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Promoting Democracy and Human Rights

Part of Points of Order – in the House of Commons at 7:10 pm on 13th October 2008.

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Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind Conservative, Kensington and Chelsea 7:10 pm, 13th October 2008

And to Darfur, and so forth. In cases that my argument does not properly address, there is a spectrum of responses. Military intervention leading to regime change is at one end of the spectrum. There is a whole range of other options available. I do not just mean economic sanctions or diplomatic pressure, but options involving military means.

When I was in government, we imposed a no-fly zone on Iraq. We stopped Iraq persecuting the Kurds. We were able to stop it persecuting the Shi'a. Saddam Hussein had no control over his own airspace. He was emasculated as a power that could show aggression to its neighbours. However, we did not have to invade Iraq to achieve that, and therefore we did not suffer all the terrible consequences that there have been in the past five years. There are options available, but there has been a lack of imagination on the part of the Bush Administration and, I must say, the British Government. There has been a belief that either there should be military intervention involving regime change, or soft power should be used. That quite ignores the spectrum of alternatives available, some of which may involve the use of our military assets.

In the past 20 or 25 years, there has been a huge increase in democracy in the world. It is rightly often mentioned as a matter in which we should take huge pleasure. There has been such an increase in Latin America, central and eastern Europe and many countries of the far east, and that is marvellous. It is significant that all those changes—all these red, orange and purple revolutions—have almost entirely taken place without external intervention, as a result of the determination of the peoples of those countries.

In his book, "The Audacity of Hope", Barack Obama says that:

"there are few examples in history in which the freedom that men and women crave is delivered through outside intervention. In almost every successful social movement of the last century, from Gandhi's campaign against British rule to the Solidarity movement in Poland to the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, democracy was the result of a local awakening."

I am not arguing that the outside world cannot influence events; of course it can. I am arguing against the ridiculous concept of the Bush doctrine and of the Blair Chicago speech—repeated by our current Foreign Secretary, although not with the same emphasis—which says that military intervention is the way in which one achieves internal democratic change in certain countries.

Finally, there is another, highly relevant reason why such intervention will not work—why the Americans cannot, by themselves, create democracy in Iraq. It is a simple question of their staying power. Britain helped to create democracy in India because the Indians knew that we were going to stay there for a very long time. We were in India for 200 years. If one is somewhere for 200 years, of course one changes the culture of a country, affects its options and has a powerful impact on its political development. If, however, as was the case in Afghanistan or Iraq, from the moment we arrive, our objective, supported by public opinion, is to get out as quickly as possible, the domestic population of the country knows it perfectly well. It knows that it has to tolerate us while we are there, but it is only too anxious to see us go, and will then determine its own political destiny.

That is not an argument against human rights or democracy—far from it. It is simply to recognise that we are talking about matters that, rightly, will be determined by the populations of the countries concerned. With the single exception of cases in which there is genocide, I believe that military intervention will do more harm than good. The examples of Kosovo and Iraq are evidence of that. Our Government may in practice have given up such a policy, but they continue to pay lip service to it. I hope that they will recognise that that is not a sustainable position, and will reverse it as soon as possible.

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