I’m delighted to have you here in the British Embassy, especially those of you who don’t know the House and haven’t been here before – not many of you, but there might be one or two. We’re going to be talking a bit about books amongst other things so I think I should say to you here and now that those of you who want to know more about our House should be looking online for the “Architecture of Diplomacy” recently published here at the British Embassy. And in that book, you’ll find from Henry Kissinger and a number of other people all sorts of nice remarks about how this place is a symbol of the extraordinary important relationship that joins together the United Kingdom and the United States.
But another extraordinary important symbol of what joins us together is actually the Christopher Makins Memorial Lecture. And I’m delighted that we were able to find a date which suited everybody so that we could have this evening together to continue the annual tradition of honoring Christopher’s memory. Others will talk a little bit more about that in a moment. He’s very special to us. He was a member of the diplomatic service; left quite early to go and do wonderful things at a lot of different not-for-profit organizations. His father, of course, is one of my very distinguished predecessors here and it’s a great treat, therefore, for us to be able to host this year’s annual Christopher Makins Memorial Lecture.
I think that – may I say to Wendy – where is Wendy – Wendy, his widow who is here – Wendy, welcome. Lovely to have you here back in the House as always. The previous lecturers under this series are an indication of just how important this event has become. We’ve had Zbig Brzezinski. We had Henry Kissinger himself, who I mentioned just now; George Robertson, who was secretary general of NATO, former British defense secretary and many other very distinguished people have spoken to the Atlantic Council in the context of the Christopher Makins Memorial Lecture.
Tonight, however, is the first time we have had a former British foreign secretary speaking in this series. So I’m very, very pleased that the gentleman who is now the president of the International Rescue Committee in New York, my old boss, former British Foreign Secretary David Miliband is going to be with us.
You have, of course, all been reading this week, if you haven’t been reading our book, another book, one by Hillary Clinton, which you may have heard of. And if you haven’t heard of it, well, I’m not sure where you’ve been. And it just so happens that when David Miliband became foreign secretary, I think the youngest foreign secretary for about a half a century, he made a favorable impression on a number of people, including the author of “Hard Choices.” And Hillary writes in her new book that on first encounter, David caused me to gulp and smile simultaneously. (Laughter.) You can make of that what you will, but fortunately she goes on to explain: “He was young, energetic, smart, creative and attractive with a ready smile.”
So we’re delighted, Mr. Foreign Secretary, to have you here. Sorry that we haven’t got Hillary Clinton with us on this occasion. I’m sure she would have come if she could have done, but so kind of you to be here.
This evening, we’re going to do a little bit of a slightly different format, not so much a lecture, more a conversation between David Miliband but also another star called David, columnist, novelist, tennis ace and really good friend of ours, David Ignatius. David, thanks for agreeing to do this double act with David Miliband. He too has a new book out, a thriller called “The Director.” Everyone here tonight has got a book, otherwise, you know, they’re not – they’re not quite up there with the rest. And deemed by one review, I seem to recall, to be the best spy novel since John le Carré turned his mind to gardening rather than spy fiction. It’s called “The Director” and it’s clearly a wonderful read.
After the conversation between these two, I hope you will join us for a reception on the terrace. I will stop speaking because there’s many more important people to listen to. But before we get to the two Davids, we’re just going to hear a few words from not one but two presidents of the Atlantic Council, first of all, from Jan Lodal, who took over from Christopher Makins as the president of the council in 2005 but before that, we’re going to have a couple of words from Fred Kempe, who I feared was not going to be with us this evening, but now he is.
So, Fred, without further ado, the microphone is yours. And then we can crack on with the evening’s proceedings. But thank you all once again for being with us. We are thrilled to have you here in the house for the Christopher Makins Memorial Lecture. (Applause.)
FREDERICK KEMPE: Welcome to the sixth annual Christopher – more or less annual – Christopher J. Makins Lecture so graciously hosted by Ambassador Westmacott. And thanks so much to you, Peter, and also to Lady Westmacott, thank you so much. It’s just wonderful anytime to be in your home and on such a beautiful evening. And we have 25 board members here tonight. It’s both a testament to how important this lecture has become to the Atlantic Council and also that we – that we really draw together our board around this lecture every year as well.
This is the third that has been held in the British residence and it’s a particular pleasure given our close relationship to you, Ambassador, and it’s just a pleasure to have David Miliband, who’s the former foreign secretary.
We’ve done a lot of important work with your embassy over the years, but I think the work that we’ve done recently on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership really hits a standard where I think we’ve really taken a lead on explaining, particularly in the United States, the importance of this going through both in terms of economics and geopolitics. So thank you so much for that.
Our previous lectures here were hosted by Sir David Manning, Sir Nigel Sheinwald, and we thank you, Ambassador, for continuing what I – what I think has become a really rich tradition.
We’re always lucky to have the best of your country here in Washington and your impressive previous experience including ambassadorial appointments in Turkey and France and stints in Brussels, Teheran and, of course, London among many important jobs have prepared you well for a very challenging global moment.
My predecessor as president of the Atlantic Council, Jan Lodal, will provide our introductory remarks and introduction of our speakers, so I’m going to be brief, but I would be remiss if not thanking here publicly David Miliband for taking time out of his busy schedule. And I’d be all the more remiss if I didn’t thank my dear friend, David Ignatius for consenting to moderate. And I would be all the more remiss if I didn’t instruct you all to buy his book. (Laughter.) And you may even want to read it. It’s just a wonderful read and I think the ambassador was right about how gripping it is and the comparison that’s been made to it in reviews. I do understand the two Davids were scheming a little bit last week about this in New York so I look forward to the results.
Now I’m my pleasure to pass to Jan Lodal. We have a history of introducing introducers at the Atlantic Council so I’m introducing the introducer. He was one of the dearest friends to both Christopher and is one of the dearest friends to his family and was the founder of this lecture series in Christopher’s memory. So it’s wonderful that he’s able to play this role fresh from the south of France I believe.
He stepped in to guide the Atlantic Council during Christopher’s illness – a pro bono service that’s characteristics both of Jan’s commitment to the council’s mission and his own personal generosity of spirit, an impressive career and life as an entrepreneur, a public servant – where he had to deal with the likes of Robert McNamara and Henry Kissinger among others – and philanthropist.
Thanks also to Elizabeth for being here. It’s always wonderful to have you at this lecture. And, of course, most of all, thanks to Wendy and Marianne and members of Christopher’s family and friends here with us. Wendy, Marian, thank you for joining us again this year; Boyden, who’s been one of the real leaders behind the – Boyden Gray, one of the real leaders behind this lecture series, thank you to you as well.
With that, let me pass to Jan Lodal. (Applause.)
JAN LODAL: Thank you, Fred. I just want to say a few personal words about Christopher and about the background of the lecture and then perhaps just add a few more words about our two speakers tonight. And then we’ll be off to the substance.
Christopher was an extraordinary young diplomat. I’ll probably be speaking a little out of school, but most of the other participants aren’t anymore in the house here so I can a few things. We were both young people working on nuclear policy and arms control and defense policy and so forth. We were the same age. And we got to know each other because I was responsible for those things in Henry Kissinger’s National Security Council staff and Christopher was the main staff person here in the embassy working on those things. We very quickly in the U.S. government came to realize that Christopher Makins was the expert in the British government on this matter. And whenever we needed to pass private non-papers back and forth between the White House and the British government, he, of course, was the channel we wanted to use. And we would very quickly come to understandings. The collaboration was extremely close on all sorts of sensitive matters of that nature.
So from that point on, Christopher and I became not only professionally close, but close friends. It’s particularly appropriate to have this lecture here in this house because I think it wasn’t said explicitly, and I’ll say it explicitly, Christopher actually grew up in this house for about four years while his father was ambassador here during the Eisenhower administration.
His mother was an American so Christopher, for the first 21 years of his life, was a dual citizen of U.K. and the United States. In those days, you had to make a choice. He made a choice to keep his British citizenship when he became 21. But then, a few years later, he decided to follow his heart and marry Wendy and live permanently in the United States. So he reverted to his American citizenship, and interesting in a story about how that happened, he had actually applied to become a nationalized citizen and as soon as that got finished, the courts ruled that he actually had been a citizen all along. But never mind. So yeah, he could put – he could check both boxes on the forms about whether you were naturalized or a native American. But he had, as you heard, a wonderful career here, and served many organizations and did a lot of tremendous great work. So it was a real honor.
