Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Seventh Report

Dealing with states which support terrorism


192. The "Bush Doctrine" has been gradually extended since 11 September. First, President Bush had sworn to go after terrorists. Then he had sworn to go after states which sponsor terrorism or harbour terrorists.[193] By the beginning of 2002, he was pledging to include in his war against terrorism those states which possess weapons of mass destruction which might fall into the hands of terrorists. In the State of the Union address on 29 January, he set out his "two great objectives:"

"First, we will shut down terrorist camps, disrupt terrorist plans, and bring terrorists to justice. And, second, we must prevent the terrorists and regimes who seek chemical, biological or nuclear weapons from threatening the United States and the world."

193. In his State of the Union address, President Bush described North Korea, Iran and Iraq "and their terrorist allies" as an "axis of evil" which poses a "grave and growing danger... In any of these cases, the price of indifference would be catastrophic."[194] The "axis" states were clearly linked in the speech to terrorism, and Bush went on to declare that the US would "work closely with our coalition to deny terrorists and their state sponsors the materials, technology, and expertise to make and deliver weapons of mass destruction."[195] In May, Under Secretary of State John Bolton named Libya, Syria and Cuba as further states "beyond the axis of evil," against which the United States was prepared to take action if necessary.[196]


194. The President's State of the Union address exposed disagreements in the international coalition against terrorism, which until that point had displayed remarkable unanimity of purpose. One of the most vociferous critics of the "axis of evil" notion was European Commissioner for External Relations, Chris Patten, who described the President's speech as "absolutist and simplistic."[197] Other European leaders expressed similar concerns. The French Foreign Minister described the "axis of evil" notion as "simplistic,"[198] and the German Deputy Foreign Minister stated that diplomatic rather than military means should be employed to deal with Iraq's WMD.[199]

195. The Foreign Secretary commented after President Bush's speech that the "axis of evil" was more of a vote-winning tactic in forthcoming US elections than a military strategy. Speaking after talks with US Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Mr Straw said President Bush's comments were "best understood by the fact that there are mid-term congressional elections coming up in November."[200] However, Condoleezza Rice said: "This is not about American politics, and I assume that when the British government speaks about foreign policy, it's not about British politics."[201]

196. A different emphasis came from the Prime Minister, who in his speech during the Crawford summit with President Bush said that "where countries are engaged in the terror or WMD business, we should not shirk from confronting them. Some can be offered a way out, a route to respectability. I hope in time that Syria, Iran and even North Korea can accept the need to change their relations dramatically with the outside world. A new relationship is on offer. But they must know that sponsoring terrorism or WMD is not acceptable."[202]

197. Where there was criticism of the President's speech, it focused on two areas of difference. Firstly, there was some concern about the effects that the speech would have on the policies of the countries mentioned as being part of the "axis". A number of EU members expressed concern that this notion would weaken reformers in Iran. The European Union has been engaging with regimes there and in North Korea in an attempt to promote gradual liberalization. There was also concern that these countries would be less likely, after the State of the Union address, to co-operate in the global campaign against terrorism.

198. We now consider two of the countries named by President Bush as members of the "axis of evil": Iran, and Iraq.


199. We heard in Washington in March that the response of democratic forces in Iran to the State of the Union address had been positive. According to those to whom we spoke, the compromise policies of the European Union are perceived to appease those in the existing government who are not genuinely committed to reform. However, Rosemary Hollis told us a different story: "Contrary to what the Americans expected, that speech did actually play into the hands of the hardliners in Iran and made it more difficult for the reformists ... Maybe there is an idea here that they can be bullied into a more co-operative attitude, but I think there is a complete misunderstanding of where the Iranians are coming from." Dr Hollis felt that the European countries had an important role to play here, "to keep the lines open ... it would be most unfortunate if the Iranians thought that everybody in the West really did think that they were no better than the Iraqi regime."[203]

200. In our Report on British-US Relations of December 2001, we urged the Government to continue to engage with Iran constructively. The Government, in its response, reaffirmed its policy of "deepening our relations... [while maintaining] a robust dialogue on issues of concern to both HMG and our allies."[204] To its credit, the Government has maintained this position since President Bush's "axis of evil" speech. When he gave evidence before the Committee in April 2002, Foreign Office Minister Ben Bradshaw said that "We have a different analysis of how we encourage change for the good in Iran and, as on a number of other areas, where we disagree with our American friends we are not reluctant to say so."[205]

