Trading human rights for prosperity

indycoverWe probably shouldn’t be surprised at the news that the Permanent Secretary at the Foreign Office has declared that the ‘prosperity agenda’ is now more important than human rights in British foreign policy. We’re the country that hosts DSEI every year, after all, where it’s the weight of your wallet rather than your conscience that gets you attendance. Meanwhile, selling weapons to one of the world’s most repressive theocracies – a country actively encouraging wars in the Middle East – is worth more than a billion pounds a year, so we’re all somewhat aware that our supposedly ethical foreign policy is anything but.

It’s rare for someone – especially a higher-up in a department known for communicating through nuance – to be so blatant about admitting the truth, though. Our governments like to cling to the fig leaf that while we might be doing things that, when looked at from a certain angle, could appear to be somewhat bad, we’re doing them for entirely the right reasons and any negative side effects were regrettable but shouldn’t be allowed to distract from the useful process of engagement that these deals facilitated. The one restraint on the amorality of full-blown realpolitik was the need for it to be able to don a convincing human face afterwards to explain away its consequences.

But why should we be concerned with a little honesty about our foreign policy? It’s not as if Britain using military and diplomatic strength to secure dodgy trade deals is anything new, is it? Aren’t we just admitting the Augustinian nature – please make it ethical, just not yet – of our previous stances?

There are two problems with it. First, even if we never fulfilled our stated aims, I’d rather fail to reach a noble goal than not even attempt it and second, it shows just what contempt this government has for the concept of human rights. You can be sure that a civil servant wouldn’t be talking about their relative unimportance unless that was the signal being sent down from on high, but this government’s issue with human rights isn’t one of indifference, it’s active antipathy.

This is a government that’s talked about replacing international charters of rights with specifically British ones. The point of human rights is that they belong as of right to everyone, not just those who happen to be on a certain group of islands at a certain time, and replacing human rights with British rights abandons that, even before you consider that this is a government happy to strip people of citizenship and leave them stateless. Now, add to that the revelation that the Government considers the ‘prosperity agenda’ to be of much more importance than human rights, and you start to wonder just what their ‘British Bill of Rights’ might contain. If you can limit by geography and accident of birth, why not make everything conditional on not threatening anyone’s ‘prosperity’ too?

No, that would be entirely too ridiculous. It wouldn’t be anyone’s prosperity that would be protected, only those already doing well. After all, if trade is more important than human rights, maybe the only rights we’ll have will be the ones we can afford to buy? The quality of justice you receive is now determined by how much you’re able to pay for it, so the precedent’s there.

More and more, it feels like we’re living in the early days of a pariah nation. Worried yet?

(story and image via Barney Farmer on Twitter)

Worth Reading 162: A season of baseball

Philip K. Dick was right: we are becoming androids – “The deep problem, for Dick, wasn’t that mechanisms might become more manlike. It’s that men might be reduced to mechanisms.”
Why I Just Cancelled My Direct Debit To The Electoral Reform Society – Andrew Hickey on how their shilling for online voting has lost them his support.
Because good people doing bad things does not happen only in sepia – Crooked Timber’s Maria Farrell on the flaws in Britain’s defence and security policies, highlighted by Philip Hammond’s recent speech.
China’s Tensions With Dalai Lama Spill Into The Afterlife – The Dalai Lama says he may not reincarnate. Showing an unexpected interest in theological matters, the Chinese Government and Communist Party insist he will.
The lost key to the crown jewels – How English cricket was lost to terrestrial television, and then kept away from it, no matter how good for it the return might be.

The William Hague guide to truly open government

Despite the assurances from Blair and Mandelson, Conservative shadow foreign secretary William Hague said that ministers should now release all documentation of their meetings with Gaddafi and his son, to prove beyond doubt that the fate of Megrahi had not been part of a deal.

So can we assume from this that if the Tories win the next election and Hague becomes Foreign Secretary, we can expect him to release every bit of documentation on everything he does in the Foreign Office to prove beyond doubt he’s not making any deals we might not like? I look forward to this new entirely open era of foreign policy, though I do wonder if any other country’s representatives will want to talk with Hague about anything more substantive than the weather.

EDIT: Sorry, forgot to put the link to the original story in. Must be a Sunday morning thing, but it’s there now.

Shoulda, woulda, coulda

I suppose I should be glad that my gym gives out free copies of the Daily Mail, because if they hadn’t, I’d never have known that they were posing the question of ‘Should Britain invade Zimbabwe?

For those of you wondering what might happen if Britain was to invade Zimbabwe, you’ll be glad to hear that everything goes wonderfully well and the whole thing’s over within a couple of hours, as soon as the Paras have arrested Mugabe and Trevor Phillips has been brought in to run the country instead. No, that last bit is seriously in there, which perhaps indicates that Richard Littlejohn is trying to earn himself a few extra pennies by working as a sub-editor on Friday nights.

Of course, the Mail knows this invasion would be easy because it has an expert source advising it on the feasibility of an invasion of Zimbabwe. Yes, occupying a similar place in the rankings of global military experts as Trevor Phillips does in the list of ‘people likely to be placed in charge of an African country’, the Mail has found ‘Graham’, a former Rhodesian SAS officer who wins this week’s Ahmed Chalabi Flowers and Cheering Crowds Award for telling us that invading Zimbabwe would be ‘a piece of piss’.

Of course, the reason for this piece of bizarre Daily Mail war-gaming – and, perhaps, why they’re not as ridiculously gung-ho about the idea of sending Our Boys off to tackle Mugabe as you might have expected them to be – is Tony Blair telling the world that retirement hasn’t dulled his desire for invading small and seemingly easily-defeatable countries. (As long as it’s not him doing any of the actual invading, of course). Showing that his talent for encapsulating the banality of evil in a simple soundbite hasn’t left him either, he tells us:

My idea of foreign policy is that if you can do something, you should do it.

So let us hope that Kim Jong-Il never decides to take a crash course in the Blair Method of Foreign Relations, where it seems possessing an ability requires it use regardless of other considerations. But, I’m sure that when the historians of the future look back on the last decade or so, that will be yet another utterance from Tony that will generate year upon year of heated debate as they wonder just how a man who could utter such statements was ever taken seriously.

But, we can hope for one thing – if Blair truly believes that those who can should, then he surely can’t complain when a country that can arrest him and put him on trial does so. Indeed, given his words, he’ll likely be disappointed with them if they choose not to do so.