6 December 2013, 13:23

31th VoR Live Panel: Foreign interference in regime-changing "revolutions" - a Boon or a Curse?

In Ukraine, the German foreign minister and the speaker of the Lithuanian parliament are taking part in rallies, which openly seek to change the government in Kiev. Just a few years ago, this would have been seen as not merely a breach of diplomatic niceties, but as a direct interference into a sovereign country's internal affairs, in fact, a crime.

Not now. Instead of reigning in its members, the EU is only criticizing the Ukrainian government, which failed to sign the association agreement with the EU at a recent summit in Vilnius. The actions of Russia, which threatened to shut its currently half-open border with Ukraine in order to protect its markets, are labeled to be "blackmail" by the EU. Watch LIVE at 8 pm Moscow Time (4 pm GMT).

This situation, with minor variations, repeated itself in many countries. The US and the EU openly supported protest actions in Syria, Lybia, at a certain moment it was true even about Egypt. The logic of such interference is relatively simple: let the good ideas (and, eventually, the allies of the EU and US) win. And the good ideas (just like good goals in the old times) justify the means.

But this puts us before several difficult questions:

1. Are the "ideas" pushed through by Western interference, always good? Can we always agree with the Ukrainian nationalists, Syrian Sunni insurgents and the Egyptian activists of the Moslem Brotherhood, which currently seem to be in Washington's (and Brussel's) good graces?

2. Are these revolutions (in Libya, Georgia and now possibly one more in Ukraine) indeed about democracy? Can they be just about certain "passionate" minorities seizing power and using the Western interference as a tool to push through their agendas?

3. Is this a unique situation or did we see the similar interferences before? Are there good examples of such interferences (we know the bad examples: the activities of the Communist International, the cold war coups in Chile in 1973, in China in 1949, in a number of African countries etc.)

London's guests:

- Alex Spillius, Diplomatic Correspondent, Daily Telegraph

- Dr Paul McGarr, Lecturer in American Foreign Policy in the Department of American and Canadian Studies at the University of Nottingham

Moscow's guest:

- Mark Sleboda, Senior Lecturer and Researcher, International Relations Department, MSU

Washington's guest:

- Martin Sieff, Chief Global Analyst at The Globalist Research Center and Editor-at-Large at The Globalist

In the Ukraine the German Foreign Minister and the Speaker of the Lithuanian Parliament are taking part in the rallies which openly seeks to change the government in Kiev. Is this a responsible action? How do we view such a participation in foreign affairs? 

Mark Sloboda: I'd like to say that what is going on in the Ukraine is a mix of genuine public sentiment particularly from the western area of the country that seeks Europe integration as well as a mixture of what could be seen as exacerbation by European officials who are staging an egregious violation of the Ukraine sovereignty by cheerleading on crowds in Kiev that are openly calling for revolution and the overthrow of legitimately elected democratic government. 

Dr. Paul McGarr: There are some value points. I think putting it in a wider historical prospective any sort of involvement from an external power in the sovereignty of another country opens up all sorts of problems.

You have to be very careful intervening in those contexts so you are not just making the situation worse and getting yourselves into ll sorts of problems. 

In this world that has become more globalized and in some respects more virtual are the lines becoming blurred and is that overall positive or negative? Should there be a divide between what's happening in our private lives and our political lives? 

Dr. Paul McGarr: That's an interesting question. The latest scandals around the NSA threw up lots of issues about the accumulation of data from social media on the Internet in the modern age and where we should draw the line in what's private and what's public. The Internet breaks down the traditional area of sovereignty. We do have to have another look at issues surrounding the accumulation of data by organizations such as the NSA and GCHQ on a wide social media network and how that can be interpreted by some nations. There are issues around external powers accessing or using technological advantage to overcome traditional boundaries around sovereignty and that does throw up complex issues around intervention, the legality and moralities. 

We've been talking about Ukraine and how politicians seem to be actively engaging in rallies. Do you see a difference between doing that and going on your bully pulpit in your own nation and speaking it at the UN or Facebook or going through other virtual means of communication in order to try to pressure your own point of view? 

