Robert Cooper is a former special adviser to Tony Blair, a member of the British Diplomatic Service, and Director-General of External and Politico-Military Affairs for the Council of the European Union. Cooper drafted European Security Strategy for Javier Solana with Timothy Garton Ash, in November 2004 and both worked together to create the Westminster Foundation for Democracy.
In 2005, Cooper was nominated by ”Prospect” magazine as one of the top 100 “public intellectuals” in the world, about which David Keen notes: “his views throw disturbing light on what came to pass for respectable analysis“. Cooper’s Battle of Ideas biography states that:
Robert grew up in Nairobi and studied at Worcester College, Oxford. He holds a BA in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (1st Class Hons.) and is also a Master in International Relations at the University of Pennsylvania. Robert joined the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in 1970. From 1971 to 1973 he studied Japanese, and then worked at the British Embassy in Tokyo until 1977, spending the following two years as Head of the Japan desk. From 1979 to 1982 he specialised in European issues, and was then employed by the Bank of England until 1984. From 1984 to 1987 Robert worked at the UK’s Permanent Representation to the European Community in Brussels. Thereafter his career spanned being Head of Management Review Staff, of the Eastern Department and of the Planning Staff at the FCO. He became Political Counsellor and subsequently Minister at the British Embassy in Bonn and returned to the FCO in London as Director for Asia-Pacific in 1998. He was Head of the Defence and Overseas Secretariat in the Cabinet Office, and in 2001-2 Special Representative for the British Government on Afghanistan.
John Ikenberry reviewed Cooper’s book in Foreign Affairs and stated:
The United States has Fukuyama, Huntington, and Kagan as its prophets of the coming world order. Who does Europe have? The answer is Robert Cooper, a former adviser to Tony Blair and an EU diplomat.
Which might lead some to think Cooper is a neo-conservative, but he is really a post-modernist in that reality eludes him—but the New Labour think tanks: Demos, the Foreign Policy Centre and the Centre for European Reform the (wholly unbelievable trinity) can’t get enough of him.
The Postmodern Cooper
Cooper has written several essays which have been promoted by this trio of think tanks (whose personnel intertwine) including: The Postmodern State and the World Order, published by Demos as part of their ‘The New Public Diplomacy‘ project. Then there is The Post Modern State, published by the Foreign Policy Centre as part of their publication ‘Re-Ordering the World: The long-term implications of September 11th‘. This was edited by the FPC’s and Demos’ Mark Leonard and Cooper who has been part of several of the Centre for European Reform’s stunts such as ‘Embracing the dragon: The EU’s partnership with China’, Maurice Fraser’s (ex-CER) European Union: the next 50 years. All of the above organisations were rolled into one (masquarading as a range of opinion) with Demos’ Martin Jacques’ ‘Eyes Wide Shut‘ radio programme from 2004. Cooper is also a speaker at events staged by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and other Atlanticist organisations.
Of Robert Cooper’s ”The Breaking of Nations,” The Nation observed:
“…if it had been written by someone other than Cooper one might dismiss it as entirely too wacky. But Cooper, Tony Blair’s foreign policy guru from 1999 to last year and now a senior adviser at the European Union, is a man whose opinions count, and his book falls into the same tradition of imperial advice-giving as Kennan’s containment essay and Kirkpatrick’s defense of embracing friendly authoritarians. By reading Cooper, we can better understand the intellectual and ideological underpinnings of Britain’s prime minister, whose decision to support the war in Iraq was as deeply unpopular at home as it was admired in Washington. And we can better understand European security policy. Blair needed someone like Cooper to articulate the liberal imperialism Blair sees as necessary to the post-cold war order and to the Anglo-American alliance. This position is suspect in England, where foreign adventuring inspires more alarm than pride and people are rightly skeptical of the Bush Administration’s intentions. Cooper is Blair’s Robert Kagan, but because he is a Blairite and not a neocon, he believes in Atlanticism and soft power; he feels that even imperial powers need the consent of their subjects, and that force alone is bound to fail.”
Cooper’s view of the world is that it is one divided among successful, modern states (like the United States), a postmodern bloc (unified Europe) and chaotic, premodern states in need of imperial tutelage if not a good old-fashioned pre-emptive invasion.
