Promoting Democracy?

Almost exactly a year ago, the Observer published an article by Tony Blair entitled: “Why we must never abandon this historic struggle in Iraq”. Conspicuous, by its absence, was any mention of weapons of mass destruction either as an imminent danger or a pretence for war1.

Overall, the sentiment was clear – fantasies about Iraq’s WMD are no longer useful and we must all switch to the democracy promotion bandwagon for the sake of a more complete account of an illegal-but-just “war on terror”. On this, our leader has spoken and as with all advertising campaigns, the power is in the repetition, not in the details.

However, this month Amnesty International supplied more of the details at the launch of their 2005 annual report. Irene Kahn, the secretary general for Amnesty noted that “The ‘war on terror’ appeared more effective in eroding international human rights principles than in countering international ‘terrorism’”. It went on to warn that the US and UK governments led a “dangerous new agenda” by sanctioning torture in a failed attempt to combat terrorism and it also criticised what was described as the US and UK’s “cynical attempts to redefine and sanitise torture” as well as the UK’s acceptance of intelligence derived by torture2.

This report does not stand in isolation. In the same week Robert McNamara, the US defence secretary under President Kennedy, stated that Iraq had shown that the consequences of military action were unpredictable and perhaps even more disturbing for the future of humanity, he condemned Britain and America’s approach to nuclear weapons, which he described as “immoral, illegal and militarily unnecessary3.”

That statement was further echoed by former NATO planner Michael MccGwire in the British Journal of International Affairs where he noted, “There were many reasons… for concluding before the event that the decision to wage war on Iraq was fundamentally flawed. But in the longer term, by far the most important was that such an operation (and the reasoning that led to the decision to undertake it) threatened to undermine the very fabric of international relations”. He goes on to write that under current policies “a nuclear exchange is ultimately inevitable” the result of which will be “to destroy our present civilisation and jeopardize the survival of the human race”. He also mentions that Britain is in “a unique position to bring the story back on track and provide the opportunity for a happy ending” but only as long as Britain is prepared to eliminate its nuclear weapons in accord with the non-proliferation treaty (NPT) and adhere to international law4.

Unfortunately this does not look very likely as New Labour’s manifesto states: “we are committed to retaining the independent nuclear deterrent” and this sentiment is echoed by the UK’s other main parties. The current scheme was promised in 2003 and will enable Britain, with US help, to produce a new generation of nuclear warheads. The scheme will cost up to £15bn, and will effectively destroy what small hope there is left for the NPT and quite possibly the survival of our species5.

If we turn to the intelligence that was available to the government before the invasion of Iraq, we could also conclude that these dangers are being consciously escalated. Action in Iraq was taken in the full knowledge that it would most likely increase the threat of terror6. This was mentioned in intelligence reports to the House of Commons before the invasion began, mirroring similar reports to the White House. This initial intelligence has since been supplemented by more recent statements from the US National Intelligence Council, stating that Iraq now provides terrorists with “a training ground, a recruitment ground, [and] the opportunity for enhancing technical skills7.” All of which goes to show just how serious the government is in its devotion to combating terrorism.

This is even more apparent when it comes to our own terrorism. Since 2001 Britain has been using the “historic window of opportunity” (to borrow a term from US Secretary of State James Baker) created by the events of September 11th, to prop up dictatorships in Central Asia. One very prescient example of this was the virtual tolerance of one of our allies in “the war on terror” to commit mass-murder. Uzbekistan’s crackdown on protesters in Andijan was, according to Human Rights Watch, “so extensive, and its nature was so indiscriminate and disproportionate, that it can best be described as a massacre”.

Former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, criticised coalition support for Uzbekistan when the invasion of Iraq was being planned, using similar human rights abuses as justification8. “The US will claim that they are teaching the Uzbeks less repressive interrogation techniques” said Murray, “but that is basically not true. They help fund the budget of the Uzbek security services and give tens of millions of dollars in military support. It is a sweetener in the agreement over which they get their air base.”

Murray was promptly sacked for speaking out against his masters, but sometimes eminent figures are kind enough to communicate Britain’s foreign policy with some level of candour. Before the invasion of Iraq, Robert Cooper, Tony Blair’s “foreign policy guru”, laid out the principles at the core of Britain’s international affairs in his article “Why we still need empires”, where he stated: “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 to deal with those who still live in the nineteenth century world of every state for itself9.”

The “old-fashioned states outside the postmodern continent of Europe” that Robert Cooper is presumably talking about are known as the G77 -the largest Third World coalition in the United Nations and accounting for the vast majority of the world’s population. They are understandably very critical of the international economic order and the insistence of the West’s right to use military force unilaterally on humanitarian pretexts.

The British Journal of Politics & International Relations notes: “the Third World continues to figure largely on the margins of the International Relations discipline in the US and UK. What lies behind this silence is the failure of the dominant theories of International Relations to engage with the global human condition on the basis of anything other than its impact on the G-810.”

However, the sentiment of the leaders of the G77 is backed up in surveys of world opinion of US / UK foreign policy. A recent Gallup International poll reports that “In 23 countries, the population is more likely to say US foreign policy has a negative rather than a positive effect on their country… Even in the US itself, only 42% believe US foreign policy has a positive effect on other countries11.” Another survey, this time conducted by the Centre for Strategic Studies at the University of Jordan, of Arab opinion towards the West concludes that “positive attitudes towards the US and UK will continue to plummet unless major changes in their foreign policies are implemented12.”

It is not too late to “bring the story back on track and provide the opportunity for a happy ending” as Michael MccGwire has said, but it is clear that this will not happen by itself. Since our politicians have abdicated their responsibility to human rights and seem intent on a policy to further “jeopardize the survival of the human race”, it is now left to us to do something about it.


1 Tony Blair – The Observer, April 11th 2004

2 Sarah Left – The Guardian, May 25th 2005

3 Richard Norton-Taylor – The Guardian, June 4th 2005

4 Michael MccGwire – International Affairs volume 81/1 2005

5 Tom Baldwin and Michael Evans – The Times, May 28th 2005

6 House of Commons, Hansard, 15 October 2003, col. 234

7 Washington Post, January 14th 2005 – ‘Iraq New Terror Breeding Ground’

8 – BBC News Thursday, 20 November, 2003

9 Robert Cooper – The Observer, April 7th 2002

10 Caroline Thomas and Peter Wilkin – The British Journal of Politics & International Relations, volume 6/2 2004

11 Gallup International – Voice of the People, September 7th 2002

12 Center for Strategic Studies, University of Jordan, February 2005 – ‘Revisiting the Arab Street Research From Within’

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