Afghanistan: Mending It, Not Just Ending It

Friday, April 29, 2011

David Miliband discusses the effectiveness of Western policies in Afghanistan, challenges and opportunities in the current military and political climate, and practical proposals for moving forward.

RICHARD N. HAASS: We have some seats up here. And we'll get started. (Cellphone beeps.) Is that your cellphone, mine?


HAASS: It's mine. (Scattered laughter.) Well, I can't think of a better time to ask everyone to please turn off all their electronics. And I shall walk the walk and not just talk the talk.

More important, welcome to the Council on Foreign Relations. I'm Richard Haass. And today we have with us David Miliband. I'll introduce David in a second.

Let me get one or two housekeeping things out of the way and then I have one announcement to make. I want to welcome not just you all in this room, but we've also got Council on Foreign Relation members from around the nation and the world who are participating in today's meeting via teleconference. Again, please turn off all your electronics.

This meeting is on the record. Anything one says can and will be used against you. (Laughter.)

Today is an important day at least for three reasons. One is the presence of our right honorable friend; secondly, the royal wedding, which even though it did take place in Britain does not quite fall under the aegis of the Council on Foreign Relations as a -- (laughter) -- as an international event. So we will not be dwelling on that unless my right honorable friend wishes to discuss the gown or the hair or the tiara at length. (Laughter.)

But for one other reason: It was literally 90 years ago today at 3:00 in the afternoon on West 43rd Street that a group of individuals met and -- quote, "to afford a continuous conference on foreign relations, to stimulate international thought in the United States, to cooperate with existing international agencies and to coordinate international activities." It was literally 90 years ago this afternoon that the Council on Foreign Relations was established. So I can't --

MILIBAND: Happy birthday.

HAASS: Thank you. (Applause.) And it's particularly fitting that we have Carla Hills here, one of our co-chairs, and we have the -- you, our members, here.

And -- but the reason we are all here, other than celebrating our anniversary, is to hear from David Miliband. David has been a member of parliament for 10 years. For three of those years he was the secretary of state for foreign and commonwealth affairs. He is now in the opposition, as they say. And he's here today to talk about several things, first and foremost Afghanistan. But then we'll also talk about a few other things. He and I will go on for a bit, and then we will open it up to your questions.

Let me just -- let me just add a personal note. David and I have known each other now for some time. And he is what I would describe as a true intellectual practitioner, that he was in position of real authority for three years, an ability to make a difference. But he didn't just have the potential to make a difference: He did. And he brought too a great intellect and a degree of depth that I would simply say I do not take for granted having worked in government on and off for a couple of decades. So it's great to have him back here today. And he continues to attack subjects with real intellectual energy and tenacity.

This July 1, the president has already announced now, going back quite a ways, that this would be the beginning of troop reductions in Afghanistan. He has not articulated exactly how many troops will be coming out. He has not articulated the pace or the -- you know, the end point and all that. But a lot of the debate in this country has been about our military presence, which is now just under 100,000 American troops, roughly triple what it was two and a half years ago; and in your country as well. You have about approximately, what, 10 percent as many troops; roughly 10,000, plus or minus?

And a lot of the debate has been about the troops, for obvious reasons, the cost -- human, military, economic.

But in the public statements that you've been making and in writings that you've been making, you've been saying that's all well and good, and obviously we have to look at the military component, but it's just that, it's a component and it's got to be part of a larger strategy. And in particular, you've been advocating that we really think about the strategy as a whole, including a large diplomatic or negotiating dimension. So why don't we start there?

MILIBAND: Well, thanks, Richard. Thanks to -- for bringing together such a distinguished audience.

I feel passionately about this Afghan question and the crisis of South Asia more generally because of the blood and treasure that's being expended there and has been expended there. I see a double danger, frankly: that other parts of the world are more exciting at the moment and there's a danger that Afghanistan becomes the forgotten war; but I also see a danger that the complexity and difficulty of the situation there leads to a delay in setting out how we are going to play a role in bringing the war to an end. I would say that at the moment we have an end date for the war in Afghanistan but not an endgame.

HAASS: You mean the end of 2014?

MILIBAND: Yeah. Now, 2014, if you read the small print, is not actually the date for all foreign troops to leave. It's a date for the transition to leadership. There are questions about just Afghan leadership. There are questions about combat role versus training role. But the BBC headline on the day of the NATO summit last November was, NATO and Karzai agree date for end of war.

So in the popular imagination, we have a date for the end of the war, and that's helped calm, I think, quite a lot of publics, but I am -- I think there's danger because I think our position will weaken between now and 2014.

My view is that we are fighting and institution-building and aid- delivering with one hand tied behind our backs. And it's tied behind our backs because we don't have the north star of the campaign, which needs to be a political settlement, which is the only way in which Afghanistan has ever been governed; a political settlement that isn't Central Command from Kabul, because it's a country of 40,000 villages and valleys, as you know very, very well; a political settlement which is internal with all the tribes and regional with the neighbors. And that is an exceedingly complicated process, but until that north star is established, the military effort, the development effort, the civilian effort will not be sustainable, and that's my -- that's my concern. And we can talk today about what that political settlement should be and how it can be manufactured, but I think that that's the -- that's the challenge we face at the moment.

HAASS: Let's talk a little bit about it. Let's unpack it, as we now say. I've been reading what a lot of people, including yourself, have been saying, and I can discern -- if I can get it right -- at least four different diplomatic tracks that people have been talking about increasingly that need to get greater attention, and everyone's got his or her own details.

One is the track between the Afghan government and the Taliban, some sort of a new shura or jirga or some sort of an Afghan political process, whether it leads to power sharing or something else. Now, that's one track. A second track between India and Pakistan. A third track that in some ways recreates a version of the old six-plus-two mechanism. And a fourth track -- at least in this country, and I don't know if you've had the same in yours -- about a direct dialogue between the United States and the Taliban. Rather than necessarily using the Afghans or the Pakistanis as a go-between, we would essentially establish a direct set of conversations with them about the future of Afghanistan.

