Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Parekh: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, for proposing and brilliantly opening this extremely important and timely debate on foreign policy priorities. Before I make my own contribution, I want to say how much I enjoyed the witty and wise speech of the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, and how much I look forward to his contributions in the years to come.

The foreign policy of any country, especially a great country such as ours, cannot be ad hoc or based on newspaper headlines or on tactical considerations and short-term expedience; it must be based on certain fundamental principles. I want to take the opportunity to suggest four basic principles which I believe must regulate the foreign policy of a country like ours.

First, we must aim to create a just and peaceful world; a world that is stable and where injustices do not fester and make people so desperate that they are tempted to resort to terrorism in order to redress those injustices, and where human beings are able to lead decent lives. I regard that as one of the most important and central principles of our foreign policy.

We have often expressed right sentiments on such acute conflicts as Israel and Palestine, but I am afraid that we have not been able to do very much, either because we got distracted by all kinds of short-term considerations or because we decided, for reasons I do not always understand, to rely a little too heavily on the United States and abdicated our responsibility for that part of the world.

We have rightly taken some important initiatives in tackling economic injustices and poverty, especially in Africa. I welcome the new commission on Africa, though I regret that it has taken us several years to set it up. I very much hope that it will not end up simply making recommendations that might never be implemented.

I also very warmly welcome the initiative that our Government have taken in pushing debt relief high up the agenda of international institutions, including several bilateral debt cancellations and increased developmental aid. However, my enthusiastic response to that is tempered by the fact that we have not done very much in democratising international financial institutions, such as the IMF and the World Bank. Nor have we done much to render them transparent and accountable.
26 May 2004 : Column 1342

That is so partly because we have not made economic justice our top priority and partly because we have not tried to mobilise progressive forces in our own society and elsewhere in the world. We need to link up with the many organisations that are actively struggling for economic justice, and make sure that we utilise their energies in creating a better and just world.

My second principle is that we need to foster respect for international law and international institutions in a climate of global civility. That is not achieved by rhetoric and sermons, but by ourselves setting a good example. Much violence in the world arises because human rights are ignored. Obviously, we need to foster a climate in which human rights are respected, but we need to be careful about what that involves. Often that is presented as an attempt to export democracy. I cannot imagine anything more absurd and flawed than that. Democracy is not just a matter of constitution, it is a matter of institutions and culture. Those things take decades to develop. Rather, we should be thinking in terms of creating a regime of human rights and the rule of law and allowing them to exercise and generate their own momentum.

In that context we have again begun to talk of humanitarian intervention. That is a commendable principle, but one that is always in danger of getting out of control if we ignore its grounds and limits. At all costs we should ensure that humanitarian intervention does not become a cloak for pursuing dubious national interests, or even a means of reshaping the world in our own image. In that connection I want to refer to some excellent work done in British universities by international relations experts, especially in Aberystwyth—where recently I was privileged to be elected as an honorary professor.

The third principle has to do with what I shall call restoring a modernised version of the principle of balance of power; not the 19th century version, but a version that is appropriate to the 21st century. No single country should be allowed to dominate the world. That is neither in that country's interest nor in the interest of the world. We should aim to create multiple centres of power. Here I may sound like a French academic, but that is not the intention. The intention is that while having multiple centres which regulate each other, we should avoid the French mistake of thinking that each one should take a confrontational attitude to others.

One of our goals should be a polycentric world in which these different centres work together to create a better and sensible world. We are ideally equipped to do that by virtue of our membership of the Commonwealth, of Europe, with our Atlantic connections and by virtue of the large empire which left us with a large number of friends and close connections in Africa and the Muslim world. I can think of no other country that is better equipped to be a bridge between different centres.

Finally, I want to turn to the important question of good relations with the United States. Obviously, we have close ties with the United States and we must build on them. But we need to be careful how we define the special relations, how we pursue them and what price we are expected to pay for them.
26 May 2004 : Column 1343

The United States is a vibrant democracy and speaks in many different voices. The voice that we currently hear is only one of them. If we identify too closely with that voice—namely the neo-conservative—alone, we are in grave danger of alienating many progressive voices in the United States. We should make it clear to the United States that we respect its great values and traditions and that it can count on our fullest support as long as it lives up to those values. But, should it ever fail to live up to those values, it can equally expect criticism—friendly, obviously, but nevertheless firm criticism from us. That is not anti-Americanism but the opposite; it is a way of urging that country to live up to its own great ideals and becoming its conscience.

We constantly talk about being a bridge between the United States and Europe or having special relations. If we are not careful such metaphors can easily make us prisoners of an antiquated and rather foolish way of thinking. A great country cannot simply expect to hang on to the coat-tail of another; it has its own view of the world and should be pushing for that. Rather than be a bridge between this and that centre of power, ideally we should be thinking in terms of using our own initiative and bringing these various centres together.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords, having spoken to your Lordships' House on the European Union, on the United Nations and on the Middle East in recent weeks, I am avoiding those well worn pastures and wish to speak on two countries, Cyprus and Iran, both of which I think should have a place in our priorities. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, for having made this possible and enabling me to participate in a debate adorned by the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Port Ellen.

