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During the conflict in Northern Ireland, British public opinion was so soured by the death of soldiers and civilians that, on many occasions, public opinion polls showed that the great majority of communities in Britain wanted to withdraw. We can now say, given the happier state that Northern Ireland is now in, that it is a very good thing that the political class and Governments of both parties resisted what would often have been a very popular move. Britain played a role in Northern Ireland, ushering it towards an essentially liberal and democratic settlement. The defence of liberal values is often difficult and often hard, but it is preferable to running away.

1.46 pm

Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for introducing this important debate. However, had the title’s “reference to case for liberal intervention” been posed as a question, my response would have been, “No, such a case cannot be sustained”, particularly in the light of recent experience.

I opposed the invasion of Iraq, which was sometimes presented as an example of humanitarian intervention. I also opposed our intervention over Kosovo, sometimes referred to as a success story. In my view, liberal interventionism is often used to justify military intervention when it is known that otherwise the public are likely to oppose such action. It has been a means whereby large and powerful countries have been able to bully smaller countries which lack the means to retaliate. After all, no one expected to see Serbian or Iraqi bombing planes over London; we could watch the wars on television. Our then Prime Minister could talk about the courage needed to take difficult decisions, but the people having to make the ultimate sacrifice were the citizens of the countries concerned. No one asked the people living in those countries whether they were willing to be sacrificed for the sake of regime change or our view of democracy.

The UN charter, as we know, does not sanction intervention by individual member countries in the affairs of others in order to bring about regime change—hence the necessity in the case of Iraq for the story about weapons of mass destruction and the dodgy dossier. On Kosovo, the United Nations was bypassed. NATO, led by ourselves and the United States, abandoned diplomacy at Rambouillet in favour of a package of non-negotiable demands which it was known in advance that the Serbian Parliament was likely to reject, although it made a counter offer. Bombing started the following day. There were 78 days of aerial bombardment of a civilian population, and that included cluster bombing of urban areas. There was widespread damage to the civilian infrastructure—to hospitals, schools, bridges, television stations, factories, including pharmaceutical factories and, of course, to

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the Chinese embassy. Graphite bombs were used to destroy and interfere with the electricity supply, with dire results on hospitals, and there were many casualties among the civilian population.

What was the result? The alleged cleansing of Albanians was replaced by the ethnic cleansing of Serbs, the Roma people and anyone unwilling to accept the domination of the KLA, and the situation is still unsettled. There has also been the emergence of an unpleasant Albanian mafia involved in drugs and the trafficking of women.

Iraq, as we know, is a mess. Thousands of people have been killed, lives have been wrecked, homes and jobs lost. Several million people, many with professional training, are refugees in neighbouring countries. It has resulted in a strengthening of fundamentalism, with all that means for the repression of women. Iran has been strengthened as a result of this war. It is a country with a cruel and misogynist Government, where public executions are common, including the stoning of women. I know several Iranians who are refugees in this country and who are opposed to the regime, but even so they are totally opposed to military intervention because they know how much it would hurt their people.

When a disliked regime is replaced, nice western democrats are not always waiting in the wings to take over. Leadership may pass to an equally intolerant and authoritarian group with no concern for human rights. Voting alone does not always produce democracy, as we know, for also needed are an infrastructure, the rule of law and appropriate rules to safeguard individual and ethnic rights.

Many of the leaders who have advocated liberal interventionism by military means have not had direct experience of modern warfare—I emphasise “modern warfare” and say to my noble friend Lord Soley, in response to his interesting historical analysis, that modern warfare is very different from what was applicable in years gone by, because it inevitably affects the civilian population. It is my experience that people who have had direct experience of modern warfare—they are usually older people—are extremely reluctant to support military intervention except in the most extreme circumstances, perhaps as a last resort and with international support via the UN. That was certainly true of my late husband, who had been an RAF pilot and had finished the Second World War with a string of medals and the rank of wing commander. We watched the first Gulf War on television; there had been much talk of targeting and special bombs limiting civilian casualties. He was very angry. I remember him saying, “Smart bombs? Smart bombs? Don’t you believe it. We are watching people being killed down there”. And so we were.

