Book Review: UK-the real outlaw state By William Bowles

4 August 2003

‘Web of Deceit. Britain’s real role in the world’ by Mark Curtis (2003, Vintage Original)

“The reality is that the Blair government is seriously out of control – an outlaw state, undertaking its foreign policy in open contempt for international ethical standards, including riding roughshod over the United Nations. As one of the dominating facts of New Labour’s foreign policy, this is hard to miss, but it has been obscured by a web of government propaganda and media and parliament’s failure to disclose the reality of state policy.” – Web of Deceit

The central planks of New Labour’s foreign policy have, we are told, been based on human rights, international development, just treatment for the poor of this planet including access to Western markets and the removal of debt, the rule of law and the maintenance of international order. In short, they have professed a progressive policy that many, if not most of Britain’s citizens voted them into power to put into practice, after almost twenty years of rule under the Tory reactionary, Maggie Thatcher.

Lofty ideals indeed, that the likes of Clare Short, former minister of International development and Robin Cook, former speaker of the House insisted and continue to insist, are central to New Labour’s philosophy. Ah – that it were so. Unfortunately, the facts run counter to the noble ideals, as Mark Curtis’s book illuminates to so clearly. Ideals that are pure fiction, designed to fool a public that if it did know the real truth, would kick these murderering liars out of office at the first opportunity (more’s the pity there’s no one to replace them with).

As Curtis points out on the first page of Chapter 1, ‘Iraq: Ignoring people, maintaining order,’ Tony Blair has an odd idea about what constitutes the ‘rule of law’ when he says, “lawful and legitimate are not necessarily the same thing.” And neither does the minister of defence Jeff Hoon when he was asked whether a UN resolution was needed before invading Iraq, “it depends on the circumstances,” he tells us. Nor does foreign minister Jack Straw, when he said, “we do not regard it as absolutely essential.”

The Blair clique, have, according to Curtis, taken doublespeak to new heights of hypocrisy and who could naysay him? The facts speak for themselves and leap out at you from every page of this indictment of almost sixty years of UK foreign policy which consists of saying one thing and doing entirely the opposite in furthering the interests of Anglo-US capital. Moreover, Curtis also illustrates the key role the media have played in the misrepresentation of Britain’s sordid history of deceit and murder in the pursuit of its hidden goals.

Curtis stands Britain’s role on its head, branding the UK as the real ‘outlaw state’ in a devastating analysis of its foreign policy since 1945, especially its dealings with Iraq, Afghanistan, Indonesia, East Timor, Rwanda, Iran, Israel, Kosovo, Chechnya, Diego Garcia, British Malaya and Kenya and many other countries which have suffered the dead hand of Britain’s version of ‘democracy.’

A slavish media

In my opinion, one of the most important aspects of the book is the analysis of the role that the media has played in promoting government policy through the press’s totally slavish coverage (or non-coverage) of events that effectively marches in lockstep with the lies and misinformation that decades of Anglo-US imperialism has foisted on the public. And especially since 9/11, the role of ‘spin’ or to give it its real name, propaganda, has become central to the government’s ability to carry out policies that have been, by and large, extremely unpopular with Britain’s citizens. So much so, that propaganda has become the major weapon in the Britain of New Labour, as the two million who marched against Blair’s war earlier this year, so forcefully showed.

Curtis puts it this way:

“Judging from the abyss between its rhetoric and the reality of policy, the Blair government may have broken all postwar records in state propaganda on its foreign policy, and is recognised as a global leader in this area…. Peter Mandelson, the architect of Blair’s election victory…said… “of course we want to use the media, but the media will become our tools, our servants; we are no longer content to let them be our persecutors.””

If only we had a media that even remotely resembled Mandelston’s description! The Blair clique have been very aware of the fact that the major obstacle to its foreign policy has been the British public itself, or as one of Blair’s propagandists, Mark Leonard, director of the Foreign Policy Centre, a New Labour think-tank puts it:

“”[T]he last decade is rife with examples of popular perceptions, rather than governments, setting the pace for public diplomacy…propaganda will not persuade populations in reluctant countries to support war, but perceptions of Western motivations as imperial or self-interested can damage the chances of success.” So diplomats “must transform themselves from reporters and lobbyists who react to issues into shapers of public debates around the world.”

Curtis quotes from a paper available on the MoD Website called the ‘The future strategic context for defence’ (Blair’s equivilent to the US ‘Project for the New American Century’) that tells us:

“[P]ublic support will be vital to the conduct of military interventions…. [M]ore effort will be required to ensure that such public debate is properly informed.” –

And of course, ‘properly informed’ means the use of ‘public diplomacy’ and ‘spin,’ Orwellian words that the new Imperium would prefer to use instead of the embarrassing word propaganda, to persuade and convince a very skeptical public, that invading sovereign nations under the pretext of “pre-emption”, is the right thing to do. He points out that in spite of the fact that the bombing of Yugoslavia broke all international laws (and was done without the UN’s backing), the public was persuaded to support it.

