House of COMMONS
MINUTES OF EVIDENCE
Foreign Affairs Committee
Wednesday 8 November 2006
LORD HANNAY OF CHISWICK CH, GCMG, SIR JEREMY GREENSTOCK GCMG AND MR. MATTHEW KIRK
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
Taken before the Foreign Affairs Committee
on Wednesday 8 November 2006
Mike Gapes, in the Chair
Mr. Fabian Hamilton
Rt hon. David Heathcoat-Amory
Mr. John Horam
Mr. Eric Illsley
Mr. Paul Keetch
Mr. Ken Purchase
Rt hon. Sir John Stanley
Ms Gisela Stuart
[Relevant documents: Active Diplomacy for a Changing World: The UK's International Priorities (Cm. 6762) and Active Diplomacy: updated highlights June 2006]
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Lord Hannay of Chiswick CH, GCMG, former Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Sir Jeremy Greenstock GCMG, former Permanent Representative to the United Nations and Director of The Ditchley Foundation, and Matthew Kirk, former British Ambassador to Finland and Director of External Relationships, Vodafone, gave evidence.
Q1 Chairman: Welcome gentlemen. Thank you for coming along this morning. We are very pleased that you have all found the time to be with us. We are about to begin an inquiry into the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's active diplomacy document and its overall strategy. The expertise and experience of all three of you is extremely valuable to us.
Let me begin by asking whether you think that the White Paper is significant. Does it mark any significant changes or break any new ground, or is it simply an agglomeration of headings relating to things that are already happening?
Lord Hannay: In my reading of it, the organisation of the tasks for the diplomatic service-the nine points at the end-is an excellent tool of the trade and is to be greatly welcomed. It is coherent and well set out, and it is probably extremely useful for members of the diplomatic service serving all over the world to have the priorities set out in that fairly well assembled way. As a political statement of foreign policy, I think that it errs in the direction of blandness, and, as you say yourself, a little bit of everything is piled in. I regretted that the then Foreign Secretary's introduction did not manage to mention a single thing about the European Union or the direction in which we wish to see it moving.
Sir Jeremy Greenstock: I agree with Lord Hannay. I am not sure that the White paper is significantly different from the Foreign Office's annual reports or the statement of objectives that it has been doing over the years. I do not know what else might have gone into it without revealing a much more careful analysis of where the world is going and getting into territory that might have been controversial. The decision behind the document seems to have been not to risk getting into controversial territory, which is perhaps a pity if there is to be a strong debate on where British foreign policy should go over the next 10 years. I believe that the world is changing fast in a number of significant directions, that we have to analyse those changes rather carefully, and that that may be become a different debate from the one started by this document.
Mr. Kirk: Just to add to what Lord Hannay said, the statement of priorities-the work plan at the back-did not operate under this document but it did operate under its predecessors, and it was a helpful framework. However, it was important to treat it as an enabling framework and not as a constraining inhibitor of activity as a diplomat.
Q2 Chairman: Thank you. As you are aware, when the new Foreign Secretary was appointed a few months ago, she added an additional priority-that of climate change. Do you think that she simply took with her work that she was doing in her previous Department, or does it mark a significant change in the approach of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office?
Lord Hannay: I do not think that it is either one of those two exactly. Climate change has moved sharply up the agenda. As the post-Kyoto timetable inexorably advances, the science-and the economics, with Sir Nicholas Stern's report-remind us that we do not have a limitless amount of time to get the international communities' act together. It is also a reflection of a priority that is rising irrespective of who is Foreign Secretary.
Moreover, particularly since the Gleneagles summit of the G8, there has been a little coming together of the international community, at least in discussion. Climate change is now a really high priority-it is, of course, being discussed in Nairobi this week-to get into a process of negotiation, and to try above all to draw into that negotiation people who have been outside the climate change debate or who have been taking a free ride on what other people did-for instance, the United States, Australia, China, India and Brazil. That effort obviously has a much greater priority now than it did two or three years ago. You might say it was great priority then, but other people did not agree and you therefore did not get the necessary critical mass. People are now beginning to focus more on that, and I therefore very much welcome the Foreign Secretary giving the issue that priority.
Q3 Chairman: Does it mean that the attempt to make priorities had been undermined within a few months, and that the prioritisation had already fallen apart because another priority had been added within a very short time?
Lord Hannay: I think that it reflects the fact that you cannot make foreign policy by blueprint. No single country, not even the United States, can say foreign policy is to be thus, thus and thus. It is made by a lot of tiresome foreigners out there who have different ideas about what their priorities are, and you have to respond to them. It reflects the fact that documents such as this will always be outdated fairly quickly, because events will come along that will drive you to find responses that are not laid down in such documents.
Q4 Sir John Stanley: This question is directed particularly to Sir Jeremy. As you know, the first priority listed in the document is making the world safer from global terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. There were obviously no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, so that can be set aside, but do you consider that our intervention in Iraq has made the world safer from global terrorism?
Sir Jeremy Greenstock: First of all, Sir John, we must note that that priority, like several others in the document-and I do not exclude climate change-is an example of an area in which the Foreign Office has an important input, but it does not cover the whole field without liaising with other Government Departments, or indeed other Governments. Terrorism was becoming a huge threat to our security, to our allies and to other countries around the world before 9/11 and, of course, the threat was much more obvious after 9/11. That process would have continued whether or not the coalition had decided to invade Iraq. What has been risked in Iraq is an invasion that became an occupation and later a coalition working with the Iraqi Government. That has not yet settled Iraq into a stable and peaceful state, and because of that security deficiency, terrorists are able to operate as they might not have done under Saddam Hussein. If that state continues or deteriorates further, there will be a longer-term opportunity for al-Qaeda, for instance, or for a franchise loyal to al-Qaeda to commit terrorist acts in Iraq, to train terrorists, and to harden their people in battle.
In my view, terrorists are no longer the main threat to a stable Iraq. There are very strong sectarian divisions that lead to immense violence every day and night between the sects in Iraq. Therefore, there are a number of different problems that the coalition, the allies of Iraq and the current Government in Iraq have to deal with that go way beyond terrorism. To answer your straight and literal question, the world is not yet safer from terrorism because of the invasion of Iraq. Other things have to be done to defeat terrorism in many other places.
Q5 Sir John Stanley: Do you agree with the view, which has been widely repeated in the media, that the invasion of Iraq has provided the best possible recruiting ground for those who may wish to engage in terrorist violence in any part of the world?
Sir Jeremy Greenstock: I think the picture is more complex than that. There are other reasons for terrorist groups to recruit new people to their cause. I do not think that the situation in Iraq on its own has led to distaste, or worse, in the Islamic world among some, although certainly not all, Muslims for the west and what the west has done over the past five years. It goes much wider than that. However, Iraq has become a great cause in the Islamic world and beyond, and some young Muslims have been recruited to terrorism in response to the situation in Iraq.
Q6 Sir John Stanley: Lastly, on a point that has been put to me personally and I am sure is regularly put to many others, the British Foreign Office had a unique insight, by virtue of history since the end of the first world war, into the make-up of Iraq and the latent forces that were being suppressed by the Ba'athist regime. The Foreign Office knew and had every reason to know that once the Ba'athist regime was removed, Iraq would take a fairly similar course to what has now happened. Do you believe that, before the invasion, the Foreign Office had such a view and was that expressed more widely to the Government as a whole?
Sir Jeremy Greenstock: First of all, Sir John, I do not think that the Foreign Office's collected knowledge of Iraq, its people, its history and the way things may go after invasion was unique. Many people in the American system, for instance, beginning with the Secretary of State at the time, Colin Powell, had studied that part of the world quite well and served as American diplomats in the middle east, and warned that if Iraq was invaded and the Saddam Hussein regime removed, that place would be very difficult to govern. The Foreign Office understood better than some what Iraq might become, but there were also Americans-clearly, given the way things went, their advice was not heeded-who understood. There were also, of course, friends of ours in the middle east, Arabs and Muslims, with whom we talked as diplomats, who warned us very clearly that Iraq would be a very difficult place to manage after the invasion.
Yes, those in the British system went over some of this ground with their American opposite numbers. Our input was stronger at that time into the State Department, the CIA and the National Security Council than into the Pentagon, and we found-this is perhaps another story-that the advice on how Iraq might need to be dealt with, which was received sympathetically in the United States, was not the advice that got to the decision makers, so there was clearly some disappointment in that respect.
Chairman: I am conscious that we will have opportunities to come on to these issues later. I want to move back to the overall White Paper, but I shall just bring in Paul Keetch briefly on this point.
Q7 Mr. Keetch: Does this not show the danger of having priorities? Something will come along such as Iraq, which was undoubtedly the No. 1 priority of the President of the United States, but it then became the obsessive priority of the British Government against other priorities such as, for example, Afghanistan or perhaps even what was happening and developing in Iran. Suddenly, the one great priority of Iraq overshadowed other priorities and made us as a country take our eye off the ball in other areas. In particular, the criticism has often been made that the diversion of troops and effort into Iraq ensured that Afghanistan was not dealt with properly. Does this not demonstrate that we can create priorities-we can write 10 priorities today-but the political priorities of the President or the Prime Minister of the day two months down the line might be on a subject about which we have no idea? It might be the Falklands or whatever, but suddenly that will become the overriding priority that, if we are not careful, will distract us from all other priorities.
