Friday, February 15, 2008

‘David Miliband will bomb your country and then shoot your children one by one until you get to mark a ballot paper’

Lile Cassilis, I thought David Miliband’s speech on democracy promotion earlier this week was pretty good.

He got some critical coverage, but the form this took is an interesting prism through which to look at what he actually said. There was a common theme to the media reaction, but it was largely (through dishonesty or ignorance or indifference or hastiness to publish) misconceived.

Adrian Hamilton complained that Miliband was “rejecting the criticism of those who doubt the West's right to impose ways of government on other nations”.

Brendan O’Neill sneered: “'Democracy' helicoptered in from overseas - whether it arrives courtesy of Bush's shock'n'awe or the new PC Milibandian militarism - makes people the passive recipients of western favour rather than free, self-determining individuals.”

Simon Jenkins sighed: “The new interventionism may differ from the old imperialism in not seeking to settle or rule countries. But it is the same in believing that western values can (and should) be imposed on often reluctant states through military occupation.”

And Conor Foley insisted: “No state, or group of states, is permitted to invade another country just because they do not like its system of government.” (Commedably, but somewhat comically, he added: “Perhaps I am relying too much on the extracts of the speech that I have read, since the whole text is not yet on the web.”)

Whatever their differences, the four agreed that Miliband’s proposals for imposing democracy on other countries were wrong.

Except for the small matter that he proposed no such thing. Here are some extracts of the speech:

We cannot impose democratic norms. But we can be clear about the desirability of government by the people and clear that without hubris or sanctimony we can play a role in backing demands for democratic governance and all that goes with it. …
I will argue that we should back demands among citizens for more freedom and power over their lives – whether that is reforming established democracies, or supporting transitions to democracy. …
…I mean not just more elections, but the rule of law and economic freedoms which are the basis of liberal democracy. …
The question, which is rightly raised by the pragmatic critique, is how should promote democracy? …
[First, w]e can and should support the creation of a free media and free debate. …

Second, we have very important, and potentially influential, financial and economic links. … Economic openness can drive political and social change. … 

Third, as a world leader in aid, we can ensure that aid supports democracy and good governance. …
Fourth, the attraction of becoming members of ‘clubs’ such as the European Union, the World Trade Organization, and NATO, can act as a powerful way of establishing democratic norms. …
Fifth and finally, there will be situations where the hard power of targeted sanctions, international criminal proceedings, security guarantees and military intervention will be necessary. …targeted sanctions can send a powerful signal about the legitimacy of a state’s actions, and offer substantive pressure for changes in behavior. … In some cases, sanctions are not enough. In extreme cases the failure of states to exercise their responsibility to protect their own civilians from genocide or ethnic cleansing warrant military intervention on humanitarian grounds.
Paul Collier argues in his forthcoming work on ‘democracy in dangerous places’, that the offer of a security guarantee to a new but fragile government, conditional on them abiding by democratic rules, could create a strong incentive for them to abide by the democratic process. To date, our only experience of security guarantees has been of the sort that NATO provides against external aggression. There are a whole range of reasons why Collier's idea would be difficult. How would you judge which regimes merit the guarantee for instance? How would you avoid perverse incentives? Who would intervene to put down the coup and how would they avoid complicating or exacerbating political divisions? But it is surely right that we consider carefully how best we can support fledgling, fragile democracies

Points one to four are wholly about encouragement of pro-democracy forces (including those promoting the rule of law and freedom more broadly). The fifth point comes to the use of military force, but mentions two very different types of circumstance: in the most relevant one, an elected government in a country with weak state capacity may face the threat of violent overthrow; the suggestion is that the UK and/or others might helpfully send in the armed forces to work with that government, ensuring security on the condition that democracy is upheld. This would be a matter of invitation and assistance, not occupation and imposition.

(The other circumstance in which forcible military intervention may be warranted, is an “extreme” instance of mass bloodshed. Such a move would be to save large numbers of lives rather than to create a new political system; it would be, to borrow Norm’s distinction, with an immediate “remedial” aim rather than a broader “utopian” one. Or, very crudely, it’s the difference between neoconservative and humanitarian interventionist views.)

Miliband certainly doesn’t have a clear view of how “security guarantees” would work, as he admits with his list of potential problems. But his basic principles are sound, and he’s asking the right questions.

David Cameron, who idiotically opines that “you cannot drop a fully formed democracy out of an aeroplane at 40,000 feet,” could learn a lot here. But I’m not sure he’d want to.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think cameron is right on this; his statement pretty much agrees with the Miliband quote you point out.

More here: http://newerlabour.blogspot.com/2008/02/agreeing-with-david-miliband.html

Miller 2.0

Tom Freeman said...

Well, yes, Cameron's statement is technically correct, but it's facile beyond belief.

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Cassilis said...

Spot on Tom - most of the reaction to his speech was knee-jerk nonsense just because it didn't utterly repudiate Blair's Chicago speech in 1999. I suspect Brown would concur with Blair and Miliband on this much to the frustration of labour traditionalists....