201. The US Embassy in London told us that Iran needs "to stabilize Afghanistan, end support for terrorism and for groups violently opposed to the Middle East peace process, end development of WMD and ballistic missiles, and end human rights abuses."[206] We agree, but we believe that in the case of Iran these aims are more likely to be achieved by robust dialogue and critical engagement with reformers than by sending Tehran a list of non-negotiable demands. In our judgment, to bracket Iran with Iraq was mistaken: Iraq is an unredeemed autocracy; while Iran has a number of elements of democracy and has been moving, however falteringly, in the direction of reform. We conclude that the Government is right to maintain its constructive and—whenever necessary—critical engagement with Iran.


202. Shortly after 11 September, some commentators speculated that Iraq might have been responsible for the attacks.[207] Iraq's enmity with the US and Britain and its refusal since 1998 to admit UN weapons inspectors to verify the dismantling of its weapons of mass destruction make it an obvious suspect as a state sponsor of terrorism. On 5 December, we asked the Foreign Secretary whether there would be a second phase of the war against terrorism. Though he replied that the war against terrorism would go on "in the general sense ... because we need to ensure the kind of threat that was before the world on 11th September cannot take place again," he was unwilling to speculate about military action against particular targets.[208] Since December, Iraq has been identified as the state most likely to be targeted.

203. When we visited Washington DC in March, we gained some sense of the "widespread agreement" between government agencies over the need to proceed against Iraq, but also of the uncertainties over exactly how to proceed.[209] Some of those with whom we discussed the issue suggested that the overthrow of Saddam Hussein might be possible without full scale invasion. Others have pointed to the difficulties associated with administering a defeated Iraq post-invasion. In mid-March, what was clear was that huge resources were being devoted to the development of plans to act against the Iraqi regime, and that few had faith in the UN route towards control of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

Policy on 'regime change' in Iraq

204. President Bush's State of the Union address initiated an energetic debate about whether and when the United States would take military action against Iraq.[210] Secretary of State Colin Powell stated before a House International Relations Committee hearing on 6 February that "The President is determined to keep [the issue of Iraq] on the front burner and is looking at all the options that are available for him to deal with this in a decisive way... We still have a US policy of regime change because we believe Saddam Hussein should move on and that the Iraqi people deserve better leadership." Secretary Powell also suggested that "regime change is something the United States ... might have to do alone."[211]

205. We heard during our visit to Washington in March that Vice President Cheney had not heard anything unexpected during his tour of the Middle East, one aim of which was to gauge and promote support for action against Iraq. On 6 April, President Bush said that "the policy of my government is the removal of Saddam and... all options are on the table... Maybe I should be a little less direct and be a little more nuanced, and say we support regime change."[212]

206. However, the implications of continuing conflict in Israel and the occupied territories, and the difficulty of mounting a military operation in Iraq, may have contributed to the Administration's apparent decision to postpone military action. By late April, senior administration, Pentagon and military officials had evidently reached a "consensus... that there is little chance for a military coup to unseat [Saddam] Hussein from within" and that not "even an expanded version of the strategy used to oust the Taliban from Afghanistan would work... Hussein's military... is strong enough to defeat any confrontation by proxy." Considerations over the security of oil supplies were cited as "another reason to put off any offensive against Iraq".[213]

207. UK policy on regime change in Iraq was enunciated by the Prime Minister during the Crawford summit in April 2002: "I can say that any sensible person looking at the position of Saddam Hussein and asking the question, 'Would the region, the world, and not least the ordinary Iraqi people, be better off without the regime of Saddam Hussein?', the only answer anyone could give to that question would be 'yes'."[214] The Prime Minister appears to have chosen his words carefully, and deliberately to have stopped short of supporting regime change by force.

