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“The theme of my speech is the need to think afresh about Britain's relationship with the Commonwealth and to join with people from other nations in reinvigorating this extraordinary organisation. It is a relationship which has endured through the ages but sadly has been undervalued in recent years”.

That is the right approach and a good indication of Conservative policy for the future.

It interesting to note the success of our Commonwealth at reinforcing the Francophone countries and the Spanish and Portuguese-speaking countries in creating and strengthening their links, both commercial and cultural, between peoples united by history and language. The example of the CPA in bringing parliamentarians together on that basis is also being followed. Maximum support is necessary from our Government to ensure that this unique institution moves forward and takes a lead in global policies.

My final phrase will be: in facing new challenges, we must not forget old friends.

3.35 pm

Lord Weidenfeld: My Lords, the predominant aim for a British foreign policy that can cope with political challenges, acute or simmering, and steer us through the floods of a global economic crisis in which there will probably be few Noah's Arks, must be a reinvigoration of our European policy and its harmonisation with renewed transatlantic ties. If your Lordships were to join me in looking further into the 21st century, you might share my view that such a broad alliance would be greatly strengthened by an additional dimension—that is, the inclusion of Russia. What should drive the nations living between Vancouver and Vladivostok together? It is, first, the ticking demographic time-bomb; the decline of population in Russia, but also in many European countries. By the middle of the century, Russia's 170 million of today may shrink to 120 million. In Europe's most populated state, Germany, the maternity wards are half empty; today's 85 million is likely to dwindle to 60 million. International terrorism and Islamic extremism also menace most of those countries. On the other hand, harmonious collaboration across the Atlantic, and including Russia, would make it easier to obtain equilibrium and a peaceful working relationship with China and the other giants of the East, rather than playing them off, one against the other.

I am well aware that our relations with Russia are now at a low ebb, and it is not likely that one or the other party will beat its breast in remorse. But realistic reasoning does not mean appeasing. Reasoning does not mean appeasing. Those who go so far as to think that the present Russian regime has acted shamefully can be answered that the whole of the West gravely injured Russia's self-esteem after she rid herself of communism. Our media predicted early economic collapse, disintegration and the secession of major provinces led by powerful warlords. Western statesmen shook their fists in Kiev, denying Russia's special rights in the Crimea. Our backing of Georgia, doubtlessly inspired by humanist impulses, ignored the fact that the Government in Tblisi did not always handle their great neighbour judiciously and that the small Caucasian enclaves were yearning for freedom.

Expanding the European Union further east, especially in the light of the fierce struggles to agree on the inner workings of the present 27-member Union, raises

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mighty problems. We should not allow ourselves to come to quick conclusions on, say, the Ukraine, when many of us have come to regret that we were perhaps prematurely sponsoring Turkey's entry some 20 years ago. I have recently been in the western Ukraine and, as a born Austrian, I felt the western, indeed Hapsburg, legacy in those places. At the same time, east Ukrainian friends still dream of the great moments in Russian history connected with Kiev, Odessa or Sebastopol. Of course, there is a modern, solid, vibrant Ukrainian nationalism, but if relations between the wider West and Russia were to develop along dynamically progressive lines, the phrase “partnership for peace”, so popular in the early days of the Gorbachev and Yeltsin regimes in reference to NATO and the Russian armed forces, would become a reality and Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova and others in the “near-abroad” sphere might find that their security was no longer at risk.

All nations of the wider Middle East, rich or needy, armed or practically defenceless, are now nervously trying to guess whether the superpower America under President Obama will be on the retreat into semi-isolation. Will America pursue the war on terror with the necessary vigour? Will America succeed in negotiating with allies, friends, fence-sitters and foes, or only waste precious time? Will contact with Iran, now that Teheran seems far nearer than expected to within sight of its first atomic bomb, lead to a successful compromise? If it does not, what will Obama do?

There now seems to be a flurry among Middle Eastern regimes to seek shelter in a world in which the United States no longer plays the dominating role. They look for assurances elsewhere—to China, some to Russia—yet others seek to come to terms with terrorist organisations, upgrading them to valid interlocutors. Hostility to Israel is a safe posture in the quest for sympathy.

Was the outburst by President Erdogan of Turkey at Davos, when storming from his shared platform with Shimon Peres, spontaneous or rehearsed? Will Turkey, hitherto a bastion of NATO loyalty and strategic partner with Israel, swap horses? One may well ask: would a Turkey of, say, 100 million people within 15 or 20 years carry the torch of western standards to Europe’s new borders with Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Iraq and Syria, or would it turn into a Trojan horse, unloading a baggage of bigotry and intolerance?

