Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

The international community is no less culpable for the current state of Afghanistan. The confusion of priorities is astonishing to witness. Primary tasks were seen as eliminating the threat of terrorism, or the threat of drugs, or to accommodate, rather than confront, local criminal networks. By now Helmand is considered to be British, Uruzgan is Australian, Kandahar is Canadian and so on.

The aid agencies planned and implemented thousands of small projects, often resulting in haphazard coverage; three wells in one community and none in another, for example. The projects largely ignored the civil service and the need to capacity build at the most local levels. The lack of coherence and co-ordination has led to fragmentation, corruption and the infiltration of the Taliban.

Among all the priorities that the different foreign actors took upon themselves, two basic, clear and urgent necessities—namely, state building and security—were largely ignored. These type of early errors fly in the face of all that we know about the reconstruction of post-conflict societies. Do we really have to keep learning that institution building and national security are the top priorities on day one?

What can be done? What can be rescued from this jumble of conflicting efforts? First and foremost, no country can be stable unless it has a functioning state

26 Feb 2009 : Column 327

that performs key functions for its citizens. Researchers in this field say that this necessarily invokes at least four factors: a leadership and management team with a commitment to good governance based on the rule of law; relentless focus on national accountability systems; the development of a vibrant civil society; and, finally, the development of small and medium-sized firms that will give citizens a stake in the future of their country. Sadly, none of these factors operates in Afghanistan at the moment.

A clear and consensual plan of action would enable political coherence, a united front against both the drugs industry and the Taliban, and, ultimately, against criminal networks. A unitary security force with a strategic plan, rather than the present parallel structures with differing pay and regulations, would help to prevent fragmentation and penetration of the armed forces by drug networks. Collective accountability could ensure that revenue is directed towards government and not to warlords and commanders. The evidence suggests that what is on the books is a great deal less that what is collected.

Military assistance might focus on protecting villages rather than searching out insurgents—which, in effect, is the cause of most military and civilian fatalities—and on the police, together with involvement in a massive programme of public works in co-operation with Afghan construction companies. There are still opportunities to achieve these targets in Afghanistan if the international community is prepared to act collectively and toughly and provide sufficient resources for Afghanistan to work towards its own future. The UK is in a strong position, in that it is a major donor, with a leadership position within the World Bank. DfID has done excellent work in some areas on institution building. Given these strengths, perhaps the UK can go further in promoting an agreed national plan for Afghanistan together with the means to implement it.

12.25 pm

Lord Howe of Aberavon: My Lords, like my predecessors, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Marlesford on a quite remarkable speech introducing this debate—a three-dimensional tour d’horizon, which covered almost every topic with great consistency. I follow that by congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, on a compact presentation of an expert insight into an important subject. For my part, I intend to focus largely on the resources, skills, partnerships and alliances with which we should respond to the challenges identified by my noble friend Lord Marlesford. The question is all the more necessary in the light of the economic and financial pressures that we are facing today.

I start with a word about defence. We have long been accustomed, in government or out of it, to being able to fulfil our central objective, which is the availability of first-rate, world-class strategically mobile conventional forces. We have seen that displayed from the Iranian embassy in London to the Falkland Islands and the Gulf War. Today, however, despite the sustained, wholehearted commitment of our forces to the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, one gets the increasing

26 Feb 2009 : Column 328

impression of repeated delays and inadequacies of equipment in almost every direction. Sadly, that is accompanied, as my noble friend pointed out, by a decline in morale and even, indeed, reputation, which is largely undeserved. The whole of this was summed up by an Economist headline the other day: “Overstretched, overwhelmed and over there”.

In the mean time, there has been an important intervention from the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, and others in the letter that they wrote to the Times on 16 January. They drew attention to the way in which the world is changing, a point also touched on by my noble friend Lord Marlesford. The issue of a world free of nuclear weapons is now firmly on the public agenda. It was placed there initially, a year or more ago, by a galère of distinguished American statesmen, including Secretaries of State Shultz and Kissinger, Secretaries of Defence Perry and Carlucci and Senator Sam Nunn. It is now known and widely supported as the “nuclear security project”. It has been endorsed by many Members of this House and recognised in the qualified response from my noble friend Lord Marlesford.

The letter to the Times written by the noble and gallant Lord and other noble Lords said that having,

The letter continues, in the context of our own defence strategy:

“Rather than perpetuating Trident, the case is much stronger for funding our Armed Forces with what they need to meet the commitments actually laid upon them”.