208. On 25 April, Foreign Office Minister Denis MacShane said in Westminster Hall: "To debate whether a change of regime is desirable in Iraq—it certainly is, in my view—is a mistake. Our discussion on Iraq should focus on trying to press, and if necessary force Saddam Hussein to comply with the United Nations resolutions on weapons inspections."[215] There is thus a difference of emphasis between the British and American positions on regime change.

209. We recommend that in its response to this Report the Government clarify whether its policy is to bring about 'regime change' in Iraq.

Policy on weapons inspectors

210. On 12 March, the Foreign Secretary told the House that "in our judgment it is more important than ever that inspectors from the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission and the International Atomic Energy Agency be given access to all relevant sites, to be allowed to inspect freely wherever they want to, at whatever time they wish to. That is the action which Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi regime must take to come back into the international community, for what lies at the heart of this issue is the rule of international law."[216]

211. Our predecessor Committee, in its July 2000 Report on Weapons of Mass Destruction, urged the Government "strongly to resist any attempt to dilute the international inspectors' powers of inspection or to compromise with Iraq on the composition of the Commission."[217] Iraq could attempt to bypass UNMOVIC completely, for example by acceding to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), thereby opening its chemical facilities to the scrutiny of OPCW inspectors. Such a move would, however, leave Iraq's nuclear and biological weapons programmes unmonitored. We therefore remain strongly of the view that UNMOVIC should return to Iraq and we share the Government's position that this should be on the basis that inspections may be carried out at any time, in any place.

212. We recommend that the Government propose a deadline for Iraqi compliance with UN Security Council Resolutions requiring Iraq to allow inspection of its nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programmes.

The legal basis for military action against Iraq

213. The legal basis for an attack on Iraq would depend on the circumstances in which such action was taken. On 16 April, we asked the FCO for a memorandum "setting out the Government's interpretation of the circumstances in which further military action against Iraq—unrelated to ongoing reinforcement of the no-fly zones—would be covered by existing Security Council Resolutions; if so, by which Resolutions such actions would be covered; and if not, on what legal basis such action might be carried out." The Government replied


"The Committee will appreciate that it is difficult to answer a hypothetical question precisely. In general terms we would regard the use of force against Iraq, or indeed any State, as lawful if it had been authorised by the United Nations Security Council, or were in exercise of the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence, or, exceptionally, were carried out to avert an overwhelming humanitarian catastrophe."

214. Mr Straw replied in the same vein on 5 December, that "if country X received very good information that country Y or terrorist group Z is about to attack it, and takes action in self-defence to avoid that attack, it is acting consistently with Article 51 but the exact circumstances are going to vary."[218] The FCO memorandum goes on:

"As to the relevant resolutions, following Iraq's invasion and annexation of Kuwait, the Security Council authorised the use of force in resolution 678 (1990). This resolution authorised coalition forces to use all necessary means to force Iraq to withdraw, and to restore international peace and security in the area. It provided a legal basis in addition to the right of collective self-defence for operation Desert Storm, which was brought to an end by the cease-fire set out by the Council in resolution 687 (1991). The conditions for the cease-fire in that resolution (and subsequent resolutions) imposed obligations on Iraq with regard to the elimination of WMD and monitoring of its obligations. Resolution 687 (1991) suspended but did not terminate the authority to use force in resolution 678 (1990).

A violation of Iraq's obligations which undermines the basis of the cease-fire in resolution 687 (1991) can revive the authorisation to use force in resolution 678 (1990). Most recently, in resolution 1205 (1998) the Council condemned Iraq's decision to cease co-operation with UNSCOM as a flagrant violation of resolution 687 (1991). This had the effect of reviving the authorisation to use force in resolution 678 (1990), which provided the legal basis for our participation in operation Desert Fox. ...

We do not rule out the need to take further military action in future. Whether further action by the Security Council was needed would depend on the circumstances at the time. But as we have always made clear, any military action the UK undertakes anywhere in the world will be carried out in accordance with international law."

