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[Relevant documents: Eleventh Report from the European Scrutiny Committee, Ukraine and Russia: EU restrictive measures, HC 219-xi; Third Report from the Defence Committee, Towards the next Defence and Security Review: Part Two–NATO, HC 358; Fourteenth Report from the Defence Committee, Session 2013-14, Intervention: Why, When and How?, HC 952, together with the Government response, Fourth Special Report, Session 2014-15, HC 581; Seventh Report from the Foreign Affairs Committee, Session 2013-14, HC 86-I, The UK’s response to extremism and instability in North and West Africa, and the Government response, Cm 8861; Uncorrected transcript of oral evidence taken before the Foreign Affairs Committee on
Before I ask the Foreign Secretary to open the debate, I simply point out to the House that more than 50 right hon. and hon. Members wish to speak from the Back Benches. In determining a time limit for Back-Bench contributions, I shall obviously be guided by the length of the Front-Bench speeches, which I feel sure the speakers, with their usual tact and discretion, will tailor in order to take account of the interests of their Back-Bench colleagues.
I beg to move,
That this House
has considered Ukraine, Middle East, North Africa and security.
This summer has seen a range and scale of threats to international, and particularly European, stability. If they are not unprecedented, they certainly represent a highly unwelcome escalation from the post-cold war norm. Alongside them, there has been a sharp escalation in the level of homeland security threat. The Prime Minister has made two statements in the past nine days covering those, but the Government believe it is right and proper that Parliament has a fuller opportunity to debate those events, and that the Government have the opportunity to take the pulse of parliamentary opinion on Britain’s response to the challenges we face.
In Syria and Iraq, the advance of the barbaric Islamist terrorist organisation Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant represents not only a severe threat to the stability of the middle east but, through the presence of foreign fighters, some of them British, and the threat of a terror attack against the west, a threat to British national security. In the wider middle east, the recent eruption of violence in Gaza between Israel and Hamas, and the tragic loss of many hundreds of civilian lives, has underlined the need for a lasting settlement to that decades-long source of conflict and human suffering. In eastern Ukraine, the instability and violence fuelled initially by covert Russian sponsorship of illegal armed separatists, and more recently by the active operation of formed military units of the Russian armed forces on sovereign Ukraine territory, have underlined Russia’s rejection of the rules-based international order. In Libya, there has been a sharp deterioration of the security situation. Those multiple challenges reflect an arc of instability, extending from north Africa, through the middle east and along Europe’s eastern border to the Arctic.
Perhaps the most alarming of those developments, because of the clear and immediate risk it poses to UK homeland security, is the rise of the Islamist terror organisation ISIL in Syria and Iraq. In Syria, Assad’s brutal war against his own people has created the conditions for a Sunni extremist group to flourish, and in Iraq, the systematic sectarianism of the previous Government has created a permissive environment in the Sunni heartlands for ISIL to expand. In both countries, ISIL has seized the opportunity to impose its twisted ideology.
I agree with my hon. Friend. There is a qualitative difference between any proposition of air strikes in Syria and such an activity in Iraq. The legal, technical and military differences make the proposition of air strikes an order of magnitude more complicated in Syria.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. On the specifics of air strikes, the House will rise this week and not return until
If my hon. Friend will allow me, I will come specifically to the question of air strikes and their authorisation later in my speech.
Will the Foreign Secretary elaborate on the military differences, as he said that there were quantitative differences between Syria and Iraq? We are talking about a process. What are the air strikes meant to achieve? Would they achieve something different in Iraq from in Syria, or are we taking this the wrong way round?
When I talked about a military difference between Iraq and Syria, I was referring to the different air defence systems that protect the territory in those two countries. In Iraq, the skies are open over ISIL-controlled territory, whereas in Syria a sophisticated integrated air defence system protects the whole of the country’s airspace and would make air strikes complex and difficult to deliver.
In view of Mr Speaker’s strictures, I must make some progress. I will allow the hon. Lady to intervene later.
Having established a heartland in Syria and advanced into northern Iraq, ISIL is seeking to extend its reach with the openly stated objective of building a so-called caliphate embracing all the Muslim populations of the region in a single fundamentalist state that would subject its population to a brutal and barbaric regime while waging perpetual war against the infidel beyond the caliphate’s boundaries. This is a dangerous force that if left unchecked could transform swathes of the middle east into a haven for international terrorism.
ISIL’s barbaric acts in the areas it controls have included targeted killings, forced religious conversions, abductions, trafficking, slavery and systematic sexual abuse on the basis of ethnicity and religion. It has forced hundreds of thousands of Iraqis of all communities—Shi’a, Sunni, Christian, Yazidi—to flee their homes in fear as its forces abuse, brutalise and kill anyone who stands in the way of their advance. Their actions and poisonous ideology are not only abhorrent to our values and principles and, indeed, to the values and principles of all decent people, including the overwhelming majority of Muslims, but represent a direct threat to Britain’s national security.
There are rumours that the Turks are buying oil from ISIS. Is it not important that members of NATO speak with one voice and is it not an absolute priority for the international community to try to interdict the financial support that ISIS is gaining through illegal oil sales?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and that has been precisely the thrust of a British initiative at the United Nations to cut off financial and other lines of support to ISIL. We will continue to pursue that route.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his confirmation that we are using the United Nations to point out the importance of cutting off financial support to ISIL. Is he talking to Governments around the world and ensuring that the Treasury is equally engaged in ensuring that messages go out to banking systems and individuals that it is not a good thing to channel funds to ISIL and that, if they are not cut off now, these murderous individuals will come into their countries?
Yes, we are delivering that message and our partners around the world are active. We have seen action over the past few days in many countries, with people providing support networks to ISIL being disrupted, arrests being made and so on.
In seeking to establish its extremist state, ISIL is already seeking to use the territory it controls as a launch pad from which to attack the west, including the
United Kingdom. The unprovoked attack on the Jewish museum in Brussels, the brutal beheadings of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and the explicit threat to the life of a British hostage have made it clear that ISIL will not hesitate to attack western citizens wherever it has the opportunity to do so. As the House will know, our intelligence agencies estimate that more than 500 British nationals have travelled abroad to fight in Syria and Iraq for extremist groups, particularly ISIL. On the face of it, one of those individuals, nominally British although sharing none of our values, was responsible for the beheading of the American journalists. The potential return to the shores of hundreds of these radicalised jihadis, some of whom will have undergone training in the conduct of terrorist atrocities, represents one of the most serious threats to our national security and was directly responsible for the decision to raise the threat level for international terrorism from substantial to severe.
If I may, I will make a little progress.
Our response to that threat is and will remain measured, deliberate and comprehensive. At home, our police and security agencies are hard at work tackling the threat from returning jihadis and intercepting those intent on travelling abroad to join ISIL. Since April 2013, 23 people have had their passport removed and so far this year 69 people have been arrested for terror-related offences in relation to Syria and Iraq.
As the Prime Minister set out last week, we are now urgently considering what more we can do in the face of this unprecedented terrorist threat. Among the measures being actively considered by the Government are strengthening the existing terrorism prevention and investigation measures, including through stronger location constraints on suspects and a requirement on individuals to engage with the Prevent programme; putting the Channel de-radicalisation programme on a statutory footing; introducing temporary powers for police to seize passports at the border while suspected foreign fighters are investigated; creating a discretionary power to exclude British nationals from the UK; and putting on a statutory basis aviation security measures, including no-fly lists and the sharing of passenger information. As the Government crystallise our proposals, the House will have the opportunity to debate them in detail.
Strengthening our defences at home and tackling the movement of foreign fighters are just part of the answer. We must also tackle these threats at source, so we are responding to the urgent humanitarian situation in the region, alleviating suffering in northern and eastern Iraq and helping to ease the growing burden on the neighbouring states that has the potential to create even greater instability. Since the crisis in Syria began, we have committed more than £600 million in humanitarian aid. In northern Iraq, Britain was the first donor country on the ground, but we are clear that alongside the immediate humanitarian response there must also be a coherent political response to delegitimise ISIL, cut off its sources of financial support and create the conditions under which local forces can regroup and tackle ISIL head on.
The UK has already supplied non-lethal aid to the peshmerga. We have transported ammunition from eastern Europe for the Soviet-era weapons that the peshmerga have. Yesterday my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary laid a departmental minute before the House announcing the initial gifting of lethal aid to the peshmerga in the form of a supply of heavy machine guns, which should be delivered with the accompanying ammunition to Irbil today.
The Prime Minister said that if there was further evidence of a direct national threat and human catastrophe, that would warrant further military action. The Foreign Secretary has spoken about coming back before the House if further action is needed, but have we not reached the threshold at which there is evidence of both a direct national threat and human catastrophe, in terms of the genocide of Yazidis, Christians and others?
The point the Prime Minister was making was that we must reserve our right to intervene at very short notice if an imminent humanitarian catastrophe threatens, but we are also considering the longer-term proposition of how, in coalition with international partners, we can best rise to the challenge presented by ISIL. If my hon. Friend will allow me to continue, I shall say something about that now.
I must make some progress.
In Syria, we continue to support a negotiated political transition to end Assad’s brutal rule and pave the way to a political solution to this appalling conflict. To those who ask whether we should make common cause with Assad against the new enemy, ISIL, I say that Assad cannot be the answer to defeating extremism. Working with this butcher would only reinforce the appeal of ISIL and feed radicalisation at home. By contrast, therefore, we are strengthening our support for the moderate opposition, who share our values of respect for human rights, the rule of law and inclusive politics. They deserve our admiration as they take the fight to the extremist terrorists in their country as well as taking on regime forces.
In Iraq, we have strongly welcomed the formation of the new Government under Dr Haider al-Abadi. To be successful in turning the tide against ISIL, that Government must now win the confidence of all Iraq’s communities by turning into deeds the words of the new Prime Minister’s published programme for inclusive Government.
Will the Foreign Secretary accept my apologies for turning up to the debate slightly late? Does he accept that the new Government of Iraq now have to show that they are doing this, and that if they cannot, it will be time for the UK and its neighbours to reconsider what the political structure of Iraq can be to create stability in the region?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. We are clear that ISIL is a threat to us as well as to stability in the region. But we are equally clear that we can contribute to defeating ISIL only through the leadership of the Iraqi Government in Baghdad, and they have to be an Iraqi Government who are credible, inclusive, and command the respect and support of all the people of Iraq. A huge burden therefore rests on the shoulders of Dr al-Abadi as he embarks on this mission with his new Government. We wish him well and will offer him every practical support we can.
On Syria, surely the position must be that, rather than leave Assad out of the process altogether, we should restart the Geneva process in order that there can be a proper deal between our allies in the Free Syrian Army and the Assad Government. They can then be on our side in taking on the fundamental enemy, which is of course Islamic State. That process can engage the Russians as well, but if they are left outside this exercise we are dooming it to failure from the start.
Those around the Assad regime understand very well what they have to do to make progress: they have to remove Assad from his leadership role and replace him in order that we and the moderate opposition in Syria have someone credible that they can talk to.
Our decision at the moment is that we will continue to supply non-lethal aid to the Syrian moderate opposition. Of course, we keep that decision under continuous review. As I said earlier, the situation in Syria is very different from the situation in Iraq. While ISIL is seeking to make it a single theatre, we have to respond to the realities on the ground in both countries.
These are vital steps, but the Prime Minister has made it clear that the political and humanitarian response in Iraq must be backed up by a security response that will defeat ISIL on the ground. The Government’s clear position is that there will be no UK combat boots on the ground in Iraq, but we have given our full support to the targeted air strikes conducted by the United States at the request of the legitimate Government of Iraq. With other NATO allies, and with the consent of the Iraqi Government, we have been delivering arms and equipment directly to Kurdish forces, as I have set out.
I know that many right hon. and hon. Members will, crucially, want to know whether we intend to go further in our security response. As the House will know, Secretary Kerry is currently in the middle east seeking to build a regional coalition of the willing to support Iraqi forces in the battle against ISIL—an organisation which, by definition, represents an existential challenge to all of them. President Obama will speak to the American people later today to set out his wider strategy for dealing with the threat from ISIL, including a possible expansion of US air strikes.
As the global resolve to tackle ISIL strengthens, we will consider carefully what role the UK should play in the international coalition. I should emphasise that no decisions have been made. However, as the Prime Minister set out on Monday, if we reached the conclusion that joining in American-led air strikes would be the appropriate way to shoulder our share of the burden, then, in accordance with the established practice, we would ensure that the House of Commons had an opportunity to debate and vote on that proposition.
May I take the right hon. Gentleman back to his answer to Crispin Blunt about the position of the Assad regime? The whole House shares his view that this is an odious regime, but surely what has changed is that two years ago it was rational to assess that the Assad regime could be removed. Is that still his view?
Our clear intention is to create the conditions where within the Alawite community and the community around the regime, the pressure builds to change the leadership—to remove Assad and those closely associated with him and replace them so that it is possible for the moderate opposition forces and the international community to envisage a political solution in Syria.
We are facing in our near abroad the most capable terrorist group currently operating anywhere in the world. We cannot underestimate the threat that it poses to regional stability and to our security here at home, and we must be prepared to intensify our contribution to action against ISIL if the situation demands.
In relation to ISIL and the foreign fighters, the Secretary of State will have seen reports from King’s College London, which engaged with some of these fighters in Syria and Iraq. It reports that some foreign fighters want to renounce terrorism and return to their countries of origin. Does the United Kingdom have a position on that, and was it discussed with other NATO members so that there is a combined position?
I too read the reports that my hon. Friend mentions. Clearly, those who have committed terrorist acts must be held accountable for their actions; there can be no general amnesty. Obviously, the Home Secretary will want to look carefully at the situation that we are facing. I suggest that she will have noted what he said and might be able to respond further when she winds up the debate.
As I understand it, the Foreign Secretary is saying that our policy is dependent on having a credible, inclusive Government in Baghdad. On what criteria will the Foreign Office assess that Government? What does he make of the appointment of Ibrahim al-Jafari? What about the Interior Ministry? What about the Defence Ministry? What about the position of Qasem
Soleimani, the Iranian revolutionary guard commander, in Baghdad? What possible reason do we have at the moment to believe that this Government are inclusive?
I recognise my hon. Friend’s gentle scepticism, shall I call it? Many figures within the newly announced Government are not new faces. However, the programme set out by Dr al-Abadi does represent, on the face of it, an approach that is far more inclusive and far more willing to recognise the aspirations of the separate communities within Iraq than that of the previous Iraqi Government. Of course, the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. We will be looking at this very closely and providing every support we can. We and other allies will be applying all pressure that we can on the Iraqi Government to pursue diligently the course that they have set out in that programme, and we very much hope they will deliver on those commitments.
I must make some progress now because we have a wide range of issues to cover.
While we have been facing an ideological challenge to our fundamental system of values from ISIL in Iraq and Syria, we have also faced a fundamental challenge to the post-cold war system of international relations in Europe.
For more than two decades since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the west has opened a door to Russia and sought to draw her into the international rules-based system, offering partnership, trade, investment and openness. By its illegal annexation of Crimea and its aggressive destabilisation of eastern Ukraine, the Russian leadership has slammed that door shut. It has chosen the role of pariah rather than partner, and in doing so it has undermined the long-term security architecture of Europe.
The tactics that President Putin has adopted—from covert disruption to the first deployment of deniable irregulars and unbadged Russian military personnel to capture sites in Crimea, through to the transfer of heavy weapons and equipment to Ukrainian separatists in Luhansk and Donetsk, and now, more recently, the deployment of formed Russian military units on to Ukrainian soil—reflect a pattern that we have seen elsewhere. However much it is denied, Russia’s direct responsibility for the situation in eastern Ukraine is undeniable.
The Government, together with our international partners, have been clear from the start: whatever the provocation, there can be no purely military solution to this crisis. The solution must be political, based on negotiations between Moscow and Kiev but upholding the fundamental principles of respect for Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity and of the right of the Ukrainian people to decide their own future. There can be no Russian veto on democracy in Ukraine.
The international community has a clear role to play by exerting the greatest possible pressure on Russia to withdraw its troops from Ukrainian soil, cease its support for the separatists and enable the restoration of security along the Ukraine-Russia border with effective international monitoring.
Russia has used asymmetric warfare to further its ends, exploiting the relative advantages of its ability to act quickly, decisively and without transparency. We must respond to that by using our relative advantages, most notably the enormously greater strength and resilience of our economies compared with Russia’s, with its terrible demography and its structural over-dependence on oil and gas exports.
The UK has been at the forefront of efforts to leverage that economic strength through the imposing of far-reaching economic sanctions. As the Prime Minister announced to the House on Monday, the latest European Union sanctions, building on the previous measures, will make it harder for Russian banks and energy and defence companies to borrow money; prohibit the provision of services for the exploration of shale, deep water and Arctic oil; and widen the ban on dual-use goods such as machinery and computer equipment. Additionally, a new list of individuals to be included on sanctions lists has been agreed, including the new separatist leadership in Donbass, the Government of Crimea and key Russian decision makers and oligarchs.
The situation in Ukraine has caused considerable consternation and concern among our eastern European NATO partners. I am sure that during his speech my right hon. Friend will reaffirm our commitments to them under our NATO obligations, but what is he doing specifically to encourage NATO partners such as Lithuania which are spending less than half the prerequisite 2% of GDP that they ought to be in these circumstances?
I will come in a moment to the measures we are taking to support eastern partners, but my hon. Friend will know that Lithuania, along with all the other 27 NATO members, signed up to the defence spending commitment at last week’s NATO summit. That was a huge triumph for British diplomacy.
These sanctions are having an effect: they are exacerbating an already negative trend in Russia’s economy. Russia’s economy shrank by 0.5% in the first quarter of this year. Its largest bank has downgraded forecasts of growth from 2.3% to 0.2%. Russian sovereign bonds have been downgraded to one notch about junk bond status, and capital flight is continuing, with an estimate that it could reach £80 billion. Although I understand absolutely the hon. Gentleman’s question and his attempt, quite rightly, to analyse the emotional side of Mr Putin’s approach, he will not be able to be blind to the impact these sanctions are having on Russia’s economy.
We have also supported NATO measures to reassure our eastern allies who feel most exposed to Russian pressure, including through the provision of RAF jets to undertake an air policing role in the Baltic area. We are clear about the collective security guarantee that NATO offers to our eastern NATO partners, and Mr Putin should be clear about that, too.
If Mr Putin were to deploy in the Baltic states the same asymmetric and deniable tactics he has used in Ukraine, would that constitute an article 5 moment under the NATO treaty?
The engagement of article 5, which eastern partners would, of course, be perfectly entitled to seek if they felt they were subject to threats, can elicit a response at various different levels. It does not have to involve full-scale armed conflict. The response would have to be proportionate. Although this is in its infancy, there is growing recognition that, in a much more complicated world in which cyber-warfare will have a very large role to play in any future conflict, we need to work out how we would respond proportionately and effectively to any given type of attack.
I must make a little more progress.
We welcome the ceasefire that has been announced between Russia and Ukraine, but, as we agreed with President Poroshenko and key allies at the NATO summit, there must be a proper peace plan that ensures that Russia respects Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereign rights—and it has to be delivered, not just written down. Our position remains that flagrant violation of international norms and law will bring long-term costs for Russia, its economy and its standing in the world.
Understandably, the ISIL challenge and the situation in Ukraine have dominated the agenda for the past few weeks, but we are also confronted by a sharp deterioration in the situation in Libya, as rival factions battle for control of Tripoli and the disparate groupings that have been a feature of the violence in Libya have started to coalesce into two main groups. The deterioration of the security situation has required the evacuation of hundreds of British nationals and the relocation of our embassy and staff to Tunis. I want to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the Royal Navy for its excellent work in extracting British nationals to Malta, and to thank publicly the Republic of Korea, which evacuated 47 British nationals on a Korean warship that was in the area.