Lord Hannay: The example you give of the Falklands is perhaps not a good one, because the priority that was given to the Falklands was chosen by General Galtieri, not by the British Prime Minister. That illustrates that the foreigners out there do have a capacity to throw your best ordered priorities into a certain amount of confusion.
Mr. Keetch: President Bush is also a foreigner, of course.
Lord Hannay: Frankly, if you do not have priorities, you have no anchor at all-you have no sense of direction whatever-so you need those priorities, but you also need the flexibility to be able to respond to events and you need structures in your diplomatic service that give you enough capacity to be able to switch between the priorities a bit if the circumstances demand that.
Mr. Kirk: I want to add that one aspect of this document that seemed to me, having moved out of the diplomatic service into the private sector, to be missing and which I think is relevant and would be found in a corporate-sector equivalent is something about values-values in foreign policy and values in the way the diplomatic service is managed and goes about its business. To me, priorities inevitably shift as the environment around you shifts. The values ought to be constant, clearly set out and deliverable, but there is very little in this document about them.
Sir Jeremy Greenstock: We have to think of this set of priorities as the base from which the British diplomatic effort leaves to conduct its operations. It is extremely useful to have the fundamental values set out, so that public opinion understands where British foreign policy is coming from, but if you judge the British diplomatic effort or the resources it needs only by the base, you do not give the resources for the operations. British diplomacy is far more than this document. We can have a discussion about the document this morning, or we can have a discussion about British diplomacy. They are two different things.
Q8 Mr. Horam: If we have a discussion about British diplomacy, let us move on to your chosen subject, Sir Jeremy, and the role of the Foreign Office. It has been said in recent years that the role of No. 10 Downing street in formulating foreign policy, which has always been very great, has become almost comprehensive and total. I have a quote-I do not know whether it is accurate-from Sir Rodric Braithwaite, who criticised the Prime Minister for reducing the Foreign Office to "a demoralised cipher". Whatever your views, I would be interested to know, first, whether that has happened-that the Foreign Office has become handmaiden to No. 10-and, secondly, what effect that has had on the formulation of foreign policy.
Sir Jeremy Greenstock: First, it is a trend of our age that as international affairs increasingly interlink with domestic affairs, the Head of any Government should be closely and in a detailed way concerned with foreign policy. Secondly, it is a diplomat's job to adjust to circumstances and to do his or her work with the relationships and contacts, and in the environment that he or she finds. I think you will find, if you had long conversations with members of the Foreign Office now and with us with our experience of being senior diplomats over the past 10 years, that we adjust to things and provide what the Government require from diplomacy.
Q9 Mr. Horam: Do you recognise any truth in the statement by Sir Rodric about "a demoralised cipher"? Is that anywhere near the truth?
Sir Jeremy Greenstock: If the Foreign Office has a touch of demoralisation about it-I think that is true at the moment-it is for wider reasons than the relationship with No. 10.
Q10 Mr. Horam: Such as?
Sir Jeremy Greenstock: First, the demoralisation, if it occurs between No. 10 and the Foreign Office, starts at the political level between the Prime Minister and his Secretary of State and Ministers. The civil service behind that will fit in with what is required by the Government and do what work is necessary. We could get into some comment about the use of special advisers and the difference between the civil service now and the civil service 30 years ago when special advisers were not so much used on operational work, but it is more than just the Prime Minister or No. 10 taking over certain aspects of diplomacy. The world has led to that.
Another serious factor in the Foreign Office's challenge today has been resources. No doubt we will come to that with other questions-
Mr. Horam: Yes, we will.
Sir Jeremy Greenstock: We are finding that the size of post, the spread of the Foreign Office's work, the capacity to construct relationships and to negotiate, the experience gained by a slimmer number each year of men and women in important but more junior roles in embassies abroad because numbers have been cut is leading to a progressive decline in the capacity of the Foreign Office to cover every aspect of diplomacy. That is something that we should discuss seriously.
Lord Hannay: May I add that the Foreign Office in my experience-I have not been a serving member of the diplomatic service for the past 11 years-is a pretty robust animal? It is highly motivated, enjoys a great deal of team spirit and can put up with some quite difficult circumstances. If you cast your mind back to Baroness Thatcher's reign, she was not invariably an admirer of the Foreign Office and she said some quite hard things about it, but it weathered that and worked loyally for her Government, as it works loyally for every Government. Such things can be exaggerated. Moreover, we must not forget that the Prime Minister has a much bigger role, as Sir Jeremy said, because Heads of Government are now much more involved in the day-to-day business of diplomacy. That has nothing to do with our country or the way in which our Government is organised; it is about the way in which the world, European Councils, G8 meetings and so on are organised. You may like it or not, but it is there.
Mr. Horam: I think the point that Sir Rodric was hinting at in his comment was that foreign policy would have been better conducted if No. 10-
Lord Hannay: Sir Rodric did the most right thing that he could have done. He advised the Prime Minister for whom he was working that his job should be abolished and that he should rely on the Foreign Office. That is not the view that everyone takes.
One final point: it is worth remembering-this could be very different-that the two principal advisers to the Prime Minister in his office are both senior serving members of the diplomatic service. That makes a very big difference. If they were people completely from outside, or political advisers, I think you would get a much greater degree of demoralisation.
Q11 Ms Stuart: It is about the ownership of these priorities. The White Paper states, "These priorities are Government-wide, they are interdependent and reflect the linkages between domestic and foreign policy" and says that all Departments must be seen to have a role in pursuing them. We all know how incredibly difficult it is to co-ordinate across Whitehall. To what extent do you think there is cross-departmental ownership? I go back to the example of environmental policy, which the current Foreign Secretary seems to have brought with her. Do you think it will make the Foreign Office's job more difficult?
Lord Hannay: No, it is the modern world. It has been like this to an ever increasing degree for the past 30 or more years, as domestic and foreign policy-the clear distinctions, the different boxes-have become confused and overlapped. If you were to go round Europe or the rest of the world, you would tend to get the view that Britain has been better at recognising that and concerting a British policy on these matters than most other people. That is not to say that we are yet very good at it; we are just better than some people who are quite bad at it.
There are plenty of examples of that; at European meetings in Brussels, one finds people taking completely different views in one council compared with another, and so on. On the whole I think that the British tend to avoid that. It is a very difficult art-it is more an art than a science-to get a concerted view and then carry it out.
What this document does that I think is good is to tell the people out in the field, who are of course all members of the diplomatic service-although they may temporarily be drawn from other Departments-how to put together these priorities and what fits with what. That is very good, because out in the field you do not have the co-ordination problem that you have in London. If you allow the co-ordination problem in London to reflect through into the field, then you get a very poor performance.
Q12 Ms Stuart: I put it to you that that is more a reflection of the way in which British diplomats and politicians perceive power in negotiations. We always think that sharing is extremely important, and any British Minister who goes into negotiations knows that the rest of Whitehall is behind them. But when it comes to the final stages, where you play poker, the British, having negotiated everything and been very safe, cannot play poker.
Lord Hannay: I see. Well, if that is your view, that is your view. It was not the impression that I got when I was involved in European Union or United Nations affairs. I do not criticise the Ministers who were involved and whom I was advising on those occasions. I thought, for example, that Baroness Thatcher did rather well on the British rebate, and she showed every sign of not being somebody who folded her hand. She upped the ante quite often.
Q13 Ms Stuart: That was the Prime Minister actually acting against the advice of the Foreign Office, which told her in the run-up that she could not get that rebate.
Lord Hannay: No. I was one of her principal Foreign Office advisers, and we did not advise her in that way. The advice that we gave was that a two-thirds rebate was what we should be aiming for, and that was what we got.
Q14 Ms Stuart: Can I ask just one very specific question? Do you think that the Government made a mistake in 1997 when they separated the Department for International Development from the Foreign Office?
Lord Hannay: I would rather like to pass on that, because I am not an expert in that field.
Sir Jeremy Greenstock: There were advantages and disadvantages. The advantage was that DFID became a much more focused conveyer of British aid policy. The expertise was refined because it had its own objectives, its own office and its own Secretary of State in the Cabinet. Therefore there was a momentum given to the British aid programme that probably was not there under the Overseas Development Administration. The downside was that the co-ordination between aid policy and foreign policy became a little less well conducted. Naturally enough, jealousies grew, there were budgetary problems and difficulties and there were two Secretaries of State in the Cabinet. The politics and the bureaucracy of the combined area probably diminished to some extent, whereas the professional delivery of an aid programme improved.
