Previous SectionIndexHome Page

11 Mar 2003 : Column 172—continued

Specialist Schools (Selection by Aptitude)

Mr. David Chaytor accordingly presented a Bill to repeal the provisions of the School Standards and Framework Act 1988 enabling specialist schools to select pupils on the basis of aptitude; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 11 July, and to be printed [Bill 69].

11 Mar 2003 : Column 173


[2nd Allotted Day]


Foreign and Commonwealth Office

War Against Terrorism

[Relevant documents: Second Report from the Foreign Affairs Committee, Session 2002–03, on Foreign Policy Aspects of the War against Terrorism, HC 196, and the Government's response thereto, Cm 5739; and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Annual Report 2002, Cm 5413.]

Motion made, and Question proposed,

Mr. Speaker: Before I call the right hon. Member for Swansea, East (Donald Anderson), I inform the House that there is a limit of 15 minutes on Back-Bench speeches, but that does not include the right hon. Gentleman.

1.3 pm

Donald Anderson (Swansea, East): I am grateful both for that information, Mr. Speaker, and the opportunity to open the debate.

Estimates days are always based on something of a fiction—in this case, the relevant estimate is the provision of about £5 million to be spent on increased security for posts in the middle east. The report by the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, however, ranged far more widely—hence there is a double fiction, as I anticipate that much of today's debate will focus on the crisis in Iraq.

As a Welshman, I like to begin with a text, and the appropriate text today is attributed to Voltaire:

Our first report on foreign policy aspects of the war against terrorism was published in June 2002, and focused on intelligence before 11 September; the formation of the international coalition and military action in Afghanistan; and post-Taliban reconstruction. In my speech in Westminster Hall on that report on 31 October, I promised the House that the Foreign Affairs Committee would keep the issue high on the agenda; hence our second report in the series, published in December, and today's important debate. Our second report, like all reports produced by the Committee during this Parliament, was unanimous, which shows the readiness of colleagues of all parties serving on the Committee to work together to reach a consensus. I pay tribute to the expertise, dedication, and focus of my Committee colleagues for their sustained commitment to that cause.

In 2001, about 3,000 people lost their lives because of terrorism. The action taken in Afghanistan has certainly disrupted the al-Qaeda network, but no one can be in

11 Mar 2003 : Column 174

any doubt that it still has the capacity to inflict great damage. In just two weeks last autumn, over 300 people were killed. The Committee's view is that

We cannot afford to be complacent.

I shall explain how our inquiry was carried out. Since the war against terrorism began on 11 September 2001, we have visited New York and Washington on three occasions, most recently in October 2002. On all our visits, we held meetings with UN officials and representatives of member states in New York, and US officials at the State Department, the Pentagon and the National Security Council. We also met a number of our colleagues and friends on Capitol Hill. Indeed, doors opened wide for us—the special relationship has become a reality—so we are grateful to the US Administration, the State Department and Congress, as well as our own Foreign Office. Our visit to Copenhagen in July enabled us to discuss EU measures on counter-terrorism with our Danish colleagues. In January this year, we met the Greek presidency and learned of the astonishing co-operation between the Greek intelligence agencies and our own which led to the identification of the N17—17 November—suspects, responsible, it is said, for the murder of our defence attaché, Brigadier Saunders.

In the course of our inquiry, we heard oral evidence from academics and other experts, including two professors of international law, and from former US officials, who spoke about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. Recently, we held a particularly interesting evidence session on Iran, and took evidence from the Foreign Secretary. Our wide-ranging report deals with multilateral developments, developments in US foreign policy, al-Qaeda, Iraq and the anticipation of war. I shall highlight two key aspects.

First, it is hardly surprising that the issue of Iraq figured prominently in our inquiry. We considered the threat, the question of disarming, and the possibility of military action. I remind the House that the report was published on 17 December—obviously, there have been major developments since, particularly at the United Nations Security Council and, indeed, there was a debate in the House on 26 February.

The Committee reached some key conclusions. The possibility that Saddam Hussein might employ terrorist methods must be taken seriously, but there is no compelling evidence linking the Iraqi regime to al-Qaeda.

