One recurrent issue in the Q&A with David Miliband was the debate over the responsibility of the government to intervene in politically volatile countries where human rights are being abused. This is a pertinent issue considering the current situation in Syria and Sri Lanka, the war in Afghanistan , the revolution in Egypt and the fall of Gaddafi in Libya.
During Miliband’s time as Foreign Secretary under Gordon Brown, he spent time in Sri Lanka, where he faced the issue of terrorist group Tamil Tigers and the conflict with the government.
When asked what he regretted during his time in office, Miliband stated that, “We failed to stop between 60-120 thousand people from being killed in the civil war in Sri Lanka. You can’t help but have enormous regret and frustration about that”.
Miliband discussed this in the light of a recent report by the UN which stated “inadequate efforts by the world body to protect civilians during the bloody final months of Sri Lanka’s civil war marked a grave failure that led to suffering for hundreds of thousands of people”. Miliband said that he had tried to “raise the alarm” about the situation but had failed to do enough. He also regretted the decision of the UN officials to pull out of the country in 2009.
One of the issues, surrounding the debate over whether or not powerful countries such as the USA and its allies, including Great Britain, should intervene in the conflicts of foreign countries is that it can be a “Catch 22” situation for politicians. Governments can be chastised for not intervening in situations such as Sri Lanka, yet the war in Iraq and Afghanistan exemplify how intervention can be misguided and sometimes leave countries in a worse state than they were before.
Miliband noted within the Q&A session that in the history of Labour the war in Iraq will be a “chapter rather than a footnote”. When Politics Professor Philip Cowley, Chair of the Q&A session, probed Miliband about Iraq and Weapons of Mass Destruction in particular, Miliband’s answer was uncharacteristically curt.
“If Saddam had let the inspectors in to do their work, there would have been no case for a war, and if we had known what we know now I would not have voted for a war in Iraq”.
Whilst Miliband was cautious over who should claim responsibility over the war in Iraq he was at least honest about its consequences, highlighting the issue of the increased Shia and Sunni hostility in the region since the war.
However, despite admitting that he regretted not getting Afghanistan on the right “political track”, he highlighted his belief in the interconnection of nations and how this should lead to a global “conscience” on issues such as human rights; issues which should be acted upon.
The main issue, as Miliband pointed out himself, is that this philosophy can conflict with that of other nations, such as China, who believe that countries should manage their own “internal affairs”, undoubtedly with an eye on their own human rights record. Consequently a global conscience simply does not exist, with countries’ ideologies and political philosophies divided and often conflicting.
There will always be a fine line between global stewardship and the invasive, forced imposition of western ideals. A line which politicians will have to tread carefully in the future. If Ed Miliband wins the election in 2015, he will undoubtedly remain cautious over any intervention on foreign soil, while Labour still recovers from the backlash over the war in Iraq. As to whether David Miliband will have the opportunity to be at the heart of global politics again, who knows? On questioned as to whether he would return to the Labour front bench he remained ambiguous, however its hard to imagine a man so absorbed in politics staying out of the “bubble” for long.