So when you look at these four possibilities -- and maybe there's others; I'm sure I've missed some -- when you think of your north star, to continue your metaphor, what's in your constellation?

MILIBAND: Well, the tragedy of the four tracks is that so little is happening on any of them. I mean I'd like to see -- I think they should all be populated. I'd support them all. But the tragedy is that they're not. And I think in that circumstance, we need to establish the singular focus.

I would do that through the appointment of an independent facilitator from outside, a U.N. mediator/facilitator. I think he or she must come from the Muslim world. I think that this person should talk to us, or especially you, as parties to the conflict, because until the West sets out its view of the endgame, I think every other party to the conflict is going to be playing all sides against the middle. I think that that's certainly true of the insurgency, the various brands of the insurgency, the so-called Taliban and others, but it's also true of the neighbors.

We -- and above all, you -- need to set out your view of the political endgame, and then all the other players will begin to take their positions with a degree of credibility and coherence. And I think that the -- my former colleague, Sherard Cowper-Coles, who was the British ambassador in Kabul, had, I think, a brilliant metaphor for this. He says, look, it's a double-decker bus -- (inaudible) -- on its own tracks. The downstairs seats are populated by all the tribes of Afghanistan; we need all the tribes in. The upstairs seats are populated by the regional neighbors. And the driving seat is an independent figure, the navigator is an American, and the fuel is provided by the Saudis. (Laughter.) Now --

HAASS: Is that not a prescription for an accident? (Laughter.)

MILIBAND: No -- no, I -- and I think that that is a powerful way of saying we've all got to be on the same bus.

And I think that while inevitably -- look, we've all been around diplomacy for long enough to know that on the four tracks you're talking about, both publicly and privately, there's going to be a lot of activity, and that's fine. It's good, in fact. But it does need to be brought together. I think internally we can't just rely on the High Peace Council that President Karzai has set up to lead this. And regionally -- we all know that the internal and the regional is umbilically linked in Afghanistan. I think the goal should be a council on regional stability that brings all the players together. And it's only when they're staring each other in the face that we're going to get to serious discussion.

HAASS: Let me focus on two of the potential -- I was going to say participants in the process; I will say people who are going to be sitting on your negotiations bus, two of the passengers. Let's begin with the Taliban. I would suggest that early on in this administration, when the president articulated his policy first in March of 2009, then in his larger West Point speech in December of 2009, there was a statement that the United States would now take the fight to the Taliban in the south and east of the country. That was the -- I may have the quote slightly wrong, but that was the explicit statement that the president made.

And implicit in that, many have suggested, was the idea that you had to take the fight to the Taliban, not simply because the central government was incapable of doing it, but because the Taliban were making inroads, and Taliban inroads back in Afghanistan inevitably were to lead to the recreation or the reestablishment of positions of strength by al-Qaida. Essentially, the idea was if the Taliban are allowed to regain territory and footholds, they would go back to where they were before 9/11. Is it your sense that that assumption or working hypothesis about the Taliban is valid?

MILIBAND: Well, Taliban and al-Qaida is obviously not the same. It's very important to say that. Some Taliban leaders -- Afghan Taliban, you're talking about --

HAASS: Afghan, not Pakistani Taliban.

MILIBAND: -- not Pakistan Taliban?

HAASS: Yes, sir.

MILIBAND: Some Afghan Taliban have links or sympathies with al-Qaida's jihadist -- global jihadist project. But David Petraeus himself has said that at least 80 percent of the insurgency has no more interest in global jihad than -- than anyone else. I mean, I think it's very important that we don't confuse those two.

Secondly, the president also said very explicitly that there should be a, quote-unquote, "reconciliation process" in every province of Afghanistan.

HAASS: The president of -- ?

MILIBAND: The president of the United States. I believe President Obama understood from the very beginning the importance of a political lodestar for this campaign.

Now, it's not the case that those of us who argue for a political settlement believe it would be fostered by simple immediate withdrawal of troops. We understand that a military, civilian and developmental effort are part of the drive for the political settlement. But I do believe the debate in all of our countries about the numbers of troops -- the passion of that debate is in inverse proportion to its importance. Because actually, the more we argue -- in our country, we used to have huge arguments -- do we want 1,500 more troops? -- massive arguments about it. But actually, unless you have the political goal of a negotiated settlement with simple principles -- namely, all the tribes in; al-Qaida out; the neighbors on the side -- no amount of security or development effort is going to make progress.

And I'm afraid even since I -- I made a speech on this, under this title, at MIT two years ago. Little did I know then that we were a few days away from the Kandahar breakout. I mean, I've been very skeptical of the claims that the British government have made for great progress in Helmand and Kandahar. There is -- there's a disconnect. There's tactical progress, but the insurgency reappears elsewhere.

And the truth is that those -- I've talked to some people who talk to the different branches of the Taliban, and they report a couple of things that are important.

First, they want to know our position. It's not enough for them to talk to President Karzai. They want to know what we think, what you think. Secondly, a lot of them want to come home, and they're stuck in Pakistan at the moment. And it's increasingly hot for them there.

And so the incentives for a break with al-Qaida, which Secretary Clinton called for in her important Asia Society speech in February is there, but we have to be absolutely clear, I think, that we do see a place for conservative Pashtun in the political settlement, helping govern the south and east of the country. I mean, it is ironic that your country founded from the bottom up; my country, which in a way, has a lot of experience of developing a nation from the bottom up, should have imposed the most centralized political system in the world, Afghanistan, which has the most decentralized polity.

And so I think we have to be explicit and clear that the model of governance cannot be a centralized command-and-control -- Stephen Biddle wrote an important essay with his colleagues in your -- in Foreign Affairs, which exposed the foolishness of thinking that you can govern from the center.

So I think that that is -- that's the way I see this. There's a while ally discussion, which we're about -- maybe about to come to, about Pakistan's place on this.

HAASS: (Off mic) -- we're on question away from that. One of the things -- the important things in the secretary of state's February speech was she dropped certain things, including the -- that the Taliban accept the existing constitution as a precondition for a dialogue. I think that was one of the important, substantive pieces of that speech.

