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Document publications by Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks shed important light on the foreign policies of the Tony Blair and Gordon Brown Labour governments. They particularly reveal the closeness of the US-UK special relationship, and the willingness of the UK to act in support of the US and to protect the latter’s interests, in addition to examples of the UK’s own duplicitous foreign policy decision-making.
A cable of February 2009 sets the scene. The charge d’affaires in the US embassy in London, Richard LeBaron, wrote of “the Brown Government’s support for Bush administration foreign policies”. After Obama took office, LeBaron stated, in reference to Brown’s foreign policy: “The UK’s commitment of resources – financial, military, diplomatic – in support of U.S global priorities remains unparalleled”.
The following are some highlights of how the UK government, behind the scenes, supports those “US global priorities”, and some of its own.
Undermining the Iraq enquiry
The Brown government undermined the Chilcot enquiry it launched in 2009 into the Iraq war by immediately making promises to the US. Just as the enquiry was beginning in 2009, the MOD Director for security policy, Jon Day promised a senior US official that his government had “put measures in place to protect your interests” during the inquiry. According to the US cable:
“He [Day] noted that Iraq seems no longer to be a major issue in the U.S., but he said it would become a big issue – a “feeding frenzy” – in the UK “when the inquiry takes off.”’
It is not known what this protection amounted to, but it appears to have been substantial. No US officials were called to give evidence to Chilcot in public. Evidence from some US officials was only heard in private during visits by inquiry members to the US. The inquiry was also refused permission to publish letters between George Bush and Tony Blair written in 2002 in the run-up to the war, even though they were referred to in evidence.
The Iraq war
WikiLeaks’ files highlight the legacy of Tony Blair in Iraq. In October 2010 WikiLeaks published the largest classified military leak in history – the “The Iraq War Logs”, which consist of 391,832 reports documenting the war and occupation in Iraq from 2004-09 as told by soldiers in the US Army on the ground in Iraq. The reports detail 109,032 deaths in Iraq, comprised of 66,081 “civilians”; 23,984 “enemy” (those labelled as insurgents); 15,196 “host nation” (Iraqi government forces) and 3,771 “friendly” (coalition forces). The majority of the deaths (66,000, over 60%) of these are civilian deaths.
The UK’s “Op Telic”
A UK military report of 2006 on the war in Iraq published by WikiLeaks damns UK and US war planning, which, it says, “ran counter to potential Geneva Convention obligations” – and lead directly to the post invasion collapse of Iraqi society. It noted: “Leaders should not start an operation without thinking…it is not enough just to identify the desired end-state”.
The report also reveals that Whitehall had been secretly planning the war during 2002 and that the Blair government kept the pending invasion (“Telic”) secret from all but an inner circle of officers and officials until three months before the start of hostilities. It stated:
“In Whitehall, the internal OPSEC (operational security) regime, in which only very small numbers of officers and officials were allowed to become involved in TELIC business, constrained broader planning for combat operations and subsequent phases effectively until 23 December 2002.”
Although the UK wanted UN Security Council approval, the UK found itself tied to a US ideological agenda and timetable. The report states:
“The UK had to work to a timetable and strong ideological views set in the United States. As one Senior Officer put it: ‘the train was in Grand Central Station, and was leaving at a time which we did not control’”.
The combined secrecy and ideology was a planning disaster that directly lead to the collapse of Iraqi society.
Not only was the military at large kept in the dark until the end of 2002, but contractors vital to the reconstruction and stabilisation of the country were not contacted until the end of the invasion in late April 2003:
“The requirements to plan, find resources for, and undertake interim government and reconstruction in Iraq, the non-military tasks, were discussed in outline across Whitehall, but approaches to potential contractors were not made until combat operations were coming to an end. Planning was not done in sufficient depth, and, at the outset of Phase IV [post combat operations] little finance was requested (and approved) for reconstruction purposes…. [T]he UK Government, which spent millions of pounds on resourcing the Security Line of Operations, spent virtually none on the Economic one, on which security depended”.
