The Miliband Doctrine? The three principles that will define Labour’s foreign policy

24th April, 2015 9:24 am

Ed Miliband

Ed Miliband will give a pretty thorough and thoughtful speech on foreign policy at Chatham House this morning. Foreign policy has often been the obvious missing piece of Labour’s policy jigsaw – not just during the election campaign, but over the past five years. The focus on “One Nation” often seemed like all other nations were given less thought and focus. So it’s good to see Miliband presenting out the early outlines of what we might call the “Miliband Doctrine” today.

Yet before the speech has even been made, the Tories have sought to misinterpret – no, not that’s not strong enough – they’ve chosen to outright lie and deceive about the contents of Miliband’s speech in order to accuse him of blaming Cameron for the deaths of drowning Libyan migrants. There are three key tenets to the Miliband Doctrine, so lets tackle the one that pertains to Libya first:

1. There’s a place for intervention, but only if it’s done right – and if post-war planning is adequate – I opposed the 2003 Iraq War – as did Ed Miliband – but it’s been clear from the off that the greatest failing made by the “coalition of the willing” wasn’t toppling Saddam (he was a dictator who cruelly oppressed his people) but the disastrous post-war period. That included dismantling most of the state and collapsing the army and the police force meaning that the whole country had to be rebuilt from the ground up. Meanwhile militias were built, sectarianism rose and we end up in the grotesque farce of ISIS driving hundreds of miles into Iraq. Ed Miliband has learned this lesson, which is why he’ll say:

“Legitimate interventions must be supported by international, regional and local players, carried out with a clearly defined strategy, as well as include a comprehensive transition and post conflict strategy. These are the vital lessons of our recent past and I will not forget them.”

That quote comes from a whole section on the failings of post-war planning and reconstruction in Iraq. But there’s also – understandably, as a recent example of UK military action (which Labour supported) a section on Libya, which takes a similar tone:

“In Libya, Labour supported military action to avoid the slaughter Qaddafi threatened in Benghazi.  But since the action, the failure of post conflict planning has become obvious. David Cameron was wrong to assume that Libya’s political culture and institutions could be left to evolve and transform on their own.

“What we have seen in Libya is that when tensions over power and resource began to emerge, they simply reinforced deep seated ideological and ethnic fault lines in the country, meaning the hopes of the revolutionary uprisings quickly began to unravel. The tragedy is that this could have been anticipated.  It should have been avoided. And Britain could have played its part in ensuring the international community stood by the people of Libya in practice rather than standing behind the unfounded hopes of potential progress only in principle.”

Three things spring to mind reading that. One – there’s no sense in the Labour Party having learned the lessons of Iraq, only to ignore them when the Tories make the same mistakes because it might be inconvenient to point them out. And two – anyone who claims that paragraph is an attack on David Cameron (who is unnamed) or lays blame at his door for the deaths of Libyan migrants is clearly delusional or deluding you. And thirdly, does anyone – do the Tories – dispute that post-war planning in Libya (which was so bad a situation arose where the US Ambassador was murdered in his own consulate) could and should have been done better? I doubt any rational person considers Libya (or Iraq) an example of post-war success.

Of course when Miliband talks about intervention, people are going to talk about Syria. I think that the West should have (and still should) intervened in Syria. But lets remember what Miliband was proposing – a brief delay on airstrikes in order to establish the facts (learning a lesson on hasty political-timetable-driven action from the past) – which Cameron rejected. I would have backed bombing Assad. But the net consequence may have been to boost a (then less well known) ISIS – so Miliband’s warning about proper information and planning counts when it comes to Syria too.

2. Restoring the primacy of multi-lateral institutions  – Miliband will talk extensively about working more closely with NATO and European partners today. At a time when a newly assertive and aggressive Putin is annexing sections of nations on Europe’s fringes, and running proxy wars with dummy armies elsewhere, the need for multi-lateral action and strong alliances is as great as it has been since the end of the Cold War. So Miliband will say:

“NATO is, and must remain, the foundation of our defence and security partnership. We will work tirelessly to ensure its greater effectiveness because Western unity and resolve are essential, as we have seen in the face of Russian aggression in the Ukraine. NATO needs to send the signals of deterrence required to prevent the line of confrontation being moved further west.”

He then goes on to make an actual attack on the Tories over defence that is far harder than anything the Tories have dreamed up by misinterpreting Miliband’s words. There’s little misinterpreting this:

“I am not going to sacrifice the defence and security of our country on an ideological commitment to a significantly smaller state”

As for Europe (some have joked that staying in Europe is Labour’s main and at times only foreign policy constant) Miliband says that he wants to not just remain in Europe, but for Britain to lead and reform it too. There’s a clear point being made here. Under Blair – and even Thatcher – there was a sense that Britain’s voice mattered around the table in Europe. Today that can’t seriously be the case. And on the international stage we’re diminished by that fact – or as Miliband puts it “David Cameron has presided over the biggest loss of influence for our country in a generation”.

