Wouldn’t it be wonderful to end all war and famine? Is that just a utopian ideal, straight out of the John Lennon songbook? Isn’t it just what the Stop The War crowd want? The answers might be yes, no and no respectively. Funnily enough, it’s more likely to be what George W. Bush and the neo-cons are trying for, or at least were trying for before realpolitik reared its ugly face again.
The Bush Doctrine, as outlined in 2002, was :
a commitment to “extending democracy, liberty, and security to all regions”. The policy was formalized in a document titled The National Security Strategy of the United States of America, published on September 20, 2002. The Bush Doctrine is a marked departure from the policies of deterrence and containment that generally characterized American foreign policy during the Cold War and the decade between the collapse of the Soviet Union and 9/11.
Objections to this idea tend to be based on allegations of hypocrisy (Bush does treat with tyrants when it suits him), hidden agendas (these are fine words to mask a new imperialism) or a more generalised suspicion of what might be termed “preventative war” best summarised, interestingly enough, by Abraham Lincoln in a letter dated 1848:
Allow the President to invade a neighboring nation whenever he shall deem it necessary to repel an invasion and you allow him to do so whenever he may choose to say he deems it necessary for such purpose, and you allow him to make war at pleasure…. If today he should choose to say he thinks it necessary to invade Canada to prevent the British from invading us, how could you stop him? You may say to him, “I see no probability of the British invading us,” but he will say to you, “Be silent; I see it, if you don’t.”
Whether or not Bush is a hypocrite, or has a hidden agenda, are fit subjects for debate. But I’m interested here in the question of whether or not the doctrine itself is a valid one, and whether it might hold the key to lasting world peace and plenty. In saying that, it needs to be noted that neither of those goals are exactly imminent. It also needs to be emphasised that, if it is accepted that the only valid end for foreign policy, beyond immediate responses to circumstances, is the spread of democracy, there is still a great deal of room for disagreement as to how that might best be prosecuted.
Here are the two critical assertions:
- “…in the the 1816-2005 period there were 205 wars between nondemocracies, 166 wars between nondemocracies and democracies, and 0 wars between democracies.”
- “…no substantial famine has ever occurred in any independent and democratic country with a relatively free press.”
The first comes from the Wikipedia entry for R.J. Rummel, Professor Emeritus of Political Science, Nobel Peace Prize nominee and exponent of Democratic Peace Theory. A good explanation of this theory, including the objections that have been raised against it, can be found here.
The second is a quote from a paper by Nobel Prize in Economics winner in 1998, Amartya Sen.
It needs to be emphasised that both of these theories have their detractors. However, nobody disputes that Democracy makes external aggression (especially against other democracies), internal repression and large scale famine very much less likely. War, tyranny, torture and starvation are not vote-winners, indeed the present electoral prospects of the Republicans in the U.S. and the Labour Party in the U.K. have been adversely affected by the Iraq invasion.
I quoted the Iraqi blogger Iraq The Model in an earlier post:
One of our biggest problems here is that many of us and of our politicians in particular seem to have lost the ability to strategic vision
When people do refer to a strategic vision, it tends to be one of fighting an enemy. Comparisons between the threat of Islamic Supremacism and that posed by the Nazis in the 1930s are frequently made. Here’s Nick Cohen from a recent book review:
Suppose there had been one million Germans in Britain in the 1930s, most of them at the bottom of the heap and all of them the potential victims of racism. Suppose only a few were actual Nazis, but many others either sympathised vaguely with Hitler’s demands that the punitive conditions of the Treaty of Versailles be lifted or were pushed back into a German identity by the constant harping of the rest of society on the Nazi menace. The liberal left of the day would have feared inciting racism if they joined the chorus, and found it far harder to oppose Hitler consistently
Cohen is as ever making an important point, but it is couched in terms of what one might oppose rather than the advocacy of something positive. It is also trapped in the disputes of one section of the political spectrum, the left. It is part of a squabble, not a vision for the future.
There have been other reasons for war than religious expansionism. There will be again when we have seen off this specific attack. There is widespread hunger and frequent famine around the world, and a general sense that we are all diminished by allowing it to continue.
If the only way to bring peace to countries, regions and, eventually, the world, and the only way to eliminate famine, is to spread democracy, then we should not be reluctant to say so. Moreover, migration in the world is almost entirely from unfree countries to free ones, and it is the free ones that are prosperous, not because they exploit the rest of the world, though occasionally they do, but because they are energetic and enterprising, because the energy and enterprise of individuals is free to be expressed in commerce and wealth creation. People generally prefer to live in free countries and to suggest that this somehow doesn’t apply to those of darker complexions is simple racism.
In the name of our common humanity, for the sake of world peace and for the elimination of famine, we should openly be following a policy of spreading democracy throughout the world. This should be a cornerstone of the foreign policy of every free country. What tactics we might use in furtherance of this could then be more widely discussed, and could benefit from the contributions not just of neo-conservatives and neo-liberals.