Posts Tagged ‘foreign affairs’

Waiting for the people of Egypt to set up a secular democracy before the celebrations can begin

January 31, 2011

Many leftie friends and acquaintances are understandably excited about the revolutionary situation in Egypt. ‘Solidarity with the people of Egypt‘ is the Facebook status update de jour.

Of course, it is pleasing to see a peaceful, popular uprising against a dictator. But this must have been exactly how idealistic outsiders viewed events in Iran in 1978 and 1979.

If the ousting of Mubarak leads to the establishment of a Muslim Brotherhood government then there will be little to celebrate.

I suppose the supposed moderation of the Muslim Brotherhood may be proven true and Egypt could turn into something more akin to Turkey – a reasonably democratic state with an elected moderate Islamist party in power abiding by the constitution whilst the army remains a major political player.

But even a moderately Islamist Egypt would be an unwelcome development, considering Egypt’s border with Israel and Gaza.

For many years Egypt has been bribed by the US into accepting Israel’s right to exist. If that key foreign policy assumption changes then things could get even messier in the Middle East, which won’t be good for anybody.

Revolutionary situations tend to favour a military strongman (England 1648, France 1790s, Spain 1936) or ideological fanatics (Russia 1917, Iran 1979). It will be fascinating to see what happens next in Egypt.

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Aid to China?

June 15, 2010

From da House yesterday:

Mr Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth East) (Con): My hon. Friend mentions China and the huge steps forward that it has taken in its growing economy. Its gross domestic product now stands at about 9.5% or 9.6%-growth that compares quite favourably with ours. Is it therefore right that we continue to provide that country with Department for International Development funds to the tune of-I may stand corrected-about £30 million a year?

Jeremy Browne (Lib Dem and Foreign Office Minister): An interesting evolution in the power balance in the world is taking place, with these huge emerging countries. Although China’s GDP is slightly greater than ours, it is worth reminding ourselves that their population is 25 times higher, so their GDP per capita is very much smaller than ours. Hundreds of millions of people in China have yet to benefit from the huge advances that that country has made over the past decade or two. At the moment, we have this slightly strange situation whereby many of the emerging economies are the new powerhouses and yet still have millions of people living in absolute poverty. I think that there will be an evolutionary period in which they are apparently two slightly contradictory things simultaneously: they will require aid and assistance while becoming increasingly significant economic and political players. Over time, that balance needs to be reflected in the contributions that we make in aid.

My two cents:

1) I don’t feel comfortable with the UK giving £30 million of development funds to help alleviate absolute poverty in China when the number of super rich Chinese is ballooning. In a meagre way, aren’t we simply subsidising gross inequality in China?

2) Without wanting to get like too much of an IR realist, why the blooming heck do we want to provide assistance to a nation which is becoming a “significant economic and political” competitor? On top of its lack of democracy, its appalling human rights record and its unhelpful support for regimes such in North Korea and Burma, China recently executed a mentally ill British citizen, thus showing clear disrespect for relations with the UK.

Methinks that £30 million could be better spent elsewhere.

Israel: ‘Noone likes us – we don’t care’?

March 23, 2010

Israel’s diplomacy these days is intriguing.

No serious sanctions are being taken against Israel by the UK and US for its (almost certain) involvement in assassination and for the building of more Jewish settlements in the disputed territory of East Jerusalem, but the governments of key allies are clearly miffed by Israeli actions.

Miliband’s expulsion of the Israeli diplomat today led to right-wing nutters in the Israeli Knesset condemning him as antisemitic. Hopefully Mr Miliband, who lost Jewish family members in the Holocaust, doesn’t take these predictably obnoxious rantings too seriously.

I wondered what British pro-Israeli blogs made of the situation. My favourite, Harry’s Place, doesn’t have anything on it (yet). Melanie Phillips at the Spectator has a wonderfully mad post (as expected) that decries the UK and US for “grovelling to the enemies of civilisation” and “lynching Israel”. Cuckoo.

