Humphries drags the awful truth out of Miliband


Had Georgia been a member of NATO on 7 August 2008, would NATO now be at war with a nuclear-armed Russia?


That is a very relevant question at the moment, given that, at a summit in Bucharest in April 2008, NATO decided in principle to allow Georgia (and Ukraine) to become full members.  Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty leaves no room for doubt that, if an armed attack occurs on one NATO member, it is the duty of other members to come to its aid.  It states:


“The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them … will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.” [1]


The UK Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, visited Ukraine on 27 August 2008.  Before he went, he declared:


“I am holding talks today with international partners and will be visiting Ukraine tomorrow to ensure the widest possible coalition against Russian aggression in Georgia.” [2]


Not much doubt there that it is the British Government’s view that Georgia was subject to an armed attack by Russia within the meaning of Article 5 of the Treaty and that, had Georgia been a party to the Treaty, NATO should have rushed to its aid to repel this “Russian aggression”.


Nick Brown asks key question

One might have thought that this question would be the subject of intense debate in Britain, given that the Government continues to be an enthusiast for Georgian and Ukranian membership of NATO, undeterred by recent events in Georgia.  But there has been very little questioning of the Government’s position that Georgia should be allowed to join.  Many voices, including that of Conservative leader, David Cameron, have been raised in favour of speeding up the process.


However, a contrary opinion has been expressed from an unlikely quarter, namely, from within the Government itself.  The dissenter was Nick Brown, who re-entered the Government in June 2007 (as Deputy Chief Whip and Minister for the North East of England), when his long time political friend, Gordon Brown, became Prime Minister.  Here’s what he wrote in The Guardian on 19 August 2008, in response to David Cameron:


“Cameron urges Nato to admit Georgia. Nato is a mutual defence pact. This position will have gone down very well in Tbilisi, but do we really mean to commit ourselves to all-out war against the Russian Federation if something like this happens again? I don’t favour that approach, and I don’t know anyone who does [Does he not know David Miliband?].


“There is a bigger point here. If western hawks really are advocating Nato membership for every small country that borders the Russian Federation, even a government far more charitably disposed towards Nato than the present Russian one is going to see the move as a direct challenge. Constantly reprimanding the Russians isn’t the right way to deal with this problem. It makes us look pompous and ineffective.” [3]


That runs directly counter to the policy of the Government of which he is a member and would normally be grounds for instant dismissal from the Government.  Nick Brown has survived, at least for now, because his dismissal would have provoked unwelcome discussion about why the Government is following a policy that could lead us into all-out war with Russia as a consequence of reckless actions by Georgian or Ukranian leaders over whom we have no control.


Miliband answers key question - eventually

That David Miliband is not anxious to have this question discussed openly was evident in an interview he gave to the Today programme on BBC Radio 4 the morning after his visit to Ukraine.  During that interview, John Humphries put Nick Brown’s question to him using Nick Brown’s exact words:


Do we really mean to commit ourselves to all-out war against the Russian Federation if something like South Ossetia happened again?”


Three minutes or so later, after Humphries had insisted seven times that he answer the question, he finally capitulated and said YES, though not in so many words.  A transcript of this part of the interview is given in Appendix I(A) below.  It shows his desperation not to answer the question.  But, thanks to Humphries’ persistence, he eventually had to concede.


His last line of defence was that bringing the countries of Eastern Europe into NATO would prevent them being attacked (by Russia, presumably):


“… embedding these countries in European institutions, giving them the strength of European security is actually the way to prevent hot conflict.  It’s actually the way to ensure that peaceful relations are established on a basis that isn’t an imbalance of power.”


At this point, John Humphries intervened to ask:


“And if that premise fails, then we are prepared to defend them at the point of a gun?”


David Miliband still couldn’t bring himself to say YES, to state plainly that, once Georgia is brought into NATO, we are committed to all-out war against the Russian Federation if something like South Ossetia happens again.  Instead, he muttered:


“Well, the NATO commitments are to do that.  That’s written into the NATO Charter.”


Indeed it is – Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty requires NATO to render armed assistance to a member under armed attack.


