The Gulf

Part of Prayers – in the House of Commons at 8:35 pm on 6th September 1990.

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Photo of Mr Jim Sillars Mr Jim Sillars , Glasgow Govan 8:35 pm, 6th September 1990

We support the action taken by the Government to invoke the United Nations procedures. We also support what the Government have done in respect of the naval blockade to support the Security Council's decision on sanctions. We also support action taken to engage in a multi-military organisation to protect Saudi Arabia from possible Iraqi aggression, which, as I understand it—I stand open to correction—is an entirely separate matter from the United Nations Security Council decisions in respect of Kuwait.

I wish to make three points. One concerns a matter raised by the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen), who said that it is important that we try to take on board Saddam Hussein's tactics. He said that they probably are simply to sit tight, having, in a sense, annexed Kuwait, and to hold that territory. We must understand that when dealing with Saddam Hussein, as well as dealing with an evil individual, we are dealing with someone who is by no means stupid and who has displayed considerable political ability inside the Arab world. He already has one political mark in his favour: he split the Arab League and, from his point of view, that was a considerable thing for him to have done.

If we are dealing with a man of that capability who has decided to sit tight, we must, as a matter of tactics, consider the military option. It would be foolish for anyone on the United Nations side to rule out the military option.

There is a link between maintaining the military option and the possible success of sanctions, and I shall explain how I see that link. If we said that the military option was not on, it would be seen by Saddam Hussein as a failure of a test of will of those under the United Nations umbrella. If that military option were seen by him to be withdrawn, not only he but other states in the international community would get a very clear message—that if it came to the crunch we would not have the will to sustain the pressure on him to withdraw from Kuwait.

Hon. Members have rightly said that sanctions have perhaps a better chance of operating than when they have previously been applied, and they have mentioned the oil crop economy of Iraq.

The Leader of the Opposition made the important point that credit facilities, from whatever source in the international community, should not be made available to Iraq. It will be difficult to tighten up this loophole. There is another downside to sanctions. They will result in a severe economic cost for all the member states which apply sanctions and the severest cost will be borne not by the United Kingdom, western Europe, Japan or the United States, which will be able to sustain it better than anyone else, but by the third world countries. They will be the weakest link in the application of sanctions. If the message is that, when the crunch comes, the military option will not be available, some of those states, for reasons that we cannot condemn, may crack. Once sanctions crack, without the back-up of a military option, Saddam Hussein will win the game in which he is engaged.

My second point is about the role, status, power and influence in the world community of the United Nations. The Leader of the Opposition and I are of the same generation and come basically from the same ideological root. As I listened to him, I began to be carried away by his idealism about the emergence of a new world order. There is unprecedented unanimity among the five permanent members of the Security Council. However, I doubt whether a new world order will emerge, or even that we are seeing something like that emerging now.

As hon. Members know, international law is made up of state practice, which is based on power, and upon treaties and conventions, but power is the key factor. Last week, on the BBC World Service, I heard Sir Anthony Parsons say "No" to the blunt question, "Is international law based on a moral code?" As he said, it boils down to power. The United Nations has tried to make moral law against genocide and aggression and for human rights, but when it comes to the crunch question whether it will agree to the enforcement of this law, the answer must be in the negative, because it is power that matters.

We have to be frank about this. The United Nations Security Council has acted in the Gulf crisis not out of some new sense of moral purpose but simply because of the fortuitous conjunction of state interests among the five permanent members and the majority of the rest of the Security Council with the United Nations charter. The United States and the west are involved because of oil. Some cynical United Nations official said that, if Kuwait manufactured tins of beans, we should not have seen the same reaction from the United Nations. The Soviet Union has developed a quasi-dependence upon the United States and the West, and particularly western Europe. China is paddling her own canoe so as to get back into the good graces of the United States and to resurrect the special relationship with it.

Sadly, the agreement goes no further than this conjunction. That may sound cynical and I hope that I am wrong and that we are seeing something new develop, but I doubt it. It is unprecedented for the Security Council to take such a decision and it is fine that it has done so. However, what will happen in two or three months' time when the Security Council permanent members do not agree and a next step is required? The United Nations and the Security Council are still on trial, and the verdict has not yet been reached.

My third point concerns the good speech made by the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore). He told the Government that we must engage in a battle for the hearts and minds of the Arab people. Given Saddam Hussein's ability to split the Arab League, we have to admit that he is ahead of us on that. I shall try—I do not think that I can do it as I do not think that any hon. Member can—to put myself in the mind of the man in the Arab suit. How does he see debates such as this and western reaction? Unless we can understand that, we shall not win the propaganda battle for the hearts and minds of folk in the Arab world.

The Arab sees people in the west, including us and the United States, as double-dyed hypocrites of the first order because we apply a different standard to Arab nations than we apply to the state of Israel. He has good grounds for taking that point of view. Tonight, we are telling Iraq that it should obey Security Council resolutions and that if it does not, sanctions will be applied against it until it does so, when the United States did not take that attitude to Israel.

The hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) is a wee bit like Arthur Scargill in that his language is sometimes extravagant and his style goes over the top. He got a lot of barracking from his hon. Friends today. I shall try to speak in a quieter tone. We have to accept that the Israeli authorities treat the Arab people of the west bank and Gaza appallingly. They deliberately break bones and demolish houses in retaliation and incarcerate thousands of people in desert encampments. That is unacceptable in a civilised international community, but Israel has been allowed to get away with it. I have told Arab friends that I am appalled that they are not condemning Saddam Hussein and they have replied, "My enemy's enemy is my friend." I am told not to complain about that because westerners have operated on that principle many a time.

I have to convey to the Government as best I can the feeling of my friends that, while the situation in Israel continues, the west will continue to feed people like Saddam Hussein with the ammunition that will carry them to the top. In the three or four months ahead, while sanctions are being applied, we should take the opportunity to bring to the top of the world agenda the rights of the Palestinian people to a homeland and a state of their own. Unless we are prepared to do that and are capable of doing that, we may lose the critical war for the hearts and minds of the Arab people. My Arab friends have told me that the biggest problem in the middle east is that the Israeli-Palestinian situation poisons the whole atmosphere. We have to draw the poison if we are to get stability in the region.