Let's talk one minute, though, about the Afghans. I mean, you mentioned the prison breakout. And that is in some ways yet the most recent demoralizing development. And people talk a lot about counterinsurgency strategy: clear, hold, and build. I get the "clear." I get the "hold." Where I have a problem is with the "build." And the real potential to build not in the short run but in the long run an enduring set of institutions at the national level, the ability to govern, the ability to stand up a serious national police and army -- about -- again, the real question is not whether you can do it today but a month later or six months later, whether you believe it has endurance and whether we really are trying to -- whether the nation building -- which really this is -- capacity building, is simply a bridge too far given who it is we're working with in Afghanistan.

MILIBAND: Well, I think one's got to -- one's dealing with very delicate issues here. I attended Zahir Shah's funeral in July 2007, the last king of Afghanistan. And no one who attended that funeral could come away without thinking that there is such a thing as an Afghan national identity. Those were proud Afghans from all the tribes who came there. And it was a very moving experience.

Equally, I don't believe anyone should (countenance ?) the idea that an Afghan security force will -- a centralized Afghan security force is going to have a monopoly of force or a monopoly of power in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is going to be governed by a series of compromises across villages and valleys, formal and informal, state power, non-state power. And that goes with the grain of Afghan society. And I think it's very important that we come to terms with that because central -- if we define nation building as a centralized force that has a monopoly on (violence ?), we're never going to come to an end. Afghanistan will never be governed in that way.

HAASS: Let me -- two more questions on Afghanistan. I want to raise one or two other issues before we open it up to our members. One is on the neighbor Pakistan. The two principal critiques of the -- what we're doing, about whether it will succeed -- one is what we just talked about, the potential of the Afghan partner; and at least as big is the fundamental set of questions about the Pakistani "partner." And I put the word "partner" there in quotes because, quite honestly, the real question is, do we have a partner in Pakistan? And many have suggested that it's at most a limited partner. And the real question is, can you succeed in Afghanistan doing what we're doing so long as the Pakistanis continue to have their own agenda and continue to provide sanctuary for the Afghan Taliban?

MILIBAND: Well, I think that stability in Afghanistan without stability in Pakistan is not a -- not a stable equation. Let's be careful, though. Should Pakistan have its own interests?

Yes, it should. A country should have its own interests, because -- well, for obvious reasons. I think that there's been a significant change in Pakistan during my time as foreign secretary, in that Pakistan, both civilian and military's concept of its own interest, came to include the realization that there was a dangerous enemy within which was a -- an insurgency that killed Benazir Bhutto and threatens the stability of the state.

Equally, as well as Pakistan being a victim of terrorism, any of us who have been there or study the region know that terrorism is exported from Pakistan as well. And that's what you're alluding to.

I would say in all frankness to members of the council that one of the most chilling things I've heard in and read over the last few months is the idea that America has a choice about whether or not to sever its links with Pakistan. Because if you think it's difficult, frustrating, innovating, dangerous dealing with Pakistan at the moment as a partner, try fulfilling your own interests in South Asia without Pakistan as a partner.

I believe that it's very important that Pakistan understands what is expected of it, its responsibilities, but also has its rights respected as well. And it's easy to say that in theory, but actually it's meaningful in practice, I think. And that is a country which needs the international community, including its neighbors, to stand with it -- on security, on trade, on institution building. And I think that President Obama's outreach to Pakistan in his, I think, leaked letter to President Zardari -- two leaked letters -- was a very important step.

He was proposing a strategic relationship -- a balanced strategic relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan to replace the unbalanced, essentially military-only relationship, individual leader-based relationship rather than institution-based relationship of the past.

Now I have criticized the Pakistani government for the way in which it failed adequately to respond to the outreach -- the significance of the outreach that President Obama made. But I think it's very important that you continue to engage proactively on the civilian and the military side in Pakistan, because there won't be stability in South Asia to serve our interests unless Pakistan is engaged seriously.

HAASS: One last question, which is -- goes back to almost -- it's a first-order question about Afghanistan. For several years now, Leon Panetta, still the director of the CIA, about to move over to the Pentagon, has been saying that the number of al-Qaida in -- personnel, as best we can tell, is minimal.

MILIBAND: In Afghanistan, yeah.

HAASS: In Afghanistan. Maybe it's several dozen, what have you; just say it's arguably a hundred. The real question then becomes not so much the prospects for the strategy working -- even if it were to introduce a greater diplomatic dimension, as you advocate. But the real question is, is it worth it? Because here it is. It's one out of every six or seven defense dollars that this country spends. I don't know what the proportion is in the United Kingdom. It's taken an inordinate amount of time. When I heard the president, you know, leading up to the surge decision, had 10 full National Security Council meetings on this, that was 10 meetings he didn't have on China or India or trade policy or who knows what. This is -- this is absorbing a lot of this country's -- (inaudible). Indeed, I would be prepared to argue this is the most consequential foreign policy decision, certainly in terms of resources, this administration has made in its nearly two and a half years in office.

And I -- and I suppose the question that I keep coming back to when I struggle with this policy, is, why is it worth it? Not that the answer is to leave it, but why this scale of effort -- ten thousand of your troops, a hundred thousand of ours, another, whatever it is, thirty or so thousand NATO troops -- this enormous commitment to a country that history suggests, at the end, will be exactly as you describe it, fairly decentralized, which is a nice word for messy? They'll have a degree of violence --

MILIBAND: Switzerland is decentralized and it's not messy. So be careful. (Laughter.)

HAASS: But Switzerland is -- but that's exactly the point. The -- reality suggests we are not going to be able to create Switzerland. And even if we could -- which we cannot -- is it -- would it be worth it, given the scale of our -- isn't there a disproportion here between effort and interest?

MILIBAND: My view on this is, first, the incubator of choice for global AQ is the badlands of the Afghan/Pakistan border, and that's what makes this important -- however important one thinks Somalia or Yemen is. Point one.