Rewriting international relations

Central to Britain’s role in the ‘new world order’ of the Anglo-Saxon Imperium is rewriting the laws governing international relations which specifically forbids pre-emptive attacks on nations such as the ones conducted against Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq. Curtis puts it this way:

“[I]f we invade other countries enough times under a moral pretext, and our peers (ie, NATO allies) accept it, we will rewrite the law.”

And of course this thinking is entirely in line with the work of Philip Bobbitt (former CIA man, Clinton advisor and a professor of law at Texas U), whose book “Shield of Achiles” contains the rationale for rewriting the international order when he says:

“”Profound change in international law responds to equally profound changes in the strategic environment. But it would be wrong to conclude, as some in Washington seem to, that our efforts to cope with a new international situation must rely on “might makes right” rather than a new legal order.”

Bobbitt’s argument is that the Imperium must move from the de facto to the de jure and the way to do this is exactly what the British government is advocating (see my essay ‘Normal’ for more on Bobbitt). In fact, Bobbitt is brutal in his advocacy of pre-emption:

“But, it may be objected, by what right do we propose to invade another sovereign state on the basis of a scenario?… What about the rule of law that allows sovereign states to make whatever weapons and alliances they wish?


We must recognise that the demand for conclusive evidence of weapons acquisition is an inadequate requirement in the world we are entering. It confuses deterrence with indictment, as if Saddam were guilty of violating an international gun control law. In fact deterrence of WMD acquisition has failed once the overt act is committed or the covert act unmasked. It must be better to take action before we know that the situation we most fear has indeed come about if we are clear with regard to his intentions. (my emph. WB)” –

Well you can’t get it put any clearer than that can you? And, as Blair’s string of excuses have, one after the other, failed to impress the public, so we have seen the real foreign policy revealed for what it is, a cynical and power hungry grab for the world’s key resource, oil and the destruction of any country which dares to challenge the right of the mighty to do as they please with the planet and its resources. Moreover, Curtis points out that this has been central to the UK’s foreign policy for at least the past fifty years.


Curtis makes a savage indictment of the UK position on human rights, calling those in the poor countries of Iraq, Afghanistan et al, “unpeople” whose lives or more accurately, deaths are simply not worth reporting. Indeed, as he points out, even when the deaths are reported, if understated in number, it’s clear that the UK and the US consider it a worthwhile ‘sacrifice’ or, as Madelaine Albright puts it when referring to the appalling loss of life as a result of the Anglo-US imposed sanctions on Iraq, “We think the price is worth it.”

British Foreign Office minister Brian Wilson tells us that “there is no evidence that sanctions are hurting the Iraqi people.” Curtis goes even further when he suggests that British policy on Iraq is one of genocide masquerading as human rights, “[I]ndeed, it is more likely that Britain has contributed to the deaths of more Iraqis than Saddam.’ He puts the total number of deaths at closer to 1 million and calls it “genocide,” an entirely accurate description, which points to another reason why the Blair government would rather the UN kept its nose out of the Imperium’s business.

The British government of course counters this by putting the blame on Saddam, but as Curtis shows, even under the ‘relaxed’ sanctions imposed when they were renewed in May 2002, the US and Britain blocked 90% of humanitarian supplies including antibiotics and other medical supplies, even ping-pong balls donated by Vietnam!

Curtis also documents the hypocrisy of the British position on Rwanda, pointing out that the lack of action by the UN was the result of UK and US opposition on the Security Council to intervention that could have prevented the slaughter. So too with Suharto’s coup d’état in Indonesia which resulted in the deaths of 1 million people as well as the Indonesian invasion of East Timor in 1975 which was actively encouraged by the USUK.

He points out that British policy on the poor countries of the world extends back several decades citing many examples including that of Diego Garcia, whose inhabitants were thrown off their island in order to give it to the US as a military base (one that has been used to bomb Iraq from), an action that to this day, the British government denies ever happened!

Much of the book is given over to an historical overview of British foreign policy in places like Eygpt, Kenya, Malaya and Guyana (or British Guiana as it was known then) showing how essentially, nothing has really changed, merely the circumstances. He shows to what degree defeating the Soviet Union was the key to the current strategies of New Labour as the junior partner of the US.

This is an invaluable book for people whose introduction to imperialism has been through the war in Iraq or Afghanistan and whose knowledge of how far back New Labour’s foreign policies extend, is limited. ‘Web of Deceit’ is almost a ‘dictionary’ of imperialist stratagems and an exposé of the role of the ruling elites, especially the media in spinning a web of lies to cover actions that the government consistently accuses others of perpetrating.

It’s also great to read a book that vindicates pretty much everything I’ve been saying for the past months in these here essays. For anyone who wants to know what the ‘real deal’ is on Britain’s role as ‘junior partner’ in the US Imperium, this is the book to read. I could go on, but it’s too damn hot here in London, so go out and buy it instead.

Web of Deceit. Britain’s real role in the world’ by Mark Curtis (2003, Vintage Original)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.