I’m very glad, when we were able to create this lecture. I’m glad to see Boyden Gray in the audience tonight. And I know Francis Finlay, who along with Boyden, the two of them, provided the primary financial support for the endowment that supports this lecture. So thank you very much, Boyden, and in absentia to Francis Finley for doing that as well. And, again, I’ll second the thanks to Wendy and Marian and her husband Gabriel, who are here for the lecture tonight.
Now, we’re very honored to have David Miliband here tonight as our – as our lecturer. David graduated from Oxford in 1987 with a first class degree in philosophy, politics, and economics. And I mention this because this is exactly the same degree and the same honors that Christopher had received some years earlier from the same university. David also received a master’s degree in political science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. And some of us didn’t know they talk political science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. But, actually, they have a wonderful program there. I shouldn’t tease them. I know several of their professors and graduates.
So David Ignatius, who’s moderating tonight, has, for those of you who haven’t followed his career precisely, came to the “Washington Post” as – well, today, he’s associate editor and a columnist, and he writes his twice a week foreign affairs column for the “Post.” But he’s also held a number of earlier positions at the “Post.” He was editor of the Sunday Outlook section. He was foreign editor. He was assisting managing editor for business news. And he was executive editor of the International “Herald Tribune” in Paris, which is now the “New York Times” international edition.
But on a personal note, I should say that David had the great good fortune of growing up in Washington as the son of Paul and Nan Ignatius. And I’m not sure David knows this but both Paul and Nan have been important mentors to me. Paul was a very senior person in Robert McNamara’s team when I was a very young guy on that team. And I learned a lot from him there. And Nan introduced me to a lot of the Washington cultural scene and got me involved in organizations here through that and helped me through that process as well.
So it’s a real pleasure for me to turn this evening’s proceedings over to David Ignatius and our lecturer, David Miliband. (Applause.)
DAVID IGNATIUS: So I want to thank our introducers and pre-introducers and especially for the shameless plugs of a certain work of fiction. That was – that was quite wonderful.
I hope in our conversation tonight that we are going to honor something I remember and cherish about Christopher Makins, which was that he was a startling conversationalist. And he was a man who was so brilliant that you had to be very careful in your conversation because if you said something that was stupid or just not there, Christopher would immediately seize on it and you’d know that you really had to do better than that. So the conversation I think is in the spirit of the man.
I did talk with David Miliband a bit. We were together last weekend at an event that we may make reference to. And our topic tonight – the topic of our conversation is the interface of the world that he knew and was so important in as foreign secretary in Britain and the world that he now occupies, running a crucial NGO, humanitarian organization, the way in which these two worlds of strategy and humanitarian relief fit together in our world.
And David has agreed to begin our conversation with a few remarks – not a speech, I assured him, but just some sort of starting points for the conversation that we’ll have together and then I would ask you to begin thinking. We’ll open this up to your questions at about 7:00 p.m.
So, David, with that introduction, let me ask you to begin.
DAVID MILIBAND: Well, thank you very much, David. It’s a tremendous honor to be here to be delivering this lecture. When I was at university though, the definition of a lecture was the passing of the notes of the lecturers to the notes of the student without going through the minds of either. (Laughter.) And so when the title, when the invitation came to deliver the Christopher Makins lecture, something – a bell must have rung in my head, a memory must have rung in my head. And so this is an interrupted lecture or a lecture with multiple interruptions, hopefully with a thread that runs through it and a thread that speaks to this point of personal biography of mine, but also I hope of wider relevance; namely, where do politics and humanitarianism meet, where do strategy and humanitarian intervention meet? Where does foreign policy and the humanitarian imperative meet?
For those of us who have been in politics for many years of our lives, it may seem strange to think that these are two separate worlds, that there’s a world of politics on the one hand and a world of humanitarian endeavor on the other. But one of the things that I’ve learned in the last nine months heading up the International Rescue Committee, which is an international NGO working in about 25 or 30 countries, we were founded by Albert Einstein in 1933 to rescue people from Europe. One of the things I’ve learned is that many people in the NGO world see the world of politics as a very separate world and see the humanitarian endeavor as requiring a distance from politics. And that’s obviously interesting for me because I’ve spent my career thinking how do we use – how do I use politics, how do I use government to solve problems.
And I made a very conscious decision having been – the electorate having quit on me before I quit on them, I made a very conscious decision to move from trying to use politics in government to solve problems to think what does one do when government or politics is the problem because, in a sense, what is a civil war other than the ultimate failure of politics?
And so I see my role now leading a humanitarian organization in 16 or 17 African countries, in five countries in the Middle East, in Afghanistan and Pakistan, in Burma, Thailand, we are trying to asset the imperative of respect for human dignity in circumstances where politics or government is daily violating those imperatives. And I thought I would just say two things, one about the world of foreign policy, one about the world of humanitarian endeavor to frame the discussion per your invitation, David.
Firstly, a reflection on the world I’ve left, the world of foreign policy. At the conference that David and I were at on the weekend, someone used the phrase to define the modern challenge, the modern world as being a world where there is multi-polarity but not multilateralism. They said we live in a multi-polar world where there is a weak multilateral system. And I think that’s kind of an arresting way of defining the challenge.
Other people talk about leaderless world, other people talk about a G zero world, but it was very, very striking at this seminar really rather than conference to have American representatives talking about nation-building at home, the imperative of America reining in its horns, of America addressing its own domestic problems and Chinese representative asserting the same thing, Chinese representative saying, we’re a developing country. We’ve got 200 million people living on less than $2 a day. We’ve got to tend to the home front. And to the ears of someone who’s neither an American nor a Chinese, what I heard was the two most important countries in the world saying that the world is going to have to look after itself for the moment because we’ve got to tend to the home front.
And I think this notion that we’re in a multi-polar world, where power is being dispersed – I mean, it’s evidently correct and we can talk about the dimensions of power that are being dispersed – but it’s quite striking to think that it’s a world without an effective multilateral system or a world where the multilateral system is weak. And we might discuss tonight why that’s the case.
And there are some obvious reasons. The less obvious reason that I hope to come back to in the course of the evening is that economics and politics are pulling in opposite directions at the moment, that when the multilateral systems has been strong, economics and politics have been pulling in the same direction. But today I can see an economic imperative for more sharing of sovereignty at international level, but the politics of that are very difficult. I can see the economic imperative for more open borders and more embrace of immigration, but the politics of that are very, very difficult. I can see the economic case for investing in young people and in tackling issues like youth unemployment, but I see a political imperative to fulfill debts to the old and the welfare state. So across the (peace ?), I can see economics and politics pulling in opposite directions and tending against the kind of international engagement that I think is warranted. So much for the reflection on foreign policy.
The reflection on the humanitarian system, I mean, it’s a tendency in the NGO world to be catastrophist and alarmist. Notwithstanding that though, I do want to sort of shake people a bit by the lapels with the following point: one person is displaced from their home by conflict or disaster every four seconds in our world, not every four hours or every four minutes but ever four seconds, 52 million people last year, on the latest U.N. figures, were displaced from their homes by conflict and by disaster.
The humanitarian sector is a growth industry of an appalling kind. We’re a growth industry that doesn’t want to be a growth industry. We’re seeing the abuse of civilian rights and the abuse of the basic dignities of citizens on a monumental scale. And the response to it is heroic. The response to it is incredibly brave. The response to it is in some cases generous. But it’s running to catch up.
And that’s just want to – that’s what I want to observe to you about the world that I’ve got walked into – that we’re a half a billion dollar organization, which may seem like little money. The humanitarian effort is worth about $18 billion a year but we are at the same time life saving, yet in too many ways marginal to the tsunami of need that we are facing around the world. And I think we are going to have to come back to that in the course of our discussion because the humanitarian sector exists, if you like, to staunch the dying, whereas politics is meant to stop the killing. And, at the moment, politics is not successfully stopping the killing and so we are less and less able to staunch the dying. And that’s the dilemma that I confront every day in the job I’m doing. I hope that provides a frame of reference for the discussion that we’re going to have.
