Thursday, September 20, 2007

Our Values

There are many people who believe that the stated priority given to promoting freedom and democracy in the Middle East is just so much hot air designed to obfuscate the real motivations behind British foreign policy.

Nowhere is this clearer than in the British government's involvement and support for the BAE deal to sell 72 Typhoon fighter jets to the Saudi government. This billion pound arrangement to sell highly sophisticated military aircraft to a regime which is corrupt, non-democratic, staunchly authoritarian, a serial abuser of human rights and a regular practitioner of torture cannot be explained by reference to the rhetoric of the "war" on terror. It can only be explained through the prism of narrow national interest considerations coupled with an admission that the promotion of democracy is not the dominant foreign policy influence claimed by the rhetoric.

There are those who will quite happily agree with this assessment and argue that it is nevertheless right to support this deal precisely because governments should pursue their narrow national interest above all other considerations. I don't have any complaint about that; disagreement yes, but no complaint. There is an entirely separate argument to be had as to the best way to promote the national interest. I'd argue that this deal is likely to be damaging to the national interest, particularly in the longer term,. I'd further argue that decisions taken in pursuit of the national interest are often based on a narrow short term views and are often harmful in the longer term (politicians generally don't do long term very well).

I do have a complaint when the government insists that it is absolutely committed to promoting democracy and opposing oppressive regimes and refuses to accept that selling powerful military equipment to a regime like the House of Saud flatly contradicts that assertion. The result is that the entire premise of the foreign policy debate as framed by the government is built on a myth. This is not only starkly hypocritical but it also effectively negates the ability of the people to meaningful debate foreign policy with the government.

It is, ironically, entirely undemocratic.

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