Supporting democracy in Libya – Keith Locke’s General Debate speech

When it was announced that the UN Security Council was endorsing a no fly zone over Libya, many New Zealanders were pleased. They had been cheering the rebel movement as it liberated towns held by the dictator Gaddafi.

However, it then seemed Gaddafi’s counter-offensive might be successful, mainly because he controlled the air, and had more tanks and artillery pieces.

The subsequent air strikes by French, British and American planes have weakened Gaddafi’s forces, but there are also fears from several governments about where all this might be leading to.

Five very important governments (Germany, India, Brazil, Russia and China) abstained during the vote on the Security Council resolution,

partly because it gives such a broad mandate to any government taking military action against Libya. While the resolution talks about a no-fly zone, it also allows for governments “to take all necessary measures” to protect civilians in Libya.

Basically the French and the British are taking this to mean taking any military action against any targets.

Coalition commanders were quoted yesterday in the New Zealand Herald as saying this could include ground intervention “if Gaddafi stays in power.” Yesterday, British Prime Minister David Cameron refused to rule out assassinating Gaddafi.

Our government was wrong to endorse a UN resolution that is not really just about a no-fly zone, but actually more about regime change. It was a dishonest resolution,

it has divided the world community, and it won’t necessarily lead to a good outcome for Libya.

On a political level the resolution has been a boon to Gaddafi. The dictator can now sidestep the issue of democracy, and present the war as one against foreign invaders – from the same countries that back Israel and have previously invaded other Arab countries, most recently Iraq.

Gaddafi will also play up all the civilian casualties that will inevitably result from the strikes. Politically, the resolution has probably strengthened Gaddafi’s hold on the most important city, Tripoli – and we may be headed for a military and political stalemate in Libya.

The problem with foreign interventions bent on regime change is that the results are unpredictable, and can be very bad, as we have seen in Iraq and Afghanistan.

More bloodshed followed when the United States brought about regime change in those two countries and installed compliant leaders.

There is also cynicism that the motives of the invading powers – previously in relation to Iraq and

Afghanistan, and now Libya – might have more to do with oil supplies than democracy.

The same governments bombing Libya give their full backing of the Saudi regime – which is arguably more repressive than Gadaffi’s. What criticism did you hear when Saudi troops invaded Bahrain 9 days ago to help crush the democracy movement there? You won’t hear any criticism from Obama, Cameron or Sarkosy as long as the oil keeps flowing from the Saudi fields.

The Greens say, yes, we should stand with the democratic forces in Libya confronting the Gaddafi dictatorship. We support our government implementing the international sanctions imposed on the regime – a ban on travel here by members of the regime, and freezing of any assets held here by Gaddafi and his cronies. The Greens support the suspension of the education exchange programme now operating between New Zealand and Libya.

Unlike Western governments, including New Zealand’s, the Greens are consistent in their support for the emerging democracy movement in many Middle Eastern countries – whether they be in Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Algeria, Morroco, Oman, Syria, Iran – or Saudi Arabia.

It is interesting that when hundreds of thousands of Egyptians were out on the streets, our Prime Minister and Foreign Minister didn’t endorse their call for Mubarak to go. Even moral support for regime change was not on the agenda. Instead they praised Mubarak’s statesmanship and called for restraint from the demonstrators.

We’ll probably be waiting a while to hear our government give any moral support to democratic opponents of the Saudi regime.

Step by step, the people of Tunisia and Egypt are democratising their political system. The people themselves own the process and are showing an enthusiasm for democracy that is truly inspiring.

This is a better and more effective path to democracy than one brought about by planes or invading forces from Western nations.


House of Representatives