“What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the cold war, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: that is, the endpoint of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalisation of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.” (Francis Fukuyama)
Since the end of the cold war, Liberal democracy as we know it has been almost universally championed as the ideal endpoint for all nation states. Colonising nations engineered their colonies to mimic this form of government under the notion that it is somehow more civilised, more ‘modern’ than anything these countries previously had. In truth, the ‘modernity’ of nation-states and Liberal Democracy is an idea that was profoundly and deliberately manufactured by imperialism, partly to justify it.
Nowadays, the model is still championed, but Britain and the USA’s reaction to revolts in the Middle-East highlight contradictions within. We celebrate, on moral and ethical grounds, the liberation of the people, the triumph of democratic values, yet for years and years we have courted dictators and tyrants for economic benefit. Throughout history, Britain’s foreign policy credentials in terms of morality are shockingly low. How can we continue to maintain this paradox? To pretend to promote and influence the adoption of liberal democracy abroad, and yet continue to embark on foreign policy initiatives that are – sometimes openly – not rooted in values or morality and undermining the pursuit of liberal democracy. Even worse, is the smugness we feel when watching the Egyptian revolution – they’re catching up with us; they’re realising what’s best. In fact, the struggle of the Egyptians was as much a struggle against the West’s economic support of Mubarak, as against the man himself (whether they realised it or not).
Last week, David Cameron travelled around the Middle East shamelessly promoting the sale of British arms to the very governments who undermine every single aspect of ‘Liberal Democracy’. This example is only the latest of the hypocrisy that has defined British foreign policy for years under both Labour and Conservative governments – a hypocrisy that is rarely ever acknowledged by the mainstream press. Few people know of what happened to the small Island of Diego Garcia in 1966, under Harold Wilson’s Labour Government. There, the residents of the island, who had been there for generations, were forcibly evacuated from their homes in order to set the Island up as a military base for the USA. The inhabitants were given minimal help and many were left homeless and helpless. This incident was kept quiet from the British public and even from MPs for years. In light of this, maybe we ought to rethink the meaning of the word ‘democracy’ before we get on our high horse about it. The west’s approach to the Israel-Palestine conflict highlights further how self-interest takes precedence over morality in worldly affairs. Rarely is the daily suffering of Palestinians ever properly acknowledged by politicians, as British and American governments continue to supply arms to Israel.
Former foreign secretary Robin Cook once spoke not of “ethical foreign policy” but “a foreign policy with an ethical dimension.” This may seem like a shameless admission of self-interested foreign policy, but personally, I sometimes struggle to see where the “ethical” dimension comes in at all.