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Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, I begin by declaring some interests: as a parent of a son serving in the Army in Basra; as a financial adviser to the Kuwait Investment Office; and as a Conservative Friend of Israel. I hope that those labels do not disqualify me from offering some reasonable, balanced views on the dangerous issues that have been debated so fully today.

I, too, warmly thank the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, for promoting the debate and introducing it with such enormous wisdom and elegance. Of course, we expect that from him, given his record and his past. I also thoroughly enjoyed the contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, former Secretary-General of NATO. I am sorry that under our rules his speech was so truncated because I could have stood a lot more from him. And I hope that we get a lot more in due course because he spoke much wisdom.

I want to begin with some brief, general observations about the conduct of foreign policy before turning to the specifics. First, in pursuit of our priority objectives—safeguarding our national security and interests, however broadly we interpret them—some of us have argued for two decades that we should think more in terms of soft power. Translated, that means meeting today's threats,
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hostile stances and sources of destructive tension not just by hard military strength and force—what the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, called heavy metal armies—but by the powerful projection of our cause, case and desire for friendship through the persuasive instruments of diplomacy, information, well-honed development policies, cultural activities, skilful activity within international organisations and the ample use of semi-official and non-governmental linkages, as well as the private sector.

That is what the authors of the Foreign Office document, UK International Priorities, really meant when they talked about a "new agenda" in foreign policy and wider participants in international relations. They did not use the term "soft power", but that is what was behind some of the writing in the document. It would be difficult to think of a more obvious situation calling for the maximum deployment of soft power than the current efforts to defeat global terrorism and change hearts, minds and attitudes, and even styles of governance, throughout the whole Middle East region.

"Soft power" means that yesterday's Cinderella organisations such as the BBC World Service or the British Council—to which the noble Lord, Lord Wright, referred—or educational, medical and environmental development programmes become not the after-thoughts and leftovers but the front edge of the campaign to secure friends and win hearts and minds. And so do organisations such as the Commonwealth, which has not had much of a mention in the debate. Many of us feel that far from it being an organisation of the past, it is a superb but underfunded global network of the future.

That is why the events of recent weeks—the Abu Ghraib torture and abuse stories to which several noble Lords referred—are so utterly disastrous. They are the equivalent in modern terms of a major military defeat. It is why carrier fleets, strike fighters, high-tech missiles and the classic instrument of hard power are only half our defences and protection and can deliver only half our foreign policy. There is the other pillar, which is becoming more significant. The noble Lord, Lord Biffen, with great wisdom, and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, rightly emphasised that point.

Speaking of soft power leads me to my second general point, which is that, in these conditions, no country can go it alone—not mighty but very vulnerable America; not some cobbled-up European superpower designed as a counter-weight of some form; no nation; and no armed force. The fact is that, thanks to technology, we now live in a totally networked structure in which all the old ways of looking at the world in terms of permanent blocks, hegemonies and hyper-powers are becoming utterly meaningless.

I think that that, above all, is why even those of us who are the United States' strongest admirers—I am one of them—find the Washington evangelical rhetoric about America being the greatest power on earth and the world's only superpower, bristling with missions and visions and so on, so worrying, unconvincing, ephemeral and, frankly, counter-productive, as some of your Lordships have rightly said.
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At such a time as this, people may talk, understandably, about distancing ourselves from America. But what we really need—I think that the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, made this point—is to be more closely involved than ever with the American debate in order to drive home the new reality about the network nature and fluidity of the international order. We need to drive home the imperative need for the Americans to work closely and co-operatively with their many potential allies and willing friends and to use their own "soft power", if you like, rather than rely on the doctrines of overwhelming force and the big stick alone. That would not work.

In that context—this is my third general observation—we seem to be faced too often in these debates with two polar ideas. Either we are told that Middle East states must all succumb to the imposed Washington, Jeffersonian or Westminster democratic model—my noble friends Lord Biffen and Lord Eden rightly questioned that simplicity—or the opposite: that the Islamic theocracies are "inevitable", that they cannot be stopped and that Islam and democracy are somehow incompatible and we may as well face that fact. Both those polar views are equally silly and equally dangerous.