3. Human rights, climate change and tackling inequality. An “ethical foreign policy”? – Miliband will talk about foreign policy goals that have largely been absent from the debate today. In particular, he’ll talk about the need to tackle climate change. As his biggest moment in the last government was the Copenhagen climate change summit, you’d expect as much. But he’ll also allude to a change of direction on tackling international inequality and pushing for stronger human rights. The question is – how far is Miliband willing to go on the latter? Only a few months ago David Cameron went to Saudi Arabia to fawn over a deceased theocratic dictator who flogs bloggers, stones people to death and chops off hands and heads. Would Ed Miliband do likewise? Would he be willing to put human rights ahead of realpolitik in these kind of situations? That will be the acid test of which way Miliband’s foreign policy would go. And although I’m hopeful that Miliband would put human rights first every time, it’s still not yet possible to say for certain which way a he would jump when the time comes.

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  • SpinningHugo

    “Britain could have played its part in ensuring the international community stood by the people of Libya in practice ”

    By doing what, with specifics?

    You cannot send UN missions into war zones without troops on the ground.

    So, is it being suggested that we should have sent troops into Libya?

    If so, why is it thought there would have been UN backing for that.

    If not, what with specifics, is being suggested should have been done?

    Assuming, at all points, that Miliband still agrees with his vote to support the intervention in Libya.

    If I were Obama, I would not be happy with this speech. It looks like someone saying there are easy answers to problems that are insoluble.

    • BenM_Kent

      Like a George W Bush speech!

    • Dez

      Just more vacuous waffle & yet another bandwagon,truly pathetic.

  • Your paragraph on Syria is factually wrong. Ed Miliband got his delay on action into the government motion, and he *still* opposed it. He called for Parliament to set a timetable for military action – i.e. tell Assad’s forces in advance exactly how long they need to stay in their bunkers – which is militarily idiotic. And in his “hell yes” telling now, it had nothing to do with gathering evidence, nothing to do with children being poisoned to death, nothing to do with Assad, it was all about standing up to Obama.

    The line about ISIS displays complete ignorance of what’s happening in Syria. ISIS benefited from the block on action. ISIS have benefited from Assad’s financial support. ISIS have benefited from Assad’s military support. Consequently ISIS have benefited from Miliband obstructing action against Assad.

    • Matthew Blott

      Sad to say, Syria was not Miliband’s finest hour. I think it best if Miliband and his supporters stay quiet on the subject.

      • Doug Smith

        Miliband played it by the book.

        Miliband had argued for a punitive strike against Assad and wanted to take the matter to the UN under R2P (for which a vote isn’t needed) before a second vote.

        But Cameron threw the towel in.

        A Miliband source was quoted in the Guardian the day after the vote, the source said that Labour had never ruled out military intervention but things fell apart because Tories hadn’t appreciated the importance of the second vote.

        Miliband’s shame is that, having favoured military intervention, he took credit when it didn’t happen.

        • The established UK position is that under certain circumstances the UK Government regards humanitarian intervention as legal even without a UN Security Council resolution.

          Labour’s amendment however called for a UN Security Council vote whether it was necessary or not.

          Miliband’s position in the debate was to accept UK Government legal advice on humanitarian intervention, but to add his own novel and illogical interpretation of the advice in arguing for Parliament to set a timetable for military action.

          In the debate Miliband also fell in line with Obama by demanding an exclusive focus on chemical weapons, which was contrary to claiming a purely humanitarian view as even more civilians were being killed by the regime’s high explosive air attacks and artillery.

          Over 95% of those killed by Assad’s air attacks are civilians, according to Violations Documentation Center in Syria records. Over half the women and children killed last year were killed by Assad’s air attacks. If Miliband were serious about humanitarian action he would be supporting calls by Syrian non-violent activists and Syrian rescue volunteers for a no-fly zone.

          • Doug Smith

            If the West had been serious about humanitarian action they would have called for a seize-fire before the situation escalated into a full scale multi-faceted civil war.

            As with Libya, the West’s hunger for regime change prevented sensible action and they chose to place their faith in non-existent ‘moderate’ rebels.

          • Brian Barder

            It may be “that under certain circumstances the UK
            Government regards humanitarian intervention as legal even without a UN
            Security Council resolution”, but it would be very difficult to find a reputable international law expert who would agree. The theory has been comprehensively trashed in the debates leading up to the unanimous adoption by the UN General Assembly and the Security Council of R2P (in which incidentally the R stands for Responsibility, not Right). To argue otherwise would be to drive a coach and horses through the fundamental provisions of the UN Charter governing the use of force in international affairs. Those who assert this dangerous and unaccepted ‘doctrine’, largely conceived to provide a makeshift figleaf for UK-US aggression against Iraq without UN authority, should be careful what they wish for.