Finally, I want to turn to the perennial problem of Israel, Gaza and the middle east peace process. Ending the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians and seeing a responsible, viable and independent Palestinian state that respects the rights and security concerns of Israel taking its place among the family of nations would be a major step towards restoring stability throughout the region.
Throughout the summer, in my meetings and phone calls with Prime Minister Netanyahu, President Abbas, President al-Sisi and others, I have supported the Egyptian-led talks in Cairo as being the best way to bring a rapid end to the violence, and we warmly welcome the agreement that was reached in Cairo on
Does the Foreign Secretary agree that President Abbas now deserves the opportunity to demonstrate to the Palestinian people that the peaceful path towards statehood, not just the rockets of Hamas, can bring dividends? He needs the opportunity, through diplomatic support, to make the same kind of progress that, unfortunately, Hamas can now demonstrate that it has made in having the blockade on Gaza modified.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I shall come to the point about the involvement of the Palestinian Authority in a moment.
The steps we need to take must include measures that will pave the way for the Palestinian Authority to resume control of Gaza and restore effective and accountable governance, which will allow the progressive easing of Israeli security restrictions on Gaza and, in turn, allow the Gazan economy to grow.
Both the Prime Minister and I have expressed our grave concern at the level of civilian casualties and the scale of human suffering in Gaza during the recent violence, but we have also been clear that the indiscriminate firing of thousands of rockets from Gaza into civilian areas of Israel by Hamas was a clear breach of international humanitarian law, and that by launching attacks from densely populated civilian areas—in some cases, from sensitive buildings, such as mosques and schools—Hamas bears a direct responsibility for the appalling loss of civilian lives. We have been equally clear that Israel has a right to defend itself against attack, but that in doing so it, too, must act in accordance with international law with regard to proportionality and the avoidance of unnecessary civilian casualties.
In the light of what the Foreign Secretary has just said, will he please explain why the British Government abstained at the United Nations Human Rights Council on its official call for an investigation into war crimes that have occurred there? Could he not express some regret about Britain’s close military relationship with Israel, which has indeed helped it to kill more than 2,000 people in Gaza during the recent siege?
The hon. Gentleman’s last allegation is regrettable and completely inaccurate. We have looked very carefully at the nature of the matériel and equipment supplied to the Israelis, and we are confident that very little of what we supplied could in any way have been used in equipment deployed during this operation in Gaza.
On the hon. Gentleman’s first point, we chose to abstain on the resolution, along with all our European Union partners, because it was not worded in an even-handed and open way. It was not aimed at getting to the truth of what happened in Gaza, and it was not targeted at possible wrongdoing by both sides. It was heavily lopsided, and made a political point, rather than seeking to get to the bottom of what actually took place.
I would, however, say to him that we are clear that, in due course, there must be a proper inquiry into what went on. I shall return to that in a moment.
I will give way again in a moment, but let me conclude this point.
In due course, a resolution of the immediately pressing issues in Gaza and a resumption of Palestinian Authority control in the strip must be steps towards the wider middle east peace process leading to a two-state solution. However, for the negotiations to have the best possible chance of success, both sides need to resist domestic pressures to take actions that could jeopardise the prospects of long-term peace. That is why we deplore the Israeli Government’s provocative decision to expropriate 988 acres of land near Bethlehem. We have unequivocally condemned that move, and we will continue to press the Government of Israel to reverse that decision. The UK’s position on settlements is clear: they are illegal under international law; they present an obstacle to peace; and they take us further away from a viable two-state solution.
I am very pleased to hear the Foreign Secretary condemn the Israeli action, but does he still not see that from the outside it looks as if the British Government are guilty of double standards? When Israel makes a land grab of this type, yes we have some harsh words, but nothing else follows; if Putin does something in Ukraine, things follow much more dramatically. I do not want to see such things, but I do want to see an end to double standards.
I think that the hon. Lady is being a little harsh. The reality is that in the Israel-Palestine conflict, we have a deeply entrenched and largely intractable challenge, which has defeated many people who have tried to solve it over many years. We have to make progress on this issue, but we are not going to make it by wagging fingers; we have to make it by engagement. The situation in Ukraine is different, with a clear violation of the hitherto well-observed principle of international law that we do not resolve border disputes in Europe by force of arms. The fact that Russia has breached that principle has put at risk the whole edifice of European security that has served us so well for many years.
I have been very forward-leaning in saying to my Israeli interlocutors—not only about the policy of settlements, but about the scale of the civilian casualties that occurred in Gaza—that whatever the rights and wrongs and whatever the position in international law when the analysis is done, Israel runs a serious risk of losing the sympathy for it that existed when it came under attack by Hamas rockets earlier this summer. Israel needs to think about its long-term best interests, not just about the short-term reactions that it can deliver. I started this section of my speech by saying that if we are to make progress, both sides need to resist the temptation to react to short-term provocations and to play to domestic audiences. Both sides need to think about the long-term best interests of both the Israeli people and the Palestinian people.
I am coming to the end of my speech, and I know that many hon. Members want to participate in the debate.
The stability of the international order is at risk. Our values and principles—freedom, democracy and the rule of law—are coming under sustained attack, and our homeland security is under threat. Our resolve to meet these multiple challenges is being put to the test. The Government are clear that we cannot shirk our responsibilities in the world. If violations of international norms are allowed to go unchallenged and the spread of terrorist organisations with violent and extremist ideologies is allowed to go unchecked, the future prospects for our own national security and that of the friends and partners who share our values will only get worse.
In standing up to Russian aggression, we must continue to send the clear message to President Putin that his behaviour will not be tolerated, and that the end result will be a weaker, not a stronger Russia. In tackling the terrorist threat from ISIL and in supporting the newly formed Government of Iraq, we must be prepared to use all the means at our disposal to reverse ISIL’s advance, to deny its objectives and to defend ourselves at home. In supporting the resolution of the conflict between Israel and Hamas and ultimately the advance of the middle east peace process, we must be clear with both sides that only a negotiated political settlement can deliver the security guarantees that Israel needs and the viable state that the Palestinian people deserve.
In the face of these multiple threats to our security and our interests, I have no doubt that the British people will rise to the challenge and show the resolve, the courage and the determination that have defined our nation for hundreds of years.
I thank the Foreign Secretary for the remarks with which he opened the debate. This is our first exchange on the Floor of the House since his appointment, so may I take this opportunity to warmly welcome him and the Secretary of State for Defence to their vital roles for our country? The Foreign Secretary comes to the post to help us navigate a time of very real risks and rising uncertainties for the United Kingdom. In these difficult times, I know that the whole House will wish him well in carrying out his duties in the months ahead.
The Foreign Secretary will be aware that Members from all parts of the House have been calling on the Government to grant a full day’s debate on foreign affairs. I welcome the opportunity to discuss Ukraine, the middle east, north Africa and security today. This debate undoubtedly takes place at a time of significant global upheaval and significant challenge for the United Kingdom. The conflicts in the middle east and north
Africa, the threat of ISIL, the destabilisation of eastern Europe by Russia and the new challenges facing NATO have created a palpable anxiety that the future may be less certain than many in the west had previously anticipated.
Given the scale and the pace of change, any Government must seek to approach the challenges with appropriate humility. However, as I and others across the House have argued, that must not give way to passivity in international affairs. For Britain to retreat from the world would be as foolish as it would be futile. Growing interdependence and the rise of cross-border threats mean that co-operating and collaborating with international partners is more vital in promoting our national interests than ever before. Today, the alliances that have helped to keep half a century of peace in Europe—the transatlantic bond, NATO and our co-operation with EU allies—are essential to Britain’s security and prosperity, perhaps more so than for many years.
Nowhere is that more evident than in the middle east. That region is experiencing some of the darkest days of its tumultuous and violent history. The Arab uprisings that began in December 2010 fleetingly seemed to herald a new beginning, yet they precipitated a period of unprecedented turmoil in Syria, Egypt and Libya, the spill-over effect of which has brought to the fore historical sectarian and religious tensions across the region.
ISIL is the latest and possibly the most brutal manifestation of this period of regional upheaval. Labour is clear that that threat cannot and must not be ignored. It cannot be ignored, because of our sense of conscience towards those who immediately face ISIL’s terror, because ISIL threatens the democratic Iraqi state and seeks to establish a state—a caliphate—of its own, and because of the danger that the export of ISIL’s ideology causes here in the United Kingdom.
The discussions at last week’s NATO summit highlighted the need to build the widest possible consensus in the pursuit of any strategy to combat ISIL. As the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, embarks on his tour of regional capitals today, it is clear that a broad partnership across the region, alongside a genuinely multilateral political, diplomatic and humanitarian alliance, is vital as we chart a way ahead.
Of course, any international strategy for combating ISIL in Iraq must ultimately be led by Baghdad. The formation of the new Iraqi Government this week was a much needed step forward. Prime Minister Abadi has a duty to his citizens and a responsibility in his Government to advance a more inclusive power-sharing form of working within the capital of Iraq—a subject about which there has already been some discussion on the Floor of the House. The progress that has been made so far shows that there is the possibility of further progress. With crucial posts such as Defence Secretary still to be filled, there is more that can and must be done to establish an inclusive Government who can earn the critical trust of Sunnis and Kurds across Iraq.
The threat that ISIL poses stretches across borders, so a strategy for combating ISIL cannot be confined within the borders of Iraq.
Would the right hon. Gentleman like to define what an inclusive Government in Baghdad would look like? What kind of offer needs to be made to the Sunni people in terms of autonomy, who should be in the Cabinet, and how would he judge whether the Government are or are not inclusive?
In asking his question, the hon. Gentleman anticipates my answer, which is that, frankly, it is not for the shadow Foreign Secretary to make that judgment. The critical judgment will be that of the Sunni community within Iraq. It is vital that there is a dialogue ahead of appointment, so that we do not have a situation in which those outside Iraq presume that a degree of unity has been achieved but, alas, it proves to be illusive within the country. The point that he makes is fair, but it only reinforces the vitality of there being inclusivity preceding the appointment, rather than assertions of inclusivity after the appointment.
The shadow Foreign Secretary says that it is not the role of the international community to intervene in who comes to office and what position they take, but surely he agrees that the international community has a role in ensuring that another Government like Mr Maliki’s do not come to power. If that happens, the international community must dissociate itself at an earlier stage. If it had done so with Mr Maliki’s Government, we might not have the problem that we now have of international terrorism in Iraq.
I certainly agree with the hon. Gentleman’s point about former Prime Minister Maliki. I had the opportunity to speak to President Barzani of the Kurdistan Regional Government a matter of weeks ago by video conference. He could not have been clearer about the destructive effect of the sectarian approach that was taken by the Maliki Government, both in corrupting the chain of command in the Iraqi army and destabilising the politics of the country. Our friends and colleagues in the United States were entirely right in holding out the need for Maliki to go, given the profound damage that he did to the fabric of society and the process of governance in Iraq. The challenge, however, is not to look backwards, but to look forwards to see whether the new Prime Minister is in a position to make the progress that many of us wish Maliki had been able to make.
The point that my hon. Friend Rory Stewart is making, and with which many of us agree, is that the Government and the Opposition seem to have an unachievable aim. It is slightly ironic that we are offering devo-max after 300 years of union, while at the same time we think there can be a unified Iraq, even though it has a Kurdish state that has its own Prime Minister, President and armed forces; the Saudis are not content to allow Iran to dominate the country; and the Iranians do not want 10 million barrels of oil a day to be pumped from a unified Iraq. That seems to be an unrealistic aim on the basis of which to have UK air strikes.
It ill behoves the hon. Gentleman to suggest that there is any meaningful comparison between what we are witnessing in Scotland and what is taking place in Iraq. When he has had the opportunity to reflect on the wisdom and sense of the remarks that he has made, I hope he will think again. There are unique and specific challenges facing Iraq that are wholly different from those we are facing in the United Kingdom. They reflect the particular circumstances of that country and the challenges that it faces today. If his point is that we need to find a way for a more inclusive approach to be taken to the politics within Iraq, I think we can agree with each other. I am not sure that I can go much further than that.
Perhaps I could try to clarify the point made by my hon. Friend Stephen Barclay. Is not the issue in Iraq that in large areas of the country, people do not accept the state or the democratic system because they do not think that it speaks to them and they do not think that there is a peaceful means of change? How will we persuade them that there is a peaceful, democratic answer?
Again, I think that the question is revealing. It is not for us in the House of Commons or in the west to persuade those people; it is for the politics of Iraq to move in the direction that we on both sides of the House wish it to move in. That places a premium on domestic, political leadership. It is deeply regrettable that Prime Minister Maliki succumbed to the forces of division, rather than showing the kind of leadership that we all wanted to see and creating unity. However, that is not a test for the Opposition or even for our Government; it is primarily a test for the Government in Baghdad. I sincerely hope that they will show themselves capable of rising to that test in the months ahead.
On Syria, no one would deny that there were differences of opinion across the House on the proposed military action to target President Assad’s chemical weapons facilities 12 months ago. However, even those who supported military action accept that the decision that was before the House a year ago in August was not a choice between ending or prolonging the conflict. It is the continuation of the conflict, rather than the form it has taken, that has allowed Syrian territory to be used as a training and recruiting base for ISIL. That is why the Opposition have argued that the priority for the international community must be to refocus attention on achieving a transitional agreement in Syria of the type that was anticipated in the Geneva II process. That is the only way to facilitate a more co-ordinated Syrian front that is dedicated to combating the threat of ISIL within the sovereign territory of Syria.
Humanitarian support for the countries affected by the turmoil in Iraq and Syria is vital. I hope that the Minister who winds up the debate will address the Opposition’s calls for a more comprehensive package of support for Jordan—a country that has one of the longest land borders with Iraqi ISIL-held territory and an even longer border with Syria in the north.
I think all of us in the House agree that when it comes to ISIS and Iraq, the solution has to be political. On the military options, does the shadow Foreign Secretary accept that airstrikes alone will not defeat ISIS? Ground troops are required, but they should not be western troops. They should be local forces, and the elephant in the room is the Iraqi army itself.
I travelled down for this debate from Scotland, where I have been otherwise occupied, and had the great pleasure of reading the exchange between the hon. Gentleman and the Foreign Secretary on exactly that matter. I found myself in agreement with the point that the Foreign Secretary made before the Foreign Affairs Committee yesterday. Of course airstrikes have a role to play as part of the unique military capabilities of the United States, and they have been deployed in Iraq in particular, but that alone is not an adequate response to the scale and threat of the ISIL challenge that we are now witnessing. That is why I stand behind the process that Secretary of State Kerry has initiated, coming out of the NATO summit in Newport. I welcome the fact that he is in the region at the moment talking to those in regional capitals, and I hope to develop a little more of my theme on the matter in the coming moments.
Let me make a little progress, then I will be happy to take some more interventions.
The rise of ISIL has now created a threat so extreme that it is apparently uniting previous adversaries, including Iran and Saudi Arabia, neither of which has an interest in allowing it to succeed. Last week’s agreement by Arab League leaders to unite against ISIL is a hopeful sign of progress in the region, which as we have heard is too often divided along sectarian, ethnic and religious lines. That relates to the point that Mr Gray made. We support the decision of our friends and colleagues in France to convene an international conference on Iraq on
It seems clear from recent statements that the UK Government are still formulating their approach to the threat of ISIL. Obviously they are not alone in that endeavour, given recent and anticipated statements by the US President. Although any strategy for dealing with ISIL will by definition be long-term, that is not an excuse for long-term delay in setting it out. Of course there is a need for operational discretion, but diplomatic and political alliances can be effectively built only on the basis of open and frank discussions about aims and objectives in the days and weeks ahead. I therefore hope that further clarity will be provided.
The shadow Foreign Secretary calls for clarity in the weeks and months that lie ahead. If Her Majesty’s Government were to decide that airstrikes against Iraq, or parts of Iraq, became the right thing to do, and if they were—wrongly in my view—to come to the House and ask for a vote on the matter, would the Labour party support the Government?
First, I do not think it is under contemplation that there would be airstrikes against Iraq. If there were airstrikes, they would be against
ISIL. We have made it clear on many occasions that we would reach a judgment on the basis of any motion brought before the House. That was the position that we took in relation to Libya a couple of years ago and in relation to the vote on chemical weapons in Syria in the House a year ago in August. It is for the Government to set out their thinking and for the Opposition to reach a judgment.
The shadow Foreign Secretary knows that the United States has been engaged in airstrikes—there have been about 130—and that the Kurds have warmly welcomed the contribution that those airstrikes have made to blunting the advance of ISIL. To return to the question that my hon. Friend Mr Gray asked, if it were put to the right hon. Gentleman today that the United Kingdom should join the United States in those airstrikes, would the Labour party support that?
As the hon. Gentleman is aware, no such request has been made. America has unique military capabilities, and we have supported the Government in their support of those US airstrikes, which are at the specific request of the Iraqi Government. I am rightly not privy to all conversations between the British and Iraqi Governments, but my understanding is that no such request has been made to the British Government for airstrikes against ISIL. We have supported the understanding that was set out in relation to the humanitarian mission and the use of Tornadoes for reconnaissance capabilities, first at Mount Sinjar and then more broadly. We have also strongly supported the arming of the peshmerga. I am glad to say that we have been able to take a genuinely bipartisan approach, and it ill behoves the hon. Gentleman either to suggest that a request has been made, when none has yet been forthcoming, or to anticipate particular circumstances. It is reasonable that we would be expected to cast our judgment on the basis of the circumstances at the time and the nature of the request issued.
I have been generous in taking a couple of interventions on this point, and I am keen to make a little progress.
The past seven weeks in Gaza and Israel have been the deadliest for years in an area already scarred by the tragic pattern of conflict. Today, the hopes of millions hinge on the willingness of all sides to uphold the latest, and hopefully lasting, Egyptian-brokered ceasefire. The Opposition opposed the Israel incursion into Gaza. When it began, we warned from the Dispatch Box that further escalation of the conflict would be a disaster for the people of both Gaza and Israel and a strategic error for Israel.
We have all seen this deadly pattern of violence too many times before. Five years ago, after an earlier conflict in Gaza, I walked amidst the rubble of what had been a Palestinian family’s home. As a father myself, I will never forget the father showing me tearfully where his children had been killed. The death toll caused by three weeks of intense and bloody fighting shocked and outraged many around the world. Such fighting goes on to define a generation, I fear; it makes enemies out of neighbours. Since the conflict began in July, more than 2,200 Palestinians have lost their lives, the vast majority of them innocent civilians. Of course the conflict must not be reduced simply to a ledger of casualties, but the scale of suffering in Gaza today must be fully and frankly acknowledged, because the life of a Palestinian child is worth no less than the life of an Israeli child.
Today, out of the rubble of Gaza, the death and destruction that followed the Israeli military incursion will be there for the world to see. Many people have been forced from their homes and more than 350,000 are thought to be sheltering in emergency accommodation. Many now have no home to return to, so the priority must be getting vital humanitarian resources into Gaza to help those in desperate need. I welcome the Government’s assurances on the UK’s bilateral support, and it is vital that the planned Palestinian donor conference, now scheduled for
Palestinian poverty cannot continue to be Israel’s de facto strategy for security. An end to the fighting, although of course welcome, must not be an excuse for a return to the status quo of terror, occupation and blockade. The whole House will feel real regret that instead of seizing the initiative to move forward, Israel has given the international community renewed cause for concern. The recent Israeli annexation of land in the west bank must be forthrightly condemned. It is a serious setback at a perilous time, and the Israeli Government must reverse that decision. Israel’s own Finance Minister has said that the decision harms Israel, and he is right.
