The Gulf

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:21 pm on 11th December 1990.

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Photo of Mr Martin O'Neill Mr Martin O'Neill Shadow Secretary of State 9:21 pm, 11th December 1990

This is the third occasion on which we have dealt with the subject of the Gulf. Throughout Opposition Members have sought opportunities to debate all aspects of the crisis. The previous two debates were at our request, and we shall continue to press the Government to provide time for debate, particularly if there is a change in the nature of the crisis, for better or worse. We shall do that regardless of arrangements for the recess or anything else.

In this debate we have moved our attention to the prospect of the use of force as a consequence of United Nations resolution 678. That resolution does not require the use of force. Indeed, it explicitly excludes its use until after 15 January. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) said, the date was included as a condition for Soviet support. How much optimism was invested in that by the Soviet Union is not clear, but it has afforded the United States an opportunity to describe the extent of the military capability in the Gulf and to seek a peaceful solution.

During a visit that I paid to the Gulf, to visit our troops and to obtain briefings, it was made abundantly clear to me and to those who accompanied me that the extent of the military presence was such that the leader of any country who tempted a response, an attack, from such a military presence would be grossly irresponsible and could not be considered fit to be in charge of a country.

The task of Secretary of State Baker is clear. When he sees Saddam Hussein, he must explain in graphic detail what 2,500 aircraft could do in concerted air strikes in 60 hours. He must describe the damage that would be inflicted on the runways of air bases by Tornados going in at below 200 ft and dropping cluster bombs. Aircraft in hardened shelters are no use if there are no runways from which they can take off. Mr. Baker must point out that all the main roads and supply routes to provide logistical support will be attacked in similar fashion. Saddam Hussein must be informed that all known depots and munitions factories will be attacked. He must be reminded that the locations of chemical weapons plants are known to the allies and those plants will be destroyed. He will be committing hundreds of thousands of his fellow countrymen into a battle where they will be denied supply spares and many forms of reinforcement within hours of hostilities commencing.

The war between Iran and Iraq was a land war, with only a small part being played by the air forces. In any Gulf war, the 500,000 allied troops and the presence of carriers, frigates, destroyers and minesweepers in such numbers means that the armoured divisions will advance with air cover and the amphibious landings will be supported by massive air back-up. Saddam Hussein must be left with no excuses about the extent of his ignorance of the dreadful effect of the horrendous arsenal that has been gathered in Arabia; the implications must be brought home to him.

I regret that in some ways we seem to be personalising the issue, but we must recognise that we are talking about an absolute ruler, a fascist dictator who, like the emperor in the children's story, is not used to being told that he has no clothes. Saddam Hussein is the sort of person who is more likely to shoot the messenger and ignore the message. We must get the message across, through James Baker, that there cannot be any doubt that, after the meeting on 25 July attended by ambassador Ms. Glaspie, the United States is still equally concerned about an Iraqi invasion. At that time, the American ambassador to Iraq left an impression that the Americans would not object to an Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. That is no longer the case, and it is abundantly clear that Mr. Baker has to go to Iraq and make certain that Saddam Hussein understands the consequences of military action.

Such a policy has been called the war option, and this morning's editorial in The Independent said that it might be the lesser of two evils. I totally disagree. War will unleash a conflict of unparalleled ferocity, which forces us to consider as paramount the economic option.

A number of claims have been made for sanctions. The record of sanctions is a mixed one. Two recent studies referred to in Susan Willett's book "Economic Implications of the Gulf Crisis" suggest that in the study of 100 incidences of sanctions since 1914, examined by Haufbauer and Scholt, 36 have been successful. A more recent work by Margaret Doxey of Chatan house suggests that there is little evidence to show that sanctions have achieved their objectives, and in the majority of cases have had the opposite effect to that desired by those advocating their imposition.

The key to the success of sanctions has to be the maintaining of an international consensus. That is why the Labour party has continually argued that all sanctions must first secure United Nations approval. However, greater assistance must be given to the front-line states. Jordan is likely to lose $2 billion, Egypt is likely to lose $9 billion and Turkey is likely to lose $5 billion in the 12 months up to August next year. Steps must be taken to ensure that we keep a hold on oil prices because, although the dependence of the world's poorest countries on oil is less than that of the first world, their ability to pay for the meagre amount of oil they consume is far less. The significance of oil in the distribution of food in famine-stricken sub-Saharan Africa cannot be exaggerated. It is not enough for oil-rich countries to make payments to help those third world nations; they will have to be more sensitive tc, the needs of the recipients, certainly more sensitive than organisations such as the International Monetary Fund and the World bank have been so far.