here at home with excessive periods of detention without trial.  We must not turn a blind eye to the excesses of our allies – abuses of human rights in some Arab countries, or disproportionate Israeli bombing in Lebanon.  We are fighting for the principles of civilisation – let us not abandon those principles in the methods we employ."

Download david_cameron_911_speech.pdf

Editor’s initial reaction: "This is much better than I had expected and much more serious in content than this morning’s Times had suggested.  There’s little here that’s bankable but I’m pleased to read of David Cameron’s support for the Afghanistan and Iraq wars and for his willingness to operate beyond the United Nations, if necessary.  A lot of flesh needs to be put on the bones of his ‘new multilateralism’ and I wish there was a greater sense of urgency in his language on, for example, Iran.  Overall an encouraging speech, however."

Danny Finkelstein’s reaction (3.58pm): "The speech may be seen as distancing conservatives from neoconservatives. In fact, it does nothing of the sort. Instead it is endorsing neoconservatism and then trying to distance it from the conduct of foreign policy by George Bush and Tony Blair…"  Click here.

Guido thinks DC’s speech is a lift from Francis Fukuyama’s "After the Neo-Cons"… but with a different conclusion.

88 comments for: David Cameron’s 9/11 speech

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