|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
I am grateful for that intervention, although we are left in something of a grey area about whether the request is coming. I do not know what Brigadier Lorimer has said, but I know that he will be delighted to have been promoted to general by the Defence Secretary on the Floor of the House.
Nevertheless, our troops and officers returning from Afghanistan often express concerns about such matters, which cannot simply be brushed aside.
Our callsto add to the list of what ought to be donefor stronger co-ordination of the often duplicated international reconstruction efforts have been ignored. Those matters now need further attention, along with another major effort to obtain further help from our NATO allies. As the Foreign Secretary said, failure to do so will undermine NATOs ability, not only in Afghanistan, but in every other area of alliance business.
On counter-narcotics, on which Britain is in the lead, the huge growth in opium cultivation this year of 59 per cent. surely calls for a reassessment of strategy. Other approaches, such as the licensed growing of opium for legal purposes, have been discounted, but it may be time at least to consider pilot projects in the future.
Finally, the Prime Minister has been right to emphasise the importance of breathing new life into the middle east peace process. However, it is important to recognise that that will not be easy, nor would it automatically solve the problems of Iraq and Afghanistan even if it was. Hopeful rhetoric about the peace process must not, therefore, become a substitute for fresh actions and reassessment in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, given the deepening crisis in Lebanonwhere UN resolutions requiring the disarmament of Hezbollah are going entirely unimplementedthe endless stand-off in Gaza, and the steady separation of Palestinian and Israeli people, which suicide bombings and the response to them have brought about, a new international emphasis on middle east peace is of course desperately needed.
The leadership on that will have to come from America, although it cannot be successful without the support of many other nations. The Prime Minister said in September that he would dedicate himself, with the same commitment that he has given to Northern Ireland, to advancing peace between Israel and Palestine. We should like to know what that will mean in concrete terms and what initiatives will be involved.
We hope that Britain will be in the forefront of that effort, but it is vital to recognise that British influence in the middle east is at a low ebb. Many of the moderate nations of the middle east do not feel that they have been a priority for British diplomacy for some years. That has been a weakness in British foreign policy. This country needs a long-term and refreshed approach to the countries of the middle east, pursued for many years to come and across political parties, to deepen our political, cultural, economic and educational links with many Muslim countries.
The need for a new approach is partly because of the same strategic reason why we are advocates of Turkish membership of the European Union, but it is also because strengthened alliances will be necessary to cope with all the situations that I have described, which
reach beyond NATO, beyond Europe and beyond the transatlantic relationship. We also need those allies to help us to bring about the necessary reform of international institutions and treaties that are struggling to keep up with the rapid changes in the world, which include the United Nations and the NPT.
We should be the clear advocates of the reform of those institutions and of a struggle against terror which upholds our own highest values, while reaching out to new friends. I hope that the Government will increasingly be able not only to chart the way forward on the immediate crises that we are debatingand to accept some of the proposals that we have madebut to chart the way towards a coherent foreign policy on the middle east that would command genuine bipartisan support in the House.
Mr. Don Touhig (Islwyn) (Lab/Co-op): I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary on her opening remarks and to the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), because it is important that we show a bipartisan view in the House on many of these issues. That has come across powerfully in the two speeches that we have heard from the Front Benches.
In his Mansion House speech, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister spoke well about our close and enduring friendship with the United States. Long before 9/11, but more since, we have stood shoulder to shoulder with our American allies. My right hon. Friend emphasised that it was always right to keep that partnership strong. His personal commitment to the alliance came through when he said:
Post 9/11, there were no half-hearted allies...There were allies and others.
I firmly support that, and I speak from the point of view of someone who considers himself to be a Euro-Atlanticist. I believe strongly in a vibrant Europe being an equal partner with the United States, but it must be a true partnership, in which we do not always hitch our wagon to Americas star on foreign and defence policy. It must be a partnership in which there is a frank exchange of views between friends who might not always see eye to eye, but who remain firm friends and are totally honest with each other.
In our lifetimes, I believe that China will become an equal to and even overtake Europe and the United States economically. It will not be the first time in our history that we have faced an economic superpower, but it will be the first time that we have faced one devoid of our traditions of freedom and democracy, which we in western Europe and the United States have enjoyed for generations. For that we reason, we should all be Euro-Atlanticists.
But true and lasting friendship between Britain and the United States will endure only if we are open and frank with each other. We are equal in the friendship;
we are not a client of the United States. When I was a defence Minister receiving briefings, I often felt that the present US Administration sometimes saw us as a client first and as a friend second. I have certainly felt that about some of the aspects of how we have handled the conflict in Iraq.
