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More on (the rather muddled) ethical foreign policy

Posted by Helen Tuesday, July 20, 2004

There was a time (not all that long ago, either) when the EU passed endless resolutions and presented endless demands to the military rulers of Myanmar (Burma). They were enjoined to reform their system, introduce democracy, abide by the election results and, above all, release Aung San Suu Kyi. They have not done any of those things.
 
On at least one occasion, Baroness Amos explained in the House of Lords that Britain together with its EU partners (because Britain no longer takes foreign policy decisions without its EU partners) saw Myanmar as a particularly odious example of an oppressive tyranny, precisely because they had had an election and refused to abide by its results. China, on the other hand, she explained patiently to some Doubting Thomas of a peer had never had an election in Tibet. Therefore, the oppression there was not so worthy of condemnation.
 
Things seem to have changed. Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy (NDL) has formally launched what was described by AFP as a “stinging attack” on the regime. Britain, too, has responded in accordance with previous assurances and has refused to grant Myanmar associate membership of the eight year-old Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) or allow it to send a representative to the forthcoming biennial meeting.
 
But the EU has changed its tune and has once again castigated Britain for its hard-line stand. The problem is that the EU has scented an “emerging region”, or rather, an emerging regional bloc, its favourite way of dealing with world affairs. Back in the bad old days of the Soviet Union, the EU could justify its existence and growing integration by pointing to the USSR and Yugoslavia. As those have collapsed, the EU now needs regional blocs for its own geopolitical activity.
 
The “emerging” South-East Asian bloc is insisting that Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos be allowed to join ASEM together with the new East European members of the EU. (The connection here is not entirely clear but that is what they are insisting on.)
 
Hans van den Broek has gone off to sort things out and see if some kind of compromise can be reached. Britain is insisting that they are abiding by the EU’s own agreement. The EU is angry because its attempt to have agreements and arrangements with another bloc might be thwarted and “a whole continent is being antagonized”. One cannot help feeling that it is something of an exaggeration.
 
Still, they will have to think hard next time they make grandiloquent statements about the need for freedom and democracy. Of course, there will be no statements of that kind about China. In fact, the new foreign policy a.k.a. the common foreign and security policy is turning out to be quite as cynical as the old one. The trouble is, the old one was based on national interests and these could include the presence of largely democratic states. What sort of interests does the European Union have?