the Dictators: A Practical Guide
If Britain and America really want to get rid of the world’s
tyrants they can, writes Mark Palmer
The Sunday Times
January 4, 2004
days of Saddam Hussein surfacing, and to nearly universal
revulsion, British and American leaders were praising Muammar
Gadaffi, a fellow member of the world’s 10 worst dictators’
club, for his “courage” and “statesmanship”.
aftermath of September 11, Tony Blair said: “I believe
this is a fight . . . to bring the values of democracy and
freedom to people around the world.” More recently,
in London, President George W Bush proclaimed that we would
“no longer tolerate oppression for the sake of stability”.
But when hundreds of Saudis were arrested while peacefully
demonstrating in Riyadh for free elections and other rights
in November, there was a profound silence from Downing Street
and Pennsylvania Avenue.
even cynicism, greet this double standard, this contradiction
between the pro- democracy rhetoric and frequent pro-dictator
actions of our leaders. Liberals and conservatives agree that
democracy is preferable to dictatorship. The question is how
to deal with the Ayatollah Khameneis, Kim Jong Ils and Fidel
Castros, as well as the Mubaraks, Musharrafs and Karimovs.
and many Americans oppose the use of force. Even the superhawk
Richard Perle says: “We’re not going to make war
on the world for democracy . . . We should be using all instruments
of American influence to accomplish that purpose and most
of these instruments are not military.”
are those instruments? One of the most powerful is simple
advocacy. Standing before the British parliament on June 8,
1982, President Ronald Reagan predicted that all communist
and other dictatorships would be put on the “ash heap
the draft of that speech and remember the criticism that this
rhetoric made working with the Soviet Union impossible. But
it reverberated within the gulag. Gadaffi is less courageous
than yielding to pressure (domestic and international); and
we must remember that he sent a plane-load of weapons to Liberia
to undermine the international efforts to remove Charles Taylor,
his fellow dictator.
is a big financial supporter of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe,
and bought Libya’s chairmanship of the United Nations
human rights commission from fellow African and other dictators.
The only solution for Libyans, Africans and the rest of the
world is his removal from power. History gives us no example
of a dictator becoming a democrat while still in power.
are the main cause of what ails the world — famine,
refugees, poverty, drug trafficking, environmental degradation,
corruption, war, genocide and terrorism.
there are thousands of freedom-loving Libyans, Iranians, Saudis,
North Koreans and Cubans. From Chile to Indonesia, from Poland
to South Africa and most recently from Belgrade to Tbilisi,
the weapons of non-violent conflict — organisation,
communication, general strikes, mass protests — generated
from within and supported from outside have reduced the number
of dictatorships from 43% to one-quarter of the world’s
nations since 1973. And hardly a shot was fired.
the foreign ministries of the democratic world there is a
stunning lack of understanding of this power and a lack of
organisation to help. The best kept secret in multilateral
diplomacy, the Community of Democracies launched in Warsaw
in 2000, should move towards the centre of British, American
and other democracies' foreign policies. Its budding democracy
group at the UN could take back the UN human rights commission
from the dictators.
should establish a "from dictatorship to democracy centre"
similar to the economic development institutions that we have
with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The
centre would work with democrats inside the dictatorships
and the dictators themselves on plans and action programmes
for transition to full democracy. It would set deadlines for
dictators. It would share experience from past transitions,
including training in the methods of non-violent struggle
and material support.
will not co-operate unless there are pressures. The prospect
of a trial will help to focus their minds on the need for
a negotiated way out. Saddam and the dictators of Yugoslavia,
Liberia, Chad, Rwanda, Chile and Argentina have confronted
this reality in a growing international practice. Dictatorship
itself should be recognised as a crime against humanity and
we should gather the evidence against each one of the last,
to develop a new class of such smart sanctions narrowly targeted
on the dictator, his assets and his cronies than to continue
with broad economic and other sanctions that penalise suffering
people and usually have the effect of reinforcing the dictators'
hold on power. The United States might be persuaded to drop
its sanctions against Cuba if European and Latin American
democracies would join us in a serious effort to bring democracy
to that island.
the few things which holds these dictators in place is that
the people of the country in question often feel abandoned
by the rest of the world. During the second world war, Churchill
and Roosevelt broadcast regular fireside chats which motivated
people to resist and eventually defeat the dictators of that
time. Something comparable could be done today: a different
prime minister each week could give a talk translated into
Chinese, broadcast on radio, television and via the internet
about China's future and how we can help to bring it fully
into the modern democratic world.
way to pierce the isolation is for our ambassadors and embassies,
frequently the only islands of freedom inside dictatorships,
to become active on the side of the people. Conventional diplomacy
must be set aside.
Barnes, the American ambassador to Chile in the mid- 1980s,
joined a candlelight vigil to give moral support to the regime's
victims and their families. In Budapest as the American ambassador,
I marched in the streets with the democratic opposition. In
China today the British, American and other democratic ambassadors
could show solidarity with that country's largest and most
repressed spiritual movement by doing the Falun Gong's exercises
in public parks.
not enough to be outraged by the starvation deaths of 2m North
Koreans, caused by a dictator's thirst for total control and
eternal power: the dictator must be convicted of crimes against
humanity and forced to step down.
willingness to compromise, America and Europe's democrats
can sit together and agree upon the best ways to make these
dangerous political relics extinct.
such a new deal, with a serious and consistent commitment
to oust the remaining dictators, a set of effective multinational
institutions and an opening, largely peaceful strategy, nothing
can stop the democracies and democrats from finishing the
Palmer is the author of Breaking the Real Axis of Evil: How
to Oust the World's Last Dictators by 2025.