MR. IGNATIUS: It does. I should just note the moderator’s perennial request, please silence your cell phones. I’m hearing a few ring.
I want, David, to begin with the crisis that’s most on our minds today, and that’s the situation in Iraq and Syria. You observed in a note to me the other day that it’s a feature of this terrible situation that organizations like IRC doing this humanitarian work today, in reality, on the ground in Iraq and Syria are in competition in effect with Jihadist groups to provide service to people who are in desperate need. And I would ask you to expand on that and what the implications of it are.
I mean, as you said in your framing comments, the world of politics and the world of humanitarian aid have tended to see themselves and want to be separate. But here is a common ground in which these groups are turning to ISIS, believe it or not, for scarce cooking fuel in the towns and cities of northern Iraq. Is there a way they can be turning realistically to you and groups like yours?
MR. MILIBAND: Just let me start with a bit of background. We are working in the four neighbors of Syria, in Iraq, Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon. And we’re also doing cross-border work into Syria, especially from Turkey but also from Jordan, and to a small extent from Iran. And just to give you a sense of scale, we’re a half a billion dollar organization. Last year, our largest country program was in the Democratic Republic of Congo. This year, our work in the Syria region will be our largest country program. And we’ve gone from having effectively a very limited presence in those five countries to now having a very large presence in those countries.
And it is true that when I was in Turkey last November and talked to a member of my staff who was doing cross-border work into Syria, and I talked to them about what it was like, one thing they told me is that there had been the previous week a knock at the door of the office and it was one of the local jihadist groups in northern Syria. And they, addressing the staff member there, said that they – the staff member had to be – had to come with them to be questioned as a prelude to a hearing at a Sharia court about the fact that they were men and women in the offices together. And this staff member explained to me that he was indeed questioned because of this work that he’d been doing in the setting and was warned that was not what was expected of him. And he was fortunately then let go, but it was a very graphic demonstration of the kind of circumstances in which humanitarian endeavor is taking place.
And it’s undoubtedly the case that many of the jihadist organizations in northern Syria are not just fighting the Assad regime, they’re also supporting local population and that is not an isolated incident – Hezbollah, Hamas, Lashkar-e-Taiba in Pakistan, they are major players in the social welfare domains.
And so it’s quite striking. People expect me to – when people say to me, who are your big competitors, they expect me to say Save the Children or Oxfam. They’re not the big competitors. I mean, actually, one of the things I’m struck by in my nine months in the humanitarian sector is the extent to which many NGOs, not only Western ones, see themselves with a shared mission and have a real sense of collaboration and cooperation in humanitarian emergencies.
But there is a strand of social welfare work that is not part of the – a part of the coalition, coalitions that are working both from the West and East, and they are militarized and armed and politicized in a way that is very, very profound and important. And, obviously, our best insurance, our best guard for our own staff is local acceptance and local roots. And that’s hard to establish when you’re new to an area, but if you do your work in the way that does live out the values of neutrality and impartiality and independence, then you can try and do it. But there’s no point in pretending it’s anything other than extremely challenging.
Just one point of information: 90 plus percent of our staff are local staff around the world. So this is not Western aid workers sort of jetting in and making themselves conspicuous. It’s actually Syrians, Iraqis, Turks, Jordanians who are working for us, which obviously makes it easier to make the kind of local cultural and social integration that’s very, very important to our work.
MR. IGNATIUS: Let me just push this issue a little further and ask you to say a bit more – up to the limits of what you can discuss – about what the military calls force protection. You have a lot of people on the ground in difficult areas. And I’m just wondering if you could give us a sense of how you think about the security of your own people.
I fear this is going to become a more and more urgent issue as the crisis that we’re watching in Iraq and Syria expands. And so your basic rules of the road for your people, they’ll be critical. Give us a sense of how you and your colleagues running IRC think about that, that issue of protecting your people.
MR. MILIBAND: Well, obviously, I mean, the same way as for anyone here who’s been in the diplomatic service or in government service worrying about – I mean, for the ambassador here or anywhere you serve around the world, you’re worried most about your own staff. And the knock on the door that I fear is the knock on the door that says, look, we’ve got bad news from around the world. And so the last time that happened was April the 19th because on April the 17th, two of our staff were killed in South Sudan, inside a U.N. compound in Bor, north of Juba, when they were two amongst 60 people killed on a completely random basis by 500 youth militia that invaded the U.N. compound. In Afghanistan last August, in my first week on the job, we lost five people in Afghanistan. So this is not a theoretical question. It’s a clear and present danger.
In both those cases, it’s a small comfort, but a comfort nonetheless, that our people were caught in cross-fire effectively rather than specifically targeted for being NGO workers or associated with a Western NGO. But our force protection issues, to use your language, revolve around local acceptance. We’re unarmed, obviously, so it’s not a – there’s no arming of our people. And we have to make daily judgments, at country director and local director level field officer level, about the risks that are being run generally by fighting between – of which we are in the middle rather than – we’re obviously not partisans to. But one can only do it on the basis of deep local intelligence and, interestingly enough, a willingness to countervail the insistence of local staff that everything is going to be fine because the danger we face is not that staff don’t want to be in places of danger. It’s that they do. And that’s a difficult daily balancing act that we try to make on the basis of security assessments that are as insightful as possible on the basis of local knowledge.
MR. IGNATIUS: And one more practical question about this very current issue of how you interface humanitarian relief efforts and the issues that governments face. If we were to visit the Zaatari refugee camp in the north of Jordan tomorrow, we would see – when I was there two months ago, it was about 130,000 people. And we would see, not surprisingly, a quite intense Jordanian security concern, including biometric screening of everyone arriving, very careful scrutiny of the camp, its small mosques, the people there. The Jordanians are worried that, in this camp, they may have a breeding ground for really quite dangerous future insurgency or terrorism.
And the question I would put to you is whether you, as the head of a big global NGO, would be comfortable working in that kind of environment. As I looked around this camp, I saw a lot of international organizations that have operations there that are providing food and other relief services. Would you feel comfortable with –
MR. MILIBAND: We are there. We are there.
MR. IGNATIUS: So explain – because you’ve made the decision to do that – how you think that will –
MR. MILIBAND: We are in Zaatari. A couple of points: I didn’t know this until I started at the IRC. I should have known. Seventy-five percent of modern refugees are not in camps. The iconic image of a refugee is someone inside the, quote, unquote, “safety” of camp. We’ll come to the point about whether or not they’re safe or not. But most refugees are not in camps. They’re in urban areas. And so just in the Jordanian case, 120,000 people in Zaatari, is now the third biggest city in Jordan, but there are 650,000 registered refugees in Jordan and probably another 600,000 unregistered or, according to the Jordanian government, 600,000 unregistered so 10, 20 percent max of the Jordanian refugee population of Syrians are in camps.
In Lebanon, smaller country, 4.5 million people, a million refugees, no camps. So you’ve got 1,000 Lebanese towns and villages doubling in size, at least doubling in size because of refugee flows.
So the big challenge for the humanitarian world now, the policy challenge is how does one develop instruments of humanitarian intervention appropriate to urban and rural areas, not to camp settings? And the security issues there are obviously profound, huge security issues is for women and girls, by the way, which we might come back to.
In Zaatari, we are – we’re there. We’re providing some health services and some women’s protection services actually. Just for perspective, the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya, on the Kenya side of Somalia-Kenya border is 660,000 people and it’s much more longstanding, and many of the issues that you’re alluding to exist in stark relief inside that – which is slightly a double-edge word to use in that context – in that camp. So you’re absolutely right to point out to people that markets as well as politics or politics as well as markets exist in these communities as much as they do in any other community, and the politics and the markets are hard-edged, exploitative, and often dangerous. And so we do face that.
And the – and that’s why you’re right that there are a whole set of issues because, of course, these camps are not – you can’t force people to stay. There’s a lot of passage in and out. They like – they’re open. The camp’s not closed. If someone wants to leave, they’re allowed to leave. And people are going back into Syria, checking out what’s happened to their homes, coming back. And so it’s a very, very – there’s a lot of tension associated with the trauma that people are going through, but also their own prospects and their relationship with the local Jordanian population.