Foreign Office falsifies account

There is an account of David Miliband’s interview with Today on the Foreign Office website [4].  For understandable reasons, it is a grossly misleading account.  It doesn’t mention that John Humphries asked Nick Brown’s question or that he had to badger the Foreign Secretary for three minutes in order to get him to answer it in the affirmative.  All that is omitted.


Instead, the account consists of two portions of the Foreign Secretary’s replies, prefaced by two questions, neither of which was asked by John Humphries – they were both made up by the Foreign Office (see Appendix I(B) below for details).


The Foreign Office simply falsified the record because this issue is so sensitive.  The Government is enthusiastically pressing for Georgia to be admitted to NATO, a policy which, if successful, carries with it the possibility of all-out war with Russia, if there is a recurrence of the events in South Ossetia in early August.  The Foreign Secretary has suffered the humiliation of having this awful conclusion dragged out of him in a radio interview.  You can understand why he doesn’t want this displayed on the Foreign Office website for the world to see – so the record has been falsified.


Decision in December

NATO decided in principle to allow Georgia (and Ukraine) to become full members at a summit in Bucharest in April 2008.  Had Britain and the US got their way on that occasion, NATO would have gone further and given them a clear pathway to membership by giving them Membership Action Plans (MAPs).  That didn’t happen because of opposition by Germany, France and other states at Bucharest, but the matter comes up again at a NATO foreign ministers meeting in December 2008.  This has the authority to decide to give them MAPs, making their membership almost inevitable a few years down the line.


So going to war with Russia in defence of Georgia or Ukraine may become a real possibility in a few years time, if NATO proceeds down the path that the British Government wants it to go, despite recent events in Georgia.


NATO expansion benign

Earlier in the Today interview, Miliband tried to portray NATO expansion eastwards as a benign development threatening nobody and certainly not Russia, saying:


“And the point I want to underline above all others is that what’s happened since the collapse of the Soviet Union is not a Western plot.  These are decisions by independent sovereign democracies about the course they want to take, not a course of confrontation with Russia, but a course of engagement with the West.”


One would never guess that he is talking here about the expansion a nuclear-armed military alliance up to the borders of Russia, contrary to the promise made to Mikhail Gorbachev, at the end of the Cold War, that such an expansion would not take place.  As Gorbachev told The Daily Telegraph on 7 May 2008:


“The Americans promised that Nato wouldn’t move beyond the boundaries of Germany after the Cold War but now half of central and eastern Europe are members, so what happened to their promises? It shows they cannot be trusted.” [5]


NATO expansion took place against this background.  It didn’t have to take place.  There is nothing in the North Atlantic Treaty that says that every state that wants to be admitted has to be admitted.  On the contrary, a state has to receive a unanimous invitation from existing members.  As Article 10 of the Treaty says:


“The Parties may, by unanimous agreement, invite any other European State in a position to further the principles of this Treaty and to contribute to the security of the North Atlantic area to accede to this Treaty.” [1]


Miliband’s portrayal of NATO expansion as merely the product of a desire to join on the part of Eastern European states is duplicitous.  The truth is that the West has sought to expand its sphere of influence eastwards in Europe by expanding NATO, having promised not to expand it.


As a Guardian editorial, entitled Belligerent bluster, on 29 August 2008 said:


“To claim, as David Miliband did yesterday, that Nato did not have a sphere of influence and that the eastern expansion of the military alliance was merely an expression of individual democracies exercising their new-found sovereignty, was breathtakingly disingenuous.” [6]


The editorial ended (in what is a shift in editorial line):


“The way to counter the forces unleashed on August 7 is clear: stop rearranging the furniture on Russia's sensitive southern border; stop militarising the Black Sea; stop pretending that this is only a conflict about loftier goals, a simple struggle between authoritarianism and western liberal democracy. The ethnically driven post-Soviet map is more complex than that. Local conflicts should be kept local. As things stand, everything is being done to widen them out to the regional level. As a result, Russia and Nato are sleepwalking into a confrontation that neither needs, and neither has planned for.”



