28 - Defence  pp. 615-632


By Lawrence Freedman

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Speaking in Plymouth in January 2007, Tony Blair argued that there were two types of nations among Britain's allies: ‘Those who do war-fighting and peacekeeping and those who have, effectively, except in the most exceptional circumstances, retreated to the peacekeeping alone.’ The sharpness of the distinction drawn here, in addition to the description of abandoning a war-fighting role as a ‘retreat’, is revealing. When Blair had become Prime Minister almost a decade earlier the distinction would have followed American lines, with war-fighting about great power confrontations involving the full range of military capabilities. Everything else, including peacekeeping, came into the lesser category of ‘operations other than war’ – possibly altruistic in motive, invariably limited in scope and rarely an appropriate use of proper war-fighting forces. During the 1990s this sharp distinction became questionable. The peacekeeping category became stretched in the post-Cold War world. From the original concept of policing cease-fire lines, with the consent of the belligerents and using minimum force, it expanded into helping conflicts wind down and, more difficult still, acting on behalf of civilians caught up in vicious civil wars, by which point peacekeepers were in effect taking sides. By then these missions were hazardous, albeit on a small scale, and hard to distinguish at a tactical level from war-fighting. The language tried to keep up, as they came to be described as an extension or variation of the traditional peacekeeping model – a ‘third-generation’ or ‘wider’ type, or about ‘peace support’ or ‘peace enforcement’.