I often wonder whether any of the many experts now telling us that the coalition should hand over power to the Iraqi ayatollahs have any idea what that would do to the stability of the entire Middle East. The wise and gradualist reformers in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait or Bahrain, who—if anyone looks at what they are trying to do—are all seeking to pluralise their governance, would all have the rug pulled from under them if Iraq turned into an extreme Islamic state. The outcome would not be stability and it certainly would not be representative democracy; it would be the rise of street revolution and of new intolerant cliques—anti-Western, anti-freedom, anti-women, anti-peace and anti-almost any form of civilised human advance.

In the immediate situation in Iraq, the key question, which has been touched on in this debate, is of course how sovereignty is to be handed over and whether the latest UN resolution, which we understand has now been tabled, does the trick. My own view is that, in fairness, it is certainly more than cosmetic, as some critics are all too ready to call it. But obviously the success of the resolution and the next stage of policy depend on some crucial problems and questions, and I hope that the Minister will be able to touch on some of them.

The first is: can Mr Brahimi really perform magic and, in the next few days, come up with the right names which will command confidence in Iraq? Will the new Iraqi Government have the veto on all or any coalition or so-called "multilateral force" operations, as the Prime Minister seems to want? Having said that, nowadays it is extremely hard to find out what government policy is—it changes so fast—other than receiving it second-hand through journalists. And what will be the status of our troops?

Is the British contribution to be strengthened? Half the newspapers say that it is and others say that it is not official yet. I gather that plans are already under way
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to move British contingents northwards from Basra so that the whole southern half of Iraq becomes a British military zone. When will we be told about that rather than have to pick up the occasional rumour? More broadly, can the coalition slip out of its occupying power jacket and don the garb of a more pro-Iraqi aid to the civil power? Will there be a national Security Council-type mechanism in the Iraqi government in Baghdad to allow that?

The answers to those questions are not in the draft resolution, which is silent on most of those matters. On the other hand, those who say that the whole operation should be not only UN-approved, as I hope it will be, but under full UN control are, I believe, deluding themselves. The UN does not have the capacity, the will, the track record or, at present, the reputation—certainly in Iraq—to do what the Iraqis must do for themselves. I believe it was Dag Hammarskjöld who, long ago, said that the UN is set up not to take mankind to paradise but to save it from hell. I think that that is the kind of fairly modest level of aim which we should entertain in thinking about the UN.

We now urgently need from the Government a firm and clear view based on a robust, open and frank debate about the way ahead in Iraq, as well as in the wider Middle East and on the dubious Sharon plan, which I do not have time to comment on, and on where we think coalition policy could be improved by both soft and hard-power deployments judiciously mixed together.

I have no criticism of the Prime Minister for making Britain's views on all this clear, whether or not they differ from those in Washington. Indeed, I believe that he should have done so earlier. I see nothing wrong with that; nothing inconsistent with our fervent wish to see this whole project succeed; and nothing wrong with the Opposition wanting this debating process out in the open, as the Liberal Democrats do as well. I hope that the Prime Minister will set out that strategic picture when he speaks at the UN and the G8. I hope that he will base it, coming from a parliamentary democracy as he does, on ideas and viewpoints that have been properly tested here in parliamentary debate and discussion. I totally agree with the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, that our committee system in both Houses, and certainly in this House, could do a lot better in that respect.

We have to get the priorities right in our democracy. We cannot afford to spread our resources and energies over everything in a kind of vague haze of good intentions and good will. We cannot make everything a priority as, reading the Foreign Office paper, I sometimes feel some Foreign Office planners want to do. Now, as never before, we must identify in a hard-headed way, and well ahead of time, the real threats to us and to our people from tomorrow's world and identify from which direction they are coming, whether far or near. We will not be forgiven for failing to do that.
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6.18 p.m.

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