That seems to be the important conclusion. I recognise that the difference between my noble friend and me is not as large as all that, because the process that one undertakes by accepting that analysis can be conducted with respect for both arguments.

On civil expenditure, similar tensions exist between the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development. In today’s complex world there can be no doubt about the huge importance of having a high-quality Diplomatic Service, for which we are traditionally renowned. French Foreign Secretaries have constantly said that our Diplomatic Service is “second only to our own”. I have heard similar tributes paid to our Diplomatic Service by Chinese Foreign Ministers with whom I have negotiated. This House is filled with noble Lords who are lively exhibits in support of my proposition. However, there is no doubt now about the erosion, as a result of pressure from the Treasury, of that quality. In short, there can be no doubt that there is an imbalance between the underresourced Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the much larger DfID budget. That imbalance is quite literally crippling our diplomatic efforts. I say that without being insensitive to the importance of the DfID budget, which was well spelt out by the noble Baroness, Lady Amos. However, the slogan “Making Poverty History” attaches a magic to that half of the equation, leading to an imbalance that inhibits our capacity in other respects.



26 Feb 2009 : Column 329

In what other ways should we promote British interests? Our claim to superpower status was extinguished about a century ago and our claim to great power status shrinks alongside the emergence of the great Asian nations, China and India, and even alongside the untidy and unattractive symbol of Russia struggling to recreate itself. One demonstration of that is the fact that the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, paid her first overseas visit not to Europe but to the Pacific states, indicating that America is a trans-Pacific nation.

In response to these diverse challenges we have bilateral links that are of real value and importance to us. We have them with India because of our long association with it and we have them with China because of our increasingly intimate association with that country. As my noble friend Lord Howell is fond of pointing out, we have such links with a range of Commonwealth countries. That point was emphasised by my noble friend Lord Marlesford. We should never forget the value of that relationship.

Correspondingly, however, we should not overlook the extent to which, on many major issues, we share pressing and continuous common interests most of all with the leading members of the European Union but indeed with the whole of the Union. My noble friend Lord Howell has underlined the importance of that in recent interventions. It is not a question of choosing between the Commonwealth and Europe, or in any other narrow fashion. Despite the diversity of opinions in my own party, I am glad to say that its leaders have clearly expressed their recognition of the importance of our European relationship. My right honourable friend William Hague made his maiden speech almost 30 years ago at the astonishing age of 16 in a debate at the party conference to which I replied. He has lived up to my expectations. He has said:

“I am as convinced as ever that our place is to be in Europe but not run by Europe”.

Nobody has ever said that we were going to be run by Europe. He made that central point. The leader of the Opposition, David Cameron, has said:

“We believe it would be wrong for Britain to leave the European Union”.

That is a simple summation.

I close by drawing attention to a statement to similar effect made long before those, and made even more clearly and with higher authority. It comes from a document that emerged after I had been in partnership on the Front Bench with my noble friend Lady Thatcher for some 10 years, and in partnership as Foreign Secretary for a couple of years. It emerged on 24 June 1984, on the eve of the Fontainebleau European Council, at which we were able—perhaps I should more rightly say that she was able—to secure the success that we needed in relation to the British budget question. On the eve of that conference, we circulated a document on the future of Europe, which set out our wider vision of the organisation. It talked about political co-operation, which was then the right jargon. It stated:

“The Ten need to act”—

there were only 10 of us then—

On defence and security, the document states:

“Our objective must be to strengthen the European pillar of the Alliance and improve European defence cooperation”.

Those objectives were valid at that time and remain valid today for any Government. I hope that they will be taken fully on board by the prospective Conservative Government under the leadership of my right honourable friends David Cameron and William Hague.

12.36 pm

The Lord Bishop of Ripon and Leeds: My Lords, I, too, am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, for initiating this far-reaching debate. I am also grateful for the emphasis he laid on the importance of taking seriously both history and ideas if we are to develop an effective foreign policy for the future.

Today we have the opportunity to discuss foreign policy in the round and examine the principles and thrust of our response to its new challenges. I was particularly grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, for raising nuclear weaponry and its future within our world and our own policy.

