“Robin Cook & the Labour government’s ‘ethical’ foreign policy” – Ian Johnson, March 2005

Robin Cook & the Labour government’s ‘ethical’ foreign policy

Under the heading ‘The surrender of Kosovo’s prime minister is an act of real courage’ the 11th March 2005 edition of the Guardian newspaper carried an article by former UK foreign secretary Robin Cook.

It is as well to remember however, that when writing about events in Yugoslavia Mr Cook is not an innocent observer. As UK foreign secretary during the 1999 Nato bombing campaign against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia he became known as the ‘butcher of Belgrade’, a term which reflected his enthusiasm for the task.

It was also Robin Cook who supplied the ‘Kosovo Dossier’ to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) for their case against Slobodan Milosevic. Unfortunately for the tribunal it was a dossier so devoid of any serious evidence that in desperation the ICTY had to add on Croatia and Bosnia to the indictment against Milosevic in the hope that they would be able to uncover some kind of evidence at a later date.

Mr Cook also boasts, as he did at a press conference, which was directly broadcast on CNN, that he was instrumental in obtaining satellite access for the pro-Nato B92 television station, much to the embarrassment of the station’s operatives who claimed to be ‘independent’.

Given Mr Cook’s involvement in destroying the sovereign state of Yugoslavia his Guardian article should be viewed with suspicion, both for its timing and for its attempt to rewrite history.


When Tony Blair’s Labour government took office in 1997 it unveiled what it called its new ‘ethical’ foreign policy. The vagueness of this term meant that at the time the majority of the British population, though hopeful, was unsure what this would actually mean in practice.

Five international wars later things became much clearer. Blair’s government had come up with a policy which they hoped would circumvent the restrictions of international law and allow British intervention into the internal affairs of independent nation states in the name of ‘humanitarian intervention’, a term that had no meaning in any international legal charter.

Under Tony Blair, Mr Cook, once a spokesman of the left-wing of his party, dropped previous commitments to unilateral disarmament and a Eurosceptic approach, and praised the prime minister’s “third way”.

As Blair’s foreign secretary (1997-2001) it was Robin Cook who was responsible for ‘selling’ this new concept of ‘humanitarian intervention’ – a concept originally discussed in the US by, amongst others, Madeleine Albright – and thus by- passing existing international law and avoiding such troublesome restrictions as the following:

“No State shall organize, assist, foment, finance, incite or tolerate subversive, terrorist or armed activities directed towards the violent overthrow of the regime of another State, or interfere in civil strife in another State.

The territory of a State shall not be the object of military occupation resulting from the use of force in contravention of the provisions of the Charter. The territory of a State shall not be the object of acquisition by another State resulting from the threat or use of force. No territorial acquisition resulting from the threat or use of force shall be recognized as legal. (Declaration on principles of international law in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations. Extract from UN General Assembly Resolution 2625 – 24th October 1970).

Initially the supporters of the new Labour government claimed that this ‘ethical’ foreign policy could mean an end to any arms sales to ‘repressive regimes’. However this illusion was quickly dispelled as outlined in the following two reports from 1999:

‘On coming to office in 1997, Labor foreign secretary Robin Cook promised an ‘ethical’ foreign policy. Widely interpreted as meaning an end to arms sales to repressive regimes, Cook’s humanitarian foreign policy was a commitment that came back to haunt him. Cook was pilloried for visiting Indonesia and for issuing them with invitations to visit British arms fairs. He was further embarrassed in September, with revelations that £130 million of public money has been used in the past year alone to help the Indonesian government buy Hawk fighters from Britain’. (LM Magazine Oct 1999).

Britain also made a significant contribution to Indonesia’s military training. The Observer has established that, since May 1997, 24 senior members of Indonesia’s forces have been trained In UK military colleges. This included training in running military units efficiently and how to used technical equipment like guided missiles. In addition, 29 Indonesian officers have studied at non-military establishments.

Revelations of the extent to which Labor has used taxpayers’ money to aid the Indonesian military has angered many MPs, who claim it makes a mockery of Foreign Secretary Robin Cook’s ‘ethical foreign policy’. In the last four years of the Tory Government, only one Indonesian soldier was trained in the UK’.(London Observer Sept 19th 1999).


