Review of International Studies

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Britain's ‘Vietnam syndrome’? 1 Public opinion and British military intervention from Palestine to Yugoslavia



There have been calls for policymakers to draw ‘lessons’ from Britain's experience of Empire and Northern Ireland to inform a new generation of post-Cold War interventions by the international community. This article emphasises the role that domestic public opinion, galvanized by the impact of casualties and the plight of military relatives, has played in shaping Britain's experience of ‘military intervention’ in the ‘civil wars’ of Palestine, Northern Ireland and the former Yugoslavia. Three principal arguments are put forward.


1 This title should not to be taken to suggest that the aversion of public opinion to the costs of military intervention, over Vietnam or anywhere else, is an illegitimate one.

2 I would like to thank Alan Bloomgarden, Phil Cerny, Malcolm Chalmers, Michael Cox, Charles and Kate Dixon, Ian Forbes, Ian Lustick, Christine Margerum, Lord Wallace, the participants at the 1997 BISA conference at the University of Leeds and two anonymous referees for comments on earlier versions of this paper. The usual disclaimers apply.