MR. IGNATIUS: Well, I’m glad you’re there. And I apologize that I didn’t see your signage.
I want to shift gears a bit and turn to a subject that David and I were immersed in last weekend at a conference that included a number of former foreign ministers and a number of senior people from the United Nations. And I was struck, as I listened to the discussion by the enormous underutilized potential of the United Nations and its various operational units in dealing with the kind of crises that you’re addressing, that we’re trying to think through tonight.
And I just would like to ask you, as you reflect on the U.N., both from your experience as foreign secretary and now running IRC, are there thoughts that you have about how the U.N. could be mobilized in this world that is just in such difficulty so that it was more effective, more aggressive, more present on the ground – that it did more of the things that, in the end, seem to fall to governments but might be the province of the U.N.?
MR. MILIBAND: It’s a huge, huge area. The U.N. and its officials can represent the best of humanity but also can reflect the deepest divisions of humanity. You know, when you remember those pictures of two U.N. sets of trucks, ushering, creating a corridor for civilians to get out of Homs, and both sides of the convoy being shot at and the U.N. vehicles taking the bullets to protect the civilians inching their way out of Homs, there’s extraordinary bravery and commitment being displayed by officials of the U.N. in that context. And, you know, that’s what you’d want the United Nations to do and it’s sort of exemplary.
On the other hand, the U.N. is only as strong as the unity of its member states. And so when President Assad is able to drop barrel bombs on his own people yet face no sanction, and Syrian refugees say to us, does anyone care about us; does anyone care about my brother, cousin, husband who I’ve left behind; does anyone care about the woman with an X-ray and a piece of shrapnel in her pelvis in one of the health centers where we’re working in Turkey? And when people like that say, where’s the U.N., what they’re saying is where’s the – where’s the global conscience?
And to that extent, I think the first thing to say is that the U.N. can represent the best of humanity but only if it has the political backing to do so. If its endeavors are plagued by the political divisions that exist, then the progress that’s made in establishing the laws and the norms by which we live can be lost very quickly. And that’s that we’re – I would say that’s what we’re seeing. So you can see extraordinary heroism, but also the limits that are imposed by political division.
And when political division interposes itself to areas of humanitarian endeavor, then you’re left with questions that can’t be answered like the Syrians who are asking us: where’s the U.N?
MR. IGNATIUS: Let me ask the impolitic next question. Should the veto power that obstructs the ability of the Security Council to act in these critical situations continue or has the veto power become something that the world just can’t afford to live with?
MR. MILIBAND: Well, I think that the – there’s – the deeper issue is the following. For all the questions of U.N. reform – vetoes, members of the Security Council, et cetera – they all founder on a philosophical division that is very, very fundamental. And it’s a philosophical division that doesn’t split on an east-west basis or a north-south basis or an advanced industrialized country versus developing world basis; doesn’t even split on a democracies versus autocracies basis. And the division is whether or not national sovereignty is inviolate in the modern world. That is the essential philosophical point. And we’re all brought up on the Westphalian system; 400 years of history that says that what goes on within a nation’s borders are its own business. And that’s the overriding philosophy and there are – that’s firmly held to by the Chinese but it’s also firmly held to by, let’s be honest, by the country that we’re in at the moment.
Now, people like me would say that in an interdependent world, the assertion of universal values is important. And so the responsibility to protect that was enunciated in 2005 that said that when a nation is either not protecting its own people or is violating the rights of people beyond its borders, then there’s the responsibility of the international community to step in. In other words, there are limits on the sovereignty within a nation-state. I think that’s the right way to go.
I think that – I’ve argued for many years for what I call responsible sovereignty so sovereignty does have its limits, but that is a very contested terrain. I don’t think there is a right – quote, unquote “right” to abuse your own citizens. When a government abuses the rights of its own citizens, I don’t think that is a right. But to say that and for it not to be rhetoric is a very big thing to say, not a small thing to say and it challenges all sorts of – it challenges the left and it challenges the right in politics.
What I’d put to you is that the right to abuse is stronger today, is better defended today than the right – than the responsibility to protect. And what you’ve got going on in Syria is the right to abuse without the assertion of the responsibility to protect. And, you know, in that sense I feel that, in a way, it’s not – even if you didn’t have a veto, you’d still have the problem.
That’s the basic answer that I would give to you. And I don’t think that – I mean, it’s interesting. There’s no way the U.S. would support getting rid of the veto, even though the veto is inconvenient in the Syrian context. And so I think that speaks to a deeper – I hesitate to call it a philosophical issue on a hot Thursday night in Washington, but it is a – it’s a very, very deep issue and –
MR. IGNATIUS: We’re not – we’re not embarrassed when people call things philosophical in Washington. We’re not.
So let me just share with this audience a wise observation that was made – and I don’t mean to be secretive, but this conversation – this conference we had was off the record – a very wise comment that was made by a U.N. official on this question of whether the veto is something that the world can’t afford. And this person said what we need to see is more negotiation up to the point where a veto might be expressed. What we don’t see when there’s a sharp disagreement between Russia and the United States or between Russia and China and other countries, we don’t see the negotiation that would force some common position that everyone could live with. Instead, we see the invocation of the veto and quite a quick termination of the conversation.
And I don’t know about you, David, but I thought that was really a smart observation and one that – you know, we ought to push our diplomats in the United States and the U.K. to talk –
MR. MILIBAND: I don’t buy that at all, I’m afraid.
MR. IGNATIUS: You don’t. All right. Why not?
MR. MILIBAND: And let me tell you why. We had three years of veto threats on humanitarian resolutions on Syria. I mean, the people who say that we’ve been impatient on Syria – I mean, three years of waiting for a humanitarian resolution is an excess of patience, not a – not a lack of patience.
And so – I mean, I remember this in – we had an issue in 2008 in respect of Zimbabwe and we’d been negotiating for absolutely ages about the way in which to engage the Mugabe regime. And, in the end, it came to a – the issue finally came to the council and it was finally voted on. There was indeed a Russian and Chinese veto.
But I don’t think that – if you’re going to have a system with a veto, then the exercise of the veto can’t be the definition of failure because if that’s the case, then there’s never any incentive for any party to the negotiation to come to a conclusion. If there’s never a vote, then there’s never any pressure. So that would be my – that would be my rejoinder.
MR. IGNATIUS: Well, I take that – a veto is a failure of the process that might have led to a decision that could get Security Council approval.
MR. MILIBAND: Say again?
MR. IGNATIUS: A veto is the failure of the process that could have led to a decision that could be approved by the Security Council and lead to action.
MR. MILIBAND: Well, maybe it’s the expression just of deep division. I mean, that’s the alternative reading of it. And it’s interesting that being a threat of veto for three years but when there was finally a determination to force the humanitarian issue to a vote in Resolution 2139 in February, the veto wasn’t actually issued. The negotiations got serious. The threat to bring it to a vote actually brought the resolution onto the table. It brought real negotiation and there was agreement. And it was actually unanimously passed.
So we’ve now got the issue, though, what happens when a unanimously passed U.N. resolution demanding access to all areas of Syria to deliver humanitarian aid, what happens when the resolution then isn’t followed through – that the parties to the conflict, both the governmental and the non-governmental, don’t do what the U.N. Security Council has unanimously told them to do. And you’re into now a very, very – we discussed this – we had a very delicate discussion. Do you narrow down the resolution and say, look, these bits are the bits that we really want to – we’re going to pass another resolution on that, on these particular aspects, or by doing so, do you actually somehow devalue the rest of the resolution, which is the concern of people in the humanitarian movement. But I’m not sure it’s the – unless you’re willing to push an issue to a veto, you’ll never get the real negotiations to avoid the veto being used.
MR. IGNATIUS: I want to turn our subject to your particular concerns now running your NGO. And I want to ask you about the – I want to say the new trend toward what people like to call entrepreneurial philanthropy.
The Gates Foundation is often cited as an example of a big foundation that’s found kind of market-like ways in which to provide assistance to focus on targets where you can have some effect. And it’s often – the Gates Foundation specifically is often contrasted with institutions like the World Bank, other more traditional philanthropic organizations that are not as targeted and it’s asserted are not as effective.