In Israel, the death of 64 soldiers and three civilians has scarred a society already traumatised by the cost of conflict. No one should question Israel’s right to defend itself, but we all have a duty to raise questions about the wisdom, morality and legality of the force that is used. There can be no military solution to the conflict, either now or in the future. Only a wider political agreement to end the violence will provide the longer-term security that civilians on all sides crave. Of course, we unequivocally condemn the rocket attacks on civilian populations in Israel. There can be no justification for the conduct of Hamas and other organisations operating out of Gaza, but ultimately only a political agreement to end the violence will provide that longer-term security.
Today, the risk is a return to a period of no peace and no process. After the fighting has stopped, we all hope that talks will begin, but peace will come only when all sides accept that talks are not simply the things that happen in between renewed bouts of the conflict. Talks are about bringing a meaningful end to the cycle of violence, which is why I hope the British Government will continue their efforts to support meaningful attempts to secure a negotiated solution.
I wholly support the right hon. Gentleman’s remarks that we need a political settlement of the Gaza-Israeli dispute. Does he agree that the Israelis risk losing international sympathy if they carry on building settlements and seizing land, which is contrary to international law and unacceptable?
One of the profound challenges facing the state of Israel is to recognise that in responding to its immediate security challenges in the region, it risks losing standing and authority in the international community. A younger generation of citizens in the United Kingdom have no memory of the experience of the Israeli state after 1948, when it was periodically threatened by invasion from powerful neighbours. Instead, they have seen in recent conflicts the overwhelming use of military force by the Israel defence forces, which shapes and affects their view of the conflict.
It is important for the Israeli Government to recognise that statehood for the Palestinians is not a gift to be given, but a right to be recognised. It is not simply that Israeli settlements on occupied territory lands are illegal under international law, it is that it is simply wrong to build on other people’s lands. That is why the most recent initiative is so wholly unacceptable, both because of the reality that Israel is building once more on other people’s land, with that land being occupied for military purposes, and because of the symbol that it sends about the seriousness of the Israeli Government to try to make meaningful progress on a negotiated solution. We must break the pattern of periodic conflict, permanent blockade, and episodic attempts at talks. In that sense, of course there is a heavy burden of responsibility on the Palestinians, but there is also a very heavy burden of responsibility on the Israeli Government. My genuine fear is that this latest step in settlement building will be interpreted as being far from positive as to the sincerity of the Israeli Government’s efforts in that regard.
My right hon. Friend heard the Foreign Secretary say that simply wagging fingers would not contribute to meaningful peace in the middle east. Will he say what UK stance, either bilaterally or with our partners, could make any higher diplomatic or political case than wagging our finger?
My hon. Friend raises an important point. How does one effectively seek to influence the conduct of the Israeli Government? One truth that we in this House must confront is that Prime Minister Netanyahu—many of us have had concerns about specific actions he has taken—is probably more popular 10 years after taking office than when he first assumed it. The test for me is not, “Can we make headlines?”, but “Can we make a difference?”, and the test of that is whether actions taken in the United Kingdom, or at European level, strengthen the forces of progress in Israeli society, or strengthen the forces of reaction.
I fully understand the depth of feeling among many Opposition Members about the urgency of finding meaningful ways to influence Israel, and for it to adopt an approach that many of us believe better suited to its long-term interests. But in reality, if we were to take actions that strengthened a narrative in Israeli society that somehow the whole world is against them, that the only people they can trust to defend them are the IDF, and that they can have no security reliant on international agreements but must instead look only to themselves, I fear that far from that leading to the progress we all sincerely want, we would get a further reinforcement of the pattern of destruction and blockade that we have seen over recent years. I am conscious of the anger, urgency and frustration that so many people on both sides of this House feel about making progress, but our challenge is about what can make a difference given the discourse in Israeli society, the balance of forces in the Knesset, and the views previously taken by the Israeli Government.
During the crisis of the last six weeks or so, American arms have continued to flow to Israel, the EU-Israel trade agreement continued unabated, and Britain, while not exporting a vast amount of equipment to Israel, has continued a military relationship with it. Does my right hon. Friend think that at the very least we should be supporting an investigation into war crimes and suspending military co-operation with Israel while that is going on?
We took a different position to the Government on the export of arms—once they managed to sort out what their position was—by saying that no arms should be exported during this conflict, and certainly that no arms should be exported where there were reasonable concerns that the consolidated criteria were not being adhered to by the end user, which in this case was the state of Israel. Of course any allegations of war crimes that are brought to the attention of the United Nations, and others, should be investigated.
On my hon. Friend’s substantive point, the nature of the military relationship between the United Kingdom and Israel is profoundly different to the relationship between the United States and Israel. It is important to nail the misperception that somehow the sustained military aid provided by the United States Government to the state of Israel, based on their long-standing strategic alliance, is comparable in a meaningful way to the export of arms to Israel under tightly drawn consolidated criteria and on a commercial basis by arms manufacturers in the United Kingdom.
When I was Secretary of State for International Development under the previous Administration, I oversaw the largest ever package of aid to the Palestinian Authority. We do not provide any aid to the Israelis as they are a much wealthier nation. The reasons we sent that aid to the Palestinian Authority were twofold. First, of course, we had an obligation on poverty reduction to make sure that we were ensuring a higher standard of living for impoverished people, not just on the west bank but in Gaza. Critically, we also supported those aid payments because we wanted a credible negotiating partner for the state of Israel. If we are serious about matching our words about a two-state solution with deeds, we must continue to make what I recognise are often difficult decisions and choices to continue to support the legitimate voice of the Palestinian peoples, the Palestinian Authority. If we are to be questioned about our aid relationship with the region, the facts are that we do not provide aid to Israel, but we do provide hundreds of millions of pounds to the Palestinians—and rightly so—both in the service of poverty reduction and to ensure a capacity for meaningful negotiations in the future.
The right hon. Gentleman’s analysis of the situation will come across as extremely one-sided, and that he is being far too dismissive of the role of Hamas in this situation.
I am not entirely clear of the basis on which the hon. Gentleman makes his point, but let me reiterate for the record, and so that he can rest assured, that I am unyielding in my condemnation of Hamas, both for the indiscriminate killing of Israeli civilians and for the destructive role it has played when we have tried to secure the two-solution we want. Please do not be in any doubt as to where I stand on wanting a unification of the Palestinian community so that we can have that meaningful two-state solution, but I am also unequivocal in my condemnation of the use of rockets as a weapon of war by Hamas and other terrorist organisations operating out of Gaza. There should be no uncertainty or ambiguity about my position.
Will my right hon. Friend say a couple of words about a matter on which I had hoped the Foreign Secretary would have accepted a question from me, particularly as I wrote to him about it only last week? It concerns the terms of the ceasefire agreement in Gaza. We all accept that a long-term solution requires a two-state solution, justice for the Palestinians, security for Israel and so on, but the ceasefire agreement is specific in requiring actions now. One of those actions is the cessation of hostilities, the other is at least an easing of the blockade. Last week the new DFID Minister—
I hope I have got the gist of my hon. Friend’s point about the lifting of the blockade. Of course we want that, but in reality it will happen only with the agreement of the Israelis, who are ensuring that the blockade is in place at the moment. That therefore requires it to be part of a process, leading to the kind of meaningful negotiations of which I have spoken. After a previous conflict, one reason why I travelled to Gaza and Israel was to urge the lifting of the blockade, which at the time was affecting humanitarian supplies—not just access for humanitarian workers, but the most basic essentials of life in Gaza. Similarly, we need a dynamic process whereby we can get the blockade lifted and return to a greater degree of normality in Gaza, while at the same time have the kind of meaning negotiations of which I have been speaking.
I wish to make some progress, because I am conscious that many hon. Members want to speak. As I said, the north African region was the birthplace of the Arab uprising, and across the region countries are still struggling to address the consequences. Of course, although some might face similar problems, each north African state is different and distinctive. In Tunisia, the Government and the people continue to work towards a political settlement that can move the country forward. High unemployment and sporadic violent clashes on the streets continue, but the prospect for long-term political reconciliation remains strong, and the international community must unite around supporting elections to take place later this year.
The situation in Libya stands in marked contrast to the story of Tunisian progress. The intensification of fighting near the capital Tripoli has led to calls for an urgent and immediate ceasefire and the Libyan Cabinet submitted its resignation en masse to Parliament, which is today taking refuge in a ferry in the city of Tobruk after being forced out by the Tripoli militias. The UK
Government issued a joint statement on
I will speak briefly about Iran. In an already volatile region at a particularly perilous period, a nuclear-armed Iran poses a threat not only to its neighbours, but to the stability of the whole region, so the agreement in November 2013 to curb enrichment and grant greater access to inspectors was a significant step forward and one that we welcomed. As many Members across the House have acknowledged, however, the strength of the agreement will be tested through its implementation. In recent weeks, the talks between the P5 plus 1 have clearly stalled over disagreements on the purpose of Iran’s nuclear programme. The deadline to overcome these difficulties is fast approaching, so as meetings take place in New York later this month, the international community must remain focused on securing a comprehensive deal.
Until Russian troops violated the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine in 2014, no country had seized the territory of another European country by force since 1945. The recent ceasefire deal agreed last week was therefore a welcome sign of progress, but given the continuing potential for catastrophic misunderstanding or simply misjudgment on the ground, the priority must remain de-escalation. Russian troops must return to their bases, President Putin must cease his backing for separatist militias and the Kremlin must stop the flow of arms and personnel across the Russian border into Ukraine. Until then, Europe must continue to be explicit about the real costs and consequences for Russia if it fails to de-escalate the crisis.
Only a graduated hierarchy of diplomatic and economic measures can help President Putin to change course. That is why I welcome all the steps agreed last week at the NATO summit in Wales, specifically with regard to the reassurances given to NATO’s vital eastern European members and partners. In the face of renewed Russian aggression and the re-emergence of territorial disputes on the continent, the need for NATO to revisit its stated core purpose—securing a Europe that is whole, free and at peace—has been brought into stark relief.
This debate could not cover several other pressing issues that have rightly been the focus of the Foreign Secretary’s effort since his appointment. No doubt today the Home Secretary and the shadow Home Secretary will cover in more detail some of the domestic aspects of security and counter-terrorism. As the Leader of the Opposition made clear on Monday, the Government must now demonstrate a clear-eyed understanding that wherever our interests lie, we need a strategy that combines military readiness with political, diplomatic and strategic alliances, and in their efforts to develop and advance such an approach, I hope they will continue to enjoy our support.
Order. We will start with a seven-minute limit, which means we should get everyone in, but if we can help each other, it will make a difference. I call Sir Richard Ottaway.
Originally, the NATO summit was primarily to deal with the future of Afghanistan after the withdrawal of ISAF forces, but two issues that threaten the world order dominated the agenda: first, the risk posed by Islamist extremism, and secondly the long-term implications of the Russia-Ukraine crisis. The Syria vote last August left a vacuum in the world order, but no one predicted that ISIS would conquer large swathes of Syria and Iraq and impose terror, or that Russia would invade Crimea and directly fuel a bloody civil war in eastern Ukraine. Both crises, although unexpected, are not just regional conflicts and both threaten the security of Europe. The hybrid war led by Putin and the Islamist terror imposed by the jihadists cannot be tackled with traditional responses.
The Ukrainian crisis is a wake-up call for the west. Russian imperialism and revisionism are back. We have tried to address it with diplomacy, but clearly it has not worked, so we have imposed sanctions. However, not every country has complied with the new rules. Spain, for instance, is still allowing the Russian navy to refuel in Ceuta. The bans and asset freezes have now been escalated, but we must be ready to take more hard-line measures. Even France has decided to stop the delivery of the Mistral warships. The City of London and Russian transactions should be our next targets. As Edward Lucas, senior economist for The Economist and a witness before the Foreign Affairs Committee, said the other day:
“The City is a fifth column in this country and it lobbies very hard against restrictions on the import and laundry of dirty money here.”
This has to end. The City cannot be allowed to get away with it.
Sanctions only, however, will not deter an irrational and unpredictable Vladimir Putin, who reportedly said that
“if I want, I will have Kiev in two weeks”.
We must show more solidarity with countries in the vicinity of Russia, especially now that Russian forces have crossed the border and kidnapped an Estonian officer. I welcome the Prime Minister’s reassurance on Monday that Estonia is a red line for NATO.
Perhaps we should forget about the NATO-Russian Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Co-operation and Security and install permanent NATO bases in the member states that were once part of the communist bloc. Russia itself has breached that agreement by annexing Crimea and intervening in Ukraine. We must not forget about Ukraine. Kiev needs our reassurance, but mostly our money to contain a severe economic crisis. The freeze of the conflict in eastern Ukraine could end up in another no man’s land being influenced by Russia, like Georgia’s Abkhazia and South Ossetia or Moldova’s Transnistria and Gagauzia.
The second major threat is from Islamist extremism. ISIS is a manifestation of the brutal and poisonous extremism that has developed in the middle east, north Africa and the Sahel. It has been thriving on the sectarian violence triggered by the polarising Shi’a Government of Nouri al-Maliki. In addition, the fight against Assad has strengthened the jihadists. Islamist warriors from all over the world, including the UK, have joined ISIS in its crusade to topple the Syrian dictator. Cash, too, has flooded in from wealthy Gulf donors. However, I completely accept the word of Prince Mohammed bin Nawaf Al-Saud, the hugely respected Saudi Arabian ambassador to London, when he denies his Government’s involvement.
The suspicion remains, however, that shadowy middle eastern figures are funding terrorism, and the UK has been leading efforts to halt that flow. I welcome the UN resolution, drafted by the UK and adopted by everyone, threatening sanctions against ISIS financiers and weapons suppliers. However, ISIS does not rely solely on that money; it has been flourishing on smuggling, extorting taxes and ransoms, plundering and selling oil from invaded territories.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that at a meeting tomorrow in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, hosted by the Saudis, the Gulf states, with John Kerry present, are to decide how best to move forward in the fight against ISIS? Does he agree that they have a perfect chance to show, through bold and decisive action, that they will not tolerate what ISIS is doing and well understand the need to deal with it?
I completely agree with my right hon. Friend and I welcome that meeting. Indeed, he pre-empts my next remark. ISIS must be stopped and defeated, and I for one will support the Government’s plan to join the United States in air strikes if they decide to do so.
On air strikes, ISIL and Syria, my right hon. Friend will be aware of the words of Robert Ford, the former US envoy to Syria, who said that the current international policy on Syria does not reflect the reality on the ground. That being the case, does my right hon. Friend agree that the international community now needs to review its policy on Syria?
I have to confess that I rather agree with the Foreign Secretary that Syria is very much a different case from Iraq. We have to be guided by those in the Foreign Office who are closer to the ground and to the intelligence that has been received on the ground.
The focus should now be on Iraq and then we can think about how to address the situation in Syria. However, to be frank, a western intervention will not magically solve the problems on the ground. There is a need for Arab countries to join the coalition of the willing to step in and confront ISIS militarily and politically. A huge rift has arisen between the Sunnis, the Shi’as and, to a degree, the Kurds. The ISIS surge is fuelled by a Sunni uprising, but in truth the Sunnis are not fans of ISIS. In my view, they would ditch the jihadists once a “Sunnistan” was established. As ISIS is hostile to everybody, I predict that it will have a relatively short life, but eventually I think these developments will result in a Kurdistan in the north, a “Sunnistan” in the west and a “Shi’astan” in the south.
However, the threats posed by a revanchist Russia and an extremist ISIS are not the only ones currently facing the world—although they are the most pressing. The internet and modern methods of communication have enabled local and regional extremisms to flourish. Thanks to them, we are witnessing a wave of global tribalism, starting with the Scottish referendum in our own backyard. In times like these we realise how much we depend on our international alliances to address present and future risks.
Over the summer recess, we heard a lot from bishops and generals, who gave us the benefit of their views. The Bishop of Leeds is a great friend of mine. Indeed, he was the best bishop that Croydon ever had, but to accuse the Government of lacking a strategy towards the Christians stuck on a mountain in Syria is, I think, the wrong approach. Our strategy is to have an Army, to be a member of NATO, to be a member of international institutions and then to react when the circumstances arise. The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children wants children to be saved; Médecins Sans Frontières wants more health services. These are single-issue lobbying organisations. I think the Churches should recognise that. Again, that goes for the generals who on numerous occasions called for Parliament to be recalled to bomb anywhere they could think of. In this area the only people who can make policy are those who are prepared to seek election and to stand on a platform to defend it, not those who sit in armchairs.
I draw to the House’s attention the fact that I am co-chairman of the all-party group on Iran and also co-chairman of the British-Turkish Forum.
I begin by echoing the sentiments expressed by my right hon. Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary to the Foreign Secretary—a great post that I hope he enjoys. I always felt it was living history, but I had echoing in my head the words of Henry Ford: history was “one damned thing after another”. So it was for me, and so I think it will be for the Foreign Secretary.
John Maynard Keynes famously said:
“When my information changes, I alter my conclusions. What do you do, sir?”
The information on Syria has changed. The Assad regime is not going to go and, with respect to the Foreign Secretary, I did not really feel that he was any more convinced than we were by the answer he gave. The situation has simply changed. I would not put any money on that regime now going, and if we want to deal with the greater evil, in my view there has to be communication—not a re-establishment of relations—with it. I firmly believe that those in the Government should follow up the entirely sensible suggestion from their hon. Friend Crispin Blunt and many others in this House that we need to see a restoration of the Geneva arrangements and, critically, we need to see Iran brought into that process as well, because there will not be a solution to the problems of Syria—and therefore to the problems of Iraq—without that regional agreement, which yes involves Turkey, but also has to involve Iran. With respect to Sir Richard Ottaway, we will not get a solution in Iraq unless we solve Syria as well, because that border is so porous.
Iran has played a constructive part in trying to defeat ISIL and in securing the necessary change in Iraq. The US Administration, as is well known, have been in direct communication with the Iranians and, according to well sourced reports, are now doing all they can to reach agreement with Iran in the P5 plus 1 talks on the nuclear issue. I greatly welcomed the acts of the Foreign Secretary’s predecessor in agreeing in principle to reopen the embassies in Tehran, but those were promised for May. They were pushed back to August and they have now been pushed back to some other date, yet to be defined. I ask the Foreign Secretary: why is this? I know the Iranians are not the easiest partners—a feeling which, I should say, is reciprocated by them—but the Administration in Tehran are under domestic pressure. They have a population desperate for links with the west, and if we build a partnership with them, we can do a great deal more than we have.
I hope, too, that the British Government will abandon their view that we should try to punish Iran through trade. We are the only Government doing this. As US-led sanctions against Iran were being tightened, guess what? Hard-nosed as ever, the United States was increasing its exports to Iran, to the benefit of its farming and its pharmaceutical companies. In Britain, we have been punishing our own companies—nobody else—by ensuring that trade with the Iranians plummets.
I completely concur with the right hon. Gentleman on that point. A Coventry-based company has worked with the Iranians in the past to produce their national state car. That company would like to do much more work with the Iranians, but because of these policies it is impossible to do so.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. The United States has gone out of its way to assist its own companies to ensure that they exploit, as widely as possible, the provisions in the sanctions regime—including those that were extended in the agreement with Iran of
I will be very brief. Just before history gets completely rewritten, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he thinks that pressure on the economy in Iran played any part whatever in bringing Iran back to the negotiating table to talk about its nuclear file?
