Forget democracy, how about running water?

Article published on Feb. 12, 2008
community published
Article published on Feb. 12, 2008
The UK's foreign secretary, David Milliband, set out his vision for foreign policy in a speech in Oxford today. He warns that the world can longer take "the forward march of democracy for granted" given the rise of China.
He notes that while there is considerable controversy around dropping bombs and killing people (I think he called it 'Military Intervention') in Iraq and Afghanistan, it has 'clouded the debate about promoting democracy around the world'.

While the words and delivery of his speech will no doubt make for great coverage and good soundbites ('civilian surge' is apparently in this year), Milliband must have suffered severe memory-loss if he thinks that the reason for action in Iraq and Afghanistan was to promote democracy. He is also entering dangerous ground by placing the potential failures of democracy at the hands of the Chinese.

He is right about one thing, the Chinese have managed to engage in trade with, and invest in, developing nations and so-called failed states without attaching conditions. Milliband still peddles this line of policy by recommending that the UN and Nato should consider offering 'security guarantees' to new but fragile governments, conditional on them abiding by democratic rules. There is a normative assumption that giving money to countries that are suffering tumolt will only exacerbate the problems, whereas sanctions will provoke change. That has obviously worked in Zimbabwe, Iraq (pre-2003), Cuba, Burma and North Korea...

Most political science literature suggests that achieving economic stability is a pre-condition for establishing stable democratic rule in the majority of cases. When it happens the other way it gets messy. The US and UK have obliterated services and utilities in Iraq and Afghanistan, but think that the best way out of this is for people to vote for elected representatives.

Milliband thinks that a new round of provincial elections will be useful to progress the situation in Iraq, I'm sure they'd rather have running water.