Perry Anderson in New Left Review examined Cooper’s 1996 essay “The Postmodern State and the World Order,” noting that the Observer ran it as “The New Liberal Imperialism”. The article bears being quoted at length, because it encapsulated many of Cooper’s chief ideas, which became part of the mainstream as Cooper moved from Blair’s office to serve as chief adviser to the EU’s high representative for common foreign and security policy, Javier Solana, drafting Europe’s very first Security Strategy mentioned above. Cooper can also be said to have an influence on the Centre for European Reform and its agenda setting activities in this respect, given his presence at many of their events and ‘breakfast briefings’.
Coopers work aimed to tackle the problem whereby “large number of the most powerful states no longer want to fight or conquer:”
“The challenge to the postmodern world is to get used to the idea of double standards. Among ourselves, we operate on the basis of laws and open, cooperative security. Among ourselves we keep the law but when we are operating in the jungle, we must also use the laws of the jungle. In the prolonged period of peace in Europe, there has been a temptation to neglect our defences, both physical and psychological. This represents one of the great dangers of the postmodern state.”
How should we deal with the pre-modern chaos?… The most logical way to deal with chaos, and the one most employed in the past, is colonisation. Today, there are no colonial powers willing to take on the job, though the opportunities, perhaps even the need for colonisation, is as great as it ever was in the nineteenth century. Those left out of the global economy risk falling into a vicious circle. Weak government means disorder and that means falling investment…. What is needed then is a new kind of imperialism, one acceptable to a world of human rights and cosmopolitan values…an imperialism which, like all imperialism, aims to bring order and organisation but which rests today on the voluntary principle. Postmodern imperialism takes two forms. First, there is the voluntary imperialism of the global economy. This is usually operated by an international consortium through International Financial Institutions such as the IMF and the World Bank…. The second form of postmodern imperialism might be called the imperialism of neighbours…. But Usama bin Laden has now demonstrated for those who had not already realised, that today all the world is, potentially at least, our neighbour.
Bashir Abu-Manneh in (2004) The illusions of Empire, a review of Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s Empire, published in 2000, argued that in U.S. official parlance, the phrase “strong partnership” is code. In diplomatic language, it means strong U.S. leadership over ‘Euroland’ i.e. U.S. hegemonic leadership of Western Europe, a return to the “strong partnership” that used to exist during the Cold War (and emerged in the Gulf War). For Abu-Manneh the US world-view does not really concurr with Cooper’s:
The United States has […] continued to resist what can be described as the European ultra-imperialist project of carving up the rest of the world equally. As Lenin emphasized early last century, uneven development and uneven distribution of power undermine any sense of equality in international relations. This has been borne out in international politics today. The United States does not accept what senior British diplomat Robert Cooper today calls postmodern or cooperative imperialism: “a framework in which each has a share in the government, in which no single country dominates and in which the governing principles are not ethnic but legal.” This project, which includes the International Criminal Court and other institutions for mutual state interference, sounds very much like Hardt and Negri’s juridical Empire. And it stands in sharp contradiction with the United States’ strategy to attain unchallenged supremacy over the world. The United States continues to interpret “cooperative empire” as a direct threat to its own Constitution and national interest since it involves subjecting U.S. domestic law to international constraints.
This was contradicted by Robert Kagan, Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for Peace, who wrote in Guardian, 3 March 2003, that the ideas expressed by Cooper in ‘The Postmodern State and World Order’ provided “the intellectual framework for understanding transatlantic foreign policy differences—and how Tony Blair can resolve them.”
Cooper’s work in this context (quoting from Kagen op cit) was also touched upon by Alex Callinicos’ (2002) The grand strategy of the American empire, in the International Socialism Journal, Issue 97 2002 (the italics are his quotations):
Kagan argues that these consequences of the differences in material power between the US and Europe were reinforced by the development through the process of European integration of multilateral institutions encouraging the reconciliation of national interests. But the taming of inter-state rivalries within Europe depended on the US military umbrella:
“By providing security from outside, the United States has rendered it unnecessary for Europe’s supranational government to provide it… The current situation abounds in ironies. Europe’s rejection of power politics, its devaluing of military force as a tool of international relations, have depended on the presence of American military forces on European soil. Europe’s new Kantian order could flourish only under the umbrella of American power exercised according to the rules of the old Hobbesian order. American power made it possible for Europeans to believe that power was no longer important.”
