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Taking foreign policy seriously

Alistair Burnett Alistair Burnett | 16:40 UK time, Friday, 16 May 2008

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.

The World TonightOver 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.

David Miliband and Robin Lustig
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.


  • Comment number 1.

    Points one and two interested me, alas, points three and four are just the same old dross that we have had from this government. The only way of Britain's standing with regard to the EU is to leave it.

  • Comment number 2.

    What with Bin Laden threatening Israel are we about to be plunged into another war in the Middle East?

    All I have to say is that Bin Laden is reported to have died (As reported by Benazhir Bhutto to the BBC, and other reports). Therefore be prepared for another false flag terrorist attack... and another Middle Eastern war. "Another False Flag" event, you may say... Investigate 9/11 and tell me honestly - do you believe the Bush Administration?

  • Comment number 3.

    Miliband is a realistic politician, he knows his position is to protect Britain's economic and political interests. The so-called universal value is just a card he can play with at the moment, he knows how to use it and how to shut up.
    We are not living in a fantasy island, the media should learn how to let your voice heard rather than making enemies in the world.

  • Comment number 4.

    Dear Alistair,

    In the interests of balance, will you be conducting an equally sycophantic interview with the Lib Dem and Tory front bench foreign policy spokesmen?

  • Comment number 5.

    i think that foreign policy should be made a major priority in the countries of the world....

  • Comment number 6.

    It is a great shame that there seems only Mr David Miliband left in the cabinet who seems capable of answering the odd question.

  • Comment number 7.


    I watched your interview, and have two points to make:

    1, the Foreign policy centre is a left of centre unelected think-tank.

    2, Your interview if it can be called an interview was conducted in the most biased of manners, Millband is a Labour Minister, of course he wants to be interviewed by the Labour parties in-house media outlet.

    The BBC has a growing reputation for being biased towards all things left, with interviews like the one you had with Millband is it any wonder that only 7% of the UK population trusts you (your own survey)?.

  • Comment number 8.

    Miliband hinted about various things he desired for "international institutions" while waltzing in ambiguity.

    Does one wish a rule of law?

    The, is one willing to surrender a degree of sovereignty to a supranational body?

    Respond or waltz!

  • Comment number 9.

    Mr Miliband was put into the Foriegn Office because he was a Brown supporter.
    We do not have a "foreign policy" we have a "This is what we think, provided the rest of the EU agree with us polcy"
    Please BBC do not become as irrelevant as our political institutions.
    Even worse do not become the official spokesman in the UK for the EU.

  • Comment number 10.

    How about the Prime Minister taking democracy seriously for a change and putting issues which would entail major committments and concessions of British sovereignty where it belongs, on a referendum ballot so that the entire population instead of a government elite will decide. Or do the politicians have so little faith in the sense of the average British voter to decide or such disdain for their right to decide that they take it upon themselves to decide for them. I think that is much closer to the truth of it.

  • Comment number 11.

    Comments on the Editor's Blog suggest that Lustig's meetings with Miliband were those of a sycophant with his paymaster.

    Crucially, any real strengthening of the UN or the EU will require the surrender of a part of national sovereignty to a supranational body.

    We need to find BBC personnel who are capable of putting and following up this aspect.

  • Comment number 12.

    "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."

    I won't be taking any lessons on International Law from the likes of Milliband, or any of the New Labour war criminals who beat the drum for the invasion of Iraq. To these cynical opportunists, International Law means exactly what they say it means, and can be adapted or distorted to any situation in any way they choose. Kosovo is the latest example. When can I expect to see these scoundrels in front of a War Crimes Tribunal? Never? Oh, what a surprise!
    By the way, the "interview" was nauseating in the extreme, and was clearly conducted within strict parameters set by Milliband. "Oh yes, you can have your interview, but I'll tell you what questions to ask me." Does it make anyone else sick, or is it just me?

  • Comment number 13.

