PrintPrint EmailEmail ShareShare CiteCite


The Increasing Need for Multilateral Organizations [Rush Transcript; Federal News Service]

Speaker: Des Browne, Secretary Of State for Defense, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Presider: Warren M. Hoge, Foreign Affairs Correspondent at the United Nations, The New York Times
May 24, 2007
Council on Foreign Relations


WARREN HOGE: If I could get your attention, I'm going to start a little bit early, since we've all been so punctual this morning.

I am Warren Hoge of The New York Times. I now cover the United Nations, but from 1996 to 2004, I was the London bureau chief. And in those years, I didn't have a chance to meet Des Browne, but I am happy to note that we come from the same place. He represents in Parliament Kilmarnock in west of Scotland, and that's where I would be from also, had my family not left there in 1683 and gone to Virginia. (Soft laughter.)

This is an on-the-record session this morning, so we don't have to go through the Chatham House rules lecture. I would ask you to cut off all cellphones and devices of that kind.

Mr. Browne will speak from 15 to 20 minutes. He and I will then have a conversation for about 10, and then I'll ask you all to join in.

Des Browne.

SECRETARY DES BROWNE: Thank you very much indeed, Warren. And I'm pleased to see that we have, to some degree, the same roots, although it will not surprise you, if you know that part of the world, that my roots are not very deep in the west of Scotland. They actually are more in Ireland than they are in the west of Scotland. And while I don't recognize your surname, I suspect that there's probably some Irish blood in you as well. (Soft laughter.)

Can I first of all just thank the Council for (sic) Foreign Relations for inviting me to take part in this round table. I hope that we will be able to address some issues that affect all of us, and when I share some of my experiences as the secretary of state for defense over the least year and some of the lessons I have learned from that thus far, although they're imperfect lessons, and I -- you know, I caveat -- all that I say, my saying that, you know, is based on a comparatively short period of time.

I'm very pleased to be here because, as I read about the council, since it was founded here in New York, it's had a long history of making a significant contribution to developing solutions to some of the most difficult problems that we've faced. I've read that it has been called the most powerful agent of U.S. foreign policy outside the State Department. From South Asia to the Middle East, the council makes a vital contribution to a common understanding of the challenges we face and how we might best address them. So that's the council itself.

Can I just say a personal word about your president, Richard Haass, and pay a particular tribute to him. I worked with Richard when I was minister for, among other things, the peace process in Northern Ireland. I was a junior minister in Northern Ireland both under the leadership of John Reid and latterly Paul Murphy. And for part of that time, Richard was the U.S. special envoy to Northern Ireland. He made a substantial contribution, in his own inimitable style, to that process and built on the contribution which had been made previously by Senator George Mitchell to that process, which -- and I think, combined, you know, that history will tell, I think, that, you know, their contribution was incalculable in the true sense of that word.

I'd just say about that process that that was a process which reached, to most people's view, its conclusion last month, or was it earlier this month? I think it was the 8th of May, finally.

My own view of that is that that is the end of the beginning, as far as the process is concerned, and that of itself took about 15 years, you know, in the context of one of the most sophisticated democracies in the world, for a province of only 1.6 million people. And I think that that is a salutary lesson to all of us. You know, if we want to make a contribution to conflict resolution, we probably need to set realistic time scales at the outset for what we seek to achieve and to be prepared to stay with what we start for the long haul.

And certainly that -- you know, that's my view. I mean, I was saying to Warren, who has his own experience with Northern Ireland, where he was, I think, a correspondent for a period of time, from the interesting period -- I think from -- did you say 1996 until -- anyway, over part of that process. And all of us, you know, who have had any part of it have some ownership of it, in a sense. We all -- anybody who knows Northern Ireland falls in love with it and its people. And we all have some ownership of it.

But it will be decades before what the people of Northern Ireland may call ordinary, decent politics takes place of sectarian politics. It's still a sectarian solution. But it is, as I say, the end of the beginning.

I know that it's comparatively unusual for defense ministers to come to New York. This is a place where foreign ministers and ministers for aid and development come and ply their trade. Defense ministers don't normally darken the doors of the buildings of this part of New York. But I particularly wanted to come here after, as I say, just over a year in my job as the secretary of state for defense, during which time I have immersed myself in our operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan. I think I've visited Iraq now five times and Afghanistan three over that period, spending a lot of time with local politicians in both countries and, of course, a significant amount of time with our own people and their commanders, watching closely what they're doing and watching the effect that it's having on the environment in which they're working.

I want to concentrate my remarks for a few minutes here -- and they are remarks, rather than a speech; and there are more challenges than solutions and I recognize that -- on Afghanistan. Although I have to say in the question session -- I mean, I'm not ducking Iraq. I mean understand Iraq's a challenging issue, and I spend a lot of my time answering questions about Iraq. But I'm not ducking Iraq.

I want to draw on Afghanistan, in particular, for the issues I want to raise, for two reasons. One, because in my view, if you don't look at Afghanistan through the prism of Iraq -- and I think part of the problem is that most people do look at Afghanistan -- presently look at it through the prism of Iraq -- then it is undoubtedly the noble cause of the 21st century. This is a country who the rest of the world owe a substantial debt of honor. It's a country where they have lost 2 million of their own citizens in seeking the fragile stability and security which they have, free from decades of conflict. And as a country who the international community has in the past made substantial promises to and not lived up to them. And apart from all of that, I mean it is in its own right a beautiful and beguiling place with very attractive people.

The second point I want to make is I am convinced, and more convinced now after spending quite a lot of time looking at this very closely, that Afghanistan is a laboratory which will help us, the international community, develop and refine the capabilities that I think that we will need in the future if we're to be able to address some of the challenges of the 21st century, particularly challenges of failed states, of intractable conflict, of working with needy communities in trying to help them come out of the difficulties of the past.

The future, I think, is a very challenging one, and I think we have to recognize the scale of the problems we will face, and which the United Nations and other multilateral institutions will have to address. I mean, I acknowledge that. And although I have some criticism of multinational institutions, I say at the outset that I acknowledge the reforms made by the U.N. in recent years, and I recognize those which the leadership of the U.N. is addressing presently, those they have in hand. And I say quite overtly that I believe in international organizations. I mean, I am of the generation that grew up after the Second World War, energized to ensure that countries work together for the benefit of us all, rather than the immediate past, which was fighting each other to a standstill, with all the sheer waste of human talent and opportunity that that represented for previous generations.