We entered the conflict with a plan for war, but the sad truth is that the US-led coalition had no plan for the peace. President Bush has been given a pretty powerful reminder of that in the mid-term elections, which saw disastrous results for his Republican party. The power of the ballot box has humbled an arrogant Government, who, while they controlled the White House and both houses of Congress, were prepared to ride roughshod over dissent and doubt. History tells all of us elected to public office that whatever our ambitions, we cannot lead people where they will not go.
There can be no more damning comment on the lack of clear policy for post-conflict Iraq than that by Henry Kissinger, who has made it clear that there will be no military victory in Iraq. A peaceful Iraq will emerge only if we engage with other powers in the region, which means Syria and Iran, as well as the moderate Arab powers to which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister referred in his Mansion House speech.
Mr. Arbuthnot: Before the hon. Gentleman moves off the subject of an equal relationship with the United States, does he agree that the transfer of technology in relation to the joint strike fighter will be a key test of whether we have such a relationship? Does he agree that if we do not receive that transfer of technology, we should not enter the programme?
Mr. Touhig: I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and Ministers in the Ministry of Defence have been working hard on that matter. I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentlemans point.
Notwithstanding the events in Lebanon in the past 24 hours and the nuclear ambitions of Iran, those two countries could play as much of a role in creating a stable Iraq as they are now playing in destabilising it by fomenting terror and strife. We engaged in the Iraq conflict without, I believe, a clear plan B. We won the conflict, removed Saddam and disbanded his security forces, only to see the country slip into chaos. We now scramble about trying to train enough Iraqi forces, although I recognise the progress to which my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary referred in her opening remarks.
British servicemen and women have laid down their lives in the conflict and our thoughts must be with them and their families. Our forces risk their lives there daily. The plain fact is that we want our troops home, but we must recognise that that is not possible at this time. But while our forces are there, of course, they need our full backing and support. Even more than that, they need us to work out and work for a peaceful resolution to the conflict.
The mantra that we are in Iraq as long as the Iraqi Government want us there will no longer wash. At first, that gave us some comfort and reassurance that
we were following a process to bring about a stable and free country, from which we could then withdraw our forces. I, like many others, felt that there was light at the end of the tunnel. Sadly, despite the progress to which my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary referred in her opening remarks, at present, I cannot really see that tunnel.
The Prime Minister was right to say that we must engage with other powers in the region, and I am sure that he has felt that for some time. He certainly demonstrated a better grasp of the underlying problem than President Bush when he made every effort to revive the middle east peace process. He reaffirmed that strategy in his Mansion House speech.
True friends tell each other the truth, no matter how difficult and painful that might be from time to time. It is up to this Government to be honest and plain-speaking with our American friends. Too many young lives have been lost, and more are at risk as our soldiers struggle to contain the violence on the streets in Iraq. The Iraq conflict saw us take our eye off the ball in Afghanistan, and our British forces there are now engaged in some of the fiercest fighting that they have witnessed since the Korean war. That is another reason why we need the help of other countries in the region, and we must be grateful to Pakistan for the role that it has played. Would that our NATO partners put as much effort into helping to solve the issues in Afghanistan as Pakistan has done.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence has said that our forces are stretched but not overstretched. There is a fine line, however, and one that is easily crossed. The 1998 strategic defence review said that
we must match the commitments we undertake to our planned resources, recognising that there will always be the risk of additional short-term pressures if we have to respond rapidly to an unforeseen crisis.
Since the publication of the SDR, the world has much changed. Until 9/11, no one had heard much about the Taliban in Afghanistan or planned any large operations in Iraq. The NAO report on recruitment and retention in the armed forces should be read by every Member of the House. If our foreign policy objectives involve the use of military force, we must recognise that those will be realised only if we have the resources. We must not bite off more than we can chew.
Our forces in Iraq and Afghanistan are fighting for our freedom as much as for the freedom of the peoples of those countries. We ask so much of the men and women of the British armed forces, and we owe them a duty of care. Throughout our history, we have challenged tyranny and injustice. We have been prepared to fight for freedom. About 10 days ago, our country mourned those who died in terrible world wars in the previous century. If we and our American friends do not now seek positive engagement with other countries across the middle east to stop the spread of terror in Afghanistan and to end the conflict in Iraq, many more of our young men and women will die. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has a good grasp of that, and he must ensure that the vacuum left in western foreign policy by the electoral reversals of President Bush is now filled.
What kind of peace do we seek? Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war.
I am talking about genuine peace, the kind of peace that makes life...worth living, the kind that enables men and nations to grow and to hope to build a better life for their childrennot merely peace in our time but peace for all time.