I want to concentrate on two areas: the need to refresh the post-1945 world order at a time of economic challenge and, in so doing, to take full account of differences in ideology and religious perception across our world. In his seminal July 2007 lecture, “New Diplomacy: Challenges for Foreign Policy”, the Foreign Secretary spoke of the need for today’s foreign policy to reflect the new distribution of power. We have already had references in this debate to the growing strength of China and India as being key to the need to innovate and modernise existing international bodies and structures. Over the past few months this need has been amply illustrated by the complete inability of existing international financial institutions to provide collective action on a global scale. I was particularly grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, for weaving together foreign and economic policy when discussing the situation in Africa, for the two are deeply dependent on each other.

Therefore, I am encouraged that the Government have made reform of the international financial institutions a key element of the package of proposals to be considered by the G20 when it meets in London on 2 April. If such reforms are to be sustainable, the financial institutions need to be publicly and transparently accountable. One way to go some way in this direction would be to ensure that developing and developed countries had equality of voice and of vote. For this reason, many from this Bench will support the “Put People First” rally in London on 28 March.

Secondly, and still more crucially, we need to tackle the battle of ideas and we need to do that thoroughly. Sometimes it seems that every newcomer on taking up their role with regard to foreign affairs makes a promise to tackle that battle of ideas; George W Bush spoke in

26 Feb 2009 : Column 331

September 2001 of “waging a war on ideas”, but then actually failed to do any such thing. The Foreign Secretary in his 2007 speech spoke of the ways that winning the battle of ideas was fundamental to securing Britain’s foreign policy priorities. Yet I am far from convinced that the foreign policy establishment understands sufficiently the interaction of politics and religion in global politics, whether that be in Gaza or Iran.

Too often we are taken away from the important by the urgent. We make necessary and right responses to particular foreign policy issues without taking seriously the background to them. So, James Jones, an American religious psychologist and academic of comparative religion, notes in his informative study, Blood that Cries Out from the Earth, that liberal democracies based on the values of individual rights and government by negotiation and compromise have not yet begun to find a way to respond to those who are convinced that God has given them the single master plan for how society should be organised and governed. That view is held widely across the world.

That understanding of the divine mandate is shared by Christian reconstructionists in America, by Muslim jihadi around the world, by ultra-orthodox Jews in Israel and by groups such as the Japanese Buddhist group Aum Shinrikyo and the Hindu nationalist party India. I agree with and stress James Jones’s analysis that whether such a divine mission can coexist with liberal democracy remains one of the major religious and political issues of the beginning of the 21st century.

I suggest that policymakers need to pay far greater attention to this than they have done hitherto. All too often, foreign policymakers here in Europe and in America display a propensity to rely on the advice of social scientists who employ rational choice models or game theory in attempts to comprehend sacred values that are deeply held for non-instrumental reasons. I do not think that it takes a bishop to recognise that such sacred values are not open to the instrumental calculus of statistically based social sciences.

It is not my intention here to rehearse the well established thesis that religion is among the missing dimensions of statecraft. Rather, it is to suggest that meeting many of the foreign challenges of the present and the future will depend on a better understanding of how religion and politics are mixed together in our world. Counterterrorism policies that appeal to the self-interest of religiously motivated terrorists are unlikely to succeed. Threatening Iran with a further tightening of sanctions is unlikely to succeed when the regime’s description of the US as the “great Satan” is to do not with the religious foundation of America, but far more with its materialist values.

We stand little chance of winning the battle of ideas if we speak all the time of United Nations resolutions, unilateralism, multilateralism, weapons inspectors, coercion and non-coercion. We need a new language and a new vision for dealing with this battle of ideas, and that remains one of the most pressing foreign policy challengers for our Government and for our generation.



26 Feb 2009 : Column 332

12.45 pm

Lord Anderson of Swansea: My Lords, I respectfully agree that we ignore the religious dimension in our foreign policy formulation and objectives at our peril. Like previous speakers, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, on providing such an excellent platform for the debate. My only criticism is that, so far as I recall, the only mention of the European Union was as a potential threat to our Diplomatic Service, and I follow rather more the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, who invites us to follow the advice of the Oracle at Delphi to know ourselves and our capacities, and perhaps the words of Robert Burns:

not as some nostalgic sepia-tinted vision of the past.

The noble Lord invited us to examine the new challenges which face us in foreign policy. In my judgment, to appreciate those challenges we need to understand the context in which we are likely to operate over the next 10 and 20 years and the instruments available to us and our allies. However, first, there should be a word of caution about predictions. The joy of forecasting is that it is very fallible; by contrast, hindsight gives us 20:20 vision, and a look back over the past 20 years would show, first, that 20 years ago the Berlin Wall was still there and many would not have forecast its fall. Since then, there has been not only the fall of the Soviet Union, but many of its empire’s former members and even parts of the former Soviet Union are now in the European Union and NATO.