I have to say, for all its imperfections, the application of a multilateral organization's talent to the challenges that I have been working on over the last year, or there abouts, has confirmed my view on the need to support such organizations. And as I say, having had the responsibility for the U.K.'s contribution to two international military operations over the last year, one of them pursued by a coalition of the willing, and the other by an alliance operation, I certainly know which one I prefer. And I'll just expand on that for a few minutes with you.

When I -- even in the short time I have been responsible for defense in the United Kingdom, and we have lost two -- probably actually more, if I looked at it carefully -- of our allies in Iraq, both of them, in the case of Spain and Italy, as a consequence of the domestic politics. And in both cases, you know, the fact of their involvement in the Iraqi war played into the domestic politics and brought the result that caused them to commit in government, immediately after the elections, to come out and to remove the troops.

And from the point of view of defense and from military operations, that's a very unstable environment to work in. It prevents people from being able to work in the long term, plan in the long term, plan strategically because you are subject to the electoral cycles in all the countries where you can have no effect.

Not only that, because of the nature many of the democracies, particularly of Northern Europe, and I exclude the United Kingdom from that for very obvious reasons, sometimes who actually makes up the government is determined by a comparatively small number of representatives. Because they have coalitions of a comparatively small number of people, and quite often these are people who hold very specific views in relation to issues of controversy -- control and determine who is in power and drive a very hard bargain to the point of coalition, as to whether or not this particular party can come into executive power. And I say overtly to you, that type of relationship has a fragility which is inconsistent with strategic planning in relation to military interventions.

On the other hand of course, you know, there are inches and inches of newsprint written about the other coalition, which is the NATO coalition, supplemented of course by other countries in ISAF. But there are inches of newsprint about caveats, about inconsistency, you know, about people being prepared to engage but not to take with us. I mean, I'm particularly distressed about -- (inaudible).

But let me just tell you, I have a great understanding of how some of these countries come to be in that position, because I understand the history of those countries. I mean, if you take, for example, Germany, it must cheer German -- (inaudible) -- to have a Brit or somebody from the U.S. who effectively imposed the constitution that they presently have in relation to the deployment of force, of parts of the constitution, the deployment of force, criticizing of applying that constitution. I mean, they have to work their way out of that, I mean, a consequence of the post-war deal, and I understand all of that, but I have an understanding.

But let me just tell you that from my point of view, and from the point of view of our commanders and our troops on the ground, although they will be critical, you know, of people, they are not prepared to take the risk, at least they stay there. And it is important from the point of view of sustaining our constituency support in our own country and in the countries where we're operating. There is a genuine multinational sustained engagement.

I mean, those of you who understand social democracy in Europe will understand how important it is for somebody like me to be able to explain to my constituents that the Swedes are there. To some degree it doesn't actually matter what they do. But if they're there present, you know, with soldiers, with guns, and if those weapons, you know, are carried by their soldiers and they are armed and there are bullets in the guns, then that's iconically important to a particular part of my constituency, to be able to explain the legitimacy of what we're doing. And so we're more so important against the immediate processes of military engagement.

Can I just at this point say something else about the context in which we all operate? I mean, we are seeking to demand -- to manage, sorry, some well-identified risks to our security. First and foremost of course is international terrorism. And the most important point about that is not just does this present a symmetric threat to those who we deploy and to these environments. But we have to recognize that we're engaging with an enemy who pays no regard at all to any of the rules that apply to conflict, none at all. I mean, they -- and not only that, they are absolutely adept at exploiting any apparent accidental breaches of the rules on our part.

So for example with the Taliban, you know, we're in a situation where they pay no regard to any of the rules that regulate conflict. They pay no regard to any of the international borders around about the country of Afghanistan. They move freely across them. We don't have the opportunity to do that even in pursuit of them. And they have the most sophisticated and crude informational propaganda campaign that exploits ruthlessly almost every set of circumstances that's generated by any action that we take.

And interestingly, and I say this advisedly, we have a media that is so beguiled by the opportunity to be able to engage with them that it treats almost everything that they say practically uncritically and reports it as if it was the reporting of fact. Whereas they crawl all over every single thing that we do, you know, and start off with a paragraph which suggests in the first place that we're not to be trusted in anything that we say, and then substantially set that against, you know, the simple propaganda of people whom they quite often portray, particularly in the electronic media, and the way in which they present them to us as being some kind of folk heroes or freedom fighters. And nothing of course with the Taliban could be further from the truth.

So we have this challenge of international terrorism which brings with these conflicts very difficult and different circumstances, but I don't need to tell the people of New York anything about international terrorism or the dangers of that.

We also need to deal with what is caused by the proliferation of weapons, not just weapons of mass destruction but proliferation of weapons. Small arms weapons proliferate around parts of the world in substantial numbers which are frightening. You know, I mean, we even have, as I understand it, in Afghanistan a recognition that the citizens of Afghanistan are entitled to own a particular type of weapon, as a recognition of the number of weapons that they have in the country. And there are parts of Afghanistan, for example, the Sangin Valley, where if almost happens in the streets of the town, the people's first reaction is to go under the bed and get the weapon and come out onto the street. And everybody's from eight to 80 could shoot your eye out at three or four miles, if they had the appropriate weapon. And the one thing that they can do is fight.

We also have to deal with the issue of scarce resources, mass migration, you know, the consequences of globalization, which means our security is inextricably linked to events well beyond our shores. And the proliferation of technology and mass communication, which is ruthlessly exploited by our enemies, and send a message around the world very, very, which means events that happen at an increasing distance affect our own security.

But it isn't -- this is -- we're now coming to the fundamental point I want to make is a truism that no conflict can be solved by military means alone. Improvements in security -- and this is the lesson of Afghanistan, above all, must go hand in hand with improvements in governance, economic opportunity and, most importantly, the rule of law. And Afghanistan is a perfect example of how all these elements come together not in series, but contemporaneously. We need to be able to generate the capability to do all of these things contemporaneously.

