For progressive internationalism

Print edition : March 02, 2002

A call for a New World Order, in tune with changing times, which promotes new global partnerships, crossing ideological frontiers and burying enmities.

SEPTEMBER 11 was seismic, not just for its ominous threat to a way of life taken for granted by people the world over, regardless of wealth, politics, nationality, race or faith. Its aftermath has also opened up the prospect of an entirely New World Order based upon 'progressive internationalism' which promotes new global partnerships, crossing old ideological frontiers and burying old enmities.

This, however, remains a prospect, not a certainty. For it is far from certain that all those countries that signed up for the international action against Al Qaeda will also sign up for a broader progressive agenda. Furthermore, there are still elements in the United States who want to act unilaterally rather than multilaterally, in isolation from, rather than in cooperation with, other nations.

Which way it goes is to some extent in our hands. As the only state that is a member of the G-8, the European Union (E.U.), the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and the Commonwealth, and with a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, the United Kingdom can play a pivotal role in world affairs.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair inspects a guard of honour on his arrival in Lunghi airport near Freetown in Sierra Leone on February 9. In 2000, British troops intervened in support of the United Nations peacekeepers to prevent the country's government from being overthrown by rebels.-STEFAN ROUSSEAU/AP

Prime Minister Tony Blair's leadership has already shown that governments like ours can be crucial. But only if we understand the new global politics. And only if we choose to engage in that global politics in a positive and practical manner. If we choose the alternative - sitting back cynically, predicting gloom and doom, from the comfort of an armchair or a rhetorical pose - we will miss this opportunity.

That is the stance of the 'rejectionist Left', which seems trapped in a time warp. The fall of the Berlin Wall triggered a huge shake of the international kaleidoscope. Subsequent events have continued to shake it. As the pieces now begin to fall into new configurations, we are living through a defining period. New geopolitical changes are afoot and we can no longer look at the world through an East/West prism.

Russia, together with China, has backed the U.S.-led international action against terrorism in Afghanistan. Russia is also seeking a partnership with NATO and the E.U. and is negotiating to join the World Trade Organisation (WTO). China has recently requested courses in Britain for thousands of its public officials to be trained in modern administration.

These are extraordinary changes, and if the Left is about anything, surely it is about embracing change and pressing for more of it, rather than being trapped in the past attempting to reject it.

Instead, we should embrace 'progressive internationalism'. When Britain and its allies saved the people of Kosovo from ethnic cleansing and genocide in 1999, Tony Blair, in a crucial speech in Chicago, called for a progressive new approach to 'humanitarian intervention' - a call subsequently endorsed by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

Take the case of Sierra Leone. Who could honestly and credibly object to British troops intervening in 2000 in support of U.N. peacekeepers to prevent a legitimate government from being destroyed by rebels whose speciality was chopping off the limbs of babies in their way?

THE truth is that the people of Sierra Leone were desperate for us to go in and save them from a bunch of vicious thugs. And the truth is that our intervention there - as in Bosnia, Kosovo, East Timor, Macedonia and, yes, Afghanistan - was necessary.

And it was successful within what was practically deliverable in dangerous and difficult conditions. Of course there is a long way to go in each of these cases, and the predicament of each remains far from ideal. But our intervention promoted human rights, and international peace and security, just as surely as non-intervention would have undermined these. Ironically, those on the rejectionist Left have ended up joining forces with Ian Duncan Smith and the Conservative Right who do not like progressive internationalism either.

They ignore the new terrain. Rather than classic wars between states, or even progressive revolutions against corrupt old orders, we have new phenomena. Wars like those in Sierra Leone, Angola and the Congo are waged, not for noble causes, but for money and minerals, to buy arms, or to grab personal power. States that have failed, like Afghanistan, are dominated by terrorist cliques. Whole populations are brutalised by tyrants like Saddam Hussein or Slobodan Milosevic. Genocides as in Rwanda. Or ethnic cleansing as in the Balkans.

