War is the most unpleasant of things. But all it takes for evil to succeed is for good men to nothing. Gaddafi is evil personified. He was responsible for the greatest mass murder on British soil, the Lockerbie bombings. For years he assassinated opposition leaders that lived overseas, and runs a ruthless centralised regime not so dissimilar to a Soviet model that has bounties placed on the heads of those who write against it. If he is to stay in power he would form an even greater threat to the territorial integrity of the British Isles than before, as a result of predictable terrorist acts as a reaction to the no-fly-zone. Cameron has an opportunity this week to amend the Spring budget to bolster the armed forces, so that any further military action including ground troop deployment is possible.
Britain is a member of the Permanent Five (P5) on the Security Council, thus one of the few states not only responsible for peace and security, but also upholding international law. The latter includes humanitarian law, so that internal civil-matters of states do not move from policing a disturbance to using indiscriminate military force against a mixture of civilian and civilian combatants. The latter is not a legitimate use of state authority in international law, and can only be characterised as mass murder. This is clearly happening in Libya.
To this end Britain has done extremely well, overall, in fulfilling its role as a P5 member over the last two decades. From supporting the territorial integrity of Kuwait, to making up for lost support on humanitarian grounds in the Former Yugoslavia by supporting NATO backed air-strikes. It has backed a war in Iraq in 2003, though the case was disingenuously put by the Government, it was, whatever those that are emotionally charged on this most emotive of issues think, in the spirit of the UN resolutions (689, 1441) and within the spirit of being a P5 member. It ensured that the UN, in dealing with Saddam, did not mirror the League of Nations in dealing with Mussolini in Abyssinia over 60 years earlier. Further Britain has taken action against the evil of the Taliban, who murder women and children for power, in Afghanistan. It is bizarre to see Cameron shrink from the responsibility of being a P5 member, by weakening the armed forces. Our role on these fronts will no doubt continue for the foreseeable future, as the world is a long way off from being one full of peaceful self-governing states. Cameron ought to be able to see this.
Those who oppose military action including ground-troop deployment in Libya fail to see the importance and nature of the exclusive relationship between having a democracy and the building of a modern state. It is only through democratic consensus that a state has the capacity to deal with individual needs and choices. It is the first and important step in ensuring that power works for man and is accountable to him, not vice-versa. It makes mass economic enterprise a thing worth having, not a domination of wealth working against or omitting public interest solely centred in the hand of a few. Only when democracy is fully-functioning in a state does a state fully value peace, as citizens that benefit from self-government put pressure on Governments to act in their interest. To given an example, the British public’s opposition to the Iraq war, in terms of protests and now a public inquiry, is a luxury of democracy, that many in the world simply do not have.
The opposite paradigm to the democratic state, the concentration of power and wealth in a few, has characterised so many North African and Middle Eastern states so far. The case for full military action is strong here at this juncture: should Gaddafi fall, he may be replaced by a similar regime. Further, the security of the region now, not just territorially but also in democratic prosperity, would be more secure by military action supporting people who are not opposed to the very idea of freedom and accountable government. To ensure this, to liberate and to emancipate, we need to follow the paradigmn in Iraq and Afghanistan, learning from post-conflict logistical problems towards self-government. We have already laid the ground-work for a policy of ‘military assisted transition to democracy’. We should seize on this new doctrine and ensure a military backed safe transition to democracy in Libya.
This is not just a question of a moral right, but more importantly of duty. We have a free-press, accountable leadership, and, comparatively, a significantly broad dispersal of economic and political power in our society so that we can manipulate our governments to our benefit through the ballot box. For the life of me, I can’t see why the Libyans deserve less than an opportunity of effective self-government that democracy would bring them.
Britain has always embraced the spirit of battle, and was able to sculpt the modern world to its image through the courage and patriotic endeavour in belligerency. There is no need to forget our history, mask it with irrational complex of colonial guilt, not behold it with pride and follow this spirit into the 21st Century where it can be used in different paradigm for liberating man-kind from autocracy.
To conjure our innate spirit of courage, we should take the example of the greatest Briton of all time: In 1898 a young Lieutenant Winston Spencer Churchill managed to wiggle his way into Kitchener’s army, despite numerous rejections, to fight the power-craven Mahdi’s successor Khalifa Abdullah who had pretension to rule the region as an autocrat, not a million miles off the Gadaffis of today. Churchill literally escaped from the slow life in the 4th Hussars in India, to the 21st Lancers of Kitchener’s army in Sudan. He wanted to be a part of an army that sought to uphold the spirit of Gordon who had fallen three years earlier in Khartoum. Gordon had died holding Khartoum with a few men against an over-whelming force of the Mahdi, a specific sacrifice for the freedom inherent in the Christian way of life.
Kitchener’s eventual victory in the Sudan was a result of adequate supplies and planning, an example that Cameron needs to note. Three years were spent by the British army creating the Sudanese Military Railway, possibly the greatest feat of military engineering the 19th C, so that troops could more easily be deployed to the zone of intended belligerency. There was full support from Salisbury’s Government in London, not the type of vacillating over armed-forces support that characterises the current Government who see international aid as more important than funding the armed forces for global security. Kitchener’s victory was an exemplary display of Britain’s spirit to not give in to the power craven and delusional Khalifa Abdullah.
Today we need to evoke the spirit of Kitchener, we need to go to Libya and do the same.
Copyright Abhijit P.G. Pandya March 2011.
Copyright Birkenhead Society March 2011