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Home > Politics

More Horlicks, vicar?

14 July 2003

While we wait for a copy of the new Downing Street flannel, a few thoughts on what we know so far.

This document, described as a "draft communiqué" by Sky News and as a "Downing Street document" by the Independent on Sunday was given to the heads of "responsible" states gathering for a Third Way conference funded by the sultan of Brunei, KPMG, British Airways, Citigroup and Price Waterhouse Coopers.

According to the IoS, the section giving Gerhard Schröder a Kopfschmerzen is this bit:

"Where a population is suffering serious harm, as a result of internal war, insurgency, repression or state failure, and the state in question is unwilling or unable to halt or avert it, the principle of non-intervention yields to the international responsibility to protect."

Schröder - and anyone with a pinch of sense - sees hazards in giving carte blanche to a random bunch of Third Way/Christian Right countries to invade and occupy any mineral-rich country they fancy. (On the other hand, this would avoid having to make up stuff about 45 minutes and Nigerian uranium and so on in the future, so at least we'd be lied to less.)

There's nothing wrong with the paragraph itself, though. When it appears in the 2001 document The Responsibility to Protect: Report of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty, it seems far less terrifying.


This isn't surprising, nestling as it does at the Canadian International Development Research Centre site among articles on sustainable energy sources, reducing food miles and benefiting organic farmers, Paez indians using laptops to fight their oppression, und so weiter. Not very Third Way. No growth, see? Goddamn UnAmerican, some of that talk. "Community development"? Sounds like "cells" to me.

Anyway, when The Responsibility to Protect says the same thing--

"Where a population is suffering serious harm, as a result of internal war, insurgency, repression or state failure, and the state in question is unwilling or unable to halt or avert it, the principle of non-intervention yields to the international responsibility to protect."

--it's talking about something quite different to a Third Way posse. It is abundantly clear on this:

"There is no better or more appropriate body than the United Nations Security Council to authorize military intervention for human protection purposes. The task is not to find alternatives to the Security Council as a source of authority, but to make the Security Council work better than it has." (my emphasis)

The Downing Street document, by contrast, proposes that world leaders act "in a manner consistent with the objectives and principles of the United Nations charter".

No doubt, Downing Street has been assiduous in acknowledging who it's using for its patchwork approach to paperwork this time. Once bitten, and all that. But borrowing has never really been the problem here, other than one of etiquette. (This argument is elaborated in the Feb 7th The Friday Thing where we reveal the dodgy dossier authors.)

The problem is that if you import little scrips and scraps from documents, regardless of the context and whether you agree with the author, your job is one of rhetoric. You've already made a decision, and now you're "making a case" for it.

But why not just tell us what the original reason is? There ought to be no need to borrow convincing-sounding phrases after the event, especially from sources which don't back up your conclusions. If you've already convinced yourself, just tell us that. Because any post-hoc soft soap is a form of dishonesty.


(ps: This thought is far less important than the death and destruction the document is justifying in advance. But imagine if you'd worked on an independent commission on human rights, peace and humanitarian aid, and found that your hard work was being used to justify the West waging the kind of rights-revoking, harrowing war we've just had a taste of - you'd have to feel at least narked? Amnesty, the Red Cross, NGOs in general: you'd better get used to that feeling. "Coalition occupy Cuba after reading Amnesty report: 'we came for the justice and we stayed for the rebuilding contracts', says Bush".)

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