Llew Smith (Blaenau Gwent): Does my right hon. Friend believe that the Government have got their priorities wrong, as they seem to have set aside £1.75 billion to fight a war against Iraq or, as they say, against terrorism, although it now seems to be a blank cheque, yet they can find only £100 million to deal with humanitarian emergencies, not just in Iraq but worldwide?

Donald Anderson: I anticipate that, if the commitments of the Government and of our major allies are proved true and if there is a war, there will certainly be ample funds available for the reconstruction of Iraq.

The evidence of Iraq's retention and continued development of weapons of mass destruction is compelling and a cause for considerable concern. Again,

11 Mar 2003 : Column 175

we drew attention to the failure to address the threat from Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, which could pose very high risks to the security of British interests in the middle east and the Gulf region. We said that Iraq must not be permitted to continue to defy the authority of the United Nations. We cited the unanimous adoption of Security Council resolution 1441 on 8 November, which states that the obligation to disarm is absolutely clear, and that this is "a final opportunity". It also set out the tests of immediate and unconditional co-operation.

Mr. Stephen McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green): When the Committee said that Iraq should not be allowed to continue to defy the United Nations and that this was a final opportunity, what kind of time scale was it thinking about? Did it think that Iraq should not be allowed to continue to defy the United Nations for several months, or for years, or into the dim and distant future? Did the Committee think that "final" meant something other than "final", or was it absolutely clear about the words that it was using? Did it understand this to mean that defiance should cease, and that "final" should mean the last opportunity?

Donald Anderson: My hon. Friend will recall that any so-called second resolution will be the 18th resolution, and so long as "immediate" is not defined as "immediate", and "final" not defined as "final", the Security Council will lose credibility for its own resolutions.

I commend the Government's commitment always to work within international law. We recommended that they should do their utmost to ensure the adoption of a further Security Council resolution, as, in our judgment, resolution 1441 would not provide unambiguous authorisation. International law rarely appears to give absolutely clear direction.

Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford): I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. Perhaps I interrupted him a little too quickly. I think that the phrase involved here is "all necessary means", which I believe is diplomatic-speak for going to war. Does he know whether the resolution currently being circulated in the United Nations includes the phrase "all necessary means", and would he consider that a legal basis for action?

Donald Anderson: "Serious consequences" is the phrase in the relevant paragraph of resolution 1441, which also contains a number of other phrases that have special meaning for diplomats and which may mean something other than the ordinary observer might think. Perhaps the Minister can enlighten us on this later, but there has been a whole series of draft resolutions, and I genuinely do not know what is in the latest one now before the Security Council.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Donald Anderson: I must make some progress. I will give way later.

In our judgment, the Government are right to take a robust stance in the face of the continued defiance of Security Council resolutions by Saddam Hussein.

11 Mar 2003 : Column 176

Saddam's defiance does indeed damage the credibility of the United Nations—it also threatens British interests—but the Government must maintain a position consistent with international law. Any military action against the Iraqi regime must be legally justified, and should only be taken


I do not intend to digress into speculation on what will or will not happen during the current intense negotiations in New York. The subject was debated fully in the House on 26 February and we hope for an early debate within the next few days.

The second area that I would like to tackle is the doctrine of pre-emptive self-defence. For me, this was one of the most important parts of the report, and it is highly relevant to the Iraq situation. I do not apologise to the House for dwelling on this, because I do not think it has been given sufficient consideration.

We began to investigate the US Administration's thinking on pre-emptive self-defence early in 2002, the President having first outlined the doctrine in January. The doctrine was spelled out more clearly in the national security strategy, which was published shortly before we visited Washington in October last year. In the strategy, the Administration explained:

The Administration therefore saw a


Two experts in international law appeared before the Committee. They were lawyers with major reputations as academics and practitioners. Professors Brownlie and Greenwood appeared before us on 24 October. It was a fascinating session, we were most grateful to them, and I commend their evidence to colleagues. It does something of an injustice to the sophistication of their arguments to summarise them, but their contribution was so valuable that it must have some mention. Both referred to the famous Caroline dispute, which is the classical definition of the right of self-defence in international law. In 1837, British forces took action in Canada against a US merchant vessel which Canadian rebels and American sympathisers had used as a base for attacks on the British.

