The Gulf

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:03 pm on 15th January 1991.

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Photo of Gerald Kaufman Gerald Kaufman Shadow Secretary of State (Foreign Affairs) 9:03 pm, 15th January 1991

As we approach what may be the gravest turning point in post-war international history, it is right that this House of Commons should remind itself of the nature of the crisis that we face. Parallels have been drawn with other crises in which this country has been involved—with Suez, referred to by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) and my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick), and with the Falklands. Those comparisons are faulty.

Suez was a conspiracy among three countries of which Britain was one. Britain was party to an aggression that violated two United Nations General Assembly resolutions and involved a British veto of two Security Council resolutions: it was Britain against the United Nations. The right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath), from whom we heard again today, should remember all this very well; he was the Government Chief Whip at the time and he had the responsibility of delivering a majority to sustain Anthony Eden's violation of international law. Although Suez had serious international implications, it fundamentally affected only the four countries in dispute. In Britain the Prime Minister was overthrown and the country's imperial role was ended for ever.

In the Falklands there was an act of aggression by a fascist dictatorship which, tired of negotiating what it regarded as a valid case, invaded the islands which it claimed and so violated the United Nations charter. Again, although important principles of international conduct were involved, it was a dispute between two countries, each with supporters of its case, which did not involve the United Nations directly. The solution of the dispute by the United Kingdom exercising its right of self defence under article 51 of the United Nations charter affected only the two countries involved. Argentina was expelled from the islands and the Argentine junta was ousted soon afterwards.

The Gulf crisis that we have debated throughout today is very different. Although one country has invaded and consumed another, the dispute is not simply between those two countries. Immediately after the invasion took place on 2 August, the United Nations Security Council intervened. It took a series of unprecedented measures intended to force the aggressor to disgorge his spoils. If those spoils are not disgorged, the repercussions will affect not merely Iraq and Kuwait, but the entire world community.

If the most stringent measures ever taken by the United Nations fail, the United Nations will in future be worthless as an institution created and designed to maintain international order and security. That is why we in the Labour party have been determined that the will of the United Nations must be upheld and implemented. It was a Labour Government who were involved in the creation of the United Nations 45 years ago. It is the Labour party which has a constitution requiring us to support the United Nations. We have invested too much faith and hope in that organisation to stand by and see it shattered by the recalcitrance of one country.

Ever since 2 August the Labour party has been clear in its view of how the crisis should be solved. We have based that view insistently and inextricably on support for the authority of the United Nations. It is based not on support for any individual Government, including the British Government, but on the firm rock of the United Nations. We advocated economic sanctions and naval and air blockades to enforce them. We advocated diplomatic efforts aimed at achieving a peaceful solution fully within the United Nations resolutions. We said that if an option of force was to be available to provide backing for the sanctions and the diplomacy, that option must have what in the House on 7 September I called the clear and unquestionable authority of the United Nations".—[Official Report, 7 September 1990; Vol. 177, c. 892.]