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I think that this Government would be more loved if they shared a few frank appraisals about our world problems with the people rather than bossily denying that anything has gone wrong. A great deal has gone wrong and there is a vast repair job awaiting whoever comes next. I know that government has become many times more difficult in the age of information revolution, with every laptop owner an expert and anarchy e-empowered, but it would be much easier to accept and forgive the Government’s foreign policy disappointments and endless setbacks if there was a little more sign that Ministers in this Government understood that too. The outgoing Prime Minister said:

I hope the incoming Prime Minister does just that, because it is about time. I beg to move for Papers.

11.51 pm

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, for introducing the debate today. He did so, of course, with his customary expertise and elegance. I thank him for setting the scene, at least so far as he sees it, so clearly.

The noble Lord has, indeed, set us an unanswerable question. Just how much of what is happening in the world today can be said to be the result of the foreign policy of this or any other Government? It is unrealistic to imply, as he does, that any Government’s foreign policy can ultimately change another country these days. In the past that may have been so, but his premise is, frankly, out of date. Now the emphasis is on self-determination, internal reform and increasing prosperity. Respect for the rule of law and human rights are arguably far more potent factors in changing countries than outside foreign influence is. If real change and lasting reform are to be successful, they have to be home-based, home-grown and sustained at home.

I have looked back to May 1997, when I wound up the first debate about foreign policy under this Prime Minister and this Government. Top of the list were combating poverty, particularly poverty in Africa, and promoting sustainable development through the newly set up Department for International Development. The setting up of DfID was crucial. It is a model that is admired throughout the world. Our policy of separating aid from trade has been an unqualified success in convincing aid recipients of the disinterested nature of our support. Aid still has conditions—of course it does—but they are about internal development of the recipient countries, not about the benefit to British trade. We have led the way over debt cancellation. We have almost tripled aid to Africa and elsewhere. That was the right thing to do; it has made a difference and it is admired around the world.

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Our policy of critical engagement has also earned us a reputation for pragmatism and reform, but I well remember being heavily chastised by the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, and others, for even talking to China and Cuba, or to Spain about Gibraltar or to Argentina about the Falklands. Now such engagement is acknowledged on all sides as the right thing to do, although it was heavily questioned by the party opposite at the time.

In 1997, the then Bishop of Oxford the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth raised the issue of landmines, which were then killing someone, mostly children, every 20 minutes around the world. The Government campaigned internationally, again with warnings of ghastly consequences if we went ahead. That has been a success, and many of us hope that we shall achieve the same success over cluster bombs.

In 1997, we said that this country should be at the heart of an open, effective and enlarged European Union, and that we should build relationships to the benefit of this country and not shout instructions from the sidelines as our immediate predecessors had done. Yes, Europe is still bureaucratic. It still does not account convincingly for its expenditure. Frankly, it can be infuriating at times. But we have helped to create a Europe that is the largest single market in the world, a Europe whose aid to developing countries is generous and growing, a Europe that countries are queueing up to join, and a Europe that provides prosperity to its citizens and has at its heart the values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. It is a Europe that is a force for good in the world.

When I was a Minister, I was often asked—the noble Lord, Lord Howell, posed the question again—which matters most to the United Kingdom, Europe or the United States. Of course, the answer has to be both. You cannot choose between the family of which you are part and the lifelong friend whose partnership is irreplaceable. We, and this Prime Minister in particular, are often challenged for what our media, and the noble Lord, have seen as an uncritical relationship with the United States. To be frank, there have been times when I have wished that the Government could say more openly what is said in private to our friends in Washington—things that I have said myself or arguments that I have heard my Cabinet colleagues put—but that self-indulgence is not part of the deal that you do when you become a Minister. You take the jibes of “poodle” and “lap dog”, as they were made today, and you do not protect yourself if it risks the policy that you are pursuing or the interests of your country.

Nowhere is that more true than in the Middle East. First, Iraq. When the history books are written about the Blair years, I wonder whether Iraq will be seen as the greatest foreign policy failure of the past 10 years or whether the emergence of a democratic, peaceful and prosperous Iraq living at ease with its neighbours will change history’s verdict. When I listened yesterday to Iraq’s Foreign Minister, Hoshyar Zebari, there was no doubt about his conviction that the second verdict will be the right one. He thanked the

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parliamentarians there for giving his country hope for the future and urged us over and over again to stick with Iraq at this difficult time.