Point two, when I said earlier that I feared that Afghanistan would become the forgotten war, it's been the forgotten war before. Between 2002 and 2005, '6, it became the forgotten war. And we are reaping the dreadful dividend now of what happened then. There is a devastating New America Foundation report, fascinating report, on the Kandahari Taliban and how in 2002, when they were driven out of Afghanistan, across the Pakistan border, the Kandahari Taliban asked to come back into their country and live privately. And they were told no. And it's out of those decisions that the Kandahar Taliban was recreated in 2004, '5 and in some ways we've ended up where we are now.

So point two, there are -- this -- when it becomes a forgotten war, it becomes a very dangerous (glue ?).

And thirdly, you are absolutely right that if the United States -- if the West more generally are going to do justice to the seismic, epochal events happening in other parts of the world, also some of the big economic questions we face, we need to bring these legacy conflicts to an end with our goals clear.

And I just want to make this final point. Our goals in Afghanistan must be twofold in my view. First, to do justice to our substantive security interest that exist there, which I think are real. They don't have to be (over-egged ?) but they're real in South Asia. And secondly, vitally for the West's position as it approaches these other big issues, to do justice, create a narrative that does justice to the blood and treasure that have been expended there over the last 10 years.

And the way in which this is brought to an end and the narrative with which this is brought to an end and the credibility with which an American president leads the role of the West in bringing it to an end is absolutely critical as a goal that we -- that we have to pursue.

HAASS: Let's just talk about one or two of those epochal issues elsewhere, and then we'll open it up. Let's start, though, with your country, which is your country's approach to dealing with its fiscal challenges is quite different than ours. And under the new government, there has been, if you will, a front loading of efforts to cut public spending quite dramatically. The growth figures which just came out the other day were quite modest, shall we say, up 0.5 percent, essentially countering the previous quarter.

What is your sense of the wisdom and the -- and the prospects for this sort of an approach? Because the argument, as I understand it, the government is saying we need to do this now; this will create an environment in which business confidence will be restored and then growth will then increasingly manifest itself. What is your sense about it?

MILIBAND: Well, I think that the -- any independent observer, of which I am fair and balanced in this matter needless to say, the -- I think "fair and balanced" has a certain connotation in this -- in this political culture.

I think, though, seriously, an independent observer would say they've taken a bold gamble. This is the biggest squeeze on public spending in Britain than probably in any Western country in the post- war period. It is brutal and sharp and is hitting all aspects of our society, including things that we might come to talk about later, the BBC World Service, which is cutting 20 percent of its funds; dangerous, in my view.

It's a -- it's a big economic gamble. All of you who remember your basic economics, C plus I plus G, if you're going to reduce government spending very fast, you've got to be very sure that business investment is going to bounce back and consumer confidence is not going to go through the floor. The truth is, the British consumer has been deeply frightened by the last year's rhetoric, and our growth is very, very fragile, so they're taking a very big gamble.

I would say, secondly and finally, that the specter that has given credibility to this is that Britain will become Greece; that we face a sovereign debt crisis unless we engage in this scale of deficit reduction that eliminates the structural deficit within four years. My concern is that in seeking to avoid becoming Greece, we're going to become Japan. We're going to have a decade of low/no growth.

And I think that the Greek scenario for Britain is fundamentally unfounded. I mean, British -- the average maturity on British government bonds is 13 years, not 13 days. Of our borrowing, 90 percent of British borrowing is domestically covered. In the case of Greece --

HAASS: Very Japanese of you.

MILIBAND: Yes. Well, in the case of -- well, there's a lot of saving going on suddenly. And so we're not in a Greek situation, but we could end up being in a Japan-style squeeze, and I think that's very dangerous.

HAASS: Before we turn to the Middle East, you mentioned the 20-percent cuts in BBC World Service. Why did you single that out?

MILIBAND: Because I think that I basically buy -- I believe that the -- that the influence of a country like ours, it can only in part be about diplomacy. It has to also be about culture, and it has to be about our ability to reach out and persuade and build coalitions of consent with people, not just with elites. And I think that's one of the things I think is really important. We've created a Farsi service for the BBC. That's important diplomacy, and if those sort of things get lost, that's really dangerous.

And it was always an odd situation for us, because the Foreign Office funded the World Service, but genuinely had absolutely no role in content. And this was -- and governments who were suspicious of us would always say, oh, yeah, but you're really writing the news. We (weren't ?) writing the news. What the current government has done is said: Look, the BBC is going to have to pay for the World Service out of its general budget. The general budget's going down by more or less 20 percent. The World Service is taking its proportionate share of the cuts. And I think that that's a bad move, myself. I mean, if you believe in soft power at all, it's a good example of soft power.

HAASS: Let's talk about the Middle East. And you just mentioned, so it's actually a natural segue from the BBC question, the first bit of what happened over the last three, four months focused obviously on places like Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain. But in the last couple of days -- Libya aside for a second -- tremendous interest in Syria, and we haven't really seen a lot of attention on Iran. What is your sense about what more might be done, what more would be wise to do, or maybe not, in places like Syria and Iran where there are regimes that in many ways we find, in one way or another, objectionable in what they are or what they do, or both? What more do you think the United States, Britain, essentially outsiders should be doing to encourage change in those places?

MILIBAND: I think that one lesson of the last four months is that the revolts that have happened have been home-grown, not domestically -- not externally incubated. So I think the first thing I'd say to you is let's be extremely cognizant of the limits on our influence.

Secondly, my instinct about the Libyan situation -- about the Syrian situation, is that the internal position of President Assad within the regime is as important as the regime's relationship with the rest of the country, or as unstable as the regime's relationship with the rest of the country, which makes it especially complex. I think that the -- that some of the ideas that are being floated are perfectly sensible; I don't think they'll be decisive. I think the decisive struggle is happening within the country.

And I think forces -- one of the most important things, I think, to recognize about Syria is how much the country has changed since 1982. Since the suppression by the older President Assad, the population has mushroomed, its complexion has changed, its economic integration with the rest of the world has also changed. And I think it's a -- it's a very different Syria than it was in '82.

HAASS: And what would that -- as a result, what would that lead us to do or not do?