The more one considers the endless variations of the peace endeavours in the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, the more one feels that only a holistic approach can have positive results. What use would be an Israeli/Palestinian treaty which, before the ink was dry, was rendered ineffective by Iranian arms reaching, via Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon on Israel’s northern borders and Hamas in Gaza? In my view, only powerful international intervention would impress all parties and could deal effectively with the interlinking issues of that troubled area.

America’s new high-level talks in the region will have to convince the seasoned observer that a real breakthrough can be achieved by peaceful means. If it can, soft diplomacy will have brought us much solace as we grapple with our economic doldrums. If it cannot, will the wider West risk nuclear proliferation,

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anarchy, moral nihilism, state and non-state terrorism or will it, however reluctantly and only as a very last resort, follow a call to arms?

3.42 pm

Baroness Falkner of Margravine: My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, for securing this debate and, indeed, for so elegantly and succinctly covering an expansive ground of challenges today.

I want to talk about a single challenge, albeit an increasingly serious one: the question of what the West can do about Pakistan. It is an ongoing challenge in the sense that Pakistan’s potential to destabilise the region continues, as the noble Lord, Lord King, and others pointed out, but it is also a growing challenge for us here in the UK, for the US and for NATO, as the outcome of what we can do in Afghanistan is predicated on what we are able to achieve in Pakistan. Furthermore, what happens in Pakistan is now inexorably tied up with debates in the wider Muslim world about justice for the people of Kashmir, which has taken its place alongside the challenge of seeking a peaceful solution to the Israel/Palestine problem.

These debates impact on us in the domestic sphere here in Britain too, as both conflicts have an ability, at best, to engage British Muslims in our foreign policy decisions or, looking at the darker scenario, to radicalise British Muslims. What is clear is that foreign policy challenges are no longer the preserve of the initiated in forums such as this Chamber or the world of think-tankers and opinion-writers. We heard earlier of the need for a serious explanation by the Government to the British people of the limitations of Britain’s role, not in any sense in “talking it down” but more in educational terms of how we are constrained by external factors and actors, and how we can no longer act on the will of the people in the international arena as we might have done 100 years ago.

So where are we in Pakistan? Sixty years on from a messy partition from India, and after several attempts at military and civilian Governments, this country of 165 million is still incredibly poor. GDP per capita, based on purchasing power parity, is still under $2,500, and all the indicators of human development, basic health and education give no cause for optimism. The figure of per capita GDP is important. There is now consensus that transitions to democracy are unlikely to succeed in countries where GDP per capita is under around $7,000 per year. This is simply because institutional development and governance in those situations is so weak, and therefore human development is constrained, that democratic choice becomes challenging to deliver.

Last week, 18 February saw a full year since democratic government was restored in Pakistan. It is ironic that this anniversary was marked by the virtual ceding of a critical region of Pakistan in one of its most volatile provinces, the North West Frontier Province, to the Taliban. It is an area where, in last year’s election, the people overwhelmingly voted for the Awami National Party, which is a secular party far removed from Islamic militancy. It is testimony to the weakness of the democratic mandate that the Government of Pakistan have so easily succumbed to the terrorist threat. I use the word “terrorism” with care. It is indeed terrorism

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that the people of Swat have endured, with public beheadings of their friends and neighbours, and public beatings for those who do not subscribe to the antediluvian and medieval code that the Taliban impose. The deal itself is done by terrorists named by the Pakistan Government as the murderers of Benazir Bhutto.

The danger of the Talibanisation of Pakistan does not end in the NWFP. Only a few weeks ago the Financial Times reported that the mayor of Karachi, who runs Pakistan’s most liberal commercial centre of 15 million people, has spoken of his fear that the Taliban are taking over and destabilising his city. Last month nearly 20 people died in gun battles between people from the NWFP and local residents of Karachi. Lest noble Lords think that these are isolated instances, they will also recall that Lashkar-e-Taiba, the group behind the Mumbai bombings, is based in the Punjab. Last year alone saw 60 terrorist attacks in Pakistan. Those who hope that the Pakistani Taliban can be contained in fractious feudal outposts need to wake up to the sad fact that terrorism is endemic throughout Pakistan, and is increasingly destabilising the already weak governance structures.

Furthermore, this region of south Asia is one where we have repeatedly heard the drums of war, even in the last decade. The stand-off between India and Pakistan over the Siachen glacier in 1999 led to a near-conflagration and has seen the longest land-mined border in the world, extending over 1,000 miles. Last December’s Mumbai attacks resulted in sufficiently belligerent tones between the two countries for several Army divisions to be moved from Pakistan’s western frontier, where they had been countering al-Qaeda, to its eastern border with India. The stakes in a future war with nuclear options would be disastrous not only for the region, but the world.