Again, 10 years ago there were rather naïve assumptions that Russia would be just like us and become a western-style democracy. Since then, an amendment has been moved, as we say, that although Russia is part of the Council of Europe, we saw the new and more aggressive style under Putin from about 2003-04. Again, eight years ago, we had not had the World Trade Centre bombing; 9/11 coloured the world perceptions of the threat of Islamic fundamentalism and the US self-perception as being invulnerable on its own territory—hence, the “war on terror”, the “axis of evil” and the distortion which followed in US foreign policy which, I hope, will be modified under President Obama. Perhaps the last of those elements which would give the forecasters a certain humility is what happened in the past year or two in respect of the bursting of the bubble in the world financial system, whether that started from Lehman Brothers or, even earlier, sub-prime mortgages, and the effect that the crisis is likely to have not only on western capitalism— which was affected alone, perhaps, in the 1930s’ depression—but the whole world.

That was a word of caution. With due hesitation, I ask: what challenges are likely to face us as we proceed during the next five, 10 or 20 years? There appears to be reasonable consensus among the forecasters and the thinktankers. This is hardly surprising, because these people swim in the same goldfish bowl and advise the same groups. For example, the excellent report by the United States National Intelligence Council, published last November, Global Trends, drew very

26 Feb 2009 : Column 333

heavily on the think tanks in Europe and around the world; it is as though they were the same people who advised the European Union on strategy or who wrote the French white paper on defence.

The NIC reports certain relative certainties and certain key uncertainties. Its analysis of trends, and hence challenges, which other forecasts, as I said, replicate, talks of the rise of India and China by 2025; of the relative power of non-state actors; of the shift in relative wealth and world power from West to East, and of the US becoming less dominant and a first among equals. It talks of continued economic growth—with a question mark—putting pressure on energy, food and water, and about the increasing potential for conflict. The key uncertainties are energy security, the effect of climate change, whether mercantilism protectionism will stage a comeback, the effect of a nuclear-armed Iran, and whether stability can be achieved in the greater Middle East.

The European security strategy that I mentioned, published last autumn, follows that same trend, as does the excellent French white paper on defence. I looked for a similar UK paper; the nearest I found was the FCO White Paper on UK international priorities that was published three years ago in March 2006. The 2003 White Paper promised us that the Government had committed themselves to a review every two years, to ensure that foreign policy remained relevant and kept up with the pace of change. Well, three years have passed, and it would be helpful to learn from my noble friend when we might have that FCO contribution.

In this consensus, we will clearly have a changed context. Perhaps the major omission is the insufficient emphasis given to world population and its effects on conflicts. I think, for example, of the Rwanda genocide: was it 800,000 or a million people killed in that bloodbath between March and June 1994? That was essentially a conflict over land between the Hutu and the Tutsi. The problems in Kenya two years ago between the Luo and other tribes were, again, largely about population and land. In only 80 years, the Kenyan population has gone from 2.9 million to 37 million. On the violence in Gaza, in 1950 its population was 240,000: it is now 1.5 million and will soon move to 2.2 million. With that sort of increase, how can one seek to provide education and health for those young people, and prevent them becoming so radicalised? Something can yet be done. The Arab populations in the West Bank and in Israel proper do not have that same population boom.

If the challenges have been identified, what sort of instruments do we have? It has been mentioned that, globally, the United Nations and, indeed, the whole post-Second World War institutional framework needs to be examined—and I pay tribute here to the work of the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, and his colleagues on the high-level panel, about which relatively little has been done since—as does, clearly, the regional level of western organisations. NATO is now 60 years old and needs a new strategic concept. For the UK, I concede that the initiative of President Medvedev at Evian on the new European security architecture fits ill with the Georgia invasion, but should not be dismissed out of hand.



26 Feb 2009 : Column 334

The particular challenge for us is to balance our links with the United States, our closest bilateral relationship, with membership of the European Union. Pace the Daily Mail, the US ambassador to NATO recently said that,

Yesterday, I was at Northwood and saw the first naval EU operation, Atalanta. It was under the command of a British admiral, which is light-years away from that suspicion of the EU one hears so often from the other side.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page