MILIBAND: Well, I think it's more what it would lead the regime. My take on what's happening in the Middle East is that the threshold for legitimate exercise of authority has been raised, and it's been raised by the ubiquity of global information and media flows; that in a country like Egypt, there was fundamentally a legitimacy crisis, and President Mubarak had nothing to fall back on, whether in terms of popular mandate -- obviously not; revolutionary links -- very limited; the theological basis of his rule -- no; delivery to his population -- no. So he had nothing to fall back on.

In Syria, it's a -- it's a different situation but, again, I think the regime is struggling with a higher threshold of -- for the legitimate exercise of power. And I think that is an epochal change, that the consent of the governed and the accountability of power have been raised to a new -- a new level that counts as normal.

My own view, just to put my cards on the table, is that I think that for some of the monarchies in the Middle East -- Saudi Arabia most obviously -- they stand above the bar, because of the nation- building, theological law, the histories that give strength to the -- for example, to the House of Saud. The issue for them is whether they use their authority in a baleful or in a helpful way, or in a useful way. And that is a very much more open question.

HAASS: Last question from me: Libya. It was Tony Blair who, early on in his tenure as prime minister, in Chicago articulated many of the ideas that essentially informed what's been a -- if not quite a consensus, at least a large piece of international public opinion and elite opinion about humanitarian intervention.

You've now had a humanitarian intervention in Libya which, thus far at least, is at best mixed in its effects. And clearly there's a gap that's emerged between the goals of ousting the regime and the means that are being employed towards that end.

And there's increasingly two schools of thought. One is to increase the means, more use of firepower one way or another, arming close-air support, boots on the ground, what have you. And the other is to lower the goals, at least for a while, and to basically say, look, let's go back to the U.N. resolution. Let's accept the cease- fire even if it means Gadhafi in place for now, a somewhat divided country, but at least it calms the civil war. And then, over time, we could try to shape Libya in the direction we want.

Where do you come out on that?

MILIBAND: I don't think the performance so far has been mixed. I think four weeks in -- (we're now ?) four or five weeks in -- the credible risk of a slaughter has been averted. And so the challenge I don't think is whether or not the performance so far has been mixed. The real challenge is how long can stalemates continue without the intervention becoming a failure in the eyes of the world or more widely?

My own view is that standing as we do today, 29th of April, stalemate is better than slaughter. And I believe that the British government has been more right than wrong on this. And those who have advocated intervention I would defend on that, point one.

Point two, in the heart of Tony's 1999 speech, I was in -- I went to Chicago with him for that speech -- there were three tests really. They were -- he actually listed them as five, but actually there were three real, hard tests in there.

One was, is there a credible threat to people? And I believe in the Libyan case there was.

Secondly, is there -- is there a plan that could credibly avert that risk? And it's been shown in the Libyan case that I think it has been averted.

Thirdly, what are the geopolitical implications? He also -- he added a rider, actually, which is whether there was an alternative. Was there any nonmilitary alternative? Because military action is always the last -- (word inaudible).

Now in -- I think the geopolitics of the Libyan case are such that even the dangers of a stalemate, which I think are real, don't outweigh the real damage that a slaughter would have done to the West. The real cardinal sin in modern politics is hypocrisy. That's what the last three or four months have been about. And if we had preached human rights and defending freedoms but allowed 15,000 people to be slaughtered in Benghazi, it would have been as defining for this decade as the Bosnia was before.

Where do we go now? The problem that's arisen is that the second cardinal rule of politics -- not just with foreign policy, with politics -- is get your means and ends aligned, and don't end up in a situation where the means can't deliver the ends. Given that the president of the United States and the prime minister of Britain have said Gadhafi's got to go, I think you've got to up the pressure. But I wouldn't go to boots on the ground. I think you -- you've got to up the pressure. People who know Libya much better than I do speak persuasively of targeting the army and making Gadhafi more of a problem for the army than it's worth -- than it's worth it for them. So that's the way I would go.

HAASS: We don't see eye to eye on this, but this is your meeting, not mine. (Laughter.)

With that, why don't we open this up. And let me invite members to ask questions. Please wait for the microphone. Keep your question succinct. Let us know who you are and for whom you work, if indeed you are employed.

Yes, ma'am.

QUESTIONER: Thank you very much. Marisa Lino, retired diplomat, now work for Northrop Grumman Corporation. I would like to ask you to put the discussion of Britain's role in Libya in the context of the previous conversation about budget.

And what kind of impact -- the U.K.'s stepped up and has taken on this Libya mission. What kind of further impact is this going to have on your defense budget, number one? And in the bigger context, what kind of impact is your -- are your budgeting problems going to have on Britain's role in the world as you see it going forward?

HAASS: Go ahead.

MILIBAND: I mean, I think relatively limited in the short term in terms of the Libyan efforts, relatively limited. But there's no question that, for the government, the combination of new actions and defense cuts is a big political problem for them.

Now I think there's a broader issue for Europeans here, though, because we've talked for a long time about wanting to do more in our own neighborhood, but we haven't put the resources in as a European Union.

And I think that this is a pretty big wake-up call. The way in which the administration has -- how can one put it -- offered the Europeans a chance to lead the mission has, I think, exposed the fragility of the European commitment.

And we have -- if I was going to criticize the government, which I don't really want to do, but if I was going to, I would -- I would say that there hasn't been enough pre-cooking of the mission to build European unity. It's quite striking the unity across the House of Commons in Britain on this issue. It's in sharp contrast to the lack of unity across the European Union. And that is something where I think the current government takes a more Euro-skeptic attitude than the previous one, and I think that it really needs to work on that European coalition building, because it's substantively problematic and it sends a very bad message.

HAASS: (If I could press you ?) on something you said which is very interesting, you -- a little bit tongue-in-cheek, you described the administration's policy as offering Europe the opportunity to lead this. You're a card-carrying Atlanticist. Are you comfortable with this approach to -- (in other words ?), if you will, to management -- to a more modest U.S. role, basically going to the Europeans and say, you take on a leadership role? Are you comfortable with this slightly different approach to Atlanticism --

MILIBAND: Well, I --

HAASS: (Or more than ?) slightly different?

