Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:19 pm on 18th March 2003.

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Photo of John Baron John Baron Shadow Minister (Health) 5:19 pm, 18th March 2003

I accept my hon. Friend's point, but he must accept that the UN inspectors' reports request extra time because they believe that some progress is being made and there are tentative signs that the regime may be changing its view. An extra 45 days, or a couple of months, would determine whether that was true. Time would tell.

To wage war now makes little sense when all the other possible approaches and measures have not been exhausted. Waging war is the ultimate act of politicians, yet such an act recognises the futility of their endeavours. Until we know that all other avenues have been exhausted, our consciences cannot be at ease. What is to be lost by giving the UN inspectors what they want: a few more months to see whether the task can be completed? Do we seriously believe that Iraq's biological and chemical weapons, in whatever state and quantity, pose such an immediate threat to the US, the UK or Iraq's neighbours that if we do not act this week or this month, we put our citizens at serious risk? I do not believe so.

Iraq's army is a shadow of its 1991 standing. Iraq is probably the most watched-over country in the world at present. It would not pose any more of an immediate threat to our citizens during this period than it has done over the past 12 years. The prize for being patient, however, could be great: we would have a much greater chance of the UN speaking with at least a moral majority, if not one voice, on this issue.

That leads me to my second concern, which is for the UN. For whatever reasons, it is clear that the UN does not believe war to be justified, and will not vote for it. Unlike the action in relation to Kosovo, we cannot even get a moral majority for this action. The UN imposed the sanctions, and, on this issue, the UN should decide whether war is a necessity. By taking unilateral action, the US and the UK have undermined the organisation, which saddens me greatly. Having served with the UN, I have seen the tremendous potential for good that it possesses. It is not perfect, and blame can be laid at its door over the last 12 years, but it is the best that we have got, and could do much more if we put our minds to it. At a time when the UN should come together as never before to fight global terrorism and other threats after 11 September, it is being undermined by this action. The credibility that the international community will require when dealing with rogue states and terrorist organisations will be that much harder to muster.

Since the second world war, the threat of force, deterrence and containment have been successful policies, during the cold war and when dealing with rogue states such as Libya. The broad unity that has made that possible is at risk of fracturing, and that could be a serious consequence of this action.