          • No, the UK Government view on humanitarian intervention was set out in October 1998, prior to the Kosovo intervention. It has nothing to do with Iraq.

          • Brian Barder

            Thank you for the correction, Kellie. I was thinking of Tony Blair’s infamous Chicago speech in 1999 at the height of the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, and the UK Attorney-General’s hastily revised advice on the legality of the aggression against Iraq in 2003. Both these heresies were, or should have been, laid to permanent rest by the unanimous adoption by the heads of state and government of the R2P document, also formally adopted by the Security Council, in 2005.

        • Matthew Blott

          Cameron threw in the towel because he doubted Miliband’s commitment and feared he (Miliband) was too concerned about upsetting Dianne Abbott. Miliband has exceeded expectations in this campaign and we should be grateful he’s still in the fight. But his incoherence on foreign policy is unravelling at a pace and threatens to undo all the good work that has been done so far. I wish he had just said nothing on the subject.

          • Doug Smith

            “Miliband has exceeded expectations”

            Totally agree.

            Miliband is right to call out the war-mongers on the mayhem they create.

            It may not be apparent to New Labour ideologues and to the political elite but millions of ordinary people up and down the country will recognise common sense in Miliband’s words.

          • bevinboy

            Given that the country and the world has not forgotten Iraq, the deceit to get us in and the absolute lack of coherence in what came after, it might have been wiser to keep quiet on this. ,

            Labour trying to score such cheap political points against Cameron with two weeks to the election, is not going to do us any favours with public opinion.

            In the pubs tonight this will be news and people will bring up Iraq,

            More than that it will hang around for days. Like a bad smell. It will probably still be in the Sunday papers.

            I have said before, the team around Miliband are witless fools. Tactically stupid.

            Sorry Ed, an own goal

          • Matthew Blott

            Agree, very stupid. I think he got carried away with his stupid boast about Syria in the challengers’ debate – I hope it doesn’t turn out to be his ‘Sheffield’ moment.

        • Brian Barder

          Action under R2P does require the formal approval of the UN Security Council, like any other kind of military intervention otherwise than in self-defence. There is no recognised right of “humanitarian intervention” that enables a government to by-pass the Charter. Please see, which spells it all out, and also contains the text of my letter in the Guardian on 27 August 2013 ( Bombing Syria to punish Assad for (probably) using chemical weapons without the explicit prior approval of the Security Council would have been yet another breach of our UN Charter obligations, aka a war crime, although almost no-one saw fit to point this out during the famous debate when Cameron unexpectedly interpreted the two votes as a refusal of parliamentary approval for the bombing (inexplicably but fortunately).

          I found Ed Miliband’s Chatham House speech extremely disappointing, but I don’t propose to spell out publicly what I think was wrong with it — this is no time for an own goal!

          • Doug Smith

            Thanks for that, Brian. Very useful.

            Let’s hope our leaders are now familiar with the 2005 World Summit outcome document!

      • Marco

        Absolutely. Ed’s speech today was disgraceful. He abandoned Syria and now he’s claiming the moral high ground? He proved today that he is not suited to high office.

  • Doug Smith

    Miliband, along with New Labour, are still refusing to recognise catastrophic misjudgments.

    They claim there was not enough intervention. Mayhem and terrorist blowback instigated by the initial intervention then becomes their excuse for more intervention. For these people there can never be enough intervention.

    And of course, once they have us embroiled us in further disasters they attempt to save the reputations of those responsible by sweeping matters under the carpet. “Well, we’ve got ourselves into this”, they say, “so we must continue.”

    And disaster follows disaster.

  • Rick

    Two general guidelines:
    – If it doesn’t directly impact the UK then it’s none of our business.
    – If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.

    And add a third – sod the EU !!!!

    • BenM_Kent

      Politics of the nursery school there.

  • swatnan

    Which faction should Britain have supported? They are all as bad as each other, and from past experience we know that ‘rebels’ are just a disguise for Mujehedin/Al Quida and ISIS. Britain must learn to trust none of these so called Rebel Groups..
    The only question to ask is : Is it in Britain’s long term interest? and intervention is not. Let them fight it out on their on territory. If there is intervention, then it must be through the UN.
    These are Regional conflicts, and it is those in that Region to sort out. Let the Arabs themselves sort it out.

    • Chrisso

      Which ‘faction’? The one that was elected. The National Transitional Council (NTC) of 2011 that became the General National Congress in 2012.

      • swatnan

        The Moslem Brotherhood also got elected in Egypt and they made a mess of things. Don’t put your faith or trust in any of them.

        • Chrisso

          That can be the problem with elections – a bunch of politicians, like Cameron and Clegg in 2010, can make a right mess of things. Your alternative is … ?