The non ‘ethical’ dimension of this new foreign policy was further revealed by Robin Cook’s wholehearted support for the continuation of sanctions on Iraq during the 1990s. Such was the extent of Cook’s hypocrisy in trying to defend a system of sanctions that was responsible for the deaths of 5000 Iraqis each month that the campaigning group Voices in the Wilderness were compelled to issue a pamphlet entitled ‘Robin Cook’s 10 lies about sanctions on Iraq’.

For example, Cook had claimed that ‘Food and medicines have never been covered by sanctions’ (Daily Telegraph 18th November 1998) when in fact food exports to Iraq were banned for a period by UN Security Council Resolution 661. Cook also stated ‘We must nail the absurd claim that sanctions are responsible for the suffering of (Iraq’s) people’ (Daily Telegraph 18th November 1998).

Yet all competent observers agreed that the economic sanctions were the primary cause of the humanitarian crisis in Iraq. Denis Halliday, who was in charge of the UN oil for food deal resigned because of the appalling effects of the sanctions and stated, ‘ The deal is Band-Aid stuff. The sanctions discriminate against the weak, the poor and the lower echelons of the economic scale in a way I find unacceptable and contrary to the basic rights of individuals throughout the world.’

He went on to state, ‘4000 to 5000 children are dying unnecessarily every month due to the impact of sanctions’ (Independent 1st October 1998) and further, ‘We are in the process of destroying an entire society. It is as simple and terrifying as that. It is illegal and immoral.’ (Independent 15th October 1998).

Clearly there are completely different interpretations as to what Blair and Cook meant by the word ‘ethical’ and what decent human beings understood that word to mean.


Cook begins his Guardian article by stating:

‘Occasionally, the greatest grounds for optimism are that nothing has happened. Kosovo this week provides a good illustration.  On Wednesday, its prime minister, Ramush Haradinaj, was indicted by the war crimes tribunal and surrendered himself to stand trial in The Hague. Hundreds of extra troops were rushed to Kosovo in expectation of nationalist riots in protest at his arrest, but at the time of writing none has materialised. In part, this must be a result of the dignity of Haradinaj’s appeal for his people to accept that it was the right decision for the honour of their country.’

In this opening paragraph, as well as expressing his admiration for the former KLA commander, Cook is trying to mislead the readers into believing that Kosovo is a ‘country’.

It is not. Kosovo is legally recognised in law and by the United Nations as a province of Serbia.

Cook goes on:

‘I had a number of contacts with the Kosovo Liberation Army before and during Nato’s intervention to halt the ethnic cleansing of the Kosovans. Its fighters undoubtedly demonstrated real courage in taking on the formidable Serb military machine with no artillery, armour or air cover to match their opponents…’

Apart from the fact that here Cook confirms his contact with the KLA ‘before’ Nato’s intervention, this piece of fawning nonsense reiterates the accusation of ‘ethnic cleansing’ by Serbs without providing any proof whatsoever, as if by mere repetition it can become an established fact. In the absence of any factual evidence Mr Cook is relying on his readers to take his word for it! The Washington Post gave an insight into the reality of the situation when it made this comparison with history:

“Under the fascist-Nazi umbrella, the Albanians gained control of Kosovo, efficiently cleansed it of 300,000 Serbs and kept the Yugoslav resistance busy, thus relieving Nazi troops for duty in Normandy. History repeats itself. Under a different patron, the Kosovars are now cleansing the territory of non-Albanians. Why not? NATO gave the Yugoslav army only days to get out of Kosovo, but it is “negotiating” with the KLA about what weapons to surrender and when. In the meantime, ancient Orthodox Churches are destroyed and innocent farmers massacred by NATO’s local allies. Madeleine Albright and Tony Blair may still harbor illusions about a multi-ethnic Kosovo, but that is not what Albanians have in mind. Their goal is “an ethically pure Albanian Kosovo,” and they are pretty close to achieving it.” (The Washington Times, August 11, 1999).

Perhaps Mr Cook is unaware of this history and the real aims of the KLA? Or perhaps not.

As we have seen with Cook’s pronouncements on Iraq, cited above, the words ‘truth’ and ‘Robin Cook’ don’t blend well together in the same sentence. Moreover, when stating that the KLA had no ‘air cover to match their opponents’ he has obviously forgotten Nato, who acted as the air force for the KLA during the 1999 aggression.

