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United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:14 pm on 21st March 2011.

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Photo of Alun Cairns Alun Cairns Conservative, Vale of Glamorgan 7:14 pm, 21st March 2011

Like all Members, I am worried and concerned about activities in and surrounding Libya. I am worried about the disregard for basic human rights shown by the Libyan army and the Gaddafi regime, and concerned about the potential longer-term commitment that we may have embarked upon.

I pay tribute to the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for Defence and the Foreign Secretary for their work and actions in securing and ensuring that the foundation on which the conflict has been drawn is very different from that on Iraq. It seems only a short time ago that many people were judging and criticising the so-called “loose talk” about the need for a no-fly zone. Some opponents even mocked the calls for one. Such judgments only show the risk of seeking to make short-term political points out of very difficult international situations, and I hope that Members of all parties will have learned a lesson from that.

Last Thursday night, the passing of UN Security Council Resolution 1973 changed the terms of the debate. The success in delivering the resolution is remarkable, particularly bearing in mind the statements and comments made by some allies beforehand. The support of the Arab League was critical, and the change of heart of the United States was essential in delivering the consequences of the resolution.

None the less, we need to recognise the concerns and doubts expressed by those who abstained, and the initial comments made by the Arab League subsequent to military action, which have since been clarified, because they indicate how things could develop. The resolution has secured the legality of the actions that have been taken, but their legitimacy and longer-term consequences depend on maintaining the broadest possible coalition.

The delay by the United States in clarifying its position was damaging, but diplomacy won it over. In spite of the abstentions of some nations, dialogues with those countries—Germany and India, and even Russia and China—need to be maintained. It is unlikely that they will ever U-turn on their positions, but as the Gaddafi regime resorts to the most inhumane tactics we can only hope to win their tolerance in private.

The reporting in the UK and elsewhere of the action that has been taken has taken many different tacks. There have been some spectacular pictures showing how effective military actions have been in removing anti-aircraft capabilities and military hardware from the Gaddafi regime, and showing the positive impact that our forces have had. None the less, we should never be seduced by such stunning and incredible images. Our defence technology is impressive and astonishing, but judgments about using it must be taken in the context of the wider difficulties that it can bring in the longer term.

Not only must we maintain the legal case, but the moral, political and public cases should always be at the forefront of our mind. Colonel Gaddafi is a master of propaganda and of using it to motivate some of his civilians. Many Arab nations will be sympathetic to his calls. Outgunning Colonel Gaddafi by moral, political and public means in the Arab nations is as important as outgunning him by military means. The UN resolution means that we do not need to defend the political or legal case for our military action, as was required in the Iraq conflict, but we do need to maintain our case and win over doubters in the Arab nations. Many of those nations have significant military resources, and it is essential that they should be used to help us achieve the UN objectives.

Finally, I wish to reflect on 9 April 2003, the day when many of us were fooled by our own propaganda. It was the day when the statue of Saddam Hussein was torn down by the US forces and hundreds of Iraqis were seen hitting the structure with the soles of their shoes in celebration. They were described as “elated”. That and similar images and reports led me, and I am sure many others, to believe that almost all the Iraqi people were relieved at our military intervention. History teaches us that such things are not always true.

The Government’s actions to date have been exemplary, as has been noted widely by Members of all parties. It is up to all of us to ensure that they remain so, with the broadest possible coalition of support and the acknowledgment of the doubters.