Where are the apologies from those who relentlessly predicted reckless U.S. escapades, failure and mayhem? Instead, on Afghanistan, I still see banners saying 'Stop the War'. No admission that life - though very far from perfect - is already better for the people of Afghanistan than the death, persecution and deprivation from which they suffered for so long.

It is no good that this anti-interventionist part of the rejectionist Left is condemning, on principle, in advance, and in a knee-jerk fashion any such action just because the U.S. is leading it. Surely we should be asking whether the proposed action is the best thing to do. Or maybe even the least worst thing to do?

And being a steadfast ally of the U.S. does not mean being a patsy. Otherwise how, under this Labour government, could Britain have been able to develop good relations with Iran, Syria and Cuba; reopen an embassy in Libya; and establish diplomatic relations with North Korea? Or stand up for the Kyoto Treaty on climate change? On the contrary, being an ally gives us real influence, which is no less effective because it is deployed in private and rarely generates headlines.

So the anti-interventionist Left is politically bankrupt. But they are unfortunately not the only ones to be so. There is another wing of the rejectionists, the so-called anti-globalisers such as George Monbiot who present themselves as the 'green Left' but are actually the 'anti-trade Left'? Their target is globalisation, which they seem to want to abolish. They reject any progressive multilateral initiatives to regulate trade, or to reform the international financial architecture, because these are not perfect.

But, despite all the problems it generates, globalisation is a force that does not allow the luxury of saying 'stop, I want to get off'. It is impossible to stop the Internet, satellite television and telecommunications, impossible to ban air travel or pop culture, the global mobility of trade, investment and currency flows. Moreover, the anti-globalisers appear to be content for Westerners like them to enjoy the Internet, trade and travel, while denying these very benefits of globalisation to the developing world.

Globalisation is a fact of life and the real question is altogether different: 'What sort of globalisation do we want and how can we get it?'

A look at the Left's reaction to industrialisation in the early 19th century is instructive. Like globalisation today, industrialisation then was also a fact of life with some damaging side-effects. And today's rock throwing militants who trash McDonalds are the modern equivalents of the Luddites who trashed factory machines. But both are and were minorities. The majority in the early 19th century formed friendly societies and trade unions - the origins of the modern Left and socialist movement.

There is the same split in the anti-globalisation movement today - between the balaclava rock-throwers with their nihilist ideology on the one hand and Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, Drop the Debt, Jubilee 2000 on the other. Two centuries ago, the former would have been Luddites, the latter the embryonic Labour movement. A comparison also between failure and success: like the Luddites, the balaclava boys are in the long term irrelevant.

WHILE the Genoa G-8 Summit last July was being besieged by violent elements on the outside, the voice of Africa's poor was being heard for the first time inside. At the insistence of Britain's Labour Prime Minister, leaders from South Africa and Nigeria were invited to press their case for debt relief, fair trade and investment. A case supported by tens of thousands of peaceful protesters also in Genoa. And a case first expressed loudly and clearly by purposeful campaigners at the Birmingham G-8 Summit in 1998 - proof that the Left can succeed through protest which is targeted and effective, not narcissistic and violent. Yet what did George Monbiot write during the Genoa Summit? That the G-8 leaders were the last people to cancel poor country debt because they had created it. Who did he think could cancel debt, then? The protesters?

Progressive internationalists should unite with the many non-governmental organisations who are now preaching 'global justice' rather than 'anti-globalisation'. For our task is to master globalisation in the interests of the poor and not just the rich; in the interests of protecting our environment and not degrading it; in the interests of increasing the sum of world prosperity and ensuring a more equitable distribution of it; in the interests of the many and not just the few.

While many people are benefiting from globalisation, too many countries and people are being left behind. One in five of the world's population live in desperate poverty, without adequate food, access to clean water or sanitation, and with no education or access to healthcare. Over 90 per cent, or 530 million, Africans outside South Africa have no access to electricity. Amidst extraordinary technological and material advance, this is a moral outrage. But it is also a threat to the stability of the world. In an interdependent world, there can be no security for any of us without greater global social justice.