What are we to do? The answer mainly lies in Washington, but it impacts on us here in London, too. Several of the pointers are fairly obvious. It seems evident that our tenure in Afghanistan will be for the long term, until that country becomes a relatively stable democracy, with a Government who are capable of enforcing law and order throughout their territory and maintaining peace and security for their citizens. My view is that this cannot be a Taliban Government. It must be democratically elected, even if this might be a hybrid of local customs and institutions alongside a popular mandate. The commitment of a further 17,000 troops from the US is a welcome development and I hope that the UK will rise to the challenge of augmenting our own force numbers there. In time, it will also be necessary to revisit the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and seek a solution to the Durand line dispute. It is only when both countries take responsibility for rooting out cross-border insurgency that sustained good relations between them will become possible.

In terms of Washington’s role in the region, I take the point made by several noble Lords that the Obama Administration may well find themselves preoccupied with the economic crisis, but we should be assured by the fact that some of the finest US minds have been brought to bear in the White House policy review on Afghanistan and Pakistan that is currently under way. Ambassador Holbrook brings both wisdom and

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experience to his diplomacy in the region, while the appointment of Bruce Riedel as chair of the review is extremely good news, as he will bring his background in the CIA, the Pentagon and the National Security Council to bear on what he describes as a situation which is “dim and dismal”.

While there is a recognition in the US of how dire the situation is in Pakistan and Afghanistan, I fear there is little original thinking in the Foreign Office of what we are to do or, indeed, of the urgency of the situation. At a modest level, we need to recognise that stability in Pakistan and Afghanistan is predicated on assistance with development. I share the view of several other noble Lords that the separation of DfID from the FCO has resulted in our losing strategic depth in prioritising our interests. Aid to Pakistan is now so low as to have little traction. A few months ago we were told that it was going up by £150 million a year in the 2008-11 settlement, an increase from a low base that works out at roughly £1 per year per capita for a county the size of Pakistan. We also need to improve the capability of Pakistan’s military and security structures to deal with counter-insurgency. If this means providing training in arms to an army originally designed to fight a well mobilised Indian force in order that they might change their mindset to deal with insurgents and terrorists on horseback emerging from narrow alleys, then that is what we should be doing.

Finally, we need to scale up our attempts through multilateral diplomacy to find a solution to the India/Pakistan problem pace Kashmir. It is with regret that Richard Holbrook’s remit was curtailed from being a regional one that included India and Kashmir to a more limited one under pressure from India which seeks to prevent internationalising the issue. It is evident to any analyst dealing with south Asia that the Pakistani mindset is still one which, wrongly, is preoccupied with India as the sole enemy and one capable of an existential threat to Pakistan. We cannot change this mindset, which is prevalent in the security services, the military and, indeed, in aspects of the media, until we recognise Kashmir as a dispute that must be solved and then engage with both partners in the region and more widely in seeking a peaceful and durable outcome.

3.53 pm

Lord Hylton: My Lords, I am sorry that I cannot follow the theme pursued by the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, because I would like to examine the challenges to our foreign policy arising from the Middle East. I start from the conviction that western policy has been a signal and very expensive failure since at least the time of the Oslo agreements. The failures have perhaps been largely American ones, but Britain has been dragged along in the wake, despite the high quality of our diplomats.

In the early 1990s, Oslo seemed like a miracle, but now we can appreciate that it was somewhat unjust and simply postponed the most important issues. The West failed to foresee two appalling wars, in south Lebanon in 2006 and the most recent onslaught on Gaza, which followed a blockade going back to 2005. More comprehensive dialogues might have prevented both wars. These wars have left Israel still insecure

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while alienating Hamas and much of Islamic public opinion throughout the world. Western policy could be greatly improved by not laying down preconditions. These are usually inappropriate when those affected have suffered the traumas of war, displacement and occupation. The preconditions imposed on Hamas after its election victory in 2006 were perhaps the most glaring example of this kind. My noble friend Lord Wright has already mentioned the excellent letter in today’s Times, which I just hope will lead to major changes of policy.

The other improvement in western policy would be not to demonise groups and Governments of whom we may disapprove. Iran has had a bad human rights record, both under the Shah and since his fall. The current president has, however, been elected and his Government are in full control of their territory. If I were Iranian, I would see nuclear weapons to the west, the east and the north of my country and ask, “Why can we not also have them?”. What is surely needed is less western rhetoric coupled with consistent, patient negotiations.

