LONDON (Reuters) - British Foreign Secretary David Miliband called Thursday for a rethink of the strategy against terrorism, saying the notion of a “war on terror” was misleading and mistaken.
Miliband’s comments, days before U.S. President George W. Bush hands the keys to the White House to Barack Obama, implicitly criticized aspects of the strategy launched by Bush after the September 11 al Qaeda attacks on U.S. cities in 2001.
Britain, under former Prime Minister Tony Blair, was America’s closest ally in military anti-terrorism operations but the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq to oust Saddam Hussein split Europe and caused a backlash against Blair in Britain.
“Seven years on from 9/11 it is clear that we need to take a fundamental look at our efforts to prevent extremism and its terrible offspring, terrorist violence,” Miliband wrote in an opinion piece for the Guardian newspaper.
“Since 9/11, the notion of a ‘war on terror’ has defined the terrain. The phrase had some merit: it captured the gravity of the threats, the need for solidarity, and the need to respond urgently — where necessary, with force,” he said.
“But ultimately, the notion is misleading and mistaken. The issue is not whether we need to attack the use of terror at its roots, with all the tools available. We must. The question is how,” he said.
Britain is set to withdraw most of its remaining troops from Iraq this year but still has more than 8,000 troops in Afghanistan, invaded by U.S.-led forces after September 11 to root out al Qaeda insurgents and their Taliban protectors.
Miliband was set to expand on his views in a speech later on Thursday in the Indian city of Mumbai, where 179 people died in attacks in November.
Miliband said the idea of a “war on terror” gave the impression of a unified enemy, embodied in al Qaeda and its leader Osama bin Laden, when in fact militant groups had wide-ranging motivations.
“War on terror” also implied that the correct response was primarily military, he wrote. “But as (U.S.) General (David) Petraeus said to me and others in Iraq, the coalition there could not kill its way out of the problems of insurgency and civil strife,” he said.
Miliband said countries must respond to terrorism by “championing the rule of law, not subordinating it.”
Civil rights groups strongly criticize the Bush administration for holding terrorism suspects at the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba and over rendition and cases of torture.
“We must uphold our commitments to human rights and civil liberties at home and abroad. That is surely the lesson of Guantanamo and it is why we welcome President-elect Obama’s commitment to close it,” Miliband said.
He said terrorist groups should be tackled by blocking flows of weapons and finance, “exposing the shallowness of their claims, channeling their followers into democratic politics.”
Miliband said Pakistan’s government must take urgent action to break up militant networks on its soil.
But he said he would argue during visits to India and Pakistan this week that the best antidote to the terrorist threat in the long term was cooperation.
“Resolution of the dispute over Kashmir would help deny extremists in the region one of their main calls to arms, and allow Pakistani authorities to focus more effectively on tackling the threat on their western borders,” he said.
Editing by Alison Williams