Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Of course there are British interests. I recall, as a young diplomat in the early 1960s, seeing a paper prepared by the mandarins called British Interests as a warning to the likely incoming Labour Government that there were common interests. Indeed, there is, and has been properly, continuity between British Governments over great swathes of our foreign policy. That continuity is seen, for example, in our relationships with the newly emerging powers of India and China; in the very skilful handling of the Hong Kong issue by the Conservative Government, which led to a smooth transition and improved relationships with China; and in respect of Russia during the Conservative years, when it was far easier to deal with President Yeltsin than with an assertive and confident President Putin.

It has been said that in 1997 the incoming Labour Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, announced that there would be an ethical dimension to foreign policy, not an ethical foreign policy. I recall the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, loftily telling the Foreign Affairs Committee that, at most, one might expect a few degrees of difference. There has been a greater difference than that.

For many, Iraq, the invasion and its aftermath have been the defining foreign policy issue of the past 10 years. I suspect that there would have been little difference under a Conservative Government. It is in the public domain that I received briefing from our senior intelligence sources as chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee. Indeed, I recall entering the office as the then Conservative opposition leader was leaving it. He supported both the evidence and the policy. It was clear that the Prime Minister was relying on evidence on weapons of mass destruction that was accepted not only by our own intelligence services but by the intelligence services of friendly countries.

21 Jun 2007 : Column 331

It may be deemed partisan, but to support my proposition that there has been positive and welcome change over the past 10 years I cite the evidence of a number of key witnesses. Perhaps the starting point is that the fundamental improvement in our economy under the Labour Government has brought about greater weight and greater respect for this country in the international community. I invite your Lordships to look with me at a few key areas and to listen to what key allies have said in this respect. First, I refer to relations with the United States, the only superpower and vital to our interests. From 1997 to 2005, I used to visit the US three or four times a year, meeting senior officials from the NSC, the CIA, the Department of State and the Department of Defense. Particularly after 9/11, all doors were open for us and we were perceived, quite properly, as the closest ally, which gave us much influence. President Clinton spoke warmly of the Prime Minister at the Labour Party conference. When interviewed in the Rose Garden on 17 May this year, President Bush said,

He also said that the relationship,

When asked, “What about David Cameron?” President Bush replied, “Never met him”.

On relations with the European Union, foreign policy is, of course, a matter of seeking to persuade others by forming coalitions which further our interests. Who can forget the isolation of this country at Brussels before 1997 and the difficulties that poor John Major had with his anti-Europeans? Of course, there have been strains, particularly over Iraq, but the United Kingdom is now centre stage, perceived as a member of the team and no longer marginalised. I could call President Sarkozy as a witness but I cite President Barroso, who said on 10 May this year:

He mentioned climate change, enlargement and contributing to energy policy. He also mentioned development aid. It is clear that the UK has taken a leading role in the debate on climate change, which was a key factor in the change in US policy announced at the G8 summit at Heiligendamm. On aid, we should look at the figures, which speak volumes about our commitment to the third world. I refer to official United Kingdom development assistance as a percentage of GNI. The figure was 0.51 per cent in 1979, 0.27 per cent in 1990 and falling to 0.26 per cent in 1997. In 2006 our development aid was 0.52 per cent as a percentage of GNI. I cite also the very substantial commitments made at Gleneagles.

Last Friday I attended a conference on HIV/AIDS in The Hague, at which a large number of NGOs were present. Your Lordships would have warmed with

21 Jun 2007 : Column 332

pride at the tributes paid to our Department for International Development as a model in that area.

Finally, the noble Lord spoke about the Commonwealth and about giving increasing weight to that unique institution. I have quoted the aid statistics and the Gleneagles initiative. In the 1980s, I was the opposition spokesman on Africa, and I was ashamed of my Government’s policy. I recall our isolation at the 1986 special Commonwealth conference at Marlborough House. I recall the then Prime Minister describing Mandela as a “dangerous terrorist” and receiving the freedom of the apartheid city of Johannesburg. To illustrate the change in our policy on South Africa, I quote President Mbeki on 1 June at Union Buildings in Pretoria, where he said of the Prime Minister,

I could give many more examples drawn from Commonwealth countries, such as Sierra Leone, and from the Balkans. In both, we had very successful humanitarian interventions, and I would be very ready to compare the British Government’s policy in the Balkans in the early 1990s with the success thereafter.