And you need come together in an overall campaign plan, otherwise you have no way of measuring success, and in the absence of the ability to be able to measure success and defining success, we have no way of setting realistic metrics, and consequently, we have no way of explaining what success is to our constituencies or the likes of it to be able to sustain us through the long engagement that we need to be able to resolve these issues.

So what we do presently is that we describe success in generic terms. We describe it in terms of democracy. We describe it in terms of contribution of this country to, you know, the regional effort. We describe it in broad terms in terms of economic success. We describe it in very broad terms. We actually set for ourselves a series of challenges which, in relation to the raw materials that we are working with, are entirely unrealistic. We don't explain to people that the best that you can achieve in some of these environments is progress, and we don't have the appropriate metrics of progress.

And unless they have a campaign plan, an overall campaign plan that goes beyond just security and military to recognize these challenges, then there is no possibility, in my view, of sustaining the level of support that we need both from the constituency that we're engaged with, that is the people of Afghanistan themselves, or the constituency that we need to support us back home for those who are prepared to see the level of engagement and the level of risk our young people are willing to take in order to deliver this.

In particular, I think we need to pay more attention to developing the rule of law, and in doing that, we need to be much more culturally sensitive in how we approach the range of issues that we are likely to face, and engaging with regional partners, in my view, is key to helping us to do that because we do not go into these environments will cultural sensitivity that is necessary.

Let me just give you an example of that, which is embedded in my mind and very striking. We deployed our forces into Helmand province about a year ago, just over a year ago. From one view, parts of Helmand province are at least potentially the most dangerous places in the world. I mean, I've already mentioned the Sangin Valley. The Sangin Valley is, I think, arguably, one of the most potentially dangerous places in the world. It's the center of narcotics where the whole economy of the area is dependent on growing the poppy, and the one thing that these very poor people do -- (inaudible) -- their ability to be able to grow the poppy because it delivers some amount of hope for them in a very difficult and demanding environment that they live in.

As we were doing that, as I was asking 22-year-old paratroopers to walk the streets of the Sangin Valley to engage with the people of those communities, with their leadership, to explain to them that we were there to work with them to give them a better life, to improve their governments or security and consequently their economic opportunity.

Some of the international leadership of Europe were making speeches about issues to do with human rights, and one of them said, in terms -- Shari'a law and human rights are incompatible. Now, I suspect actually if we were to debate that round about the table, I wouldn't find many people that disagreed with him, in many ways.

But what you have to understand is the effect that that explained through the prism of Taliban propaganda has on the people of the Sangin Valley. These are people who have a very simple, straightforward faith. If you lived in that environment, you would believe there had to be an afterlife, because you would not believe that your God could send you to live there and that was it. So they have a very simple faith, and that depends on a personal relationship with their God.

That phraseology exposed those people, whom I was challenging to -- asking to do this very challenging task, to an environment in which people were able to say, this man in this uniform is asking you to choose between your God -- between your God and his rules, is coming to destroy your relationship with your God. Now, guess what the people chose when faced with that choice.

I mean, I constantly play this example out to fellow ministers and across Europe, and of course the response is, well, you know, are you going to explain to the people of the United Kingdom, to your electorate, that what you're actually doing in Afghanistan is allowing the implementation of Shari'a law? And of course I'm not going to do that, but equally well we don't need to challenge the issue culturally on the other side to create an environment in which we can't achieve what we're seeking to achieve.

What we need to do is, we need to recognize that there are shared standards. Of course we must have standards; there are shared standards. But we need to find a way of explaining constantly those standards to people in a way that is sensitive to their own circumstances, but in particular, you know, for people who live the simple life -- the people of Afghanistan do in many of the rural parts of Afghanistan -- is consistent with their belief system. And if we are not able to take on that challenge, then we have no right being in the environment in the first place.

Moving on from that example, I just want to identify some of the other difficult issues that we are seeking to grapple with. One of them I've already made mention of, and that's counternarcotics. We're having to grapple with the very difficult challenge of allowing the people of a very poor country to maintain and sustain their own families while we put in place the necessary infrastructure, the necessary opportunities to be able to create an environment where we can insist that they stop doing this, against the background, of course, that almost the only metric of success that anybody is interested in beyond Afghanistan, about whether what we are doing in Afghanistan is right, is the hectarage of poppy and the production of opium. There's nothing else, it seems to me, that generates the same level of noise in terms of success or failure, other than whether or not the amount of opium that's coming out of this country has increased or not.

But we have a very complex challenge there, because we recognize that the policy, the driver of the lead for the policy must come from the Afghan government itself. But we've put that government under constant pressure to meet an improvement in that metric. And we have a debate every year about how we go about trying to achieve that objective, all against a background that we have again deployed into those communities young people who are seeking to persuade the communities, that they are there to build them up and not to destroy their opportunities. And that's -- the complexity of that, and the absence of the sort of infrastructure that we use in our communities to deal with these issues, is daunting.

We're struggling with the development of police forces. We struggle in Iraq with the development of a police force that serves not the point of corruption, which is the real problem with police; police, unlike the military, operate at the point of corruption. And our approach has tended to focus on developing national police forces because we are terrified of the prospect of local police forces having warlords or serving other parts of the community other than the national objective. And while I think this is understandable in terms of a nascent democracy it, frankly, flies in the face of all of our own experience.

I mean, every single one of us comes from a society in which our police forces grew up out of the local communities. Indeed, I mean as I go around the United States of America, I'm astonished at the different number of police forces that there are. I mean, I learned, in the context of a shooting on a university campus recently, that you have university police forces, which I had no idea existed. But it doesn't surprise me, actually.

You know, I know the problem that we had ourselves in the United Kingdom, and England in particular, when we suggested that we should amalgamate some police forces, the furor that mounts from the communities over giving up heir own police forces and having, you know, devolved control over them was cacophonous.

And yet, you know, in Afghanistan, what we're seeking to do is impose a national police force on this country because we have a view that that's the only appropriate way to do it, whereas all of our own experience suggests that you don't grow police forces in that way at all, and if they're to be sustainable, to come out of communities and serve communities.