Furthermore, in view of Cook’s reverence towards Mr Haradinaj and the KLA it is of interest to note the contents of a recent letter to the Guardian newspaper, which is self-explanatory:

“So Denis MacShane believes it was “very brave” of indicted war criminal Ramush Haradinaj to give himself up to a UN tribunal (Kosovo government falls, March 9). Haradinaj, as Mr MacShane knows, was a senior commander of the Kosovo Liberation Army, which was responsible for sickening atrocities against both Serb and Albanian civilians. Haradinaj and his followers were backed by western governments during this time.

I have witnessed the true nature of Haradinaj’s men. During an investigation into the international arms trade for Channel 5 and the Sunday Mirror, senior KLA veterans who claimed they took their orders from “Ramush” sold a huge cache of Semtex plastic explosives to myself and other members of an undercover team. When they were told the Semtex could be used in terrorist attacks against targets in the UK, their response was to offer us rocket launchers. The men responsible are now dead or imprisoned. The weapons are under UN control.

The UN governor of Kosovo says he has lost a “friend and partner” in Haradinaj. The UN should be more cautious about the company they keep”. (Dominic Hipkins London).

Given Robin Cook’s admission that he had dealings with the KLA both before and during Nato’s aggression and given the fact, as stated in Mr Hipkins’ letter to the Guardian, that the KLA were willing to supply weapons for attacks against the UK, can it be said that Mr Cook and the government he represented, were acting in the best interests of the people of Britain?

Again, without any factual evidence, Cook states in his article:

‘ Milosevic may be out of power, but the Balkans will not be free of his legacy unless it confronts the violent ethnic hatred he promoted’.

It is difficult, if not impossible, to promote ethnic hatred without promoting it via writings or speeches. It is a fact that no one can cite an article or speech where Mr Milosevic has promoted ethnic hatred. In the absence of such evidence the only thing left for unscrupulous rogues to do is to make something up. Needless to say Robin Cook has attempted this trick.

On 28th June 1999 Cook made this comment about the speech delivered by Slobodan Milosevic in 1989 at Kosovo Field.

“Milosevic used this important anniversary not to give a message of hope and reform. Instead, he threatened force to deal with Yugoslavia’s internal political difficulties. Doing so thereby launched his personal agenda of power and ethnic hatred under the cloak of nationalism. All the peoples of the region have suffered grievously ever since.”

According to this you would be forgiven for thinking that this speech was indeed a speech filled with ethnic hatred.

However here is a section of that speech:

” Serbia has never had only Serbs living in it. Today, more than in the past, members of other peoples and nationalities also live in it. This is not a disadvantage for Serbia. I am truly convinced that it is an advantage. National composition of almost all countries in the world today, particularly developed ones, has also been changing in this direction. Citizens of different nationalities, religions and races have been living together more and more frequently and more and more successfully.

Socialism in particular, being a progressive and just democratic society, should not allow people to be divided in the national and religious respect.” (A link to the full text of this speech can be found at www.free-slobo-uk.org/quote_milosevic_kosovofield)

(A common myth fostered by Western political and media elites is that Slobodan Milosevic launched his supposed campaign of “ethnic cleansing” by whipping up hatred among Serbs against their fellow Yugoslav nationalities through the use of fiery, demagogic hate speech at mass rallies reminiscent of Adolf Hitler at Nuremberg.

Yet you may be surprised to find that even the most cursory examination of his speeches reveals just the opposite. It is seldom mentioned by Western journalists or politicians that there is not one single instance of President Milosevic making any derogatory or racist statement against any ethnic group or people on the grounds of their race, religion or nationality. Nor has he ever espoused Serbian racial supremacy. Indeed, you will find him frequently stressing that Yugoslavia and Serbia are a home to the many nationalities that live within them, not just the Serbs).


