Saturday, November 18, 2006

Why rioting for democracy is a bad idea

Six dead in Tonga Riots. Speaks for itself, really.

Meanwhile, Tonga has apparently asked New Zealand for military assistance to restore order. I am deeply uneasy about this. It's one thing to stop people from killing one another, but this smacks of propping up a corrupt feudal regime. And if that regime fails to deliver on its promises of democratic reform, and another riot happens, will we see New Zealand soldiers gunning down Tongans to keep a kleptocrat in power?

Any military assistance must be conditional on the Tongan government keeping its promises and making substantial progress towards democracy. And if they renege or delay too long, we should leave them to their fate.


this is always a tough call. how long should you allow a country to burn as a negotiating strategy to convince a leader to do what you want?

If you help you are propping up a despot or whatever, if you dont you are conplicit with whatever gangs in their destruction of the infrastructure and ethnic cleansing.

damned if you do damned if you don't.

Posted by Genius : 11/18/2006 08:46:00 AM

We forget what the west went though. Many other countries may have to go through it very painfully, as Britain did.

Britain had the Magna Carta, Civil War and the Glorious Revolution. Tonga is a long way from haaving had those experiences.

Smiilarly, Britain had the Enclosure Act, Russia had collectivisation, and China is facing this now, moving from peasant plots to agricultural modernisation. They are deeply worried that the process could cause a revolution.

I think Maoridom have some similar problems to Tonga, with the populace being exploited by a self-serving aristocracy, and a political system that disenfranchises the most vulnerable. If they truly had self-government, I wonder how they would be getting on by now. Blaming Whitey is a good way to deflect attention away from your own problems.

Modernisation is painful.

Posted by Anonymous : 11/18/2006 10:26:00 AM

I understood that the foreign presence had been requested by the pro-democracy movement, who consider the Tongan Police too closely linked to the Royal family.

Posted by Graeme Edgeler : 11/18/2006 11:09:00 AM

One must hope that the mission here is very well defined. Using troops to defend the airport and NZ High Commissioner's residence is an appropriate use of limited force that does not lean one way or the other politically. NZ's peace-keeping experience and light arms limitations certainly can help allay fears of a more politically-motivated or longer term intervention.

However, the mission of the police is not as clearly defined and could be seen as defending the regime rather than innocent life and property. Their role needs to be clarified.

I agree with I/S that this is a tricky issue: the regime is clearly bankrupt and corrupt and needs to reform and liberalise in pursuit of eventual democratisation. But is the Tongan public up to exercising the responsibiities as well as the rights of democratic rule? That takes generations to inculcate and is not just a political issue. it involves cultural and social mores, values etc., that will take a generation or more to change. After all, democratisation can only really take root when the impetus and motivation comes from within the polity.

Which makes the armed intervention by foreign troops and police all the more delicate. Quite frankly, if the intervention is to take on a more overt political tone then I would hope that it sides with the democratic-reformist forces and not with the effete churlish pig Tonga now calls king, as well as his syncopathic entourage among the economic and political elite.

In the haste in which the ANZAC force was assembled, something makes me think that issues of mission definition and mission creep may not have factored in. East Timor and the Solomons show what happens when attention is not paid to that very basic question.

Finally--is this not another failure of intelligence in an area of the world in which NZ has primary intelligence-gathering functions? Between Fiji, the Solomons, Tahiti (which has seen political riots in recent months), PNG, Timor Leste and now Toga, one gets the impression that NZ intelligence is asleep at the wheel or too busy being engaged in domestic spying to be doing what it is supposed to be doing within Western intelligence networks.

Posted by Anonymous : 11/18/2006 11:22:00 AM

kiwi_donkey: We forget what the west went though.

Yes, we do. While we like to imagine Briain's (and therefore our) path to democracy was gradual and peaceful, the Civil War being an abberation and long ago anyway, the reality was rather different. In the early 19th century, Britain was on the verge of revolution, with a state of outright class warfare in the countryside. In the cities, there were riots, and outright massacres of people demanding political change. It was nowhere near as bad as France's journey - no outright revolutions - but it was hardly the peaceful evolution we imagine it to be.

Tonga doesn't have to go through this. It faces the same problem - people wanting a say in their own government, and an entrenched nobility who want to keep it all for themselves - and by pointing people at the lessons of history we may be able to help them find a more peaceful path. It worked in helping South Africa find a way out of Apartheid, and it can work there too - provided the king is willing to listen.

Graeme: that thought had occured to me as well - NZ troops would be less likely to perpetrate a massacre than people sworn to the Tongan king. But it still makes me quite uncomfortable.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 11/18/2006 12:13:00 PM

I agree with PGB. Fundamentally if you put your army somewhere they should be told to "defend X" using "Y rules of engagement" and having done that victory should be declared.

If the task is "make a democracy" or any other sort of "make up down, and down up" you are in trouble.

Posted by Genius : 11/18/2006 12:18:00 PM

Initially we just need to get in there and stop the deaths.

Posted by Muerk : 11/18/2006 01:21:00 PM

I'm still unsure of how being involved in Tonga's internal affairs benefits New Zealand (like the Solomons, e.g.).

Surely, the armed forces of a nation should only be used in the defense of that nation?

Posted by Duncan Bayne : 11/18/2006 03:41:00 PM

I thought kiwi_donkey's point was that Tonga may have to go through a difficult patch in order to reach a democratic political system, just as other countries have done. It would be nice to think that reason can prevail but experience is also a good teacher.

"Blaming Whitey is a good way to deflect attention away from your own problems." Similarly, some "radical" imams are good at deflecting the frustrations of Muslims towards the west, instead of against their own undemocratic governments who deny them power.

Posted by Anonymous : 11/18/2006 04:13:00 PM