I am absolutely certain that it did, but the sanctions, led by the United States, allowed for the export from the west to Iran of agricultural products, food products and pharmaceuticals. Those concessions were exploited by the United States and western European countries. It is only the United Kingdom that has added to those sanctions, through additional, gratuitous efforts that simply hurt United Kingdom companies, not Iran.
Let me now turn to Israel and Palestine. Like everybody else in this House, I have no brief whatever for Hamas. It was I who introduced the Terrorism Act 2000 and then, as soon as it was on the statute book, ensured that Hamas, along with 20 other terrorist organisations, was proscribed as a terrorist organisation. I was right to do that then and it is right for it to stay as a terrorist outfit. Hamas breached every rule in the book by launching rockets against the civilian population in Israel, but, as the Foreign Secretary said, that cannot conceivably justify the wholly disproportionate response of the Israelis in allowing 2,000 mainly innocent men, women and children to be killed in the way that they did. Whatever they say, they did not have a care for the civilian population.
Now, as we have heard, the Israelis have decided to annex over 1,000 acres of Palestinian land near Bethlehem. I congratulate the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary on their strong words—this was “utterly deplorable”, according to the Prime Minister, and illegal under international law—but what I ask is, what are we going to do about it? I say, with respect, that the Israelis do not care what is said by any western European Government. I used to think something different, but it is not the case; provided that this more right-wing and more extreme Israeli Government have the United States Congress in their pocket, which they do, they do not care about sentiment here. They would care if we were to do what we should be doing, which is to ensure that goods produced in the occupied territories with the label of Israel are treated like any other counterfeit goods and subject to strict rules and additional tariffs.
I am not in favour for a moment of generalised boycotts or sanctions against Israel, but I am in favour of an EU démarche on Israel to get it to pull back—and if it does not do that, we should withdraw our ambassadors and temporarily downgrade our diplomatic arrangements with the country. I am also strongly in favour of recognising Palestine as a state with a formal status in the United Nations. All the things that Israel said would happen if we were to do this have happened anyway—and with a vengeance.
Let me turn to the issue of Russia and Ukraine. I support the approach that the Government are broadly taking in respect of Russia. The brutal truth is that, at the moment, Vladimir Putin believes that he is winning by his own calculus, because he has more to gain than to lose in the region than the west does. The annexation of the Crimea is now a fait accompli, but I believe that over time these sanctions will hurt Russia. It is significantly economically weaker than we are. Its economy is half our size for a population twice our size, and it is over-dependent on energy. As well as maintaining sanctions, we must work out what we can legitimately offer Russia in the final negotiation and, above all, we must start to reduce Europe’s over-dependence on Russian hydrocarbons. That is what lies behind Russia’s belief that it can win. It must not be allowed to do so.
This debate covers four of the most complicated, most grave and serious threats to our well-being and security that this country has faced for a very long time. I congratulate those who spoke before me on their brilliance in covering all four topics in such restricted time. Three quarters of an hour is not really long enough to do so from the Front Bench. I know my limitations; I have strong views on all four, but I propose to confine myself to the problems in Iraq and Syria and to jihadist extremism, which is probably, in a competitive field, the most current and pressing problem and the most dangerous situation that we face at this very moment.
It seems to me that a great deal of attention is being paid, outside the House and in this debate, to whether or not the Government will be supported if they decide to use armed force and take part in the air strikes in which the United States is currently engaged. That is a very important question, but in my opinion it is somewhat putting the cart before the horse to make that the main question. An answer to that question depends on all kinds of other things being satisfied.
I suspect that my view coincides with that of the vast majority here—that we would of course support the use of British armed force if it was essential, unavoidable, in support of some crucial national interest and in pursuit of some well thought out and credible policy objective. We should have learnt in the last 15 years—when on the whole, American and western policy in the entire middle east has been a catastrophe—that leaping into military activity without a well-judged policy, a well-judged diplomacy and a well-judged strategy has contributed to the extraordinary state of anarchy that has now broken out across the region.
Those problems were not caused by our military activity or by our armed forces; they were caused by the disastrous politics of the decision to invade Iraq for rather naive ideological reasons as far as the Americans were concerned, and rather contrived and almost bogus ones as far as the British and some of our allies were concerned. We have not achieved striking success in the odd ventures we have made in the use of military power occasionally in north Africa and the middle east since. Before we use any armed force, we need to know exactly what medium and long-term strategy lies behind the politics of the immediate steps that we are going to take.
One thing I greatly welcome in the Foreign Secretary’s excellent speech was what I thought was his pretty clear undertaking that we would not take part in any military action without a debate and without the approval of Parliament. It is possible to contrive a rather childlike version of our constitutional position and say that the royal prerogative controls the use of military forces. That is very attractive to Governments who are a little uncertain of their majority in the House of Commons when they want to take action.
It is true that if there is a sudden surprise attack on a British possession or on the British military, the Prime Minister can use the royal prerogative to respond instantly, without having to wait to recall Parliament, and to order his troops to defend themselves against whatever the threat may be, but the idea that we work out with our allies a comprehensive policy and strategy and then join in military action in support of it without a pretty convincing vote of approval from the House of Commons would certainly be a political outrage. I think that it would be of very dubious legality too.
I intend to return to the point that my right hon. and learned Friend is making in my subsequent remarks. However, does he agree that over the last 1,000 years, the House has had only two such votes before action has been taken? The first such vote was over Iraq, which I think we are all agreed was a disaster, so a vote in the House of Commons does not necessarily lead to a worthwhile war. The second was this time last year over Syria. All the other wars—the Falklands, the Gulf, the first world war and the second world war—were conducted by the Prime Minister and the Government without approval of the House of Commons.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend—and I am sure the research behind his point will be checked—but I really think that in 2014, in the circumstances of today, to assert that the Executive has the unfettered right to take part in military action without getting the approval of the House is simply indefensible. I would personally be outraged by it.
I hope that on this occasion, too, we could reach such a political consensus in the House of Commons and across the country and that our debates about the use of armed force would lead to no significant division. That would be an ideal outcome, but I think that a controversial use of military force in yet another attempt to intervene in the Arab spring—whether it be this time with Shi’ite allies, this time with Sunni allies or this time with whatever outrageous group has emerged—requires a vote.
In principle, I am all in favour of using military force when it is unavoidable and in the vital national interest. I agree that ISIL is one of the most barbaric and outrageous organisations that has emerged on this planet for some considerable time, so I have no moral scruple whatever about the proper use of military force against them. I would like to see them degraded and destroyed. However, when the House votes and debates this sort of action on whatever occasion, experience shows that we must now have a much clearer idea of our objective. Our objective is not only to protect our security; it involves consideration of what will contribute to the restoration of stability and normality across the region. It means consideration of what will command the support of sane Muslims, sane Shi’a and sane Sunni; what will get sufficient support from the regional powers, as well as from the western powers; what kind of order we are trying to put in place. I hope that that does not get narrowed down to consideration of whether or not we should join the Americans in air strikes on particular installations before or after the mid-term elections in the United States.
John Kerry is engaged in a vital mission which goes to the heart of what I have just said. He is trying to put together a regional alliance. In that regard—I agree with those who have hinted at this—we have to rethink where we are starting from. A regional alliance must include some people with whom we have been enemies, and with whom we have very serious issues on other fronts, because the widest possible support is required.
The key players, obviously, are Iran and Saudi Arabia. They are the two great powers of the region. Many of the troubles have actually been caused by people acting as proxies for the interests of those two states. They have far more influence on the ground, and on events, than we in the west are likely to have. They know far more about what is going on. I have been a member of the National Security Council for the last two years, and I know the limits of our actual knowledge of events on the ground in this region. I know that we are constantly surprised by the latest utterly extraordinary and unpredictable turn of events that sweeps over what we have done. With Iran go Assad and Hezbollah, which is a close ally. The Shi’ite militias in Iraq, which we call the Iraqi Government, are also very influenced by the Iranians..
We just have to accept—without in any way resiling from our criticism about getting involved—that the Saudi Arabians really must deal with the Qatari problem of the people whom they support, and also—as my right hon. Friend Sir Nicholas Soames said a moment ago—make absolutely clear that they are not supporting, in any way, fringe groups which, in the long term, are as much of a danger to Saudi and Gulf interests as they are to our own.
Turkey is a vital player. It is still the nearest that we have to a moderate Islamic Government. It has huge direct interests; it is threatened; and it is essential to have at least its complicity in what we do, and, I would hope, its support as well. Egypt is also a vital player. It has recovered from the outrageous threats of the Arab dawn by restoring political dictatorship, but it is nevertheless a key player. Russia must be kept onside, because it is also of influence.
I am not sure that the states of Iraq and Syria will ever exist again as we know them, but I do think that we need a political strategy in order to ensure that some kind of long-term stability will replace the anarchy that we have helped to create so far.
Order. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has used up his time.
I agree with the Government that it would be a folly for western powers such as Britain to barge in, cowboy-like, and lead the fight against ISIL; but we do have unique military, surveillance and intelligence capabilities which those on the front line do not have, and which should be deployed if—and only if—they request it. That has been the case in northern Iraq with the request from the Iraqi Government, the Kurds and the minorities which risk extermination by ISIL, and—very significantly, if covertly —from Iran. The fact that Iran has given its de facto blessing to US air strikes is of seismic importance. It opens up an opportunity for future engagement and collaboration which could be transformative for the whole region, including, possibly, Israel-Palestine. We also agree on the need to help local Iraqi and Kurdish forces to defeat ISIL by air strikes, supplying military equipment and other military and intelligence support, which has clearly been the only force capable of stemming ISIL’s remorseless and ruthless advance.
That brings us to the elephant in the room: Syria. ISIL will not be defeated if it is constantly allowed to regroup there, because it is from its Syrian bases that it has launched into Iraq. It must be confronted and defeated in Syria too, and, like it or not, that means engagement with the Syrian regime. No one disagrees that Assad is a barbarous, blood-soaked dictator; but he heads the Syrian Government, and he is backed by approximately 40% of the population. Surely, by now at least, the United Kingdom Government and the United States must acknowledge that he is not going to be defeated—not because the Prime Minister was prevented by this House from getting his way with air strikes and, before that, with arming Assad’s opponents, and not because the House said no to pulling Britain into the quagmire of the Syrian civil war, trapped between Sunni and Shi’a, between ISIL and Assad, between Saudis and Iranians in their proxy conflict. Contrary to the line peddled, regrettably, by the Foreign Secretary today, there is no prospect of achieving a transition in Syria without negotiating with Assad and his regime, especially with Russia standing behind it. Our failure to understand that is a major reason why the civil war has been so prolonged, and why ISIL has been allowed to flourish.
What kind of morality is it that says that if a bully is a successful bully, we should want to be friends with him, and completely stand on its head the policy of trying to get rid of him?
It is not about befriending Assad; it is about the reality of moving forward. If we do not recognise the reality, we will not move forward, but will continue to shout and scream and oppose to no effect at all.
The right hon. Gentleman seems to be arguing that Bashar al-Assad’s main incentive for working with us is the fact that we are worried about terrorism on his eastern frontier. Why would he co-operate rather than leaving those terrorists there, given that they now provide the main underpinning legitimacy of his regime? Why would he work with us on this, sincerely?
Let me come to that, and explain.
The Prime Minister has described President Assad as “illegitimate”, implying that Britain and the United States could act in Syria with impunity. Surely that position is legally questionable, given that Assad won recent—admittedly highly manipulated— elections, and given that the divided rebel factions do not constitute an alternative Government. Russia, Assad’s ally, would be likely to veto any attempt to gain United Nations authority for air strikes, and Assad can deploy sophisticated Russian-made air defence systems and fighter planes. His air capacity may have been degraded, especially over the parts of Syria that he no longer controls, but it is still formidable. I simply do not see how we could mount air strikes—as I believe we must in Syria if we are to degrade and help to defeat ISIL—without engaging with the regime in some way. That does not mean befriending Assad, and it does not mean legitimising his regime in any way. It could mean back-channel contact. But whatever the means, a way must be found to clear the path for air strikes. We should also have to engage with Iran, and with Russia—which, again, will be difficult, especially given Putin’s behaviour in Ukraine, but which is, in my view, essential.
The Government know full well that I have been a consistent critic of its Syria policy. I have described it as ill-conceived and ultimately counter-productive, as, indeed, I believe events have proved it to be. However, we do not have to agree on that to find common ground over the urgent need for us to act in order to tackle the barbarous mediaeval threat of ISIL, and to act now.
As for Ukraine, I think that Europe’s and NATO’s further push right up to Russia’s front door is ill-advised. Western political bluster, military bombast and tit-for-tat sanctions will not resolve the problem. Why not instead press for a negotiated agreement, however difficult? Under such an agreement, Ukraine would be militarily neutral, which would mean no membership of NATO, and certainly no Russian military pact. Ukraine’s status would be comparable to that of Finland, but, obviously, without membership of the European Union. It would be guaranteed by Moscow and Washington. There would be no further NATO encirclement or enlargement around Russia’s borders, in return for no illegal or aggressive moves by Russia in Ukraine, Moldova or any of its other neighbours. I think that that should be part of a geopolitical deal with the European Union too, in which it, like NATO, would recognise limits to its eastward expansion. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] I am now being cheered by the Eurosceptics whom I continually oppose, as a pro-European, but I still believe that that is the right policy.
Europe’s March 2014 agreement with Ukraine should be revisited, to offer a reciprocal agreement between Russia and Ukraine with guarantees for Moscow on both trade and political co-operation. Trade and co-operation agreements with those countries—including Ukraine—is desirable, but not full European Union membership. I believe that such a strategy offers a far more promising route to ending the current mutually damaging conflict that has engulfed Ukraine; but, again, it does not mean treating Putin as a buddy. It does not mean endorsing his nakedly manipulative aggression, his authoritarianism or his shameful human rights record. It simply means acknowledging that Russia’s backyard matters greatly to it, just as ours does to us. Then we might be able to build stability and peace in that region.
As will be apparent, I have big areas of agreement with the Government’s approach but big areas of disagreement as well, especially on Syria and the whole approach to the middle east region, and also in terms of Russia and Ukraine. I do hope the Government will think again about these matters. I think there is a prospect of moving forward in both areas. It is going to be very difficult, and there will be all sorts of setbacks, but I am confident—I am absolutely certain—that pursuing the policy we are currently pursuing will bring no practical and positive results at all.
Order. The House will be only too well aware of the high demand for time to speak and the low supply of time available. I must therefore reduce the limit on Back-Bench speeches to six minutes.
We gather here today on the eve of a vote in Scotland that could tear the United Kingdom apart after 300 years together, and the question for us—whether in Scotland or in foreign policy—is: are we proud of ourselves? Are we serious?
We look around the world, from Kabul to Tripoli, from Damascus to Baghdad to Kiev, and we see the wreck of international foreign policy over the last 20 years. So lamentable is that wreck that it is hardly worth holding the House’s attention to list the fiascos that we see today. The Afghan economy has gone into a 40% contraction since January this year, and the two Presidents are in a stand-off on the basis of ethnic divisions, and it has not even been raised seriously in this House. In Tripoli, the Misrata militia have been dabbling their toes in the American embassy swimming pool three years after our intervention. In Iraq, following a surge on which the US Government spent $420 billion and deployed over 100,000 troops a year, we are now confronted with the re-emergence of something even worse than General Petraeus confronted in 2007. And people have spoken much more eloquently than myself about the fiasco we currently face in Ukraine.
So lamentable is this problem that we should not do what it would be tempting to do, which is to learn the lessons of this and talk about our mistakes, look at the limits of our knowledge, our power and our legitimacy, and confront the fact that we are not good enough in this country at seeing what we cannot do, what we do not know and what, frankly, people do not want us to do. So lamentable is the situation that instead of emphasising humility, we in fact need to rediscover our confidence and our energy. A time has come, in fact, to rebuild, and rebuilding the seriousness of this country means acknowledging failure and regaining public trust by showing people that we have learned the lessons of where we went wrong, and then investing in our institutions.
My right hon. and learned Friend Mr Clarke pointed out that on the National Security Council it is quite difficult to know what is happening in the world, and that is not very surprising because, despite our grand protestations about how we are going to remodel the world from Mali to central Africa, in fact our capacity—the number of people in defence intelligence within the Foreign Office—is pathetically poor. The entire extra capacity committed to Syria was a single SMS1 officer, a D7 and a D6. When the crisis broke out in Russia and Ukraine, we discovered that the United Kingdom had cancelled its Russian analysis section in the defence intelligence service and we had to move the South Caucasus officer over to Crimea. When I and my hon. Friend Nadhim Zahawi turned up in Kurdistan two weeks ago, we discovered a single consul general who did not have the staff or the resources to visit any of the refugee camps or make it to the front line.
We need to get out of a situation in which only three of our 15 ambassadors in the middle east speak Arabic. We need to understand that our Foreign Office has a budget half that of the French Foreign Office and considerably smaller than the amount we commit to the winter fuel allowance. Before any of us go around talking about our brilliant strategy for Ukraine or Iraq, we should begin rebuilding those basic institutions: we should challenge the Government, and challenge the Opposition, to commit immediately more resources towards policy and analysis and understanding of what is going on on the ground, because there are no options for Ministers and there are no scenarios we can discuss in this House unless we understand the situation on the ground.
I support the hon. Gentleman’s point about resourcing the Foreign Office—and the Foreign Secretary may agree on that, too. The budget cuts, which started under the Labour Government, have been remorselessly pursued under the hon. Gentleman’s Government. For a lot of other Whitehall Departments the Foreign Office budget is not even petty cash, but the cuts have been disastrous in their effect on the Foreign Office’s capabilities.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman very much for his intervention. As he knows, this is not simply a question of resources; it is also a question of the priority we put on policy analysis and challenge. It is about the people we promote and the people we hold accountable when they fail, and it is about a seriousness within the institution about getting to grips with these issues.
We all roughly understand what a solution to ISIL in Iraq would look like in theory—a regional solution, which people have talked about, and a political solution on the ground using the Sunni tribes against ISIL—but these are not things that can be resolved here on a whiteboard. They are things that entirely depend on being on the ground. There is the question of exactly what Qatar’s role is in this and how we can shift its position, the question of what we can get from Saudi Arabia, and the question of how we deal with the fact that foreign fighters are coming out of Turkey and oil is going back into Turkey. Those elements of the regional solution are not theory; they are practice. They are the practice of defence attachés and diplomats on the ground working day in, day out. The question of how to use the Sunni tribes against ISIL is, again, no theory; it is about this Sunni tribe or sheikh, that Sunni tribe or sheikh, this weapon, that money, this long-term strategy. The question of what the Iraqi Government are is not about generic statements about legitimacy or inclusiveness; it is about questions such as, “What is the role of Ibrahim Jaafari in this Government, and are any of these Sunnis who are currently standing for the Iraqi Government actually credible?”
The questions in Ukraine are the same kinds of questions. We can create the theoretical framework, but in the end we need some moral principles behind us. What do we make of this man Putin? Such questions can only be answered by looking at our own values. What kind of moral obligation do we feel we have to the Ukrainian people? What kind of obligation do we feel we have to the international order or the international system? How much risk are we prepared to take? How many sacrifices are we really prepared to make to confront Putin over Ukraine?
Unless we rediscover the ability to focus on what we can do and what we ought to do, this foreign policy, which should be a theatre of heroism, will instead be a narrow stage for impotence, self-flattery and oblivion.