And I want to ask not specifically for a critique of the Gates Foundation, but how you think about this question of – you know, is there a way that your organization, the IRC, others like it can be more entrepreneurial, can use the things that we’ve learned in this, you know, market-driven world about how to get things to recipients?
MR. MILIBAND: What I think is really interesting – and there are two things that have been brought by the – it’s almost a revolution that’s been brought in the development sector, in the anti-poverty sector over the last 15 years. But I think those two things are: one, a relentless focus on outcomes; and secondly, a relentless demand for evidence of what works. I think that’s really the change that’s happened. And I wouldn’t – I think it would be unfair to say it’s been brought by the Gates foundation against the World Bank or the other traditional institutions because I think there’s been a convergence but there’s been undoubtedly drive and money brought by the Gates Foundation to a focused effort to meet particular outcomes and to do so on the basis of proven evidence.
And certain – and so if your question is are there lesson for the humanitarian section, I would say passionately yes. I would ask very, very seriously the Gates Foundation to think about developing the evidence base in the humanitarian sector that’s been developed in the development sector.
Just to give you a sense of perspective, over the last 10 years in significant parts sponsored by the Gates foundation, but not only, it’s important say – U.K. Department for International Development has been a big sponsor of this drive for evidence. There’ve been 2,000 randomized controlled trials or equivalent on antipoverty measures. What works in malaria prevention? What works in education in poor areas? What works in tackling maternal mortality? Two thousand of these randomized controlled trials or equivalent.
In the humanitarian sector, there’ve been less than 50. In the emergency sector, there’ve been less than five. And so one of the things that I’m bringing to the IRC is we’ve got to be as zealous and as embracing of the drive for evidence-based policymaking in the humanitarian sector as the antipoverty sector has been transformed over the last 15 years.
And I’d want to assert very strongly, certainly speaking for the IRC, that there’s not a resistance to that, but there is the imperative to act in emergencies has overwhelmed the need to study and to assess. And you can understand why.
But what we’ve got to do is become – is assert that however great the imperative to act, it can’t be at the expense of assessment and evidence. And I think there are big lessons from the way the development has – I mean, I don’t like the terms, particularly humanitarian development, they can end up – they shouldn’t be counterposed this way. But certainly the way the campaign against poverty has been evidence-led, and we’d certainly need to ensure the response to crisis, which I think is a better way – I’m correcting myself in this, not correcting you, that if we can bring the same rigor about evidence to the response to crisis that’s been brought the drive against poverty, then I think we’ll do a lot of good and we’ll meet the increasing demand for the sense amongst donors that they want proof of what’s being done to, that you’re going to know what outcomes you’re pursuing, as well as what evidence base you’re working on.
Certainly, one of the big things we’ll be rolling out from IRC over the next few years, any of you who are donors in the audience, the – this question of outcomes and evidence is going to be absolutely core to what we’re doing.
MR. IGNATIUS: And is there a first cut? I know you’ve been at IRC less than a year, but as you look at the evidence, your organization I read has been around for 80 years, so you’ve got a substantial body of experience. As you make your first assessment, are there some preliminary thoughts you could share with us about what you sense works and doesn’t work in this, whatever the right phrase is – crisis intervention, or however one would term it.
MR. MILIBAND: I think – you know, we’ve been around for 80 years. We were founded by Einstein. We’ve got 12,000 staff. So we’ve got thousands of years of experience amongst the staff. What we don’t have is the kind of knowledge management, evidence aggregation system that would allow us to, at the press of a button, be able to tell you, here’s what we know about education and emergencies. Here’s what we know.
We do have – we do host the International Network for Education in Emergencies, which allows us to have some center of expertise. So the reflections I’d offer would be, one, systematic evidence-making has not been a feature of the humanitarian sector and needs to become so.
Secondly, we do have some good evidence about what works in education and health. What we lack is evidence about – to the extent that we’d have evidence, it’s about what works. What we don’t have is good evidence about how to reach populations who need what works, if you see what I mean. So we might have – we know that early intervention for kids under the age of five is important. We know that remolding the curriculum to take account of trauma of displaced population is important. What’s hard is how do you reach the populations. It’s the same issue in health.
And so I think that there are some how-to questions, rather than what questions that need a lot more pursuit. Thirdly, in those areas where we do have good evidence, and education and health would rank that we need to go to scale. And the question of how you go to scale in humanitarian intervention is a very, very challenging set of issues.
And so we are mapping this out at the moment and our forward plan will be based on the idea that we should be scaling up in areas where we know what to do and we should be assessing hard and innovating where as yet the evidence is not clear.
MR. IGNATIUS: I know we’d all be interested, as you get a better sense of what works and what you want to scale for a follow-up. I want to ask you a final question before turning this to our audience. And I wanted to cite a phrase that you shared with me quoting Pope Francis, who spoke of the globalization of indifference as being a problem for the modern world. It’s a powerful phrase.
It made me think of the recent evidence in Europe – I’d say the same is true of the United States – this is a transatlantic concern – the evidence that populations, as seen in the recent European parliamentary elections, are saying don’t solve these social problems on my back. You know, you have angry people throughout Europe voting for sort of nativist right-wing parties. Just as you’ve had a similar experience in the United States with people who just are upset about issues like immigration, about what they see as loss of jobs. And I think that contributes to this problem that Pope Francis described as the globalization of indifference. It’s not my problem. And I wonder how you would think with us about how to address it.
MR. MILIBAND: I mean, I think it’s a really resonant and important phrase, and I’ve been sort of discussing it in lectures. And I think it’s a really good challenge that’s been laid down. He spoke at Lampedusa in Italy, where the boats are sinking with people coming from Africa, North Africa. And he condemned the globalization of indifference that allows – 20,000 people had died when he went to make his statement there.
And I think it is very, very striking. I mean, a couple of reflections on it. The first is it’s paradoxical, isn’t it? Because this is a more connected world than ever before. There’s more money being sent to Africa – three – the scale of remittances to Africa from diaspora populations is three times the flow of international aid to Africa, so there’s generosity being shown. It’s not a world where there is – there’s evidence of connectedness and of concern.
But what he was speaking to was, I think, a real issue, which is that the drive to focus on the local problems – charity begins at home, let’s solve our own problems – is a real feature of modern politics, I would say. And it’s not only a feature of Western politics. And the neglect of the global commons is evident in almost every sphere.
Now, my own instinct in discussing this is that what people feel is not indifferent to the suffering of others. What they feel is impotent in the face of the suffering of others. What do I do is the question, not rather than what do I – than do I care. And I think there’s far more people who feel I do care, but I don’t know what to do than say, I don’t care. There is an “I don’t care” phenomenon in some of the voting that you’ve spoken, but there’s also a “I don’t know what to do” phenomenon.
And that’s why I think the issues of what’s the right response, whether it’d be in Syria or in South Sudan or in Burma-Myanmar, to take three places where we are working, it’s giving people a sense of real agency that counts, rather than having to – as well as having to take on the sense that there are big problems at home that need to be solved.
And I want to just offer this reflection. I think it’s a real thing for the Atlantic Council to think about and I think about it when I have time. If you think about the two great periods of Western renewal in the last 100 years, one after the Second World War and one in the ’80s, one from the center-left and one from the center-right, it’s interesting if you think about those two periods in which independent commentators would say there’d been a revitalization in the West. People on the left would say that the post-war period, the New Deal, Keynesian welfare state. People on the right, would point to Reagan-Thatcher revolutions as being periods of renaissance of Western politics.
What’s interesting about both of those periods is that they had international and national dimensions to them. Neither of those periods were marked by only building at home. In the post-war period, the Keynesian welfare state was about unemployment insurance, health coverage, the New Deal, but it was also about an international order – a rules-based international order. And people on the right may have disagreed with it, but it had a – what was done at home, but there was an international perspective to it.