The noble Lord, Lord Howell, said that much might have been done better. He did not say at the time when it really mattered what he said today about reflecting on our entering Iraq. We all know that British troops are taking daily risks with their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. The argument that their intervention is universally hated in the region is simply untrue. Opinion in the region is divided, views are held with passionate conviction on both sides of the argument and the result is still uncertain.

However, the greatest uncertainty in the Middle East is not Iraq; it is not Iran, the increasingly open and prosperous Gulf states or the rapidly developing countries of the Mahgreb. It is what it was 10 years ago: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—visceral, vicious and often very violent. Ten years ago, government policy was wholehearted support for the peace process as exemplified then by the Oslo negotiations. It was for international legality, the Palestinian need for justice, self-determination and economic well-being, and Israel’s need for and right to security. Much has happened in the past 10 years. The processes have changed, as have many of the key politicians, but the issue is still the same. In the end, it will be land for peace in one form or another.

Frankly, I think that we are now more determined to get stuck in, not merely to encourage with aid and well honed advice. Recent developments in Gaza are truly appalling. I was in the region last weekend. There is talk of a three-state solution, of a lockdown of Gaza as a whole, of further interventions from Iran and Syria and of real fears for brave Lebanon and even steadfast Jordan. But the Arab League is starting to flex its diplomatic muscles, and so, too, should the European Union. We cannot leave this issue to an American Administration who are preoccupied now by Iraq and will soon lose focus altogether when the election bandwagon is rolling. If we have learnt nothing else from the past 10 years, this much we know: the Americans alone have neither the inclination nor the means to solve that crisis. We all have a responsibility and we all must shoulder it.

What has changed most in the past 10 years is international terrorism. Many commentators would have us believe that terrorism is the result of our foreign policy, forgetting that probably the single most significant event—9/11—predated Afghanistan and Iraq, although 9/11 was indeed the turning point. Yes, perhaps our policies have provided the most unprincipled and vicious with excuses for what they do, but they have not provided them with a reason. In any case, what is our alternative—that an elected Government should bend their foreign policy to do things that would pacify terrorists? That suggestion is quite outrageous. For good or ill, the foreign policy of any Government, but particularly that of a democratically elected Government, must be based on an assessment of what is right—for the country and its security and prosperity.

Ten years on, the results are still uncertain and the judgments are still to be assessed. Many of us who

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were close to the heart of foreign policy for a long time will have many unanswered questions and many sober reflections to keep us company in our quieter moments. However, we also have much to be proud of—much that has lasting value and is of great credit to this Government, to this Prime Minister and to the people who elected him in three elections.


Lord Craig of Radley: My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Howell, for securing the debate and for the thoughtful and provocative way in which he opened it. It is a privilege to follow the powerful speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Symons. I shall concentrate on the part that defence has played in the Government’s foreign policy in the past decade and the way in which the Armed Forces have been called on to implement it.

Wars of choice are certainly an optional extra when it comes to formulating and implementing foreign policy objectives. As has been said in this debate and on many other occasions, this Government have been remarkably proactive in their foreign policy engagement with adversaries or with those whom they have perceived to be potentially hostile to our national interests. Whether this policy has been adopted as a broad strategic approach, or on a case-by-case basis, there has been a clear determination in the past decade to engage, to lock horns if necessary and to move against perceived threats, even well before they have developed into any hostile action.

Given that we are a member of the Security Council, the G8, the Commonwealth and other international groupings, and given that we are a stable nation with a remarkable history of empire and experience and with a worldwide and deserved reputation for determination and courage, British Governments understandably like to see us as a major player in the world. However, we must never lose sight of the fact that, just as the Falklands conflict of 1982 gave our international reputation an enormous boost, which ran for a decade, so too will our current and recent performance be taken into account in today’s international judgment. The past alone is not enough on which to maintain our reputation and the respect of others. We must still make sufficient effort to sustain that reputation today.

