David Miliband’s speech on ‘the democratic imperative’ marks an important moment in post-Iraq foreign policy. It is the first time since Tony Blair’s departure that a Labour politician has delivered an intellectually coherent set of remarks on what strategic goals Britain should be pursuing in its foreign policy.
After the difficulties in Iraq and Hamas’s election victory, the question for many is why should Britain bother pushing for democracy at all. But as Miliband argues there is a practical as well as an idealistic case for democratic promotion:
"In weak states, there are no military solutions to the insecurity and injustice that helps to breed terrorism, only political solutions. Democracy provides a way of resolving competing interests and claims on resources in a peaceful way. Without democratic legitimacy, it is hard to sustain the increase in state capacity needed to maintain law and order.
In my mind there is no doubt: the rule of law in a democracy is the best long term defence against global terrorism and conflict.”
What was most disappointing about the speech is Miliband’s continuing tendency to try and keep the Iraq war as distant as possible. At the end of his remarks, Miliband rattled off the names of some of those who have led the charge for freedom but not one Iraqi made the list; a sad omission given that no people are struggling harder for their liberty right now.