    Granted, the government isn't perfect, but the amount of posts on this topic alone which contain anti-government rhetoric frighten me as a British citizen, these people have been democratically elected to govern our country and we should try to support them more rather than the constant mumbling of discontent that we see on these posts daily, if you are not happy with how things are done here then you have two choices either wait for the next general election and try to change the administration, or leave this country that you obviously dislike so much but please stop your whining. I'm sure i'm not the only one who's sick of it.

  • Comment number 14.

    Post 13,

    A couple of point for you to consider:

    1, You complain about people whining, what exactly are you doing in your post?.

    2, No-one claims that the present government were not democratically elected, so again your point is?.

    3, You are obviously not the only person who is happy with the current regime, however, you are in the minority who find that Labour are up to the job.

    4, As the UK is a democratic country, it means that freedom of speech is assured, so why should people have to lave the country if they disagree with the governments policies/behaviour?

    5, This site that you have posted on is specifically for people to discuss BBC programming, and it may come as a surprise to you that people want to let the BBC know when it's standards are slipping, likewise, people will want to let the BBC know when it is doing a good job.

  • Comment number 15.

    I find a curious lack in this story. Particularly in the realm of Foreign Policy a clear and precise delineation of the role(s) that 'might' be played by the British royal Family in events needs be addressed. The fact that it is wilfully ignored within this story reveals the inherent diachotomy which exists within a Democratic society that has a 'ruling family'. the british Parliment has little control over what the 'royals' do in any event and often decisions are taken that lead the country into affairs that elected officials would, wisely, avoid.

  • Comment number 16.

    As an American, I recognized long ago a fact that seems to have escaped many. the American Bombing Campaign killed Osama Bin l;aden on the very first night of operations. Both the Taliban and The United States benefit from 'pretending' that he still lives.
    The Taliban have the near immortal legendary leader that even the mighty United States cannot kill.
    The United States has the eternal boogie man whose capture is portrayed as so vital that ANY excess, however brutal, is thusly justified.
    Had America admitted that we, had in fact, killed osama bin Laden, then no pro longed Afghanistan war, No Iraqui incursion, in short no hope of the Bush Administration being granted the incredibly unconstitutional powers that it has gathered to itself.
    Osama Bin Laden will never be caught or admitted to be killed because BOTH sides benefit far too much from keeping his 'legend' alive.

  • Comment number 17.

    intellectualWheelMan, do you seriously think they've killed Bin Laden?

    [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]

  • Comment number 18.

    If you had any real interest in taking foreign policy seriously you wouldn't censor and omit so many details and pieces of information regarding the world.

    the examples would take hours to list but my present favourite is a clip from You-tube.

    benizar bhutto is interviewed by david frost on al-jezera and she talks of osama bin laden being murdered. Yet when the same interview appears on the BBC, this section has disappeared.

    As i say the list is long when it comes to foreign policy.

    i am guessing you wont be able to mention this to david milliband as he will be preparing for next weeks bilderberg meeting.

    So yes, please do take foreign policy more seriously and please take the reporting of it more seriously.

  • Comment number 19.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 20.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 21.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 22.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 23.

    #14 "As the UK is a democratic country, it means that freedom of speech is assured, so why should people have to lave the country if they disagree with the governments policies/behaviour?"

    Sadly for your point the UK is not a democratic country- its a constitutional monarchy with an unelected head of state and an indirectly elected PM. We elect out parliament vaguely along democratic lines, but thats about it and the commons can be overruled by the unelected house of lords.

    Neither do you have any guaranteed freedom of speech: you should google 'D notice' if you haven't heard of it. The government can legally gag anyone it likes with little due process.

  • Comment number 24.

    In Burma, There are some effects of sanctions on Burmese citizens and present their findings to the United States and European Union.
    Economic sanctions are an inhumane policy which delays Burma's path to democracy in the transition period.
    for kids


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