  • Diggery Whiggery

    Could Labourites please explain why their esteemed leader is taking his cues from Nigel Farage over Libya, in the same way he did over Syria? He either has a confidence problem or a lack of ideas problem, or both.

  • Andrew

    Proven beyond doubt, Miliband is a slug. Game over with this one

  • Bernie Evans

    Wrote this a few weeks ago, before Labour`s decision to cash in on recent tragedies.:
    One thing very noticeable about the current election campaign is the lack
    of prominence given to foreign policy, and the reason for this has to be the
    fact that the policies of the three main parties are so disappointingly similar.
    There are differences over Europe, admittedly, but these are mostly related to
    economics and immigration.
    At the start of the century, Labour proudly advocated an ethical foreign
    policy, but a few interventions by Blair soon put a stop to that, and since
    then, with the exception of Miliband’s prevention of the bombing of Syria,
    Tory/coalition/Labour policies have largely coincided. Should we Labour voters
    be happy about this situation?
    Miliband has declared himself rock solid in favour of maintaining the
    Trident nuclear option, just like Cameron, but vague statements about
    deterrents have proved insufficient in answering questions about scenarios where
    nuclear weapons could be the effective solution, or how the need for American
    approval can possibly increase British prestige. Then there are the issues of
    whether the hundred billion or so could be more wisely spent, and whether
    skills necessary to build nuclear submarines are transferable. I rather like
    the idea of British state owned cruise ships regularly docking in the popular
    Mediterranean ports!
    In the Middle East, preventing bombing in Syria should have marked the
    beginning of a foreign policy which aimed for long lasting peace in the area,
    but with no objections forthcoming, tacit approval has been given, instead, to
    more intervention, this time by the Saudis in the Yemen.When defence Secretary,
    Hammond, promised the UK’s support for the bombing by the Saudis and the many
    other Gulf dictatorships, “in every way” it can, shouldn’t Labour at least have
    protested, warned about the need for caution, or made some symbolic gesture?
    When the Yemen’s Houthi fighters have the apparent but modest backing of Iran,
    questions have to be asked about the point of the recent, much lauded nuclear
    deal with Iran if we actively encourage Saudi Iranian conflict. No answers
    emanate from Labour, however.
    Have Labour politicians voiced disapproval over the hundreds of American
    drones dropped on the Yemen because of Al Quida’s presence there, even though it
    is well documented what happens to terrorist support in the event of external
    attack? Whilst the US and her allies support the Sunni powers in the Yemen
    against Shia Iran, the opposite occurs in Iraq, with backing for Shia fighters
    against the Sunni Isis group. Shouldn’t Labour be advocating a UN peace
    initiative, a conference, or something?
    Lack of support for Tsipras’ s Greece, albeit not unexpected in view of
    opinions about austerity, are nevertheless, disappointing, too. Does every
    mainstream politician in Europe lack the bottle to disagree, even mildly, with
    Merkel? Two minor opposition parties in Germany have voiced support for the
    Greeks’ claim for reparations owed from World War Two, but from Labour the
    silence is deafening. Surely the payment of Germany reparations offer a sensible
    and fair method for the Greeks to start balancing their books? On a similar
    subject, a Labour pledge to return the Parthenon marbles to their rightful
    owners would not only show them to be on the side of justice, it would prove a
    much needed boost to the Greek economy.
    So much is being ignored , so much is not being said, one can only wonder
    if a Labour government’s foreign policy would be noticeably different in any
    way at all!

  • Len B

    But since the action, the failure of post conflict planning has become obvious.

    Not really true, is it? Failure to plan post-war was being discussed in media from the outset of the campaign. Where is the Labour road map showing what they wanted to happen? There is not one.

    European military should have invaded Libya to secure civil order. But we are too weak. We are good at throwing stones (bombing) but we run from a fist fight (boots on the ground). That is cowardice.

  • Chrisso

    I gather Miliband changed his speech after hearing that the draft got a poor reception because of the allegations against Cameron. It’s maybe not a good idea to trail everything way before a speech is actually given … Vernon Coaker got a pasting on the Daily Politics on Friday, he seemed ill prepared on his leader’s approach to foreign affairs and specifically Libya.

    • CrunchieTime

      Did you see Douglas Alexander on newsnight? It was like watching a game of foreign policy jingo bingo.

      He used a lot of off the shelf phrases to say absolutely nothing whatsoever.

      • uglyfatbloke

        Did you really expect anything better from Alexander?

  • 000a000

    Ed should state clearly that the Labour Party is sorry for the Iraq war and that this will forever more be used as a reminder that a campaign run the best of wishes (I personally think Blair thought he was doing the right thing) can turn into a disaster.

    His waffle on Libya is somewhat telling. What would he have done differently? Would have have gone for a full scale ground invasion? His words sounds fine but have no specifics that would apply to the real world.


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