William Hague has warned that repressive African leaders will find it harder to "hide from the world" and should "take heed" of events in the Middle East.
Addressing a Times summit yesterday (published as a comment piece today – £), he sounded emboldened by Britain's action in Libya, declaring that "Britain has an ambitious foreign policy that seeks to build up our standing and influence in the world".
He compared Robert Mugabe and Laurent Gbagbo directly to Muammar al-Gaddafi, implying that Britain could have a role to play in their countries, too:
The action we have taken in Libya, authorised by the United Nations Security Council, shows that the international community does take gross violations of human rights extremely seriously.
Just as Gaddafi is an obstacle to the peaceful development of Libya, there are others who stand in the way of a brighter future for their countries. In Ivory Coast the former president, Laurent Gbagbo, has refused to concede that he lost last year's presidential election and is sanctioning attacks on defenceless civilians in a desperate attempt to cling illegitimately to power. In Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe's security forces continue to act with impunity, ramping up intimidation in order to instil fear in their opponents.
With allied missiles raining down over Libya, the subtext of such a comparison is clear. While Hague's suggestions focused on sanctions against countries that protect corrupt dictators, and forcing those responsible for human rights abuses to face international justice, the threatening language and emphasis on the role Britain has to play implies a new, muscular phase in our foreign policy.