The ’80s, that was evidently – there was a national project from the center-right, but there was also international project from the center-right. And I think it’s interesting to play with the idea that actually the renewal of Western economies, which is evidently needed, is impossible without a project for Western international engagement. I would make that case. But trying to renew Western – the productive potential of Western economies clearly does take national effort, local effort. But the idea that it can be done independent of everything from trade partnerships that we talked about earlier to global engagement on economic, cultural, political issues, I think you can’t make that case.
And so the idea that there’s some kind of sequencing option where Western countries can focus on their problems in this decade, and then in the next decade turn to international engagement, I don’t think that’s an option. If we spend this decade only on our own local concerns, the world’s going to have changed so much by the 2020s that the world will have moved on. And if we’re going to have a smaller liberal rules-based international order, it’s got to be argued for now really.
And so my view as a citizen, rather as a politician or an ex-politician, is that there needs to be – that the alignment has to be between the national and the international and that the effective project for renewing Western economies is going to require a project of international engagement, rather than being at the expense of it.
MR. IGNATIUS: I want to say that that’s a Christopher Makins moment. That’s a real insight focusing on what do you do and a wonderful moment in which to move our conversation from the two of us to all of us. And so I would invite your questions for David Miliband or brief comments. Please identify yourselves before your questions.
Q: Adrienne Arsht, the Atlantic Council.
MR. IGNATIUS: Yes, a microphone is arriving.
Q: Right, thank you. I wanted to go back to your opening comment about the situation where the man was taken and questioned because your organization did not obey Sharia law. And I wondered what happened after that. Did you have to put barriers in the place? But more to the point, as an example, how do you deal with situations where the core values of your organization are so different from the places in which you find yourself?
MR. MILIBAND: I mean, I think that we obviously don’t have a segregated workforce, but we have to balance our commitments, personal or other commitments that we’ve got to our staff with our commitments to our clients, to our beneficiaries. And in the end, they’re the trump card. They’re the ultimate test. So 70 percent of the people we serve are women and girls, broadly speaking.
And raising issues, for example, in respect of protection of women and girls from sexual and other violence is a very challenging and difficult thing to do in our own countries, never mind globally and is a difficult issue. You’re having your own – your whole debate at the moment about U.S. military – it’s a difficult debate in this country, never mind in – globally. And I think inevitably there’s a – there’s a give and take to this.
One’s trying to advance an agenda, but one’s trying to do so in a way that is sensitive and appropriate in local context. And it plays out in quite a difficult way, you know, if you think about education, quite difficult set of issues; health, difficult issues. And one’s always trying to – the ultimate test is how do you serve the clients? That’s the way we try and resolve it. How do you do best for the client?
MR. IGNATIUS: Rick Burt and then I’ll recognize other people whose hands are up.
Q: Thanks very much. I am a member of the executive committee and a board member of this organization. I’m going to ask you a question which I’m surprised didn’t come up in this dialogue, and that is about the subject of humanitarian intervention. And by that, I’m not talking about intervening with the programs and aid, but the use of military force on humanitarian grounds.
Increasingly, I think there is a viewpoint in this town and in this country, but also in Western Europe that it’s counterproductive, that it frequently leaves things worse off than before. And there’re people who question what the consequences of the operations in Libya, for example, really achieved, if not making things worse. You saw in the debate over potential air strikes against Syria over its use of chemical weapons a very surprising vote in the British House of Commons, a lot of pushback from the U.S. Congress.
And let me – so I’m asking, aside from very clear-cut cases of genocide, what’s your own personal view on the utility of humanitarian intervention?
MR. MILIBAND: That’s a great question, and it’s one that puts me right on the sort of horns of a dilemma or on the end of a spike really because if you’re – in the same way that you’re a secretary of state, you can’t just have personal views. When you’re the president of a humanitarian organization with 12,000 people in places of danger, you can’t just have personal views. So I have to – especially since the event is on the record, thanks to the Atlantic Council’s website, which I’m sure has millions of viewers – (laughter) – so I have to answer diplomatically, and you can read between the lines. I mean, the truth is that – (laughter) – you know, we’ve seen – we live in the shadow of Iraq and Afghanistan. And so the costs of intervention and the risks of intervention are clear and present and obvious.
But we will soon be living in the shadow of Syria, where the costs and risks of non-intervention are also clear and obvious and present. And not to intervene is a decision. It’s sometimes thought in politics that the – that intervention is a big decision, but non-intervention is an equally a big decision. And if I say to you that Aleppo is the new – is the modern Srebrenica, those of you with memories of the ’90s will know what I’m saying. That you’ve got a besieged population in Aleppo, formerly people in the second city of Syria, saying does anyone care about us? We’re a besieged city. We’re cut off. We’re – we have intermittent electricity supply. We have intermittent medical supplies. We have intermittent food supplies. We’re trapped. That that’s where the dilemma is very, very real. And I think that you’re right that genocide is one – I don’t want to say redline, but one – it’s an obvious line. But if it is an obvious line, it’s often quite a fuzzy line.
So let me just give you an example. In the Central African Republic, at the moment, the Muslim population was 13.5 percent of the population until about a year ago. And it’s now about less than 2 percent of the population. That population – to be clear – they’re not all being killed. They’ve been driven out of the country. But if you want an example of a population being cleared out, it’s a pretty powerful example. But no one’s calling it a genocide. And there is a – there is military force there, but it’s not able to protect the population, given its size and its scope. I think I’m right in saying that CAR is the size of France, so it’s a big – it’s a big country, 4 million people, the size of France.
And so I don’t think the genocide – I mean, genocide’s obviously one part of it, but I think there’s a broader – there’s a broader set of circumstances that demand military intervention. There are 120,000 peacekeepers. And this is the way I’m going to get out of the – just to sort of flag out that this is my escape route from answering your question, but hopefully answering it – not answering it in an interesting way. The – (laughter) –
MR. IGNATIUS: You are a former foreign secretary. (Laughter.)
MR. MILIBAND: There’s 120,000 peacekeepers at the moment under U.N. auspices around the world. There’re 120,000 people involved in various kinds of interventions that could be described as humanitarian interventions. They’re in Somalia. They’re in the Democratic Republic of Congo. They’re in South Sudan, where I’ve just come back from. And the interesting thing about that, though, is that the Western side of the P5, the Western side of the permanent members of Security Council are conspicuous by their absence from U.N. operations. And you all know the history in the U.S. that led to that, in the U.K., the drawing of troops into Afghanistan and Iraq, the focus there.
But my own point would be that we’re going to have to think very hard about what’s the role of Western countries in U.N. peacekeeping because there’s going to be far less unilateral military intervention. And at the moment, we pay – we in the West pay for U.N. peacekeepers, but we don’t – we actually – don’t want to embarrass Peter, but Britain does offer 253 U.N. people – 253 of our soldiers on U.N. peacekeeping missions. And I think I’m right saying that 248 of them are in Cyprus. (Laughter.) Not a laughing matter, as someone who’s been the ambassador to Turkey will know. For the record, Peter did not laugh at that point. He takes it extremely seriously. But we’re going to have to think very hard about what our role in that because I think that this issue of – to the extent that there is humanitarian intervention, it’s increasingly going to be under U.N. auspices.
China has made significant commitments recently in Somalia and elsewhere to U.N. missions. And the question’s going to be asked what are we up to on that.
MR. IGNATIUS: I should just say having traveled to Aleppo during this war and seeing the destruction that David talked about, I’m haunted by the question that you pose about the cost of inaction.
Q: (Off mic.) About a year, I became a refugee from the other direction. I left a humanitarian NGO international to come to a think tank, which has been a very good place to be. But one of the things that was very clear to me on the other side was that bad policy can kill people faster than humanitarian effort can save them.
What, given your now whole nine months on the other side of the fence, you talked at the beginning about these were separate worlds. What are the useful things that think tanks can do in collaboration with organizations such as your own to make better policy and help confirm the efficacy of the work you do? Because it’s very clear to me that there are policy implications that would substantially change.
MR. MILIBAND: Well, I made the point about evidence-based and that’s really important I think. But let me make two other points. One is about donor practice. We are 85-90 percent donor dependent. We depend on government donors for 85 or 90 percent of our money. But we’re a very – what strikes me about the humanitarian sector is how fragmented it is. I don’t just mean fragmented on the supply side from – between the NGOs. I mean, we have an international grant portfolio of $450 million, but it’s spread across 300 different grants. And most of the grants are two or three – three years is a long-term grant in our sector.