The report argues the result was a breach of Geneva Convention obligations, for which coalition governments are legally responsible.
Profiting from Iraq’s oil
The invasion of Iraq has long been criticised for being a war for oil, and for years many commentators sought information on whether Britain would encourage its oil companies to profit from this widely-condemned war.
A US cable of April 2009, six years after the invasion of Iraq, shows Peter Mandelson (pictured), a chief architect of Tony Blair’s election wins and now Trade Secretary in the Brown government, pushing British oil and other corporate interests in Iraq. Mandelson attended the Basrah Investment Conference which brought together 23 UK-based companies such as Shell, BP, Rolls Royce and HSBC. The region was significant to the UK since this was the principal area occupied by UK military forces after the 2003 invasion.
The US cable notes: “According to Basrah HMG officials, UK delegates were able to establish or strengthen relationships with key business figures in Basrah”. Attendees also included the directors of oil investment in Basrah and the commander of Iraqi security forces in the region alongside “UK Force Commander Tom Beckett and several Basrah-based UK military officials”. The cable added:
“Lord Mandelson opened the conference by looking back at the UK’s long relationship with Basrah, and looked forward to closer economic cooperation ahead… The conference also demonstrated to local players that there are serious and respected UK multinational companies ready to do business in Basrah”.
Rigging the International Criminal Court
Another WikiLeaks file shows how the US and Britain rigged the International Criminal Court (ICC) to stop it being able to hold Blair and Bush accountable for the crime of aggression over Iraq.
During the 1998 negotiations on the Rome Statute, the ICC’s founding treaty, many of the 160 states attending argued for the Court to be given jurisdiction over the crime of aggression, but the US and the UK, amongst other states, were opposed. A compromise was struck in which the crime of aggression was included in the Rome Statute, but the Court would not exercise jurisdiction over this crime until a definition, along with the conditions under which the court could exercise jurisdiction, had been agreed. Discussion of these matters was put off until a conference in Kampala, Uganda, in 2010, ahead of which the US, France and the UK sought to influence the outcome of discussions. 
According to a February 2010 cable from the US Embassy to the UN in New York, the Obama administration wanted decisions on the crime of aggression to be deferred yet again after discussions in Kampala. Failing that, the US wanted to ensure that the ICC’s jurisdiction over the crime would be subject to a “Security Council trigger”, that is, the Court would only be able to act after the Security Council had determined that an act of aggression had taken place. The governments of France and the UK agreed, along with Russia and China. By keeping the power to determine aggression within the Security Council where they have veto power, the five permanent members can prevent cases of aggression being brought at the ICC against themselves or their allies.
In May 2009, the UK Foreign Secretary in the Brown government, David Miliband, appears to have connived with the US government, apparently to deceive the public.
A cable reveals Miliband helping the US to sidestep a ban on cluster bombs and keep the weapons at US bases on UK soil despite Britain signing the international treaty banning the weapons the previous year. The US military asserted that cluster bombs were “legitimate weapons that provide a vital military capability” and wanted to carry on using British bases regardless of the ban. Miliband approved a loophole created by diplomats to allow the US cluster bombs to remain on UK soil and was part of discussions on how the loophole would help avert a debate in parliament that could have “complicated or muddied” the issue. The UK and US governments concocted the “concept” of allowing US forces to store their cluster weapons as “temporary exceptions” and on a “case-by-case” basis for specific military operations. Foreign Office officials:
“confirmed that the concept was accepted at highest levels of the government, as that idea had been included in the draft letter from minister [David] Miliband to secretary [of state Hillary] Clinton“.
The cables also revealed that the US was storing cluster munitions on ships based at its military base on Diego Garcia, in a UK Overseas Territory.
A US lobbyist over Venezuela
The UK under Blair and Brown is often seen to be acting at US behest in the WikiLeaks publications.
