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What are we fighting for?

Soldier with rifle
Will the public be ready to send troops to fight for "good causes"?
BBC Radio 4's Analysis: What are we fighting for? will be broadcast on Thursday, 13th March 2008 at 20:30 and repeated on Sunday 9th March at 21.30 GMT

Military cadets these days expect to be sent to war within months of completing their training.

Those familiar soldiers' questions - "What am I fighting for?" and "Is it worth my life?" - will come very quickly to this generation of recruits.

And most are being asked to risk their lives, not in the direct defence, of their country, but thanks to the idea that the military are to be used as a force for good.

It's an idea that is known by the shorthand of liberal interventionism.

Yet what kind of future does it have, after the practical and ideological difficulties of intervention in both Afghanistan and Iraq?

In this programme we discuss those questions with politicians and generals who have had to take the difficult decisions about war and peace, and with those who are doing the fighting - and sometimes the dying.

Here are a selection of some of the key comments.

Jonathan Powell, chief of staff under Tony Blair

"No-one in their right mind can be happy with what is happening on the streets of Iraq at the moment. People will retreat from this sort of interventionism in the future - that I think is absolutely the danger."

Simon Jenkins, columnist

"Liberal interventionism as defined I have to say almost exclusively by Tony Blair - I mean there are not many texts which really go along with it - but we're dealing with an almost crazy set of abstract nouns here. Insofar as it carries any bite, after Iraq and Afghanistan we are going to be very, very, very scared of going anywhere."

General Sir Mike Jackson
General Sir Mike Jackson
General Sir Mike Jackson, former head of the army

"We are a major player, whether we want to be or not, we are a major player on the world stage and what Britain does or doesn't do is looked at very carefully by the international arena. I don't think some sort of fortress Britain, pull up the notional drawbridge, hunker down and everything'll be fine, in today's globalised world, I just don't see that as an available strategy for us."

Douglas Hurd, former Foreign Secretary

"The disaster of Iraq has set back the general cause of humanitarian intervention which is why the Foreign Secretary David Miliband now begins to set out the case again. There is a case, there is a case philosophically for saying it is part of our job to help with others make the world a more decent place, but it does depend on getting your facts right, getting your sums right, making decent plans for the likely future."

Lord (Paddy) Ashdown, former High Representative in Kosovo

"It isn't over when the fighting's over, and I think the realisation of Afghanistan and Iraq is that you can win the war but then go on to lose the peace unless you do it properly and structuring your armed forces just to fight the war but also to sustain what Kipling called the savage war of peace."

Presenter: Edward Stourton
Producer: Mark Savage
Editor: Hugh Levinson




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