Only open societies, democracy can guarantee long-term stability, says UK Deputy Prime Minister

Nicholas Clegg, Deputy Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

27 September 2013 – Warning that the forces of insularity and isolationism are gaining momentum, British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg told the United Nations General Assembly today that the recent global economic crisis proved the strengths of open societies, with openness being critical to lasting stability and success.

“As we meet today, the most important fault line is not one of geography, or ideology, or religion, or wealth. It is the divide between those societies which are open, and those which are closed,” he said during the Assembly’s annual General Debate, with open societies choosing democracy at home and engagement abroad while closed societies suppress the liberty of their citizens, draw a veil across their actions and withdraw from our shared international life.

He noted that authoritarian States point enthusiastically at the ongoing fallout of the 2008 financial crisis as proof of a broken Western model, countering that their citizens may be less free but their growth rates outstrip those in the West and claiming that liberal democracy has had its day.

“But those who make these claims are wrong; they are drawing the wrong conclusions from recent events. The real lesson of the last five years has been the remarkable resilience of open societies and the acute need for international cooperation in today's world,” he stressed.

“Just as the events of recent years have revealed the weaknesses of some Western economies, they have also underscored the great strength of open societies: the ability to evolve and adapt. Open societies do not fear change - and, in the 21st century, this openness to reform is critical to lasting stability and success.”

Dealing with individual cases and the so-called Arab Spring of 2011, the United Kingdom Minister said the recent military removal of an elected President in Egypt did not mean that democracy has failed but that a single set of elections had failed.

“Egypt now needs to return to the path of inclusive democracy – the democratic urge remains as strong among the people as when they first rejoiced in [Cairo’s] Tahrir Square [after the ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak’s Government],” he declared.

“While the road to democracy is difficult, the direction of travel is set. Everywhere you look, people are standing together against discrimination, for equality; against oppression, for liberty.

A wave of openness has emerged – transcending borders and cultures. Men and women of every creed, faith and colour [are] calling for fair opportunities and demanding to be heard.”

Mr. Clegg highlighted poverty as no less a threat to stability and freedom than conflict and oppression, noting that despite the strain on its finances, the UK has met its target to spend 0.7 per cent of Gross National Income on development assistance, the only country in the G20 group of 20 major economies to do so.

“Following the global economic crisis, we said we would not balance our books on the backs of the world's poorest,” he said. “We have held true to our word.”

He also called for enlargement of the 15-member UN Security Council to prevent it from becoming a relic of a different time, repeating UK support for permanent seats for Brazil, India, Germany and Japan, as well as permanent African representation.

On terrorism he urged a robust, intelligent and global response. “Our work together can make a genuine difference,” he said. “Alone we can take small steps forward, but together we can take giant leaps.”

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