The world has changed beyond all recognition since then, but I hope that our Government will at least remind our American friends of that warning given by one of their own, which is still powerfully relevant today.
It is always a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Touhig). He was always courteous and a pleasure to deal with as a Minister in the Ministry of Defence. I regret to tell him that some cases, not least that of Mr. John Horsman, still need to be resolved, but I always appreciated his efforts on his and other peoples behalf. He has set out a series of ideas in his thoughtful contribution today, to which I hope that those on the Front Bench have listened carefully.
The Foreign Secretary and the shadow Foreign Secretary set out the vast range of issues that require urgent attention in the world today, not least the challenges of nuclear proliferation and climate change, which the Foreign Secretary was right to say is as much a matter of foreign policy as of anything else. As other Members have done, I want to pay tribute to our armed forces, which underlines how we are united in praising their professionalism, dedication and bravery in the most challenging of circumstances.
As for many right hon. and hon. Members, it was an honour for me to be asked to lay a wreath in my constituency on Remembrance Sunday. We must never forget the sacrifices that our armed forces make on our behalf. Equally, I pay tribute to those in the diplomatic service, who are often nowadays in the front line. Wherever they serve this country, they remain second to none in the regard in which they are held in the House and across the world.
This is not an easy time to be in either the armed forces or the diplomatic corps. As the Foreign Secretary said in her opening remarks, this is a fast-changing and uncertain world. That puts stresses and strains not experienced for generations on the diplomatic corps and armed forces. Nowhere is that more obvious than in Iraq. The Liberal Democrats opposed the invasion of Iraq in March 2003 and voted accordingly. Three weeks ago, we had the first full debate on the situation in Iraq in more than two years.
In the time that has elapsed since that debate the devastation in the country has continued, with at least 100 civilians killed every day, Iraqi politicians being attacked and kidnapped and scores of bodies being discovered by Iraqi police, apparently tortured and often killed in execution style. The statistics continue to
make desperate reading. According to the United Nations 3,700 civilians were killed in October, many more than was originally thought, and the highest number since the war began. So far this month at least 47 United States troops have been killed, and five British soldiers have, tragically, lost their lives. That must surely give us pause for thought, if not here certainly across the Atlantic, where congressional elections have altered the political landscape and now promise to reshape the strategic framework for Iraq.
Mr. Baron: May I suggest that the issue of Iraqi civilians is not just a question of casualties but a question of displacement? According to some estimates, a couple of thousand families are being displaced each week as the sectarian violence grows and families concentrate on their ethic origins.
In the United States the new Democratic Congress is weeks away from taking the reins, but already the Defence Secretary is gone and new urgency attends the work of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group. In the United Kingdom, meanwhile, old mantras remain. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) said earlier in our debates on the Gracious Speech, phrases such as
We will not cut and run, We will stay the course, and We will stay for as long as the Iraqi Government want us to...are meaningless...when judged against the complexity of the circumstances in Iraq.[ Official Report, 15 November 2006; Vol. 453, c. 34.]
It is not clear whether those were the lines used last week when the Prime Minister gave evidence to the Iraq study group by video link, but it is surely symbolic that he has resisted any serious public debate on a new Iraq strategy here in Britain in the past few months. By contrast, he was keen to offer his thoughts at length and in private to those in Washington who have been embraced by the President as the key to a new strategy.
Britain has reached a decisive moment. Our support for the efforts of our armed forces and so many others in Iraq has always been on the basis that we recognise our responsibilities to the Iraqis and to wider regional stability, but in the three and a half years since the invasion we have seen the strategy fail. Ultimately our duty is to our armed forces and their security. We must ensure that they have sufficient and appropriate resources, and a credible mission that they can hope to achieve.
The head of the Army, General Dannatt, showed that all those matters are now in question, and exposed the frailties of the situation. Mr. Baker, Mr. Hamilton and their colleagues in the Iraq study group carry a heavy burden. Beyond the USA and here in the UK, people watch and wait for a clear new direction on Iraq. It will have to be based on broader international involvement, not least by Iraqs neighbours. Events on the ground risk overtaking the development of any new strategy. We see that Syria has renewed diplomatic relations with Iraq for the first time in more than 20
years. The Iraqi President has been invited to Iran for a conference on security. Clearly Iraqs neighbours are beginning to recognise that they have a serious role to play in Iraq and its diplomacy as well as in other ways, and the new strategy from Washington must also recognise that.
None of this is easy, not least in the context of the serious problems elsewhere in the middle east, but the time has come when difficult choices must be contemplated. In this country we must consider the work of the Iraq study group and the response from the US Administration, but we must do so on British terms. In heeding the warning of General Dannatt we must, as our amendment suggests,
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|