I dismiss this newfound enthusiasm for the Commonwealth. I cite in support the speech made the Commonwealth Secretary-General Don McKinnon on Tuesday, in which he gently but firmly dismissed the Conservative approach. In effect, this Government, in my judgment and from my experience, have been good transatlanticists, good Europeans and good Commonwealthers, and that is good for the UK. We know from talks with the Commonwealth that our Commonwealth partners value the fact that we are good advocates for them in Brussels and Washington. That is good for the Commonwealth and good for us.

12.27 pm

Lord Blaker: My Lords, a fortnight ago, Angela Merkel, the current chairperson of the G8 and the European Union, was reported as saying that the EU-AU conference in Portugal, which is intended to take place later this year, will go ahead as planned even if Mugabe attends. I have seen no denial of that statement, although the Foreign Minister of Portugal has said that he had personally no interest in Mugabe coming to Lisbon. I asked the Leader of the House whether Frau Merkel’s statement had been communicated to the United Kingdom Government, whether it was agreed by our Government, and what was the response if it was discussed. I asked whether the other European Union countries were consulted and whether Portugal, which will be in the chair at that conference, was consulted. That event, if it occurs, will be a fundamental change in the targeted measures against Zimbabwe that have been passed by the European Union in recent years. Indeed, it seems to me that even an invitation to Mugabe would be contrary to those agreements.

21 Jun 2007 : Column 333

What is the present position? Unless the reason for the statement of Frau Merkel is cleared up, it seems to me that it will have serious consequences. It will cause doubt about the policies of the European Union. It could cause dismay among the increasing number of African leaders who are not enthusiastic about Mugabe and who are concerned about the damage that he is causing to Africa. It would enhance Mugabe’s standing and strengthen adulation for him by many African people. If the statement is reversed, there will be anger in many African countries and possibly a boycott by them of the conference later this year.

It seems curious that that statement came a few days after Frau Merkel had admonished Mugabe and called for reform of his policies. What was the purpose of her statement about his attendance in Portugal? Was it intended to discourage him from further terrorism by being gentle and encouraging? Is it not more likely to lead him, unless it is clarified, to rejoice at a surrender by the European Union and strut the stage to show that he is irresistible to members even of the European Union and the G8?

The opposition in Zimbabwe are still devoted to peaceful means; they are suffering brutal beatings and torture, and some are dead at the hands of Mugabe’s people. They will feel astonished, dismayed and betrayed if Mugabe attends that conference unless some explanation is given. If he does attend, many Africans in the conference hall will treat him as a hero, possibly with demonstrations of joy.

So there is a mystery. Why did Frau Merkel make that statement? Is it to do with the mission given to the President of South Africa, Mr Mbeki, by the Dar es Salaam meeting of SADC a few months ago—to facilitate dialogue between the opposition and the Government in Zimbabwe? If so, should we not be told? Is it intended as a means to hold the ring while that mission by President Mbeki is pursued? Could not the Government share this information with Parliament?

It is vital that President Mbeki should be impartial in conducting his mission. He was given the task by an entirely African forum. If he is successful in his mission, Africa will have great reason to be proud. We and the Africans are hoping for a good result. One factor is that the football World Cup is due to be played in South Africa in a few years; if rioting is going on in Zimbabwe, right next door, with people from Zimbabwe flooding into South Africa causing turmoil, that will not be good for South Africa’s World Cup celebrations.

The opposition are still pursuing their peaceful role during President Mbeki’s investigations but they are being very badly treated by Mugabe’s people. I suppose that it is difficult for President Mbeki to stop what is happening on the Mugabe side, but there is no impartiality between the two sides.

