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24 Sept 2002 : Column 90—continued

5.30 pm

Mr. Peter Mandelson (Hartlepool): A number of those who have spoken and who have expressed doubts about the Americans' approach to this crisis have called on the Prime Minister to use his friendship with President Bush to influence American policy. It is worth my saying at the outset that that is precisely what the Prime Minister has done. I have no doubt that if he had not done so, this matter would not be as it is today—the United Nations Security Council being determined in the way that I believe that it will be.

That is important because it is the responsibility of the whole international community to build up the United Nations and to make it into the hard instrument of collective international action that it was originally designed to be. If we see this business through and play it properly, as I believe that the Government are, the United Nations will be strengthened in precisely the direction that we on the Labour Benches, who are passionate internationalists, want it to evolve.

Mr. Andrew Tyrie (Chichester): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Mandelson: I will not, if the hon. Gentleman will forgive me.

Dealing with Saddam is now a very challenging test for the United Nations—its greatest in recent memory, and one that I passionately believe it must not fail for the sake of the organisation's future credibility. Acting toughly and decisively through the UN, with its use of diplomacy backed by the threat of coercive action if necessary, offers the only possibility in this crisis of both avoiding war and removing the danger posed by Saddam's chemical, biological and nuclear programmes. That should be our compass. However, that will be achieved only if the UN Security Council stands resolute and united in any action

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that it undertakes. Diplomacy alone, as we all know, will easily be brushed aside by Saddam. Knowing that this time the international community means what it says is the only way to make him see sense and decide to disarm.

We are not talking about some old grenades, a few rusty rifles and a couple of bags of Semtex. We are talking about weapons with a capability that threatens Iraq's neighbours, destabilises the region and can be transferred only too easily to international terrorist networks. We should base our actions on a judgment of capability not of intent. Having said that, I ask Members why Saddam should wish to retain these weapons if he does not intend or wish to retain the ability to use them.

Of course people want to avoid war, especially action that will harm innocent people. I share that aim, but the way to avoid war is to make the UN route work effectively—confronting Saddam by that means in the expectation that, if the international community is genuinely united, tough and determined enough, Saddam will give way to the UN and disarm. The UN Security Council therefore needs to agree a clear, fresh statement of its views so that there is absolutely no ambiguity about where the international community stands on the matter.

The last thing that we should do now is lift the pressure on Saddam. He is at last listening to what the United Nations is saying, even though he still refuses at this stage to come into line. We must maintain and increase the pressure on him so that he complies with UN demands, and not allow disagreement in the Security Council to continue to paralyse the UN's essential role, as we have seen during the past decade and before.

We should not allow our resolve to be shaken in any way by Saddam's recent ploy of purporting to invite the weapons inspectors to resume their work—reverting to the relatively weak three-year-old set of inspection arrangements that got us absolutely nowhere before. Saddam wants the evasion and obfuscation to start again. I became familiar with that dynamic—rather, an undynamic—in dealing with arms in Northern Ireland, but in this case it is so much more serious because of the nature of the weapons involved.

We must be clear what it would mean to indulge Saddam's tactics, as I am afraid some of those who have spoken seem to want to do, and to permit the weapons inspection regime to be compromised. It would mean without doubt leaving Saddam's weapons programmes in place. Those who criticise the Government's more assertive approach must be honest. They have to say candidly that they are prepared to leave Saddam's weapons in place because they do not like the risk or the unattractiveness of the alternative course of action. Judging by the performance today of the leader of the Liberal Democrat party and his speeches and past radio comments, he must face up to that and be clear about it. At the moment, his lack of consistency and his incoherence mean that he is trying to have this all ways and will have it no way.

If we do not take the decisive action that needs to be taken by the UN Security Council, we will not only leave the unique danger of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction in place but reinforce in the United States precisely the trend that America's critics say that they deplore. If the UN does not follow through, if the Security

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Council does not stay firm and bring forward the clear resolution that it needs to, American confidence in the United Nations, such as it is, will simply collapse. The Americans would conclude that they were right to question going along the UN route in the first place, and American unilateralism would be boosted, with all the dangers that that would hold for the world.

Some in Europe seem to fear American unilateralism more than they fear Saddam's weapons of mass destruction, but if they do not stand up to Saddam this time, American unilateralism will be strengthened. It will not be forced into retreat. Is the collapse of the UN, which would only strengthen and boost the hawks in the American Administration, really what such critics want? Does anyone imagine that that would hold out anything that is good for the world? We must follow a policy that avoids both Saddam retaining his weapons and American hawks being strengthened in the process.

The bargain that we want to strike with the United States is that it temper its unilateralist approach to international affairs in return for the rest of the world making multilateralism work as it should and needs to in the United Nations. It is above all Europe's responsibility to make that happen. It must use its weight and skill to partner the United States in international affairs in order to strengthen the multilateralist approach in the American Administration as we want. The consequences of the failure to do that were brought home to me on a recent visit to south-east Asia where I met and addressed Muslim organisations in a number of countries. It would be a recipe for polarisation between the world's peoples—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order.