Are the Government studying the report from the Strategic Foresight Group, The Cost of Conflict in the Middle East? I mentioned this in our debate on 6 February and so far have had no reply. On the same day, I regretted the lack of multilateral approaches to peace and stability in the Middle East since the Madrid conference now 18 years ago, and here I agree with my noble friend Lord Weidenfeld. It is shameful that the constructive proposals of the Arab League have been so neglected since they appeared as long ago as 2002. We now urgently need to repair the harm done by attention being diverted to wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

States both within and outside the Middle East should try to view the region as a whole. Like the Baker-Hamilton commission advising former President Bush, we should all be asking how maximum regional co-operation can be generated and what the most appropriate new or existing institutions are that could work for the common good of the whole region. Permanent fora are needed where common problems can be discussed. This is all the more necessary given the arbitrary lines drawn by existing frontiers. Discussion of common problems could lead the way to the co-ordination of policies and eventually to varying degrees of pooling of sovereignty. Perhaps the Middle East needs its own regional version of the OECD. It may be inappropriate to speak of a Marshall plan for the Middle East, but ways should surely be found to bring together the resources and sovereign wealth funds of the oil and gas producers with the technology and know-how of western business. The aim should be to create an area of common prosperity and improved education for the mainly young populations of the region. It is worth noting that these young people are often football crazy. British teams at all levels could win friends and influence people by playing matches in the Middle East.

When a region is anxiously searching for peace and normal life, “reconciliation” can be an overworked and sometimes empty word, but it is a time-consuming and costly process and one in which civil society has a vital role to play. Religious leaders, parliamentarians,

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business people and NGOs all have a common interest in working for reconciliation on two levels. There is the regional level, already mentioned, aiming to create a wide area of common prosperity, and there is the level of the state or nation. There is an obvious need for a coming together among Palestinians between the secular and Islamic parties and between both and their diaspora. Even in Israel there are tensions between Ashkenazis and Sephardim or between Arab and Jewish Israelis. Both Iraq and Lebanon have three-way splits between religious and cultural groups. In Egypt and Turkey, majorities and minorities do not find it easy to co-exist in harmony.

British foreign policy should be humble enough to recognise the mistakes and failures of recent years. It should also be cognisant of the reconciliation needs that I have cited. It should support national and regional reconciliation wherever this is discreetly possible. National reconciliation will very often entail some form of power sharing. Here we could try to explain how power is shared in countries as diverse as Switzerland, Bosnia, Northern Ireland and, as my noble friend Lord Sandwich mentioned, Nepal. Federal states such as Germany, the USA, India, Canada and Australia also provide models of how to distribute power and responsibilities.

Lastly, British foreign policy should take account of the acute needs of refugees in the Middle East. Palestinians have been in exile since 1948, while Syria and Jordan are now hosts to hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. The Middle East cannot be left to stagnate. The peace-loving majorities that exist there must somehow be helped to prevail.

4 pm

Lord Ryder of Wensum: My Lords, I have long admired the reflections of my noble friend Lord Marlesford on foreign affairs and I congratulate him on his speech today.

I want to contribute briefly on one subject: Russia. I welcome Vice-President Biden’s “reset button” speech in Munich designed to mend fences with Russia and I applaud the Russian Foreign Minister for declaring his desire for relations between Russia and NATO to get back on track. However, I hope that these two men are not indulging in naive expectations. After all, we have endured political leaders in Washington and London whose fragile historical knowledge has landed us in quagmires in Iraq and elsewhere. Some leaders have belonged to the neoconservative tendency and others have rejoiced as disciples of Woodrow Wilson’s belief in global democracy, now refashioned as liberal interventionism. The actions of these principles have damaged respect for the West.

East-West relations deteriorated after the 2001 Genoa G8 summit, when Vladimir Putin’s efforts to sculpt a modus operandi with the United States were shunned by President Bush, who lacked a grasp of the Russian mindset. Putin is merely the latest in a long line of autocratic Russian and Soviet rulers. He is a Tsarist without the regalia. It was said in 1917 that the only change to diplomacy was the personnel in the Kremlin. When the Cold War ended, not even Kremlin personnel changed in weight of numbers.

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Democratic transition has stalled in Russia. This is no surprise; Russia was never likely to speed towards a pluralist liberal democracy with Jeffersonian institutions founded on the separation of powers and the rule of law, underwritten by a free press. Russia is not liberal, yet it is as liberal as it has been in its history. Nor is it likely that Russia will want to share western values. Putin is icy to our purest forms of democracy and markets. His Tsarist model will survive for the foreseeable future. The collapse of the rouble and social unrest in Russia’s rust belt strengthen his position.

In Russia, the urge for territorial expansion has always been generated by vulnerability and the anxiety of invasion. This fear of encirclement is centuries old, stretching back to the Mongol Khans, the Poles and Lithuanians, the French and the Germans. It is genuine, not feigned, and concreted into the Russian psyche.

Of course it is natural that Soviet republics, victims of Soviet tyranny, should want to embrace liberal democracy. It is equally plain from a study of Russian history and the nation’s fear of encirclement that it should feel the need to establish spheres of influence. Yet Vice-President Biden’s Munich utterances, as well as our Foreign Secretary’s speech in the Ukraine last August, specifically ruled out acceptance of Russian spheres of influence.

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