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Lord Plant of Highfield: My Lords, I want to discuss some aspects of humanitarian intervention, or what my noble friend Lord Desai called humanitarian war-making. I shall act as a kind of indecisive Hamlet compared with the clarity of mind and purpose that he had. Any justification for humanitarian war-making
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necessarily means undermining the norm of non-intervention and raising questions about how basic we now consider the idea of sovereignty of states to be. The principle of non-intervention is enshrined in Article 2.7 of the UN charter and is a central feature of the inter-American treaties and of the Organisation of African Unity.

So why was the norm of non-intervention originally adopted? First, it was argued that it would lend a degree of predictability and stability to relations between states. That is particularly important when there is no agreed international moral order that can be relied on as a basis for international politics. The norm of non-intervention is simple and can be categorical. It does not require a great deal of disputed interpretation or moral deliberation.

Secondly, it was argued that the norm of non-intervention requires forbearance. Forbearance does not require resources and is a categorical thing that we can always achieve and adopt. It is also argued that if we undermine the norm of non-intervention, we shall undermine the state system.

The noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, argued that at least in our world as we know it, the state, with all its imperfections, is the arena within which freedom, rights and, perhaps most importantly, a sense of identity can be defended and enhanced. It is no accident that those who fear most for their sense of identity and self-determination, whether they be Kurds or Palestinians, clamour for statehood. Other forms of protection, whether offered through UN protectorates or by warlords in Afghanistan, are, as a matter of fact, rightly considered as second-best to and ultimately much more fragile than statehood. On that view, it is very important to maintain the sovereignty of states.

It is also argued that the norm of non-intervention is a way to protect small states. Without the bulwark of the norm of non-intervention in international affairs, small states rich in resources may become victims of the predatory nature of large states.

It is also claimed by those who want to maintain the norm of non-intervention that, at least until recently, most of the interventions to have taken place in the post-1945 era were defended in terms of self-defence. The invocation of self-defence is itself an endorsement of national sovereignty because, after all, the self that is being defended is the national state.

However, we now face a very different environment in which the whole realm of sovereignty has become problematic. It has become complicated in a whole number of ways. The impact of globalisation and open economies has created a kind of world economic and political ecology where changes in one part of the world can have a more or less instantaneous effect elsewhere. The effect of large-scale economic migration and the permeability of borders, the effect of climate change and the fact that the industrial policy of one country can have a dire effect on its neighbours are all factors at work here, as no doubt is the capacity to export terrorism. However, in the context of humanitarian intervention the absolutely critical thing has been the growth in the salience of ideas about human rights.
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State sovereignty and the recognition of basic human rights were principles that were more or less bound to conflict at some time. In the view of defenders of humanitarian intervention we have to reject the idea that sovereignty is an intrinsic good. It is rather only an instrumental good: it is good if the state actually protects basic rights, it is bad if it does not. Rights become the touchstone of legitimacy. Intervention can be justified if a state displays such a degree of tyranny as to threaten basic rights or presides over such a degree of anarchy that the protection of rights is equally put at risk. If the state has sovereignty only in an instrumental sense, then there is no case for a norm of non-intervention which was predicated on the basic good of sovereignty. Human rights, the argument goes, provide what used to be lacking: the moral basis for a challenge to the absolute sovereignty of states in the international arena.

However, we need to tread very, very carefully here. These rights have their basis of legitimacy in the United Nations and its charter. After all, that is how they can be seen—if, indeed, they can—as a basis for international morality. If intervention takes place in defence of UN rights but without UN sanction, then it seems to me that we are on the way to taking a major step towards world anarchy.

Why is this so? First of all, intervention to defend human rights involves costs in a way that the norm of non-intervention did not. Given those costs and given the fact that we do not have unlimited resources, intervention will be highly discretionary because even if we were fully convinced of the general case for intervention, given limited resources, both physical and motivational, we are going to find that there is a high degree of arbitrariness about which states experience intervention and which do not.

Outside a UN framework, such power of decision is effectively going to be exercised by the USA, at the end of the day. An endorsement of the legitimacy of intervention therefore is likely to be an endorsement ultimately of the discretionary power of the USA. This is why it seems to me vital that intervention has to be embedded in the UN, otherwise we shall be moving into a Hobbesian world without rules in which the most powerful state finds it has enormous discretion granted to it by seeing sovereignty as of instrumental value only. My own view is that we have already done enormous damage to the UN via the Iraq conflict and we must do all we can not to embrace what the neo-conservatives actually want; namely, a world without many rules and constraints on US power and interests. We need to rebuild the capacity of the UN. I am sure that the Government will take steps to do that.

Secondly, in my judgment it is highly unlikely that we shall be able to mobilise internal consent to wars that are fought entirely on the basis of the claimed infringement of the rights of its own population by a state. This may be deplorable but I think it is a political fact. Therefore, the case for intervention, it seems to me, is always going to be put in terms of a connection between the situation in that country and some kind of
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national interest of our own which we can use to mobilise opinion in favour of intervention. When Saddam gassed his own people we did nothing. It is only when we were led to believe in WMD and the immediacy of the threat posed that opinion was able to be mobilised. It seems to me most unlikely that opinion in this country would have been mobilised in favour of regime change in order to protect the rights of ordinary Iraqis. As I say, that may be deplorable, but it seems to me just to be a fact. This means that the purity of purpose in intervention is always going to be compromised by the role of national interest and this is another reason why, unlike the norm of non-intervention, it is going to be very difficult, if not impossible, to turn intervention into a rule-governed activity.

Finally, there is the argument put forward by the Prime Minister that abstaining from action involves some kind of guilt and includes its own moral costs. This is an argument that has to be dealt with very carefully if we are using it as something more than political rhetoric. At any time there are innumerable things that we are currently not doing, and there will clearly be consequences of these failures to act. If I do not give £10 to Oxfam perhaps a vaccine will not get administered and someone will die. However, there are also innumerable other consequences in relation to what I could have done and which I did not do. For which of this infinite number of consequences of my omissions am I culpable? The only answer to this is that I am culpable only for those omissions where it is clear that I ought to have acted. So morally, the Prime Minister had the shoe on the wrong foot in that what he needed to establish was that there was a clear moral case for intervention and one cannot establish a positive case for an intervention on the basis of a failure to act or an omission. This is not really a political so much as a logical or conceptual point.

My basic message though is that however defensible the move away from the norm of non-intervention and the basic rights of sovereign states is, we should make this transition only if we can do so in a way that tries to embed intervention within a UN structure. It must not be hijacked by the US neo-conservatives. However, this is what is likely to happen. Some years ago the Prime Minister made a very interesting speech about some of these issues in Chicago, but I was very disconcerted—indeed, astonished—to see just last week that that speech had been republished in a volume of essays edited by Irwin Szeltzer in defence of neo-conservatism. That is astonishing.

So perhaps noble Lords can see that I am very worried about endorsing the general case for intervention. Picking up a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hurd of Westwell, I, too, experienced very turbulent emotions regarding the Iraq war. I have been a member of the Labour Party for 43 years and a Labour Member of this House for 12. As soon as the war started, I wrote to the Chief Whip to say that there was no way I could support the Government in what they were doing, and I am afraid that nothing that has happened since then has changed my mind one iota.
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7.37 p.m.

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