Fortunately, we now have a Prime Minister who says he believes in international organisation and working with the UN. I therefore hope that he will be less inclined towards unilateral military interventionism than was his predecessor. I say no to the case for so-called liberal interventionism. It is all too often a cloak for something entirely different—perhaps the securing of resources or the pursuit of influence or military bases. Innocent people should

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not be sacrificed; nor should the lives of our young men and women who act as our troops in some of these conflicts.

Should it be said, as it may well be, that these views are anti-American, I would point out that they are also widely held in America. At least one of the Democratic candidates for the US presidency holds very similar views.

1.53 pm

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I must apologise for my late arrival in this debate. I had anticipated that the previous debate would finish early, but not quite as early as it did, and the distance from the other side of Portcullis House to this Chamber is rather longer than one would wish. I sometimes feel that I get my daily exercise by going to two meetings per day in Portcullis House.

Both in preparing for the debate and listening to the previous speeches, I felt that I was back as a professor at the London School of Economics, where we used to debate order versus justice in international relations. Indeed, there is a seminar in my old department next week, at which Professor Anatol Lieven will talk about the cases for and against liberal intervention.

I approach this debate, however, with some hesitation and find myself much more in sympathy with the noble Baroness, Lady Camden, than with the noble Lord, Lord Bew, because I have spent too much time during the past 10 years or more with the followers of Henry Jackson and the neo-conservatives than I would have wished. I have had to argue the case against liberal imperialism with them, and one needs to be very cautious about going down that route. I read the speech that the noble Lord, Lord Soley, made to the Henry Jackson Society. It worries me that we are being presented with an argument for the United States being the force for good against the evils of the world. It is a very black and white presentation, and just as Liberals at the time of the Boer War were cautious about British liberal imperialism and got a lot of stick for opposing that war, and just as we got a lot of stick for opposing the Iraq war in the run-up to it, one needs now to be very careful about moral absolutes. I recognise the dangers of moral relativism, but talking about the world in black and white terms—the forces for good versus the forces for evil—leads one down a dangerous road.

We need to recognise the enormous difference between what one does about failed states and what one does about authoritarian states. The noble Lord, Lord Soley, in his speech today and in his speech to the Henry Jackson Society, seemed to fudge the difference between the two. The difference between Bosnia and Serbia, for example, is between a failed state, in which I entirely agree we should have agreed to intervene properly in 1991—the French Government were prepared to put troops in; John Major’s Government, unlike what Mrs Thatcher as Prime Minister might have done, were extremely sceptical—and an authoritarian state. To have gone further and forced regime change in Serbia, as some

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might like to have done, would have been to unleash the worst kind of Serbian nationalism—we have enough problems as it is.

One has to be hesitant about pushing for regime change in nasty states or even, sometimes, in criminal states. Therefore, there was a case for the Vietnamese intervention against Pol Pot and for Tanzanian intervention against Idi Amin—although the case in Uganda was less extreme and did not involve quite the same kind of genocide as committed by the Pol Pot regime—but if one is talking about regime change in Iran, because it is an authoritarian regime that we do not like, as the rhetoric in Washington goes, I say no. The authoritarian regime in Iran is not in any sense a nice regime, but it is not totalitarian, and we have to be cautious about how we approach it. If one is going to talk about pushing democracy on the world, I ask whether we intend to invade Saudi Arabia or Uzbekistan. How far do we wish to push? We need to be careful in our use of terms.

The right to protect is about humanitarian intervention. One has to distinguish between humanitarian and liberal intervention. As the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, said, liberal intervention slides very easily into liberal imperialism of a Disraeli type. There are those who would like the United States to be the neo-Disraeli of the 21st century. I am in the middle of reading William Dalrymple’s book on the Indian mutiny. One of its causes was the shift in British policy from recognising that we were playing with the local culture to wishing to convert India to modernity, democracy and Christianity. That was one of the underlying causes of the revolt of the sepoys.