In contrast to that, you know, how best do we develop an army, ensuring that it has the necessary ethnic and tribal amounts, again, you know, we have no history of having done that in our own communities. I mean, I point out to people that if we hadn't developed our army, the British army, which I believe is the best in the world, in the way in which we did, then there wouldn't be any Scottish regiments in it. But the idea of a Pashtun regiment in the Afghan army is anathema. So there's no possibility that we could do this.

And I come now to what I think is the most important area and the one that we're probably the least good at, and that's the development of the rule of law. If we don't develop our ability to be able to build the infrastructure of justice, to address the issues of impunity which imbue all of these communities, if we don't create a framework in which we can develop a police force that is answerable to the law and not to anybody else, then we will never succeed in creating sustainable security institutions at the level that will serve the communities.

And I have to say that, you know, we have been consistently bad at doing this. I mean, even where we have been successful in Sierra Leone at developing a police force and the military, we still are in a situation where that country, to my knowledge, at the moment has only 12 magistrates, and every one of them candidly admits that they are corrupt in the way in which they carry out their tasks. And for this to be a sustainable peace and a sustainable security, then we need to spend much more time ensuring that we deliver to people the degree of justice that they are crying out for after years and years and years, quite often, of conflict and violence.

An over-arching campaign plan is required to draw all these disparate strands together. There has to be a strategic plan, not just a military plan. And not just a development framework. Or not even just the government's road map. And we have all of these things but we have no overall strategic campaign plan.

The international community then needs, once we get that plan, to coordinate resources, develop it against the plan in the long term, ensuring coherence in what we do and coherence from those who do it. And this needs leadership. And in my view -- and this is why I'm here today and why I will spend most of today talking to people in the U.N. -- there is no organization better placed than the U.N. to take that role.

We also require in the relevant country, and in Afghanistan in this case, a visible leader representing the international community empowered to drive the campaign plan forward, including crucially at the political level. The immediate recent past history of Afghanistan is that the circumstances of our engagement have cried out for that, and indeed our General Richards, who was the commander of ISAF, played that role for all of the time that he was the commander of ISAF, not only with the president of the country but also with the regional partners, including President Musharraf. And it's understandable that President Musharraf found it easy to talk to a general in the British Army, given his past history.

General Richards had particular skills and abilities to be able to do that, but he was entirely an inappropriate person to be doing that. That should not be done by a military commander, in my view, and certainly it is not our objective for the country that our representative in terms of political leadership should be a general in the British army, or, indeed, any other army.

Can I just say to all of you people, whom I know are engaged in these issues, there is a genuine hunger for this leadership on the ground -- among the military, among the development and aid communities and among the nongovernmental organizations. And I can tell you also there is a desperate hunger for it in the Afghan government themselves because they want to get themselves out of this position they're presently in where the president spends at least 60 percent of his time in bilaterals with all of the 42 countries who are engaged in his country.

I mean, if you want to see President Karzai, you have to go and join a queue, and it's a queue of, you know, ambassadors or visiting ministers, all of whom have come to make their bilateral point to him about what they want for their engagement in the country so that they can answer back through their chain of command, normally to their parliament or up to their executive.

So the question I bring you -- because I don't have the answer -- is how do we in this day and age develop these mechanisms, to do so now and for Afghanistan and thereby to ensure that we retain the capacity for the next major challenge that we will face, whether it be Darfur or Somalia or wherever? The one certainty is that we will face these future challenges. The one certainty is that whoever is doing my job will be asked to deploy young people into very dangerous environments to create security, to create the opportunities to build governments, to create economic opportunity, to give people a degree of security. If we in the international community cannot find a way in this fragile and semi-secure environment of developing that overarching, politically-led campaign plan, then I say to you, we have no right to ask our young people to expose themselves to that danger in the future.

Thanks so much.

HOGE: Thank you. I have a couple of questions. I will return to the subject of Afghanistan.

But first of all, I would be remiss in having a member of the British cabinet by my side and not asking a question about the prime-minister-to-be. Des Browne is identified publicly as somebody close to Gordon Brown. You are expected to keep the job you have right now or a job equivalent to it in the new government.

So my question is, what can we expect from Gordon Brown when it comes to defense matters? And in particular in Iraq, will the drawdown of British troops continue? Is there a timetable? If there is, will that timetable change under Gordon Brown?

BROWNE: Let me just say, I mean, I'm no closer to Gordon Brown than I am to Tony Blair, actually, to be honest. But this kind of Brownite and Blairite differentiation which has dogged our politics over the last 10 years has been deeply unhelpful. And my view is that they -- I suppose there's no better way of putting it than that they're a double act, and that frankly they've been a pretty successful double act in terms of the United Kingdom.

And it's logical that for continuity that Gordon Brown should take over from Tony Blair. I mean, as night follows day, it's logical. And there isn't a country in the world, in my view, that would deny themselves the opportunity to have Gordon Brown as a premier if that opportunity arose. And so it's now inevitable, of course, because of the process of the way in which our party selects its leader, that he will be the next prime minister. It's also inevitable, of course, because we're in this comparatively unusual situation if not unique situation where we have a prime minister but we have a prime-minister-in-waiting.

And the prime-minister-in-waiting is restricted in what he can say while we still have a prime minister, that the media, with all due respect, and I'm not one of those who blames media for everything, you know, will speculate to fill the available space. Because there's quite a lot of space, and there's any amount of speculation and to fill it. But that's what it is, you know? I mean, you should take with a pinch of salt most of what you read, even if it is a putative comment from a source close to Gordon Brown, you know? I mean, it's just speculation. Newspapers need to be filled.

On the front page of them, of course, they will demand that Tony Blair moves over and that Gordon, you know, immediately takes hand of the reins, because that is inevitable, it's most sensible that we move on. Of course, don't believe for a minute that that's actually what they want. You know, what the media want is this situation where they can fill in the gap between the two themselves with their imagination to continue forever, because it's ideal for them. So I just say to you, and I mean, I've spent a lot of my time here, including a phone call with one of my international colleagues last night, damping down speculation that's flowing around on the cables and then wires all over the country, fed by media speculation.

The answer to your question is comparatively simple. You should expect significant consistency and continuity. Of course Gordon Brown will be his own man, you know? But he's not going to deny his own contribution to the policies that he has helped develop over the last 10 years. That's highly unlikely.