215. All the UN Security Council resolutions cited by the FCO pertain to the specific case of Iraq. The FCO does not mention Security Council resolutions 1368 and 1373, which were passed after 11 September and which would allow the United States to act in self-defence under Article 51 of the UN Charter if had information that it was facing an imminent threat of attack from Iraq. This is consistent with the Foreign Secretary's statement to us on 5 December, that the question of Iraq's WMD is "a separate matter from culpability for the atrocities of 11th September. As I have said before... I have seen no evidence to link the Iraqi regime with Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda or the Taliban." The Foreign Secretary expressed grave concern about Iraq's weapons development, and stated the Government's belief that "dramatic steps... have to be taken."[219] Again, in April 2002, we asked Ben Bradshaw whether sufficient evidence existed to link Iraq with al Qaeda which could give any basis in international law for military intervention in Iraq: he answered with a straight "No".[220]

216. The United Kingdom's position, therefore, can be summarised as follows: an attack against Iraq could be justified under international law in response to Iraqi aggression or to prevent imminent Iraqi aggression. It could not be taken under the UN Security Council Resolutions authorising military force against the perpetrators of the events of 11 September, unless clear evidence existed of a link between Iraq and the perpetrators.

217. The US view is set out in the memorandum from their London Embassy: "When governments violate the rights of their people on a large scale—be it as an act of conscious policy or the byproduct of a loss of control—the international community has the right, and sometimes even the obligation, to act. ... Countries affected by states that abet, support, or harbor international terrorists, or are incapable of controlling terrorists operating from their own territory, have the right to take action to support their own citizens."[221]

218. That view is consistent with what the Director of Policy Planning in the State Department, Richard Haass, described recently as a "body of ideas ... about what you might call the limits to sovereignty. Sovereignty entails obligations. One is not to massacre your own people. Another is not to support terrorism in any way. If a government fails to meet these obligations, then it forfeits some of the advantages of sovereignty... Other governments, including the United States, gain the right to intervene. In the case of terrorism, this can even lead to a right of preventive... self-defence. You essentially can act in anticipation if you have grounds to think it's a question of when, and not if, you're going to be attacked."

219. We held talks with Mr Haass when we visited Washington DC in November 2001. We discussed with him then his ideas about how the US should work with allies. Haass explained his view that the US needs allies—"we can't impose our ideas on everyone"—but that "posses" of such allies should be coalesced according to the requirements of specific situations rather than necessarily through existing international institutions. "The goal of US foreign policy," he argues, "should be to persuade other major powers to sign on to certain key issues as to how the world should operate: opposition to terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, support for free trade, democracy, markets."[222]

220. The international coalition that has been assembled to fight terrorism since 11 September resembles in many ways Haass's "posse." It has no formal structure and the US can include or exclude partners according to whether they are willing to go along with US policy, or not: these partners simply have to choose whether they are "with us or against us." The benefits for the US of the use of this kind of coalition are clear. The US can avoid appearing to be acting unilaterally, yet it is not bound by the need to proceed through established international procedures and laws, nor must it make compromises to partners through joint decision making (as it was in the Kosovo war, where it acted through NATO).

221. Our discussions with a number of US officials in Washington and New York in March 2002 confirmed that the views articulated by Richard Haass have wide currency. To take the most immediate example, in the case of Iraq we gained the impression that established international legal standards would be of secondary importance compared with the need to take action in a world which has "seen an evolution in how the international community views sovereignty."[223] The impression we obtained from those with whom we discussed the question was that, instead of establishing first whether military action would be legal, the US would act first and then use international law to defend its action retrospectively if it were possible to do


222. Currently such a right of pre-emptive attack exists only where the state concerned has information that it is under the threat of imminent attack.[224] The notion that the US Administration has drawn up a new "body of ideas" which gives it the "right" to pre-emptive intervention suggests that either the Administration has a different interpretation of existing international law from that which generally persists, or it has limited confidence in the legal base for proposed action on the existing evidence. Professor Roberts characterises this as "a school of thought that in a war against brutal terrorists, certain normal restraints and safeguards might not


223. A further articulation of the US Government's view of the right to pre-emptive military action came recently from the President himself. Speaking at the West Point military academy President Bush said "We must take the battle to the enemy, disrupt his plans, and confront the worst threats before they emerge." He went on to say "Containment is not possible when unbalanced dictators with weapons of mass destruction can deliver those weapons on missiles or secretly provide them to terrorist allies... In the world we have entered, the only path to safety is the path of action. And this nation will act."[225]

224. The Committee recommends that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in its response to this report sets out the British Government's view as to the circumstances in which a pre-emptive military strike would be legally justified.

