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Blair, Arab despots, and the ethical dimension of Britain’s foreign policy

It’s too easy to sneer at those photos of Blair and Gaddafi. It was far better to shake the hand of a despot than to bomb thousands of his country’s innocent inhabitants (though the credit for the rapprochement between Britain and Libya in the wake of the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 probably belongs to Robin Cook). Selling him armoured cars and water cannon, crowd control ammunition, small arms ammunition, tear gas and other irritant ammunition, and sniper rifles, perhaps the ones now being used to pick off mourners at the funerals of peaceful protesters, that’s something else. As is supplying Bahrain despots with similar tools of oppression. Tony Blair was happy to facilitate this trade, even as he was continuing to defend the killing of innocent Iraqi civilians. And his support for his preferred despots continued until the bitter end. Mubarak, you’ll remember, was “immensely courageous and a force for good,” just days before his fall.

The Campaign against Arms Trade (CAAT) also documents arms sales in the last year to Algeria, Egypt and Saudi Arabia as well as Bahrain and Libya. Sarah Waldron Campaigns Coordinator at CAAT said:

Government ministers claim they wish to support open and democratic societies in the Middle East but at the same time are aiding authoritarian regimes and providing the tools for repression. They don’t just approve the sale of this equipment – they actively promote it. There should be an immediate arms embargo – but more importantly we should be asking why these exports were ever licensed in the first place.”

What ever happened to that “ethical dimension” in New Labour’s foreign policy?  Remember what we promised:

Our foreign policy must have an ethical dimension and must support the demands of other peoples for the democratic rights on which we insist for ourselves. The Labour Government will put human rights at the heart of our foreign policy.”

We can’t bring back Robin Cook, but it’s about time we restored that undertaking.

One Comment

  1. Mick Hall says:

    The minute I saw that photo when it first appeared, I new Gaddafi would eventual go. For a man who was originally an opponent of imperialism, to greet one of its main proponents and who has brought terror and death to millions of Arabs was never going to sit well with the Libyan people. For this old brute it was not the end, but it was the beginning of the end.

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