It is an honour to follow that distinguished speech by my constituency neighbour the Defence Committee Chair, Rory Stewart. I wholeheartedly endorse his analysis of the need to repair our nation’s capacity to act. In the short time available to me, I shall focus on why I think that is important.
A year on from Parliament rejecting action in Syria, here we are again, wracked with uncertainty and warning ourselves of dire consequences if we intervene or if we sit back, and we have a Prime Minister who has seemed trapped by the fiasco of the chaotic vote last year and his hasty decision to rule out all military action in its aftermath. Some are attempting to rewrite history on that vote, suggesting we were being asked to intervene on the side of the murderous butchers who have now gained a foothold in Iraq. Some, such as Mr Clarke, have made the argument that every time we go in we seem to make it worse, so better to leave well alone, but that is a counsel of despair.
By failing to intervene in Syria when President Assad used chemical weapons against his own people we abandoned the moderate, democratic Syrian opposition who were bravely fighting both the brutal regime and the ISIL insurgency that was, at that time, being covertly bolstered by Assad himself to cloud the thinking of the west and distract his main internal enemy.
I must have expressed myself very badly, given the hon. Gentleman’s parody of what I said. The gravity of the problem is such that we are fully justified in using military force in support of international order and, in particular, of our own interests. What I said was that that would work only when accompanied by a background of well thought-through policy and diplomacy leading to long-term stability. The failure in the past has been to leap into military action first and then find that events have run away from us. It is wrong to suggest that I have suddenly become a pacifist and isolationist. The worry is that, if we are not careful, all our failures will make the public become more isolationist and pacifist.
I offer my humble apologies to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. I think I got carried away by the melody of his words, and I am glad that he has set the record straight for the House.
Leaving the moderates to their fate allowed ISIL to pour into rebel-held areas in north-east Syria and establish a stronger base from which it has been able to spread and grow into the monster that we see today. Perhaps most importantly of all, it sent a message to the extremists that we simply no longer had the will to take a stand. President Obama drew a red line over chemical weapons use, and it was crossed. What happened? Not a great deal.
Let us remind ourselves of what has happened in Syria over the past year. About 10.8 million people now require humanitarian aid and 9 million have been displaced. Also, 3 million refugees have spilled over to the country’s neighbours, overwhelming Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon, and winter is coming. The public are understandably weary of perpetual conflict, but they also rightly demand that we do what is necessary to keep Britain safe. That is necessary if we value our way of life, our personal security and our living standards sustained through trade with other nations. If we value those things, we have no choice but to confront this evil, this perversion of the true faith of Islam.
The only choice will not be whether we intervene, but when and how. The longer we delay, the greater the threat will become and the more we will ultimately have to sacrifice to defeat it. The next 9/11—or worse—will come, and it will happen with us knowing that, had we acted sooner, we could in all likelihood have prevented it. That would be the real betrayal of those who have lost their lives fighting for their country. It would also be an abdication of our responsibility to lead.
Britain should therefore be at the forefront of efforts to engage in an international coalition to prevent ISIL from creating a permanent state intent on jihad against the west. We should be planning not only for the military action that is needed to beat back the immediate threat but for a concerted international effort to create the environment that moderate forces in the region need to bring greater stability to the middle east, and we should be helping them to eliminate the social, economic and political conditions that allow the extremists to thrive. ISIL’s twisted ideology is the greatest threat to global security and to our values since Nazi Germany and, as happened at the time of the rise of the Nazis, we will all ultimately be held to account for what we did, or did not do, to confront the threat when we had the chance.
I shall try to rise to the challenge of fitting as many major international crises into six minutes as other hon. Members have managed to do so well.
In Ukraine, we face a profound crisis on a number of levels. For the people of Ukraine, it is clearly a great humanitarian disaster. For the Ukrainian nation already suffering the annexation of Crimea, there is the continued risk of the loss of territory and the establishment of a Russian puppet state within its borders. The independence of the Ukrainian nation, which is guaranteed by the United Kingdom through the Budapest memorandum, could be rendered meaningless by military and economic intimidation from its more powerful neighbour.
For the free countries of eastern Europe, particularly the Baltic states, this crisis has resurrected old fears of Soviet-style intervention and domination. I welcome the consensus in the House and in the NATO declaration at the weekend on the absolute article 5 commitment to Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia. To draw a really ominous historical parallel without being too melodramatic, we need to communicate that absolute commitment much more clearly than our predecessors did 100 years ago to the central powers. The misunderstanding and underestimation of people’s willingness to react was a major contributor to the July crisis that led to the first world war.
The hon. Gentleman draws our attention to the absolute commitment to article 5 made at the NATO conference at the weekend. He will be aware that article 5 specifies that armed intervention would require a collective response. Does he believe that an asymmetric approach, such as that used by Putin in Ukraine, would commission an article 5 moment?
The hon. Gentleman raises an issue that requires more than five minutes’ discussion, but he underlines the point that I was trying to make. We need to be clear about the definition of our commitment under article 5 and understand what it really means, and we need to communicate that to all the parties involved.
For the people of Russia, there is also a risk. There is a risk of economic decline, of diplomatic confrontation and of a descent at domestic level into a kind of quasi-democratic authoritarianism. I pay tribute to those within the Russian political system who are brave enough to confront Putin and his tendencies. They include members of the Liberal Democrats’ sister party, Yabloko, who are being profoundly brave in challenging Putinism in Russia.
For the international community, the crisis puts at risk 70 years of painstaking building of a rules-based international system. In the 20th century, millions of lives were lost in two world wars, and in the 19th century, countless lives were lost in conflicts between the great powers and as a result of the interplay between people exercising the principle that might was right. We hope that the 21st century will be a century of peace, in which the authority of the United Nations and international law are established and in which nations stand by their international obligations. We can now see, however, that that precious creation is perhaps more fragile than we had realised.
We have heard a compelling speech from the Chair of the Defence Select Committee, Rory Stewart, about the importance of investing in our own institutions. Is my hon. Friend suggesting that we also desperately need to invest in the legitimacy and authority of international institutions such as NATO and the chemical weapons convention, so that we have legitimate frameworks within which to intervene in these situations?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right.
One of the most welcome aspects of the NATO summit was the firm declaration on defence spending, which I hope will reverse the tendency across other NATO countries to reduce defence budgets and encourage all NATO countries to meet the 2% defence spending target. The patience of the American electorate will not be endless with regard to providing an ever-greater share of NATO spending.
I look forward to EU Councils reinforcing our commitment to economic sanctions and to effective action in the face of Russian aggression in Ukraine. It has been difficult for member states to build a consensus on that question, given that some economies are extremely vulnerable to Russian retaliation, but we need the European Union to be as robust in its response as NATO has been at the weekend.
We are seeing a profound crisis across the Muslim world—an “arc of instability”, as the Foreign Secretary has described it. Only four years ago, many of us were thrilled by the Arab awakening, which seemed to emulate the gradual revolutions of eastern Europe, the Caucasus, Latin America and Africa, all of which have suffered reverses as well. Those movements all demonstrated that a commitment to human rights and democracy was a universal characteristic of people in the modern world. These are not western values; they are human values that we should champion in all parts of the world.
Democrats in many of those Arab awakening revolutions confronted very traditional, authoritarian dictators and, in doing so, they found some convenient but perhaps uncomfortable allies, in various shades of political Islamism. In Egypt, the Islamists in the relatively more moderate Muslim Brotherhood rose to elected power, but, unfortunately, the incompetent Morsi Government inspired almost a counter-revolution and we are now back in an authoritarian situation. In Syria, as we know, the murderous Assad regime reacted to the Arab awakening with uncompromising brutality of a kind that we probably could not have imagined was possible, so the Islamists were alongside democrats in confronting that regime. I am sorry to say that the Islamists have got more and more extreme, and they have gathered more and more resources and financial and military support from elsewhere. We have allowed our fears of repeating the mistakes of Iraq, of body bags and of improvised explosive devices, and our understandable weariness of war, to result in our failing the democratic opposition in Syria in many respects; the Islamists have gained the upper hand.
That situation should never, however, lead us to believe that those moderate democratic Arabs do not exist—that the democratic opposition is non-existent. Our inaction has had consequences for them, and it has led this country to have a policy across the Arab world that has at times looked very inconsistent, fragmented and reactive. We need a strategy, and it should be to stop looking for perfection and start to identify those moderate Arab democrats across the region who share a basic commitment to pluralism, democracy and peaceful change. That includes the democratically elected Governments of Turkey, Lebanon, Kurdistan—I am talking not just about Arabs of course, but about those within the region—and, we hope, those of Iraq and Libya, if its Government can be sustained. It also includes democratic leaders such as Mahmoud Abbas in Palestine. The inconsistency of British policy there is also very obvious, and Palestinian statehood and a re-examination of the association agreement with Israel have to be part of delivering dividends for a progressive democratic Arab leader in that part of the region, too.
It is beautiful to follow Martin Horwood, because he calls for a strategy and then delivers a list of tactical responses which do not amount to a strategy.
Tonight’s debate is not just about Ukraine and the middle east, because, as we can see from the Order Paper, it is about a number of reports by the Defence Committee. We on that Committee were looking ahead to the strategic review in 2015 and produced a number of papers that should guide what a proper security and defence review should look like. One report was entitled “Intervention: Why, When and How?” and in the context of today’s debate it may be useful to remind the House of the conclusions we drew. The report states:
“As a starting point the Government must articulate a realistic vision of the UK’s place in the world, its level of strategic influence and the way the world is changing as well as the identification and prioritisation of the risks to it. The next Defence and Security Review should then translate this vision into defence planning assumptions and the development of the appropriate force structure. This would assist more strategic decisions on why, when and how to intervene.”
It is right to say that in the current world we cannot have the perfect plan. As the great strategist Mike Tyson put it, “You have a plan and then someone punches you in the face.” We can respond to being punched in the face in a way that is strategic only if we have some framework within which we operate. That framework has to be a clear definition of what we think our national interests are. We then need a plan that it is possible to put into action. It is no good having a list of aspirations if they do not give us any means of acting. We then require the disciplined community to put the actions into effect, which also requires an assessment of our capacity. .
The problems caused by an absence of a proper strategy have been shown in many ways in today’s debate. We talk about air strikes, but bombing is not a strategy. Why are we even considering those air strikes? We debated no-fly zones over and air strikes on Libya, and the error we made was in thinking that removing Gaddafi meant “job done”. Instead, it should have been the first step for further strategic implementation of a long-term plan. We talk about NATO as if it was not a membership organisation but an alternative body to which we defer. We are NATO! May I also remind the House that the big mistake we make is that we regard this country as the second most important member of NATO? The UK is not, because the second most important member, after the United States, is Turkey. Let us consider what the world looks like from the point of view of Turkey. It has the Black sea on one side, Syria on the other. Turkey is the country of the fall-out of the Ottoman empire and the Sykes-Picot agreement. That is all now coming back to haunt Turkey and those around it. Let us be clear that NATO makes decisions and that we are part of the decision making.
Let us also be clear that the problems we face in the eastern Mediterranean at the moment relate to whether the Sykes-Picot agreement is falling apart. If it is, what do we do about it? In 1916, Britain was the guardian of that agreement, whereas after world war two the United States was. From what we can see, the United States is now no longer willing or able to be that guardian, so that role must be played through a restoration of functioning nation states within that area which can deliver things. Some of the states there are functioning: Iran, Israel, Turkey and, for the moment, Jordan. It is crucial that we continue supporting Jordan. The question is how do we support the countries in between to become functioning nation states? If we end up with the creation of a caliphate and that is the solution, we will be haunted for centuries to come.
This process requires not only military weapons, but weapons of the mind. Bombing is an element of defeating people militarily, but in the long term this is a battle for the minds and hearts of a generation. We can win that battle only if we have a strategy that involves our own values. If we cannot define where we want to go, we will be incapable of ever knowing whether we have arrived. If we just make a little list of things to do, we are just like a fifth-former with a shopping list, so we should clearly explain why we are doing things. Let me give one example. A week ago, it was, apparently, not in Britain’s national interest to arm the Kurds, and many Labour Members thought that was wrong, but yesterday we are told that we are now doing so. The Government must learn to explain their actions within the framework of Britain’s national interest to this House so that we can give informed consent.
I hope that the Minister will tell us what we think about the illegal annexation of Crimea, because we have fallen very quiet on that. The former Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend Mr Straw, said that it was a fait accompli. It may be that, but I would be deeply saddened if that was the Government’s starting position.
A number of things about ISIS are clear: it is well funded; it is very well organised; and it has a comprehensive, complex and sophisticated communications strategy. None of those things happened overnight, and it is legitimate for us to ask why we did not pick up on some of those trends earlier. Did we know about ISIS? Were we aware that ISIS is, in the Prime Minister’s words, the greatest threat to us in a generation? If we were aware, why did we not act sooner? If we did not know, we need to ask questions of our intelligence and diplomatic services, but they are questions for another time.
We also know clearly the sort of threats that ISIS poses. We have seen the humanitarian threat to those unfortunate enough to fall within the territory it controls and the barbaric ways in which people have been treated. We are clear about the threat of destabilisation to the region and the fact that ISIS potentially threatens an all-out religious war in one of the world’s most unstable regions. We are also aware that it could become the university of jihad if it is allowed to establish a caliphate, and that will be exported to countries such as the United Kingdom. It is also clear that we in the west must accept the failures in our foreign policy, not least with Iraq where we have indulged and over-tolerated the Maliki Government when it was clear that they were failing in their promise and their duty to establish a Government of national unity.
The question is what do we do to deal with ISIS in the immediate future and then in the longer term. As has been said, we need to deal with it financially. It is difficult to stop oil being sold on the black market, but we must try and try harder with our allies who might be able to exert some leverage. We need to stop the flow of finances through the international banking system and ensure that ransoms are not paid. Paying a ransom is financing jihad, and we must not do that no matter how difficult that is. We must stop the double dealing of some of the countries and groups in the region that are making it extremely difficult for ourselves and our allies to bring this matter to a successful conclusion.
Then there is the question of whether we should involve ourselves in military action. As I and many others have said before, there are a number of questions that we need to answer before we can get involved in military action: what does a good outcome look like; are we able to engineer a good outcome; do we have to be part of such engineering; and how much future liability do we want to hold as a consequence?
What is clear is that our allies in the region simply do not have all the military capabilities they require to deal with ISIS on the ground. They do not have the ability to make the strategic air attacks that will deal with command and control and the ISIS supply lines. If it comes to a ground counter-offensive, they will require close air support. There is no point in us trying to will the outcome without being prepared to will the means. I was very impressed, as I always am, by Ms Stuart who, like my hon. Friend Rory Stewart, spoke about a battle of ideas. We must understand that this battle, like all battles, is one of ideology, and we must be careful about the western liberal tendency to allow wishful thinking to overtake critical analysis.
We need to understand one thing, which is that there are people out there who hate us. They do that not because of what we do or where we intervene but because of who we are and what we stand for—our values, our system of Government and our belief in basic rights.
I hope that my hon. Friend feels better.
All conflicts are battles of ideology. That is particularly true of those who return from the region having been involved in jihad in support of ISIS. When the Home Secretary winds up the debate, I hope she will make it clear that in this country we have no place for the concept that someone can take a sabbatical from civilisation and then apologise and come back as though nothing has happened. There has to be a price for those who take up arms against their own country by proxy.
My hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border made an interesting point about resourcing our security services. It is worth mentioning that we spend on GCHQ, the security services and Secret Intelligence Service in a year what we spend every six days on the national health service. As a country, we must think about our priorities and just how high up that level of priority the security of our people is. Supposedly, that is the first duty of Government.
I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend. Does he agree that the tragedy of that is that those services are some of the most important to this country and feature so very largely in some of our most important relationships?
I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend. Sometimes it is tempting for Governments to spend on things that we can see rather than on things that we cannot see, but those things may not be of equal importance when it comes to the well-being of our country.
Does the right hon. Gentleman also accept that the welcome decision by both parties to have a larger aid programme cannot be a substitute for money spent on the more difficult areas of intelligence and diplomacy? As our aid programme increases so too must our diplomatic programme.
I would go further and say that our national security and the need for hard power in a hard world should, in a time of financial constraints, take precedence over our aid programme.
I was involved in an interesting discussion at a meeting in Paris. I asked why it was that during the cold war we were willing to use the term “better” when it came to our values. For example, we would say that democracy was better than totalitarian rule, free markets were better than command economies and freedom was better than oppression. But when it comes to debates about Islamic fundamentalism, we are not willing to use the word “better”. I believe that religious tolerance is better than enforced orthodoxy, and that equal rights for women are better than women being second-class citizens. When I raised that point, I was told, “Well, nowadays, we can’t really say ‘better’. Things are just different.” If we believe that our values are different and not better, why should we believe, let alone convince anyone else, that they should follow what we have? We in the west are what we are not by accident but because of the value path that we have chosen to take. All the battles that we will face are to do with ideology, belief and values. It is not the capability of the west—of this country or the United States—that has been called into question; it is our will to enforce what we believe by peaceful means or others. If we are not willing to stand up for our values as a country, we will not only fail to shape the era of globalisation but diminish ourselves in the longer term.
In addition to being a member of the Defence Committee under the chairmanship of Rory Stewart, I also chair the Causeway Institute, a small non-governmental body in Northern Ireland, which is involved in peace building in the region.
I welcome the opportunity to have this debate and support the broad thrust of the Government’s approach on these issues. In Ukraine and in eastern Europe generally, it is important that we stand alongside our friends and that we recognise what Russia is trying to do. We are talking about not just Crimea and eastern Ukraine, but what Russia has been doing for some time in places such as Transnistria, Moldova, South Ossetia and Abkhazia in Georgia. There is a deliberate strategy to foment conflict and then for those conflicts to be frozen in a way that creates instability and gives the Russians influence in those regions.
The role of Poland is important. I was there just last weekend, and heard how concerned it is about what is happening in Ukraine. It is vital that we stand alongside countries such as Poland and the Baltic states. We need to reassure them that we will not countenance any situation in which they may face attack or incursion on to their territory.
We have mentioned the role of the European Union, but I have heard nothing about the role of the Council of Europe, which embraces most of eastern Europe and has a role to play in opening up dialogue on the long-term issues. Russia is a member of it. I wish to hear more about the Council of Europe—our place in it and its role in the difficulties that exist in eastern Europe—because it is tasked with the responsibility of promoting human rights and respect for the rule of law, and building democracy, and those are precisely the kind of issues that are at stake in relation to the situation in Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia.
Whether in Ukraine and eastern Europe or the middle east, there is a recurring theme of religious intolerance and the persecution of religious minorities. We saw that not only in Ukraine, but especially in the middle east—the Christian minority has been targeted Syria, Iraq, Libya and other countries in the region. The religious persecution of the Yazidi minority in northern Iraq had devastating consequences.
We want the UK Government to take a robust position against ISIS and Islamic extremism, and we are prepared to support military action where that is required. We hope the Government will consult the House as the need arises.
It is right to support the Iraqi army and the Kurdish peshmerga forces. I welcome the Government’s important decision to provide heavy armaments to them, but the point was made about Turkey. We need to reassure Turkey that, in arming the peshmerga, there are not longer-term consequences for the situation between Turkey and the Kurds. It is a complex situation and we realise that the decisions that need to be made are difficult and challenging.
Rory Stewart made an excellent speech and some valid points. Democratic Unionist party Members endorse the view that there is a need to ensure that the Foreign Office and the security services, our eyes and ears throughout the world, are properly resourced. Like many hon. Members, I have seen the valuable work that our diplomats and security services undertake in foreign places. That work is vital to our national security, and properly resourcing it is important.
