Monday, 6 June 2011

A time for a little local regime change

Craig Murray writing in Sunday's Independent challenges Liberal Democrats on their conduct of foriegn policy. In his blog he publishes the article as he submitted it to the newspaper. The key difference is the passage on Libya which he added at the Indy's suggestion. Although the article is about whether the Lib Dems were having a discernible impact on Foreign Policy or whether it was indistinguishable from New Labour the bit on Libya seems to me important. He writes:

It is now impossible credibly to argue that Nato action in Libya is still within the scope of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973. Its objective has not been referred to by any British minister for many weeks. UNSCR 1973 has "the aim of facilitating dialogue" that would lead to reforms towards a peaceful and sustainable solution. Yet we now have a bald admission by General 

Sir Richard Dannatt that killing Muammar Gaddafi is a direct coalition objective. If "dialogue" is impossible and regime change becomes the objective, that requires a new and different resolution. There is no such resolution, and it is arguable that the contempt of David Cameron and Nick Clegg for international law exceeds that of Blair in its brio.

A BBC reporter said yesterday that British Apache helicopters were "mopping up pockets of pro-Gaddafi resistance in the East". To justify that as "protecting civilians" is an Orwellian stretch that should stick in the gullet of any genuine liberal. Gaddafi is an obnoxious dictator. So was Saddam Hussein. That does not make war for regime change legal. Mr Clegg was reported as having reminded the Conservatives in Cabinet that the UN resolution does not authorise regime change. Either that was just spin to pacify Lib Dem activists or this is yet another coalition battle Clegg has lost.

I have always been anxious about mission drift in this conflict and have written about it here before. Our campaign against the Iraq war was not predicated on believing Sadam was a good guy but rather that it was illegal. In common with Liberals in Briatin over a long period we want to bring about a time when military conflict between nations is replaced by binding and enforceable law between nations. That is why Liberals in the inter war years strived to set up international institutions to solve disputes, that is why we support the Court in the Hague.

Graham Allen the Labour MP for Nottingham has voiced many of the concerns about where this policy is leading and whether either Parliament or the UN sanctioned the action that is now taking place. The exchange with General Dannatt that Craig Murray refers to took place on Radio 4's Today programme in debate with Graham Allen (you can still catch it here: ) He repeated similar views on Channel 4 News but sadly without the added emphasis that Dannatt's crass contribution provided

Craig Murray's wider point is worth returning to at a later stage because his central thesis is sadly persuasive. Since Gladstone a 'moral' or 'ethical'Foreign Policy has been a central element of the Liberal approach. It has led us to campaign on Vietnam, Rhodesia, Biafra , Aparthied etc.

This is not to reject the doctrine of Responsibility to Protect as a proper policy in the context of International Law but rather it is to insist that we cannot rip up UN resolutions in the Cavalier fashion that General Dannatt advocates by 'interpreting them ' to mean the opposite of what they obviously do mean. In all this we look to Jeremy Browne our Foreign Office Minister to fight our corner. Mr Browne has the distinction of appearing near the bottom of every poll undertaken amongst Lib Dem members about the effectiveness of our Ministers. Indeed it is my hunch that when the next poll is taken only Paul Burstow will be less well regarded .

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