Jump to content
The Education Forum

Niall Ferguson

  • Content Count

  • Joined

  • Last visited

About Niall Ferguson

  • Rank
    New Member
  1. It has been drawn to my attention that Seumas Milne has once again been heaping opprobrium on the history of the British empire, not to mention on me. Milne makes the mistake of concluding from a small number of familiar episodes - the Bengal famines, Mau Mau - that the history of the British empire is nothing more than a history of "horrors". He also implies an equivalence with "Stalin's terror and the monstrosities of Nazism". What he fails to consider is the entire balance sheet of British rule, as well as the counterfactual question: would British colonies have achieved more peace and prosperity in the absence of British rule? Certainly, in the case of many African countries, it is clear that they would not. Many have, in fact, achieved next to no economic progress since independence - quite a feat given the rates of growth of the rest of the world economy. Finally, Milne leaves out of account that foreign rule has no monopoly on "barbarity". Sadly, the worst barbarities perpetrated against Africans in the 20th century have been by other Africans. Compared with the genocide in Rwanda, to name just one example, the repression of Mau Mau was a minor, if deplorable episode. Oh, and spare me the Robert Mugabe line that everything that goes amiss in Africa today is a legacy of colonialism.
  2. Is the new European constitution a blueprint for a United States of Europe - a fully fledged federation like the US on the other side of the Atlantic? Many of its continental proponents would say that is precisely the aim of the "treaty establishing a constitution" for the EU agreed by European leaders at Brussels last week. Unfortunately for the constitution, that is a view currently shared by the large proportion of British voters who have no desire to become just one of 25 states in a USE. If they vote against ratification in the referendum Tony Blair has promised, then one of two things will happen. Either the constitution will be a dead letter and the enlarged EU will muddle along under old rules. Or - as a growing number of British voters seem to wish - Britain will leave the EU. Suddenly, a great deal hinges on Blair's ability to persuade voters that the new constitution is not a federalist document. As someone who is routinely labelled a "rightwing historian" in the British press, I am probably one of the last people Guardian readers would expect to take the prime minister's side in this debate. But I do. Yes, I was a young Thatcherite in the 1980s, passionately agreeing that we had to stand up to the Soviet Union, Britain's over-mighty unions and the French socialists like Jacques Delors, who had retreated to Brussels having failed in Paris. Yes, I think she was right to be nervous about British membership of the exchange rate mechanism, and to be hostile to the idea of our joining European Monetary Union. If all that still makes me rightwing today, then I plead guilty (though I have always preferred to think of myself as a 19th-century liberal). But there was never a time when I regarded departure from the EU as a serious option - provided, of course, that it remained a confederal structure primarily concerned with economic integration, in which the nation states retain power on non-economic matters. Does the new constitution change that? No. Indeed, the constitution changes very little about the way the EU works. In some respects, the EU already has - and, indeed, has long had - a federal character. This is most obvious in the legal sphere. Article I-10 of the draft constitution simply reiterates what has long been an established principle - that EU law is superior to national law. Europe already has a convention of human rights, which is upheld by the court of human rights in Strasbourg. However, the constitution includes a new charter of fundamental rights, which it will fall to the Luxembourg-based European court of justice to interpret, thus strengthening its claim to be Europe's supreme court. It also creates a new category of cross-border crimes, which will become the responsibility of a European prosecutor, thus extending the EU's competence into the field of criminal law. Moreover, the EU already has many of the political institutions of a federation: the council of ministers, representing the governments of the member states; a parliament; a central bank; and a permanent bureaucracy. The institutional changes made by the constitution are partly designed to give this proto-federation not just legal but actual personality. Thus the presidency of the quarterly European council will no longer be held successively by all the member states for six-month periods; it will be held by one individual, elected by the council members, for two-and-a-half years.... The new constitution does not significantly change the nature of the EU - it will enable it to do more of what it already does to integrate the European economy, national taxation apart. It represents a far less radical reform, in fact, than the Single European Act (which we Thatcherites supported) and the Maastricht treaty (which a Conservative government also signed). The key question now for British voters is simply how the new constitution will benefit Britain. The point most commentators seem to have missed is that by changing the system of QMV, the constitution is actually quite advantageous to us, as it is to Germany, Britain, France and Italy - which, together, account for around 70% of the enlarged EU's GDP and 57% of its population. Under the old system of weighted votes, the big countries were disadvantaged. Take Germany. In the pre-enlargement EU it accounted for around 22% of the population but had just 11.5% of votes on the council of ministers. Under the constitution, by contrast, any EU measure subject to QMV will be passed if it has the support of 55% of the member states, provided they represented at least 65% of the EU's population. The effect of this modification is significantly to increase the representation of the "big four" countries. From now on Germany has, in effect, 18% of council votes, Britain 13%. Therefore, a measure could have the support of all 21 of the other members, but it would fail if the big four opposed it. On this crucial issue, the constitution gets my vote. Under the old arrangements, EU institutions under-represented the big four. That enabled the small countries to vote for subsidies that disproportionately benefited them and were disproportionately financed by the bigger countries. The new system is not ideal, but it is certainly an improvement. Here, then, is a possible starting point for the apparently doomed campaign for a Yes vote. True, there is the predictable counter-argument that any measure that strengthens France and Germany must automatically weaken Britain. But this is based on a false reading of EU history. The reality is that without the new constitution, European integration will continue to be distorted by the self-interest of the smaller European states. http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,...1249360,00.html
  3. In his speech last November to mark the 20th anniversary of the National Endowment for Democracy, President Bush explicitly committed himself to supporting "the world democratic movement", not only in the Middle East but in Asia and Africa. What the anti-imperialists can't bear to acknowledge is that there might be a link between the spread of democracy since the second world war and the role of the US. Despite the cynicism of US foreign policy during the cold war, American power has on balance done more to foster than to frustrate democracy. Think of the 1940s, when the two worst rogue regimes in history - Nazi Germany and nationalist Japan - were first defeated and then democratised. The point - which is borne out by the experience of both Germany and Japan - is that after American military intervention, the return to "full sovereignty" can and must be gradual. Sovereignty is not an absolute but a relative concept. As the Stanford political scientist Steve Krasner has said, much of what passes for sovereignty in today's world of interdependent polities and supra-national institutions is in fact just "organised hypocrisy". It is precisely the kind of government Iraq needs. For history shows that limited sovereignty can, in conditions of economic and political instability, be preferable to full sovereignty. Take the case of post-war Germany, overrun by allied forces in the spring of 1945. The first elected West German government did not take office until as late as the spring of 1949. It was not until the Federal Republic joined Nato in October 1953, that it was accorded "the full authority of a sovereign state". Even then the victorious powers retained control over Germany's historic capital, Berlin. And, of course, substantial numbers of American and British troops remained in West Germany for another 50 years. We do not, of course, know how West Germany would have fared if the Americans, as they originally intended, had pulled out after just a couple of years and left the Germans to it. What we do know is that limited sovereignty worked, allowing Germans to relearn the practice of democratic politics. In the wake of the Abu Ghraib scan dal, many Europeans have assumed that Iraq's only hope lies with a swift termination of the Anglo-American occupation. They fail to consider how much worse things in Iraq couldget if that wish were granted. Do they not see the risks of a major civil war? Have they forgotten what happened in Lebanon in the late 1970s? The "organised hypocrisy" of limited sovereignty may sound unsatisfactory to the bien pensant critics of American imperialism. But it is preferable to an over-hasty American exit from Iraq - and a possible descent into chaos. Better that Iraq's sovereignty should be limited than torn apart.
  • Create New...