I want to go back to Ms Stuart's previous question. I think that the Foreign Office is well used to the fact that diplomacy begins at home. We have always had channels to other Government Departments involved in international affairs and with increased globalisation and as the Government have become more used to international and domestic affairs coming together, the Foreign Office has adjusted through contacts round Whitehall, constant meetings and responses to the Cabinet Office's co-ordination of things. I think that that has been done very well by Whitehall in international affairs.
There is a problem, however, in the business of divided budgets and payments being made for every detailed little thing that one Government Department uses from another. Budget mentality has become divisive as the requirement for united Whitehall and Government-wide policy has grown. That is a pity. It might be necessary in accounting terms, but it has not been good for the traditional British strength in combined bureaucracy across Government.
Q15 Mr. Keetch: May I ask about resources? Obviously, the Gershon report suggested some huge savings from the Foreign Office in particular. Do you think there is a danger that the drive for ever greater efficiency, the constant consideration of whether posts should be kept open and of which posts should be closed and the desire all the time to make savings-I am sure we would want to see savings-is now taking diplomats' time away from their principal job, which is being a diplomat? Is there a sense that the management of the estate of the Foreign Office and its buildings should begin to be done separately from those people who are diplomats? In other words, should the diplomats continue with diplomacy and could the management of the bricks and mortar of the Foreign Office be better done by someone else?
Mr. Kirk: May I kick off on that one, as the most recent serving diplomat of the three of us? I did not find it at all unusual as the head of mission that I should have quite a strong focus on the resources that I was using to fulfil the objectives, which obviously included the bricks and mortar resources as well as the people and the money that you need to enable both to do their job.
I think the Foreign Office could be more professional in its management of people and in its management of physical resources. It could inject more external professionalism into that process. I think there is an underlying concern, as well, which is that the more you manage resources by strictly and tightly defined objectives-in a sense that is one of the concerns about the way in which objectives are set out here and whether they are a constraining framework or an enabling framework-the more difficult it is to value the existence of a capacity that is available to be used when necessary.
I see that in the job I am doing at the moment. As a company, we call on the Foreign Office for help in many different places and many different ways. We cannot predict what those are in advance, nor can the Foreign Office. The knowledge that there are people there who have the knowledge of the country, the people and of how decisions are taken and so on, and who can advise us, help us and lobby us at short notice is invaluable to us. If the management by resources starts to erode that core capacity level, that would do significant damage to the Foreign Office's long-term capability.
Lord Hannay: Two points, if I could. First, I think it is always very important to remember that in the Foreign Office the staff-the people-are a much higher proportion of the budgetary cost than in any other Department. I think I am right in saying so. Therefore if you do extract savings it means you are removing people. There is no fat to be removed on non-people parts-or there is very little.
The second thing is that I think the trend is towards smaller posts in a lot of countries, because that is what some of these reductions result in. Personally I am strongly opposed to the belief that you can, by multi-accreditation, which is, say, having one ambassador for five countries, do a decent job-you cannot; but you can do a decent job with a very small post. If you have very small posts, as many smaller European countries than us have done for hundreds of years, frankly, then you cannot impose on them a template of management and administration which is the same as a post with 100 people. I am really not sure that it has been properly understood that if you are going to have just one person, with some locally employed people, or perhaps two people, in some country, you cannot ask them to do the same form of management controls as if they were in Paris or New York.
Q16 Mr. Hamilton: Can I follow on from the discussion about posts and how they are distributed with a few questions about whether the current diplomatic network of posts is really necessary? Obviously as a Committee we travel extensively. We meet our diplomats in posts all over the world and we are never less than impressed. I think British diplomacy and our posts are renowned in the countries that they are based in for being among the best diplomats in the world. Having said that, I think, Sir Jeremy, you referred earlier to changing priorities and the globalisation of the world, and the way that diplomacy is now done between Heads of State. Of course diplomatic posts were established in an era when we did not have the communications we have now. My question really is-having said how excellent our diplomats are and how important I think our posts are-are they are really any longer necessary, especially in Europe? Indeed, the White Paper points to the reduction of diplomatic posts in Europe. Do you think we actually need any?
Mr. Kirk, I know you have recently left the post in Finland, where we were just last month. Do we really need to have an embassy in Finland now we have got the European Union? Should we just be concentrating on the emerging markets of China, India and Brazil, and some of the emerging global priorities for the United Kingdom?
Sir Jeremy Greenstock: I am sure that my colleagues will have things to say on this question, Mr. Hamilton, but may I just make a fundamental point about what we are discussing this morning, which is the nature of diplomacy and how it should be resourced? There is a reason why the British diplomatic service, person for person-man and woman for man and woman-is better than most other diplomatic services. There are reasons why the British soldier is more effective man for man than nearly every other military. The reason is the British professional approach to doing something down to its roots and the British habit both of collective team approaches and of pushing delegation down as far as possible to more junior offices, so that independent decisions are taken at quite a low level.
The Government's capacity to handle international affairs is not just a matter of direct communication between the most senior members of Government. It is the product of a wide-ranging amount of teamwork, built on the knowledge and understanding, the contact and communications, that the British Government have, through all their capillaries, with other people in other countries. You cannot, at the top, seal a deal that has not been thoroughly prepared further down the system. You cannot negotiate at a conference without knowing what everybody else with whom you are about to negotiate may be thinking or may be carrying in their suitcase. You cannot understand what is happening in a country without having on the ground people who know, who understand and who have analysed the roots of that change, that problem or that particular development.
This is actually an old debate. Now that we have the telephone, do we need diplomats? Now that we have the internet, do we need diplomats? Compare what posts deliver day by day to the Foreign Office and other Departments with what you may take as defined and find is incorrect on the internet, and you will see the difference between the diplomatic service's supply of analysis, judgment and advice to Ministers and what you can get from public sources.
Lord Hannay: When I was doing the job that Sir Jeremy subsequently did, as ambassador to the UN, the world had an inconvenient habit of finding itself in the middle of crises in places where Britain did not have embassies: Kigali in Rwanda, Haiti, Somalia and Afghanistan. Your capacity to operate effectively was cut by a large amount by not having an independent, objective flow of information coming in. As it has since transpired in the case of Rwanda, the United Nations secretariat was not passing on as much information as it should have done, and we really were groping around in the dark. If we had had a post in Kigali, as we now do, we would have been much better informed. It does not prove that we would have done any better, but we would have been better informed.
Secondly, your EU point is not very well taken. Look around you at the embassies of our EU partners in London or throughout the rest of Europe. Are they getting smaller all the time? They are not. And why not? Because making EU policy is a complex affair that involves a great deal of work by our posts in EU capitals. The bigger the EU gets-it is about to go up to 27-the more complex this is and the more necessary it is that you do not just rely on the collective discussions in Brussels, which are the tip of the iceberg, but make a proper input through your missions in EU capitals. I am not saying for one minute that the only point of our embassies throughout Europe is to do EU business, because there are many other things; however, that is one quite important part of it.
Mr. Kirk: May I make two comments from my previous perspective, and one from my present one? Picking up on what Lord Hannay has just said about EU business, when I was in Helsinki, our role in relation to EU decision taking was first, to provide background analysis of why Finland was adopting the positions it was adopting across a range of issues. We did not involve ourselves in the Brussels negotiation, because that was done by UKREP, the UK permanent representation to the European Union.
We followed what was going on in order to monitor whether the people we were dealing with were starting to cause a blockage or difficulty from the UK point of view. If they were, we then sometimes-not always-had a second role, which was to push the Finnish Government on a particular issue that had been reflected from the negotiations in Brussels. As we discussed earlier, decisions are increasingly moving to Head of Government level, so the push involved lobbying the office of the Head of Government, which could be done by only two people really; one sitting in No.10, the other being the ambassador on the spot. If you were to rely on No.10 to do all that communication, you would need a much bigger No.10 dealing with European business than you have now. So, we ended up doing quite a lot of it.
My second point from my previous perspective again picks up on what Lord Hannay was just saying. A great deal of our work in Helsinki was on issues such as education, innovation, health care, reducing the levels of cardiac disease and that kind of thing. They were areas in which Finland had an acknowledged world lead, and where your colleagues in other Committees, the rest of Whitehall and parts of British academic and public analysis were interested in understanding better why the Finns were performing so well. Our job was to try to translate that which was relevant from Finland, which involved a lot of understanding of Finland, into that which was relevant in the UK, which involved a lot of understanding of the UK.
My third point is from my current perspective. In the past month, I have been in touch with six FCO missions overseas, three of them within the EU, and on top of that, I have regularly been in touch with UKREP about processes of European legislation. With the bilateral missions, we are looking for a knowledge of the country, its people, politics and how our business fits into that-how best we can look after the substantial investment that we have made, or are thinking of making, in the countries concerned. That could not be done by anyone who is not present in the country. We have tried various models using private sector advisers to look for that same information. The quality is much higher from the Foreign Office.
Q17 Andrew Mackinlay: I was very content just to listen and to absorb all that you said, but what tempts me to ask one quick question is that as we speak Kyrgyzstan is in turmoil. We do not have a mission there. There has been a long-playing gramophone record from me about this. Could you give us your view on whether the absence of a United Kingdom mission in Kyrgyzstan this morning is a substantial disadvantage to our interests and our information gathering?