Was this matter discussed by the G8? There was no mention in the statements it issued at the end of the conference. Although Africa was one of the main topics, perhaps the G8 did not want to publicise this issue because of its sensitivity, but it did give some the impression that Zimbabwe was not important.

21 Jun 2007 : Column 334

A few years ago a bargain was made, of which the Prime Minister was understandably proud, between the developed and the developing world. The developed world was to give more aid and relieve Africa of debt. The African countries were to observe democracy, good governance, human rights and the rule of law. The developed world promised to spend, and it has spent a great deal. It has not spent everything that it promised, but it is doing pretty well. Some African countries are doing their best to honour their side of the bargain, but Zimbabwe is not one of them. We should attach great importance to a satisfactory outcome of the Zimbabwe problem. If it is resolved by Africa and by President Mbeki’s work, that will be a great tribute to Africa. But the G8 is entitled to look on very closely because, as a result of the bargain to which I referred, it has a legitimate interest in the success of President Mbeki’s task.

12.35 pm

Lord Harries of Pentregarth: My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Howell, for this debate. I intend to focus on only one aspect of foreign policy since 1997—the willingness of this Government, over the past 10 years, to intervene militarily when it has seemed a pressing necessity to them to do so. As a prelude, I emphasise that I share the Prime Minister’s conviction that military intervention to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe can sometimes be a moral obligation.

I intend to look briefly at some of the reasons why we have intervened: in Kosovo in 1999, in Sierra Leone in 2000, with the Australians in East Timor, in Iraq with Operation Desert Fox in 1998, and of course, most recently, in the present war there and in Afghanistan. I do so because I hope to see what lessons might be learnt for the future. We are often told that unless we learn from the mistakes of the past, we are condemned to repeat them. The problem is that we are always in danger of drawing the wrong lessons from those mistakes. Because of the terrible casualties of World War 1, there was a widespread mood of pacifism in the 1930s, which I fear I might have shared. Nothing seemed worse than war. But there was something worse, and only a minority of clear-sighted souls saw it. We did not make the same mistake again in the Cold War but resisted further Soviet expansion so far as we could within the overall restraining factor of the presence of nuclear weapons on both sides. But it is so easy to draw the wrong lesson.

My first worry is that we will be tempted to draw the wrong lesson from the present tragic failure in Iraq. What is going on there is indeed terrible, and the e-mails I receive seem to indicate that it is even worse than the media depict it as being. But it is vital, despite this, to keep the military option open in the future. In the world as it is, this will sadly, but assuredly, be needed at some point. It would only compound the tragedy of Iraq if, as a result of what has gone wrong there, we turn a blind eye to some manifest wrongdoing or humanitarian need in the future.

21 Jun 2007 : Column 335

The second point that emerges is the need for clear United Nations backing. A particular interpretation of contested UN resolutions when there is very far from being a proper international consensus simply is not enough. Successive Archbishops of Canterbury, from Fisher at Suez to today, have urged our Government to give full weight to the authority of the United Nations, even if it does not always endorse our first preferred course of action. As a result of the recent high-level panel report, the United Nations has an extremely sound ethical and political basis for military intervention under its auspices. We need to support and strengthen this basis and, in the future, except in the most exceptional circumstances, work with and through this.

Not unrelated to this is the need for the closest possible co-operation with other European countries where potential military intervention might be involved. This need not be at the expense of our relationship with the United States, as the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, emphasised. But it was the failure of our relationship with France and Germany that was as responsible as anything else for our failure to obtain a second UN resolution before the present Iraq war.

In the excellent debate last Thursday on Europe a number of noble Lords rightly stressed the need for Europe to work together on the military aspect of foreign policy. I know that the Kosovo situation is not fully resolved but it seemed to me that at the outset, as now, the Prime Minister was absolutely right to work so hard to persuade other countries not only that we should intervene militarily, but that we should commit troops. It is true that there was no explicit UN mandate for that, but as Sir Michael Quinlan has written, the 1994 Kosovo operation differed from the Iraq instance in at least four pertinent respects. He wrote:

Those are four very pertinent differences.

