Three lessons can be learned from the popular democratic
uprisings which should inform our policy from now on.
The first is that it is no good preaching the values of democracy
if we arm its enemies. Having armed Gadhafi and other autocrats
there is a logical case to be made for arming the protesters,
particularly if we fail to live up to the ‘duty to protect’
laid down in the UN Charter: but this policy should be pursued
only in extremis. Most important, however, is to stop arms
sales to autocratic regimes wherever they are: democracy’s
appeal is not limited to north Africa, nor the temptation
to beleaguered autocrats to use arms against their own people.
Second, let us act now to devise a common EU foreign policy
which denies the leaders of autocratic governments and their
immediate families access to our countries for private purposes:
they should not be allowed to launder their wealth through
our banking systems or property markets, educate their children
in our schools or take private holidays in our resorts.
Neither of the above policies would cost us more than we
can easily afford.
Third, we should move rapidly to recognise transitional interim
governments (or whatever victorious protesters call themselves)
as legitimate (though not necessary the sole legitimate) representatives
of their peoples as long as they remain committed to democracy;
and we should cease to recognise their oppressors. Poland’s
‘Solidarity’ was recognised long before it had any legitimate
democratic foundation. We should take active steps to make
contact with the leaders of the north African popular uprisings
and ensure that our diplomats keep in touch with prominent
dissidents in undemocratic countries wherever they serve.
These three steps would enhance respect for democracy, send
a signal to those who do not respect its rules and put us
on the right side of history.
Graham Watson is a Member of the European Parliament’s
Foreign Affairs Committee and Chairman of its delegation for
relations with India. He is a Vice President of the European
Liberal Democrat and Reform Party.