Countering the narrative of the extremists is also important. One difficulty is the lack of consensus among western nations and others on how we should do that and on what the counter-narrative should be. Our narrative is about religious tolerance and respect for human rights, but we need to find a way to communicate it, especially to young people in those countries through social media and so on. We should support locally based organisations that work to counter the extremists’ narrative, such as the Arab Network for Tolerance, a small, modest organisation that seeks to promote respect for human rights, religious tolerance and so on in Arab countries. It is important that we do our bit to ensure that such organisations have support from the UK.
Yes, the use of hard power is necessary at times, but support for what we do on a soft-power level is critical. We need to counter the narrative and explain our role in the world. How can we be involved with our allies in championing the cause of human rights and respect for religious freedom, and in promoting tolerance? The UK has a leadership role to play in that, whether in eastern Europe or the middle east. We will continue to support the efforts of the Foreign Office, the Ministry of Defence and others in taking the battle against the extremists forward.
We should talk more and bomb less. I say that as someone who wants us to have strong defences. I want our country to play a leading role in the world and to be available, with the UN and allies, or if necessary on our own, to reinforce our values. I accept that there are occasions when we have to fight a just war. We were right to liberate Kuwait with our allies, and we were right to liberate the Falklands, but we need to ask ourselves some hard questions about some of the military interventions we have made under Governments of both parties in recent years.
I am glad that the Government accept that we can go to war only if the House approves such action, which I think has always been the case, and I am glad that they recognise that that is the most serious thing we can do. We have the power, collectively, to authorise our troops to go to kill other people in a foreign country. That is a very serious thing to do, and it should be done only after full debate and, if necessary, on a vote of the House to show that it has at least majority approval—it is even better when there is consensus.
To guide the Government, whether we are approaching such a position again or not, they should ask themselves these questions. First, are they sure that diplomacy and politics have broken down completely and that there is no further scope for diplomacy and politics to carry the problem forward and try to make it better? War is not a good answer. It is what happens when politics and diplomacy fail.
Secondly, after we win a war—even if we have had a great victory, as the allies had in 1918—we need to go back to politics and diplomacy and get it right. Otherwise, we might find that we have created a worse monster that requires yet more conflict, as we are in danger of proving in the middle east. The west has the power to get rid of a regime it does not like, but it does not necessarily have the power to support and create a democratic regime in its place that has the acceptance of enough people in the country to keep it together and make it a better place. It is not a win if we get rid of a nasty dictator and replace them with warring bands who kill even more people.
We need to get the Government to ask whether diplomacy has failed and whether the situation is one in which the use of force, if successful, is likely to make the situation better. If we are going to use force, can we please have a diplomatic and political strategy for the aftermath of successful military engagement? We need to know what military success looks like, but more importantly, we need to know how military success leads to a happier country, democratic values, tolerance and toleration, and all the things we believe in. When we inject more weapons and fighting into a situation, we normally make people not more tolerant, but more intolerant. We make them not happier, but more resentful.
We also do enormous damage to their economy, so there are fewer ways for the people who believe in peace and our values to earn an honest living, carry on a normal life and create the kind of society we would like to live in.
If the previous two questions have been answered in the right way—if diplomacy cannot work, and if force might make things better—the third question our Government should ask before using force is this: do we have the force necessary to do the task? We must not send our forces into battle if there is a danger or a serious risk that they cannot win. We do not have that luxury when we are defending our country, but when we are deciding whether to intervene somewhere else, we have the luxury of asking whether we can win, or whether we can win with the right allies. We should want the odds to be very heavily tipped in favour of success if we are interfering in somebody else’s country.
There are common characteristics to the current conflicts and civil wars. Ukraine, Libya, Syria and Iraq all have the same basic problem: fledgling or difficult democracies do not command the support of all the people in the country. Many people believe that their state does not have the right borders. Many people believe that their current Government, be it a tyrant or an allegedly democratic Government, do not speak for all the people or protect the minorities. Many people inside Ukraine, Iraq or Libya do not believe that there is a solution for them inside their countries as they are currently constituted.
Surely, as the mother of Parliaments, with our democracy and our knowledge that one proceeds by debates, argument and votes, not bullets and bombs, we need to put a lot more effort into talking those people through how democracy works and into trying to work with them to see whether it is possible to get consent from enough people to these arbitrary borders, which were probably drawn on the map by us 100 years ago under very different circumstances, or whether they need to have ballots, as Scotland currently is, to see whether they want to remain in these countries. I am not going to presume and I do not have the time to redraw lines on maps, as that must come from the politicians in those localities, but the tools to solve these problems are arguments, discussions, debates, pamphlets, the internet and votes—what we believe in—not bombs and bullets. We should be very careful before we either supply them with more bombs and bullets or go in thinking that we know the right people to kill.
I spent seven years as special envoy on human rights in Iraq, so I visited the country on many occasions and would like to welcome the new Government, who have a very difficult task. They still have to deal with long-standing problems such as the sharing of oil revenues, disputed territory and arguments over decentralisation as well as much needed reform of the armed forces. As one commentator argues, those who hope that a new Government in Iraq will transform the state’s ability to take on ISIS should not hold their breath.
One commentator who frequently appears before the Foreign Affairs Committee, of which I am a member, is Jane Kinninmont of Chatham House. She points out that our long history of involvement in that country is not a happy one:
“pinning all the blame on Maliki conveniently absolves the US and UK of responsibility for helping to create a political system where violence and sectarianism are the usual mechanisms for staying in power. Over the past 30 years, the west first supported and armed a genocidal dictator, then crippled the country with sanctions that failed to remove him, then invaded the country and dismantled the state and army. After 2003, the US and UK helped design a system of sectarian ‘power-sharing’ where ‘power-sharing’ means carving up government ministries—made extremely lucrative by raging corruption—between a tiny elite drawn from each ethnicity and sect.”
Given that the full-scale invasion and occupation for several years from 2003 onwards struggled to pacify Iraq, air strikes alone are not likely to succeed. After all, ISIS controls large amounts of territory, population and natural resources and is consequently far better funded than the Sunni resistance that so troubled US forces after the 2003 invasion. What is more, air strikes are likely to result in civilian casualties as ISIS forces hide among the civilian population. That is conceivably its aim: to provoke the west into military action that hurts Muslim civilians, thus supporting its narrative of the west’s war on Islam.
The speed and scale of the crisis mean that Iraq is now coping with one of the largest internally displaced populations in the world. Before the current crisis, there were already thousands of refugees in Iraq, including more than 200,000 Syrians who had fled the civil war in their country. The national Government and the Kurdistan Regional Government, in an area where many refugees and IDPs are located, have been overwhelmed by the scale of the need. Iraqi non-governmental organisations have also been struggling to cope with a massive increase in the number of people needing their assistance.
Following the fighting and deliberate targeting of civilians, particularly minorities, and the widespread violence and atrocities against men, women and children, protection remains a key concern. Many survivors of the violence have lost everything and are deeply traumatised. Although it is the Government’s responsibility to protect citizens from harm, NGOs and other humanitarian actors work to ensure that the most vulnerable are taken care of and have access to services. As well as the need for food, water, sanitation and health care, the need for shelter is paramount. At present, more than 30% of the displaced people are living with host communities or in schools or religious buildings. Only 4% are in camp settings. The most at-risk groups are minority populations with few or no established links with the host communities as well as those living in abandoned buildings, in overcrowded conditions or in the open. The approaching winter in the north is a particular concern as people will face harsh conditions.
In a very good report from Amnesty International, people who are on the ground at the moment described the terrible living conditions:
“While we are there, a truck arrives and hands out…mattresses, but there are not enough to go around. A group of children fight over the last mattress; it ends in tears for those who will spend another night on hard ground. Many of the children have no shoes and the adults ask us to take photos of the swollen, broken, hard skin on their feet, to show the world what they are experiencing.”
I believe that we have a moral responsibility to act quickly to support the communities who have been displaced. That is critical at this time. We cannot expect the Kurds to do that job on their own.
There is one thing on which every single speaker in this debate and everyone who is watching it from outside will agree—at this moment we live in an extraordinarily dangerous, difficult and complex world, a world we do not understand and in which all our livelihoods, interests and ways of life are under threat. I pay absolute tribute to the very heavyweight, well informed and passionate speeches that we have heard so far, typified by Ann Clwyd, who has great knowledge of Iraq.
I pay particular tribute to my hon. Friend Rory Stewart. I stood against him for the post of Chairman of the Defence Committee, and this is my first opportunity to say that I am very glad he won. He is doing an extremely good job of it and I congratulate him on that.
I hope that I will not reduce the high quality of the debate if I do not focus on Ukraine, Syria or the rest of the difficulties mentioned in the topic of this debate as much as on two procedural points. I hope they will not be unduly dry for the House, but there are many others better qualified than I to speak on the substantive matters that we are debating.
First, I very much welcome the fact that we have this full day’s substantive debate. That would not be the case if it had not been announced by the Prime Minister during PMQs last week and that is quite wrong. We usually have to compete with Backbench Business Committee debates on very worthy and worthwhile things such as animals in circuses. We used to have full, substantive debates in this House on foreign affairs and on defence, and I very much hope that we can find a way of returning to those days. At times like this, we ought to be certain that we can have full debates on these matters.
The second procedural matter I want to raise involves me in what might be described as a putative declaration of interests. Later this afternoon I will be launching a book that I have written entitled, “Who Takes Britain to War?” I have not earned a single penny from it so far. Indeed, most of my friends probably reckon that I will not earn very many pennies from it in future either, and may never have to declare it. None the less, it is pertinent to the remarks that I intend to make.
It is very easy to say that we should have a vote in this House before we deploy soldiers. Of course, that is an easy and a populist thing to say—most people would agree with it. In the past 500 years, we have taken part in umpteen wars. There is only one year since the second world war when a British soldier has not been killed on active service—1968. In every other year we have lost a British soldier on active service. We have taken part in dozens of wars over the years, but on only two occasions have there been substantive votes prior to the deployment of troops. The first was in 2003, when Mr Blair took us to war in Iraq; there were three votes on that occasion. I suspect that not a single person listening to this debate believes that that was the right thing to have done. The second vote was this time last year, on Syria. It may well have had the right outcome, but frankly it was something of a procedural shambles, and I am not certain that we would necessarily want the same thing to occur in future.
My view, and the view I advance in the book, is that there are substantial difficulties in calling for a vote in the way that is very easily done. First, Back Benchers have to be alerted to often secret intelligence, the strategic position and the tactical position on the ground. The Government’s legal advice has to be shared with people like me. We have to rise above vulgar considerations such as votes in a forthcoming general election and do what is right for the nation and for the world. I am not certain that politicising warfare in that way is at all the right thing to do.
My co-author, Mark Lomas QC, thinks that it is wrong to have a vote in this House on every single military action. He would like us to preserve the royal prerogative that we have always used for the past 500 years. I think that genie is out of the bottle and we cannot go back to the days when the Prime Minister and the Executive simply did what they wanted to do. None the less, there are substantial difficulties involved in having substantive votes. For example, if we have the new NATO rapid reaction corps that the Prime Minister announced last weekend, it will have two days to go into action, and it will do so under the control of NATO, not of this House. What if this House disagrees with NATO—or the United Nations, for that matter?
I am therefore seeking to advance the thesis that we must find a new way of doing this. The solution I propose is that we write into law the parameters under which we would go to war. The easiest one would be the age-old theory of just war. That lays down the reasons for warfare, about which we could have a huge debate, including the parameters under which we would decide to go to war. It also lays down the way in which we conduct war—the Geneva conventions are based on the theory of just war—and the way in which we conclude wars: what we do after a war has ended and how we treat enemies and those who have been defeated.
Such theories are as old as the hills and as good as they ever have been. If we were to write them into the law of the land in this House, we would allow the Executive and the Prime Minister to take the country to war as they do at present, but they would no longer do so under the royal prerogative; they would do so under what I would like to call the parliamentary prerogative. It is this House that would lay down precisely what the Executive should do in the future. I think that is a much better way of doing it than bogging ourselves down in votes that we might or might not win.
May I first say that I very much enjoyed and agreed with the remarkable speech by Mr Redwood? I seldom agree with him. We were not exactly the best of friends when he was Secretary of State for Wales, but his contribution today was remarkable and I was very pleased to hear it. I also agree with Mr Straw that we need to toughen up our stance on Israel.
I want to concentrate my remarks on Iraq, Syria and the ISIL threat. The middle east is, evidently, in a state of crisis and the need for humanitarian aid is overwhelming. I would be lying, however, if I said that I was happy that the drumbeat of war seems to have started again. I understand that earlier this week the Prime Minister and the American President contacted the leaders of Gulf states in a bid to secure support for military
intervention in both Iraq and Syria. Yes, the circumstances are different, but those of us who were here in 2003 will be feeling especially uncomfortable that the rhetoric is being ratcheted up as we edge ever closer to entering another unwinnable war in the region. Those of us who were against the incursion in 2003 had warned of the dangers of entering into a conflict that would result in a power vacuum in Iraq.
Let us not deceive ourselves: this state of affairs cannot somehow be solved by western military intervention. The situation is, of course, complex and volatile, and will require the decisive involvement of moderate powers in the region, including Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon. In the short term, if the involvement of the international community is to gain support in the region, we will presumably need to engage with states that are considered to be stable, such as Syria, and this House will need to ruminate very carefully indeed on the implications of that.
In recent weeks, the Prime Minister has argued that the old maxim, “My enemy’s enemy is my friend,” will certainly not apply in this situation. As we know, however, the turnover of events is so rapid and the ramifications so critical that the UK may not have the opportunity to stick to that principle. I am by no means advocating such a course of action—indeed, I would evidently hesitate before entering into any conflict in the region—but I think that Members on both sides of the House should be aware of what this could lead to.
Over the weekend, the former US Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger—yes, he of the Contras in Nicaragua—argued that the US should launch an “all-out attack” on ISIL extremists after the killing of its citizens, saying that it was a direct “insult”. Speaking to The Sunday Times, Mr Kissinger said that America had failed to appreciate that countries in the middle east yearned for “leadership” from the US and that the latter somehow has a duty to establish a “new order” in the region. This follows an article he published in The Wall Street Journal at the end of August, in which he wrote:
“The concept of order that has underpinned the modern era is in crisis” due to civil war in Libya, unrest in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, and the resurgence of tensions with Russia.
Henry Kissinger is certainly correct about the notion of order being eroded, but we must not forget that the borders of many states in the middle east have been flashpoints of violence since their very inception. The order he mentions was nothing more than an illusion. That is precisely why we in my party of Plaid Cymru and those in the Scottish National party on whose behalf I am also speaking—we are better together today, by the way—have argued that moderate powers in the middle east should lead any intervention. I fear that any action led by the US and the UK will smack of imperialism, but I do not think that it will come to that.
We of course abhor the brutal and shocking actions that ISIL has undertaken in recent weeks and months, and we are repulsed by the threat to our own communities across the UK from radicalised individuals who return here. We believe that the most effective way to undermine ISIL in its base is to encourage and support elements in their territories who hold contrary views. We recognise the need to arm the Kurdish forces. The Kurds are a minority whose plight we have long supported in times of relative peace, and their right to self-defence is absolute.
In spite of what the Prime Minister has said in recent days, I believe that we need a full debate and a vote, and I am gratified that the Secretary of State said that today. However, I cannot help feeling that we have been here before. We must be aware that ISIL is a successor to al-Qaeda, so another force would be likely to follow in the wake of ISIL being destroyed. Full-blown western intervention is likely to lead to the further radicalisation of another generation of disaffected Muslims in the area and across the world. We should play our part in aiding those who need help, but we must be honest about our previous complicity in bringing about the latest instability. We can assist such states towards finding new cohesion, but if Iraq and Afghanistan have taught us anything it is the assertion that a new order cannot be imposed, but must be nurtured.
Listening to Mr Llwyd has underlined for me that we are in danger of having quite a serious debate in this House for a change. There have been a great many very thoughtful speeches, despite their enforced brevity, which I will seek to match.
My Committee, the Public Administration Committee, produced two reports about strategy early in this Parliament. I may be flattering myself, but strategy—and the word “strategy”—seem by osmosis to have got more into the currency of our thinking.
Before I talk about strategy, let me briefly address the question of the role of the House of Commons in the decision to go to war. It is an interesting debate, and I am intrigued that a former Lord Chancellor, my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Clarke, should describe the royal prerogative as some kind of out-of-date relic given that most of the powers that Ministers continue to exercise—including the power to go to war, whether or not there has been a vote in this House—are in fact royal prerogative powers.
The debate threatens to be sterile, however, because it has never been the case in modern times that any Prime Minister would consider going to war unless they felt that they could command the confidence of the House of Commons, whether they took the decision before or after consulting it. Nothing has changed: whether there should be a debate is not a matter of religious or constitutional doctrine. The responsibility for taking such a decision and for providing leadership on whether to take the country to war and commit our armed forces to military action goes with the seals of office as Prime Minister. The idea that that can be subcontracted to the House of Commons, where all the armchair generals—well, we do not sit in armchairs—and amateur strategists can add their pennyworth and then decide the issue, is a great mistake. We do not want to lose sight of the fact that the Government propose; the House of Commons disposes.
I must remind the hon. Gentleman, who has sat in Committee with me for many hours listening to evidence about this, that strategy is not the same as having a plan. Yes, a plan may be knocked off course by events, but that does not mean that we should relinquish all the means or methods of reformulating the plan. That is what strategic thinking is about, and I shall apply further thought to that in my speech.
Let us face it: if we sweat about whether to take military action and that dominates our entire debate, we are missing the point. I agree with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe on that. Our debate should be about the context in which we are making that decision. The decision should flow out of that context, not be the subject of the debate itself.
The Foreign Secretary demonstrated a laudable strategic perspective after a period of reactive and short-term initiatives, such as the reversal of the policy on Syria after the vote last year, which have left our policy in disarray and, one might even say, paralysis. The period of complete neglect of the Syrian situation has resulted in the ISIS situation that we face. That has not been helped by perhaps the greatest and most silent strategic shock to hit the western world—the almost complete absence of the United States from an active role on the world stage.
The Foreign Secretary still gave us a lot of conflicts. We will consider air strikes in Iraq, but not in Syria, which is the home base of ISIS. We said that we would not provide arms to the Kurds, but now we are. We continue to expect President Assad to stand down, but we will not do anything to make that happen. That has brought about the situation that we are in. The Government’s approach is over-precious about who our friends should be and careless of the consequences of the restraints that that places on our policy. We have to treat President Putin as a pariah, but we might need to use him as an ally to defeat ISIS and stabilise the middle east.
I am listening intently to my hon. Friend’s comments, some of which I agree with. I suggest to him that perhaps caution is the right course of action for the Government. We must not forget that only recently, in the past 10 years or so, we have been to war in the middle east on a false premise and supported the morphing of the Afghanistan mission from defeating al-Qaeda into the much wider and disastrous mission of nation building. Many would also argue that Libya is turning into a basket case. Surely caution is not a bad thing, given our past errors.
Of course we should exercise caution. I have learned my bitter lessons, having been on the Opposition Front Bench during the vote on Iraq. The decision to go to war blinded us to the wider strategic considerations that should have been at the forefront of our minds. We obsessed about the wrong things. Incidentally, the opponents of war obsessed about the wrong things too. They obsessed about legality, instead of effect. We also sleepwalked into Helmand. I did not have responsibilities at that stage, but it was extraordinary that we did so.
