Friday, June 11, 2004

A manifesto for liberal internationalists

Timothy Garton Ash has what is effectively a manifesto for liberal internationalists in the Guardian today: Beyond the West. The central question is "what duty do we in the free world (the West) owe those in the unfree world?" His answer is "freedom" - primarily freedom from want and freedom from fear. As for how we should meet this obligation, he suggests practicising what we preach on free trade by ending unfair trade barriers and subsidies, increasing foreign aid and private charity, strengthening governments to avoid "failed states", promoting universal human rights, and working to undermine regimes which fail to protect them.

Lest this remind people too much of the crusading Tony Blair, there's also a healthy dose of humility thrown in there as well - both about our right to impose solutions, and our effectiveness in doing so. The aim should be to help people to "find their own path to freedom, in their own countries, in their own time and, wherever possible, peacefully", rather than knock over a country and try to free people by killing them. We should provide the tools (advice on establishing a constitution and a working government, based on our own formative experiences) and the pressure on regimes to change (by for example linking trade and investment to human rights), "but then it's up to them". This is both realistic - democracies don't grow overnight, but rely on a vast cultural infrastructure which is mostly invisible to those of us who actually live in them - and respects people's freedom to choose the form of government best suited to their particular needs.