Miliband distances UK from ‘war on terror’ phrase

By Alex Stevenson

David Miliband has described the Bush administration’s ‘war on terror’ terminology as “misleading and mistaken”.

The description comes days before George Bush leaves the White House and the Foreign Office moves to build a new relationship with the incoming president Barack Obama, who is inaugurated next Tuesday.

Writing in today’s Guardian newspaper, the foreign secretary admitted that the idea of a war on terror had initially helped states come together after the September 11th attacks on the US.

But he said its use suggested the “enemy” was unified when terrorist groups’ motivations and identities are “disparate”.

He added: “The more we lump terrorist groups together and draw the battle lines as a simple binary struggle between moderates and extremists, or good and evil, the more we play into the hands of those seeking to unify groups with little in common.”

Mr Miliband also criticised the ‘war on terror’ phrase because it implied the “correct response was primarily military”.

SNP Westminster leader Angus Robertson accused Mr Miliband of “rank hypocrisy”.

“His government acted as a poodle to the Bush doctrine in Iraq and elsewhere,” he said.

“People will not be misled by this wishful re-writing of history.”

Liberal democrat foreign affairs spokesman Ed Davey also mocked the statement.

Liberal Democrat Shadow Foreign Secretary, Edward Davey said:

“If the British foreign secretary had said this to president Bush many months, if not years ago, then it would have deserved some credit,” he said.

“Mimicking president-elect Obama’s lines days before his inauguration does not show leadership.”

As the US’ secretary of state-designate Hillary Clinton made clear during her confirmation hearings on Monday, the Obama administration intends to place a renewed emphasis on negotiation and diplomacy rather than relying heavily on the use of force.

Mr Miliband made clear he believed “the best antidote to the terrorist threat in the long-term is cooperation”.

And the foreign secretary concluded: “The call for a ‘war on terror’ was a call to arms, an attempt to build solidarity for a fight against a single shared enemy. But the foundation for solidarity between peoples and nations should be based not on who we are against, but on the idea of who we are and the values we share.”

Mr Miliband’s views about the damaging nature of the phrase are backed up by analysts critical of the Bush administration’s impact on global security.

Dana Allin, senior fellow for transatlantic studies at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, told politics.co.uk there had been a “myopic and distorting focus on the concept” since September 11th.

“As a framework for American foreign policy, driven by. understandable but excessive fear, it is not particularly inspiring to the rest of the world,” he commented.

“There is a struggle, that’s often a military struggle, against a very specific enemy, al-Qaida. But the general rubric of a war on terror has played into al-Qaida’s hands.”