24 September 2003
By Tapani Lausti
Mark Curtis, Web of Deceit : Britain's Real Role in the World. With a Foreword by John Pilger. Vintage 2003.
In Finland, as I suppose in many other countries, there is a body of opinion which holds that Britain has an extremely successful democratic system and that the country represents goodness and decency on a wicked international stage. When the Finnish Prime Minister Anneli Jäätteenmäki had to resign because of the way she had obtained secret documents on her predecessor's talks with George W. Bush, a leading Finnish commentator, Jukka Tarkka, wrote that her resignation "represents British culture which dictates that even suspicion of misconduct is not only a sufficient but a compelling reason for resignation". (Turun Sanomat, 28 June 2003)
Well, we are still waiting for Tony Blair's resignation. There is, after all, compelling evidence that he has lied to his nation about the reasons why he aligned his country with the US to attack Iraq. Reading Curtis's book, I couldn't help but wonder what people like Tarkka would think reading the author's conclusions: "The reality is that Britain under New Labour is a systematic violator of international law and ethical standards in its foreign policy in effect, an outlaw state." (p. 1)
Having been sifting through "a mountain of evidence on the reality of Britain's past role in the world" (p. 301) in the Public Records Office in London, Curtis reveals the lies behind government propaganda. The picture that emerges is starkly different from to the image which Britain's elite tries to maintain. Curtis sums up the reality thus: "Britain's role remains an essentially imperial one: to act as junior partner to US global power; to help to organise the global economy to benefit Western corporations; and to maximise Britain's (that is, British elites') independent political standing in the world and thus remain a 'great power'." (p. 5)
However, the belief in Britain's benign intentions is firmly held by many Britons and informs the attitude of many admirers of the British political system. Yet, evidence shows that the British elite's contempt of democracy and human rights has a long history and deep roots. Any methods have been acceptable to quell efforts towards independent development in the third world. Any dictator who has served Western interests has been considered alright. It's only when these monsters step out of line and stop serving the interests of their real masters that the rest of us are called to participate in "defending the civilised world". Suddenly it's all about human rights. The dictactors' weapons, much of which have been supplied by the UK and the US, have now become a terrifying threat.
Curtis charts the cynicism of all this in detail. The cynicism is even starker because Blair came to power pretending to be an exceptionally decent person. Curtis shows no mercy: "Judging from the abyss between its rhetoric and the reality of policy, the Blair government may have broken all postwar British records in state propaganda on its foreign policy, and is recognised as a global leader in this area." (p. 20)
Curtis shows how Western interventions in Kosovo and Afghanistan have only made human rights situations worse in these countries. British media has gone along with state propaganda. Curtis notes how "in Kosovo, the plight of refugees was worthy of attention since Britain was supposedly defending such people; in Afghanistan, refugees were an embarrassment and a hindrance to government policy, therefore unworthy of attention." (p. 55)
As for the famous British parliamentary system, Curtis quotes many experts
who have observed Britain's tendency to "elective dictatorship" and
"authoritarian rule". Britain gets away with destructive foreign policies
"largely because of the domestic structures of power." (p.
293) Curtis concludes: "The disastrous nature of Britain's 'democracy'
for foreign policy is surely one of the great untold stories of the modern political
culture." (p. 294)
BBC Finnish Section, 4.1.1996
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