Britain’s role in Mideast

Posted May 02, 2011, at 8:33 p.m.

For a time, it seemed that the momentum of the “Arab Spring” would be carried across the Arab world after the fall of the regimes in Tunisia and Egypt. That momentum is proving hard to sustain in countries where the ruling regimes fight hard and dirty to maintain their control.

The bloody suppression of riots in Syria, the curbs on demonstrations in Yemen and the war that Moammar Gadhafi is waging in Libya show that democracy campaigners face a struggle to extend reform. Opinion in those countries is divided; Internet-savvy reformers with phone cameras are pitted against military force.

At present, Britain is obviously militarily committed to the anti-Gadhafi campaign in Libya and that leaves little scope for military involvement elsewhere. In Misrata, the grim condition of civilians, openly targeted by government forces, validates the greater use of force by NATO against the regime.

The attack on Gadhafi’s base in Tripoli has brought the conflict closer to the man himself. NATO’s deployment of more sophisticated weaponry against government forces is, notwithstanding Misrata, changing the dynamic of the conflict. Its only viable outcome, for Britain and the Libyan people, is the departure of Gadhafi; that remains a good aim.

Of course, it is possible to accuse the British government of double standards in respect to its treatment of the conflicts in Libya, Yemen and Syria. The only answer is that Britain’s resources and reach are limited; we can only be militarily involved in one area at a time, and Libya is the country where our involvement can do the most good.

In our approach to the uprisings in the Arab world, Britain’s aims are twofold: promoting democracy and ensuring that the groups that seek to change or overthrow existing regimes will adopt policies favoring pluralism and stability. In each country our strategies will be different but our aspirations are coherent and worthy.

London Evening Standard (April 28)

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