So the first thing that you can do if you’re in a think tank is advocate for good donor practice that is outcome-led, that is evidence-based, and that is not seeking a quick win. Because in none of the places where we’re working is there a quick win. And I think that would be really – that there’s a significant debate to be had about good donor practice and the good – and donors know this, even though they’re under political pressure that makes it difficult to – I mean, it’s almost as important to have smart donations as large donations.
I’d be careful – I say this. I mean, the American aid budget’s being pretty flat. Obviously, there is a very good case for it to increase, but there’s also a very good case for it to become longer-term, outcome-led, evidence-based. I mean, there’s a big drive Rajiv Shah, excellent drive for innovation in USAID spending. He actually just launched the big innovation lab, which I think is a $30 million project. I mean, he’s really driving the innovation agenda. But he’s dependent on legislative support for longer-term, (grass root ?), and more sustainable and the transition to build local capacity.
This is the first thing. Secondly is looking forward, risk analysis, political risk analysis. I mean, honestly, if you think about the situation in Iraq and how long have people been talking about the dangers of – let’s call it sectarian breakup. I mean, it’s not – it hasn’t emerged out of the blue, and the humanitarian consequences therein.
I mean, the – you can look around the world and where there is political reform without a humanitarian effort, then there’s going to be trouble. And I think that I would make the case for think tanks to help with the political risk analysis that bends the minds of governmental decision-makers, but also economic investors, private sector investors because there’s good investment that can help tackle the humanitarian problems and there’s bad investment that can compound them.
And so there are big responsibilities, I think, on the private sector, as well as on the public sector. Because although many of the places we work are very poor, a good number of the crisis and fragile states are also big market opportunities and there’s big investment going into them.
MR. IGNATIUS: Barbara Slavin.
Q: Thanks very much. I’m also a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. And Rick Burt basically asked my question, but let me ask you a slightly different one. What do you do in situations where you are, in a sense, aiding and abetting a criminal government by providing aid to its citizens that that government should be providing? I’m thinking of cases like North Korea, where there were many accusations that Western aid was taken by the government – manipulated by the government, used for its elite. I don’t know if that’s happening now in Syria as well. We know that they stopped medical convoys. They seized the medicines and presumably used them for their own elite. How do you deal with that problem of collusion with the governments that are causing the problems to begin with?
MR. MILIBAND: We don’t aid and abet criminal governments. So I’d like to – (laughter) – say that very, very strongly and underline it many times. We do not aid and abet criminal governments. The – and we’re not in North Korea, just to pick up that example. I don’t know where you got that from. But the – and obviously, we – I mean, the circumstance that you’re pointing to in Syria is that 19 percent of U.N. aid is going to the 55 percent of the population who live in government held areas. That’s the issue in Syria and that’s why the British government has announced it’s going to shift the balance of its funding towards NGOs who are doing cross-border work into rebel held areas.
Now, we adhere very strongly to the principle of impartiality, which is that if you’re a civilian in a government area or a civilian in a rebel held area, you have an equal right to held for other support. And we work very hard to make sure that our aid reaches the people.
Now, I don’t buy the argument that says by ameliorating the condition of the people, you’re thereby abetting the rule of the government. I think that’s a very – that’s a dangerous position to get into because then you’re effectively saying that immiserating the people should be a policy objective. And I don’t think if you’re a humanitarian organization you can argue for immiserating people, however heinous their government.
Now, sometimes, we have to develop our own techniques to make sure that the money is going to where we say it’s going to. It’s tougher if you’re in a government where for all sorts of good reasons you’re wanting to, quote, unquote, “mainstream your aid package” that’s going through governments. And that’s difficult because then you have to make decisions. And I remember this being done when I was in government. We’re no longer going to feed the money through the government because we’re worried the corruption is eating it up.
And we published a report in April, which you might be interested in, about Afghan aid. And we made the case that our community-based method of delivering aid at community level, rather than national level was appropriate to minimize the danger that money would be siphoned off. And so we argued for a reform of the aid for Afghanistan, as well as for a continuation of the aid for Afghanistan.
And that’s, I think, the best – the best antidote to corruption is to make sure that you’re on the side of local people in local communities. And you argue against grand projets. You argue for really local engagement. And to that extent, all politics is local and you’ve got to try and do it that way – sort of bottom-up approach, engaging both the local state, but also non-state actors is really, really important.
And in Syria, we’ve had to devise our own technology app, our own QR reader to make sure that we can get our aid into the – that we know where our aid is getting to and that’s reaching the people it’s meant to be reaching.
MR. IGNATIUS: Joe, yes.
Q: (Off mic.) – let me just mention what I think is the elephant in the room. One of the professors at MIT has just published a book, Barry Posen, “Restraint: A New Principle for U.S. Engagement.” We discovered 26-27 years ago that we had not paid for any of the wars, for the Cold War or any war since. And so we had an enormous debt. We got rid of the gold – took the gold out of the vaults. We moved over. We took loans from China. But that is a major issue confronting the stability of this country right now.
I don’t know where Britain is in that, but some of the things you’re touching upon raise that particular question. And I’m wondering if you’ve run into it before and how you comment upon it.
MR. MILIBAND: That really is beyond my – either my responsibility or my purview. I mean, obviously, UK figure is I think 78 percent of national income, more or less, 75 percent. We still got a big deficit, but that’s because we haven’t had much growth. But that’s, I’m told, been remedied. But I’m not going to –
Q: But we put our –
MR. MILIBAND: – I’m not going to venture into that political domain. Look, there’s a big – I mean, I honestly think there’s a massive economic argument. I mean, when you have – the history of Britain does, by historic stand as of anything of the late 19th, first half of 20th century, our current debt levels or loan are high. But that’s not to sound – I don’t want to sound insouciant at all about debt. Before the financial crisis, we were down to below 40 percent of GDP or I think 42 percent, has now gone up to 75 percent. There’s a big economic argument about how you tackle that number, how dangerous it is.
I mean, I don’t – without going into a whole thing about that, I think, you know, you’ve got a massive political argument about whether your – about the origins of your debt and about whether you’re – that’s because you’re too generous with your entitlements or not. That’s your argument, not mine. (Laughter.)
MR. IGNATIUS: So I’d like to – because the sun is setting over Ambassador Westmacott’s beautiful garden, to collect four questions or so, and then turn to David Miliband and ask him to make concluding remarks. I’ll give him a piece of paper to note questions and a pen.
MR. MILIBAND: Got a pen. I’ve got a pen.
MR. IGNATIUS: And so let me call on this gentleman here in the third row and madam sitting – the woman sitting behind Joe Duffy, yes, and go next to the gentleman here in the first row, and –
MR. MILIBAND: You have to ask the younger Makins to speak.
MR. IGNATIUS: Yeah, we’ll close with Christopher’s –
Q: (Off mic.) (Laughter.)
MR. IGNATIUS: And then we’ll conclude it there. So and I – apologies to others that I’m getting to.
So you, sir, go ahead, and then, yes.
Q: My name is – (inaudible). You began with a very interesting observation.
MR. IGNATIUS: We ought to have a microphone for you. I don’t know where it is.
MR. MILIBAND: Here it comes. Here it comes.
Q: Thank you. The relationship between multi-polarity and multilateralism. And in an ideal world, the two should go together. But I would postulate there’s a certain degree of conflict inherent between these two concepts. And I explain very briefly. Multi-polarity, if it refers to the dispersion of power, involves countries as they become more confident politically, economically, pursuing the core national interests. And this is realpolitik going back to Bismarck and even before. Whereas multilateralism involves incrementalism, compromise, consensus building. That’s hard stuff. So in your view, are these two totally compatible? Where is the right balance between the countries that pursue different approaches, including our own at different times in history? So it’s interesting general question. Thank you very much.
MR. IGNATIUS: Yes, please.
Q: My name is Tara McKelvey and I work for the BBC and I’m wondering if you can tell me about the relationship between the U.S. and the U.K. in terms of dealing with the global problems and how you see that now and how you saw it before you came here.
