Editorial | Torture acceptance undermines “do as I do” foreign policy ideal

March 15th, 2012

This article is more than 11 years old.

When you’re a little country, sometimes the most powerful foreign policy tool you have is the example you set. While few – including most Danes – would claim that Denmark alone has a decisive impact on global affairs, the country is widely recognised for its commitment to multi-lateral efforts, such as in Afghanistan where the country’s per capita troop commitment is among the highest of the 40 or so countries with forces there.

Similarly, when it comes to foreign aid, one of the hallmarks of Danish foreign policy, the country seeks to set the good example. Although the 15 billion kroner spent each year on foreign aid is just a tenth of what the US, the world’s largest giver, sets aside, Denmark is only one of four countries giving more than the 0.7 percent of GDP established by the UN. (Denmark gives 0.88 percent.)


And while conventional foreign aid wisdom would have seen Denmark threaten a withdrawal of its funds from a country that was on the verge of passing measures such as Uganda’s anti-homosexual law, the Foreign Ministry has offered a more innovative approach by choosing to stay in the country in order to act as a thorn in the side of an oppressive regime.  


With the focus on being a good role model so ingrained in Danish foreign policy thinking, you would have thought it would have been a no-brainer for the government to throw its full support behind comments made this week by the foreign minister, Villy Søvndal, categorically rejecting the use of information obtained from torture. 


In failing to do so, it sends the unfortunate signal that, despite its stance that other countries shouldn’t torture their citizens, Denmark is willing to turn a blind eye if the information obtained is valuable enough to prevent the loss of Danish lives.


Collaborating with states that practice torture mars the country’s foreign policy image. But far more detrimental is that by having a double standard when it comes to torture, other countries now have reason to doubt whether Denmark is playing “do as I say, not as I do”.


Describing his position in Berlingske newspaper, Søvndal wrote that “we can only win the fight against terrorism in the long term if we remain true to our core values: international law, human rights and the rule of law.” That’s an example we think is well worth following in the entire foreign policy sphere.


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