APPENDIX I  John Humphries poses Nick Brown’s question to David Miliband

Today, BBC Radio 4, 28 August 2008



(A) Transcript prepared from audio on the Today website


JH  Do we really mean to commit ourselves to all out-war against the Russian Federation if something like South Ossetia happened again?


DM   We don’t want all-out war with Russia.  That’s what I said yesterday.


JH  But can you answer that question?  And I ask that question because as you will know … go on


DM   There’s no question of launching an all-out war against Russia.


JH  That question was raised by your Cabinet colleague, Nick Brown.


DM   Well one of the things that I said yesterday, which I think is relevant to this, is no-one ever doubted that a Russian army of up to 800,000 people was going to defeat a Georgian army of 18,000 people. Indeed that has happened over the last two weeks.  The question, though, for Russia is whether it wants to suffer the isolation, the loss of respect and the loss of trust that comes from that.  It is striking that no country has supported what Russia did on Tuesday.  The only people who have, as I understand it from the media reports, is Hamas.  This is a country that's more isolated, it's also important and I think this is... can I just get this in?  Politics and economics are joined in the modern world and the president of Russia, President Medvedev says he wants the rule of law to define both his international relations and his approach to domestic economics.


What’s happened to the Russian stock market since the Georgian crisis?  It’s fallen in a very significant way.  And what’s the change in the world over the last 40 or 50 years?  In 1968, no one asked about the impact on the Soviet stock market of the invasion of Czechoslovakia.  In 1956, no one asked about the invasion of Hungary, about the impact on the Soviet stock market.   They do today, and that is an important force for progress.


JH  But I note you haven’t answered that question raised by your own colleague, Nick Brown.  Do we really mean to commit ourselves to all-out war in the event of etc etc etc?


DM   We’re certainly not committing ourselves to all-out war.


JH  But that is what membership of NATO means?  If one of our allies in NATO is attacked, we defend them. That’s what it is.


DM   Let’s address that point.


JH  Well, I wish you would.


DM   I’ve referred twice in this interview to Lithuania, Latvia


JH  Indeed you have, but you haven’t answered this crucial question.


DM   I’m addressing it because it’s precisely the question that was raised 10 years ago, when these countries asked to join NATO and they were allowed to join.  People said, are you really saying that if there are Russian tanks in Tallinn you going to be defending them?  Our answer was: embedding these countries in European institutions, giving them the strength of European security is actually the way to prevent hot conflict.  It’s actually the way to ensure that peaceful relations are established on a basis that isn’t an imbalance of power.


JH  And if that premise fails, then we are prepared to defend them at the point of a gun?


DM   Well, the NATO commitments are to do that.  That’s written into the NATO Charter.


That is why it is a very careful process before countries are admitted to NATO; there's a critical issue of building up the armed forces of those countries; it's also important that the popular support in those countries needs to be there.  I don't hide the fact at all, and I thought you might raise it, Ukrainian people haven't decided they want to join NATO; in fact the Ukrainian government's position is that there'd have to be a referendum in their own country because there are different views about it.


That is the point about a vibrant, healthy democracy, they can have those debates; and the pathway to membership of NATO is not a quick fix, it involves a long period of building up capacity, building up the relationship between not just military institutions but political institutions and ensuring that the country wants that blanket of European security.  But it is not, repeat not, an offensive alliance, NATO.  Neither is the EU an offensive alliance.



(B)  Account from the Foreign Office website [4]

This account on the Foreign Office website consists of the two italicised portions of Miliband’s replies in Section A above, prefaced by


(1)  Next he was asked about the possibility of war with Russia.


(2) Finally, he was asked should Ukraine decide to join NATO would NATO defend the country by military means.


As the transcript in Section A shows, John Humphries asked neither of these questions – they were both made up by the Foreign Office.  This portion of the interview was taken up entirely with John Humphries trying to get an answer to Nick Brown’s question.


The Foreign Office have falsified the record in order to conceal the fact that Nick Brown’s question was asked and, under pressure from John Humphries, was eventually answered in the affirmative, thereby confirming that all-out war with Russia is a possible consequence of the Government’s policy of insisting that Georgia be brought into NATO.



David Morrison

30 August 2008