In September 2006, a US cable notes that the UK government “agreed to our request” to lobby four other governments in support of Guatemala’s bid for the Latin American and Caribbean Group seat on the UN Security Council. The reason was specifically to prevent Venezuela, under socialist President Hugo Chavez, accessing the seat. “Our demarche was timely”, the US official in the London embassy notes, since the FCO Director for International Security, Stephen Pattison, “has been encouraging the Foreign Office leadership to be more aggressive in supporting Guatemala given the stakes. Pattison and several others at the FCO have told us the idea of Venezuela on the Council would be “ghastly.”’
The cable notes that the UK official was prepared to act in support of the US without the endorsement of the British Foreign Secretary. It states: “Pattison was unsure, however, if his pleas for aggressive support to Guatemala would resonate with Foreign Minister Margaret Beckett”.
Turkey: A deal?
In October 2007, Prime Minister Gordon Brown met Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan during the latter’s his visit to London. At the time, there were rising tensions between Turkey and the PKK Kurdish group which Ankara regards as a terrorist organisation. WikiLeaks reveals a US cable on this meeting, conveying information to the US from the UK ambassador to Turkey, Nick Baird. The cable notes first that:
“PM Erdogan spoke at length with PM Brown on the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and reviewed the GOT’s ongoing diplomatic efforts with the U.S., Iraq, and the Europeans”.
“Brown urged him [Erdogan] to employ restraint and provide President Bush and Secretary Rice with the few days they had requested before launching a cross border operation (CBO) into Iraq”.
It appears that Brown did not want to be publicly associated with a Turkish military operation he knew was coming, and was also acting at the behest of the US.
In addition, it appears that Brown was requesting this from Erdogan in return for British support for Turkey’s EU bid. The cable notes:
“Erdogan and Brown discussed Turkey’s EU bid. Brown pledged to support and maintain the momentum of Turkey’s EU accession talks through a series of cooperative measures defined in the 2007/2008 Strategic Partnership document both prime ministers signed at the end of the meeting. In addition to EU issues, the bilateral plan outlines general proposals to help end the isolation of the Turkish Cypriots, deepen the defense relationship, promote regional stability and global security, increase bilateral trade and investment, and enhance educational and cultural ties”.
9. Chagos Islands: Keeping the population out
The UK has long fought to prevent the Chagos islanders returning to their homeland, and its main island, Diego Garcia, after forcibly removing them in the 1960s. WikiLeaks publications show this process continues.
A 2009 cable from the US embassy in London notes that a senior UK Foreign Office official informing the US that the UK wanted to establish a “’marine park’ or ‘reserve’” around the British Indian Ocean Territory, the UK overseas territory which includes Chagos. This was clearly a ruse concocted by Whitehall keep the islanders from returning: the cable notes that the:
“former inhabitants would find it difficult, if not impossible, to pursue their claim for resettlement on the islands if the entire Chagos Archipelago were a marine reserve”.
However, US interests would be protected. The cable notes that the establishment of such a reserve “would in no way impinge on USG [US government] use of … Diego Garcia, for military purposes”. In addition, the UK official:
“agreed that the UK and U.S. should carefully negotiate the details of the marine reserve to assure that U.S. interests were safeguarded”.
A US cable of September 2009 cites Mauritian Prime Minister Navinchandra Ramgoolam telling a US official that he had recently spoken to Gordon Brown who told him that it was “up to the Americans” to decide what they want to do with the Chagos Archipelago.
More assurances to the US: Trident
In September 2009, Prime Minister Gordon Brown raised the prospect at the UN General Assembly of reducing the number of British nuclear-armed Trident submarines from four to three. Brown stated that “all nuclear weapons states must play their part in reducing nuclear weapons as part of an agreement by non-nuclear states to renounce them” and described his proposal as a “grand global bargain between nuclear weapon and non-nuclear weapons states.”
