2017 Annual David Davies Memorial Lecture: Sir Lawrence Freedman

On Tuesday, 7 February 2017, the David Davies Memorial Institute was pleased to welcome leading expert on war and strategic studies Sir Lawrence Freedman to give the DDMI Annual Lecture. Sir Lawrence has enjoyed a distinguished career in academia, written extensively on the cold war and nuclear strategy, and served as a member of the Iraq Inquiry, which examined the United Kingdom’s involvement in Iraq between 2001 and 2009. His lecture, entitled ‘The Future of Discretionary Warfare: Criteria for the Use of Force’, offered a framework for decisionmakers faced with the difficult task of choosing whether to employ military force abroad. The question of how, and when, a government should intervene militarily is one of enormous interest to both the academic community and the public, as was reflected by the unprecedented turnout on Tuesday evening.

Sir Lawrence opened his lecture with a reference to Prime Minister Theresa May’s recent speech in Philadelphia, in which she referred to “the failed policies of the past,” and declared that “the days of Britain and America intervening in sovereign countries in an attempt to remake the world in our own image are over.” Many commentators have characterized this passage as a rejection of former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s ‘Chicago doctrine’, as set out in a speech to the Chicago Economic Club in 1999. Sir Lawrence drafted the portion of Blair’s Chicago speech dealing with international security, and in this section, he proposed five considerations or tests that should be addressed when deciding whether and how to intervene in foreign conflicts. During the lecture, he returned to these five tests, to explain what he understood each to mean, and to offer some insight into the historical examples that he had in mind when drafting them. In brief, they are: 1) Are we sure of our case? 2) Have we exhausted all diplomatic options? 3) On the basis of a practical assessment of the situation, are there military options that we can sensibly and prudently undertake? 4) Are we prepared for the long-term? 5) Do we have national interests involved? Having entered into his understanding of these considerations, Sir Lawrence argued that the legacy of the Chicago speech in which they first appeared has been misunderstood. The speech did not herald a desire to remake the world in Britain’s image, did not make the case for military intervention in service of regime change, and should not be considered justification for the invasion of Iraq in 2003. In 1999, the question of foreign intervention was raised within a wider discussion of the effects of globalization, and was informed by the ongoing NATO air campaign against Slobodan Milošević; this is the context in which its content should be considered. The lecture concluded with questions from the audience. Among those asked were what additional considerations, if any, Sir Lawrence would include alongside the original five, which nations are best placed to intervene in Syria, how to know when to withdraw after a military intervention, and whether Mrs. May’s recent speech signaled an end to British involvement in humanitarian interventions in the future.

A full written text of the lecture has appeared in the journal International Relations LINK UP.

The Annual Lecture and other activities of the DDMI are generously supported by the Gwendoline and Margaret Davies Charity. We should like to express our thanks and gratitude for its continued support.