David Miliband's piccolo diplomacy under fire in the UK

It's not only Sri Lanka that has been irked by the British Foreign Secretary David Miliband. This inexperienced, undiplomatic excuse for a Foreign Secretary has bundled issues in other parts of the world and it's now getting some attention.

UTV News (UK)
Foreign policy is in 19th-century mode, with a moral gunboat over every horizon. Iran, Colombia, Kenya, Russia, Sri Lanka have all been damned by Miliband with the same fatwa as "unacceptable".

Regular ceasefire calls are bread and butter to the Foreign Office's underemployed policymakers. These feel-good gestures of episcopal concern are intended to generate a warm sense of wellbeing in speaker and audience, a jerkily liberal response to "something must be done". The effect is zero. This is not megaphone diplomacy but piccolo.

Ceasefires usually benefit one side or the other in a running conflict. They are seldom impartial to those embroiled in the theatre of war, any more than are other weapons of soft intervention such as condemnation, boycott and commercial and financial sanction.

In Sri Lanka a rudimentary study of the past three months of fighting would have told Miliband that a ceasefire would be pro-Tamil, not just "pro-humanitarian". He compounded his demand by damning the "indiscriminate" shelling of Tamil civilians. How he could do this while supporting the bombing of Pashtun civilians along the Afghan border is a mystery.

Yet the consequence of appearing to support the Tamils was to infuriate those same insurgents when Miliband refused to lift a finger to give force to his ceasefire call. It was just words, hypocritical window-dressing. It appeared to support a partitionist movement, but refused to do so in practice.

The outcome has been entirely negative. Miliband is regarded in Colombo as an incompetent neo-imperial ­meddler whose embassy was attacked on ­Monday and whose effigy was burned and tossed into the compound. Meanwhile the Tamils, double-crossed by London's posturing, reacted with one of the most furious demonstrations seen in Parliament Square.

The conflict was not ended by this rhetorical intervention. No lives were saved, no British interest served. Each side has merely been convinced that London was favouring its sworn enemy. Policy towards Sri Lanka merits a doctoral thesis in diplomatic ineptitude.

Britain had no dog in this fight, and no capacity to influence events either way. Its platitudes, bromides and ­hectoring were merely patronising, like an NHS advert telling the world to wash its hands and blow its nose. As of today, Britons travelling to Sri Lanka must be less safe than any other foreign nationals, whichever side of the divide they happen to encounter.

Such intervention soon falls victim to relativism. The one country that is treated by Miliband with kid gloves is the People's Republic of China. He recently told the Fabians that "it is important that we don't treat China as an errant child" – implying just such treatment for every other moral ­miscreant. Why? Because China is rich.

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