On the basis of this thesis Kagan criticises the idea, put forward by Francis Fukuyama and followers such as the British diplomat Robert Cooper, that with the ‘end of history’ advanced capitalism has entered a ‘postmodern’, ‘posthistorical’ era in which war is obsolete within this bloc, even though it may still be a threat in the ‘modern’ or even ‘pre-modern’ parts of the world.54 Europe may indeed have gone beyond history, Kagan argues, but:
“although the United States has played the critical role in bringing Europe into Kantian paradise, and still plays a key role in making that paradise possible, it cannot enter this paradise itself. It mans the walls but cannot walk through the gate. The United States, with all its vast power, remains stuck in history, left to deal with the Saddams and the ayatollahs, the Kim Jong Ils and the Jiang Zemins, leaving the happy benefits to others.”
In Marc Glendening’s (2005) The Battle for the Future Postmodern Europe: the silent revolution, part of a conference supported by a mish-mash of organisations and organised by The Institute of Ideas, sponsored by their friends at Pfizer and the ‘Natural Environment Research Council’ he argued:
Eurosceptics are wrong, therefore, to see the EU as a fiendish and stand alone foreign plot designed to enslave their own democracies. It is part of a bigger picture and involves national political elites coming together in order to restrict the scope for popular participation locally. Supranational government should be understood, as John Laughland (22.1.2002) has argued, in terms of the activities of a cartel. By transferring powers to Brussels and other international bodies, real political debate can be by-passed at home. Measures can be enacted that would be difficult to get past the voters. While the Euro postmodernists rhetorically profess great commitment to democratic values and human rights, the reality is that a section of the political class now sees entrusting the masses with the vote as extremely dangerous. Hence the widespread opposition to giving ordinary Europeans a direct say on the EU Constitution and the hysterical response to the ‘No’ votes in France and Holland. Neil Kinnock called these verdicts ‘a triumph for ignorance’; Chris Bryant MP, chair of the Labour Movement for Europe, said: ‘Although a referendum might be appropriate for Pop Idol it is unsuitable for examining a treaty’. Valery Giscard d’Estaing, the constitution’s author, speaking in London after the referendum, said that the result will be overturned and that, in any case, it was not really a rejection of it. Robert Copper, when speaking at the Battle of Ideas 2005, caused a certain amount of surprise when he said that one of the problems with the EU was that it was ‘too democratic’.
Glendening goes on to ask basic questions of Cooper’s thesis:
They simultaneously argue that the EU must be more than a mere free trade area (otherwise how can they explain the need for Brussels to legislate in areas that go way beyond imports and exports?) but nevertheless less than an actual state in the process of being created. Giddens says, rather conveniently, that the EU is almost impossible to define, as it is ‘pioneering forms of governance that do not fit any traditional mould’ (Giddens 1998: 32). Cooper writes confusingly that it has ‘become a highly developed system for mutual interference in each other’s domestic affairs, right down to beer and sausages’, but goes on to assert that ‘the dream of a European state is one left from a previous age’ (Cooper 7.4.2002). Anything to avoid the ‘s’ word. So what precisely does Cooper see as being the physical mechanisms and capacities by which Brussels is going to enforce its decisions, ranging from the permitted curvature and dimensions of the bratwurst to the invasion of failed ‘pre-modern’ states?
Cooper’s 2002 call for the development of a “new imperialism,” which bothered remarkably few Labour MPs, came after the UK government, involved in Afghanistan (Cooper was the UK’s Special Representative in Afghanistan until mid-2002) was negotiating with the Bush administration on renewing its war against Iraq.