As ever, any reduction in UK military forces was likely to be bitterly opposed in Washington. A WikiLeaks publications shows that Julian Miller, the Deputy Head of the Foreign and Defence Policy Secretariat at the Cabinet Office, privately assured US officials that his government:
“would consult with the US regarding future developments concerning the Trident deterrent to assure there would be ‘no daylight’ between the US and UK”.
The idea that British decision making on Trident is truly independent of the US is undermined by this cable.
US spying on the UK
The Blair and Brown governments’ willingness to act at the behest of the US occurred while Washington was spying on them.
Cables published by WikiLeaks show the US spying on the Foreign Office, collecting information on British ministers. Soon after the appointment of Ivan Lewis as a junior foreign minister in 2009, US officials were briefing the office of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about rumours that he was depressed and had a reputation as a bully. Clinton’s office thanked officials for the “insightful and timely” information on Lewis, including on “the state of his marriage”, and asked for further insights, “especially how Lewis works with Foreign Secretary Miliband”.
Washington is also shown to have been spying on the UK mission to the UN, along with other members of the Security Council as well as the UN Secretary General and other senior UN figures. A classified directive was issued to US diplomats under Hillary Clinton’s name in July 2009, demanding forensic technical details about the communications systems used by top UN officials, including passwords and personal encryption keys used in private and commercial networks for official communications.
Halting the Saudi corruption enquiry
The WikiLeaks documents reveal something of the sycophantic relationship that the Blair government had with Saudi Arabia. No single policy in this area was more controversial than Blair’s decision in 2006 to drop the corruption investigation into BAE’s £43 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia, known as Al-Yamamah.
The UK’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) ended the inquiry after intense diplomatic pressure from the Saudis. A US cable published by WikiLeaks, written four months after the collapse of the investigation, shows the SFO had evidence that BAE paid £73 million to a Saudi prince who had “influence” over the arms contract and that there were “reasonable grounds” to believe another “very senior Saudi official” received payments. Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, then British ambassador in Riyadh who became a BAE Systems’ director, “had a profound effect” on the decision by Robert Wardle, then SFO director, to end the investigation. The cable also noted the Italian government’s view that the UK decision “seemed to be exclusively supported by economic interests”, not national security, as claimed by Whitehall. 
Another US cable shows that the Canadian delegation to the OECD Working Group on Bribery, which discussed the Saudi bribery case, “had serious concerns about the UK’s legal framework and adequacy of its corporate criminal liability legislation” while the US delegation:
“asked whether the UK could provide any assurances that BAE was not continuing to make corrupt payments to Saudi officials and that MOD officials were not continuing to participate in the alleged corrupt payments”.
Praising the Saudis
WikiLeaks publications show that Blair’s Foreign Secretary Jack Straw had a number of meetings in Saudi Arabia with his Saudi counterpart, Prince Saud al-Faisal, in which Straw exuded praise for the Saudis and their system.
In April 2006, for example, a press conference between the two in Riyadh notes Straw challenging “stereotypes” of Saudi Arabia, amid increasing cooperation between the two countries. Straw said:
“I believe one very important consequence of this process has already been a much better understanding in the United Kingdom of Saudi Arabia; and the heart of the Islamic world, is really very important. Because people have stereotypes, and the Brits are like anybody else following stereotypes. Stereotypes which can come from our history, come from old films, come from differences of dress, and the way aspects that apparently different religions can so easily be paraded. So this is a way of breaking down those false stereotypes and building up understanding that here is very important, very modern society in some respect, but also one that wants to show proper regard for its history and above all for its religion”.
The US embassy in Saudi Arabia noted the following month:
“HMG is trying hard to improve relations with Saudi Arabia. At stake is the renewal of the al-Yamamah project to which British Aerospace’s fortunes in the Kingdom are largely tied”.
Confronting the UN
The UK and US have worked together to prevent reform of the world financial system.
