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Lord Robertson of Port Ellen: My Lords, I am very grateful for this opportunity to address the House for the first time, so I thank the noble Lord, Lord Wright, for his initiative and congratulate him on securing the debate. He and I know each other well. We had the pleasure of being together on the British Council board for a few years when he was Permanent Secretary at the Foreign Office. We also had the memorable distinction of participating in the only vote in that board's history, and finding ourselves on the losing side when it chose to go to Manchester instead of Glasgow for its new headquarters.
I am also delighted that the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, is winding up the debate, not only because she is one of the most eloquent and effective members of the Government, but because I had the advantage of having her for a very brief period as my deputy at the Ministry of Defence. That was before I was moved out of Parliament, out of the Cabinet and out of the country and given a new name. It is known in the United States as the witness protection scheme, but it was to NATO that I went, which precluded me for obvious reasons from speaking in this House since then. I thank noble Lords for the warmth of their welcome and the depth of their understanding about why I was not here for so long.
The four years in which I held the position of Secretary-General were remarkable, dramatic and in many ways unpredictableevents, as the noble Lord, Lord Wright, has said, out of the dark. I went in there in the aftermath of Kosovo, four years after the intervention in Bosnia. We had a potential bloodbath in southern Serbia in early 2001 and then a near civil war in Macedonia later in that year; and, of course, on September 11 the whole world was turned upside down.
In February of last year we had a crisis in the alliance over giving help to Turkey under Article 4 of the North Atlantic Treaty. I was responsible at the time for the decision taken for NATO to go into Afghanistan and the decision in principle, unanimously taken last year, to support Poland as it took responsibility for a multinational division in Iraq.
NATO is a very different organisation from the one I went to in October 1999. There are seven new members of the alliance, three of them part of the Soviet Union only 15 years ago; new relationships on paper and in
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practice with the European Union; a new equality-based council with the Russian Federation; new capabilities for the new world that we live ina new command structure and a new Supreme Allied Command transformation to bind together the armed forces of America and Europe; a new NATO response force designed for the challenges of the future; a new commitment to getting the right capabilities for tomorrow's challenges and not for yesterday's enemies; and new roles in both Afghanistan and Iraq.
So, NATO is an international organisation that went through a transition, faced the challenges and made the changes, both internally and externally. I believe that it has faced the challenges of terrorism proliferation and of failed states and that it is better equipped than ever before.
A T-shirt was presented to me in Colorado Springs last September at a meeting of NATO Defence Ministers. It was in exchange for a bottle of fine 17 year-old Islay malt whiskyso that killed the stereotype of the mean Scotsman for ever. But the T-shirt was a very important memento. On the back was the emblem of the ministerial meeting and on the front was the slogan, "This ain't your daddy's NATO". I was very proud of that T-shirt. I have not yet found the circumstances to wear it, but the legend is important and NATO is there.
NATO is one of the most important organisations that we have been involved in and are members of now. It is a huge bargain for the money that we spend, and I hope that my noble friend will be able to give a commitment on behalf of the Government that, at long last, the United Kingdom Government will stop putting a block on enlarging the NATO budget, which they, like the French and German Governments, have conspired over the years to keep at record lows. I believe that NATO is the one multinational organisation in the world where the United States Government want to spend more money, but are prevented doing so by certain governmentsand the British Government could take a lead.
I have one reservation about many of the things that we did during my time at NATOmy worry and my concern as a passionate Atlanticist and a passionate European integrationist over the lamentable record of the European powers in sharing the security burden with the United States of America. Unless the European countries spend more money on defenceand spend it more wiselythen it will be impotence and not influence that results from the transatlantic relationships. We need more deployable troops; we need more big planes; we need more precision weapons; and we do not need the heavy metal armies that were useful, if they were useful at all, against the Soviet Union in a bygone day.
Perhaps I may say a word in conclusionI am told that I must limit my speech to six minutes. I know that someone was once quoted as saying, "If you can't say what you need to say in 20 minutes, go away and write a book". To crystallise one's views in six minutes is difficult, but not, I hope, impossible.
I do not think that, in this brief time, it is either appropriate or necessary to revisit the arguments regarding, "Why Iraq? Why now?". I supported the
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invasion then and I support the principle of it now. An evil man in the region and in the world has been disposed of. The world is a better place, although it will be tough to get through. But the issue of "the now" is more urgent than the argument about "what if?". I think that there are too many stakeholders in failure, and yet there are so many people in Iraq who are stakeholders in success. In the next four weeks, as the leaders of the world meet next week in Normandy, the following week at Sea Island in Georgia, then at the European Union summit, and then in Istanbul at the NATO summit, I hope they will focus on how best we can safely find a way to hand over authority to the Iraqis themselvesbecause, be assured, if we do not sort Iraq then Iraq will come and sort us. That is the lesson of history and I hope that we learn it.
