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

My hon. Friend is well aware that such questions are referred to the General Assembly only when the Security Council is stalemated. That is precisely what happened during Suez when the British Government's veto of two Security Council resolutions placed the matter in the hands of the General Assembly. We welcome the diplomatic efforts that have been made and are still being made. I hope that they will continue, whether they are made by France—although it appears that the latest French initiative has failed—the Yemen or anyone else who feels ready to try. But let us be clear that every diplomatic effort that has been attempted has been the initiative of the countries or international organisations united against Iraqi aggression.

It was President Bush who proposed the talks in Baghdad and Washington, which never took place, and the talks in Geneva that failed. It was the European Community that proposed talks with Tariq Aziz, which he spurned. It was a senior French emissary who went to Baghdad and it is the Prime Minister of Yemen who has gone there. It was the Secretary-General of the United Nations, who represents us all, the Security Council and the General Assembly, who went to Baghdad and, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) reminded us, was left cooling his heels for six hours before Saddam Hussein deigned to meet him.

Let us be blunt. The senior statesmen and women of the world have danced attendance on Saddam Hussein while he, the initiator of the aggression, has not taken one step to resolve the situation that he has created. He has frustrated the efforts of those who have sought an outcome through diplomacy. Mr. Perez de Cuellar said, after their meeting eventually took place: He never mentioned the word withdrawal". As all of us in the House agonise about how to resolve this crisis peacefully, let us be clear that the crisis could be resolved peacefully in one moment if Saddam Hussein withdrew from Kuwait and if he decided to undo what he alone did—if he simply got out. Instead, as resolution 678 puts it, he is in "flagrant contempt" of the United Nations. He says that he has no grievances, but he knows that UN resolution 660 urges that those grievances be resolved through direct negotiations between Iraq and Kuwait. The right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup referred to those negotiations today, but they can take place only if there is a Kuwait—an entity whose existence Saddam Hussein denies—and if there is a legitimate Kuwaiti Government restored to authority as resolution 661 laid down.

Saddam Hussein claims that he is concerned for the Palestinians, who indeed continue to suffer under Israeli occupation. If they continue so to suffer, Saddam Hussein must bear a full share of the responsibility, because since the House last debated the Gulf crisis, the Security Council has passed resolution 681 which, accompanied by a statement by the Security Council president, provides the basis for the international conference which Saddam Hussein says he wants to deal with the problem. The statement says that such a conference should be held at an appropriate time. It is an historic and unprecedented resolution. Not for nearly a quarter of a century has the Security Council passed a comprehensive resolution aimed at securing a middle east settlement and justice for the Palestinians.

If the Security Council's authority is flouted over 12 resolutions dealing with Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, how can an appropriate time—I should like it to be very soon, for I have advocated such a conference for many years —be fixed for that conference when it can only be convened through the authority of the United Nations? If Saddam Hussein cared as much about the Palestinians as he rhetorically claims, and as much as many hon. Members genuinely care, he would immediately withdraw from Kuwait for that reason alone. However, he shows no sign of getting out. The whole of the UN awaits the decision of one man who holds all of us to ransom.

We all agree that Saddam Hussein's aggression must be reversed. What is causing anxious debate in the House and the country is how it should be done. The Labour party advocates diplomacy and we believe that that should continue as long as there is any point to it. However, diplomacy should not reward Iraq—there can be no reward for aggression—nor should it do a deal with Iraq. The Security Council resolutions insist that withdrawal must be unconditional. Diplomacy should explore, until success is reached or there is no further point, the possibilities of persuading Iraq that withdrawal is in its interests as well as in the interests of the international community.

The Labour party advocated economic sanctions. They have been in operation for 166 days. I am sure that when the United Kingdom Government embarked on those sanctions they did so in good faith. I am not sure whether the Government hoped or expected that the sanctions would succeed in 166 days or fewer, but two things are clear: first, the sanctions have had a considerable effect; secondly, they have not yet had the effect of inducing Iraq to leave Kuwait.

That sanctions have had an effect is clear from impeccable sources. By November the United States State Department had reported that 97 per cent. of Iraq's oil exports had been cut off, that imports of machinery, industrial goods, semi-finished goods and raw materials had declined by 90 per cent. and that some food prices had increased eightfold.

Mr. William Webster, director of the United States Central Intelligence Agency, gave evidence to the House of Representatives armed services committee last month when he provided further information. He said that more than 100 countries are observing sanctions, that sanctions have all but shut off Iraqi exports and that imports into Iraq have been reduced to less than 10 per cent. of the pre-invasion level. He said that many light industrial and assembly plants have been affected, as has Iraq's only tyre manufacturing plant. He revealed that sanctions have deprived Iraq of $1·5 billion of foreign exchange every month and that Iraq will have nearly depleted its foreign exchange reserve by the spring. He said: Reduced rations, coupled with rapid inflation … will compound the economic pressures". He said that even with favourable weather Iraq would be able to produce less than half the grain that it needs, and that the effect of sanctions will be felt first by the Iraqi air force and then by its army.

The Iraqi industry Minister has admitted that 60 per cent. of factories are closed due to lack of spare parts or raw materials and that almost 80 per cent. of Iraqis are unemployed or under-employed.

