US President George W. Bush's "war on terror" rhetoric has strengthened terrorist groups by helping them to create a shared identity, the UK development secretary, Hilary Benn, warned on Monday.
The UK Foreign Office reportedly asked politicians and diplomats to drop the phrase last year. But Benn's open criticism surprised many observers, and critics suggested he might be attempting to woo grassroots Labour activists back in the UK in his bid for the party's deputy leadership -- an accusation he later described as "unworthy."
"In the UK, we do not use the phrase `war on terror' because we can't win by military means alone, and because this isn't us against one organized enemy with a clear identity and a coherent set of objectives," he told a meeting in New York organized by the Center on International Cooperation.
"It is the vast majority of the people in the world -- of all nationalities and faiths -- against a small number of loose, shifting and disparate groups who have relatively little in common apart from their identification with others who share their distorted view of the world and their idea of being part of something bigger. What these groups want is to force their individual and narrow values on others without dialogue, without debate, through violence. And by letting them feel part of something bigger, we give them strength."
He said "hard power" was not enough: "It can certainly win the battle, but without soft power we cannot win the war that will deliver better governance, sustainable peace and lasting prosperity."
Tony Blair's spokesman said he was unsure when the prime minister had last used the term, adding: "We all use our own phraseology."
Michael Moore, the Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman, said: "The so-called `war on terror' has always been a flawed concept. Many will be cynical about Hilary Benn waiting until he is running for deputy leader of the Labour party before making these comments."
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