That is why we need to build on the tremendous progress this government has made on the international development agenda under Clare Short. An increased aid budget - up 45 per cent in real terms over the Conservative record - with all of that aid now focussed on the reduction of poverty. A 100 per cent debt write-off for countries indebted to Britain where the proceeds will be spent on the reduction of poverty. Huge investments in education and healthcare in developing countries. Also Gordon Brown's 'Marshall Aid Plan' for increasing aid by $50 billion a year together with his new agenda for global economic justice.

We are also championing a fairer international trading system that gives more trading opportunities for poor countries through the WTO. China is now in the WTO. Russia wants to join. With Europe a key influence, the last WTO Summit in Doha launched, not a neo-liberal trade round but one aimed explicitly at opening up rich markets to poor countries. The WTO, far from the caricature of anti-globalisers, is based upon the principle of one country-one vote. So the developing world, allied to progressive governments such as ours, can achieve reform. It is in any case much better to have a rule-based trading system than a free for all of national (that is, rich country) economic power.

Protectionism, whether through European common agricultural policy subsidies or U.S. barriers to Indian textiles, damages development. Totalling $300 billion, agricultural subsidies in the rich world are equivalent to the entire wealth of Africa. Only a rejectionist Left could prefer protectionism. Properly regulated through the WTO, free trade can empower developing economies.

SO the question is, how can we build on the international unity following September 11 to create a New World Order shaped by our values - of democracy, human rights, environmental protection, equality and justice, and the strong sense of solidarity and 'community' of which Tony Blair spoke in his Brighton speech in 2001? Or will it be shaped by a quite different agenda driven by hawks on Capitol Hill, let off the hook by rejectionists and cynics worldwide?

In promoting this New World Order we will need to knit together our 'foreign' objectives with our 'domestic' ones, because the global interest is becoming the national interest, as several examples illustrate. Britain's climate has been changing markedly because of global warming. The demand for drugs on our streets helps feed instability in countries such as Afghanistan, which in turn helps feed organised crime in Britain. Health hazards such as AIDS (Acquired Imm-une Deficiency Synd-rome) know no national boundaries: two-thirds of British AIDS victims are infected while travelling in African countries whose own health systems, professional classes and economies are being savaged by the plague.

In today's world there is no such thing as 'abroad': we are all interconnected. It is therefore in Britain's national self-interest to promote the Left's values of freedom, democracy, social justice and economic modernisation. Promoting our values enhances our prosperity and reinforces our security, by making the world a safer place in which to live, travel and carry on trade. And we defend human rights and democracy for other people because we demand them for ourselves.

Traditionally, foreign policy has not prioritised human rights. Instead, security, stability and trade have been its watchwords. But under globalisation, human rights are a condition for stability and also for prosperity. September 11 showed that they are conditions for security too. Regimes that govern by fear and repression are ultimately unstable. Nor will they achieve the creativity and the innovation essential for successful knowledge-based economies in this new century. In that sense, human rights make humans rich. And so they also help defeat the poverty and alienation in which terrorism can breed.

The Labour government is criticised for not doing more in every country where human rights are under attack. But because we cannot do everything it does not mean that we should do nothing. We should reject the cynical view that, since we cannot make the world perfect, we should stop trying to make it better. We cannot put everything right, but we can make a difference.

So what is progressive internationalism? It promotes global justice, human rights, conflict resolution and environmental sustainability, and it has three main features. First, we are not nationalists. That is why we support the U.N., the WTO, NATO and the E.U. Second, we are multilateralists, not unilateralists. That is why we play an active and leading role in supporting international treaties on nuclear, biological and chemical weapons and press all other countries to do the same.

Third, we are interventionists, not rejectionists. We believe that it is our duty to do what we can to deter aggression and attacks on liberty by whatever means will make a difference. Ideally that is done through constructive engagement and creative diplomacy. But ultimately it could be by military muscle, which is collective, proportionate, likely to achieve its objective and carried out in accordance with international law.