Sir Jeremy Greenstock: If Her Majesty's Government wanted to do something about what is happening in Kyrgyzstan, they would be less able to do so and less well based to make judgments from not having, as Lord Hannay recently said, a mission on the ground there. I doubt whether the British Government would want to take independent action in a country that is not so immediately connected to our interests as Kyrgyzstan. We are more likely to react with our partners in the European Union or, if the case came that way, in NATO. We would accept a collective analysis and a collective judgment with allies or within the United Nations on what to do in Kyrgyzstan. There have to come points where the British Government, independently, cannot reach out and mend something awful that is happening for those people on that territory.
Q18 Mr. Purchase: I have reason to agree with Fabian Hamilton about the excellence of our services. Forgive the massive over-simplification but my constituents care about two things in this setting. Can we keep them safe and out of military adventures as far as possible, and can the diplomatic service of the Foreign Office ensure that we have sufficient friends in the world to trade successfully? If I then look at outputs, we are in more struggles and difficulties than I can recall in any period since the end of the war, and our exports are not getting a bigger share of world trade. Given all the excellence that we hear of in the Foreign Office and the diplomatic service, what can you tell us about how we might improve on those two factors?
Sir Jeremy Greenstock: To take security first, clearly the Foreign Office has a particular role within a much larger Government role for the defence of the realm and everything that that means. I do not think that your constituents will be looking just to the Foreign Office to keep them safe and to keep the world free from war. It depends on many other factors, starting with the police in their own streets. But let me make two brief points.
First, your constituents, Mr. Purchase, have not had to suffer a war on British territory or affecting British territory since the end of the second world war. With the things that have happened, with the establishment and the activity of the United Nations and with a much more globalised set of relationships around the world, inter-state war, particularly affecting the developed world and democracies around the world, is an extremely rare thing. We have moved on from the 20th century and the heritage that the 20th century had from previous centuries, including from empire and colonialism. We have moved on in terms of war. But the human race will never be free of violence. There will always be violence for some reason, somewhere, some of it affecting us, some of it on our territory. We will not be violence-free, and many aspects of government and many factors in society will bear on whether a particular area, a particular country or a particular county will be suffering from violence. The Foreign Office has an input there, in terms of understanding the way the world is going and working with other Government Departments and allies in order to ensure that the forces for peace are stronger than those for violence.
In the economic sphere, although we are not winning a higher spread of world trade, our exports consistently go up in absolute terms. The fact is that other economies are growing faster than ours because they started further back and have room to grow. The spread of opportunity is much wider in a globalised world, which this country fought for throughout the 20th century. So that is a product of our own values earlier in our history. Other countries are freer, beginning to be more democratic, more economically prosperous, growing and giving us more markets, but we are not growing as fast as they are because we are an older industrialised country.
Lord Hannay: I should like to add a point on that question. Because world trade is growing much faster than the world economy-that has been true for decades-we are increasing our exports considerably, even if we are not increasing our market share, as Sir Jeremy said. That is hugely important. Also, of course, our economy has been shifting steadily away from manufacturing towards services, at which we have been reasonably, if not very successful.
I do not think that the picture is bleak. However, I wish to make a point: as in security, so in economics. More and more now depends on getting an international framework that will ensure that Britain can, if it is competitive enough, make a living, protect itself, further its interests and so on. In the case of trade, that international framework might be the World Trade Organisation, and obviously the stalling of the Doha round is a thoroughly bad thing and we ought to be exerting ourselves to restart it.
That should cover the climate, which we started with, and of course all the issues of peace and security, many of which go to the United Nations and involve major peacekeeping obligations around the world. After all, the UN has nearly 100,000 troops deployed in different peacekeeping operations around the world. They are mainly doing a very necessary, important and good job, but they will not be able to do that if a country such as Britain, which is among the top five economies in the world and a member of the Security Council, does not pull its weight.
Q19 Richard Younger-Ross: Coming back to strategic and international priorities, the paper that Sir Jeremy took us down slightly earlier talks about Afghanistan, Iraq and North Korea. There is no mention of Lebanon and Israel or the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Is that a mistake?
Lord Hannay: Well, I think that it is a mistake if it implies that the Foreign Office has taken its eye off the single most poisonous abscess on the face of the international body politic-that is what I would call it. Going back to what Sir Jeremy said on terrorism, I think that the failure, over many decades, even to move the Arab-Israel confrontation towards any kind of solution has fed that atmosphere in Muslim countries and allowed a very small minority of people to take up violence and to wrap themselves in a kind of Islamic cloak and a set of values that in my view is completely pernicious. Nevertheless, they have managed to do that.
We should learn the lesson of this summer. If we believe that neglecting the Arab-Israel problem or that a unilateral imposed solution will solve it, as did Mr. Sharon's Government and as, in part, Mr. Olmert's does as well, forget it. It is not going to work that way. That is what the events of the summer showed. It is right that this should be a very big priority in the period ahead. Not because it is likely to yield results quickly-it would be really silly to think that-but because if we do not get some kind of resumption of a process that could lead towards a settlement, something quite nasty will come along quite soon.
Sir Jeremy Greenstock: I think that it is fair to point out that this document was presented to Parliament in March 2006, but I subscribe entirely to what Lord Hannay said. The Palestine issue remains at the core of so many of our problems that it has to be a central part of the Foreign Office's work on political and security matters that we handle it. That is being evinced by the Prime Minister's approach to this problem now, and indeed during his premiership. We have shown that we understand the need for a settlement of the Palestinian issue more sharply than some of our allies.
Q20 Richard Younger-Ross: In the recent conflict between Israel and Lebanon, Downing street took a very definite view, which was not to criticise Israel in ways that perhaps some Members of this House would have wished it to have done. Sir Jeremy, you said earlier that some of the wiser heads in the Foreign Office were not necessarily listened to in terms of the Iraq conflict. Do you believe that those wiser heads in the Foreign Office were listened to over the recent conflict, or do you believe that a rift opened up between Downing street and the FCO on this particular area?
Sir Jeremy Greenstock: I hope that on Iraq I was understood to be saying that the wiser heads were not listened to by the people taking decisions in Washington. The British approach on Iraq was reasonably united, although we could get into questions on that. On this issue, I do not know; I was not in the Foreign Office at the time, so I am not aware of what advice may have been given. I am sure that the analysis across the foreign policy area of Government as to what was happening between Israel and Hezbollah and within Lebanon was very similar, but what Ministers choose to say in public about that is their business.
Q21 Sandra Osborne: May I ask your opinion of parliamentary scrutiny of the Foreign Office? Do you believe it is adequate or do you feel there is room for improvement in that regard?
Lord Hannay: I am in a slightly awkward position because I am a member of a scrutiny Committee in another place, so I spend quite a lot of my time scrutinising mainly Foreign Office inputs into EU policy.
It is the view of our Committee, at any rate, that it is pretty good that the Foreign Office and other Government Departments are responding much better than they did some years ago to the parliamentary requirements of scrutiny, but it still has a good long way to go. There are still too many overrides; there are too many cases in which the explanatory memoranda are not very informative, and-you will forgive me for a commercial-we have just had a debate on the House of Lords' role in European scrutiny and we have drawn quite a lot of conclusions from that to try and strengthen it.
Q22 Sandra Osborne: Do you think that the Foreign Office takes seriously the deliberations of this Committee, for example, or does it just pay lip service to our recommendations?
Sir Jeremy Greenstock: May I offer a comment without any bias or prejudice? That is to say, that as a serving diplomat I have found the involvement of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Commons and the reports that it produces very useful, on the whole of very high quality, and nearly always introducing new things that we should be thinking about or new advice from elected Members to Government servants that we need to take account of.
I am not saying that just to flatter this Committee; in New York, I very much welcomed the close involvement of members of the FAC in the work of the mission there and in observing the United Nations and its various committees and agencies. But we are talking about two things here: one is the effectiveness of a group of people on a Committee such as yours, the other is the power of Parliament, and on that we do not have any real base to comment. However, as a citizen of the United Kingdom, I would like to see greater powers for Parliament to scrutinise and affect the policy of the Executive, because the experience of the elected House is extremely useful in feeding in to the kinds of considerations that we as diplomats have to take on board in representing the United Kingdom in all its aspects.
Mr. Kirk: May I add that I experienced a considerable opening up of the relationship between the diplomatic service and Parliament over my time in the diplomatic service? When I joined, Parliament was very much beyond Ministers and Ministers were what you served. The interaction between members of the diplomatic service and Members of Parliament was quite tightly controlled.
A great deal of that has gone in the intervening time, which is a very good thing. It is a good thing partly because it allows the Foreign Office and its diplomatic network to expose Parliament-I do not mean just this Committee, but Parliament more widely, because as I mentioned, most of my work in Helsinki was done with your colleagues in other Select Committees-to different influences, experiences and understandings of how to tackle some of the issues that we confront in this country. I think that that interaction also provides a diplomat serving in a country with a very useful and much broader projection of what Britain is and what it represents than the diplomat can give on his or her own.
