I listened with great interest to the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone), who has now left the Chamber. I have yet to hear a more anti-American speech or a worse diatribe against one of our oldest allies. The hon. Gentleman uttered not one word about the plight of Kuwait and the Kuwaitis. That country has been invaded by Iraq and dominated by it and its population is tyrannised by the forces of Iraqi occupation. If our history as a nation is anything to go by, we should understand what that can lead to if it is not firmly addressed.
The United States and this country have taken an admirable lead in the United Nations to garner world-wide support for the actions that have been taken, first, in introducing sanctions and, secondly, to back that up with military forces which are designed, initially and, I hope, eventually, to persuade Saddam Hussein that he must withdraw from Kuwait without reservation, or face the consequences—consequences that none of us want to face. War is a dirty and distressing business and those who took part in the second world war and other wars since will be fully aware of the death and destruction caused by it. We do not know, because we have not used them, what destructive capacity our sophisticated weaponry now has and we do not appreciate what that will cost in lives.
It is all very well to say that we can leave sanctions indefinitely, and that at some stage in the future, perhaps, Saddam Hussein will withdraw because he has been obliged to do so by the stranglehold exerted on his country by the world. Can Kuwait and its population wait that long? If we were in a similar situation, would we have wanted that? In the second world war, when the forces of Nazi Germany surrounded us, would we willingly have allowed the United States to say that it would wait and see how long the United Kingdom could hold out in the hope that something would be resolved? Instead, it came to our rescue with military aid and then with its army, air force and navy and, together, the great allied forces of the west pushed back the Nazi threat and exterminated it. As we now appreciate, had we been a little more resolute to start with, that destructive war, which cost 50 million lives, might not have come to pass.
The hon. Member for Brent, East, among others, suggested that the issue is all about oil, and there is an element of truth there, in that oil is the basis of our civilisation. The United Kingdom need not worry overmuch about an adequate supply of oil, but the vast majority of countries, particularly those in the third world, owe their very existence to a supply of relatively cheap oil. If, at any stage, one country obtains a stanglehold on oil supplies, we shall not be affected half so much as the economies of the third world, which will be destroyed. Those who have the third world's interests at heart had better understand that only by resolving the Gulf crisis can we hope for the third-world countries to make anything of themselves in terms of economic viability.
The conduct of the west during the crisis has been very good. I sincerely hope that there will not be an armed conflict. However, if it comes to that, I am certain that our officers and generals, with their military expertise, in conjunction with our allies and the United States—[HON. MEMBERS: "What about the men?"]—and the men, of course, all of whom are professionals in this country—will all discharge their duties with outstanding vigour and determination.
The exercise of armed conflict will naturally have been considered by the planners. I hope that, at least initially, we shall fall back on the role of the air forces of the allies to conduct the initial operation against Iraq before committing any ground forces. It is extremely difficult from this position to second-guess how our military men will plan such an exercise, and we hope that it will not come to pass. Clearly, we hope for a gradual escalation which will give the time—all the time—for Saddam Hussein to reflect and to make some arrangement whereby he can withdraw even after a conflict has started.
Any conflict is extraordinarily distressing in this modern day and age. We have got used to having a long period of peace in this country, and the prospect of our military men coming home in coffins is not something that we wish to consider likely in any way. But nor are the consequences of allowing a dictator—by any standards, and by all hon. Members, Saddam Hussein is regarded as a wholly unacceptable leader—to have his way in any shape or form as a result of the action that he has taken. Only by standing absolutely resolutely with our allies can we impress upon Saddam Hussein the consequences of his remaining in occupation of Kuwait. If there is any smattering of dissent or derision about the west's stance so far, that can only encourage him to continue his occupation and will bring the threat of conflict ever nearer.