Alexander on Arab Spring

Shadow Foreign Secrtary Douglas Alexander spoke at RUSI recently and reaffirmed Labour’s support for the intervention in Libya.

In Libya, Labour supported the action to enforce UN Resolutions 1970 and 1973. There is no doubt that the Libyan campaign took place under the long shadow cast by the decision to authorise military action in Iraq in 2003. The resulting loss of life and trust from that conflict means that across the country there is real and enduring scepticism about military intervention. But the decision to protect civilians from certain slaughter was, I believe, the right one

In a wide ranging review of events in the region there was no mention of the Russian/China veto of Security Council resolution on Syria.  He steered clear of specifics like this. A theme of the speech was his perception of a switch from pessimism to optimism, driven by the fact that the region is growing younger, warning that this might turn if the two state solution does not emerge in Palestine.

He put distance between himself and government by attacking its general approach, which was characterised by the Foreign Affairs Select Committee as

as being based on “its declared wish to build strengthened bilateral relationships with emerging powers outside the traditional Euro-Atlantic area, and the increased emphasis it was giving to commercial interests in the UK’s foreign relations.”

Alexander says

I was sceptical that such an approach would be sufficient before the Arab Spring – now it looks less and less relevant to the challenges we face.

He sets out three steps for consolidating democratic progress in North Africa: ‘radical moves to open European markets to Egypt, Tunisia and a free Libya would benefit European consumers’; ‘address the multilateral system to the challenges facing the region’ including Palestinian statehood; ‘we must address our diplomacy not just to states, but to the peoples of the Arab World’, which means defending resources like the BBC World Service and extending access to the internet and other communication technologies. 

Clearly Labour is constructing an interesting narrative here. One that portrays the Conservatives as doing the right thing in the short run – e.g. ‘protecting civilians’ in Benghazi – but as out of touch with the long term trends and what is needed to encourage deep democracy.

About Jason Ralph

Jason Ralph, Professor of International Relations, University of Leeds
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