Martin Sieff: Yes, I see a vey great and significant difference indeed.I think it's a very dangerous game to play. You are basically going over the heads of a constitutionally elected and appointed government. And you are basically saying 'We don't listen to the constitutional process in another country. We are going overhead of the constitutional process'. This is government by revolution. 

What's happening in the Ukraine is not particularly unique. We've seen that in Syria, Libya, Iran, Egypt decades ago. When I think about interventionism vs isolationism I always think in terms of the scientific question -nature vs nurture. Where the answer is – yes, it's both, right? 

Martin Sieff: Exactly. 

There is also a dividing line where the intervention or the assistance or help becomes destructive, non-adaptive. Where do we place that line? 

Martin Sieff: I think it's important to go back to the mainstream of western political tradition. American interventionism since the end of the Cold War which is accelerated around the world over the past 15 years reach its height under the Bush Administration – is an aberration historically in American terms. For the first 150 years of the Republic from the time of the Constitution being formally approved and accepted by the 13 founding states (1787-1789) through to the beginning of WWII the US foreign policy in terms of ideology was ambiguous. The US sees itself as an example of liberty and democracy to other nations in the world but it will not intervene in wars of ideology to try and force this to happen. The US has become an image of what the Soviet Union became in the 1960s, 1970s. The Soviets then believed they had an ideological duty to actively intervene in countries around the world to enforce and support Communist Revolution and today we have America actively involved in events around the world in Democratic Revolutions. 

Do you think that there has been a shift in US perception about its own role? 

Mark Sloboda: I don't think it's necessarily a shift in position, it's simply a logical chain of process without a competitor. I think Martin very accurately portrayed that in the 1960s and 1970s the Communist internationalists directed from the Soviet Union was indeed engaging in exactly this kind of activity. But the US did as well, engaging in the overthrow of Socialist governments in South America, Indonesia and other parts of the world. So both were engaged in this, this was an ideological Cold War. I'm afraid that it's exactly what we are coming back to. 

Martin Sieff: Today American intervention is at odds with itself. I assert there were many cases in the Cold War, Guatemala is a classic example and Zaire too where the US eagerly intervened to help them pose monstrous dictator ugly regimes in its own political, strategic and economic interest. But we find today something even more chaotic and more threatening. And that is the ideological drive to impose so called democratic regimes across the Middle East and other regions. The ideology of Arab Spring came from American both liberal and neoconservative ideologists and was not supported to any degree by American oil interests or other major business interest in the Middle East, they recognized it would be very destabilizing and bad for business. 

Is there a sort of a neurotic reaction to American interventionism in which with all the American efforts to intervene in various countries it seems they are being pushed away from the dinner table? 

Alex Spillius: I suppose they are in some cases. There is still strong impulse to intervening but the reasons doing so are not always evident and certain and clear and effective. I think the Arab Spring was a great illustration of that. That military democratic process is encumbered with a military takeover. There are cases where America steps in and is not welcome and cases where it doesn't step in and people still claiming for it to get involved. 

Let's talk about Russia's relationship with the Ukraine for a moment. Does Russia really prohibit Ukraine from any kind of European integration? 

Mark Sloboda: When we are looking specifically at the situation in the Ukraine we're really not talking about the US here, the US under president Obama has begun to realize that it does have some limits to its geopolitical horizons. And it has basically relegated whatever happens in Eastern Europe to be the business of the EU. And in the Ukraine we see a tussle both economic and there is a civilizational choice aspect which particularly the EU is pushing to force the Ukraine to make a bipolar Cold War choice. As for Russia I don't think there is any doubt that Russia is exerting pressure on the Ukraine to keep within its sphere of political and economic interest. There is Commonwealth of Independence States free trade area existing which would automatically be abrogated if the Ukraine joined with the EU free trade area. So like any state (particularly states of great power status) Russia has deployed a series of carrots and sticks economic and political to try to pressure the Ukraine and are also show them where their best interests lie. Because there is no doubt a strong historical, cultural connection between Russia and the Ukraine.

Previous panels here

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