I mean, he will bring a different perspective to it, because he is a different person. And he has, you know, a particular expertise and a particular faith in the ability of economic advancement to be able to address issues. I mean, he has a stated view that, you know, part of the Middle East solution is to improve the economic lot of the Palestinian people and to find an opportunity to do that and to engage and motivate the international community to provide economic opportunity, to allow these people to have, you know, more of a stake in the future in their country rather than the comparatively hopeless future I suppose many of them presently seek. So he will do things which, you know, are dressed by his own views and his own moral compass, but you can expect a significant degree of consistency.

Insofar as Iraq is concerned, I mean, we're in a situation where we have responsibility for a part of Iraq, the Southeast -- MND Southeast is the one -- which is four provinces. We don't have sole responsibility for it. There are other countries there, but we take the lead.

And we have already, you know, under the leadership of Tony Blair, handed over three of those four provinces to provincial Iraqi control, as it's known, which is Iraqi control of the security. And there are a number of reasons for that. But not the least is that we have a very well-developed and good division of the Iraqi army called the 10th Division there, who are performing exceptionally well and did an operation that we conducted in the city of Basra, and indeed are presently performing exceptionally well in the Baghdad security plan, or at least two of the brigades are. So the point I want to make is that we are in a process. That process will continue.

You know, we have already stated what our objective is in relation to Basra, in relation to the province. The prime minister made a speech in February. I've continually made speeches in my time as the defense minister about how this process will play out. That will continue.

But it is not in any way contradictory to what our principal ally, the United States, is doing in a different part of the country, because they face an entirely different challenge. They face a mixture of violence, a complexity of violence there that involves al Qaeda, that involves Sunni insurgents, involves, you know, a whole complexity and sectarian response, which we do not face in the part of the country that we have responsibility for.

I mean, well over 80 percent of the violence that is perpetrated in Basra province presently has targeted us, and it's targeted us because we stand between the militia who perpetrate this violence and their ambitions, you know, to have a disproportionate share of the economic spoils of that potentially very rich part of the country when we go. And we are the people who prevent them from being able to exercise that political and economic power at the moment, while we build up and sustain the Iraqi forces to be able to take our place.

So this is an entirely different set of circumstances. And people over here need to understand that what we are doing, although intuitively they think it is inconsistent with what the United States is doing, is in fact entirely consistent with what the United States is doing, but we're just at a different stage in the process because we face a different set of challenges. And you can expect that to continue.

HOGE: I think the hour we've reached -- I ought to invite any of you who wanted to ask a question -- if you would identify yourself -- beyond the sign. Herb Levin, please.

QUESTIONER: Thank you very much for a very good presentation -- much more factual than people from foreign offices, so come again.

I wonder, please, if you could look at Afghanistan, and after the conclusion of the Iraq tragedy, do you think the continental Europeans will be more inclined to go to Afghanistan with Iraq gone?

Will they change their instructions so their troops can be a bit more useful? As you know, now it's rather hard to have an integrated command in Afghanistan, because everybody shoots or doesn't shoot under different circumstances, and some of them are constructing their defense budget so they really can't go.

And then the last question is, after the independence of Scotland and all the Scots have to leave in the civil service and Parliament -- (laughter) -- from England, and the English are left to themselves, can they really handle it, or should there be a U.N. trusteeship for England? (Laughter.)

BROWNE: (Laughs.)

QUESTIONER: (Off mike.)

BROWNE: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

Well, those of us here are used to being in control. I suppose we'll have to come to international institutions. (Soft laughter.)

The -- I mean, I understand why you ask the question. And I, you know, did make the remark about people view Afghanistan through the prism of Iraq. I actually do not think -- and my sense in dealing with other governments -- I do not think that other governments do that, to be honest. I don't think that the -- that it is the contemporaneous engagement of the United States, the U.K. and others in both Afghanistan and Iraq that causes this diversity of approach to Afghanistan.

I mean, I said earlier that, I mean, I have an understanding -- I'm sometimes criticized for this in British politics -- for not being more angry about, you know, the ways in which our allies deploy their forces and the caveats that they put round about them. But it just seems to me that that's kind of like wasted energy, because we're dealing with countries that are at different places. You know, we're dealing with countries that have forces who have different capabilities. We're dealing with countries who quite often have forces that have not been engaged in any conflict for decades.

And candidly, unless they are nurtured and mentored into that situation -- and quite often they want to be nurtured and mentored into that situation by U.K. troops -- then, you know, their politicians have a fear about what the consequences will be.

All of that, you know, against the background -- and this is very true in Europe, and I don't speak for the United States of America, because I'm not sure -- where there is a significantly reduced tolerance for casualties. People are prepared to encourage and allow their country to engage in peacekeeping operations or peacemaking operations in certain circumstances, but there is a significantly reduced public tolerance for casualties.

And our media is dominated, you know, by the issue of casualties, although, interestingly, in all of the years of engagement in Iraq, we have lost fewer people than we lost in a fortnight in the Falkland Islands. And yet, you know, the Falkland Islands was hailed as a great success, as, you know, a great victory. Of course, there was different policies associated with that, and I understand that. But, you know, there is a significant religious tolerance for casualties, and we have -- and I have a number of colleagues in politics across Europe who do not believe that the deployment to Afghanistan can be sustained beyond the point of the first casualty. They have a horror of the first casualty. They think it will have such an effect on the politics and support of other countries.

So I mean, I'm very optimistic, however, about being able to build the capacity and the political will of other countries other than our allies to be able to engage in the riskier parts of these operations. But I kind of don't think that -- (inaudible) -- much of an effect on -- (inaudible).

HOGE: John Marshman (sp).

QUESTIONER: Mr. Minister, turning to the title of your remarks, there's an international organization about the need for which there is a particularly sharp difference of view between the U.K. and the United States and whose operations have a good deal of relevance to your own ministries as the International Criminal Court. Those of us who have had the opportunity to talk with members of your ministry, both civilian and military, over the years began by thinking that their positions simply reflected good policy discipline. But it has now become clear that there really is a strong difference of inherent view between your defense establishment and the United States on this institution, and that that difference is to a large part driving the difference in position between the two governments. I'd be interested in your thoughts both about the International Criminal Court and in particular about that difference in view between the two defense establishments, your country and mine.