Finally, not only do we need a sound basis—a clear set of principles—in addition to the support of the UN to intervene militarily, but we need to apply the principles in a consistent manner. For those of us who are guided by the “just war” criteria, it seemed clear that while the intervention in Kosovo was justified, as it was in the very different circumstances of Sierra Leone and with Operation Desert Fox, those criteria were not met in the case of the recent war.

Those principles are not the only way of stating the considerations that have to be taken into account in order to make a right judgment. Early in his premiership, in an important speech in Chicago on 24 April 1999, the Prime Minister set out a very clear set of criteria for military intervention: first, are we sure of our case; secondly, have we exhausted all diplomatic options; thirdly, are there military options we can sensibly and prudently undertake; fourthly, are we prepared for the long-term; and finally, do we have

21 Jun 2007 : Column 336

national interests involved? There was a further point: if we want a world ruled by law and by international co-operation then we have to support the UN as its central pillar.

I would have liked to see that as a further specific criterion. As I have already indicated, I believe that working for the maximum consensus, internationally and more specifically in Europe, is fundamental to the issue of military intervention having a moral basis in the modern world. On the basis of those principles, as well as the “just war” criteria with which they significantly overlap, it was difficult from the outset to see the Iraq invasion as justified. I only wish that those of us who predicted disaster had been proved wrong. I still hope and pray daily that I will be proved wrong and that the original purpose of the intervention might succeed. There is no doubt that the failure to have a unified chain of command in the White House and the failure to plan for the aftermath of the invasion are almost criminally culpable. As Barack Obama has put it, with admirable succinctness:

Towards the beginning of his premiership, the Prime Minister said in his Chicago speech:

That problem has not gone away. Whatever set of principles we finally decide on for the present Government or future Governments, the present Prime Minister or future Prime Ministers, those principles need to be applied in a very rigorous and consistent way.

12.44 pm

Lord Giddens: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Howell, for initiating this important and ambitious debate. However, I disagree fundamentally with almost everything he said in introducing it, as I have on other occasions when we have had a chance to debate these issues.

Boom, boom, boom is the sound of the noble Lord—I am not sure whether he is noble and reverend—stealing my thunder. He said, more eloquently than I could, a few things that I was going to say, so I shall shorten my speech and zap through it fairly rapidly.

I, too, want to refer to the Prime Minister's speech in Chicago in 1999 because that was the most significant in setting British foreign policy for the past eight years. The Prime Minister enunciated a number of principles. I shall miss out the one mentioned by—is it the noble and reverend Lord?

Lord Harries of Pentregarth: My Lords, it is a bit of a muddle.

Lord Giddens: My Lords, by the noble “it's a bit of a muddle” Lord, and concentrate on the others. First, the speech interestingly opens with Kosovo. The Prime Minister said:

21 Jun 2007 : Column 337

He continued:

Whichever way one looks at it, the Prime Minister's influence on Kosovo and its outcome, which is still not completely resolved and remains in the forefront, was fundamental. I think it was he who influenced President Clinton at least to contemplate the use of ground troops there, which was one of the main levers persuading Mr Milosevic to back down and, eventually, brought the conflict to an end. That is the principle of liberal interventionism which has been mentioned several times.

Secondly, he quite rightly said that globalisation has transformed the nature of foreign policy. It is hard to think back because it is now so familiar, but it is clear that the difference between domestic and foreign policy has narrowed massively in a globalised world. They overlap much more. The Prime Minister said:

In that world, we still have to promote our national interest, but the nature of national interest has plainly changed. It will not be the narrow kind of national interest of a nation-state-based world; it has to be more global.

Thirdly, there is a very strong plea for multilateralism to which the unmentioned Lord has already referred, and the Prime Minister said:

That became the label for the speech—the new doctrine of the international community. The Prime Minister said that the United Nations has to be at the core of this reworked international community. In his words, it has to be “the central pillar”. He also mentioned reforming the WTO, third world debt and so forth.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page