UK News

Insights from the UK and beyond

from John Lloyd:

Why democracy is an insufficient force against WMD

The British parliament’s refusal to countenance military intervention in Syria, and President Barack Obama’s decision to delay a strike until Congress approves it, point to a larger, even more dangerous contradiction of the mass destruction age.

That is, parliamentary democracy and weapons of mass destruction (WMD) sit ill together. Each confounds the other’s natural working.

This is for two reasons. First: everything about weapons of mass destruction -- their possession, storage, security and use -- demands centralized, authoritarian control and rapid decision making unimpeded by debate, except from within a tiny command circle. And when a rogue state uses or threatens to use WMD, leaders must react rapidly and forcefully, unconstrained by their legislatures. When they are so constrained, the result can be similar to what the British government suffered last week. Democracies that wish to police the use of WMD are held back by the same protocols that allow these institutions to thrive.

The second, and greater, contradiction between an active and mature democracy and WMD is that many of the countries that possess, or aspire to possess, biological or chemical weapons have weak or nonexistent democracies. These leaders are not accountable to their citizens -- who are powerless and, in the case of Syria, the targets of these weapons. Much of current WMD instability lies in the Middle East. The region is roiling, with Syria’s civil war at the head but with conflicts or potential conflicts in Lebanon, Libya and Tunisia. Iran likely has biological and chemical stocks, and is likely acquiring nuclear weapons. Egypt is striving, amid threats of terrorism, to embed democratic polity after its failure under the Muslim Brotherhood government and the Army coup that deposed President Mohamed Mursi. Algeria, Egypt and Saudi Arabia have, or are suspected to have or be developing, biological and/or chemical weapons.

  •