As noted above Cooper’s ‘The postmodern state and the world order, was produced by Demos, as his ‘Re-ordering the world—the long-term implications of 11 September’, was produced by the Foreign Policy Centre, 2002 in the lead up to the war; as was work by John Lloyd and visits by Philip Bobbit — who carries on the work of his old pal Walt Rostow. Yet the Cooper essays and the neo-colonialist agenda were first put out back in 1996, these were heavily edited version of his first versions, with a different conclusion. Both organisations are backwards looking in this respect, indeed re-hashing the “end of history” thesis advanced by Francis Fukuyama, to state that the way has been cleared for the triumph of an entirely de-regulated free market across the globe. Indeed Cooper frames old ideas as ‘new’ (and thus valid for ‘New Labour’) within a postmodern label: that countries must not allow themselves the luxury of too much liberty and democracy. The instruction is that they must “get used to the idea of double standards”, like someone donning a pith helmet in a Victorian gentleman’s club, he states: “Among ourselves, we operate on the basis of laws and open cooperative security”, but we “should not forget that in other parts of the world the law of the jungle reigns.” And “when we are operating in the jungle, we also must use the law of the jungle”. This means that when dealing with the “more old fashioned kinds of state outside the postmodern continent of Europe, we need to revert to the rougher methods of an earlier era—force, pre-emptive attack, deception, whatever is necessary for those who still live in the 19th century world of every state for itself”.
It’s a bit like arguing it’s OK to crucify Christians. It’s function (at all these closed meetings of elite decision makers—”among ourselves”) is to provide anodyne sophistry as a rationale —should the unlikely occurrence of anyone noticing the reality of the bloodshed and mayhem, subversion and war-mongering emerge— sufficient for the seared conscience of the political class armed with the ‘noble lie’. If Cooper pushes the boat out far enough towards complete madness, almost total madness will seem fairly reasonable. But we are back to Rostow’s ‘modernisation theory’ and the concomitant dousing of children with Dupont napalm.
It is important to consider in this context, Cooper’s role in creating the Westminster Foundation for Democracy , modelled on the US National Endowment for Democracy, which institutionalised the perceived shift in the ‘New World Order’ and put covert operations on a post-Cold War footing and the state funding of subversion and ‘public diplomacy’ at another remove.
The role of Demos and the FPC are not questioned in several of the articles cited above but the (2002) Julie Hyland essay is the exception with this observation:
“…he relies on a readership that is more concerned with Cooper’s pro-colonial propaganda message than with an attempt to honestly come to grips with political reality. But high level think tanks such as Demos and the Foreign Policy Centre, as well as Cooper himself, are fully aware that control of oil supplies has not only been the major factor in Western intervention into the Balkans, the Persian Gulf and Caspian Sea region, but is the key focus of potential conflict between the major powers.”
The review does note that if the “establishment of internal cohesion” within certain types of countries is “alarming”, and threatens “global stability” then it stands to reason that the objective must be to keep these countries in a state of constant instability and dependence, and it asserts that what Cooper proposes is nothing other than a rationale for imperialist intervention. Such rationality needs the assertion that small nations “voluntarily” accept the economic dictates of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. It also offers an insight into identifying the dissemination of Cooper’s conceptualisations via Demos and the FPC, identifying his intellectual fingerprints in evidence with several high profile speeches made by government ministers: Blair’s 2002 Labour Party conference call for the US initiated “war against terrorism” where he exhorted that the “kaleidoscope had been shaken. The pieces are in flux. Soon they will settle again. Before they do, let us re-order this world around us” (a speech which demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of how a kaleidoscope actually works: any order is an illusion accomplished by mirrors); a Jack Straw speech before the International Institute of Strategic Studies, which borrowed heavily from Cooper is also cited as evidence that Cooper’s “new imperialism” had become the official ideological underpinnings of Labour’s foreign policy.
Even although it is normally a supporter of Cooper (as with Prospect and “Explains, lucidly and elegantly, how the emergence of the postmodern state has changed international relations” appears on the jacket courteously provided by The New Statesman) the Guardian noted that the problem that Blair and Cooper are purblind to is that the World is to be remade in America’s image and in the interests of the security of the US and its corporations. It is not unlike the old story of a desperate search for Chico Marx before filming statrted where the other Marx Brothers, knowing that he is an inveterate gambler, finally find him at the table of the worst most crooked game of poker — ‘I know’ he says ‘but it’s the only game in town.’