Those who have doubts about whether that is possible might care to go to Sarajevo and talk to another Member of this House who is on leave of absence at the momentto Paddy Ashdown, who I visited on a number of occasions and who is doing a brilliant and successful job there. It is not yet nine years since the massacre at Srebrenica, but we have gone from the killing fields of Srebrenica to the Eurovision Song Contest for Bosnia and Herzegovina. Not many people would have made that prediction in 1995, when we intervened there.
Lord Howe of Aberavon: My Lords, by a strange coincidence I have the privilege of following an outstanding maiden speech, exactly as I did on 14 September 2002, when I followed the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown. So my pleasure in welcoming the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, is amplified by the fact that he has set a marvellous sequel to the pattern set by the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown.
I have known the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, for long time and he was one of my opposite numbers during my time at the Foreign Office. In particular, I remember the occasion when he had to respond to my rather startling and disturbing announcement about the shooting of three IRA men in Gibraltar. That was a very confused occasion. I was not able to give him the Statement until five minutes before I made itand it was quite different from what it had been an hour before. He might have responded in any number of opportunistic ways, but he responded with robust, candid support, which I have always valued.
I remember also, perhaps particularly as a Welshman, his joint handling, as shadow Scottish Secretary, with my noble friend Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, of the tragedies of Dunblane. Their joint management of that terrible episode did great credit to our political system on both sides, and the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, played a very large part in that. So nothing has surprised us about his subsequent record,
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his distinguished service as Secretary of State for Defence and, of course, in NATO, during the four years that we have been missing him in this House.
The noble Lord closed by making exactly the right points, based on that experience, and I underline his encouragement to our European partners to begin playing a much more serious role in fortifying ourselves effectively to play the part that we ought to. His advice on that and many other issues will be enormously welcome and I congratulate him most warmly on behalf of the entire House.
It is also a pleasure to thank the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, because we, too, have had a significant partnership over many years. He opened this debate with the authority and clarity that we have come to expect of him and I underline absolutely one of his most important pointsthe need for us to have, as a nation playing a proper part in the world, a Diplomatic Service that is properly resourced and whose advice and wisdom is properly respected. Both are equally important.
I depart from the noble Lord's pattern of priorities, because it is some time since I have spoken on the topic of foreign affairs in this House for reasons with which I need not trouble noble Lords. I want to say something in particular about the consequences of what has been happening in relation to Iraq over recent years. I shall focus much more critically than I would have wished on the performance of the United States, as well as on the entire pattern of our own reactions to what was happeningmy reaction and the world's reaction. We failed to judge correctly the anger with which the United States, and its leaders, was likely to react to an event of hugely provocative and humiliating significance in its history.
I look back on my own advice, and perhaps I may follow the noble Lord's example of quoting from one of my own speeches. On 14 September 2001, I said clearly that robust action in self-defence was justified, but only if three conditions were fulfilled and that,
Perhaps we made the mistake of believing that we were dealing with the United States after the self-restraint it had showed on so many occasions during the years of the Cold War. We supported it, quite rightly, in the actions it took against Afghanistan; but with much less wisdom and enthusiasm over what happened in Iraq.
Most tragically of all, the ultimate aim became regime changebut not so much regime change as regime destruction with little, if any, consideration of what was to replace it, save for much rhetorical commitment to
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democracy. The noble Lord, Lord Robertson, pointed out how successful that has been in the Balkans, thanks to great good fortune and wisdom there. In many other countries around the world, one has seen how hard it is to construct anything resembling a democratic system of government.
"There are still no Iraqi people . . . they are devoid of any patriotic ideas, connected by no common tie, prone to anarchy, perpetually ready to rise against any government whatever . . . the immensity of efforts required to tackle these troubles can only be imagined".
The history of tyranny which followed in the later years shows how huge was the task to which so little consideration was given. The truth is that so far it has done nothing to enhance the stability of the region. On the contrary. It has done nothing to prevent the spread of terrorism and the task has been made infinitely more difficult by the repeated rhetorical emphasis of the conduct of a "war on terror", which confuses rather than simplifies the task facing us.
We come to the exit from the situation of great complexity in which we now find ourselves. I have only one observation to make on that in the limited time available. As regards what happens now and in the weeks and months ahead, as my right honourable friend Michael Howard pointed out, and was justified in doing so, this country is entitledindeed, it is under a dutyto insist on the advice which it gives being harkened to and, above all, to a much more positive response to our advice in tackling the difficulties of establishing some form of tolerable self-governance in Iraq.
That advice was summed up a week or two ago in an article in the Financial Times by Professor Anthony Lake, President Clinton's national security adviser for four years. This comes from someone of authority in that country:
"Real internationalisation of the political authorities and the security forces is desperately needed now. That means more than asking the United Nations and NATO to help. It means actually transferring real power and authority to a UN-authorised international mission and a NATO-led security force".
That that should be the objective is surely now clear beyond doubt. That it will be extremely difficult to achieve is, tragically, equally clear. We may well be carrying a burden more direct than we would wish for longer than we would wish. All the more reason for our advice to be clearly given and for it to be listened to with respect, as it ought to be.
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