Web of Deceit: Britain's Real Role in the World
by Mark Curtis
256pp, Vintage, £7.99
Recent revelations will have made unsettling reading for those who still believe in Britain's essentially benign approach to world affairs: evidence of British collusion with loyalist paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland engaging in "targeted assassinations" of suspected IRA members, for example, and the mounting anger over the way in which the government not only doctored intelligence reports on weapons of mass destruction, but also misled the House of Commons, and indeed the whole country, over the nature of the threat posed by Saddam Hussein.
In his brilliant and deeply disturbing new book, Mark Curtis demonstrates that these cannot be brushed aside as isolated cases, and delivers a powerful challenge to the notion that Britain's foreign policy is basically benevolent: that it promotes democracy, peace and human rights. The truth, according to Curtis, is that Britain supports terrorism. Indeed, "violating international law has become as British as afternoon tea".
But if New Labour has raised hypocrisy and double standards to the level of a new art form, ("never in history has there been such a gap between government claims and the reality of policy"), the route they are pursuing is hardly a new one. Curtis convincingly shows that contempt for international law has passed easily from Conservative to Labour, and from the colonial era to the present. By imposing regime change in Iraq, for example, Tony Blair is not so much following the US as continuing a national tradition.