So we want a strong, efficient, responsive U.N. that can build a consensus among its members and can deal decisively to settle disputes, prevent conflicts and keep the peace. But the developing world must have some ownership of the intervention driven by countries such as ours with much greater resources and power. For instance, peacekeeping operations in Africa require a regional socket into which the international community can plug. African ownership of peace agreements is necessary - whether in Sierra Leone or in the Congo - for international deployment to be effective. That is why we are working with countries such as Nigeria in the west African regional group ECOWAS - the Economic Community of West African States - and with South Africa in the Southern African Development Community, to enhance their defence and conflict prevention capabilities.

The U.N. also has a key role to play in meeting one of the most sinister threats facing us today - the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. The Labour government has taken a leading role in negotiations for a compliance protocol for the biological weapons convention and to ensure that the chemical weapons convention is properly implemented. We led the way to achieve an unprecedented agreement with the new agenda coalition of non-nuclear states, enabling us and the four other nuclear weapons states to pledge (at the Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference that took place in April-May 2000 in New York) to work for the complete elimination of nuclear weapons.

We shall continue to press for further, deep cuts in the nuclear arsenals of the U.S. and Russia, for entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and for negotiations on a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty.

However, as this is not a safe or perfect world, nations have the right to protect their people, and British defence equipment can help them to do so. The Labour government has made arms exports more accountable and transparent than in almost any other country with annual reports detailing the licences that we have agreed. We established for the first time a tough code blocking exports of arms for either internal repression or external aggression. An E.U. arms code is doing the same thing, and we initiated it.

OUR policy has not been perfect: for instance, we got the sale of Hawk jets to Robert Mugabe wrong and had to reverse it. But we have also led the way to ban landmines across the world, ban the sale of torture equipment, and ban small arms going to conflict zones.

By deploying the E.U.'s influence and huge resources, its potential as a catalyst for progressive change, we can promote an international agenda of which the Left should be proud. An empowering agenda to fight poverty, re-distribute wealth and prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction. An agenda that recognises that there is no security at home without freedom, stability and good governance abroad, and that human needs must no longer be met by treating the environment as a free resource to plunder at will.

This agenda needs to be promoted in Europe and by Europe, through the U.N., the G-8, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the Commonwealth - and, yes, through NATO, too. The Johannesburg Summit on Sustainable Development in August 2002 is crucial. Such multilateral diplomacy is difficult and often frustrating. Progress tends to be incremental, not dramatic. But when progress can be achieved, it brings wider benefit for more people than action by one country alone can ever secure. Multilateral diplomacy also needs prodding and pushing by protest that is purposeful rather than rejectionist.

This presents a challenge above all to the Left - a challenge to redefine our purpose and our role in a way that transcends some of the old lynchpins of nation-state politics. Arguments about the precise size of the public sector, the level of taxation, spreading wealth and opportunity remain vital. They are arguments around which the British Left in the past has largely defined itself. But they are dwarfed by the sheer scale of both today's global threats and today's global opportunities. The new global politics is shaping a new agenda for humankind, arguably as important for the Left as the industrialisation from which the modern Left first sprang in the 19th century.

In this century our task must be to shape our global economy and society on a global scale, just as in the last century we tried to shape national economies and societies on a national scale. Our national agenda was and remains to make economic forces work for everyone rather than simply for an elite or a small class; to establish high minimum standards of welfare and public services; and to entrench human rights and democracy. Now, in this century, we need to do the same internationally, through the internationalisation of socialism or social democracy. But this can only be achieved through building and working within international institutions such as the U.N. and the E.U., just as at a national level the Left created and worked through the institutions of representative democracy.

Our progressive internationalism should be a project for the globalisation of responsibility around which everyone on the Left could unite - from Greenpeace militants to Labour Ministers, even if we respect the different roles each quite properly plays. We must try to unite on such a new agenda, because it is the biggest challenge of our times. And we must do so as 'all or something people', not 'all or nothing people'.

Peter Hain is Britain's Minister for Europe and Member of Parliament from Neath. He is the author of The End of Foreign Policy? (Fabian Society, 2001).

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