MILIBAND: The reason that -- my reading is that Europeans need to step up a long way to make the transatlantic partnership work better. I mean, the EU-U.S. relationship isn't delivering enough for the U.S., in my view. And we have a real to make the summits that we want President Obama to attend (worth/work ?) something more. And we need to put more on the table, I would say, in developing the big- power relationship that we want between the EU and the U.S.

Equally, there is a debate obviously going on -- the administration will tell you very strongly that they will make sure that any assets that only they have got and others haven't got will be delivered. And I think that's a very important commitment and we should hold them to it. I think that if you buy my argument that we need to increase the squeeze on Gadhafi, we're going to need to ask you for more help. And I hope you'll be forthcoming in that.

HAASS: Sir. At the microphone right there.

QUESTIONER: Peter Baumbusch. I'm a lawyer with Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher. I've attended a prior meeting here, a luncheon meeting, in which there was a discussion of Afghanistan, and the speaker suggested that there were ongoing negotiations, or perhaps negotiations about negotiations, and that we were confronted with demands we did not like. You listed what the West would like, in security and so forth, and the demand that was a stumbling block was the treatment of women by the Taliban. And the suggestion was that that is a major stumbling block to the exit of troops and forces and the projection of power in that region.

Is that the case, and is that the thing that we should ask our people to be fighting for?

MILIBAND: I think we more or less know what the Taliban want. I mean, they've said enough through various interlocutors. They want people off the 1276 list. They want Guantanamo prisoners --

HAASS: Could you say what the 1286 list is.

MILIBAND: U.N. list of people convicted of terrorist crimes. They want people out of Guantanamo, they want Sharia in Afghanistan and they want foreign troops out. They have a series of tactical demands that I would put in the sort of confidence-building measures category. They want an end to night raids. We want an end to roadside bombs. I mean, but they're not the strategic level.

Now, it is the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, and it's also a constitution which commits to the aspiration of equal rights for men and women. And my own view on this is that -- one has to choose those words carefully, but I don't believe -- I believe the aspiration is a very important one to write into the constitution. I don't believe the aspiration is fulfilled right across the country.

And equally, I don't believe it's going to be fulfilled at the barrel of a gun. And the development of -- the modernization, if you like, of Afghan society, as the Russians found, is not done by foreign occupation.

And so there is -- there are compromises to be made there. I think that one way out of the box that we're in on this issue is, I think, important -- is to say that the voice of Afghan women has to be heard in the highest council in its government, parliament and other parts of its society.

But you're right; there's undoubtedly a tension between the aspirations that the constitution sets out and the reality that exists. I would say to you, we're not going to be able to force those aspirations to be met at the barrel of a gun.

HAASS: And you've basically said that you're going to have a large conservative Pashtun area in Afghanistan, and you're to some extent acknowledging that there's going to be parts of Afghanistan that are not going to live up to that, and we're going to have to --

MILIBAND: There are today.

HAASS: Exactly, exactly.


QUESTIONER: Thank you. Barbara Slavin from the Atlantic Council. I wanted to ask you about the current developments with Fatah and Hamas, claiming that they are going to reunify. How would you deal with that development? Is it sufficient simply to continue to condemn Hamas as a terrorist organization, or do we in the Quartet, the United States and in Israel need a new policy to deal with this development, especially as Egypt shifts its policy to reflect popular opinion?

Thank you.

MILIBAND: This is such a difficult question to address with these cameras rolling and the -- (laughter) --

HAASS: Just -- David, just make believe they're not here.

MILIBAND: They -- so -- I mean, I think that it would be -- it's very important that we react extremely carefully to what's been announced, that we understand why it's happened and that we keep in mind the strategic national interest that your president set out, namely the establishment of a Palestinian state that can live alongside Israel.

I think that the agreement that has been announced -- although it's still some way to go before it is -- before it is developed -- is borne of real frustration at the lack of a quote, unquote, "peace process." I also believe it's borne from the Fatah side, you could say. I also believe it's borne of the fact that for Hamas, isolation hasn't been that good for them. I mean, they're -- the pressure is on them in various ways. And thirdly, it's borne of the fact that you have a new Egyptian government, that there's a new dynamic in the -- in the process. And I think it's important to understand where this has come from.

I also believe absolutely passionately that you will never get a Palestinian state if you leave Gaza till last, if you try and negotiate a Palestinian state for the West Bank and then say we'll add on Gaza at a future date. It has to be a unified negotiating mandate. And the point that President Abbas made in the papers today, I think is -- or he made it yesterday and it was reported in the papers today -- as chairman of the PLO, he negotiates for the whole of the Palestinian territory.

And when I was in government; and therefore, more concerned about the -- Well, I'm still, as you can see, relatively careful in this area -- one of the things I always said when people asked me, you know, why don't you talk to Hamas, I would always say, look, there are plenty of people talking to them, A; B, the person we negotiate with is President Abbas.

I would also say -- and I think this may provide some -- this is a test that I think is -- provides some ground to stand on -- the -- those countries who are signatories to the Arab Peace Initiative do not formally recognize Israel. What they say is they will recognize Israel in the event of the creation of a Palestinian state. I think it's very important that -- (inaudible) -- with that.

Hamas has never asked the question, why doesn't it sign the Arab Peace Initiative? And I think that that is a potentially productive way of getting out of what I think will be a dangerous standoff.

HAASS: (Off mic) -- sure.

QUESTIONER: Bruce MacDonald with the United States Institute of Peace.

I've been supportive of what the United States has done and NATO has done in Libya to date, but there's one niggling concern I have in the back of my mind. I'm sure that at some point in this process, Mr. Gadhafi must have wondered maybe I shouldn't have agreed to end my nuclear-weapons program; if I had even just an active program, maybe not a bomb exactly in existence, I'll bet the West would have thought twice before they invaded. And I wonder also if maybe President Assad is thinking a few things too.

One -- so as supportive as I am of what we're doing, one thing that concerns me is that there could be some negative collateral damage in terms of nonproliferation policy, keeping in mind, for example, remember after the first Gulf War, one Indian general was quoted when he -- when he was asked lesson do you derive from the first Gulf War or from the Gulf War, and he said, if you're going to get into a battle with the United States, make you that you -- if you think you might, make sure you have nuclear weapons.

