BRITAIN TO BLAME FOR MANY WORLD PROBLEMS, SAYS STRAW
By Richard Beeston, Diplomatic Editor
Times of London, UK, 15 Nov:
BRITAIN’S colonial legacy around the globe is so damaging that Jack Straw devotes much of his time as Foreign Secretary trying to undo its malign influence.
In controversial remarks published this week, Mr Straw said that Britain was to blame for many of the world’s current crises, ranging from the Indian sub-continent to the Middle East and Africa.
“There’s a lot wrong with imperialism,” he told the New Statesman magazine. “A lot of the problems I have to deal with now are a consequence of our colonial past.”
Mr Straw, who described himself as a “democratic socialist”, contradicted the views of Robert Cooper, one of his own senior diplomats, who coined the phrase “liberal imperialism” to describe recent military interventions by the Government in Kosovo, Sierra Leone and Afghanistan.
“India, Pakistan — we made some quite serious mistakes,” Mr Straw said. “We were complacent with what happened in Kashmir, the boundaries weren’t published until two days after independence. Bad story for us, the consequences are still there.” He also singled out Afghanistan, “where we played less than a glorious role over a century and a half”.
He blamed Britain for many of the troubles in the Middle East, where the Government is pressing without success the search for peace between Israelis and Palestinians and possibly preparing for a war against Iraq this winter.
“The odd lines for Iraq’s borders were drawn by Brits,” said Mr Straw. “The Balfour declaration and the contradictory assurances which were being given to Palestinians in private at the same time as they were being given to the Israelis — again an interesting story for us but not an entirely honourable one.” His most provocative remarks concerned Zimbabwe, where Britain has been locked in a dispute with President Mugabe over the seizure of white-owned farms and the violent intimidation of the opposition.
Mr Straw said that he had had “huge arguments” with Mr Mugabe, but added: “However, when any Zimbabwean, any African, says to me land is a key issue . . . the early colonisers were all about taking land.”
Michael Ancram, the Shadow Foreign Secretary, said that Mr Straw was missing the point and should save his criticism for Mr Mugabe rather than the people suffering in his country.
“Jack Straw is fantasising. When did his ‘huge arguments’ with Mugabe take place? Have they been clandestine? The people of Zimbabwe have not heard them and neither have we,” he said.
“When and how does he intend to raise the game against the tyranny of Mugabe in Zimbabwe?” he said. “He is all spin and no action. The suffering people of Zimbabwe deserve better.”
Lord Wallace of Saltaire, the Liberal Democrats’ foreign affairs spokesman, said that he agreed with Mr Straw’s views on the British Empire, but also strongly supported the concept of liberal imperialism when it meant intervening to save lives in conflicts like Kosovo or Sierra Leone.
“We are stuck with far too many problems inherited from our imperial past,” he said. “But I disagree with Jack Straw on the concept of liberal imperialism. There is a real problem in dealing with weak and failing states around the world . . . Liberal imperialism means doing the right thing for the right reasons.”
William Dalrymple, a writer on both India and the Middle East, said that Britain must shoulder much of the responsibility for today’s conflicts in Palestine and Kashmir.
“I think Straw has a point,” the author of White Mughals and From the Holy Mountain said.
“There were some positive aspects of Britain’s relations with India. But there is no doubt that the speed, clumsiness and chaotic withdrawal from India and Palestine left the seeds for the modern conflict,” he said.