BROWNE: Yeah. Well, I mean, I campaigned for years for the International Criminal Court, I have to say. And, you know, was very proud of ratification of the International Criminal Court treaty. I mean, I have to say that it was one of the significant achievements, in my view, you know, of our government. I mean, I could bore you, and then you leave us there with a list of them, but I would.

It's one of those -- personally, you know, and people know what my background is, I mean, I came into politics through what we used to call civil liberties, and it's now called human rights. I mean, people describe me as a human rights lawyer, but that's an extravagant description of what I was. You know, I mean, I was a civil liberties lawyer. It was a very narrow, kind of niche market, and there wasn't very much work in it, I have to say. But it was a very kind of narrow-niche market. It's expanded quite significantly. I might say -- I mean, it expanded beyond, I think, you know, what we hoped for, and that's become a caricature of itself in some areas, but at some other point altogether.

And so, you know, I'm quite overtly a supporter of the International Criminal Court and support quite strongly. I mean, I sat on the bill in the United Kingdom Parliament as a back-bencher, and I -- you have to understand the way in which British parliament works. I mean, government back-benchers don't normally speak, but I spoke at length, and I spoke in the debates.

I mean, I have to say that I was disappointed in President Clinton and what he did with the International Criminal Court. I mean, to sign it in his dying days, you know, in the same breath in which he was pardoning certain people who arguably -- well -- (laughter) -- to some degree devalued the kind of ambition and moral worth of the International Criminal Court. And of course President Bush came in and did something which -- I mean, I'm not sure I've seen before, which is unsign a treaty. But in any event -- I mean, again, you know, I have maybe a toleration for this that people will find irritating, but I understand why the U.S. is where it is on this issue.

But the answer to it, from the point of the view of the United States of America, is to do what we do, and that's to address the issues of justice -- military justice domestically. And once you address the issues of military justice domestically to an appropriate level in terms of the command structure, then you can with confidence sign up to the International Criminal Court because you can say, quite candidly, that there's never going to be a possibility that any of those people are going to be taken before it because we will deal with these issues in our domestic law.

HOGE: Elizabeth Cousens.

QUESTIONER: Thank you very much. I work with the International Peace Academy, a think tank that works very closely with the U.N., and I actually wanted to draw you out on the question of the U.N. You identified, speaking about Afghanistan, a number of very tough policy and operational dilemmas, in a sense.

And you pointed to -- what I understood you to say was a kind of vacuum of global strategic leadership, and trying to sort out more comprehensively what an effective strategy to address them might be. And then you suggested that the U.N. was really the main locus that one could look to to fill that gap. And I think that's formally and aspirationally probably right, but I think it also raises another dilemma.

And I guess this is more of a perhaps despairing comment than it is a question. Because I think if one looks to the U.N. at the moment, one sees a fairly weak institution in a number of significant respects. And so I'm not sure, at least in the short term, what one can expect in terms of filling that strategic gap.

One looks at the council. The council is about, at least in my observation, one of its most ineffective moments ever, for a variety of reasons, including the legacy of the last few years. The Secretariat is still in the very early days of a very, I think, early leadership transition of its own. The other intergovernmental components of the U.N. do not seem to be able to fill that gap, if one looks at something like the Peacebuilding Commission, for example. And then on broader strategic coherence questions, other institutions that would be very relevant to those conversations -- the World Bank, the IMF -- one has some challenges there as well.

So I guess I'm wondering whether -- I suppose I mostly wanted to say that, but also wondering whether in some of the other mechanisms people talk about -- G8, L20, some of those other types of ways of convening more strategic conversations about those specific issues and global policy in general -- you see any prospects for constructive engagement.

BROWNE: You know, I mean, I focused on the U.N. I mean, let me just say to you that, you know, this is clearly not the only institution that faces these challenges. I mean, we have at the NATO and EU level some quite significant challenges which are and would be incomprehensible, you know, to the man in the street if we explained them to them, you know? These are two organizations, one of them arguably, I mean, the most successful military alliance the world has ever seen, despite, you know, the criticisms that one may make of it, in the diversity of it in terms of engagement, but it works well.

It's overly bureaucratic, in my view, and a bit cumbersome in its decision-making process, and certainly doesn't have the fleetness of foot that is necessary for, you know, modern engagements and the sorts of things that we're asking of people to do on the ground. But that having been said, that could be said about the ministry of defense in the United Kingdom as well, you know. And we are, you know, all in a process of transition and trying to change these institutions and organizations to be able to adapt to, you know, a much more diverse and changing environment.

But so we have that institution, you know? We have 17, I think, members of that institution that are also members of the European Union. And can we get these two to work coherently, strategically, to complement each other? You bet we can, you know? I mean, we can discuss it. We have people on the ground who will do it. And we let them down, in my view, by requiring them to pragmatically resolve these problems on the ground, but we don't give them the level of strategic leadership across these two institutions that we should. (Microphone interference.)

Right, so, I mean, my answer to you is, and this is to some degree a simplistic answer, but you know, I'm very optimistic about the learning process that Afghanistan has been for a number of key players in the international community. The strength of the United Nations is nothing other than the aggregate of the strength and political will and commitment of its members. And there are some very key members, and engagement of certain key members is very important. And I have to say that as I watch the -- my immediate equivalent in the United States of America, Bob Gates, engage with these issues and respond to them in the very positive and genuinely multilateral way in which he does, then I am extremely optimistic that we can start to make progress in some of these areas.

Now, I mean, I'm not naive. You know, I have attended international meetings of Defense ministers where we have serious and challenging issues to discuss, and they have become meetings of delegates as opposed to meetings of decision-makers. And I have no personal experience at the United Nations; this is my first exposure to it today. But I am absolutely convinced that the United Nations as an institution has to provide this leadership, and that means that people like me and others -- our new prime minister, you know, whoever leads this great country -- has to engage with our institution to build its capacity and its ability, its confidence and its political will to be able to take this issues on.

There are some extraordinarily challenging issues -- the whole issue of state sovereignty. You know, how do we deal with the challenge, you know, in terms of a security risk that moves freely across borders, yo know, when we deny ourselves in the international community the opportunity to follow? These are just phenomenally difficult challenges, but there is no alternative. I hate to sound like Margaret Thatcher, but there is no alternative, and we need to make this institution work.

