UK says to push democracy despite Iraq “mistakes”

OXFORD – Mistakes made in Iraq and Afghanistan should not deter Britain from exercising its moral duty to spread democracy, by military means where necessary, Foreign Secretary David Miliband said on Tuesday.

Miliband, who visits China this month, also had pointed words for Beijing, saying China’s economic rise meant “we can no longer take the forward march of democracy for granted”.

The speech, one of the biggest by Britain’s top diplomat since he was given the job when Prime Minister Gordon Brown took over from Tony Blair last year, will be viewed as a sign Britain does not aim to retreat from Blair’s assertive foreign policy, which saw British troops dispatched five times in a decade.

“There will be situations where the hard power of targeted sanctions, international criminal proceedings, security guarantees and military intervention will be necessary,” Miliband said in a draft of a speech released to the media before its delivery later on Tuesday in Oxford.

“In extreme cases, the failure of states to exercise their responsibility to protect their own civilians from genocide or ethnic cleansing warrant military intervention on humanitarian grounds,” he said.

Since taking power, Brown has scaled back Britain’s role on the ground in Iraq, a war that proved extremely unpopular in Britain. The government has, however, expanded a mission in Afghanistan despite little public enthusiasm.

“I understand the doubts about Iraq and Afghanistan, and the deep concerns at the mistakes made. But my plea is not to let divisions over those conflicts obscure our national interest, never mind our moral impulse, in supporting movements for democracy,” Miliband said.

Brown brought 25 business leaders on a visit to China last month. British officials say he raised human rights and democracy issues with Chinese leaders, although in public he mostly spoke about trade and investment.

Miliband said economic success in China had made it a more open place, but the population was concerned about the future.

“Chinese society is more mobile, vocal and diverse than in the pre-reform period,” he said.

“But people inside China and outside are rightly concerned about the next stages in political development. President Hu’s speech to his party congress shows that democracy is an issue for China’s leaders as well as its people.”

Miliband welcomed the rise of technology and media freedom — mentioning the Gulf satellite channels Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya and bloggers in Iran — and said Britain must back a drive for freedom by “more literate, better informed citizens”.

“We should back demands among citizens for more freedom and power over their lives — whether that is reforming established democracies or supporting transitions to democracy. We should be on the side of the civilian surge,” he said.

Miliband also took a swipe at Russia with which Britain has had troubled relations over the past several months, saying “representatives of the Russian government would say even in a perfectly free election the government would get massive support from the population to which my response would be then what would be the problem with letting it happen then?”

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