Having a group of parliamentarians who take an interest in a country-often quite a critical interest, but none the less taking the trouble to go there and understand-and having, in my experience, a profound and deep inquiry into the way in which another country is conducting policy is a useful projection of Britain in itself and of some of the core values of British democracy. Those values should be-indeed, I believe that they are-at the heart of our foreign policy, but it is sometimes difficult to articulate that quite so clearly without elected people there to do so.
Chairman: May we take just one final question? I am afraid that we shall have run out of time then, gentlemen, because we have another witness coming.
Q23 Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: I want to pick up on the answers about the middle east. There was an extraordinary omission in the 10 strategic priorities, which made no reference to the rise of militant Islam, which is basically what the struggle is at the minute. If we are going to defend western democracy in its most general sense and in anything like its present form, the issue must be faced up to. There is a rather coy section in the White Paper headed "Religion and Identity", which skirts round the issue, but there is no reference in the priorities. Is this not a curious omission? Is it an example of fighting previous wars, rather than the one in which we are engaged at the moment?
Sir Jeremy Greenstock: I wonder whether a document like this can get into very sensitive territory of that nature and in any real detail that affects the precise and specific things that diplomacy needs to do in the area that you are describing. I would refer to the problem as militant Muslims rather militant Islam. I do not think that Islam, as we have related to it over the centuries, is really the problem. Something is happening in the world-through globalisation and the polarisation of politics, and cultures and religions-that is producing, at the extremes, people of such anger and such determination to do violence that we have a security problem and a political problem.
The issue is very complex. Anything that the Foreign Office or Foreign Secretary might say in a document of this kind could be constraining, as far as the actual process of specific diplomacy is concerned. The issue is obviously an area in which the Foreign Office is highly engaged. To put a general point, it is an example of the fact that diplomacy has to deal with specifics that are in no way listed in any document. We are reacting, and the Foreign Office will always be reacting. The capacity to react wisely and with effect depends on resources being given to the Foreign Office that are not just constrained to a list on a particular piece of paper.
Lord Hannay: Forgive me for taking issue with it, but I do not think that we are fighting a war against either Islam or Muslims.
Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: I did not use the word war.
Lord Hannay: No, but it is very important, because we are not talking about something that will be handled mainly through military action. We are talking about something that can be dealt with only with the active co-operation of large secular Muslim countries such as Turkey, Indonesia, Egypt and many others. To some extent, you have to be a little bit careful what you put in a document like this that might give the wrong impression that you are organising what some people on the other side of the Atlantic like to call the third world war. It is very damaging to our objectives to suggest even for one minute that that is how we think. We are dealing with a poisonous outbreak of extremism, but that outbreak of extremism is threatening Muslims just as much as it is threatening us.
Chairman: Thank you, gentlemen. We could have gone on a lot longer, and there are other areas that we had hoped to ask about, but this has been a very valuable session, and we are grateful to all three of you for coming. We will now break for a few minutes, and then we have another witness coming.
Memorandum submitted by Mr. Carne Ross
Examination of Witness
Witness: Mr. Carne Ross, Director, Independent Diplomat and former Foreign and Commonwealth Office official, gave evidence.
Q24 Chairman: Mr. Ross, thank you for coming today. I am sorry that we kept you waiting for a few minutes, but unfortunately we started a few minutes late. I must warn you that we are in a strange situation today. The House is proroguing, and the Committee is not allowed to continue after the House is prorogued. Therefore, we have about 34 minutes, I hope. Hopefully we will get through as much as possible, but the rules of the House are clear. Sadly, it is one of those odd days that only occur once a year.
I welcome you. You have sent us a very helpful paper that sets out quite robustly your views on a number of issues. I do not want to refer to it directly, but perhaps you could give us your overall view of the active diplomacy document. Do you believe that it is helpful to the work of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for it to publish such documents?
Mr. Ross: First, thank you for having me. I am glad to be here.
My views on the paper are pretty clear from my evidence. I do not think that it is helpful. I think that it is a kind of smokescreen in front of the reality of British foreign policy. It talks in such general terms about that foreign policy that it is not actually provocative of a useful or constructive debate. It does not even refer in detail, for instance, to the fact that Britain is in military occupation of two foreign countries right now. I take that just as an example, but you have already touched in your discussion this morning on other rather odd omissions, including much of our policy in the middle east, including toward Israel and Palestine.
Q25 Mr. Keetch: Just for the record, as Mr. Ross is known to me, I have checked with both the Clerk and the Chairman and can continue to ask him questions.
Mr. Ross, you say in your statement that the FCO pays little attention to Parliament and that UK policy making is done in a closed box, yet you have just heard your former boss, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, say that he always took the recommendations and reports of this Committee very seriously. Do you believe that the Foreign Office listens to the results of parliamentary scrutiny? Do you think that there is a role for Parliament in that, or are the mandarins so enclosed that they take very little or even no notice of what we or other parliamentarians might believe?
Mr. Ross: I think that the latter is true. Certainly in my career, which covered many quite central and grave issues of British foreign policy, parliamentary scrutiny and the role of the Foreign Affairs Committee made no intrusion whatever on my work. I am surprised that Sir Jeremy said what he said; I worked with him very closely in New York for four years.
I have to say that there, in my work on Iraq and the middle east more generally, the Foreign Affairs Committee, again, played no significant role in our existences. Policy on Iraq was made by a very small group of officials who submitted a very narrow range of choices to Ministers. Ministers were, of course, more worried about Parliament, but for the officials the role of Parliament and what Parliament or this Committee said about our policy was, at best, insignificant.
To give you a specific example, I worked very closely on sanctions against Iraq. I negotiated many of the resolutions on Iraq over my period at the UK mission. That was a complex and important piece of policy and that policy was, I think, in the final analysis, misguided and incorrect in its premises and its direction. I had never had any experience of any MP or any Committee scrutinising my work-at least, the Department in London never told me of any such scrutiny. I can give you that as a specific example.
Q26 Mr. Keetch: So you believe that all people at the Foreign Office should be open to the kind of scrutiny that we give senior members? You believe that that scrutiny should be opened up to the more junior echelons of the Foreign Office?
Mr. Ross: Yes, I do. I think that senior members are extremely adept at giving the sort of spiel and bromidic answers about British foreign policy that to an extent you heard this morning. This document, "Active Diplomacy for a Changing World", is full of such statements.
You need to talk about policy in detail. This paper is pitched at such a level of generality that it is impossible to take from it any specific discussion about what is important and what is going on in British foreign policy. I certainly think that you need to be interrogating all officials in the Foreign Office who have a role in policy making, and that includes mid-level and junior-level people as well. They are part of the pyramid of filtering of information up to Ministers. Ministers deal with things at such a level of generality that they are often unaware of crucial details of policy.
Q27 Andrew Mackinlay: Your paragraphs 9, 11 and 12 are a devastating criticism of whether or not we scrutinise, and also of the response that one gets from the Foreign Office to any parliamentary questions, debates or scrutiny, either collectively by Parliament or by individual MPs. Do you have any examples of when there has been an attempt to minimise disclosure, either to an MP or to a parliamentary Committee, following parliamentary questions-strategy meetings to deal with difficult parliamentary questions or anything like that?
Mr. Ross: As I say, parliamentary scrutiny played such a small role in my career as an official that I do not recall any such strategy meetings or a concerted attempt to minimise disclosure. However, I was closely involved in Iraq policy for many years in the British Government. This is my first appearance before this Committee. I have never been asked to testify to any other Committee, despite the fact that I was a central part of the drafting of the premises of British policy in the UN Security Council. I take that as an example of that absence of scrutiny. I have to say that the Committee's scrutiny of the Iraq war-what led up to it, the legality of it, the decision making prior to it, the possible alternatives to war-to me stands as an example of that failure.
Q28 Andrew Mackinlay: I am obliged. In paragraph 12, you allege that "promotion to senior positions has been in part based on the political sympathies of officials. Those closely associated with Number Ten, and who are seen to be sympathetic to the Prime Minister's prejudices, are swept up into senior positions." You also say that another consequence of recent developments is that "officials increasingly tell ministers what they wish to hear. The culture of official impartiality, and the ability of officials to tell ministers necessary truths, is undermined." Would you like to amplify on that?
Mr. Ross: It is difficult to amplify on it, because I am not prepared to name the people about whom I was talking. That would not be fair. Nor would it be fair to indulge in ad hominem criticism of particular individuals when they are in no position to respond. The trend is a general one that I and others have observed. I have checked that with my former colleagues from the FCO and with current friends who are serving in the FCO, and they have confirmed it in both aspects. The first aspect is that there is a subtle and creeping politicisation of the diplomatic service, whereby in order to get promoted one has to show oneself as being sympathetic to, and identifying with, the views of Ministers-in particular the Prime Minister. The second aspect was true under the Conservative Government as well, before Labour took office. Decision-making powers have become increasingly concentrated in No. 10 rather than the Foreign Office, and the Foreign Office has become subsidiary to No. 10. That means that if you want to get ahead there is nothing better than a posting to No. 10, as officials currently serving in the Foreign Office will confirm.