Also quite amusingly, the scarily-philosemitic Chas has declared that “We’re all Mossad now”. He hosts a guest post where the author recommends visiting Israel.

Well, I would like to at some point in the future, but I’m now quite concerned that the Israeli secret services will perpetrate ID fraud and I’ll wake up one day to find out that I’ve apparently been involved in a strangling a Hamas commander with dental floss (or something).

All critical friends of Israel (as best friends must be) are surely worried by the actions of the Israeli Government.

Speeches I wish Gordon Brown had made (number 94)

June 29, 2009

I’ve been thinking recently about the comparisions between the Credit Crunch and the post-9/11 crisis in foreign policy, mostly in terms of how leaders have chosen to respond to the emergent situation.

In 2001, the US/UK consensus on foreign policy came to an abrupt end, and leaders – foremost among them Tony Blair – were keen to expound new doctrines to guide the formation of the post-9/11 policy on diplomacy, allies and security.

Surveying the scene less than a month after 9/11, Tony told the Labour Party conference on 2nd October 2001:

This is a moment to seize. The Kaleidoscope has been shaken. The pieces are in flux. Soon they will settle again. Before they do, let us re-order this world around us.

Today, humankind has the science and technology to destroy itself or to provide prosperity to all. Yet science can’t make that choice for us. Only the moral power of a world acting as a community, can.

“By the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more together than we can alone”.

For those people who lost their lives on September 11 and those that mourn them; now is the time for the strength to build that community. Let that be their memorial.

Whatever his faults and whatever the flaws in this “re-ordering” process, this is Tony’s raw leadership quality shining through.

The world needed a new foreign policy for a new age: Tony sought, within a month, to establish its case, to demonstrate that this posed an opportunity and not just a threat, and to establish some clear moral principles around which the new way would be ordered.

So how does Gordon compare?

Personally, I think Gordon has handled the technical detail of holding back the worst of the recession well. I also think that a lot of the blame being laid at his door for the recession happening is unfair.

But all of this assesses Gordon as if he were a mechanic, called in to fix a broken machine. He’s not: he’s a leader. What is really lacking – and is is particularly lacking in comparison to Blair’s approach post-9/11 – is the vision for what is to come next. Indeed, it’s the analysis of what got us here in the first place too.

I’m no speechwriter, but I’d like to have heard something along these lines: (more…)

Protecting Pakistan

April 7, 2009

For my opening post in this fine blog I will take an uncharacteristically serious tone. The situation in Pakistan is worrying, and whilst it has been pushed off the front pages by the economic Armageddon, mistakes made now will cost the world dearly for generations. The assassination of Benazir Bhutto was clearly a signal of just how turbulent the situation had become in that beautiful country. In terms of the impact on the political system, the attacks on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore are arguably more devastating.

We cannot underestimate the importance of cricket for bringing communities together in Pakistan. Teams will be unable to tour there for very many years and this will be a bigger blow for ordinary Pakistanis than we in the West can appreciate. This could well be the biggest victory for the puritans responsible for uprooting Pakistan’s stability.

Our colonial past gives us added responsibilities with this troubled country. It is also a clear example for the use of smart power. The US and the Pakistan government have entirely concurrent aims in respect of the militants. Pakistan is wedded to the belief that the Taleban is essential to protecting its interests in Kashmir and other disputes with India. This view will not be broken overnight. Consistently violating Pakistan’s territorial sovereignty with raids in the ‘Tribal Regions’ will place further pressure on the Pakistani Government. It will also add to any insecurity among the hardliners about the integrity of the borders.

Tragically George Bush’s famous ‘with us or without us’ version of diplomacy has proved devastating for Pakistan. We cannot simply threaten and demand that the Pakistani Government deals with its militants. A secure and lasting peace with India can be forged and this must be a priority for the US. Only then can a concerted campaign against the Taleban ever be supported by the people of Pakistan.