In his Guardian article Mr Cook speaks of Haradinaj as an ‘advocate of tolerance’ in Kosovo and mentions approvingly the ‘courage’ of the KLA. Although Robin Cook would rather we just took his word for these claims of ‘’tolerance’ and ‘courage’ amongst the KLA and its leadership, we would urge people to do their own research into these matters. This is just a very small example of what they will find:

“A pogrom started in Europe this week, with one U.N. official being quoted as saying, ‘Kristallnacht is under way in Kosovo.’Serbs are being murdered and their 800-year-old churches are aflame. Much of the Christian heritage in Kosovo and Metohija is on fire and could be lost forever. By these deeds too many of Kosovo’s Albanians have shown that their rhetoric about ‘democracy’ and ‘multiethnicity’ is false, and demonstrates also that the international community’s acceptance of them has been naive.” (nationalreview.com March 2004).

“The Kosovo-Albanians have played us like a Stradivarius. We have subsidized and indirectly supported their violent campaign for an ethnically pure and independent Kosovo. We have never blamed them for being the perpetrators of the violence in the early ’90s and we continue to portray them as the designated victim today in spite of evidence to the contrary. ( former Canadian UNPROFOR Commander Maj. General Lewis MacKenzie).

“Kosovo today is a gangster state ruled by armed gangs that deal in drugs, prostitution and extortion: the ethnic cleansing of the last remaining Serbs from the land of their forefathers has been going on since the ‘liberation’ and is only being noticed now that it is reaching a blood-soaked crescendo. Five years of UN rule, and a military occupation, have produced this.” (Justin Raimondo. ‘The Déjà vu War).

“Today, almost five years since the ‘humanitarian bombing’ and the establishment of a UN protectorate, Kosovo is one of the most dangerous places in the world for Roma. Very few Roma, pejoratively referred to as ‘gypsies’, have remained; estimates range from 22,000 – 25,000. Before the US/Nato intervention in Kosovo there were more than 150,000 Roma in the region.” (Voice of Roma 2004 report).

“The onslaught led by Albanian extremists against Kosovo’s Serb, Roma and Ashkali communities was an organised, widespread and targeted campaign.””(UN Peacekeeping Operation Director Jean-Marie Guehenno 13th April 2004).

“Increasing numbers of local women, the majority of them girls, are being internally trafficked within Kosovo. Women are often sold several times in transit. According to the International Organisation for Migration women have been sold for prices ranging from 50 euro to 3500 euro.

Women and girls are now being trafficked out of Kosovo into countries in Western Europe, including Italy, Netherlands and the UK.” (Amnesty International May 6th 2004 – Facts and figures of women and girls for forced prostitution in Kosovo).

“The Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) is upheld as a self-respecting nationalist movement struggling for the rights of ethnic Albanians. The truth of the matter is that the KLA is sustained by organised crime with the tacit approval of the United States and its allies….the links of the KLA to criminal syndicates in Albania, Turkey and the European Union have been known to Western governments and intelligence agencies since the mid-1990s.” (Michael Chossudovsky – Kosovo ‘Freedom Fighters’ Financed by Organised Crime).



Deep into his article Mr Cook attempts to denigrate both Mr Milosevic and Mr Karadzic by writing the following:

“Bizarrely the two first met when Karadzic acted as psychiatrist to Milosevic, but in this case the patient seems to have had greater influence on his therapist’s mental state than the other way round. I had some insight into why Milosevic might have needed a psychiatrist when I spent a long afternoon vainly trying to reason with him to withdraw from Kosovo and avoid the need for military action. At the time I felt deeply frustrated that I had been unable to get him to grasp that we were serious, but I subsequently heard he had spent the rest of the day blind drunk on brandy, which encouraged me to believe I had been more successful than I first thought”.

This juvenile nonsense tells us more about the writer than it does the subjects. By his comment ‘drunk on brandy’ it is obvious that Mr Cook is relying on hearsay evidence which is ironic given that the entire prosecution case at the illegal Hague tribunal also revolved around hearsay evidence. (Furthermore, given his own personal history Cook is ill advised and ill equipped to delve into the realms of someone’s private behaviour).

As for diagnosing a person’s mental state perhaps the following will give us an insight into the mind and morals of Robin Cook who, as UK foreign secretary endorsed the attack described below:

‘Shortly before a planned missile strike on the headquarters of Milosevic’s ruling Socialist Party–which was located in a residential neighborhood of Belgrade–an internal memo assessing the likely civilian destruction was distributed among NATO leaders:

Next to a photograph of the party headquarters, the document said: “Collateral damage: Tier 3—high. Casualty Estimate: 50-100 Government/Party employees. Unintended Civ Casualty Est: 250—Apts in expected blast radius.”

