Ashdown brain trust: Democracy isn't a human right
Also invading places is OK, but nukes aren't
A group of intellectuals, military officers, policemen and retired second-rank politicians have issued an "interim" report laying out their view of what the UK should do to stay secure in coming decades. The assembled heavyweights, curiously, appear to conflict with the UN on the matter of fundamental human rights.
The report is produced by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), one of the heftiest British "progressive" thinktanks. The IPPR put together its security-analysis panel last year , co-chaired by former Labour Defence secretary and NATO chief George Robertson and Paddy Ashdown, one-time MI6 spy, special-forces officer and later Lib Dem chief and UN overlord of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Another notable member is Lord Charles Guthrie, former head of the British armed forces and ex-SAS man.
Apart from the various generals, police chiefs and politicos, the group was lent an IPPR slant by the inclusion of noted peacenik profs Mary Kaldor and Michael Clarke, who both believe that the UK should get rid of its nuclear weapons as an example to others. Shami Chakrabarti, head of the individuals'-rights pressure group Liberty, is also on board.
The one thing that the assembled brains agree on is that Blighty can't make itself safe in a dangerous world by withdrawing from it. The report says that the UK can't insulate itself from migration, climate change, global supply chains and failed states. Rather it should get out and about.
Apparently we're soon to see "the end of the West as the pivotal region in world affairs," though, so we'll have to stop trying to ram democracy down everyone's throats and just decide to get on with China. The authors write:
A range of different strategic partnerships will be necessary with new emerging powers including China, and the creation of a ‘League of Democracies’ at this juncture would be a bad idea. Power redistribution means the end of the Western hegemony in international affairs and Western powers will need to be flexible: it is no longer realistic to expect emerging powers to sign up to exclusively Western-led institutions and practices.
OK, so we don't mind being friends with totalitarian states any more. Fair enough, we already have all our stuff made in China after all, maybe we should stop worrying about the way the Beijing government does its business.
Unfortunately, almost right away the commission emphasises how important it is to make sure you're in the right. Especially so when working internationally to solve problems.
Legitimacy of state action is a strategic imperative in current conditions ... particularly, [this] means reaffirming the UK’s commitment to promoting, protecting and defending fundamental human rights...
Just how Article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights  squares with abandonment of democracy and being chums with China is hard to see - though in fact that passage was probably intended more as a jab at the CIA's foray into waterboarding in recent years.
Then there's a bit about whether it's OK to invade people without a UN resolution. Yes it is, apparently. But the panel makes it clear that it disapproves of the way Iraq was handled, if not the decision to invade.
Internationally, if interventions in the affairs of another state are deemed necessary these should comply with the UN Charter. Where this is not possible because vested interests paralyse the Security Council even in the face of serious human rights violations, a major humanitarian crisis, or a developing threat to international peace and security, then it means any action taken should be proportionate, have a primary regard for the protection of civilians, have a reasonable prospect of success, and have wide support in the international community. It should also only be taken as a last resort...
We therefore call for the development of coherent political objectives within which military strategy and tactics must reside in future operations. This did not happen in Iraq: coalition forces were asked to defeat the Iraqi army and take Baghdad rather than to develop a strategy for the stabilisation of Iraq post-Saddam.
As one might expect with Kaldor and Clarke on board, the report says the UK must work towards "a world free of nuclear weapons". It stops short, however, of recommending unilateral disarmament by the UK. The idea is that the existing nuclear-armed countries should get together and agree to disarm all at once.
[The UK should] contribute to a second, less formal track of diplomatic activity involving former senior officials and policy experts from the [US, UK, France, Russia and China] plus India, Pakistan and Israel, if possible. This would not be easy to put together, but should be attempted and should be aimed at identifying and thinking through the political and strategic issues required for a phased progression to zero nuclear weapons among this group, the representatives of which would cover the eight key nuclear weapons states...
Good luck with that.
Apart from promoting disarmament by the existing nuclear weapon states, and being ready to invade people but only as a last resort, the report's recommendations mostly follow well-trodden paths. Aid, diplomacy, more acronym-munguous international groups and pacts, efforts to open up dialogues between opposing groups, secure energy supplies, climate change, efforts to lessen poverty etc etc.
The panel does get quite aerated about the threat from global plagues, possibly assisted by terrorists using new biotech methods. It thinks that the world and the UK should be much better prepared for the next world pandemic.
It seems likely that a lot of horse-trading went on during the writing of this report, which might explain why it has taken well over a year to produce. General Sir Charles Guthrie, for instance, has put his name to the let's-all-get-rid-of-our-nukes bit, which he almost certainly doesn't believe in, so as to get the peaceniks to agree that it was OK to invade Iraq.
In this respect, the panel members are making a praiseworthy attempt to reach common ground, in the same way they recommend that squabbling international statesmen, tribal leaders and so on ought to. Unfortunately, when it comes to hard action, the same problems often seen in international diplomacy have also surfaced in the IPPR. The list of recommendations is full of woolly talk of "emphasis" and "increased support" - usually meaning UK taxpayer funding - and it advocates the creation of various new tsars, one-stop-shops, quangos and so on. But there's almost nothing in the way of hard numbers or concrete suggestions.
It's possible that these will be forthcoming in the full report, however, to be published next year. For now, those interested can read the interim job in full here (pdf) . ®