In the past 10 to 15 years, our Armed Forces have been involved in expeditionary warfare on a scale quite unmatched since the Korean War. In particular, the periods of action, Sierra Leone apart, have not simply involved delivering a short, sharp shock and then returning to the normal peacetime round of exercises and training; they have been spread over months. Indeed, action in Iraq and Afghanistan will be spread over years, so much so that the preparation and training for these and other possible operations have suffered severely.

This Government have shown little hesitation in using our forces to further their policy objectives. Our forces are rightly admired for their ability to respond effectively and in a measured way, but it is now clear that there is a serious and growing mismatch between

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the demands that have been placed on the Armed Forces in the past decade and their collective ability to deliver.

Buried not far below the surface are the financial restraints—and consequently the capability restraints—on our fighting strength. Not only have the front-line fighting units been reduced in the past decade, with the loss of ships, battalions and squadrons of fast jet aircraft putting more pressure on those that remain; so, too, have the many support activities that are so central to expeditionary warfare. Units such as transport, communications and supply are now dealing with the demands for major operational support in two theatres of actual fighting.

Only the quality and determination of the hundreds of units and individuals in these activities have enabled them, so far, to cope, despite the fact that many equipments are well past their operational lifespan, have been deployed in extremes of climate or lack spares to keep them fully serviceable. Even the most determined and supportive industry cannot replace and make good deficiencies at the flick of a finger. New procurements can take years. The problems with helicopter shortages and adequately armoured vehicles have hit the headlines, but there are many more, less visible but essential, requirements, which take time with training and support to bring into use.

The conclusion to draw from such examples—let alone from the mismatch that is acknowledged to exist between planning assumptions for operations and the actuality of the past decade—is that our forces, and in particular certain parts of them, are overcommitted. Prompt decisions are now vital to reduce and rescale the level of our overseas commitment. But this is to attempt to make good that which has gone wrong. For too long, defence spending has been preconditioned on what can be afforded rather than on what must be provided to meet our expeditionary involvements. The harsh reality of Iraq and Afghanistan is that, for the tasks set by this Government, the Armed Forces are underprovided for.

If we were involved in a major and imminent threat to national survival and security, it would have to be all hands to the pump for our Armed Forces, regardless of their capabilities. But that is a war of necessity. Our involvements in fighting over the past decade have been in conflicts of choice—of our choice. War has been the optional extra. It is morally indefensible to continue like this, putting so many lives at risk, now that the limits of our capabilities have been exposed in action.

Moreover, the types of conflict in which we are currently engaged are not like those with another state, where the outcome—success for us—can be measured and seen in the reaction of the enemy’s Government. Conflict with terrorism does not have the same set of rules. It is not like a game of chess, where there is an outcome that is recognised by both sides. The fight with terrorism is not subject to any such set of rules. In particular, the outcome of conflict with terrorism cannot be—and never has

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been—an achievement of armed forces. They can help to keep the lid on terrorism, but resolution is a matter of politics, not the gun.

The conclusion must be that if our Government wish to tread the world stage and use the Armed Forces where they see a need for them, they must provide the forces with the capabilities and the staying power that these policies may call for. If that is thought to be beyond our means, Ministers must curb their desires to be world policemen and bringers of good to far-flung corners of the globe.

This is only a new twist to an old lesson about the need to be prepared for war in order to avoid being dragged into one. With the Comprehensive Spending Review coming up, now is the time for this Government to indicate whether they wish to be able to participate in wars of choice anywhere in the world or whether they are resigned to playing the less forceful role of all other European nations. Without a large and sustained increase in the defence budget, it would be wrong for a Government to think that at present strengths the Armed Forces can any longer underwrite global interventions on the scale of the past decade, or in future wars of choice. It is pay up or give up time for this Government.

12.10 pm

The Lord Bishop of Coventry: My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Howell, for introducing this important subject. I speak as a mere layman in political terms. It certainly is not my intention to offer a wide-ranging critique of government policy over the past 10 years. However, I should like to draw the attention of the House to certain ongoing issues in relation to our policy, particularly in the Middle East, which might benefit from further reflection and to which we might pay more attention.

