With recent developments in Lebanon – a country that is quite close to my heart – I am re-blogging this post I published on this site April 9, 2017 because I feel it is quite relevant to recent uprising in the Middle East – I only added a recent clip of an interview at Davos 2020 at the bottom of the post which is the main reason that led me to reblog this post in the first place. These developments present yet another opportunity to fix actions of the past by complacent western actors which do have not merely a moral obligation to take action but a very clear national interest to help emerging Democracies develop a sustainable process for change not through political meddling/nation building but through incentives that provide a win-win proposition for all. In fact the approach I mention in this old post is only one of multiple elements that when combined can form a complete/articulate strategy that has 1 specific object in mind; devise pragmatic, sustainable and proactive policies particularly in the area of Foreign Policy and International Development.
The proposition here is an initiative that I believe may prove viable in the effort to help resolve many of the conflicts around the world through an opt in mechanism that allows democratic transition to take place while the avoiding the uncertainties and potential risks of violence. That said this merely the bare bone outline of an idea rather than the detailed proposition so as to focus on the concept, objectives and viability.
In an effort to make it easier to follow the thought process behind this proposition I’ve split this outline into segments as follows;
Defining the Problem
The first step is to make the point that we do have a problem to solve and that this problem affects us directly. So here are some relevant points;
- It is now largely indisputable the link between migration, repressive governance and terrorism. What has changed during the past few years is that we are beginning to feel the effects of this (lethal) combination closer to our homes and we’re therefore beginning to take notice of them.
- The Arab Spring despite of its failure in delivering change to many of the states that witnessed the uprisings is in my view still a game changer in a sense that the status quo in social/political evolution by keeping a lid on political decent is no longer a viable/sustainable solution because people are realising their power and have experienced change at the earlier stages of this revolt. So the alternatives will be to deliver the change willingly by “the ruling mob” or I suspect violence will ensue if they continue to resist in the belief that they can turn back the clock. All in all this limbo zone only permeates instability/security risks as we can see on the ground. Islamic fundamentalism is indeed a religious movement but it thrives on flawed political choices applied by autocratic regimes.
- It is also true in many of the conflict zones around the world that we’ve had a direct role in creating the mess in the first place either through action like previously supporting terrorist organisations in Afghanistan or inaction like our deafening silence in responding to atrocities committed by autocratic regimes and even assisting them economically/militarily; so we do have the moral responsibility (beyond the clear national interests mentioned in point 1) to apply our influence to fixing these issues where possible without being coerced by powerful lobbyist in making our choices-these should be driven purely on merits and our national interests.
Obstructions to Change
- Lack of Incentive for Change: As experience/history tell us change is difficult however the extent of benefits they may reap. This is a natural fear factor we’re born with in that we prefer dealing with the devil we know than supporting changes that can bring unknown outcomes. There are also powerful beneficiaries of the status quo who more than anything are keen to protect their narrow interests. So a key to solving this riddle is ensuring there is sufficient incentive for the majority of the population for change, particularly if power brokers determine the feasibility of such change and come on board.
- The concept of Engagement vs. Confrontation: We continue to hear this argument of “Engagement” from our politicians like in this interview above with PM Theresa May when speaking about her visit to Saudi Arabia recently. But if we really want to be honest with ourselves we have to admit to a very simple fact; our business interests & cooperation on security means more to us than Democracy & Human Rights. Now while it is true that business interests are important, I would suggest that the benefits we reap out of such interests are paid back 10 folds (if not more) due to costs associated with social, economic and security vulnerabilities they continue to cause. So this mindset adopted by our politicians is in my view another one of these obstructionist forces against change in these states and one that actively favours the status quo or more accurately termed “Fake Stability”. So the next time you feel concerned about immigration/terrorism just remember that the buck actually stops not in regions far away but more closer to home because our political geniuses have made conscious political decisions that do nothing but create/maintain many of the conflicts abroad in the name of national security/prosperity. Remember this is not a matter of state building per se but rather about flawed policies that impede the natural evolution of political/social change in other states and it is borderline racist to suggest that people in these states have less of a right than we do in demanding their freedoms that we take for granted.
- Foreign Aid Vacuum: Aid when granted towards these regimes merely provides covered legitimacy and in many cases ends up consumed by ruling 1%, their cronies and the infrastructure of corruption surrounding them. So to be brief this is hard-earned tax payer money wasted on projects that provide no value neither to us nor to the intended recipient (or at the very least most of it)
- Fear of Security Vacuum if change is imposed: This is actually a legitimate argument based on experience seen in Libya post the Arab Spring. This is particularly a high risk case where there is no firm institutional structure within the state with all sources of power/decision making revolving around the dictator and his cronies. It is also quite true that successful democratic transition cannot be imposed by external powers or the puppet governments they install as we’ve seen fro past experience; rather reform has to be triggered from within and in the form tailored around national culture/tradition and more importantly by agreeing major concessions between national political power brokers.
What we need is a solution that can achieve 3 fundamental objectives;
- Meaningful/lasting economic/political incentive for change
- An adaptable template to assist transitioning democracies in developing institutional/cultural reform by applying democratic/progressive principles. This while ensuring there is an effective mechanism that can assess/valuate progress achieved by the state in applying such a transition.
- Avoid violent transitions that could lead to security vacuums which can be infiltrated by terrorist organisations.
This is where this initiative Progressive Governance Initiative-PGI comes into play. Think of it as Program specifically designed to encourage countries to adopt more democratic/progressive political agenda in return for a set of clearly defined economic/political incentives.
- Commitment for Change: There needs to be a set of criteria ensuring a clear commitment by participating states of democratic/progressive governance and while at the same time abiding by basic human rights principles/values including the protection of religious freedoms and rights of minorities all within the context/in respect of the dominating culture/traditions.
- Progress Assessment Mechanism: It is also important that program is able to regularly assess the amount of progress achieved by the participating state in applying Program benchmarks for the governance style promoted and that access to benefits is aligned with this achievement level.
- Length of Membership: Some benefits of the program may become permanent but the overall intention/structure of the program would be mainly designed to support transitioning states during the first few years to ensure there is sufficient level of assistance to take them through this difficult period. As such program length would be tailored based on the specific circumstances for each state and its ability to complete all its stages. This I believe would make it a more effective/focused and cost effective program.
Outline of Core Program Benefits;
- Increased Access to Foreign Economic Markets: So instead of relying mainly on foreign aid providing such a benefit can be more of long term solution in helping energise national economy/industry. Different markets like the European market, ASEAN and the like can also participate in this program as a mean of encouraging progressive governance.
- Increased Access to Aid/Grants:
- Access to Investment Pools: Developing business investment pools as part of the program to help attract investments to countries committed towards progressive governance which in of itself is a sign of positive environment for investment.
- Institutional/Cultural Reform Template: The program would also develop an adaptable template to assist transitioning states in developing/executing a pragmatic institutional reform agenda covering areas like training, expertise support and possibly grants. These would be tailored projects that are specifically designed for the state involved but following the overall support template.
- Alignment of Standards/Regulations: It is critical that there is a level of alignment in Standards & regulation particularly when related to investment, aid/grants and overall elements related to the functioning of the Program.
I believe that such an initiative provides a win-win situation in achieving the fundamental objectives mentioned above while also ensuring that investment/aid/grants are effectively utilized for their intended purpose.