So I ask you, do you have any thoughts about what the implications are for U.S. nuclear nonproliferation interests, and what do you think we should do?

MILIBAND: Well, I think the point was made -- I mean, Tony Blair has taken a huge amount of flack in the U.K. for allegedly being too close to Colonel Gadhafi, and I think a lot of it's been very unfair, and your point speaks directly to why it's unfair. I mean, what Tony did, including with some people in this room, is that in the wake of the Iraq war persuaded Colonel Gadhafi to renounce his nuclear and other programs; and you're absolutely right to say that we would be in a much more dangerous situation today if they hadn't succeeded in that.

Now, the second half of the equation, which was that engagement with the Libyan regime and people should have brought it into the international fold, is only half-worked, because the sponsorship of international terrorism has stopped, but the repression has been brutal.

Now, the wider nonproliferation case -- whatever you think about Libya, it's right to be passionate about nonproliferation, because the dangers there are real, and I think the administration has been very proactive on this, rightly. It's something that we were urging very strongly when the new administration came in, and they've more than fulfilled their commitments there. I'd like to see -- and they've also said, I think (might have been Secretary Clinton ?), said this while I was still in office, that they wanted to pass the the arms trade treaty and tackle the spread of conventional weapons. Well, I mean, that's important.

HAASS: Yes, ma'am.

QUESTIONER: Joy de Menil. I'm an editor with Viking Penguin. You spoke with enormous clarity and originality about our relationship with Pakistan and many other points. But there was one question that you were asked by Mr. Haass that I'd like to return to, and that is the question of, is it worth the expense. And I felt that in your answer to that question, you waffled a little bit. The suggestion that --

MILIBAND: Diplomatic term. (Laughter.)

QUESTIONER: I'm not a diplomat, I'm an editor. (Laughs.) The suggestion that our lack of attention from 2002 to 2007 somehow made the world worse is not fully persuasive, in that you could suggest that many other -- many other things precipitated the rise of an insurgency. So I just wonder if you could take a longer -- a little bit longer to answer this particular point of is it worth the exceptional amount of money that we're spending in relation to other priorities.

And what if we had tackled a political solution rather than simply a military solution? Your example about Kandahar and the Kandahar Taliban wouldn't suggest that investing in more military deployments would have solved it. It was a diplomatic problem, not a military problem.

MILIBAND: I think obviously I didn't waffle. I just wasn't clear, which is a different thing.

HAASS: (Inaudible.)

MILIBAND: I think it's very hard to make the case that it was other factors that allowed the recrudescence of the Taliban in 2005, '6. I mean, it was the failure to establish a political settlement in the villages and valleys of Afghanistan after 2002 that has landed us in the current problems. It's very hard to make the case that it's really -- that we'd be where we are now if we'd taken a -- if the Bonn conference and all that was associated with it had been more inclusive, both of the different parts of the Pashtun south but also of the neighbors. Remember the neighbors were excluded from Bonn.

So is it worth it now? I'd like to get -- the reason I say bring these legacy conflicts to an end in part is that the money would be better spent elsewhere. However, given the two goals I've set out, which are substantive security interests and the concluding narrative being one that does justice to what we've done, withdrawal on its own is not policy. The West has substantive enough interests to require that we set out what kind of -- what are our demands for a political settlement, and I think that that's the way I would frame it.

But if you're saying to me deploying more troops on its own solves it, that certainly doesn't, certainly doesn't. And the debates about surging or not surging without the political lode star -- north star, I think, don't get to the main point.

HAASS: We've got time --

QUESTIONER: (Off mic.)

MILIBAND: It certainly doesn't. It certainly doesn't. And you don't -- it doesn't. And I think that -- I think it would -- I think you can -- we're not actually buying our way out of trouble with the amount of troops that we're putting in there.

HAASS: We've got time for one or two.

All the way in the back. Yes, sir. Professor --

QUESTIONER: Hi. John Colby with the Carlyle Group. What's your prognosis for political stability, civil society in Pakistan?

MILIBAND: Well, I mean, I'll be in a stronger position to answer -- I'm going to Pakistan next month, so, I mean, I'll be in a stronger position then.

I mean, I think that it's very, very challenging. On the one hand, a civilian government may well last its full term in Pakistan, that hasn't -- and be succeeded by other civilian governments. That is not to be sneezed at. I mean, that is quite -- that is a significant thing.

Secondly, one of the things that President Musharraf did was to open up the media. And if you want to think about the flowering of civil society, the opening of the media, both in the blogosphere and in print, is serious and good.

Having said -- thirdly, we're involved in something I created, the U.K. Pakistan Education Commission, that is helping build much, much stronger educational institutions across Pakistan, a vital part of civil society with all sorts of social and economic as well as cultural benefits.

Equally, the chronic problems of Pakistan have been compounded by massive, acute problems -- floods, economic, due to the commodity price rises that -- I think I'm right in saying that a 40 percent rise in commodity price -- in food prices for rural Pakistani families who spend two-thirds of their income on food, and in a country where the strongest institution's obviously the army.

So what's my prognosis? My prognosis is that there's a real -- there's a race against time there, really, because the population is going from 175 million to 300 million by 2050. So it really isn't an option to turn our -- to turn our back on Pakistan. I mean, I'm the politician who went to Islamabad in January 2009 and said, without fear or favor, in respect to the Mumbai bombings, those people need to be put on trial; and if they are prosecuted, they need to be punished. And I still say publicly not enough has been done to bring those trials to a conclusion.

So on the one hand I say we should be engaging with Pakistan, (et cetera ?). On the other hand, I think we do -- I feel very comfortable in speaking very plainly about the responsibilities that they have. And if it's true that the LeT is developing global ambitions for its terrorism and its own capacity to do so, as well as regional ones, we have to be even more -- I mean, I'm, you know, no longer getting intelligence material as I was before. Then -- but if it's as reported in the press, that's true, then we need to be even more insistent on the need to roll up that infrastructure.