Professor Brownlie took the more conservative position. For him, the Caroline case raised the question: what is the level of necessity? He suggested that pre-emptive action was open to abuse, and mentioned the danger that could have arisen if the doctrine had been applied during the cold war in 1962, for example. He believed that is was better not to invent a new umbrella of subjective action, and stated in his memorandum that pre-emptive attacks, as envisaged in US policy statements, would be in violation of the United Nations charter.

11 Mar 2003 : Column 177

Professor Greenwood, on the other hand, took a more expansive account of international law. He believed that we had to take into account the military developments since Caroline. That incident involved a group of men with rifles, which are very different from the chemical, biological or nuclear weapons available today. Obviously, such weapons are much more difficult to detect, it is more difficult to determine the time scale involved in their use, and it would be far more damaging if the threat were to materialise. We agreed that we must start with article 51 of the United Nations charter, but according to Professor Greenwood, it must be interpreted in the light not only of what went before and of the drafters' intentions, but of its interpretation by states since 1945 and of common sense.

Professor Greenwood quoted Judge Higgins, who said:

The professor argued that there must be a right of anticipatory self-defence, and that we need to find a balance between too loose a definition, which every state could use as a licence for action, and a definition so restrictive that it would not fit the conditions of today. The problem, as always, resolves itself into where to draw the line.

The Committee was concerned about precedent, and that there would be a risk of other, less law-abiding states using the doctrine to legitimise aggressive force. For example, could India cite the right to take military action against Pakistan, or vice versa? Could China use the doctrine to justify an invasion of Taiwan? At the same time, we recognised the implications of new threats. At paragraph 161 of the report, we concluded that the notion of "imminence" should be reconsidered, and that international law must evolve to deal with new threats.

The Government's response, produced in February this year, was clear. The right to self-defence is well established in international law, not only after attack but before, if an attack is imminent. In the Government's view,

I wonder, for example, whether Israel's action against Iraq's nuclear reactor in 1981 would now receive the totally hostile chorus of disapproval from the Security Council that it received at the time. The threat would probably be considered insufficiently imminent, although under a more extended definition, it might be used as a trigger for action against Iran's nuclear reactor.

The broader context of international law encompasses matters raised by Guantanamo bay and the rights of refugees deemed by the US to be unlawful combatants. International legal treaties since the second world war were conceived and drawn up in circumstances very different from the present ones. There is a powerful case, in our view, for revisiting that group of international laws, not to develop an entirely new system, but to build on and adapt existing law to a world where threats are often posed not by states, but by

11 Mar 2003 : Column 178

non-state actors. International law is not static; it is a living body. It must, however, remain relevant. If not, powerful states will seek to ignore or circumvent it. The debate is only just beginning.

More recently, I note the open letter by 16 lawyers with the view that a pre-emptive self-defence strike against Iraq would have no justification in international law. It is clearly important to have a wide-ranging and ongoing discussion on the subject. The real problem is perhaps illustrated by the failure in the United Nations to agree a definition of terrorism.

I shall give a quick update since the report was produced last December. Clearly, the war against terrorism continues. In this country, there have been arrests, the discovery of ricin, and the death of DC Oake, and key al-Qaeda operatives have been captured in Pakistan and elsewhere. Iraq continues to dominate the headlines.

How do we carry forward the war against terrorism? There are three major issues central to British security in the medium and long term. What are the implications of the strains in the international community for the long-term war against terrorism and international law generally? If it was the aim of Saddam Hussein not just to buy time, but to divide the international community, he has done so magnificently. We think of the blow to NATO, the divisions within the United Nations Security Council, with the risk that the United States will see the council as irrelevant and walk away from it, the developments within the European Union, making the evolution of a common foreign and security policy a more distant prospect, and EU-US relations at a very low ebb, with Secretary Rumsfeld castigating "old Europe". All those international networks are adversely affected by the crisis in Iraq.

Next Section

IndexHome Page