I should like to remind the House of the almost incredible shift that has taken place in how we speak of and experience warfare. The point has been made many times that, until the fall of communism, most warfare was still conceived of in terms of the nation state; that is, in territorial terms. The events of 9/11, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, referred, made it clear that this is no longer necessarily the case. This is perhaps a somewhat simplistic analysis. Nevertheless, in all the talk of the war on terror, perhaps insufficient attention has been paid to the obvious fact that terrorism is not territorial but is systemic. A complementary perspective has just been offered by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, on this.

Following what many saw as the knee-jerk bombing of Afghanistan in the hope of killing Osama bin Laden, one American commentator suggested that it was like hitting a mature dandelion with a golf club: the original plant might be destroyed but the inevitable spread of the seed would make things infinitely worse. When I met Tariq Aziz in Baghdad before the invasion of 2003, he denied emphatically any connection with terrorism in the normal sense of the word. He of course had plenty of experience of terror in other forms. He assured me

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that if a member of al-Qaeda dared to set foot on Israeli soil, he would be shot on sight. The original plant, Osama bin Laden, has, of course, not been destroyed, but the seed of al-Qaeda has spread and taken root, most notably, and perhaps most ironically, in Iraq.

To some extent, the systemic nature of the problem has been acknowledged with the talk of winning hearts and minds. Invading and conquering sovereign territory can be only the start of a process. But I wonder whether we pause sufficiently to ask how such language plays into a culture that is so radically different from our own. Is it not the case that phrases like “western democratic values” are heard, not as self-evidently desirable, but as an implicit criticism of Islam, a religion which finds the concept of political pluralism hard, if not impossible, to integrate into its strictly theocratic view of society? The term “democracy” may sometimes need to be relinquished in favour of different forms of culturally appropriate representation such as are to be found in many ancient societies in Africa and the Middle East. Winning hearts and minds is perhaps too readily heard as code for arrogant western imperialism.

This leads me to ask how seriously we take the deeply religious dimension to the current conflict, not only in Iraq but in the Middle East generally. To do this represents a profound challenge to the predominantly secularised basis of most western political theory. The fact of daily life in most parts of the world, the Middle East included, is that religion is at the heart of everything. It is not simply an optional add-on. In Iraq the Coalition Provisional Authority was, in general, lamentably slow to acknowledge the role that might be played by religious dialogue at an early stage after the invasion. Consequently, very little money was put into that process until it was too late. Ayatollah Hussein al-Sadr came to visit me in Coventry before the invasion and he was more willing than most to be approached; but the invitation never came. Ayatollah al-Sadr is the relatively moderate uncle of the now notorious Moqtada al-Sadr.

There is a further aspect of the religious dimension which cannot be ignored. In one sense, this will sound like special pleading, coming as it does from these Benches, but I take courage from the fact that the Pope recently tackled President Bush on this issue. The migration of Christians from the Middle East is due to a multiplicity of factors, religious, social and economic. In percentage terms, the Christian population in towns such as Bethlehem is at its lowest for centuries. The overt persecution of Christians in Baghdad by Islamist extremists has led to a regime of terror and appalling danger: death threats and illegal confiscation of property are commonplace; kidnapping and ransom for religious reasons occur daily. One of the many reasons underlying this persecution is the utterly false perception that Christianity, far from having its origins in the Middle East, is a western import, and therefore all Christians are regarded as stooges of America.

The Government rightly pride themselves on a policy of inclusivity. As a nation, we have in the past 50 years offered hospitality to large numbers of

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adherents to non-Christian faith traditions, such that the UK is now regarded very much as a multi-faith society. Might the Government, perhaps through the FCO, have a part to play in encouraging a degree of what we might call religious reciprocity? After all, they represent a nation where the clear majority, in all the polls at least, still identify themselves as Christian. The continued exodus of Christians from Iraq and from the wider region diminishes the potential for initiatives aimed at promoting peace and reconciliation, as called for by the Baker-Hamilton report. This migration of Christians from the Middle East not only threatens the church’s existence as a viable and sustainable community in the region but also reduces the valuable contribution that the church has traditionally made to the diverse fabric of middle eastern society.

12.18 pm

Lord Anderson of Swansea: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord who opened the debate. He and I share a similar vantage point in that he had the honour of chairing the Foreign Affairs Committee in the other place for two Parliaments and I followed him until 2005, but thereafter we differed.

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