David Miliband: 'We must restore belief in the efficacy of liberal interventionism'

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The Independent Online

The first threat to order comes from weak states, which lack the money, force of arms, or trust to control their territory. States that in the current financial climate are particularly vulnerable to total collapse.

Afghanistan and Iraq show how difficult it is to re-build the authority of states following a military campaign. The danger is that, as a result, the international community grows increasingly reluctant to intervene in countries scarred by conflict and lawlessness. The impact of this would be devastating. There are around 110 thousand international peacekeepers deployed on UN missions around the world. Without this international support, many parts of the world would descend into chaos, with privation, starvation and war not far behind. We have a moral duty as well as a national interest to help establish the authority of states where it is absent.

In 1999, Tony Blair, in his Chicago speech, defined what became known as the doctrine of liberal interventionism. Much of this rationale remains valid. But to restore belief in the efficacy of intervention we must learn the lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan. We must work differently.

Intervention should not always be military and only rarely be forcible. We must focus on intervening early, before a country descends into full-scale conflict – much as the international community did in Kenya following last year's election.

Where troops are needed, we must plan rigorously for the immediate aftermath. The first months after a military intervention are critical to maintaining local support and legitimacy. We must recognise that military solutions alone will not stop conflict. We need a civilian force – police, judges, engineers and others – with the professionalism and responsiveness of the armed forces. There needs to be clarity about who is in charge of the international presence, rather than fragmentation between countries and between military and civilian operations.

And perhaps most important of all, we must recognise that it is politics not gun fire that ends wars. Military and civilian capacity can play a supporting role, but the real solutions are political and driven by the people who live in the country.

Taken from the Foreign Secretary's Wilberforce Lecture in Hull last week