Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120-136)



  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 indeed—and it is not for me to talk about domestic political problems—to go along with him without the backing of the Security Council resolution.

  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 alternative.

Mr Chidgey

  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 attack Iran?
  (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 United States?

  126. Are you saying you think Iraq's position is one of being in defensive mode rather than aggressive, expansionist mode?
  (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 inspectors.

  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 them.
  (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 kin.

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 Ambassador—I think you were my first official guest in Riyadh—totalled 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.

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