The National Security Council needs a template—a doctrine of thinking—in approaching such matters. That is what I want to discuss in the last few minutes that I have. I agree with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe that the greatest immediate threat is not what is happening in Ukraine, the situation in Gaza, Israel and the middle east, however much that preoccupies us, or what is happening in Libya, which is a sideshow, but ISIS. The Prime Minister is right to lay that out as the big threat.
We need a doctrine of counter-insurgency on a global scale. That is not new thinking. There are a few rules that should guide our thinking. We have to secure our home base. The security element of this debate, which has been rather neglected, is the most important thing. How will we protect ourselves from this insurgency? We need to deny the enemy a secure base. I ask Ministers: how can we deny the enemy a secure base if we will not do anything about Syria? We need to starve the enemy of resources. How will we prevent the international money laundering that has been mentioned in this debate? We need to base all activity on the best human intelligence. We cannot plan any sort of campaign if we are guessing or we do not know what is happening on the ground. However, we have cut the resources for that vital part of our capability. We must do our best to remove the underlying political grievances. That is why the middle east peace process is important. It is a tactical consideration in the main strategic objective of containing ISIS.
We need to co-ordinate all actions to a strategic plan, otherwise there will be chaos. We also need to remember that it is, in the end, a battle for hearts and minds and that conflict is about will-power, not physical force. Military action is not necessarily an indication of determination—it can be an indication of despair or weakness. We need to remember that the smallest actions, such as Guantanamo Bay, the development of technology such as mobile phones or apparently innocuous words used in a speech, such as “axis of evil”, can have enormous strategic effects. We need to stay within the law, because if we are trying to defend law it is important that we uphold the law ourselves, and we should use force only as a last resort. I agree with my right hon. Friend Mr Redwood that we have tended to resort to force as an expression of our will-power without applying our will-power to all the other means at our disposal first.
As we debate these issues, it is not clear whether we will face them as a United Kingdom or as a country forced apart, but I very much hope that we will face them as a United Kingdom in the weeks and months to come.
The shadow of the past is long in debates such as this, particularly the House’s decision just over 10 years ago to go to war in Iraq, but also the decision last year not to intervene militarily in Syria. There is no doubt that past decisions that we have taken have angered jihadists, but although we acknowledge that, it is important also to say that it is a fundamental and dangerous misconception to think that the ideology of Islamist extremism stems only from the decision on Iraq or exists only as a response to western foreign policy. That misconception must be dealt with, because for as long as it prevails, we fail to understand the threat that we face and are encouraged to believe that we can somehow opt out of it.
We should not forget that it was two years before the invasion of Iraq that the attack on
There is an imperialist conceit that suggests that foreign policy is divided into a world of adults, such as the United States and the United Kingdom, and other countries or forces, which are children. It is not true, and it absolves others of responsibility for their actions. We live in a world of adults and adults. No one forces anyone to bomb a marketplace or behead an innocent journalist on video. Those actions are the responsibility of those who carry them out, and it is important that we are clear about that.
The issue is not whether we have to respond but how. Withdrawal from the world’s problems has become quite fashionable—“Nothing to do with us,” “All too difficult,” or even, at its worst, “Let them kill one another.” That is not only morally bankrupt but against our own interests, because in an interconnected world we cannot opt out of facing threats. Violent jihadism has already taken innocent lives in this country and indeed this city, and it can do so again in the future.
The Prime Minister is right to define this as a generational struggle, but definition takes us only halfway. We also have to will the means to respond. President Obama will set out his strategy on the response to ISIS later today, and in all likelihood it will include an element of military response. At some point, we will be asked whether we want to join in and support that action. It is good that we debate that and learn the lessons from the past, but we must not be imprisoned by the past. If we are to set out conditions for joining in action, let us do so, but let us not have an ever-lengthening list of conditions that are designed not as a means of reaching a decision, but rather as a means of never having to take one.
The right hon. Gentleman is making a powerful point. With the thinnest of resources in our Foreign Office and intelligence services, and without the aid or contribution of the United States, what lessons might we draw from what happened recently in Mali and the Sahel, where early intervention was able to repel al-Qaeda, which has been the closest to our shores most recently? Does that show that we need a unity of approach, and development, governance and security at the same time and not as choices? Early intervention to repel the threat has delivered a success, and that is noticeable by its omission during today’s debate.
The hon. Gentleman makes a powerful point and, as has been said several times, it would be wrong to draw the lesson that we have been here before and that intervention is always wrong.
Let me return to the issue of values, because too often we debate such things as though they are only a question of military action or not, and we forget to stress what we believe in and why this threat is so important. The values that we are familiar with are no less important because we are familiar with them: Governments elected by the democratic will of the people and where power passes peacefully if the people change their minds in a subsequent election; equality for men and women; freedom of speech; freedom of religion. In this country, people can go to the mosque on Friday, the synagogue on Saturday, church on Sunday, and many can say that they do not want to go to any of those. Those are fundamental freedoms.
The problem is not Islam. Islam is practised peacefully by millions of people in this country and throughout the world, without doing any harm to anyone. The problem is that strand of perverted religion which says that co-existence is impossible. We must stand for co-existence and for the pluralism of a society that says that there is no single truth that everyone has to sign up to and believe. Pointing a gun at people’s heads and saying, “Convert or die” is the absolute antithesis of the pluralism, democracy and equality in which we believe. This is not just about military action; this is about our values. If we retreat from the world and do not take on this fight, we will end up with a diminished, shrunken Britain. That should not be our vision for the future or what we stand for.
This has been an exceptionally good debate and we have covered a lot of ground. I was particularly keen to listen to my hon. Friend Rory Stewart. When he speaks we listen to him with a mixture of shock and awe—if I can use that phrase—and his powerful description of our deficiencies in resources is familiar to any of us who have knocked around that world. He is right. I used to get gasps from any audience I spoke to when I said that the entire budget for the Foreign and Commonwealth office is less than what we spend on the winter fuel heating allowance, including for fairly well-off pensioners. We have got our balances wrong somewhere.
What my right hon. Friend Dr Fox said about values, which was echoed by Mr McFadden, was important, and in this debate we seem to have got back to some clear and definite points about the things in which we believe. The crisis in the middle east and the world that has forced it should not be lost as an opportunity to develop some of the things we have heard, and I hope that those on the Front Benches will take them forward.
Let me start with a little good news and return to the beleaguered Arab spring. I was in Tunisia yesterday and the day before for a conference on investment entitled, “Start-up Democracy”. Little Tunisia is making its way, and what it is doing should not be minimised. Not only has it been through a difficult political negotiation to get to its current position, but a political Islamist party—Ennahda—gave up power, confounding a lot of assumptions about it. There is a long way to go, but the guidance of Sheikh Ghannouchi in putting his country before his party—some in his party wished to proceed in a different direction—demonstrated an important point of principle: democracy is not only about winning; it is about sharing and losing power, and there are too few examples around the world of how that can successfully be done. In that region, Tunisia’s example is important.
We must not lose sight of what caused the Arab spring: economics, corruption, political sclerosis. Those issues remain, and the region has to tackle them, because they lie at the root of other things we have discussed. Let no one think, either, that we walked away after Libya. Nobody walked away. I spoke to our ambassador, Michael Aron, who is currently based in Tunis, having previously been in Tripoli. The UK and others have worked incredibly hard on the institution building—the democracy building that people would have wanted. Just because we were not there with boots on the ground to separate warring militias—I am not sure anyone would really have wanted that—and just because we tried to address the needs of Tripoli and Libya in a different way, please do not accuse us of walking away from Libya. We never did.
The more someone learns about the region—there is an issue about ministerial training; I have read more about the region since leaving office than I ever read while there, because of the necessities of ministerial life—the more they realise how complex and difficult it is. Almost everything screams, “Don’t touch this. Listen to people who know the region better than you.” One of the lessons of the past is that we need to listen more.
The areas in the region will develop differently. Anwar Gargash, the Deputy Foreign Minister of the United Arab Emirates and a great friend of the United Kingdom, said that stability was paramount and that with that came the preservation of a rich and diverse culture, but his was not just a plea for the status quo. He said that rational evolution should be the process. The whole region is changing, and will continue to do so, but it will change differently in different places.
Turning to the crunch issue, I support a policy of containing ISIS, but in the first place it is likely to involve a military response. I would support strikes on ISIS, but some things need to be done quickly. In the argument about who makes the decisions—this place or the Executive—I tend to side with the Executive. The decision has to be explained to the House, and, as my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Clarke said, it needs to be part of a narrative we all understand, but it does not help our allies and those we need to work with if we continually have to stop and take decisions in the House. We need to think things through—my hon. Friend Mr Gray had some ideas about that—but we have to give the Government the opportunity to take things forward.
Our response should not comprise a deal with Assad, as his butchery is too immense—John Woodcock spoke movingly about that. We can do better. I was in touch with the Free Syrian Army spokesman just this afternoon, and he reminded us:
“We are the west’s partners—we share the west’s values and are protecting our children from terrorism just as you want to protect yours. We are paying in blood for the values of freedom, dignity and justice.”
The FSA is already fighting ISIS on the ground, just as the Kurds are. What is the difference between them? Why should they not get some support as well? There is a deal to be done. The extremists threaten Syria—they threaten Assad and his regime—and in return for work our air forces can do against extremists, is there not something to get negotiators back to the table? I am not talking about Assad—he is expendable to both the Russians and the Iranians—but the remnants of the Syrian regime, together with the FSA, could negotiate, provided the incentive is there, and possibly we can provide it.
Finally, the coalition must be led by those in the middle east, not the west. That offers the best prospect for the future.
I want to make three brief points. First, the challenges we face today and the nature of global risk and conflict mean that Britain will achieve security for its citizens only if we seek to influence and engage with the world, not retreat from it. Those fighting for ISIL who want to come back and attack this country, and the tragedy of flight MH17, in which one of my constituents lost his life, show that what happens in other parts of the world can and does affect us here in the UK. We must not and cannot pull up the drawbridge, cut ourselves off from others and hope that the rest of the world leaves us alone, because that approach will never deliver security for people in Britain. Instead, we must use our position and international influence—in NATO, on the UN Security Council and, yes, in the European Union too—to provide greater leadership in the world in addressing the challenges and risks that we face.
Secondly—this point has been made by several hon. Members—although we should always learn lessons from the past, we must not be paralysed by it. Iraq understandably casts a long shadow over this House and the country as a whole, but we must focus on the threats and risks we face today and deal with the world as we find it now, not as we might wish it would be. That means taking head-on the argument, to which my right hon. Friend Mr McFadden referred, that somehow our past actions have caused or created ISIL and other forms of Islamic extremism. That is just false. Dealing with the world as we find it also means being clear that although the consequences of action must be fully and seriously considered, so too must the consequences of inaction.
Thirdly, the scale of the challenge presented by ISIL and the threat that its activities and vile ideology pose to the world and to the values that we all hold dear—and which define who we are as a country and as a people—mean that we must keep our options open as to how we respond. That includes the options of who we work with, as well as what we do. We must have a clear objective and strategy and build strong international support, particularly from those in the region, as the right hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire said. However, we should be clear: ISIL must be defeated, ideologically, financially and militarily. That will be achieved not by hope and good intentions alone, but by carefully considered, hard-headed realism. Sometimes leadership means leading by example. We will not convince our allies to do more against the common threats we face if we refuse or fail to act ourselves.
In conclusion, Britain is at a crossroads, and not just in our foreign policy. One path—attempting to protect ourselves from the changes that are sweeping the world by rejecting them and isolating ourselves from our allies and partners—will lead to a diminished country. The other path understands that we will succeed only if we seek to influence and shape the changes that are taking place around us, including by working with others. In a world that is increasingly interconnected—economically, technically and in terms of security—I believe we should take the second path, because that is the key to our future security and prosperity.
I must begin by apologising for not being present at the outset of the debate; I had a parliamentary obligation outside the House of Commons. However, at least I turned up, which is not something that can be said of Scottish National party Members, who, even as we conduct this debate, are going round Scotland saying that we should have a different and better foreign policy, but have declined the opportunity to come today and to take us, and perhaps the British public in general, into their confidence.
I had the good fortune to hear the speeches of my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Clarke and my hon. Friend Rory Stewart, who has now left us. I recall, as my right hon. and learned Friend will, that he and I went through the No Lobby together when it came to the question of military action against Iraq. Although it was suggested a moment or two ago that legality was perhaps too much in the minds of those who took that course of action, the truth is that unless we are able to persuade the House of Commons that what we are about to do is legal, we will have very little chance of persuading the public outside the House of Commons that what we are proposing to do is in the best interests of the public.
The point was not to criticise any legitimate discussion about legality, although I do not think there was any question about that legality. The problem was that we spent all our time discussing that and talking through the United Nations—it is all that Tony Blair talked to the President of the United States about—instead of asking, “What are we going to do when we get there?” We thought that that discussion had gone on between Tony Blair and the President, but it just had not. That was the real tragedy of that situation.
My recollection is that the discussion was mainly about illegality, and I think the hon. Gentleman does himself and his party a little less well than he could have, because the Conservative spokesman, translated to the House of Lords as Lord Ancram, was among those who were arguing very strongly that there was a complete absence of a plan about what needed to be done after the military action had been successfully concluded. That attitude and those matters were under active consideration by the hon. Gentleman’s own party, even though it had voted to go to war anyway.
I must make some progress, if my hon. Friend will excuse me.
The second speech by which I was considerably influenced was that of the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border, who talked in realistic terms about resources, in particular the resources available to the Foreign Office. I would like to say a few words about the resources available to the three security services, which as it happens are giving evidence to the Intelligence and Security Committee today.
If the threat is increasing and if the analysis is that there is a greater risk of terrorist activity in this country as a result of returning jihadists, one way to begin to seek to meet that threat is by ensuring that those who are on the front line of seeking to disturb or prevent such actions from taking place are properly resourced. That means investing money—and, yes, it means taking money away from other things. We should never forget that the primary duty of any Government is the defence and the security of their own citizens.
Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman suggesting that we should perhaps take money from DFID’s budget, which is often justified in terms of soft power? Last year, for example, it spent £4 million on a Spice Girl-style band in Ethiopia. Should we not be spending that sort of funding on serious diplomatic and intelligence capability?
I think Stephen Barclay is suggesting that they are alternatives, but they are not. Of course, when we spend as much as we do on soft power, there will be projects of which we disapprove, but there are places in the world that now have clean water that did not have it before, and children getting the kind of vaccinations that they did not get before as a result of our spending so much money in that direction. As for influence, at the United Nations we will find that every country and every permanent representative we talk to will say how much they appreciate—and indeed envy the fact—that the United Kingdom is such a serious contributor to international development.
There have been some criticisms about strategy. I am rather diffident about entering into important strategic discussions with three minutes and 23 seconds in which to do so, but I wish to emphasise my support for the notion of values. Values have been invoked in some thoughtful speeches in the course of this debate—including freedom of speech, the rights of women and the right to free expression. I would like to put it slightly differently and start with the rule of law, which is a fundamental constituent of any democratic society. Human rights are important, too—in a sense, they embrace some aspects of freedom of speech and the rights of women. Democratic structures are important, too, of course. These are the values that have been very substantially copied from this country by many other countries throughout the world, particularly those in the Commonwealth. I think that we should be nothing other than determined—indeed, almost arrogant—in promoting them, because of the stability that they undoubtedly create.
Let me now turn to what has obviously been the single most significant issue in the debate so far: the issue of how to deal with ISIS. The barbarism of ISIS is there for all to see. Like Liz Kendall, I accept that military action will be required, but, as I understood my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe to say, the last thing that such military action should be is at the instigation of the United States and the United Kingdom, and what we rather loosely used to call the west.
If we want moral authority, and if we want political support throughout the region, we must engage with the countries of that region, which is rather what happened in the first Gulf war. It is often forgotten that in the successful first Gulf war, the first unit to cross the start line was an armoured unit from Saudi Arabia. The coalition that was created in respect of that first Gulf war to expel Saddam Hussein from Kuwait was broadly based and substantially supported by Arab nations. If we think that we can go into Iraq or Syria looking for ISIS with only the stars and stripes and the Union jack flying above us, we have no idea of the long-term political difficulties that that would cause, however successful the initial military action might be.
I do not really care whether it is a matter of law, a matter of prerogative or a matter of politics, but before this House endorses military action which would have the result of putting our men and women of the three armed services in danger’s way, the Government should come to the House and explain what they are proposing, and the House should endorse it. Anything other than that will not satisfy public opinion.
Order. The debate is proceeding apace, but I am afraid that I must reduce the time limit for Back-Bench speeches to five minutes.
If there was ever a time for Britain—the United Kingdom—to play its part in the world as a major, respected and democratic force, it is now. I want to make some comments about the situation in Iraq and Syria, and then say something about what I consider to be the major threat that the country faces in helping the middle east and other problem areas in the world.
The situation in Syria and Iraq will not be resolved merely by air strikes, necessary as they may turn out to be. The Gulf states themselves need to play more of a role there. We are talking about a region that was designed and drawn up according to artificial boundaries between nations, and I think that the problems there are too fundamental to be dealt with simply by means of air strikes. We also need more inclusive governance of countries such as Iraq.
The lesson for me from Iraq over the past quarter of a century, and from Syria and Libya more recently, is that intervention brings its problems, but so does non-intervention. If it was thought a year ago that the
Syrian situation was difficult to unpick and resolve, it is surely worse today. The humanitarian situation in and around Syria is dire. Seven million Syrians have been displaced within Syria, and a further 3 million are now displaced outside Syria’s borders, which is causing instability in Turkey, Jordan and Iraq.
Some have said that we should work with Assad to help to defeat ISIL. I am not sure whether I agree with that. I think that we should tread carefully as far as the Assad regime is concerned, especially when we consider the fact that his regime has funded al-Qaeda and ISIL to destabilise Iraq, Syria’s neighbour to the south, and to divide his internal opponents. His sense of self-preservation is acute, and I am very concerned about playing his game.
ISIL is like fog: like the fog, it will only evaporate if heat is applied, but if left alone, it will continue to spread. We must degrade its military assets and leadership, but remain aware that its operation is now embedded in many communities, many of which it wants to destroy, and where civilians could become casualties by our own actions.
It was reassuring to see the NATO communiqué from last week that said:
“We condemn in the strongest terms ISIL’s violent and cowardly acts. If the security of any Ally is threatened, we will not hesitate to take all necessary steps to ensure our collective defence.”
As Benjamin Franklin said,
“We must all hang together. or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”
Last week in Wales the United Kingdom hosted the most important NATO summit in decades. More than 50 Heads of State were present, and it was the largest gathering of its kind in UK history. This shows the importance of the UK and its role in the world, and I do not want to see that role diminished. It is a role we have played for decades, if not centuries, and our liberal democracy has not hesitated to defend those values in the darkest of times. Bearing in mind the comments of the Chair of the Defence Committee, Rory Stewart, our diplomatic reach does reach parts of the world few countries can reach. English has become one of the international languages of diplomacy. Our influence in many parts of the world looks after our interests and promotes our values, and the BBC World Service is the envy of the world.
The then Foreign Secretary said in 2010 that
“our international influence will bleed away unless we maintain our international and cultural influence” as a vital component of our weight in the world. I agree, but the key decisions to be taken by this country over the next three years could leave the country and our role in the world diminished.
If the Scottish people vote next week to leave the Union, and if there is a referendum on leaving the EU by the end of 2017 and we do so, how can this country—or what remains of it—be treated seriously as a world power if what we want to do is retreat from the world and we lack confidence on the world stage, because that would be the result? Those of us who believe in doing what is best for our national interests believe that dividing the Union of the United Kingdom and the union of Europe is clearly not in the national interest. If we go down that path, how long will it be before our permanent seat on the UN Security Council is brought into question?