No doubt on the basis of that or similar information, Air Chief Marshal Sir Patrick Hine, the commander in chief of United Kingdom air forces and joint commander of the British forces, stated that by the end of October —I have no reason to think that he has changed his mind since—the refinement of crude oil into aviation fuel and lubricants for tanks and other vehicles was already becoming more of a problem for Saddam Hussein. He said: If we can enforce the embargo more effectively life must get more difficult for him. The air chief marshal summed up: We have obviously got to give several months or longer for sanctions to work. We are pinning our faith on sanctions. There is evidence they are starting to bite. That is clearly an important view. Equally clearly, I would be the first to insist that judgments on policy must be the responsibility not of service officers, however senior or distinguished, but of elected politicians. The House should take that evidence into account. Because sanctions have not yet succeeded does not mean that they are bound to fail.

The House should take into account, too, that the date of 15 January, inserted into resolution 678, is, as the Foreign Secretary explained when the resolution was going through the Security Council, not … the date upon which military action starts but It is the date after which member states will be authorised to take action in pursuit not of their own objectives but of the specific requirements of the Security Council".—[Official Report, 28 November 1990; Vol. 181, col. 869–70.] That interpretation was endorsed a week ago when President Bush stated: January 15 is not a date certain for the onset of armed conflict. It was reinforced yesterday by General Brent Scowcroft, President Bush's national security adviser, who said: Every day we're closer to Saddam Hussein's deadline. We don't have one, but he has one. It was with those considerations in mind that I told the House in our debate five weeks ago on 11 December: Stipulation of the date does not necessarily trigger the use of force on or immediately after that date. We in the Labour party repeat our position that the option of force should be invoked only after the maximum time has been given for sanctions to work". I continued: We should not be hemmed in by the date of 15 January. We should not be boxed in by the compulsion of the desert timetable and the effects of the weather on the ability to wage war. If a longer haul is judged likely to achieve the effect of sanctions, we should not rely on other considerations to reject the longer haul."—[Official Report, 11 December 1990; Vol. 182, c. 837.] That has been our position from the start and it remains our position today. We still hope that it will prevail.

We appreciate that as an Opposition we can warn, advise and recommend, but not decide. The prerogative of decision lies with the Government. Therefore, the question arises as to what the Labour party's attitude should be if the Government's decision is contrary to what we recommend and early use of force is decided on. Here, my judgment is very much affected by what has become of the position the Government held at the outset of the crisis.

I have reminded the House tonight that in the first of our debates on the subject on 7 September 1990 I insisted that if there was to be an option of force standing behind sanctions and diplomacy, it should have what I called, the clear and unquestionable authority of the United Nations. I said: We believe that any further operations found necessary … should … be clearly and unequivocally authorised by the United Nations. Much of that debate in September was dominated by discussion of whether article 51 of the United Nations charter was sufficient authority for the use of military force against Iraq. I said: It is not enough to be able to argue a technical case under article 51"—[Official Report, 7 September 1990; Vol. 177, c. 892.] That was not the Government's position at that time. The right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher), opening the debate as Prime Minister, spent a large proportion of her speech advancing a view quite contrary to the view of the Labour party's spokesmen. She spoke of what she called the right of individual or collective self-defence under article 51, which she claimed was affirmed in resolution 661. She said: To undertake now to use no military force without the further authority of the Security Council would be to deprive ourselves of a right in international law expressly affirmed by Security Council resolution 661. She continued: I have full legal authority for everything that I say on these matters, and for those reasons I am not willing to limit our legitimate freedom of action … My views have been approved by the topmost legal opinions that we can get." —[Official Report, 6 September 1990; Vol. 177, c. 737–38.] If that had continued to be the Government's policy, I might have been in considerable difficulty tonight when contemplating my attitude to the use of force should the Government decide, as I hope they will not, to go ahead with force earlier rather than later, if at all. But what the right hon. Member for Finchley stated as the Government's policy on 6 September is no longer Government policy. That policy was abandoned in the most explicit terms on 9 November when, after talks with Mr. James Baker, the United States Secretary of State, the right hon. Lady came to Downing street as was her wont in those days and announced that she had given her approval for the United States to seek a United Nations resolution authorising military action in the Gulf.

The then Prime Minister could not have been more open about this change of policy. She declared: We do not believe one"— that is, a resolution— is necessary for legal reasons. We already have the legal authority. The only question is how best to keep this coalition of opinion together and that, of course, we consider. The Government changed their mind and I am glad that they did. They supported the Security Council resolution when previously they had rejected such a resolution. That resolution went through on 29 November. It is a resolution for which the Labour party pressed and on which we insisted. We are very glad that the Government came round to our way of thinking.

We ardently believe that the option in resolution 678 ought not to be taken up until sanctions have been given a better and further chance, but if that view is rejected we have to be consistent. We must accept that such action will have been taken in accordance with a resolution for which we pressed long and hard, a resolution which is now United Nations policy embodied in that resolution.

That is why I remind the House of our long-stated view that sanctions should be persisted with over the longer haul—[HON. MEMBERS: "For how long?"] Neither the United States when it drafted the resolution nor the United Kingdom Government when they supported it wanted a deadline at all. It was inserted at the insistence of the Soviet Union. The United Nations, having slipped into the error of one deadline, ought not to slip into the error of another.