Forcing democracy and a transformation of values through the barrel of a gun simply does not work. If you were to ask me to compare the EU approach to democracy in the Middle East with that of the Bush Administration, I would have no difficulty in defending the soft-power approach against the hard-power approach. I have been involved in debates on that during the past few years. In Washington, post-9/11, a surge of people has said, “We are going to democratise the Middle East in the next 10 years”. We all had to explain that it might take a little longer than 10 years because culture change is generational. Promoting the rule of law, education and independent media may look less glamorous and much more a matter of dirty compromises, but it does not provoke the nationalism and the resistance to occupation which we have seen as a result of our invasion and occupation of Iraq, and which we are already seeing within Iran as a result of the sanctions that the western community is imposing on Iran, and the hostility that it is showing towards it. Persian nationalism is a legitimate force, and the complete inability of people in the US Administration to recognise that US policy towards Iran provokes Persian nationalism is part of what I think is mistaken about the policy of the current American Administration. One always has, in international relations, to recognise that the other side sees the world in a different way and that resistance to western imperialism is a very powerful force in the developing world.

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The noble Lord, Lord Bew, says that he has heard neo-conservatism criticised more in this House than terrorism, but one of my concerns is that there is a relationship between the two. A depiction of international politics in terms of good versus evil and western values versus Muslim values is the sort of thing that provokes greater sympathy for terrorism. I speak as a liberal, and liberals are always open to the charge of moral relativism, in religion—and I am an Anglican—as well as in politics; but I would defend a degree of moral relativism as a necessary beginning for politics to take place. Once one slips down the road to moral absolutes, we fight and kill each other, and that is not the world order in which we wish to live.

I add some other cautions about western intervention. What one hears from the supporters of the Henry Jackson Society and others in Washington and London is of a world in which the white man’s burden still has to be taken up. It is the community of democracies and an expanded NATO that will impose our values on the world, for which the rest of the world will of course be deeply grateful. I think that that moment is past; we should be trying to co-opt the Indians and Chinese into promoting world order and preventing genocide in picking up failed states, because white men can no longer run the world.

I quote in my support the speech given in Chicago some years ago by our previous Prime Minister, in which he talked about the case for liberal intervention and set out a number of conditions to be met before we committed ourselves to any form of intervention. He asked:

On the question of Iran, I am quite clear that we ought not to be sure of the case for any form of military intervention. He then asked:

He added that,

which the United States has now done twice in effect in Afghanistan—and we are now trying to pick up the pieces having lost time. Finally, he asked,

That is a good hard, realist set of questions, but I suggest that the United States does not quite have national interests involved at present in forcing regime change in Saudi Arabia or Uzbekistan. Our former Prime Minister went on to say:

He said that knowing that on Kosovo—and this was very much a speech in the context of Kosovo—the UN is not a perfect instrument. We are dealing, after all, with a majority of authoritarian regimes inside the UN, but that is the situation that we are in.

We have to address the question of what our capabilities are. Are the Government confident of public support? Can they hope to generate enough public support? On Iraq and Afghanistan, those

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questions remain open. As we shall debate on the Conservative debate day next week, what we are doing to our Armed Forces by attempting to push through a long-term commitment on liberal intervention that we cannot entirely support within our own capabilities is a matter for a very serious judgment, which of course weakens the case for further liberal intervention unless we can co-opt on humanitarian intervention grounds our Asian partners—the Indians, Chinese and others.

I say yes to humanitarian intervention. On liberal intervention I say it should be done only very exceptionally and very cautiously, as I understand Tony Blair was saying in the Chicago speech. On liberal imperialism, I say that that time has passed and that 19th century liberals were right to oppose it then.