225. Differing interpretations of international law could damage the cohesion of the coalition. As Professor Adam Roberts wrote to us: a "perception that the states involved in a coalition are observing basic international standards may contribute to public support for military operations within the member states; support (or at least tacit consent) from other states for coalition operations; and avoidance of disputes within and between coalition member states. In short, there can be strong prudential considerations (not necessarily dependent on reciprocity in observance of the law by all the parties to a war) which militate in favour of observing the laws of war."[226]

226. Existing international laws and treaties safeguard the United Kingdom's security and interests, and we believe that it remains firmly in Britain's interests to strengthen the international legal standards and principles enshrined in the UN Charter and other international documents and treaties. In particular, the United Nations Security Council is the forum within which the differences between states which are not natural allies can be expressed and worked out. The international war against terrorism will only achieve lasting success if it can command the widest possible measure of international support.

227. The Government specified in its "Campaign Objectives" document that "any action taken to achieve our objectives will need to be in conformity with international law, including the UN Charter and international humanitarian law."[227] We strongly endorse this statement. It is in the United Kingdom's interests to ensure that international legal standards are respected and strengthened globally, and the war against terrorism should not be permitted to become an exception to this rule. We recommend that the Government work with the United States to ensure that any action taken against Iraq, or against any other state in the war against terrorism, conforms with international law.

Making the case for further military action

228. We described in paragraphs 33 to 40 above the Government's publication of documents outlining its objectives in the war against terrorism. In the first 'phase' of the war, this helped to hold together the international coalition in advance of military action in Afghanistan.

229. The international coalition against terrorism was initially very strong, in part because its objectives were so clearly defined. If military action is to be taken against Iraq—or against any other state—the objectives will have to be no less clearly defined, and a full justification will have to be provided.

230. The Government promised to publish a dossier of evidence incriminating Iraq, which was presumed to have similar objectives to the Osama bin Laden "responsibility" document detailed above.[228] However, no dossier of new information has been produced. According to the Financial Times, intelligence officials "believe Downing Street and sectors of the Foreign Office acted precipitately by letting it be known that such a dossier was in the pipeline before Easter and before a final draft had been fully cleared through the internal Whitehall machinery." On 19 April, the "Foreign Office confirmed that the dossier no longer had a firm publication date, and that a final draft had still to be agreed."[229] A few days later, Mr Bradshaw told us that "We will put more evidence in the public domain and we will publish in whatever form we think is the most effective"[230]

231. In late April 2002, we asked the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to supply the Committee with a copy of the dossier. In reply, the FCO stated that the document is still being prepared, and that no decision has yet been taken on when to publish it.[231] From this reply, we infer that the dossier will be published at some point.

232. Then, on 1 May, the Government published information on material which is believed to remain in Iraq, and which could be used to develop or to deliver weapons of mass destruction, as follows:

"The latest assessment of material unaccounted for by UNSCOM inspectors which has potential implications for Iraq's CBW programmes is as follows:

-  up to 3,000 tonnes of precursor chemicals, approximately 300 tonnes of which, in the Iraqi CW programme, were unique to the production of VX nerve agent;

-  up to 360 tonnes of bulk CW agent including 1.5 tonnes of VX;

-  over 30,000 special munitions for delivery of chemical and biological agents;

-  large quantities of growth media acquired for use in the production of biological weapons—enough to produce over three times the amount of anthrax Iraq admits to having manufactured.

... [These findings] reinforce our judgement that Iraq's chemical and biological capabilities are substantial and a very real danger to the region and the wider world."[232]

The list constitutes alarming reading. It is information of this kind which, in combination with other information, might eventually persuade coalition allies, their governments and people, that further action is justified.

233. We recommend that the Government follow the precedent which it set in the period leading up to military action in Afghanistan, and publish the fullest possible documentation on the need for any further military action, before such action is seriously contemplated. While nothing should be published which might compromise sources or methods of intelligence, the Government must try to secure the widest possible support in Parliament and among the British people if it is proposing to risk the lives of British servicemen and women as part of a further phase of the war against terrorism.


