It has been another busy week in British foreign policy. As discussed on The Little Man this week, the intervention by French forces with British support in Mali has continued unabated. François Hollande, the French prime minister visited Timbuktu on Saturday, one of the many Malian towns which have been liberated by French and Malian troops.
Hollande was given a baby camel as a token of gratitude from the Malian government when he arrived at Timbuktu airport. Apart from this amusing anecdote, the British role in this campaign has continued to evolve over the past week. The number of British troops along with supporting equipment committed has increased to 400, to be deployed ostensibly to help in the European Union mission to train Malian troops, troops from the same army that has been accused, along with Islamist groups of war crimes by human rights groups. It can be argued that this EU mission can educate and train the Malian armed forces to abide by international humanitarian law, indeed it is one of the stated aims, but this will be difficult. Mali is currently run by the very same armed forces, who overthrew the democratically elected government of the country in March 2012. Any continuing opposition to this rule apart from the Islamist groups, in particular from the Tuareg people which will inevitably come, is unlikely to be tolerated. International humanitarian law taught by the EU mission may well become tragically ironic.
Elsewhere, but heavily linked to the situation in Mali, our prime minister has been on a tour of North African states including Libya and Algeria. On the same day that Cameron later embarked on this trip, starting in Algeria, a bizarre Q & A took place between George Galloway MP and the prime minister at the House of Commons;
Searing criticism of this brazenly hypocritical response from the Prime Minister to the MP’s question was quick to follow. Apart from Britain’s well-documented close relationships with the autocratic elite in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, a visit to Algeria in support of the government in Algiers further strengthens the accusations of foreign policy hypocirsy. The prime minister has offered the Algerian government a joint security compact focused on counter-terrorism and other defence-related areas. In the area of counter-terrorisim Algeria’s human rights record is quite appalling. The question of whether to engage with or condemn and sanction regimes who attack the human rights of their citizens has and seems as if it always will be a grey zone in British foreign policy. Human rights abuses seem to be a pick and place label used by many western governments to further geo-political interests, in the case of Algeria and Libya these interests are counter-terrorism linked with the crucial energy deposits located in North Africa vital to many European economies with Algeria supplying 15% of EU gas imports and Libya providing 11% of oil imports.
Even against regimes who are declared as part of an axis of evil, human rights abuses are trumped by other concerns. There are a whole host of western-invented sanctions currently in effect against the Islamic Republic of Iran. Apparently none of which are as a result of the regimes documented human rights abuses but instead as a response to an unproven nuclear weapons programme. Yet these sanctions do not seem to be having the desired effect of bending the Iranian regime to the will of the international community/and or forcing regime change as the Iranian people the ones who are suffering the most from these sanctions are politically paralysed by the political and economic effects of the sanctions programme.
This current government seem to be set on making the same errors committed under the New Labour governments. By supporting autocratic leaders in Algeria, Mali and in the Middle East whilst attacking those that are considered enemies for their opposition to the current western-world order, Britain leaves itself wide open to the accurate accusation of double-standards. More importantly than that however, the people struggling under such regimes are the ones who will continue to suffer whet
her their leaders are opponents or allies of the west.
By Jonathan Woodrow Martin