HOGE: Jack David.

QUESTIONER: Thank you. We've -- the United States and the United Kingdom have been allies and strong mutual supporters in matters, military and political, for a very long time. Part of the essence of the relationship is the almost unique ability of the United Kingdom among our allies to project force -- sea lift, air lifts and the like. What is the future of that ability to project force -- sea lift, air lift and the other elements of force projection -- to participate with us? Do you see it being sustained over the years to come or do you see it being diminished -- aircraft carriers and the like?

BROWNE: Well, I mean, it's a subtle way of getting me to announce the building of the aircraft carriers, which -- (inaudible) -- yet, but we announced the contract for over the last few weeks, and I'm afraid you've failed, Jack. I'm sorry, but --


BROWNE: -- I don't think you expected me to do that yet.

I just, you know, point you to our last review, Strategic Defense Review, the conclusions of that. They were, I think -- as I see it, they were pretty straightforward. They suggested that what we needed to do was to configure our forces to be able to project them, you know, internationally into environments, challenging environments across the world. In an alliance situation, it's highly improbable that we would ever do this in our own. Indeed, I think it's probably almost impossible in the future that we would ever do it on our own. We're much more likely to be doing it in an alliance, and the likelihood that the United States of America will be our principal ally in doing that, because the United States has those attractive traits as well. It has deployable military and the political will to be able to deploy them in circumstances.

I think I may just say to you that. I mean, there is no way that the leadership of our military would let us do anything else, because, you know, our military wants to be used. They train to, you know, a high degree of capability. They want to be used. They're horrified that they will find themselves with a government that is a non-interventionist government; but it's very unlikely that you will get a British government, certainly in any our lifetimes, which would not be interventionist, that would not see that we had the moral obligation to use our forces in a way for the betterment of less advantaged people across the world. The projection of force, you know, into all variety of environments is the appropriate thing to do.

QUESTIONER: Is the prospects of the expenditure of the monies necessary to do that likely?

BROWNE: Well, I mean, we have increased the amount of money that we spend on our forces in real terms year on year. It's likely to continue in that way, in my view. I think it is improbably that we will get to the kind of proportionate levels of spending of the United States of America, but that's a function of a lot of different things apart of anything else. We have a national health service to fund.

HOGE: Guy Irvin (sp).

QUESTIONER: Thank you. Guy Irvin (sp) from LAPG, an international consulting company. And I have both U.N. and government experience to bring into this conversation.

You referred at the beginning of your remarks to Afghanistan as a laboratory, and despite the long-term optimism you just expressed about the shift from this rather unruly coalition toward the U.N, I'm left with the impression that we have 42 lab technicians out there, each with a set of beakers and test tubes, rather poorly connected, if at all, to some central purpose. And I was hoping to hear in your remarks a sense that there would be something coming out of this laboratory which would allow us to address in the short term -- much shorter than long-term -- utilization of the U.N. -- so I agree with your remarks -- can provide us. Give us a two-to-three-year horizon for some substitute for that unilateral approach, which has been the characteristic of our engagement in Iraq to some, because we're there now, we have to work our way through.

And one solution that I feel is attractive is to shift from the current basis for the operations there toward a more multilateral framework. And will this lab experiment provide any guidelines for us?

BROWNE: Let me just say about Afghanistan -- I mean maybe I should have done this at the beginning -- we ought not to deny ourselves a proper record or recognition of the achievements. I mean, Afghanistan has been a success in large measure. I mean, the north and the west of the country and the city of Kabul, its capital city, are much better places than they were. I mean, there are still security issues, and I don't deny that, and those must be dreadful to live with day in and day out, and I accept that too, but this is a much better place than it was.

I mean, there are any number of proxy measures of that, but the one that I prefer is that 5 million people have chosen to come back and live in Afghanistan who were otherwise refugees, over the last five years. Five million people have chosen to come back. There's never been, I don't think, in the history of mankind, you know, a reverse of refugee of status of that nature anywhere. I can't think of any. I mean, if I'm wrong, somebody could correct me, but as a measure of success, that seems to me to be quite a telling measure because all of these people are connected back into families in Afghanistan, knew what they were coming back to, and chose to come back and live in this environment, which, you know, talk about voting with your feet, they have done so. And that's not counting, you know, the 800,000 or so that the Iranians have expelled across the border. I mean, it's 5 million people -- (inaudible) -- come back.

The second point I want to make is that, you know, the other great success, of course, of Afghanistan in multilateral terms is getting to ISAF stage four. I mean, there are two operations going on in Afghanistan, as we all know. There is the ISAF operation and there is Operation Enduring Freedom, which is essentially chasing terrorists. Operation Enduring Freedom in scale terms has reduced quite significantly, and we have an ambition to bring these two operations together at some stage under, you know, international command.

So there have been achievements. And to the extent that it is a laboratory, there have been successful experiments; you know, just as this larger issue of providing an over-arching political direction and campaign plan that goes beyond just military and security and doesn't require the military to provide all the elements of it, which is what we've tended to do about it because of problems with security.

What lesson does this give us for Iraq? Now, I can tell you, you know -- I don't speak for all of those countries engaged in Iraq, but if we could move to international ownership of Iraq, then we would all welcome that. I mean, we're not discouraging people. We engage and encourage regional conferences, engagement with -- I mean, the U.N. have a presence in Iraq. They provide a degree of -- they provide some contribution to what's going on there. It's not a reluctance on our part to internationalize this or to bring other people into it, I think is the answer, it's perhaps a reluctance on the part of other people to be identified with the project.

HOGE: Richard Garwin and Averill Powers, if you could ask your questions back-to-back, ever so succinctly, the minister has two minutes to answer them both.

BROWNE: I could probably give you more than two minutes.

QUESTIONER: Thanks for identifying the need for multilateral organizations and capabilities. Now the only problem is to invest your personal resources and those to which we have access in satisfying these needs.

Now, you've taken a decision -- the government and the House of Commons -- in recent months so that 60 years from now you'll be operating Trident submarines as a so-called independent nuclear deterrent. Is there some opportunity -- for instance, working with the new government of France -- to give this a more multilateral cast so that it doesn't legitimize independent nuclear deterrence on the part of every nation on Earth?