One can find these views expressed in Cooper’s ‘The Breaking of Nations: Order and Chaos in the Twenty-First Century’ parroted in a macabre fashion in Dorfer, Ingemar (2005) Old and New Security Threats to Europe, Swedish Defence Research Agency. Or deployed in Heather Grabbe’s, deputy director of the Centre for European Reform, writing at the behest of APCO Europe on Turkey and the EU in 2004, where:
“Turkey is best described as what British diplomat Robert Cooper calls a ‘modern’ state, in the sense that its political culture is unused to ‘post-modern’ ideas about pooling sovereignty or political integration in a wider entity like the EU accession and the strength of the Erdogan government mean that there is a window of opportunity for the EU to help transform Turkey into a more democratic, stable and economically competitive country.”
Grabbe’s (2004) From drift to strategy: why the EU should start accession talks with Turkey, for the Centre for European Reform didn’t just pop into existence—it’s a job of work. One can also see the ‘hidden hand’ of APCO, a business partner with the US in post-modernising Iraq, in the 2007 ‘European Union: the next 50 years’ edited by the CER and APCO’s Maurice Fraser and published via Financial Times Business with Agora Projects (Maurice Fraser’s outfit and he worked for the FT) in association with LSE (also his place of employment). The work boasts contributions purportedly by such busy individuals as:
*Angela Merkel, German chancellor
*Jose Manual Barroso, president of the European Commission
*Howard Davies, director of the London School of Economics
*Javier Solana EU high representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy
*Olli Rehn, EU commissioner for enlargement
*Danuta Hubner, EU commissioner for regional policy
*Tommaso Padoa-Schioppa, finance minister of Italy
*Carl Bildt, foreign minister of Sweden
*Peter Sutherland, chairman BP, former director-general of the WTO
*Richard Descoings, director of Sciences Po, Paris
*Vaira Vike-Freiberga, president of Latvia
*Theodora Bakoyannis, foreign minister of Greece
*Bernard-Henri Levy, philosopher and writer
*Nicolas Sarkozy, then leader of UMP Party, France
*Robert Cooper, director-general Politico-Military Affairs, Council of the European Union and writer on international affairs
*Gérard Mortier, director of the Opera de Paris
*Ernest-Antoine Seillière, president of UNICE
One wonders who writes it all. The LSE is also used to host ‘a major public debate’ (a shocking arithmetical and terminological miscalculation on the part of a school of economics) to spread the propaganda (public diplomacy) with a panel including Cooper, Professor Timothy Garton Ash (who aided in the formation of the WFD with Cooper) and Charles Grant, director of the Centre for European Reform. Grant engaged in further promotion in Prospect Magazine.
One anomaly (easily explained by the public diplomacy of Demos and the FPC) is the unusual license to publish afforded to a senior member of her majesty’s diplomatic service given to Cooper. The new liberal imperialism was initially termed voluntary imperialism or cooperative imperialism —there seems to have been an understandably inexact terminology in its early incarnation till the buzz words stuck thanks to all the publicity (see: Yakushiji, Taizo (2002) Formulating a joint Japanese and US Security Concept in the aftermath of September 11).
Other conferences where we see Grant, Leonard, Fraser and Cooper (or similar alignments) gather see Leonard on “The debate about the embargo on arms sales to China” Grant on “Iran and the broader Middle East” and Cooper on “Superpower Europe?” May 2006 at St Antony’s College — one puzzle is that Cooper disconnects the US from Capitalism.
But why all the Postmodern bullshit—easy, Cooper stated in April 2002:
The postmodern world has to start to get used to double standards. Among ourselves, we operate on the basis of laws and open cooperative security. But, when dealing with old-fashioned states outside the postmodern continent of Europe, we need to revert to the rougher methods of an earlier era–force, pre-emptive attack, deception, whatever is necessary Among ourselves, we keep the law but when we are operating in the jungle, we must also use the laws of the jungle.
In his book ”Breaking the Nations”, Robert Cooper stated:
A system in which preventative action is required will be stable only under the condition that it is dominated by a single power or a concert of powers. The doctrine of prevention therefore needs to be complemented by a doctrine of enduring strategic superiority—and this is, in fact, the main theme of the US National Security Strategy.
‘Jungle’ is supposed to come from from the Sanskrit for a wilderness — what’s that old quote from Tacitus?
A shocking crime was committed on the unscrupulous initiative of few individuals, with the blessing of more, and amid the passive acquiescence of all.
No the other one:
To plunder, to slaughter, to steal, these things they misname empire; and where they make a wilderness, they call it peace.
No old boy, it’s called something else now—the postmodern state.