Q29 Andrew Mackinlay: The impression I have from the Foreign Office is that there are still ins and outs: some people who find favour, almost like a magic circle for promotion. We know that a large number of distinguished and experienced people have "retired early," at a reasonable price, as it were. It seems to me that that is not a good use of scarce and skilled resources, and that talent is being lost. We pay people to go, and others stay because their faces fit. I cannot describe it in any other way. I want to bounce that off you. What say you about it?
Mr. Ross: I think that that is true. There is a political element at work in promotion to the most senior levels of the Foreign Office, which is wasteful of resources. More seriously, it means that all through the Foreign Office there is a tendency to tell Ministers what they wish to hear in order to advance one's own individual prospects-my former colleagues tell me that that is the case. It is a subtle thing, and I am sure that the Foreign Office would be vehement in its rebuttal of the accusation, but I noticed it. I noticed it before I resigned, and I think that it is a waste of resources that skilled and highly trained people leave early because of it.
Q30 Mr. Horam: My point follows Andrew Mackinlay's question about paragraph 12 of your interesting document. In paragraph 13, in the conclusions and recommendations, you say, "The last few years have been disastrous for British foreign policy". What in particular is the disaster, and why has that been so?
Mr. Ross: I think that things like influence, and Britain's role in the world, are very hard to quantify and easy to debate. In my view, the measure of success or failure in foreign policy should be Karl Popper's, which is the minimisation of suffering. That should be the goal of policy. If that is the measure, our policy has been a rank disaster in the last few years in terms of blood shed. I do not want to enter the debate on how many lives may have been lost in the invasion of Iraq, but it is a great many. By that measure, that invasion has been a much greater disaster even than Suez.
Q31 Mr. Horam: Do you think that the policy would have been any more successful if the Foreign Office had been more influential? I put it to Sir Jeremy Greenstock and others that policy in the last few years has been more or less run by No. 10 Downing street, not the Foreign Office; the Foreign Office has been merely a servant. If the Foreign Office had more influence in making foreign policy, would we perhaps have avoided some of those mistakes, such as Iraq?
Mr. Ross: I think that the Foreign Office would like the world to think that, and to think that if only the Foreign Office had been taken more seriously we would not be in this mess. I am not sure that that is the case. At the end of the day, the Prime Minister is in charge of British Government policy, and as a former official I accept that. That is nothing but right and it is the role of the Foreign Office to serve him. However, policy making in the run-up to the Iraq war was extremely poor, in that available alternatives to war were not properly considered, the presentation to the public of the intelligence on weapons of mass destruction was manipulated, and proper legal advice from the Foreign Office on the legality of the war was ignored.
Q32 Mr. Horam: Finally, on the success or failure of British foreign policy, you state, "We are so inured to the rhetoric of anti-terrorism and macho posturing...that it is hard to imagine an alternate direction for British foreign policy. But it is available...This alternative lies in consistency of application of international law and a robust defence...of those under assault or oppression." I am particularly interested to know what you mean by consistency of application of international law. What are you getting at? Could you perhaps elaborate on that a bit?
Mr. Ross: The easiest place to observe it is in the middle east, where the accusation of double standards against British foreign policy has some weight. If you say that you stand by international law, which active diplomacy repeatedly does, you must apply it consistently across the board, and that means talking about it in the case of Israel-Palestine. It was very noticeable to me, as a former head of section dealing with the Arab-Israel dispute on what used to be called the middle east peace process desk, that, in the incarnations when I worked there, the Government consistently talked about UN resolutions 242 and 338 and the discourse of occupation as the premise for British foreign policy. That is no longer the case. British Ministers rarely refer to international law when talking about Palestine. Instead, there is a sort of hand-wringing campaign in an effort to bring peace, as if we are talking about two equal parties in the dispute when in fact we are talking about one country occupying the territory of another people.
Q33 Chairman: May I ask you a question about something that is not in your paper? You served in the Balkans, and in fact I believe that we met in that region a few years ago when I was on the Defence Committee. You do not seem to have many criticisms of the Foreign Office's approach to the Balkans and Kosovo. Do you have any?
Mr. Ross: No. In fact, in a sentence at the end of my paper, I approve of the British Government policy in Kosovo. I think that they are playing a constructive role there in pushing for an early and positive solution to the issue of Kosovo's status. Since the debacle of British inaction over genocide in Bosnia, the British Government have actually been a constructive force in the Balkans. It certainly seemed that way when I was there.
Q34 Chairman: So I take it that your robust criticism is a bit like the curate's egg: it is good in parts as well.
Mr. Ross: Yes, certainly. I am not uniform in my criticism of all manifestations of British foreign policy, but our policy is in deep trouble in all the areas where we face the gravest problems: things such as terrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the nuclear threat posed by North Korea and Iran.
Q35 Sir John Stanley: Mr. Ross, I believe that you were in the room when Sir Jeremy Greenstock was giving evidence. I heard him say-we can check the transcript afterwards-that the UK Government were broadly unified in their approach to Iraq before the coalition invaded. However, you said that the senior legal adviser to the Foreign Office resigned specifically on the issue of the legality of the invasion. Was it your view at the time that the British Government were broadly united in their policy on the invasion of Iraq?
Mr. Ross: I should preface my answer by saying that I went on sabbatical from the Foreign Office from June 2002. I was studying at a university in New York during the invasion itself. However, I was in close touch with many of my colleagues who were still at the missions in New York and in London. They were personal friends, and we had worked together on the subject for many years. One of the oddities of policy making is that only a small group of people are involved in any particular policy, and there were perhaps five or six of us in the Ministry of Defence and FCO who worked on Iraq and sanctions and weapons of mass destruction issues in the years preceding the invasion. From my personal conversations with them at various moments in this saga, including a long conversation that a group of us had on the way to David Kelly's funeral, I emphatically believe that there was no unity among the officials working on Iraq-that would be an inaccurate way of describing their mood.
Q36 Sir John Stanley: On a question that I put to Sir Jeremy, should the Foreign Office have been more prescient in recognising what would happen in Iraq once the Ba'athist party dictatorship was removed? Should it have recognised that that would bring out the latent forces in Iraq and produce the sectarian civil war that is now taking place? Are you aware of people in the Foreign Office who predicted that that would happen and that the coalition was wholly unprepared for that eventuality, or did such things simply pass senior officials by?
Mr. Ross: I took part in bilateral discussions between the State Department and the FCO on Iraq for more than four years. Those discussions were quarterly and went through our Iraq policy from alpha to omega. One item that was repeatedly on the agenda was regime change, which, as you know, was the stated policy of the US Administration even during the Clinton years. Whenever that item came up on the agenda, the leader of our delegation, who was usually the director for the middle east, would say, with emphasis, "We do not believe that regime change is a good idea in Iraq and the reason we do not believe that is that we think that Iraq will break up and there will be chaos." That view would have been recorded in the telegrams that people such as me wrote to record those discussions. Those telegrams are, of course, secret and will remain so for many years, but that was emphatically the unified view of the Foreign Office; it was not a minority view of one or two officials, but our official view as put to the US Government on several occasions. That view, of course, changed in mid-2002.
Q37 Sir John Stanley: Are you saying that it changed in the light of political imperatives, rather than in the light of the accuracy of previous official advice?
Mr. Ross: There was no basis for changing the view in terms of what was going on inside Iraq; what changed, of course, was what our future policy towards Iraq would be.
Q38 Sir John Stanley: I have just one last question for you. In your strictures about the Committee, you say, "The committee's series of reports on the Iraq war stand as acute evidence of this failure to scrutinise." I assume that you are not criticising the Committee for its lack of attention to the issue, given that there is no other subject to which it has ever given more time or on which it has produced a greater number of reports. Can you elaborate on why you consider that the Committee failed to scrutinise the lead-up to the war in Iraq and the Iraq element of the war on terrorism, if we can still use that phrase?
Mr. Ross: I have surveyed your reports on the Iraq war and watched very closely as you followed things such as the dossier, early versions of which I worked on, and the whole Kelly affair-David Kelly was a friend of mine, so I was acutely interested in that episode. However, reviewing the reports that the Committee has produced, I found that you had not examined the alternatives to war, the policy making in the run-up to the war or the legality of the war in any great detail. There seems to be a great focus on particular aspects of the Iraq issue, including the dossier, which I agree was an important issue, but it is not the only one. For some reason, the Committee, Parliament and, indeed, the press have failed to talk in any detail about the fact that there were available alternatives to the invasion. Those available policies have not been discussed by the Committee or, indeed, by many others. I find that surprising.
Q39 Mr. Hamilton: Does that mean, to follow on from what Sir John said, that you detect some sort of conspiracy and that we deliberately decided that we did not want to challenge the Government's view that invasion was the only alternative, or do you think that it is just a matter of incompetence?
