David Miliband in Leeds

I had the recent pleasure of co-chairing with Prof. Paul Blackledge an hour long discussion between the students of Leeds Met and Leeds Uni and David Miliband.  The visit was part of David’s promotion of the new Movement for Change, although the discussion was student led and very wide-ranging.  The turnout was very impressive (they were standing in the aisles) and David gave full answers to all the questions.  In all I was very impressed and the round of applause at the end suggested the student’s appreciated David’s answers even if they did not always agree. The only downside really is that we didn’t have enough time to take all the questions, although David continued to answer questions via Twitter on his way home.
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> There were interesting points that reflect on the subject matter of my research project and they followed my lead off question on the Arab Spring.  Despite the progress  (and as an aside we heard the news about Gaddafi during the event) there is cause about the future of the revolutions, particularly in Syria. On the Syrian case he defended the argument that there were specifics that justified taking a different approach to that pursued in Libya  He noted the Russian and Chinese veto of the proposed Security Council resolution on Syria, which I’ve discussed here. However, he kind of avoided my follow-up on whether he thought we could by-pass those vetos if the case for military intervention was there.  He instead set out general principles that should guide military intervention – which included balancing the humanitarian need and geostrategic concerns.  It was the more delicate geostrategic position of Syria, as well as the chances of military force being successful, that justified the different approaches.  Interestingly consensus within the Security Council was not among the principles.
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> The sensitivity to the limitations of force and geostrategic concerns suggests David’s well known support for liberal interventionism  (he directed me to his Aung San Suu Kyi lecture for this) has been toned down a little.  And in his answer to my question on the shifting nature of power he repeated a similar line to what I heard from Shadow Foreign Minister Douglas Alexander at the Labour Party Conference in Liverpool, which is that there’s not only a seismic shift in power between nations (from west to east) but also one from governments to peoples (clearly they’ve been reading their Jo Nye). This reflects ideas David has used in the past like “civilian surge” and it suggests Labour is seriously thinking about new ways of promoting and defending deep forms of democracy that are less interventionist and less expensive, certainly than the Iraq case.  And on Iraq, there was also an acknowledgement that the cure for Saddam’s tyranny may very well have been worse than the disease – to use  Nick Wheeler and Justin Morris’s description of the Iraq War – but also that there was still the prospect of a democratic future in that country.

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About Jason Ralph

Jason Ralph, Professor of International Relations, University of Leeds
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