Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120-136)|
THURSDAY 24 OCTOBER 2002
120. My question is a different one. Obviously
the Prime Minister has tried and succeeded to some extent but
suppose they decide to take unilateral military action and they
ask us to come with them, is it really in our interests to put
distance between ourselves and them in the way the Germans and
to some extent the French have? Forget the rights and wrongs of
the argument, do we really have any alternative?
(Lord Wright of Richmond) I have very little doubt
as to what the answer would be from Number 10 Downing Street,
but I would hope that some discreet warning could be given now
to President Bush, not publicly because nothing should be done
to reduce the pressure on Saddam Hussein, but I would hope that
there could be some discreet warning to the United States. The
Prime Minister will find it very difficult indeedand it
is not for me to talk about domestic political problemsto
go along with him without the backing of the Security Council
121. Does he have any alternative, Sir Harold?
(Sir Harold Walker) May I just say in one sense in
advance, just as a world citizen, that I do think it is terribly
important that the authority of the United Nations Security Council
be maintained because the history of mankind is a history of groups
identifying themselves in opposition to other groups, fighting,
and human nature is never going to change. We have to try very
hard to have systems in the way of international law, treaties
and institutions like the UN to control our aggressive impulses.
It would be very much away from the interests of even the superpower
if, following the League of Nations, the UN goes just because
of American action. But in answer to your question, we have no
122. I would like to press you both a little
more on your views on the regional implications of the various
scenarios that we have been describing. I think you were both
here when I asked questions of IISS on the possibilities of Iraq
either keeping or enhancing its weapons of mass destruction, and
we were talking about chemical, nuclear and biological weapons.
I would really like to know what your views are. It may well happen
because of the time it takes to get UN support and to get inspectors
in place and so on that, firstly, Saddam Hussein could already
have enhanced weapons of mass destruction and gone nuclear, or
secondly, because of the difficulty of identifying and locating
chemical and biological weapons we get to a situation where he
is given a clear bill of health and suddenly a year later he announces,
"I have got all I need to do what I want in the region".
What has been said about the Gulf is if he had nuclear weapons
then he would have gone and been okay in Kuwait. My question is
given the situation he has managed to acquire a deterrent with
weapons of mass destruction, what advice would you give to the
Government now, and if that is the case, what would happen in
terms of the power structure within that region?
(Lord Wright of Richmond) If I can, first of all,
talk as a former Deputy Political Resident in Bahrain, where we
were responsible for the Defence and Foreign Policy of all the
Arab states in the Lower Gulf. I think there is still a feeling
amongst the Gulf states that Iran poses them just as much of a
threat as Iraq. I think they are mistaken and I think that is
actually a wrong view, but never under-estimate the potential
for conflict between Arabs and the Iranians.
123. Are you suggesting that Iraq would then
(Lord Wright of Richmond) No, I think the Gulf states
will probably be too complacent about the risk of weapons of mass
destruction from Iran.
124. I am sorry, I am talking about Iraq.
(Lord Wright of Richmond) They are complacent about
a potential attack from Iraq.
125. What do you think Iraq would be doing in
the situation where it had deterrents?
(Lord Wright of Richmond) Iraq has had certain weapons
of mass destruction for a long time, as we all know, and we do
need to ask ourselves why, if they have not used them yet, they
would use them unless they are provoked by an attack from the
126. Are you saying you think Iraq's position
is one of being in defensive mode rather than aggressive, expansionist
(Lord Wright of Richmond) I think politically undoubtedly
they want to dominate the region.
127. That is my point.
(Lord Wright of Richmond) But I do not believe that
there is an imminent threat that they are going to use those weapons
of mass destruction.
128. Maybe they have not got enough yet.
(Sir Harold Walker) I do not know if the Committee
has covered this point separately but the present debate of course
in the world is about military invasion or not.
129. We are talking about the destruction of
weapons of mass destruction and the implications of not destroying
them; that is my point.
(Sir Harold Walker) I do not know whether the Committee
has considered it but what is wrong with deterrence in the region?