Mr. Ross: I would not say that it is either. I do not know why you did not; it is not for me to speculate. I am just observing that you did not.
Q40 Mr. Hamilton: Can I pick up on something that you said earlier and in your submission about the effectiveness of parliamentary scrutiny generally? You mentioned that that this is the first time that you have appeared before the Committee and that you were surprised that you had not been previously invited to speak. Clearly, there is a large number of staff at the Foreign Office at different levels whom, if we had all the time in the world, we would love to talk to and whose evidence we would love to hear in this Committee. What is your alternative to what we actually do? You have been critical, and rightly so, but you have not offered an alternative to how we could improve parliamentary scrutiny and how people at your level and at more junior levels could give evidence and submit themselves to parliamentary scrutiny. What would you do?
Mr. Ross: Given my situation, I am a little surprised because I resigned over the Iraq war after giving evidence at the Butler inquiry. That evidence is still secret and it should be something in which the Committee might be interested. More generally, you are right to say that I should propose a constructive alternative in respect of how it could be better. One of the problems is the resources of the Committee. The Clerks and other officials who work for the Committee are extremely able and competent, but they do not have anything like the resources that are available, for example, to a United States Senate Committee on foreign affairs that has a large staff who are able to develop complicated analyses of the Government's policy. The number of subjects that you are able to cover is relatively few. That is a pity because British foreign policy is significant in many areas that are often obscure in the public debate.
I suppose that, more fundamentally, the Foreign Office itself should be opened up a lot more. We have a highly deferential attitude to those who make foreign policy. In a sense, we are submissive. We allow them to get on with the business of foreign policy as long as we are allowed to get on with our lives back in Britain. It is a pact of irresponsibility. Reflecting on my 15 years at the Foreign Office, which dealt with many grave issues and where I was not scrutinised at all, I could not help but conclude that that was wrong not least because scrutiny makes for a much better policy. If officials feel that they may be held publicly accountable for their actions, they will take much greater care in their decisions.
One of the serious problems with foreign policy is that individual officials, such as myself and the gentlemen who were here before me, bear no accountability for what they do, and what they do can have very serious consequences.
Q41 Mr. Hamilton: You must have been accountable to your managers, the people above you.
Mr. Ross: Yes, in theory, but that accountability was much more focused on my ability to draft good telegrams or execute nice briefings for my Ministers. There was not a component of moral accountability, for instance. I felt, looking back, that what I did about sanctions on Iraq was fundamentally wrong. Sanctions were ill-engineered and misdirected. They were targeted at the wrong group of people and, as a result, caused immense suffering in Iraq. They failed to achieve the ends for which they were designed.
Q42 Mr. Hamilton: Did you say anything at the time?
Mr. Ross: I did, but not enough. I felt that, as a group of officials, it was much easier for us to affirm each other and reinforce our sense of being right rather than to question each other. There is not a culture of open debate and questioning at the Foreign Office. When I tried to instigate open discussion of policy, I was often accused of being a troublemaker or an iconoclast. People inside the Foreign Office are marked in that way with a little red sign. It means, for instance, that you will never be ambassador to Washington. You might be ambassador to Belarus, but never to Washington. That is problematic and the way around it is to open the policy debate to outside scrutiny.
I even feel that one should question whether we need an institution like the Foreign Office, an elite body that does the thing called foreign policy, because in fact foreign policy is everything. It is about every aspect of our lives these days. It is about global warming; it is about trade; it is about employment; it is about immigration, the stuff of domestic debate. The idea that we have a separate institution sequestered away from public scrutiny dealing with foreign policy is, I think, a myth that belongs in earlier centuries.
Q43 Richard Younger-Ross: That is a fairly broad criticism of the FCO. Is that way of working not also a problem in the other Departments? Is it not a failing in the civil service per se rather than just the Foreign and Commonwealth Office?
Mr. Ross: I do not think so, for the following reason. In domestic policy, the mechanisms of accountability are much more developed, in that MPs, the press and the courts have a much greater role in scrutinising, for example, health policy or education policy. If a policy is going wrong in a city academy in Rotherham, for example, people will quickly scream about it, MPs will start interrogating officials and Ministers and there is a much greater sense of a real dialogue between the governed and the governors. Because the effects of foreign policy are felt much further away, there is not that feedback mechanism-it does not exist. For that reason, you have to take much greater care to scrutinise it more closely.
Q44 Richard Younger-Ross: To continue, you talk about foreign policy now being inclusive of all sorts of other areas. How do you feel that the Foreign Office works with the other Departments? Is its relationship with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, say, over climate change a healthy one?
Mr. Ross: Yes.
Q45 Richard Younger-Ross: Who leads on that? How much does the FCO listen to what is being said to it by the relevant Minister?
Mr. Ross: I am probably the wrong person to ask. I have not worked in Whitehall since 1998, so I am pretty out of date on inter-departmental relations. Certainly, on Iraq policy, the only Department that we work closely with is the Ministry of Defence-and that was a pretty close relationship.
Q46 Richard Younger-Ross: I wanted to return to the relationships between the FCO and Downing street. You said earlier that the Foreign Office would like to think that it had a different view-that if only it had been done the FCO way, everything would have been all right. You then said that there were cases where the FCO had stood out and said that things were wrong-that the legality of the war in Iraq is wrong. Our perception is that, over Lebanon, the FCO's view would have been different from Downing street's. How much does the FCO have a different policy from Downing street and what is the influence of Downing street? How does Downing street assert itself on the FCO?
Mr. Ross: This is an evolving story. It changes very rapidly. I have to say that I am pretty out of date on it. I have not been part of the FCO proper since mid-2002. But by that time it was clear that No. 10 was absolutely dominant in foreign policy; any serious policy decision had to be submitted to No. 10 before it could be put into effect. In a sense, there is nothing wrong with that. The Prime Minister is, after all, in charge of the Government. However, that is problematic because No. 10 is inevitably a much smaller group of policy makers; its foreign policy team is very small indeed and may run the risk of losing the benefit of the much broader perspective that the Foreign Office might bring.
At the end of the day, however, it is about politics and leadership. I do not think that I am the first to comment that Britain has a system that tends to concentrate power in the Prime Minister's hands and that that affects foreign policy and the Foreign Secretary as much as it affects anybody else.
Q47 Richard Younger-Ross: What I am trying to come to is this: does the FCO change what it says to please Downing street, or does it hold the line and say, "This is what we believe to be the case"? You seem to imply that there is some shift-that things are said because that is the response that is wanted.
Mr. Ross: To be honest, I do not think that I am qualified to comment in broad terms, because I was only part of a particular piece of policy for a certain number of years.
Q48 Richard Younger-Ross: You were an expert.
Mr. Ross: There, of course, the Foreign Office tailored its advice to what it thought the Prime Minister and other Ministers wanted to hear; that is what civil servants do. But my impression-it is only an impression; I cannot give you empirical evidence-is that over the last few years this has become a more subtle and insidious trend and officials increasingly have failed to give Ministers the range of options, particularly the more critical options on policy, that they might have.
Q49 Andrew Mackinlay: You said that your evidence to the Butler inquiry is secret and will be for many years, but I invite you to consider something. It is my understanding that the evidence that you gave to the Butler inquiry is your property and that you are entitled to publish that information. You could certainly furnish it to the Committee. Will you do so? You implicitly said that you could not go into the subject because it was secret. I put it to you that it is not secret; the evidence that you gave is entirely your property and you could let this Committee have it.
Mr. Ross: I am torn.
Andrew Mackinlay: You are criticising us.
Mr. Ross: I am not. In that sense, I am bound by law and not my views. I would love to give it to you.
Andrew Mackinlay: It is your property. You are entitled to do so. In any event, it would be privileged here. None the less, my recollection of the Butler inquiry is that any evidence given is the property of the person giving it.
Mr. Ross: I was advised by the lawyers of my union that I might be liable for prosecution under the Official Secrets Act if it was to become public.
Andrew Mackinlay: It is privileged here.
Chairman: I think we need further legal advice for Mr. Ross on that rather than discussing it.
Mr. Ross: If I may say so, Mr. Chairman, it is an interesting point. In this room, one is under different legal circumstances than outside it. However, I feel that the matter should come to light. I do not think that it is right that such things should be kept secret. I do not think that the evidence that I gave is damaging to Britain's national interest. However, it is up to the British public and the British Parliament to know what the views of people such as me were in an important inquiry into policy.
Q50 Andrew Mackinlay: I am putting it to you that I am absolutely certain-although the Clerk and your lawyers will advise on it-that it is totally privileged here. It is your property. In view, particularly of what you said both in a written submission and what you have said here-all of which is legitimate, and with which I have a great deal of sympathy-it is time to make up your mind. You might want to reflect on that when you leave the room, but you must not come back at a later stage and criticise us.
One bears the scars of lots of inquiries, not just on Iraq, but on Sierra Leone, where there was obfuscation by lots of people. Lots of people said that we have not probed or scrutinised. When people come here, they are worried about the Foreign Office lawyers behind them, and people whose names we do not know. It is make-your-mind-up time.
