Leading article: The dangers of getting too close to Gaddafi's Libya

Engagement with Tripoli is justified – pandering to the regime is not

Related Topics

Much of the anger unleashed by the release of Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, the man convicted of perpetrating the 1988 Lockerbie bombing, feels misdirected. True, British ministers have made themselves look shifty by trying to argue that maintaining relations with Libya had nothing to do with Megrahi's release. And the revelation that Gordon Brown had expressed his desire to Libyan officials that the terminally ill Megrahi should not die in a Scottish jail has embarrassed the Prime Minister.

There is, nevertheless, something synthetic about the row the release has generated, given the legitimate doubts that exist over whether Megrahi was actually responsible for the bombing of Pan Am flight 103. Those who argue that Libyan appeals for Megrahi's release should have been rejected out of hand need to answer how justice would have been served by forcing an individual, who may well be innocent, to spend the final weeks of his life in jail?

There is, of course, more to this affair than the fate of Megrahi. What has helped to make his release so controversial is the suspicion that a regime which sponsored terrorism is being appeased. So the important question is not whether Megrahi should have been released, or whether the British Government had any influence on the decision of the Scottish executive, but whether Western governments should be doing business with a state like Libya.

Over the course of his unbroken 40 year rule (celebrated with such gusto in Tripoli this week) the Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi, has sponsored international terrorism, ruthlessly crushed domestic dissent and squandered Libya's vast oil revenues. The outrageous show trial in 2004 of eight Bulgarian nurses falsely accused of infecting Libyan children with Aids offered the world a glimpse of the true face of Gaddafi's regime.

The willingness of Western leaders to deal with Gaddafi dates from 2003, when the Libyan leader offered to scrap a secret nuclear weapons programme in exchange for Western recognition and an end to sanctions. On balance, the West was right to accept that deal.

There are dangers in this approach, not least the demoralising signal that it sends to those Libyans yearning for an end to Gaddafi's misrule. But as in Iran and North Korea, engagement is preferable to a policy of hostile isolation. Libya is no democracy, but it is, at least, no longer sponsoring terrorism abroad, nor seeking to develop weapons of mass destruction. That is the realpolitik justification for reaching out to Libya – and it is a compelling one.

Yet the criticism that engagement with Libya has degenerated into pandering has some merit too. The sense that commercial interests – notably in the oil industry – are being allowed to override concerns of justice and human rights is growing. That is dangerous. History has taught us the dire consequences of our governments becoming cosy with "friendly" dictators.

There is a case for engagement with Libya, even investment. But Gaddafi's regime itself must be kept strictly at arms length. A doctrine of realpolitik that loses all sight of morality and justice ends up undermining its own purposes.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Yvette Cooper campaigning in London at the launch of Labour’s women’s manifesto  

I want the Labour Party to lead a revolution in family support

Yvette Cooper
Liz Kendall  

Labour leadership contest: 'Moderniser' is just a vague and overused label

Steve Richards
Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine