Sunday, June 26 2016

PM's Duplicity on Arms and Democracy Laid Bare

 Prime Minister David Cameron yesterday delivered a speech to the Kuwait National Assembly in which he distanced himself from past British policies of propping up “highly controlling regimes” in the name of stability.

Yesterday’s Telegraph further reported Cameron telling reporters in Cairo, “I believe in a liberal conservative approach rather than a neo-conservative approach.”

The article added:

“Rejecting the ‘naïve’ neo-con view that democracy can be imposed by the West using military force, the Prime Minister will today set out a “a liberal Conservative” view of democracy in the Middle East.

“Instead of trying to impose democracy or pick sympathetic leaders for Middle Eastern states, the Mr Cameron will argue, the West should support the full range of free institutions, including an independent judiciary a free press and open markets.”

The Prime Minister has rightly recognised that the policies of the past in which Western states, including the UK, supported regional dictators who suppressed freedoms within their own borders have failed. He is also right to distance himself from the view that democracy can be imposed (although it is difficult to overlook the sense of realpolitik behind this statement – would he have been making it had Egypt not experienced the pro-democracy movement that swept Hosni Mubarak out of power?).

However, his support for democracy in the region and his comment in Kuwait that “democracy is the work of patient craftsmanship; it has to be built from the grassroots up” will ring hollow given the reports that he is to spend the next three days “touring undemocratic Gulf states” with eight of Britain’s leading arms manufacturers. The use of British manufactured arms in suppressing the very grassroots movements for democracy which Cameron talked about is widely suspected in places such as Libya and Bahrain. The contradiction between calling for democracy and arming those who suppress it hasn’t escaped the attention of some in today's papers.

The leading article in the Independent today states:

“... Actions speak louder [than] words. Mr Cameron's address cannot conceal the fact that he is seeking to arm those very Arab leaders who would deny the people of the region their liberty. Senior executives of the British defence industry have accompanied the Prime Minister on this regional tour. And while Mr Cameron was hailing freedom in Kuwait, his Minister for International Security Strategy, Gerald Howarth, was attending an arms fair in Abu Dhabi, where 100 UK companies are exhibiting their wares.

“Mr Cameron denies he is in the business of arming oppressive tyrants, arguing that Britain has some of the world's toughest rules on arms exports. Yet last year these rules allowed tear gas and military hardware to be sold to Bahrain and Libya, both regimes that have savagely attacked unarmed protesters in recent days.”

“Mr Cameron is deluded if he imagines he can credibly preach democracy while bolstering autocrats.”

Simon Jenkins in today’s Guardian adds:

“Britain has tried to cover its publicity flank by ‘revoking 52 export licences’ to Bahrain and Libya for weapons used against demonstrators, in effect admitting its guilt. This merely locks the moral stable after the horse has fled, while also being a poor advertisement for British after-sales service. What is the point of selling someone a gun and telling him not to use it?”

A letter in the Independent put the double standards quite succinctly:

“Not only have the weapons we sold to repressive regimes been used against innocent unarmed protesters but our collaboration with these regimes for oil and other commercial gains shows only too clearly how we value the free speech and human rights we trumpet from the rooftops.”

On domestic policy, David Cameron talked of the need to judge engagements with organisations based on their adherence to certain core values: “do they believe in universal human rights – including for women and people of other faiths?  Do they believe in equality of all before the law?  Do they believe in democracy and the right of people to elect their own government?”

The comments in 2009 of then Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, are quite pertinent here. He talked of the need to hold fast to our own values and support those who seek to apply them, or we will be guilty of hypocrisy” – a recognition which we commended him for.

If the domestic policy of engagement depends on organisations’ adherence to core values of democracy and human rights, does it not behove our foreign policy to be based on promoting and engaging regimes based on their adherence to those values too? For example, how is the UK’s continued engagement with the highly repressive regime in Saudi Arabia justified, given that it satisfies none of the conditions for engagement which Cameron lays down? Is there not a further imperative not to arm those regimes which do not adhere to these values?

Last Updated on Wednesday, 23 February 2011 17:50

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