When speaking about Cyprus I must clearly declare the fact that I was the Government's special representative for seven years, from 1996 until 2003. Nothing that I say on the subject now in any way represents the views of the Government, whose representative on this matter I ceased to be a year ago.

The outcomes of the two referendums held in Cyprus on 24 April were sharply contrasted. In the north the Turkish Cypriots endorsed the UN Secretary-General's plan by 64.9 per cent; and in the south the Greek Cypriots rejected the Annan plan by more than 75 per cent. In the north Mehmet Ali Talat, newly installed as prime minister after the parliamentary elections of last December and backed by the AK party government in Ankara, turned the page definitively on the rejectionist policies of Denktash and persuaded his people to accept the loss of territory, the displacement of many thousands of Turkish Cypriots and the rapid reduction in Turkish troop presence for which the plan provided.

In the south the administration of Tassos Papadopoulos, backed by Christofias, the leader of the communist party, took up the rejectionist baton which had been dropped by Denktash; and in so doing they ensured that the 9 per cent of territory on offer was not returned to the administration; that the tens of
26 May 2004 : Column 1344
thousands of Greek Cypriots who would have returned to their property would not be able to do so; that Turkey's troop presence would not be reduced; and that there would be no cap on the number of Turkish mainland citizens who could come to the north and get Turkish Cypriot citizenship. One could truly say that the Greek Cypriots voted with their hearts while the Turkish Cypriots voted with their heads.

That outcome, and the consequent stymieing of the Annan plan, was both a triumph and a tragedy for the UN, and for the international community which had backed its efforts so determinedly. To have brought more than 30 years of negotiations with two parties, which no one would describe as easy going, to the point where what was generally considered outside Cyprus as a fair and equitable set of compromise solutions was on the table was a major achievement in itself. To have overcome the doubts and opposition of the Turkish Cypriots and of Turkey, maintained for decades by Denktash, who had dominated the policy of both the north of Cyprus and Turkey, was little short of the miraculous.

Was the rejection by the Greek Cypriots in any way justified? I do not believe so. No one who has read Papadopoulos's appeal for a "no" vote, which was a root and branch assault on the fundamental aspects of the Annan plan, not just a criticism of its latest iteration, can seriously believe that he had been negotiating in good faith for a settlement up to that moment. Nor did his behaviour at the last round of negotiations in Switzerland, when he refused to prioritise his list of desired changes and declined the smallest symbolic gestures of reconciliation to his Turkish Cypriot compatriots or to the Turkish Government, support that view. Driven by zero-sum calculations that compromises acceptable to Turks and Turkish Cypriots must by definition be detrimental to the interests of Greek Cypriots, he led his people into a strategic error that equalled those of 1963 when they hijacked the post-independence constitution and of 1974 when Archbishop Makarios was overthrown by force.

What should happen now? It will be most interesting to hear the views of the Minister on that. In my view, it is important that the Greek Cypriots be left in no doubt of the real anger and disappointment throughout the international community at their decision. No one disputes their democratic right to take that decision; but people have to live with the consequences of their decisions. The Greek Cypriots have chosen to reject the views of the UN and of their new partners in the European Union. They can expect no support for their case and should get none. In March 2003, when Denktash torpedoed the negotiations, the Secretary-General and the whole international community made it clear that, until there was a change of policy, there was nothing more to talk about. That surely needs to be the same message now even if the destination is different.

The Turkish Cypriots can reasonably ask that they should not be the victims of this setback; and yet it is they who are left in limbo outside the European Union. The immediate decision to pledge 260 million euros and the provision for trade across the green line
26 May 2004 : Column 1345
will help the Turkish Cypriots, but what is now needed, surely, is to remove all discrimination against people who are, after all, citizens of the European Union and to prepare the Turkish Cypriots and their legislation and administrative practices for eventual European membership. What would not make sense would be to pursue Denktash's will of the wisp of recognition as an independent sovereign state. Every step by all parties now needs to be towards the Annan plan, which remains the only viable basis for a settlement, and not away from it.

When Iran was discussed in this House last November, I suggested that we, and even more so our closest ally, the United States, needed to develop a more sophisticated and better articulated policy towards that country. So far the United States, while it seems to have moved a little away from the "axis of evil" caricature, regards Iran as little more than a potentially awkward neighbour to two countries—Iraq and Afghanistan—of greater security policy importance to it; and as the possessor of a highly suspect nuclear programme. But it is a country with 70 million inhabitants, exporting millions of barrels of oil a day, with its own security concerns; a country moreover which is most certainly not part of the Arab Middle East, to be somehow lumped in with that group. It surely needs to be addressed directly and on its own merits. It is hard to see how that can be done successfully without any contact or dialogue between it and the United States. If the Americans can talk to the North Koreans why on earth can they not talk to the Iranians?

I have no illusions that the dialogue that we or the Americans may have with the Iranians will be straightforward or trouble free. We will have to talk about Middle East policy, about the nuclear programme, human rights and the treatment of women. But unless we can situate those difficult points within a wider framework that takes account of Iran's own security concerns, we will get nowhere. To do that should not be impossible. Iran has an important interest in the stability of its eastern and western neighbours; it is a key security player in a sub-region—the Gulf—of great importance to us and the Europeans. I would hope that, in the contacts we have with Washington at every level, we will be registering some of those points.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page