2.05 pm

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire. This has been a most interesting and wide-ranging debate, and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Soley, for initiating it so comprehensively this afternoon. I take this opportunity to say how pleased I am that the noble Lord, Lord Malloch-Brown, is answering these two debates today as he has such a deep knowledge and experience of these subjects. We are pleased, too, that he respects and shows that he understands the importance of your Lordships' House by his presence here rather than attending the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Uganda.

I quote, as did the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, the former Prime Minister speaking before the Chicago Economic Club on 22 April 1999. He said:

What he said was significant for two reasons. First, he used the word “we” both to describe the joint responsibility of the United Kingdom and the United States in responding to issues of international concern and, more broadly, to emphasise the ever-increasing shift from a national to a truly global consciousness. Secondly, he framed the question of international foreign policy in terms of when and not whether it would be appropriate for civilised nations to intervene in those countries where humanitarian atrocities are widespread and oppression is the norm.

The former Prime Minister said:

and that,

The key message to be drawn from that and our debate today is that an increasingly globalised and inter-dependent world, the community of civilised nations, has a real commitment to the rest of the world to make certain that basic human rights are protected.

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David Cameron, in his speech to the British American Project on 11 September 2006—and I am afraid that I cannot agree with the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, in his remarks on David Cameron—said that,

He advocated the importance of a responsible approach to the question of humanitarian intervention, with humility and patience as guiding principles. He added,

and that force should be the last resort. Furthermore, he said that,

The noble Lord, Lord Bew, who concentrated mainly on Northern Ireland, rightly said that, in dire circumstances, in the end liberal intervention is “preferable to running away”.

While the concept of liberal intervention is relatively clear by making sure that human rights violations do not occur, or continue to occur, its application is more problematic. What are the parameters of liberal intervention? The noble Lord, Lord Soley, rightly asked the question: when and how? He mentioned the closed regime in Burma, yet we saw pictures of the monks protesting. However, nowadays, with mobile phones it is increasingly difficult to stop any photography. The days of old-fashioned wireless jamming of the BBC World Service are happily nearly eradicated. We live in a different world.

Is the threshold of intervention to be determined by the military resources of the UN or by the scale of any given humanitarian crisis? And, perhaps most importantly, which institution is best equipped to take the decision to intervene? Tony Blair referred to,

But that deadlock is not just an historical one. Since the end of the Cold War, the United Nations Security Council has on a number of occasions been either reluctant to sanction interventions or incapable of responding quickly enough to pressing humanitarian crises. As the Minister will know only too well, in the Rwandan genocide, for example, the Security Council failed to stop the violence, argued about whether genocide was happening and ordered a reduction in the UN peacekeeping force in the country. And in 1999, NATO intervened in Kosovo—as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Soley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Turner of Camden—without a UN mandate.

I add that earlier this year a UN envoy presented a plan to grant Kosovo limited independence under continued international supervision. The Security Council called for yet more talks with a deadline of 10 December after fierce protests from Russia and Serbia. I shall not go into more details in this short debate, but the Balkans are yet again in an extremely fragile state.

If the UN is to be the ultimate decision-maker on questions of intervention, the recurring question is

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whether the UN itself is in need of radical reform. As long as liberal intervention remains a necessary tool of foreign policy, does the Minister agree that it should be used only with responsibility and, above all, legitimacy? I am sure we are all very much looking forward to the Minister’s response.

2.13 pm

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Malloch-Brown): My Lords, I join others who thanked my noble friend Lord Soley for bringing this subject before us today. I thank him for his reference to the hard-working Minister who has to deal with all of this and matters outside the House too. If that was a gentle reference to certain media stories in recent days, I should say that I wish that I could spend more time in the House. It is a very much more congenial place to be than the jungle beyond.

When the noble Lord, Lord Bew, spoke of neo-cons in his fascinating intervention, I was reminded how much the use of language in the United States has shifted and departed from the use of language here. Having lived in the United States for the past 21 years, I realised that this was the first time I was able to use the word “liberal” as a term of approbation in more than two decades. Therefore, I am a little disappointed that my noble friend Lady Turner made it clear that I should still use it with greater caution than I had originally intended.

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