Foreign Affairs and Defence

Part of Orders of the Day — Debate on the Address – in the House of Commons at 4:39 pm on 8th November 1990.

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Photo of Hon. Douglas Hurd Hon. Douglas Hurd , Witney 4:39 pm, 8th November 1990

No, I wish to get on. I have given way several times, and I still have ground to cover.

I wish to make a few remarks about sanctions. The international embargo continues to be broadly effective. The closure of Iraq's export routes and the freezing of its financial assets abroad have drastically reduced Baghdad's access to foreign exchange. The naval, air and land embargoes have cut Iraqi imports to a fraction of their pre-crisis levels. There is no doubt that sanctions are beginning to take effect in Iraq, particularly in the manufacturing and construction centres. Food rationing has also been introduced in an attempt to extend the life of existing stocks.

Shortages are beginning to appear and to build up. They are perhaps building up in areas which are sensitive to Iraq's effort. However, on the evidence that is available now, it would be hard to argue that sanctions alone are likely to be decisive in reversing Iraqi policy in the near future.

I have read almost every week during the past two months that the unique international coalition for the liberation of Kuwait and against aggression is about to fall apart. Even in the most pessimistic and inventive media, no doubts have been expressed about the British part in the coalition. However, there have been all kinds of other ideas. One day the Syrians, and then the Saudis, were having second thoughts. The French were negotiating separately; the Russians had found some compromise formula which was sweeping the board. The President of the United States was faltering in his will. I have read all those things, but none turned out to be true.

Of course there are differences in emphasis. How could it be otherwise when countries come together with different backgrounds, old antagonisms and differences on other matters? That means that there must be continous communication and coming and going. Tomorrow we shall welcome the United States Secretary of Stale, Mr. Baker, as part of that continuing process. Of course there is an anxiety to avoid war. Everyone shares that. No country is more aware of the sufferings and penalties of war than Britain. But we must go up to the wire in search of peace. There is no dispute about that in Britain.

Some wise words of the Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saudi were reported yesterday. He said: We would like a peaceful settlement, but that option is in the hands of the Iraqis. That is the fact of the matter, and we must not allow it to be blurred by any other activities.

We must face the possibility that the aggressor will resist all the peaceful pressures. That is why it is essential to build up the military option and show that it is not a bluff. When my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence speaks later this evening, he will elaborate on that point. One fact remains certain: it is not acceptable or safe for the west, the Arab world, or the United Nations to walk away from the problem leaving the aggressor in possession of any part of Kuwait or any compensation for his aggression. It is not acceptable or safe, and it will not happen.

Of course we have our eye on other problems that need to be tackled, in particular the Arab-Israel problem, where the need for peace is as clear as ever. We shall have to return to that dispute as soon as the Gulf crisis is resolved. We do not accept the linkage that Saddam Hussein seeks to draw between the two problems. Indeed, the Palestinians support for Iraq has damaged their cause internationally and especially in Israel. But the PLO continues to have wide support. That cannot be gainsaid and, therefore, the PLO cannot be ignored.

Again we return to a point which is common ground in the House. We require a freely negotiated settlement on the basis of land for peace. That is the only route that we have been able to devise to Israeli security and the satisfaction of Palestinian aspirations, and we shall continue to pursue it.

Everybody seriously interested in foreign affairs knows the dangers of optimism. False dawns are two a penny in the columns of Hansard and, though rather less numerous, they also exist in the archives of the Foreign Office. Something happened at the beginning of this year which led even hardened cynics to hope. It was not just the end of the cold war and the freeing of eastern Europe, although that was the main event. It happened in Namibia and South Africa—areas which I have not dealt with today. In Latin America, there has been a great flowering of democracy which has greater signs of permanence about it than before. There have been greater opportunities for us as a result.

In all those areas and even in Cambodia, about which the House is concerned and which we debated only recently, there have been fresh prospects and the hope that rational answers might at last be found to deep-seated, agonising problems. There was a well-founded feeling that hope had a chance. In a world of more than 150 nation states, any hope of a quieter, more solid international order must rest on the principle that aggression by one state against another must be checked and reversed. That is why that must come first in our minds and in this debate.

Whether in the middle east, Europe, South Africa or any other part of the world where Britain can have some influence and be of some help, that help must take the form of support for stability, freer trade and decent Government, because a more open and stable world order is the best defence of British interests.