Robert Cooper, Tony Blair's foreign policy guru as right-hand man to Javier Solana.

If there is one man who can explain why Tony Blair went to war in Iraq, sent troops to Afghanistan and wants to join the euro, it is a tall, cultured man in Brussels called Robert Cooper.

He is the foreign policy guru who, on secondment to No 10 in the years before the September 11 attacks, influenced much of the Prime Minister's thinking on international affairs.

Robert Cooper retains close links with No. 10 It was also Mr Cooper who, five years ago, persuaded Mr Blair to push for a European military capability. Then, presciently, in the months before the World Trade Centre attack, he started badgering the Prime Minister to think seriously about the terrorist training camps in Afghanistan.

When the war on terrorism began, he was made Britain's special representative on Afghanistan. Later, with military action against Iraq looming, he argued for a new form of imperialism, based not on territory but on western values such as human rights, democracy and Coca-Cola.

Now he has been posted to Brussels as right-hand man to Javier Solana, Europe's foreign and security policy supremo. But he retains close links with Downing Street, where his ideas are held in great respect.

With his flamboyant cufflinks and designer ties, Mr Cooper, 56, is an unusual career diplomat. He is more likely to be seen careering through the traffic on his bicycle than folding his long legs into a diplomatic car.

In Whitehall and beyond, he is valued for his independence of mind. Unusually for a civil servant, he has a licence to print as well as to think: next week he is publishing a book, The Breaking of Nations, that sets out his ideas.

Some are horrified by his influence on Mr Blair; Tam Dalyell, the Left-wing Labour MP, once described him as a maniac. But the Prime Minister greatly values his ability to "think out of the box".

"I am an idealist," he says, as he stride towards a Brussels cafe. "I still have my Sixties instincts. I do not understand why people would want to fight each other - or sometimes why they would not."

Although Europe has so far escaped a terrorist attack on the scale of the September 11 tragedy, he fears that one is almost inevitable.

"There are enough disaffected people in the world and there are enough weapons," he says. "The image of what you can do as a terrorist - pictures of planes crashing into the twin towers - will live in people's memories."

Terrorist groups have not yet acquired a nuclear weapon, he says. "They have tried and you have to guess that if they try for long enough they are going to succeed."

He believes that the risks to world peace are greater now than they were in the first half of the 20th century, when thousands of people were killed in two world wars.

"Individuals will have a potential destructive capacity which they have not had since the Middle Ages. The risk is that the liberation that we have all experienced over the past 200 years - from the state, the Church and so on - is going to turn out to be a very nasty joke."

This is a frightening vision, particularly coming from a mild-mannered civil servant who was astute enough to see the danger that the power vacuum in Afghanistan posed to the wider world. The point now, Mr Cooper says, is to work out what can be done to stop the unthinkable from happening.

"You stop it by spreading civilisation, by creating good government. We have to try to put ourselves into the situation where there has been another major terrorist incident - using biological weapons in a European city, for example. Imagine what you might do, then do it in advance."

Although he rejects the analysis that there is a "clash of civilisations" between Christianity and Islam, he thinks the West has still not sufficiently understood the new threat.

"In the Cold War, we were dealing with a civilisation which was very similar to ours. The people we are dealing with now are much more foreign. Maybe we need more anthropologists."

The Cooper theory is that there are three types of country: pre-modern, defined by chaos and lack of state control, such as pre-war Afghanistan; the modern nation state within clear boundaries, such as Saddam Hussein's Iraq; and post-modern, in which the nation state is collapsing into a bigger order - the European Union for example.

The post-modern world, which prefers diplomacy to war, must realise that pre-modern countries are dangerous not because they are strong but because they are so weak that they can become ciphers for people such as Osama bin Laden. It must also understand that the modern and pre-modern worlds operate in different ways.

"You cannot treat people like Saddam Hussein the way you treat your neighbours," Mr Cooper says. "If we have a problem with France and Germany, we negotiate. But there are leaders you cannot negotiate with."

He argues that the attack on Iraq was justified to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction to terrorist groups. He still thinks that such weapons may be found. Even if they are not, he says, "I find it difficult to regard the fall of Saddam as a bad thing".

As an aside, Mr Cooper has an interesting theory that it is particularly difficult for oil-rich countries to become democracies. "If you have a state that does not have to raise taxes because the money flows out of the ground, it can survive without democracy."

It was the realisation that the chaos of the pre-modern world could so easily destroy the order of the post-modern one that prompted Mr Cooper to develop his ideas about a new imperialism.

"Decolonisation left the world with a lot of weak states," he says. "For a while they lived on the capital that had been left behind then survived because the Cold War gave the superpowers a reason to prop them up.

"But now we have seen states collapse and in Afghanistan we saw how dangerous that can be. If you want to avoid havens for terrorists, you have to bring these countries back under control."

Although he appears to share some of the American neo-conservative views, he rejects the idea that there is an "axis of evil" that must be neutralised one country at a time. Iran and North Korea should be dealt with in different ways, he says.

Mr Cooper believes that cost will limit the number of imperial adventures. "In the old days, the imperialists used to exploit people; now they pay for them. The temptations of imperialism are very limited as a result."

Mr Cooper is concerned by America's global dominance. "I would be more comfortable in a world where power was less concentrated," he says. Mr Blair, caught between Europe and America, is in an awkward position.

"He finds himself as the main advocate of Europe in the United States and that is unhealthy for him and it is unhealthy for the US. I think Blair is a European basically."

The transatlantic tensions over Iraq, Mr Cooper argues, can be explained by the fact that, as a post-modern concept, the EU is based on multi-national negotiations and the rule of law, while the US, a modern state in his definition, sees the world in terms of power. That is why the Americans have less time for the United Nations than does Europe.

While the US would benefit from taking the rule of law, symbolised by the UN, more seriously, the EU also "needs to think a bit more in terms of power," he says. "We cannot just sit back and leave the rest of the world to America."

That is why he supports the idea of a European defence force as a support, rather than a rival, to Nato. The Americans are far from happy about the idea. Mr Cooper, foreign policy guru first in Britain and now in Europe, says with candour: "Influencing foreigners is really difficult."

[Source: Daily Telegraph, UK, 25oct03]

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This document has been published on 30nov03 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights, in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.