234. Vice President Dick Cheney visited Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Israel, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates in March 2002. The visit was widely perceived as an attempt to win support in the region for action against Iraq. However, the reaction he received from the governments of these countries was distinctly cool, particularly in the light of escalating violence in the Middle East: the international context had moved in Iraq's favour as a consequence of the escalation of the intifada, and the Iraqi leader was received with some warmth by fellow Arab leaders at the Council of the League of Arab States in Beirut on 26-28 March 2002.

235. The British Prime Minister, Foreign Secretary and other Ministers have also travelled widely and frequently in order to reassure nervous allies, bolster the international coalition, and make the case for a robust response to international terrorism. Such direct contacts are very necessary. As even the awful memory of 11 September fades, and as the bloody conflict in the Middle East continues, the unity and purpose of the coalition will come under increasing strain. Then, the skills of its leading members will be put to the test.

236. The US Embassy in London provided us with a statement of their administration's attitude towards the international coalition: "The US has demonstrated that it can and will act alone when necessary. By the same token, we do not take lightly the costs to ourselves and to others when we forego participation in some multilateral initiative."[233] We take heart from this statement, but we do not underestimate the difficulties which may lie ahead in preserving the "multilateral initiative" which is the international coalition against global terrorism.

237. We commend Ministers for what they have already done to build and maintain the international coalition against terrorism. We recommend that the Government continue to give a high priority to maintaining the coalition; to achieving the full commitment of its members; and in particular to persuading the United States of the value of continuing to operate through it.

193   President George W Bush's address to the nation, 8.30pm EST, 11 September 2001:

http:/ Back

194   State of the Union address, 29 January 2002: Back

195   Ibid. Back

196   John R Bolton Speech to the Heritage Foundation, Washington DC, 6 May 2002, "Beyond the Axis of Evil: Additional Threats from Weapons of Mass Destruction", Back

197   See Back

198   Financial Times, 13 February 2002. Back

199   Bush warned over "axis of evil", Guardian, 5 February 2002. Back

200   'Straw accused of 'mocking' Bush,' CNN, 2 February 2002: Back

201   'Bush warned over axis of evil,' The Guardian, 5 February 2002. Back

202   See Back

203   Q177. Back

204   Cm. 5372, p 7. Back

205   Q280. Back

206   See Ev 105 (US reply), para 41. Back

207   For example, immediately after the attacks James Woolsey, the former CIA director, and Wesley Clarke, the former NATO commander in Europe, suggested that the terrorist operation probably had state sponsorship, and mentioned Iraq as a suspect.  Back

208   Q44. Back

209   See Seymour Hersh, 'The debate within,' The New Yorker, 11 March 2002. Back

210   See, for example, Back

211   'Powell says US is examining full range of options on Iraq,' US Department of State press release: Back

212   See Crawford Press Conference at Back

213   See New York Times, 28 April 2002. Back

214   See Back

215   Official Report, 25 April 2002, col. 176WH. Back

216   Official Report, 12 March 2002, col. 744. Back

217   Eighth Report from the Foreign Affairs Committee, Session 1999-2000, Weapons of Mass Destruction, HC 407, para 23. Back

218   Q50. Back

219   Q52. Back

220   Q272. Back

221   See Ev 102 (US reply), para 7. Back

222   "The Debate Within", Seymour Hersh, The New Yorker, 11 March 2002:

http:www.newyorker-com/printable/?fact/020311fa_FACT. Back

223   See Ev 102 (US reply), para 6. Back

224   This is articulated in Article 51 of the UN Charter-see footnote 65 above. Back

225   See West Point graduation speech at­3.html Back

226   See Ev 84, para 4. Back

227   FCO website: Back

228   See paragraph 36. Back

229   'Blair dossier on Iraq is delayed indefinitely,' Financial Times, 20/21 April 2002, p.2. Back

230   Q293. Back

231   See Ev 107. Back

232   Official Report, 2 May 2002, col. 929W . Back

233   See Ev 102 (US reply), para 8. Back

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