I have read the comments on my colleague Baroness D’Souza post concerning Zimbabwe (See her post 22.12.08 below) carefully. I agree with Baroness D’Souza that international politics does not attract much interest on this blog – a pity because it is one of my main interests! I also agree that organisations like the Westminster Foundation can be very helpful.
I would like to put some of the comments on her post in a context that would have made a lot of sense to Greek political philosophers of old. There were attempts by Greek thinkers at that time to categorise governments. So there were democracies, oligarchies, autocracies and so on. I would not suggest that we try and categorise in quite the same way but there is an interesting parallel with dictatorships today.
Although we cannot define an absolute dictatorship most of us recognise them when we see them. They are very hard to change without violence. They are rarely controlled entirely by one man. In the efficient dictatorships there is a structure that maintains his power base. Zimbabwe is in that category. One of the reasons is that the key units of the Zimbabwean army were trained by the North Koreans. The North Korean dictatorship is one of the most brutal in the world and the army is particularly important in maintaining the dictatorship. Key people in the Mugabe’s administration control the army,party and state structure. That is why the South African attempt to get power sharing was almost certain to fail.
There are other recent examples of this problem. Both Iraq and Syria were ruled by the Ba’ath Party which in its very earliest stages had help from the Waffen SS in setting up its organisation. At that time Hitler was trying to cause problems for the British in the middle East. Later Saddam Hussein remodelled some of the party’s structures on those used by his hero Joseph Stalin.
The modern world does face an acutely difficult dilemma in cases like this. We can try and use persuasion or even ‘soft power’ as the EU likes to call it. We can use force and sometimes it will work and sometimes it will not. We can use sanctions which are rarely effective. Or we can say ‘leave it to the people who live under the tyranny’. Leaving aside any moral judgements about our duty to others suffering under a tyranny the modern situation is complicated by the nature of modern weapons. An extreme tyranny that develops nuclear or other similarly powerful weapons is a threat to all which is why the UN has been developing policies and agreements in this area.
I hope this post hasn’t caused even more of you to ‘switch off’ when it comes to international relations! It is a crucial area of policy that will shape all our futures and one of the most difficult to get right.