Sure, it’s realpolitik ….

..but is it what we really want and shouldn’t we be striving for something different?

Today’s news that the Attorney General has stooped the Serious Fraud Office investigation into corruption of a £billion Saudi arms deal is depressing, if unsurprising. That the Blair government have sought to manipulate the legal process is just one more of many nails in the coffin of New Labour’s much trumpeted ethical foreign policy 10 years ago.

They quote our national interest, security, peace in the Middle East (as if that’s worked!) as reasons. They say, commercial interests were absolutely nothing to do with it. Even if that were true, nobody is going to believe it.

And those commentators supporting the intervention and its explanation quote ‘realpolitik’, that that’s the way the world works.

A familiar refrain that reminds me of being back at Aberystwyth in my ‘International Relations Theory’ seminars! Where at the beginning of the 19th century those who believed that realpolitik, self fulfilling as it was, was the only way to operate called themselves ‘realists’ and called those who believed in international cooperation the ‘idealists’; they meant it in its pejorative sense.

And already, I can feel the ‘realists’ pat me on my little blond head, as they smile condescendingly at my naivety in actually believing that things should be done differently.

Well, first I would question, as many others have done today, whether this is in our national interest. Perhaps it is in the short term interests of the 4,000 BAe employees but I fail to see in the wider, longer term how deploying corrupt tactics cosy up to the Saud family is a sound foundation to our long term economic interests.

Sadly, it is not just that it is ineffective but that it has such far reaching implications.

It shows that BAe is effectively above the law. It shows that a foreign government can effectively blackmail the UK government. It shows other governments that the UK is not capable of maintaining its own standards, it’s own laws. Dictatorships, military leaders, phoney democracies; they’ll all got the message that the UK doesn’t care about the rule of law. And what is good enough for us, is surely good enough for them?

And, in whose national interest? How it is my interest for a government to collude with a country that has such an appalling human rights record? Where the female half of the population are not even treated like second class citizens but not even treated as human beings. We have a long way before we rid our own country of misogyny e.g. lad’s mags that offer its readers the chance to win plastic surgery for their substandard girlfriends. So if we support a regime such as Saudia Arabia, what message are we sending to those who objectify and belittle women in our own country let alone the other misogynistic regimes of the world? Would we find friendship with this country so important if the issue were not one of gender but of race?
As someone who believes in the rule of national and international law this is a sad and depressing day. But even if I thought that the end justified the means, I would question that this action by the government gets us anywhere near the place we want to reach. Shame on them.


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