Mr. Ross: It is a fair point, and I have brought a copy with me.
Andrew Mackinlay: If it is on rice paper, I shall eat it after I have read it.
Mr. Ross: I shall be delighted to give it to you. If you want it, maybe the Clerk can give it to you.
Q51 Chairman: Can we move on? Do not worry about the bell; we shall carry on for a while. Can I ask you about your assessment of the structure that Mr. Hamilton talked about in his questions? How could a Government and a civil service work effectively if, at any point, any member of staff could be summoned to give their own personal views that did not reflect the views of the Department to an outside body, while that policy was still evolving? Do you know where I am coming from?
Mr. Ross: Yes.
Q52 Chairman: I just wondered how that could work in practice. I am taking the implication of what you said earlier as meaning that somebody, some way down the pecking order in the system, could be summoned to come to a Committee to give a view that was not necessarily the Department's view, which was not the Minister's view or that of the more senior people in the structure, but would undermine the process of government?
Mr. Ross: I have to say that that is the great myth of government: that you need a kind of secret process, where officials can work without scrutiny in order to produce proper policy. I simply do not believe that. The evidence of foreign policy making over the last few years is that scrutiny is desperately needed. It is not for me to tell you the mechanics of how that might work, but I would not accept the blandishments of Government that they cannot work under scrutiny. Of course they can.
Q53 Chairman: So what you are saying is that advice to Ministers should not be confidential under all circumstances?
Mr. Ross: No, I am not saying that. Of course there are certain things that would need to be more limited in terms of their public discussion, but the way that it is now is extremely superficial. To go back to the document that we are supposed to be talking about, it is a deeply superficial document and does not tell you anything about the actual detail of British foreign policy. That level of public and parliamentary discussion about British foreign policy is, to me, inadequate when the consequences of that policy are so important.
Q54 Sir John Stanley: The document does, of course, refer to Afghanistan, and indeed you refer in your own paper to the fact that you served briefly in Afghanistan after we invaded. With regard to Afghanistan, do you agree that it was an entirely legitimate, legal, necessary invasion? Give us your assessment, if you would, of how well or not so well we have done since the invasion took place.
Mr. Ross: I absolutely agree that it was legitimate, and I supported it fully. I still do. Where I criticise it is that from the very beginning of when we were there both the Afghans and the British and American military who were there were clear that we needed to devote a lot more forces to stabilising the country. Afghanistan, as you know, is a huge country, very ill served by infrastructure. There were not proper roads, not even a proper telephone system when we got there, yet we sent a tiny number of troops, mostly to be based in Kabul. My job in the embassy was to talk to political leaders and receive representations from delegations around the country. They all had one single message, uniformly, which was, "We need stability, we need security." For that, we needed more forces.
There is a direct connection with the Iraq invasion, because it was very clear that forces were being held back, even at that point, for the later invasion of Iraq. Indeed, the senior British officers in the International Security Assistance Force, which I helped to set up in the UN security council, said that their equipment and men were being held back in order to prepare for the invasion of Iraq. That was in early 2002.
Q55 Sir John Stanley: So you are saying to us that, right from the outset, we made insufficient commitment of our own armed forces to Afghanistan and that we should have rebalanced rapidly between Iraq and Afghanistan. On top of that, what do you feel about how well we have done on the political side in Iraq overall? We have record narcotics production this year; how well are we doing on that front and how well are we doing on the human rights front?
Mr Ross: Politically, the objective was to build a functioning democracy in Afghanistan, and, at least superficially, that has been created. That is admirable and a brave effort, particularly on the part of the Afghans involved. What they do not have is security and stability throughout the country, as is evident from our news every day, particularly in the south. The allies never occupied or stabilised the south; there were never allied forces in significant numbers there. In fact, the toppling of the Taliban was only a Kabul and northern Afghanistan phenomenon. In any case, the Taliban were very weak in the north, if non-existent, because the north was dominated by Tajik warlords such as Dostum and others. So to that extent, it is still a very uncertain endeavour and one that is still at grave risk of failure, because the Government are not firmly rooted in the whole country and there is an ongoing war in the south that it does not look like we are winning right now.
I do not therefore think that democracy is stable and secure for the long term. We should not leave until it is, and one piece of evidence of that is the continuing production of drugs, particularly opium, which was widespread before we got there and is even more widespread now. The reason why it proliferates in the way that it does is that there is no alternative economy that can offer ordinary Afghans anything like the same income. Until there is stability and economic development of a much greater and longer-term scale, that will continue to be a problem.
Q56 Mr. Horam: But however well meaning our intervention in Afghanistan, and I think that most people thought that it was legal and justified, events have unfolded in the way that you describe. However great our military resources may become, the reality is that one sees no real future for any kind of solution to those problems. "Why are we there," is increasingly the question, "and what good will we do?" I hear you say that we should not leave until some sort of democratic situation is in place in Afghanistan, but given the history of the country, that seems highly unlikely in any civil future.
Mr. Ross: I do not think that that is necessarily the case. I do not accept essentialist explanations of places such as Afghanistan as historically incapable of democracy. It is not a unitary state in the way that we think of ourselves or other western European countries. It is a state made up of many different ethnicities and tribes. When I was there a while ago-I accept that my impression of it was highly selective-it was rather moving how every Afghan that I talked to was absolutely passionate about their desire for more participative, representative and legal government, not just as an alternative to the Taliban but as an alternative to what are normally called the warlords: people such as Dostum or Ismail Khan in Herat who ruled with viciousness, oppression and illegality.
Q57 Mr. Horam: Do you think that we can actually bring that about?
Mr. Ross: Part of the problem with our initial incursion into Afghanistan is that those very warlords were our allies in our primary objective, which was getting rid of al-Qaeda/Taliban. That undermined our objective of building democracy, because it reaffirmed those people in their roles, and it has made it a very great problem for more legitimate types of people, such as Karzai and people like him, to assert their authority.
I am afraid to say that it cannot be underestimated how little we knew about Afghanistan before we went in. We had not had an embassy there for many years. I remember vividly sitting with the British and American special envoys for Afghanistan, shortly before the invasion, in New York where they were meeting. I was the note taker for their meeting; I covered Afghanistan as well as Iraq in New York. Both were highly intelligent men. They sat and told each other how much they knew about Afghanistan. Neither of them had visited and neither spoke any of the languages, but they had both read the same three books about Afghanistan.
Q58 Mr. Horam: Despite all that, you think that we should still allow British soldiers to be killed in Afghanistan, because we have no alternative?
Mr. Ross: I think that once you invade a country, you have an obligation to make it right. That is a legal as well as a moral obligation under the Geneva conventions.
Q59 Mr. Horam: Despite your rather pessimistic outlook-there is no alternative, in your view-in your paper you said that there is always an alternative.
Mr. Ross: I talked about the alternatives for general British foreign policy. Once you invade a country, say that you are going to produce a democracy and promise the people there emphatically and fist-poundingly that you will stand by Afghans, you damn well do it.
Q60 Mr. Horam: So what would you do now?
Mr. Ross: Put more forces in, not less.
Q61 Mr. Horam: More troops?
Mr. Ross: Yes. You make damn sure that the experiment works. We have a duty to those people.
Q62 Chairman: Do you take the same view about responsibility to the Iraqi people and the Iraqi democratic institutions, or do you take a different view?
Mr. Ross: I have the same view about our responsibility to the Iraqi people. After we have created that chaos, we have a duty to do our best to put it right. I am impressed by the views of what is still a democratically elected Government in Baghdad and what they say. I take those as my lead in these matters. I must say that it is not unpersuasive when the commander of the British Army tells us that the presence of British troops is actually a further provocation for violence. That has to be taken seriously too.
Chairman: Mr. Ross, Black Rod is now approaching to end the proceedings, and that might be a good point at which to conclude our discussions. I say personally that I think that you should take advice before you hand over anything that might get you into problems, despite Mr. Mackinlay's protestations.
Andrew Mackinlay: As long as it is on the record-
Chairman: Yes, it is on the record.
Andrew Mackinlay: I am surprised. As Chairman, you should be coaxing and encouraging witnesses to give full disclosure, and I hoped that you would do that in discussions with the Clerk.
Chairman: I am trying to ensure that witnesses do not make a decision on the spur of the moment that might have wider consequences without thinking through those consequences.
Andrew Mackinlay: I absolutely agree. It has to stand up in Parliament.
Chairman: It is up to Mr. Ross what he chooses to do, but I think that he should give it considered thought rather than give way to being pressured. It is his decision, but I am just saying that as we conclude the proceedings today.
Mr. Ross: Mr. Chairman, I have given it years of thought. This has been on my conscience for a very long time, and I was waiting for an opportunity under privilege to share my evidence to the Butler inquiry. I would be happy to share it at this point with the Committee.
Chairman: That is fine. That is your decision.
I therefore conclude the proceedings and wish everybody a very happy end to the parliamentary year. We will be back next week. Thank you, Mr. Ross.