In short, NATO anticipated that the attack could, in the worst case, kill up to 350 people, including 250 civilians living in nearby apartment buildings.

Washington and London (emphasis added) approved the target, but the French were reluctant, noting that the party headquarters also housed Yugoslav television and radio studios. “In some societies, the idea of killing journalists—well, we were very nervous about that,” said a French diplomat.”

Ultimately, Paris went along. But in going ahead with the attack, NATO appears to have directly breached Article 51 of the Geneva Convention (Protocol I), which prohibits any attack which may be expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, damage to civilian objects, or a combination thereof, which would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated.

The Socialist Party building was itself a civilian facility located hundreds of miles from the site of any military conflict. Asked by a reporter at the next day’s press briefing what military rationale lay behind the party headquarters strike, NATO spokesman Jamie Shea could not name any specific military function. Instead, he declared that NATO considered “any aspect of the power structure” in Yugoslavia to be a legitimate target, adding that the party headquarters building “contains the propaganda machinery…of the ruling Socialist Party.”

(Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting Jan 28th 2000).

What is one to make of the morality of a man who, when given notification that a planned bombing mission will likely cost the lives of approximately 250 innocent civilians, gives his approval for that mission to go ahead?


Robin Cook ends his tiresome article with these comments:

“It is equally important that there is seen to be a process of holding to account individuals for their personal responsibility. Without it we will never break the cycle of conflict in which whole ethnic groups are held collectively guilty for the acts of a few. That is what distinguishes justice from revenge.

“Haradinaj has done a greater service to Kosovo by encouraging his people to accept the rule of international law than any action he could have taken by staying in office. As a result, Kosovo may now be nearer to international acceptance of eventual independent status. Conversely Serbia will find it more difficult to resist that outcome if it persists in failing to demonstrate the same degree of cooperation with the tribunal”.

So we come to the crux of the matter and the real reason for his article and the real reason Haradinaj has gone to The Hague, ‘Kosovo may now be nearer to international acceptance of eventual independent status.’

With this statement Cook is preparing the ground for the announcement of ‘independence’ for Kosovo. Similar statements have also recently been made by Richard Holbrooke (Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations) at his speech on 11th March at the George Bush Presidential Library and by Soren Jessen-Petersen, head of the U.N. Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK). These are not coincidences. The United States has already decided to grant ‘independence’ to Kosovo no later than mid-2006. In order to achieve this it is important that the intervention in Kosovo is perceived as a ‘success story’, that Kosovo is perceived as law abiding and stable. That the opposite is true, that Kosovo, as observed by one journalist, “is the most dangerous place on earth”, is to the builders of the ‘new world order’, an irrelevance.

By hiding the reality of life in that province and falsely portraying it as a ‘success story’, the ‘international community’ are getting ready to hand over the Serbian province of Kosovo to the KLA mafia.

Despite a brief falling out with Tony Blair over the occupation of Iraq, Mr Cook is now back on message and peddling his spite against a president and a country (Yugoslavia) that not only has never attacked another country, but has never even threatened to do so. Unlike his own government who, under the cover of an ‘ethical’ foreign policy has, since 1997, launched wars against Sierre Leone, Afghanistan, Yugoslavia and Iraq twice. All of dubious legality and most just blatantly illegal.

For the benefit of Robin Cook and the Labour government we hereby remind them of The Principles of International Law recognised in the Charter of the Nuremberg Tribunal and in the Judgement of the Tribunal 1945/6. Confirmed unanimously by the General Assembly of the United Nations in Resolution 95, 11 December 1946.

Key statements from the Judgement of the Nuremberg International War Crimes Tribunal

” . . . The second aim of the trial was to establish the rules of international law for the future, so that not only the launching of wars of aggression would be illegal, but also, for the first time, to make the rulers who lead their countries into wars of aggression personally responsible for their actions.” – Lord Shawcross – Principal British Prosecutor at Nuremberg, 1945.

“To initiate a war of aggression is not only an international crime, it is the supreme international crime.”

“To initiate a war of aggression is a crime that no political or economic situation can justify.”

Ian Johnson March 2005.