Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Fourth Report

1  Introduction

1. This is the seventh Report in a series on foreign policy aspects of the 'war against terrorism'. Our predecessor Committee launched this inquiry following the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks in the USA. These Reports, supplemented by other Reports on the decision to go to war in Iraq, on British-US relations and on human rights, have contributed to the ongoing debate on both the causes of terrorism and the United Kingdom's response to it. During the course of the inquiry, the Committee has discussed wide and varied themes, such as the fall of the Taliban and efforts to rebuild Afghanistan, shifts in the organisation of al Qaeda, the war and subsequent situation in Iraq, multilateral efforts to tackle terrorist financing and global work to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

2. In this Report, we return to a number of these themes. We discuss the fast developing situations in Israel and the Palestinian Territories, Iraq and Iran. However, for the first time we also discuss in some detail the United Kingdom's relations with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates and the role of these two countries in the international 'war against terrorism'. Both countries were linked to the attacks of 11 September: fifteen of the nineteen suicide aeroplane hijackers were Saudi citizens; two were UAE nationals. In addition, both Saudi Arabia and the UAE have significant experience fighting terrorism, both through security-based counter-terrorism measures and by tackling the causes of terrorism through educational reform and cooperation with religious authorities. Not only are both countries key allies in the fight against international terrorism, but there is also much that could be learned from their efforts to understand and thwart recruitment of extremists.

3. Although for consistency with our previous Reports we have entitled this one 'Foreign Policy Aspects of the War against Terrorism', we have come to the conclusion that the phrase 'war against terrorism' is inappropriate. The phrase may initially have seemed an adequate description for international efforts in the context of the attacks of 11 September and subsequent action against the Taliban in Afghanistan. However, it does not adequately describe what has become a multi-faceted and complex international effort to thwart terrorist attacks across the globe simultaneously with attempts to address the background to international terrorism. We shall give further consideration to providing a more appropriate phrase when we produce our next Report on countering terrorism.

4. If any reminder were needed of the continuing threat posed by international terrorism, on 7 July 2005 four suicide attacks in London left 56 dead and hundreds injured. The bombers were British, but their crimes were committed against a backdrop of global terrorism. In March 2006, the FCO published its new strategy document "Active Diplomacy for a Changing World." This document sets out nine strategic international priorities for the United Kingdom:

  • Making the world safer from global terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.
  • Reducing the harm to the UK from international crime, including drug trafficking, people smuggling and money laundering.
  • Preventing and resolving conflict through a strong international system.
  • Building an effective and globally competitive EU in a secure neighbourhood.
  • Supporting the UK economy and business through an open and expanding global economy, science and innovation and secure energy supplies.
  • Promoting sustainable development and poverty reduction underpinned by human rights, democracy, good governance and protection of the environment.
  • Managing migration and combating illegal immigration.
  • Delivering high-quality support for British nationals abroad, in normal times and in crises.
  • Ensuring the security and good governance of the UK's Overseas Territories.[1]

5. Many of these priorities are relevant to international efforts to fight terrorism and the circumstances in which extremism and terrorism flourish. Critically, the document states that "The priorities cannot be pursued in isolation. They intersect in many of the urgent international problems the UK faces, such as the search for peace in the Middle East and South Asia, the reconstruction of Afghanistan and Iraq, or dealing more effectively with poverty and conflict around the world." Throughout the course of the Committee's inquiry into foreign policy aspects of the 'war against terrorism', it has become clear not only that the 'war against terrorism' must consider wider and more complex issues than terrorism itself, but that the development and implementation of policy to protect British interests must be carried out as part of a coherent foreign policy strategy.

6. Much of the evidence taken for this Report was received before the change of Foreign Secretary, and therefore was provided by Jack Straw ahead of the appointment of Margaret Beckett in May 2006. We heard oral evidence from Jack Straw on three occasions. We also held discussions with senior figures at the UN in New York, with members of the US Administration in Washington DC, with key personnel in the European Commission and with ministers, politicians, senior officials and others in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Israel, the Palestinian Territories and Iraq. We also heard formal and informal evidence from a range of witnesses and received written evidence from a variety of sources; we express our thanks to all of these.

1   Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Active Diplomacy for a Changing World: The UK's International Priorities, Cm 6762, March 2006. In June 2006, the new Foreign Secretary, Margaret Beckett, added a further strategic priority of climate change. Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2006
Prepared 2 July 2006