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18 Mar 2003 : Column 807—continued

Malcolm Bruce (Gordon): I wished to pick up a point made by both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition about the comparison between the situation we are now in and 1938 that seems to me utterly inappropriate. In the confrontation between the west, and other democracies, and Iraq, the similarity with 1938 has already happened. It happened when Iraq invaded Kuwait, when the House and my party supported military action to confront Saddam Hussein and secure Kuwait's liberation. For the past 12 years, there has been an inconsistent policy towards Iraq, while that country got weaker and weaker and its capacity to inflict damage in the area reduced.

The sad situation that we have reached today is that the United Nations' own agents tell us that they believe that they are making progress towards neutralising the situation. It would be possible to secure international agreement either to accept that we can secure peaceful disarmament through the operation of the weapons inspectors or to give support for military action if the weapons inspectors conclude—after they have been given the time for which they have asked—that they cannot complete the job. Most of us now believe that we are facing a premature and pre-emptive decision to embark on military action before the process has been concluded.

Many of us are also concerned about the possible consequences. We all hope that military action will be swift and clean, with minimal casualties. However, even if not a single life is lost, at the end of that venture—if it is undertaken in the way that is proposed this week—the international community will be fractured in a way that has not been witnessed since the end of the second world war. That is because the approach to dealing with the problem has been totally incoherent, partly because the US Administration decided at the outset what they would do and demonstrated no real commitment to persuading the international community of the merits of their case.

We have been confused about whether the US objective is regime change, the defeat of international terrorism or the elimination of weapons of mass destruction. Regardless of the legal advice—and I am not competent to comment on it—we can all recognise that the only legitimate reason for the United Nations to back action in the case of Iraq would be to deal with weapons of mass destruction. That position should have been sustained throughout. The President's speech about the axis of evil and rogue states has raised many concerns about what will happen after Iraq, especially as the US attitude to the UN has been inconsistent.

At first, the US saw no real role for the UN, or any need for resolution 1441. Thanks to the British Government, resolution 1441 was achieved, with the clear understanding that a further resolution would be required. Then we were told that a second resolution was not needed, because resolution 1441 stood on its own. That leaves us with the United Kingdom divided, Europe divided, NATO divided and the UN divided. Many of us share a deep anxiety—and it grieves me to say so—that those divisions may be exactly the outcome that the Bush Administration wanted.

The US Administration appear to be motivated by a fundamentalist conviction about the rightness of their cause, the absoluteness of their power and their ability

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to confront the world and say, "We will decide who the good guys are, who the bad guys are and what course of action will be taken. Your job is to back us or make yourself our enemies."

Mr. Blunt: The hon. Gentleman makes the point that that may be the desire of some people in the US Administration. If true, would they not have that in common with the French Government, who are seeking to push the US away from a transatlantic alliance?

Malcolm Bruce: Everybody knows that the French have had their own view on transatlanticism for many years, and there is nothing new or unexpected about the position that they have adopted. Those of us with friends and relations in the US will understand the clear anxiety among the US population that they are vulnerable to attack in a way that they have never felt before and they look to their Government to demonstrate strong action to defend them against that attack. The problem is that that anxiety has encouraged a form of US nationalism that is determined to demonstrate that they can hit back hard after the shock of the terrorist attack on mainland America. Many of us were persuaded that that was legitimate in the case of Afghanistan, because the Taliban Administration was clearly harbouring the perpetrators of 11 September, and we backed that action. There is not the same connection in the case of Iraq. In those circumstances, we are entitled to argue that the case for military action has not been made.

Even if this war is quick, effective and decisive, and even if, as the right hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) claimed, opinion polls swing behind the Government because of a short, sharp, successful action—although such polls are not a concern of mine—the problems that I have described will still be there for a considerable time. How do we rebuild the ability of the international community to work together when the American Administration have demonstrated an unwillingness to use international institutions constructively?

With a number of colleagues from this House, I was in Athens yesterday at a meeting of the Western European Union. The meeting was organised by the Greek presidency of the WEU to discuss common mechanisms for Europe and America to defeat terrorism. However, everybody questioned how we could work together without a consistent engagement of trust and purpose with the American Administration, the tactics of which were based on economic bullying and political threats—such as the indication that, if France pursues its present line, it will face significant economic boycotts.

We have to consider how to rebuild the effectiveness of transatlantic co-operation in the aftermath of this war. We have to make clear our absolute determination to work together to defeat international terrorism, which threatens all of us. We need common purpose and we need to share intelligence. However, in return for a guarantee of international support, which we want to give, we are entitled to ask the Americans to acknowledge their responsibility to offer genuine leadership to the world and to show respect towards other democratic countries that do not always share the objectives of the United States and do not see the world as being defined entirely in terms of the economic

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interests of the United States. I respect the leadership role that the United States can and must give the world. However, if the United States is going to provide leadership for the world, the United States needs to provide a world leader.

3.37 pm

Clive Efford (Eltham): I want to say how much I appreciated the opening comments of the Prime Minister. I welcome his respect for the views of all those who have strong feelings on this matter. When Parliament was recalled last September, I tabled an early-day motion making my position clear. I have not moved from that position one jot. This is a challenging time for Members of Parliament and we have a heavy task in front of us in this debate. However, I have never been clearer in my mind about my position. Many people in the country feel that the inspectors have not been given time to complete their task in dealing with weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. I say to my right hon. Friends that, at this time, I fundamentally disagree with the military action that they intend to take.

Much has been made of the road map for Palestine. In the aftermath of 11 September, many people rushed to make statements on how the Palestinian issue and the middle east peace process were central to resolving the long-term problems at the heart of the cause of the tragedy that occurred, and the atrocities that were committed, that day. However, people are right to stop and take stock of what is being proposed with the road map. For me, it may not be too little, but it is certainly too late. The US may be sincere in what it says about the road map but, coming at this late stage, it smacks too much of political expediency. I have no doubt that pressure from this House has led to the road map at this late stage.

I understand something about road maps from my previous profession: the obvious route is not always the best way to get to one's destination. I do not say that to trivialise the matter. I sincerely believe that this House still has a significant role to play in ensuring that we reach the destination that we all want in terms of the middle east peace process, but it is not just a question of the views of this House, and it never has been. It is about how people in the middle east view the west and how we pursue our foreign policies and about learning the lessons of 11 September. It is about our not continuing to be, through the way in which we pursue our foreign policies, recruiting agents for Osama bin Laden and other terrorist organisations. I say to the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) that it is not an attack on Saddam Hussein that will be the recruiting agent, but the double standards that have been applied in relation to the rush to deal with Saddam Hussein at this stage and the approach taken to resolution 242, which has sat on the table for 35 years and has not been dealt with.

After 11 September, many people made the case for dealing with the middle east peace process to secure the peace for the long term. We understand the importance of ending the occupation of Palestinian territories, ending the plight of Palestinian people in their own land and stopping settlements that are in direct breach of United Nations resolutions on Palestinian territory. If

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we are to develop a new world order, we have to address those issues in tandem with the issue of weapons of mass destruction.

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