Taking foreign policy seriously
A couple of months ago, I was at a reception to mark the 10th anniversary of the think tank, the Foreign Policy Centre, and the keynote address was made by the Foreign Secretary, David Miliband. I was struck at the time by the serious intent of his remarks and how he was attempting to give intellectual coherence to British foreign policy.
Over the past decades, various descriptions have been applied by foreign secretaries to what lay at the root of the UK's foreign policy such as being 'a bridge between the US and Europe' or 'punching above our weight'. But it seemed to me that Mr Miliband was attempting something more ambitious and a quick internet search showed he had been making a series of speeches laying out his themes but these had attracted very little attention. So I decided to ask the foreign office if David Miliband would be interviewed in depth for a special edition of the programme. You can listen to it here.
To my (pleasant) surprise, the proposal was taken up with enthusiasm by Mr Miliband and his communications team. It took a couple of months to get together - we had to commission four pieces to illustrate and critique his four themes and they had to find a slot in his diary - the first attempt was postponed at the last minute as Mr Miliband went on an unannounced visit to Iraq on the day we'd earmarked.
The four themes Mr Miliband has identified as the key policies the UK is pursuing are:
- counter terrorism
- preventing and resolving conflict
- promoting a transition to a low carbon, high growth global economy
- reforming and strengthening international institutions like the UN and the EU
Robin Lustig opened the programme by asking him about Burma and the debate over whether humanitarian relief should be delivered in the face of opposition from the Burmese military regime because they have not apparently been doing very much to help the victims of Cyclone Nargis. The interview gave us a news story as well as an opportunity to analyse policy in depth, because Mr Miliband told us the UN's Responsibility to Protect principle could be invoked in the case of Burma even though it was originally designed to enable intervention to prevent genocide or crimes against humanity. This was picked up by various commentators and has led to a lively debate on other websites such as the Guardian.
And speaking of blogs, the foreign secretary himself commented on the programme on his. It was his turn to be surprised as he said we journalists were taking foreign policy seriously.
We ended the interview by asking Mr Miliband about the problems the Labour Party has faced in recent weeks and the particular criticism levelled at the prime minister. Although, this issue is very much of the moment and we are a news programme, it did mean there was less time to question Mr Miliband on his defence of his argument that we can help China to promote low carbon growth despite the criticism of Beijing's human rights record, and on his assertion that recognising the independence of Kosovo did not undermine the authority of the UN.
Take a listen and tell us what you think.