The then American Secretary of State in the Gulf War gave a warning
to the Iraqis that if they used weapons of mass destruction a
terrible fate would befall them, and they did not. I do not understand
why the same technique should not now be used.
130. The IISS said earlier today that if Saddam
Hussein did acquire nuclear weapons then any prospect of invading
Iraq would be off. My point is we are changing sides. Iraq has
the deterrent not the USA.
(Sir Harold Walker) That was the bit of the IISS's
evidence that surprised me.
131. It surprised me too actually.
(Sir Harold Walker) I have not thought it through
but it just surprised me. I would still maintain that deterrence
which worked in a different context with the Soviet Union, which
was a much bigger enemy, and worked in the Gulf War, really ought
to be able to work with Iraq now.
132. You are happy with the prospect that, if
my scenario is right, Iraq could have a deterrent ability through
WMD against Iran?
(Lord Wright of Richmond) That is why we want weapons
133. But this is my point; we are very, very
suspicious of their ability to track down all those weapons. We
know historically this is going to be a huge problem.
(Lord Wright of Richmond) The history of the weapons
inspectorate is not one of total failure.
134. I did not say it was, but it was not until
Saddam Hussein's son-in-law told us where they were that we discovered
(Lord Wright of Richmond) But I would question whether
an invasion is any more likely to be able to find them.
Mr Chidgey: There is a conundrum.
Sir John Stanley
135. I would like to address one final question
to you in a different area but a very relevant one and one in
which the Committee has taken a close interest. This follows the
appalling terrorist attack in Bali and the very, very serious
loss of life, indeed significant loss of life amongst British
citizens. As you will know from the Foreign Secretary's statement
in the House this week, he included in his statement an apology
on behalf of the Foreign Office that although our staff in Indonesia
clearly did their very best, they were not sufficient and were
not able to mobilise sufficiently quickly at the area of the attack
in order to be able to meet the needs of relatives and next of
Sir John Stanley
136. Lord Wright, could we have your view as
to whether you believe that it is necessary now in the world in
which we now sadly live for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office
to develop a really effective rapid response capability in terms
of diplomatic personnel, who are going to be available and who
are prepared to move at very, very short notice indeed to meet
the needs of families if there are further deeply regrettable
appalling such incidents.
(Lord Wright of Richmond) I think that is a perfectly
credible idea. It is undoubtedly true that staff on the ground
are always going to be inadequate to cope with disasters of this
sort. As you know the consular presence in Bali was one honorary
consul. Although Baroness Amos extended her apologies for the
slow response, in fact staff were sent from Jakarta and elsewhere
quite quickly. I am not suggesting that it was adequate; it was
not. Even since I finished being Permanent Under Secretary 11
years ago the number of British residents abroad and travellers
abroad has increased exponentially. I have a two year old figure
of 56.7 million British travellers abroad each year. Most of the
British casualties were, probably all of them, travellers not
residents. As you will remember very well, Sir John, the British
residents in Saudi Arabia when I became AmbassadorI think
you were my first official guest in Riyadhtotalled 30,000,
and I suspect it is not much less now. It is a happy situation
that we are so well spread round the world but it does obviously
pose very considerable problems for consular staff. I think one
problem which I tried to get across publicly when I was Permanent
Under Secretary, and that is that consular staff are not travel
agents, they are very often asked to do things that are quite
inappropriate for government officials serving broad. I think
the Foreign Secretary has said that he will examine the possibility
of a sort of flying squad. In a sense I think what you need is
a flying squad of counsellors, not foreign offices counsellors,
but people who can counsel the victims and their relations and
that is a very specialised task which I would see as being quite
a difficult one for foreign office officials to conduct themselves.
You might need trained psychologists to do it. I certainly would
not exclude the idea of a Flying Squad. What I am absolutely certain
of is that staff on the ground are never going to be adequate
to cope with the likely figures given the enormous number of British
citizens who travel abroad.
Sir John Stanley: Lord Wright and Sir Harold
Walker thank you very much for the benefit of your expertise and
experience. Thank you very much indeed.