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Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:58 pm on 26th February 2003.

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Photo of Mr Donald Anderson Mr Donald Anderson Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee 4:58 pm, 26th February 2003

We are now in a phoney peace. War drums are rolling, and I approach the next few weeks with a deep sense of foreboding, but also with a great deal of respect for those in my party and in the House generally—experts, former diplomats—who come to a different conclusion, including even my hon. Friend Mr. Galloway, who made a passionate speech but offered not a scintilla of criticism of Saddam Hussein.

It is clear to me that the threat of force has indeed produced some results. The concessions made by Saddam Hussein just before the publication of Dr. Blix's report were predictable and, indeed, predicted. The fear is that a series of future benchmarks would equally lead to some grudging and minimal concessions, just before such reports were made. It is clear that force is the only language that Saddam Hussein understands, but there are many uncertainties. Different judgments will be made about the very grave cost-benefit analysis that has been made. I therefore view with respect those who take a different view. I am much less happy with those on either side of the argument who have absolutist convictions.

How did we get to this point? First, the pressure on Saddam Hussein did not begin on 8 November last year. He was defeated after he invaded Kuwait. There was a ceasefire resolution. He remains in breach of that resolution. Over the period of the 1990s, Saddam Hussein prevaricated, concealed, lied and obstructed the work of the inspectors.

I pose two critical questions. Why not give Saddam Hussein more time? Why act now?

The obvious retort to the first question is, time for what? If Dr. Blix asks for more time when he appears before the Security Council, in my judgment he should be given it. However, inspections will have limited relevance without proactive co-operation from the regime.

This is not a treasure hunt. The test is whether the Saddam Hussein regime is co-operating with the weapons inspectors. Resolution 1441 was wholly unambiguous. It required a complete declaration. Clearly, there were major gaps in the dossier produced on 8 December. Failure to comply and co-operate fully would be a further material breach.

There have been 12 years of diplomacy. It is 12 years to the day since Saddam Hussein ordered his troops to retreat from Kuwait. There have been years of inspection and sanctions. How long can that go on? Resolution 1441 talked of

"immediate, unconditional and active co-operation".

Do any colleagues in the House believe that what has happened over the four months since 1441 was passed amounts to

"immediate, unconditional and active co-operation"?

The second question that I posed was, why now? Clearly there is valid concern about extending the doctrine of pre-emptive self-defence. Its implications for international law are potentially very dangerous indeed. The US has been only too ready to push the doctrine to the limits. There has not been sufficient debate on the subject, but we have to accept that weapons of mass destruction pose new challenges that current international law does not meet.