MR. IGNATIUS: Excellent, yes, sir.
Q: Chuck Wald, Atlantic Council board. Thank you for your comments. My question is, and maybe you can caveat this by virtue of non-official, but what do you see the world evolving to from a decision-making process; in other words the Westphalian model weighting a little bit and then international organizations like the U.N. being little less effective. But what do you see over the next 10-15 years as the decision-making process evolving to?
MR. MILIBAND: Great question.
MR. IGNATIUS: And happily, let us conclude with Marian.
Q: Yes, Marian Makins. And this is definitely the odd question out of this lot. So –
MR. MILIBAND: I’ll regret saying that we should ask you to ask a question. (Laughter.)
Q: I think you might actually. So I think people, be they politicians or their constituents who elect them and put pressure on them, often take decisions on the basis of what they know. And I think their ability or the chances of them overcoming their sort of natural myopia, I think, especially in situations where the problems that they’re maybe being confronted with seem very far away or are very far away, depends on – to some extent on what they learn and how that information is delivered to them. So what information is delivered to them and how.
And so given those things, I wondered if you could say a couple of words about how you think the media, be it the more traditional sort of mass media or even new media, helps or hinders what you’re trying to do.
MR. IGNATIUS: Sir, you have a rich diet and –
MR. IGNATIUS: – that’s a question that you –
MR. MILIBAND: I mean, usually, the good – you see, the trick is you always take three or four questions and that allows you to dodge the difficult one. (Laughter.) But if they’re all difficult – (laughter) –
MR. IGNATIUS: That’s so, sir.
MR. MILIBAND: If they’re all difficult, it’s a bit of a – it’s a bit of a problem. Multipolarity and multilateralism. I think that – I mean, the world has only ever been governed by balance of power, cold war, or hegemonic sort of empires. Really that’s the three models for governing the world that we’ve inherited. And we don’t really have any of those three at the moment. That’s basically the problem or the issue. And I think the way you put that multipolarity is essentially defined by the sharing of power, the diffusion of power is a good way to think about it.
You’d think, actually, over the medium term, it should make multilateralism more effective, rather than less effective. If in fact there isn’t going to be a hyper-power, if this is not an age of empires, then actually multilateralism is the obvious answer. International rules and norms are the way to advance the collective good and to govern the global commons.
Now, we’re not being successful at that at the moment in all sorts of ways. But I don’t think it’s an inherent – I don’t think it’s quite right to say that multipolarity is somehow an inhibitor of multilateralism. What it is is fear of free riders and fear of losing out that is the inhibitor of multilateralism. And there’s also a sense that short-termism is the enemy of multilateralism.
And you can – I mean, I’ve just published – been involved with something called the Global Ocean Commission this week, which is about the governance of the high seas, which is the ultimate arena for multilateralism because it’s beyond the 200 mile limit, so there’s no sovereignty there. And it’s the Wild West out there at the moment. There’s no government of the high seas effectively. And so it’s 45 percent of the earth surface, by the way, so it’s a – which – it’s a big issue.
Now, short-termism is essentially our enemy and the – essentially, basically the industrialized world that’s pillaging and plundering the high seas in a very shortsighted way. And that’s where you could make the argument that only if you’ve got a strong superpower can you address that. But that isn’t necessarily a good multilateral moment. So in short I’d say that the logic is actually to strengthen the multilateral system rather than weaken it.
And if I could answer the last question in that context, I don’t think we’re going to see a resurgence of global governance in the next 10 years. I do think, though – I mean, this is just slightly – I mean, invite me back in 10 years’ time and tell me how wrong I was – and this is going to sound ridiculous, given the way Europe is at the moment, but I actually think that the most productive developments in the next 10 years are going to come in regional governance. I think that in a situation where the nation-state is clear too small for the big problems, even this nation-state is too small for the big problems, but where the nation-state isn’t going away and then Daniel Bell’s argument in 1973 that the nation-state is too big for the small problems and too small for the big problems, and therefore the nation-state was going to fade, it turns out to be wrong in its conclusion. But given that the nation-state is too small for the big problems, but isn’t fading away, regional governance is the – or sub-regional governance is the obvious development.
Now, just to give you my favorite example of this, the Pacific Alliance in South America is the four countries – Colombia, Chile, Peru, and Mexico. It’s got a bigger GDP than Brazil, so it would be a BRIC in GDP terms. They’ve committed to an ever closer union effectively, including a common currency. It’s kind of interesting. All the – you know, you’d want to bet that the African Union is going to become stronger, not weaker in the next 10 years. You’d query if the Arab League is not going to become stronger, the GCC is going to become stronger. You’d think that ASEAN will become stronger.
So I think that – my bet to answer your question would be, don’t give up on regional institutions. That allows me to pirouette towards the question from the BBC about the U.S. and the U.K. And what I would say is that the elephant in that room is Europe. The temptation, if you’re British, is to think that the U.S. – is to think U.S.-U.K., but it’s a snare, it’s a false temptation to think that there can be a U.S.-U.K. relationship that is about more than royal weddings and grand events, to think that you can be about more than that without the rest of Europe.
And from my point of view, Britain’s role in Europe is a critical component of the U.S.-U.K. relationship, not the enemy of the U.S.-U.K. relationship. And my experience is that Britain is stronger in Washington when it’s stronger in Brussels and in the rest of Europe. And I would really counsel all of my fellow countrymen with huge passion and with huge, I believe, evidence behind it that, of course, there’ll be ties of history and ties of family that exist between – across the Atlantic between the U.S. and the U.K., whatever Britain’s position in Europe. But if you’re interested in economics, if you’re interested in politics, if you’re interested in culture, if you’re interested in security, then you’d want to see a strong Britain and a strong Europe to have a strong relationship with the U.S.
And I profoundly believe that those who say that we can leave Europe without damage to our relationship with America are dreaming, to be honest. So I think it’s that important. And I think it’s concerning/depressing to see the debate in Britain that pretends the debate about Europe can be done without thinking about its geopolitical implications. I think it has big geopolitical implications. And I think it would be bad for Europe if Britain was to leave and very bad for Britain and actually bad for our relations with the U.S. So that would be my perspective for – on that.
And then, politicians, ex-politicians, all end up talking about the media. We can all hate the media. You see, that’s the thing. But actually, it’s wrong to hate the media. I mean, the – (laughter) –
MR. IGNATIUS: Hear, hear. (Laughter.)
MR. MILIBAND: Especially when you’re sitting next to the “Washington Post.” (Laughter.) I mean, the – Harold Wilson said that sailors should not complain about the sea and politicians should not complain about the media. (Laughter.) Which is quite a smart way of putting it.
What I – the question, if I can slightly reframe your question, it’s whether or not a more fragmented media environment, which is what I see, is inimical to a mature and grown up national or international conversation about the future of nations and the future of the world. I mean, that’s the essential point.
And truth is I don’t know the answer to that. None of us do. We’re living in a world of – in a media environment that none of us have ever lived in before. A media environment where we can all have our own media. I can almost subscribe to news articles and opinion articles, both that I will only be interested in and only agree with. That’s – one’s never been able to do that before.
Equally, I can be a journalist. Any blogger is a journalist. I can be a filmmaker. The threats to your profession, the insurgents that are threatening your profession are all around you. And the truth is we don’t know what the consequence of that is for grown-up, serious, mature decision-making.
Basically, I’m an optimistic person and I think that the more connected world that we’ve got, where all of us are, you know, a misstep away from a viral video that goes – that reaches millions of people, but also where the opportunity to hold power to account is stronger than ever before. I basically take an optimistic view of that – that the ability for either governments or the private sector to abuse that power and get away with it is far more threatened than it’s ever been. The ability of citizens to hold their governments or the private sector to account is far greater than ever before.
And if I could put it in a provocative way, the world will never be less open than it is today, in my view. And that’s basically an optimistic view. Now, the challenge is to forge out of that openness a coherent conversation. But my instinct is that a world where the abuse of power is easier to curtail should be a world that does more justice to the most basic rights of people. And so in that context, I feel I can find some validation for my optimism.
MR. IGNATIUS: That’s a superb ending to our discussion. Please join me in thanking – (applause).