Swaminathan Aiyar at PostGlobal

Swaminathan Aiyar

New Delhi, India

Swaminathan S. Anklesaria Aiyar is the Consulting Editor of The Economic Times, India's largest financial daily. He writes a popular weekly column, titled Swaminomics in the Times of India. He spends roughly half the year in New Delhi and half in Washington D.C., where he is a research fellow at the Cato Institute and an occasional consultant to the World Bank. He has been the editor of India's two main financial dailies, The Economic Times (1992-94) and Financial Express (1988-90). He was also the India Correspondent of the British weekly, The Economist, for most of two decades between 1976 and 1998. Close.

Swaminathan Aiyar

New Delhi, India

Swaminathan S. Anklesaria Aiyar is the Consulting Editor of The Economic Times, India's largest financial daily. He writes a popular weekly column in the Times of India titled Swaminomics. more »

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No Moral Ground to Oust Mugabe Alone

The Current Discussion:Zimbabwe's chaos has brought about unprecedented cooperation in the UN, with even China and Russia switching sides to condemn Mugabe's government. So -- what should this united UN DO to force change?

Robert Mugabe is indeed an odious ruler with blood on his hands. But since when is that a disqualification to rule? The world has long been full of rulers even more odious and bloodthirsty than he.

We would love to have a world composed exclusively of enlightened democracies. But since that is not the case, should we oust dictators by force? The practical difficulties--and possibility of massive, cruel disaster--have already been demonstrated in efforts to remove a dictator in Iraq. Even putting aside the practical difficulties, how firm is the moral ground for acting against Mugabe?

The vast majority of 20th century world rulers were bloody autocrats, and the shift to democracy in the 21st century has so far been partial and unconvincing. Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan are autocracies. Does anybody suggest UN action to topple them? All the Central Asian republics are autocracies. Does anybody suggest toppling them? No, because they are generally pro-Western autocracies, and that apparently expiates their sins. Of Mugabe's many crimes, the one that is apparently unforgivable is that he has confiscated the land of white farmers, killed some and driven out others. In earlier times, when he accommodated whites, the West hailed him as a great freedom fighter. Britain even knighted him. These encomiums were poured on him despite his killing 10,000 to 20,000 members of the rival Matabele tribe during an uprising. Nobody called him a bloody criminal at the time. Only when he turned viciously against whites did the western media and political class suddenly find in him despicable qualities that had somehow escaped them earlier.

This white bias is well understood in Africa--and Asia--and explains why other African rulers have been slow to join Western condemnation of him. Some have finally condemned him now, but none of them wants military action to topple Mugabe. They know that in the long list of bloodthirsty African dictators, Mugabe does not rank very high. Unlike others, Mugabe has in the past held some perfectly fair elections. Even this time, despite using deplorably violent tactics, he actually allowed himself to be beaten in the first round – something no autocrat in Central Asia or the Middle East would have permitted.

Yes, Mugabe's ineptness has caused hyperinflation and economic disaster. Yet history is full of economic disasters, and these have never sparked international action to oust the rulers.

Should the UN condemn Mugabe? Certainly. All good humans must condemn Mugabe's violence and murder. But remember that for most of its history, the majority of UN members have been bloodthirsty and economically inept autocrats. Yet the institution still gives all members an equal vote. If bloodthirsty, murderous states are acceptable as UN members--and China surely fits this description-- is there any moral ground on which to oust Mugabe alone?

There is much to be said for the Westphalian principle of not interfering with the internal affairs of countries, no matter how odious their rulers or practices may be. Better would be economic sanctions that may spur an internal process in Zimbabwe that ousts Mugabe. These may simply worsen economic misery without ousting Mugabe. Yet that is a risk worth taking.

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