The reason I raised that -- sorry, maybe this isn't clear -- the reason I raised it, you mentioned civil society. The LeT, through its front organization, provides a huge amount of welfare and other civil society organizations. But they move into the vacuum. And it's a country which officially spends 7 (percent), 8 percent on the military. In fact, it's probably at least double that. The educational spending is 2 percent. And that's a recipe for big trouble.

HAASS: We've only got time for one more.

Yes, ma'am. Got a microphone right here.

QUESTIONER: (Name inaudible.) I'm the ambassador of Tanzania, (coming ?) from London.

I'm taking you back to 2007 at the Labor conference when you were setting out your foreign policy. I may not quote you exactly in your own words, but you said something to the effect that the West now needs to look to consider why your foreign policy has angered so many in the Muslim world.

And my question is, do you think that is still valid today, and what impact would it have on Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere; and what kind of policy changes that you would foresee that would try to tackle that issue?

MILIBAND: Well, I'm honored, Your Excellency, that you're still, you know, able to remember or research my speeches in 2007. I was shocked when I became foreign secretary to be told that no British Cabinet minister had ever spoken in a mosque, a British mosque.

And it became clear to me that we were -- we had a massive job to bring foreign policy home, not just to our Muslim communities but to other communities, because we were in some kind of denial about the relationship between foreign policy and radicalization. A lot of the simplistic equations that were made -- the Iraq war causes terrorism -- were simplistic and not really -- not really worthy of the people who said them.

But I think we had a deeper problem, and if you give me just a couple of minutes to set it out, my feeling is that we had -- we had three problems, really. And you asked are they still problems; I think they are.

One is that I don't think we really in our own society have done enough to understand the Muslim world and what it stands for; I mean, very basic things about the different strands of Islam, about how Sunni and Shia understand each other, about what the -- today what -- or yesterday, what did the marches of Salafists in Jordan mean, what does the rise of Sufism mean, which is rather more positive. So respect can only be founded on understanding, and I think we have a massive job to -- I mean, to build respect and understanding.

Second point: I raised in a -- in a lecture in Oxford on this subject the question of reform which is -- within the Muslim world -- which has become a word that's lost meaning, unfortunately. But I said then that while simplistic versions of, quote-unquote, "democracy promotion" were just that, simplistic, we should be on the side of those in civil society seeking to support change, and we could do that in small ways and big, but whether they be trade unions or civil society groups, that they deserve our engagement and our support.

Third, the reconciliation of the great grievances: And this is where the Palestine issue comes in. The fact that if I go to a mosque in -- (inaudible) -- hamlets and speak after Friday prayers, which I do, and then talk to the congregants afterwards, they talk to me about Palestine, whether they're from Bangladesh or Pakistan; when I speak -- when I spoke at Cairo University, they speak to me about Palestine; when you go to far-flung parts of Pakistan where grinding poverty is evident, you get asked about Palestine. And so when people say that the injustice of the Palestinians is a recruiting sergeant for extremism, what they're saying is this is a soluble problem that the international community has because we've failed to solve. And that's why I say it's the biggest diplomatic failure in 40 years.

HAASS: Can I push back on that?


HAASS: Two things. One is, if you look at al-Qaida's agenda, it's not clear to me any conceivable settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian issue would do anything other than anger them and galvanize them. Their agenda is not particularly aimed towards the Palestinian issue; it has other things in terms of societies and foreign troops. And if you look at the recent upheavals in the Arab world, what's so striking to me is virtually none of it has been about Israel.

MILIBAND: That's not striking at all, Richard. I mean, it's not striking at all. Why -- I mean, the -- if I may say so -- (laughter) -- I mean the --

HAASS: You may say so, sir. (Laughter.) The right honorable -- (off mic).

MILIBAND: I mean, if you're a -- you're a fruit-seller in Tunis, or you're a student in Cairo, and you're governed by a corrupt, kleptocratic, illegitimate government. And that's what you -- in the end, that's your country, your -- the 7,000-year-old civilization of Egypt is sidelined in international affairs, and it's a country that has lost its national pride. And that's what brings you onto the streets to demand a revolution in your --

HAASS: That's exactly my point.

MILIBAND: That's right. But that does not -- but I'm making a different point, which is that if you want to have -- to build a coalition of consent with the people as well as with the elites, this issue is bang in the middle of the road of allowing us to do that -- bang in the middle of the road.

And it's of course right to say that the compromises involved in creating a two-state solution aren't going to put al-Qaida out of business. Of course not. But equally, it's a massive roadblock to the sort of coalitions that need to be built for a secure Israel in a more stable Middle East if in -- if that is to be achieved. So the reconciliation of the great grievances goes alongside the reform and the respect that I think are important.

And remember, it is pretty -- you know, I say this especially to you because, you know, you've got a very, very distinguished role in this. You know that many of the interventions that have been done by your country and mine have been to save Muslim lives.

HAASS: Exactly.

MILIBAND: But there's never any recognition of that while this running sore of the Palestinian issue is still sitting there, front and center of the public imagination right across the Islamic world. And I -- the lady had asked about the Fatah-Hamas question. You see, the real -- the real lesson of the last few months, I think -- and this is true in -- true in the Middle East, and it's true also in Afghan-Pakistan relations, and it would be true in other parts of the world -- the days when many countries wait for us to decide what we're going to do before doing anything are going to be -- are really no longer with us.

And history is not going to stand still according to our electoral time tables or others. And this is a dynamic situation, not a static situation. And if we wait for certain dates in our calendars on the grounds that that's when we've got the space, the space may have closed by the time we get there.

And I think that's what's happened on this tragedy of the -- of the Middle Eastern situation -- of the Palestinian situation, because it's a tragedy for Israel, about which I feel strongly; and it's a tragedy for the Palestinians as well. And, you know, that's why I feel passionately about it.

HAASS: We could go on, but we'll have to have you back to go on.

MILIBAND: (Chuckles.)

HAASS: And we look forward to having you back to go on. Thank you very much, David.

MILIBAND: Thanks very much. (Applause.)








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