HOGE: And Averill, your question?

QUESTIONER: I wanted to ask you to comment a little bit more on post-conflict reconstruction and nation building, something that there seems to be consensus is going to only become more important, and where the track record hasn't been particularly great, although obviously you've noted Sierra Leone and, in your comments, Afghanistan as successes.

I'm wondering if you could just comment on -- what you've said so far has made very clear that everything has to be handled very much on a case-by-case basis, and that you're sensitive very much to the situations on the ground being different. But if you could comment on specifically with respect to disarmament, courts, infrastructure, the successes that have been achieved in, say, Sierra Leone, and where you feel there are disagreements or lack of compatibility with the U.S. government in working together on those.

BROWNE: Let me just deal with this issue of our decision to -- I mean, the decision that we actually made was to build the next generation of submarines. I mean, arguably, on one view, we could have restricted that to a submarine-building program, but we chose not to. I mean, I had responsibility for this, and decided that we wouldn't try to pretend that this was anything other than it was, which was renewing, effectively, Trident for the next generation. And we had, I think, unarguably, the most open and informed debate that any country has ever had on nuclear weapons. And we produced a white paper -- I don't know if you had an opportunity to read it -- which I was substantially responsible for, which put into the public domain much more information than any government previously had. You know, all against a background that when we did this before, interestingly, as a Labour government, we did it in secret, you know, and then kind of announced the building of the first boat once we'd done all the development at (Wacksaw ?). There's been a degree of transparency and engagement and debate in the United Kingdom about this issue that there never has been before, and there is -- I mean it's sort of balanced and it's not overwhelming, but there is public support for what we have done, for the reasons that we explained. And I won't go into them.

And, Richard, but I don't accept -- and I know you know that I don't accept this -- I don't accept that our decision to do this has encouraged any other country in the world to develop nuclear weapons, or will encourage any other country in the world. I mean, I think that's a false consequence of what we chose to do. And I don't believe that our ownership of these weapons encouraged any of the other countries to do that.

I mean I'm on record as saying that we accept wholeheartedly our responsibilities under the NPT. And I think that our obligation -- and I hope that we will see our government doing this -- is to energize that process. It's not over internationalizing nuclear weapons, it's actually about working against the objective that we all agreed to in the NPT, and that's to rid the world of these damn things altogether. And that's what we need to make progress about, you know. And I only ask for other countries -- Iran and North Korea in particular -- live up to their NPT obligations, because that's precisely what we are doing, we are living up to our NPT obligations. But I do, in our government, challenge our government to show energy and initiative in that area, and I hope that over the years to come we will show that energy consistent with what we're doing also with the development of these boats.

The question you asked, I mean, in some ways doesn't lend itself to a two-minute or a one-minute answer. I mean, it's a very difficult and complex question. I have to say that, you know, I consider Bosnia to be a success as well. You know, time will tell whether we can nurse Kosovo through the current challenges it faces to what will be success and security and peace and prosperity for its people.

You know, I mean, Northern Ireland is a success. I mean, there are -- and that was an international effort, you know. I mean, a number of key people take the most credit for Northern Ireland, and so they should; but it was an international effort. I mean, we pulled in people from all over the world -- from Scandinavia, from the United States of America, from South Africa, we had people working with us. It wasn't military engagement. And we provided the level of security because it was our own domestic responsibility to do that. But we engaged in all of these other areas. A significant number of people from, you know, North America from the Irish-American community put massive investment into Northern Ireland to create opportunities for people, and massive investment into the south. So, I mean, these things can be done.

My argument is that we're very good at doing part of this. We're actually quite poor at doing the other complementary parts of it. And in particular -- and people would say that I, you know, come to this with a professional bias -- we grossly underestimate the importance of the rule of law.

If we paid far more attention to developing and building institutions that give people a sense of justice, a sense of fairness in those communities when we try to bring them out of conflict -- and that doesn't necessarily mean, you know, having short trials or bringing people before international courts or anything like that. It just means that we have to serve their need to have their suffering recognized, and for them to be able to draw a line and move on, you know, without having to constantly victimize and revictimize themselves.

You know, and if we look, for example, I mean, I know I'm taking up people's time here, but this is really important. If we look, for example, at Rwanda, a remarkable thing happened in Rwanda. Immediately after the conflict in Rwanda, the Tutsi government, who came and relieved the people of, you know -- expatriate government came in, end of Kagame, and relieved the people -- ended up with 120,000 people -- 120,000 people out of a population of about 5 million -- in remand, in jail, awaiting trial.

Now there isn't a country in the world, and that includes the United States of America, who would not suffer if it had to ply its resource to dealing with 120,000 people who needed to go to trial. It was impossible. It was inevitable that they had to do it, because they had to put these people in custody. They treated them in a remarkably humane way, given the stringencies of where they are economically.

And then they set about trying to resolve the problem. What did they do? They reinstituted a form of tribal justice called gacaca. Does it meet anything that we would call due process? No, it doesn't, of course. It doesn't go anywhere near it. It would be a comprehensive offense to all of the standards and human rights that we would expect to be observed by a system of justice.

Did it work? Yes, it did. Because there were a few basic rules and basic standards applied to it, and the international community said, there are certain things you can't do. You clearly can't condemn people to death, and there are certain things that you can't do. And they started to process these people in large numbers, I mean, underneath trees, in the middle of villages. They brought people out of the jails. They made them face the people whom they had offended and victimized. And they imposed penalties on them and reintegrated them back into those communities.

Now if we were designing that in the context of an international operation, there is no way that we would get away with doing it. But we just, you know, allowed them to do it. And by and large the international community has turned a blind eye to it, and quite rightly. Because it works and it is effective and it is just.

HOGE: That will have to be the final word, a good final word.

Thank you very much, Des Browne. (Applause.)








More on This Topic


The Future of the United Nations (Audio)

Speakers: Paul Kennedy, Stephen C. Schlesinger, and James Traub
Presider: Warren M. Hoge

Listen to experts discuss the past, present, and future of the United Nations.


The Future of the United Nations

Speakers: Paul Kennedy, Stephen C. Schlesinger, and James Traub
Presider: Warren M. Hoge

Watch experts discuss the past, present, and future of the United Nations.