5.40 pm

Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher and Walton): It is because I think that we will have to take action against Saddam Hussein's regime that I am so concerned by the way in which the debate has been going in this country and in the United States. It is precisely because we have to face up to the threat of Saddam Hussein that we must be careful that we do not allow the debate in the west to continue in the way that it has. If it continues in that way, I do not believe that public opinion will be firmly behind any action. It will be extremely dangerous even for America, with all its military might, to take action with a fragmented international coalition.

Just under a year ago, we had a debate in the Chamber on the consequences of the disaster on 11 September. At that point, I said that it was the role of the British Government to do their best to influence people in Washington who understood that America's strength would be greater if there were an international coalition working with it. America has lost that understanding, and it is not the fault of the British Prime Minister that it has done so. I think—I certainly hope—that the influence that he has tried to use in Washington has drawn attention to the importance of wider international issues and of the United Nations.

America has taken the more unilateral route that I was worried about a year ago. It has done so not just in the military sphere but, for example, in the way in which it introduced subsidies for farmers, in how it almost swept aside the international environmental treaties and in its reaction to the International Criminal Court. Those are worrying signs.

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The United States and, certainly, the Bush Administration have decided that they are at war. America has failed to find Osama bin Laden, so one has the feeling that it has decided that it has to find someone else to be at war with. It happens to be Iraq. Do not misunderstand me. The evidence in the dossier is credible and probably understated. However, if we are to take action on that, we must believe that it is the real focus for international attention and not compensation for the fact that the Americans cannot tell their electorate before the elections on 5 November that they have failed to find Osama bin Laden. It was not long ago that the United States tried to say to the world that Iraq was a danger because of its link with al-Qaeda. Now that does not appear to be a credible part of the evidence against Saddam Hussein. The confusion is worrying people who are not against military action. They want to know why it is necessary and why now.

America has recently announced its new security strategy. Some of the things in it are very worrying. It says:

I have to say to my American friends that if they are not careful, the very action that they take in the international arena will provoke far more terrorism than we have yet seen. Incautious action against the evil regime in Iraq could well destabilise neighbouring countries in the middle east and send a message to Muslim and other terrorists worldwide that America is now fair game.

American cloaks its strategy with words from a sort of gospel, saying:

I understand that, and the strategy later says:

I happen to agree with that. However, if that is the rallying call that the United States is using, it is being insensitive to the reality of the rest of the world, which does not necessarily share those values.

The shrewd American commentator Joseph S. Nye, in the book "The Paradox of American Power", drew attention to precisely the fact that, at the point at which America is most capable militarily of conquering any other nation, it might misunderstand the fact that that very power will alienate other people to the extent that they decide to take terrorist action against the United States. It is incumbent on the most powerful nation in the world to use the other machinery that it has available—the soft policy that Joseph S. Nye mentions. It should have the ability to persuade the rest of the world that American culture is not something that it should be alienated by but something that is there to help the lives of people throughout the world.

America should also try to articulate with us what sort of future the people of Iraq will have without Saddam Hussein. In many people's minds, there is still the danger that Iraq may end up with a more fundamentalist regime that could cause other problems. We have not articulated those issues. Indeed, until today, I had not heard Opposition Front Benchers articulate the questions so ably put by my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr.

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Leigh). They are essential if we are to engage the British public. Unless we engage them, no amount of dossiers on the threat that Saddam Hussein poses will be convincing.

We must also re-engage and reanimate the United Nations, an organisation that admittedly from time to time becomes flabby and concerned merely with its own structure. It has to take the threats seriously, but we must make it equally clear to the UN and to our fellow members of the Security Council that the UN, and not the American President alone, must start to worry about the world order and where terrorism is most likely to have a disruptive effect. If we can do that, we can at least begin to engage other people. For example, we are not engaging President Putin of Russia, a country that was much mentioned in our debates after 11 September but that has not been mentioned until this moment today.

If we are not careful, the fragmented international coalition will start to create other problems that will ultimately affect the United States and we will be swept along somewhere in the middle, powerless to intervene. We must not allow a discontinuity of interest between Moscow and Washington to occur, and nor must we allow—a point that the right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) made—Europe to become fragmented. Schroder was far too opportunistic in the way that he used the issue of Iraq in German politics, but we should use our influence, with the Prime Minister meeting him, to try to rebuild a more common policy in Europe that will have its own influence in the UN so that its will is strengthened and so that it will not be brushed away by regimes such as that run by Saddam Hussein.

I believe that there will be a great danger to world stability if we take action that is not channelled through and endorsed by the United Nations. I do not believe that it is even in America's best interest to take pre-emptive or unilateral action. If we in the House can raise our voices loud enough to be heard not only in Washington but around this country, and make it clear that we are not simply acceding to American leadership but attempting to ensure that American military power can be used for good in the world, we will have achieved something by the recall of Parliament. We will be playing our proper role in the democratic process, and we might even achieve a greater prospect of peace.

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