In May 2009 Douglas Alexander, Secretary of State for International Development and John Sawers, then UK permanent representative to the UN who later that year became chief of MI6, held a meeting with US ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice. A US cable notes that:
“Alexander and Sawers began the meeting by noting their concern that Cuba, Iran, Venezuela and other ‘radical’ G-77 countries would use the upcoming June 1-2 UN Conference on the World Financial and Economic Crisis and its Impact on Development to push for an outcome document that would for the first time, give the UN General Assembly a role in negotiations on revamping the Bretton Woods financial institutions and the world financial system”.
To counter this:
“Sawers urged the United States to work with the UK to monitor preparatory meetings for the conference, quickly push back against the introduction of activist policy language into the outcome document, and split off more moderate G-77 countries who are already G-20 members”.
Rice agreed, stating that:
“It would be important to work with the Netherlands (a co-facilitator for the negotiations on a conference outcome document) to tone down expectations and ensure that moderate G-77 countries continue to see the G-20 discussions as the proper venue for discussing BWI [Bretton Woods Institutions] reform”.
WikiLeaks files expose some of the myths of the Afghanistan war.
For example, Tim Foy, Deputy Head of the Afghanistan office for the Department for International Development (DfID) told US officials in July 2009 that “an increasing number of Afghans have no faith in the official government and are turning to the Taliban”. Another cable, of August 2009, records Matt Baugh, Principal Private Secretary to International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander, suggesting that the Afghan government, in which the UK was pouring aid, had no legitimacy. He said:
“The UK believes that the government needs to be able to deliver basic services if it is ever to gain legitimacy, and therefore, the UK will increase its direct assistance to the government”.
Blair’s ultimatum on Libya
In February 2011 Tony Blair’s assistant, Catherine Rimmer, emailed Jake Sullivan, Clinton’s Deputy Chief of Staff, enclosing a copy of notes from Blair’s recent personal call with Libyan leader Muammar Gadaffi. At this time, the US and UK were on the verge of going to war with Libya, claiming that the Libyan leader was promoting civilian massacres in his country. Blair was by now out of UK office and was Middle East Envoy for the UN but had personal relations with Gadaffi over a number of years. Rimmer noted:
“Mr Blair wanted me to let you know that he is making these calls very privately and is not briefing the media”. Rimmer stated that “Tony Blair delivered a very strong message to Gaddafi that the violence had to end and that he had to stand aside to allow a peaceful process to take place”.
Blair went further, however. The notes of the call show that Blair specifically threatened Gadaffi with war unless he stand down. He told Gadaffi: “The US and the EU are in a tough position right now and I need to take something back to them which ensures this ends peacefully”. This call was made on 25 February. Three weeks later, on 19 March, the US and UK began bombing Libya.
The outcome was disastrous for the people of Libya, plunging the country into lawlessness in which ungoverned spaces new terrorist forces arose while Libya became a dangerous transit hub for refugees seeking to reach Europe.
“A message from Tony”
US files published by WikiLeaks show Tony Blair seeking Hillary Clinton’s help to become President of the European Council.
An October 2009 file reveals “a message from Tony” from Jonathan Powell, Blair’s chief of staff. Powell wrote to Clinton adviser Sidney Blumenthal, stating:
“If Hillary had a chance to say something about TB being a good President of the European Council if asked about it during her remaining time in Europe that would be v helpful, The Austrian Chancellor has said today he doesn’t want TB because he was for Bush rather than the new Democratic Administration”.
Blumenthal then recommended to Clinton that she say some “nice words… without an explicit endorsement” since “the rap against him is that he’s ‘Bush’s poodle’, and your positive comments would help erase that taint”.
A view on Jack Straw
A memo written by the US Ambassador to the UK, Robert Tuttle, in July 2008 notes that:
“Outwardly an amiable and affable man, Straw is viewed with less affection by some cabinet colleagues who say they have been at the receiving end of his whispering campaigns regarding their abilities. Critics are also quick to note that he was one of the first of Blair’s closest allies to jump ship in favor of Gordon Brown when he sensed the political winds were shifting in Brown’s direction”.
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