Son of Sam

The British left devotes a lot of energy to castigating US foreign policy but, says Mark Curtis, Downing Street is as much of an international serial killer as Washington

May 1, 2004 · 5 min read

It has always struck me that many people on the British left know far more about US foreign policy horrors than those committed by this country. This is, perhaps, unsurprising since the mainstream media and British academics systematically keep the public in the dark about such abuses.

Although Britain clearly has much less power, its policies are often worse than those of the US. British policy towards Iraq is not an aberration: violating international law and the UN, supporting repressive regimes and promoting a neo-liberal economic order are all permanent features of British foreign policy.

My view is that the left needs to expose this more, to mobilise larger numbers of people to demand radical change. The chronology below highlights some of the key events in British foreign policy over the last 10 years. We have to ensure that what is done in our name over the next decade is nowhere near as horrific.

1994: Britain increases arms exports to Turkey just at a time when the latter is undertaking major operations against its Kurdish population, destroying 3,500 villages and killing thousands.

April 1994: A million Tutsis die in Rwanda. Instrumental in reducing the size of a UN peacekeeping force in the country, and in making sure the UN does not use the word “genocide’ to describe the atrocities (which would obligate international intervention in the country), Britain is effectively complicit in the slaughter.

1992-1995: British policy contributes to the destruction of Bosnia, and tens of thousands of deaths, by preventing both the lifting of an arms embargo against Bosnia and international military action in its defence.

1996: A British military training team is sent to Saudi Arabia to help Riyadh with “internal security’.

February 1996: An MI6-backed bomb attack on Colonel Gaddafi of Libya kills six innocent bystanders.

September 1996: Britain supports US cruise missile attacks against Iraq.

August 1998: Britain supports US attacks against al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan and a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan.

December 1998: Britain and the US launch an aerial bombing campaign in Iraq.

March 1999: Britain and Nato bomb Kosovo, thus precipitating a humanitarian catastrophe that the bombing was supposed to prevent.

August/September 1999: Five thousand are killed in East Timor and 500,000 flee Indonesian-backed terror in the run-up to an independence referendum. Britain continues arms sales to Jakarta before agreeing only to delay and not stop them. Downing Street tries to take credit for stopping the violence in East Timor by helping to establish a UN peace-enforcement mission there.

October 1999: Chinese premier Jiang Zemin visits Britain. The government refuses to raise Chinese human rights abuses with him, while police deny protesters the right to peaceful assembly.

1999: The UN estimates that more than half a million people have died from sanctions against Iraq maintained largely by Britain and the US.

January 2000: Chinese defence minister general Chi Haotian, who commanded the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, visits Britain to explore EU-prohibited “military cooperation’ between the two countries.

February 2000: As Russian forces flatten the Chechen capital Grozny, foreign secretary Robin Cook says he “understands’ Russia’s problems.

May 2000: A unilateral British intervention helps stabilise security in Sierra Leone. Britain had previously rejected proposals to beef up a UN force in the country.

July 2000: Briton Ian Henderson resigns after a career as head of repressive security services in Bahrain.

November 2000: The High Court rules against the government and decides that Chagos islanders be allowed to return to some of their Indian Ocean homelands. They were evicted by Britain between 1967 and 1973 to allow the US to build an air base on Diego Garcia, from which the islanders continue to be barred.

2001: British arms exports reach £5 billion.

February 2001: Major US and British bombing in Iraqi no-fly zones.

August 2001: Further increase in bombing Iraqi no-fly zones.

October 2001: US and British bombing of Afghanistan. Civilian deaths greater than those killed in the US on 11 September.

2001: British arms exports to Israel are twice those for the year before, reaching £22.5m as Israel steps up aggression in the occupied territories.

2002: Britain gives £3m military aid to Nepal, whose forces are responsible for the majority of deaths in a vicious civil war with Maoist rebels.

August 2002: The US and Britain secretly increase their bombing of Iraqi no-fly zones.

March 2003: The US and Britain invade Iraq.

May 2003: Indonesia intervenes in Aceh province, using British aircraft and tanks.

June 2003: Amid mounting violence, rigged elections in Chechnya are welcomed by Britain as Russia widens its war in the Caucasus to the neighbouring Russian republic Ingushetia.

June 2003: With human rights atrocities by government and allied forces proliferating in Colombia, Britain organises international donors to increase support to the government of Colombian president Alvaro Uribe Velez, and steps up covert military aid to Bogota.

2004: Occupation and corporate invasion of Iraq deepen, with increasing human rights violations committed by British and US forces.


Review – Steal as Much as You Can by Nathalie Olah

Anna Clayton reviews Natalie Olah's book, which explores how upper middle-class pop culture has affected British politics

No solutions, no justice: Covid-19 and BAME communities

Apsana Begum MP asks why no action has been taken to protect BAME communities from Covid-19, despite the Government report revealing disproportionate impact

The nationalist unconscious

To fully grasp the rise of the new authoritarians, we must engage with psychoanalysis as well as economics, writes Richard Seymour


Lockdown live: ‘Race Today’

Join Red Pepper editor K Biswas and guests Paul Gilroy, Lola Olufemi, Ciaran Thapar and Joy White to discuss marginality, inequality, creativity and belonging in Britain

Brazilian oligarchs sacrifice people for profit

Business leaders are using social media and political influence to spread coronavirus disinformation – and endangering thousands of lives. Raphael Tsavkko Garcia reports

Review – Abolish Silicon Valley by Wendy Liu

Suchandrika Chakrabarti reviews Wendy Liu's proposals to reclaim technology's potential for the public good

Enjoying this article? Grateful for the lack of ads?
Donate any amount to Red Pepper and support radical media with an independent editorial line, strict ethical advertising policy, and no-paywall promise.