For the second time within a year street protests have led to the ousting of an elected leader with active support from Western democracies. Neither Egypt’s Mohammed Morsi or Ukraine’s Viktor Yanukovych were entrenched dictators and there was no evidence that they could not have been removed at the next election by the ballot box. So what now – if not elections and the rule-of-law — constitutes the legitimate overthrow of a government? And should not other corrupt and weak democracies in the developing world now be bracing themselves for this new, accepted manner of changing administrations?
We are beginning to witness the return of the proxy war — whereby rival powers avoid direct conflict by testing strength within weaker states. First came Syria which pits the US against Russia and now Ukraine where blood is being shed over competing influences from Russia and Europe. Elsewhere, and not yet fully unfolded, is unrest in Venezuela and Thailand, both of which have opened themselves to exploitation from outside. And, of course, there’s Egypt. With the exception of Syria, the protests are or were aimed at overthrowing democratically-elected governments and the West’s tacit support for military rule in Egypt flags up a revival of Cold War real-politik.
Sadly, despite Iraq, despite China, despite the Arab uprisings, despite South Sudan, discussion about democracy has barely move in recent years. On March 11th my colleague Nik Gowing is chairing a BBC-Intelligence Squared debate in London One size doesn’t fit all; Democracy isn’t always the best form of government. Three years ago, just as Egypt was erupting, I took part in a similar debate with Intelligence Squared in Hong Kong. Even though much has unfolded in between, the promotional blurb attached to the upcoming debate is so disappointingly naive that its premise needs to be corrected.
Firstly, democracy is not a form of government, and because it is so often described as this laziness tends to set in as soon as elections are held. Democracy is an aspirational benchmark. The system of government is the really tricky part.
Second, Intelligence Squared falsely compares the democratic transitions in Japan and Germany to those in Iraq and Egypt. Germany was given ten years and Japan seven before sovereignty was returned by occupying forces. In Iraq, sovereignty was returned amid high violence just 15 months after the 2003 US invasion. In Egypt a slew of voting followed the February 2011 overthrow of Mubarak in , culminating in an ill-fated presidential election just 16 months later. Little wonder both have failed.
The issue that’s not been mooted is how to manage transition over the time needed to build democratic institutions. That doesn’t even appear to be on the edge of the agenda.
Brahma Chellaney in the The Japan Times argues that a Tokyo-Delhi duet underwritten by the United States can build an Asian power equilibrium and safeguard vital sea lanes in the wider Indo-Pacific region. Click here: Asia’s Emerging Democratic Axis
This has been the US plan since 2001, but it is plagued with challenges, not least India’s unreliability as an ally, and China’s determination to continue to test boundaries.
Both Hitler and Napoleon made the strategic mistake of opening up too many new fronts against different enemies. In recent months, China has chosen to pit itself against Japan, the Philippines, South Korea and the United States and generally test the will of South East Asia on its claims over the South China Sea. So far countries like Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia have stayed quiet. But now China reports that its naval officers have taken part in an oath-taking ceremony to protect soveriegnty around James Shoal or Zengmu Reef claimed by Malaysia — which has played things down by saying that so far there’s been no provocation by China. (NYT http://bit.ly/1eo11tq)
A passage from Hamlet – Act IV, Scene IV — on wars over remote, uninhabited places:-
Captain to Hamlet on being questioned about the military action:- Truly to speak, and with no addition, we go to gain a little patch of ground that hath in it no profit but the name.
Once a month, a military C-130 transport plane leaves an air base in Pingtung in southern Taiwan for the 90 minute flight to Dongsha Island, an outpost 450km away in the northern reaches of the South China Sea. On board are coast guard personnel, Taiwanese officials, marine scientists and supplies…… Dongsha is one of many disputed outposts dotted throughout the South China Sea, controlled by various governments with varying levels of security. Disputes over which country owns which uninhabited reef or island have been simmering for decades. But they have recently flared amid shifting global security dynamics…….MORE
In the past day, I’ve been reading an e-mail trail about the brick kiln workers in the town of Mandal in Rajastan. Much of India’s brick industry is run on bonded and child labour which is illegal. In Mandal, the workers want to organise themselves into a union which is legal. But the police, instead of freeing the children and workers and questioning the owners, have moved against the workers warning them against starting a union. In another area altogether, reports came through from West Bengal of a 20-year-old woman being repeatedly raped on the orders of village elders who run an unofficial parish court. The police and government must have known about this practice. Yet village after village, state after state, the government either takes part in or ignores illegal activities that cause suffering to millions. There are mountains of evidence of institutional human rights abuse on a daily basis in India, yet under its fig-leaf of being the world’s biggest democracy, it seems to get away with it. Is it time to hold India to account?
Have we not learned even a modicum of restraint from the financial crash. This popped up on my AOL screen which appears to be a main stream bank encouraging people to borrow more than they can pay back.
Pay no interest on your debts for two-and-a-half years and get six months interest free on purchases with the Barclaycard Platinum card. Representative 18.9% APR (variable