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Three lessons from North Africa

by Graham Watson MEP
March 10, 2011

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: democracys 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. Polands 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 Parliaments 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.

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March 10, 2011

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