Abraham Lincoln said in the Gettysburg address that he did not want to see
“government of the people, by the people, for the people…perish from the earth”,
but I think that if we are not careful with the decisions we make in the future for this country, that is what is going to happen.
I draw the House’s attention to my declaration in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests and my co-chairmanship of the all-party group on the Kurdistan region in Iraq and vice-chairmanship of the all-party group on Iraq.
I am most grateful—and my head will not get through the double-doors if my hon. Friend carries on like that.
From Mosul to Raqqa, ISIL, at its root, has filled a void, both literally, in terms of governance, and philosophically, in terms of leadership. Here, it has thrived, and while it is our indisputable enemy—a primary security threat to our interests at home and abroad, as we have heard from many Members—a narrow focus on the tactical military solutions for defeating ISIL ignores the fact that the inherent problem is, at its heart, strategic.
We have heard a lot about the need for an inclusive political settlement in Iraq, but what does this really look like? We have been there before. During the Petraeus surge in 2007 we successfully mobilized Sunni tribes to purge al-Qaeda from their midst, but then we abandoned them to Nouri al-Malaki’s extreme sectarianism. How can we support Prime Minister Abadi to make things different this time around? While it is critical that “power sharing” no longer means the carving up of Government ministries into de facto sectarian fiefdoms, as happened under Maliki, or the centralisation of control in Baghdad—again, as Malaki did—ultimately the structure of governance has to give the Sunni tribes, the people on the ground, a personal investment in how they live. The new Cabinet has six new Sunni Ministers—possibly seven, including the Defence Minister—but do they truly represent wider constituencies of Sunnis? We must be mindful that the same faces keep reappearing.
It was positive to hear last night’s announcement of the formation of national guard units that will allow communities to secure their local areas. Such functional federalism and empowerment will be vital in reducing the lure of ISIL. Prime Minister Abadi must go further, however. He must consider having greater local autonomy and a fair political settlement that addresses the constitutional issues that have plagued Iraq since 2005. He must consider revenue sharing, a hydrocarbon law and a referendum on the disputed territories—including, of course, Kirkuk. Given former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s legacy, restoring trust will not be easy or quick, but if Prime Minister Abadi can bring about a genuinely inclusive political settlement with the Kurds and the Sunnis, half the battle will already have been won. Without such a settlement, however, a unified Iraq will be an impossibility.
We must also recognize that ISIL cannot be defeated in Iraq alone. Syria, the regional safe haven for ISIL over the past three years, is the centre of gravity in this conflict, and it is there that a new push for peace is vital. Having said that, there are ways to do that and ways not to do it, and I can assure the House that aligning with Assad is most certainly not the way to do it. As in Iraq, the solution will be a new inclusive Government who ultimately reduce the appeal of Sunni extremism and who protect minorities, including the Alawites, the Kurds and the Christians of Syria.
To achieve that, the regional actors—including, dare I say it, Iran—must take the lead. We are all aware of the roles that different middle eastern countries have played in directly fuelling conflicts in the region, but the threat posed by ISIL and the unprecedented extent of shared interests between once-mortal enemies can only reinforce the need for the region to move beyond the zero-sum politics that have characterised it for so long. The motivations and limitations of the regional actors will no doubt determine the role that they play in the push-back against this poisonous ideology, but play a role they must. That is not to say that we should not be front and centre in helping them along. Undoubtedly the region looks to us, and to the United States, for leadership and delivery. Twenty years on, John Major is still held in the highest esteem by the Shi’a community and the Kurds for creating the safe haven policy and the no-fly zones.
Crucially, we must act with realism and humility. We must do all we can to support the delicate diplomacy needed to bring in regional partners without alienating others, and to facilitate Iranian and Saudi co-operation with a nuanced understanding of the dynamics and stakes involved.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. One of the things that Iran could bring to bear on Prime Minister Abadi’s Government in Baghdad is the resolution of such issues. The Kurds have not had their budgets since January, and they are struggling to keep their economy going while running the peshmerga campaign against ISIL. That situation could be resolved immediately. We should be playing a part by saying to Iran, “If your intentions are good and you want to behave differently, and if you want us to loosen the sanctions, show us your good intentions in Iraq and in Syria. Then maybe we will be able to take things further with you.”
There will be everything to play for, and there must be co-operation between these regional powers. My right hon. and learned Friend Mr Clarke mentioned our NATO allies. Turkey plays a major role in the region, as do partners such as Jordan. I commend His Majesty the King of Jordan for his attempts to bring all the parties together. He did that at the NATO conference as well. Foreign policy is often represented as a choice between instant reaction and quiet passivity, but that is a false dichotomy. We will always act on a spectrum as the environment evolves.
I wish to confine my remarks to the situation in Ukraine. I am pleased to follow Nadhim Zahawi, and I will follow his example by beginning my speech by declaring an interest. I am an officer in the all-party group on Ukraine, although I must confess that I cannot remember which particular role I have.
I take it as axiomatic that our aim in Ukraine is to secure peaceful, democratic, political development in that country. By that standard, we are not doing very well. Of course President Putin, for his own internal and external reasons, has done and is doing everything he can to undermine those developments. None the less, I have some questions about the way the UK, as a country and as a member of the EU and NATO, has played its hand; there has been a lot of furious rhetoric but a lack of sombre analysis. The Russians have a strategic interest in a warm-water port in Crimea for the Black sea fleet—we do not. The Russians have a long and close history and relationship with Ukraine—we do not. There is a large Russian-speaking minority in the east of Ukraine, and we are not in that situation. That all means that when push comes to shove, in an open conflict, the Russians are going to be prepared to do more and to push harder than we have and ever would.
Indeed, it is clear that some in eastern Ukraine do not support the Kiev Government and have not supported the association agreement with the EU. Unfortunately, because of the Russian actions it is difficult for us now to see how many people in eastern Ukraine take that view. When I visited Ukraine a couple of years ago, it was clear that the country had weak civil society and weak political institutions. We saw that in the way the Kiev Government were dealing with the problems in eastern Ukraine; there was no proper dialogue but an attempt to impose people on, and control people in, eastern Ukraine. A deeply unsophisticated approach was taken of imposing oligarchs as governors in eastern Ukraine and refusing to listen. We need to look at things again.
During the demonstrations in Maidan square at the turn of the year, the European Union had a tendency to over-promise: to promise more than we have or than we will deliver. Our messages were confused and confusing. Of course, a large number of people and the Kiev Government wanted the EU association agreement, but why did it have to be rushed through in a way that for the Russians was highly confrontational? In July, the Ministry of Defence was briefing that Ukraine is regarded as virtually a member of NATO, which was unhelpful as it created uncertainty and unpredictability in respect of our potential actions in the minds of the Russians. We need to draw a clear distinction between the Baltic states, which are members of NATO, to which we have clear obligations and which have duties and responsibilities to the alliance, and Ukraine, which is not in that situation.
I am not entirely convinced that sanctions are as effective as the Foreign Secretary hopes they are.
One problem is that, as my hon. Friend Mark Hendrick has been saying, it is not clear that small changes in the income of particular individuals will matter very much to President Putin. Edward Lucas said that in his evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee. There is also a problem of corruption, which is not helped by the Tory party taking a lot of money from Russian and Ukrainian oligarchs.
We need to move to a political process to strengthen the political dialogue. On Monday, the Prime Minister agreed that the Russians had legitimate interests in the area, especially in seeing that the Russian minorities are well treated and protected.
The Foreign Secretary talked about effective international monitoring. I am not clear whether he meant the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe or a UN-sponsored plebiscite. We need to know more clearly what the Foreign Office has in mind. What is absolutely clear is that the former British ambassador to Moscow, Tony Brenton, was right when he said that we should stop shouting and start talking.
This has been a fascinating and informative debate. I am sorry only that the amount of time that we have to discuss these significant and important matters has been curtailed. I suppose that it is rather telling that—with great respect to those who are in the press gallery—the press gallery is virtually empty. I do not expect to read anything about this debate in the newspapers tomorrow because it will not be exciting or controversial. Perhaps the British people would be better informed if they knew that their Parliament was taking these things seriously.
As Members across the House have been saying, since 2010, we have been in a period of extraordinary turmoil. Since we completed our strategic security and defence review in 2010, fundamental changes have taken place across north Africa, the middle east and Ukraine. Nothing calls more for a really serious new strategic defence and security review than the state of affairs at the moment. I hope that the Foreign Office, the Ministry of Defence and other Government Departments will put time and effort into producing a strategy. We were unable to do that in 2010 because we were up against the time scale of the comprehensive spending review.
I agree with my hon. Friend Mr Jenkin, who has been banging on repeatedly about the need for strategic thinking. So much has changed since the fall of the Berlin wall. All the certainties with which I grew up, including the balance of terror, have all gone, and we have inherited a very turbulent world. My hon. Friend Rory Stewart made a compelling speech. He said that we need to invest more money in intelligence and in the Foreign Office; it is absurd that we invest so little in the Foreign Office and I hope that that will change.
Like Helen Goodman, I wish to refer to matters in Ukraine, as they are very serious and much closer to our borders than the important issues in Syria and Iraq. Personally, I want good relations with Russia
I would like member countries to get up to 2%. At least they will be fulfilling the commitments to which they have signed up. Clearly, the international situation is so demanding that we all need to review whether that is the correct level of expenditure. At the moment, NATO depends heavily on the contribution of the United States. The people of Britain and Europe must understand that American taxpayers have made a big contribution to our overall defence.
“Russia is prepared to act in accordance with international law, international rules in the course of a civilised dialogue for the achieving of common and joint ends.”
Indeed, in exchange for Ukraine giving up its nuclear arsenal—the third largest nuclear arsenal in the world—the Budapest agreement, which was signed by his predecessor Boris Yeltsin, said:
“The Russian Federation, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the United States of America reaffirm their commitment to Ukraine…to respect the independence and sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine.”
Those three nations reaffirmed their obligation
“to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine.”
We have seen a flagrant breach of that agreement, which was signed by Boris Yeltsin, Bill Clinton and John Major. If Putin can simply renege on the agreements he has signed, what does that 2002 speech mean?
Russia now believes in the extraordinary and dangerous doctrine that it can intervene in other sovereign countries if it believes there is any threat to those who have Russian connections or who speak Russian. That is chilling. We should remind ourselves that, in The Daily Telegraph, the Russian ambassador wrote:
“With the rights of national minorities violated and the interests of regions disregarded, the people of Crimea found it necessary to determine their own political future by means of a referendum—and to do it fast.”
We know that it was Russian military intervention that took Ukraine. We need to be clear that there is no land link between Russia and Crimea at the moment. All that is going on in eastern Ukraine is designed to soften it up so that, at some point, Putin will come in, possibly link up with Odessa and Transnistria, and render the rump of Ukraine a landlocked country. They are very serious matters. We must make it clear to Russia that the Baltic states are subject to article 5. There can be absolutely no doubt about it. It is irrefutable that article 5 stands.
I am sorry that we have not had enough time to debate these matters. The Scottish referendum will take place next Thursday. With Russia penetrating our airspace and following our sea lanes, the idea that we should surrender a part of the United Kingdom and render it a foreign country and therefore not part of NATO—
Order. I call Mark Hendrick.
It is a pleasure to follow Sir Gerald Howarth. I will carry on in that vein. As he rightly said, Putin has reneged on the Budapest accord. To develop my argument, I will talk about Russia’s past and what will happen in future.
The UN estimates that, since the Russian annexation of Crimea in April, nearly 2,600 people have been killed in fighting between pro-Russian separatist rebels and the Ukrainian army in eastern Ukraine. The UN figure does not include the 298 passengers and crew of Malaysian Airlines MH17, which was shot down in the area by separatist rebels on
Ukraine is not the first conflict to be frozen and it will not be the last. For some years, Russia has become increasingly uneasy about the expansion of both NATO and the European Union. As the EU has become bigger, Russia has seen the buffer of states between her borders and those of EU states dramatically reduced. In the north-east of the EU, they are non-existent. Many in Russia believe that the west reneged on an informal agreement in 1990 not to expand NATO eastwards. That misunderstanding or breach of trust is the basis for the current instability in eastern Europe.
It is not the first time Russia has used proxy forces to destabilise countries and create frozen conflicts. In 1992, during the break-up of the Soviet Union, the newly created country of Moldova was destabilised when its large ethnic Russian population of 200,000 people chose to break away and join Russia. As in Ukraine, pro-Russian separatists fought Government forces to a standstill. Russia committed 150,000 so-called peacekeepers to Transnistria. They are still there today. Transnistria held a referendum in 2006 similar to that we saw in Crimea, voting heavily in favour of joining Russia. The region’s status has still to be decided.
For Georgia, the current crisis in Ukraine and Crimea has clear parallels with its own conflict with Russia in 2008. After its application for NATO membership, ethnic Russian separatists rose up in South Ossetia and Abkhazia and there were reports of “unidentified troops” posing as local insurgents in Georgia’s separatist regions. Russia intervened under similar auspices, claiming the citizens’ right to self-determination, separation and Russian protection under international law. As in Moldova, the statuses of the two breakaway regions are still to be formally decided. Although they are so-called independent regions, they are effectively now as much a part of Russia as Crimea.
The current rebel advance has raised fears that the Kremlin may seek to create a land corridor between Russia and Crimea. As with Moldova and Georgia, analysts have speculated that Putin does not want a Crimea-style annexation, which would be expensive and militarily difficult, but instead wants to create a “frozen conflict” that would give Moscow permanent leverage in Ukraine. Only time will tell whether eastern Ukraine will be annexed, too.
I feel that the west has seriously misjudged Putin and does not seem to understand where he is coming from and what he hopes to achieve. In many Russian minds, Ukraine is a part of Russia. Putin has certainly reflected that view in public with recent press conferences referring to Ukraine as either little Russia or, in some cases, new Russia. He says that part of Ukraine’s territories are eastern Europe, but that the greater part are a gift from Russia.
Putin witnessed first hand the mismanagement of the Russian economy, open corruption and the economic hardships that the collapse of the USSR and market forces brought to Russia. It is with the period that saw the decline of the Soviet Union and of Russia in mind that Putin has said quite openly that he regrets
“the passing of the Soviet Union” and that the blame for much of the past lies squarely at the feet of the west.
Article 5 of the NATO treaty considers an attack in terms of “armed force”, yet Russia is currently inciting an insurgency.
I think that is perfectly possible and I concur with the hon. Gentleman. I think that, even though Ukraine is not an article 5 member of NATO, it poses many questions about NATO members, particularly the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Kaliningrad, like Crimea, is strategically very important to the Russians and if the west does not take strong action at some point, possibly going beyond sanctions, the west, particularly countries such as the UK, will suffer and might enter a third world war. The situation is far more serious than it has been painted. It is at least as serious as what is happening in Iraq and Syria for the stability and future of Europe. I hope that the west sees Putin for what he is and treats him not as a former economic Minister but as a former head of the KGB.
I apologise to colleagues for having missed some of the Back-Bench speeches earlier due to an unbreakable commitment related to the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament.
As was observed earlier, when my hon. Friend Mr Jenkin is thought about in defence terms the one word that will be associated with him will be “strategy”. When my political epitaph comes to be written, I guess most people would think that the one word that would be associated me would be “Trident”—or, if they were feeling kinder, it might be “deterrence”. Actually, a different word ought to be associated with what I am trying to outline in terms of strategy today: “containment”. Containment is the key to what we need to do in the two very different scenarios of Russia’s behaviour and ISIL’s behaviour. Containment sometimes has to be done by means of a balance of terror, as when dealing with a nuclear-armed state such as Russia. On other occasions, it has to be done with the more traditional concept of the balance of power, as when dealing with states such as those of the middle east. Containment by means of the balance of power often means active intervention.
Let me refer briefly to two scenarios. In the case of Russia and Ukraine, what Russia is doing is not new, as Mark Hendrick observed in his interesting speech. In fact, it is based on a model of what it did in the immediate aftermath of the second world war, when countries such as Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria and Hungary were first subverted and then taken over. I have previously mentioned the important work of Professor Anatol Lieven in analysing the situation in Ukraine. Time prevents me from doing more than pointing out that he has consistently said that the only way in which a disaster will be averted is for some considerable degree of autonomy to be awarded to the Russian-speaking parts of Ukraine. If we try to egg on the other parts of Ukraine to win militarily, Russia will simply step up its military effort and the overall effect will be disastrous.
The hon. Gentleman is making a very powerful point, and I agree with him. Did he agree with the remarks of Mr Redwood, as I was somewhat alarmed to discover that I did?
Sadly, that is one of the Back-Bench speeches that I missed.
I am grateful, in any case, for the hon. Lady’s intervention, as it gives me a little more time to refer to the important point made by my hon. Friend Sir Gerald Howarth. There is a huge difference between NATO members that are covered by the article 5 guarantee and other countries, no matter how sympathetic we are towards them, that are not. When I was 16, Czechoslovakia was invaded. I thought what a shame it was that while Czechoslovakia was temporarily free we did not scoop up this poor vulnerable country under the protection of NATO. But I was 16 then—I am not 16 now, and I know the realities. I know that what was done in the aftermath of the second world war was nothing more than a recognition of the reality that the west could band together to protect itself by means of NATO, but it could not, at that stage, protect the countries of central and eastern Europe. Russia had to be contained by means of the balance of terror involving nuclear deterrence.
Let me quickly move on to ISIL. We are not in a situation where we have a choice of good outcomes. Mr McFadden and my hon. Friend Nadhim Zahawi set out certain conditions in hoping for a good outcome in relation to the choices that face us. I hope they are right, but the likelihood is that there will be no good outcome in these confrontations—that no good guys are going to come out on top, but only somebody of the stripe of an Arab dictator, on the one hand, or revolutionary jihadists on the other.
That is where we move on to containment by means of a balance of power, whereby sometimes there is no ally to be helped and all we can do is try to ensure that no one of a bunch of undesirable actors on the international stage gets to be dominant. That is what we have to do in this case. That is why I gently disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex about the vote that we had last year. I am absolutely delighted to look back on the fact that I was one of the people who made sure that we did not intervene to drag down Assad, atrocious though he is, because the upshot of that would have been similar to that of dragging down
Gaddafi. The effect of the latter was not to further western strategic interests but the interests of our deadly enemies on the jihadist front.
Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the crucial things in some of the recent military adventures in the middle east is, perhaps, a lack of understanding that once a dictator goes there is no Government structure or stability and that, therefore, the rule of law and everything else we love are not possible?
Absolutely. As always, my hon. Friend, with his Foreign Office background, makes the pertinent point. Thanks to his courtesy of giving me more time, I would like to quote a recent editorial from The Spectator:
“Such is the march of Islamic fundamentalism that if you remove a dictatorship in the Arab world and you don’t end up with a western-style liberal democracy, you end up with a snake pit of competing religious factions, the most malign of which tends to dominate.”
What we are up against is a choice of the lesser of evils. Sometimes we will have to strike down one element of an evil choice, and sometimes we will have to suppress another. We should not, however, climb into bed with the enemy of my enemy on either occasion. The enemy of my enemy is not necessarily my friend; the enemy of my enemy can be my enemy as well. That is why we have to contain and control them and intervene from time to time, but we must not delude ourselves that there will be any perfect outcomes.
Perhaps we can talk about a different wording later.
When I was in Perth three weeks ago, I visited the Black Watch museum, and after that I visited Edinburgh, where I was struck by a very interesting exhibition on the role of Scottish troops and Scottish diaspora troops in the British imperial forces during the first world war. Is it not sad that an organisation is campaigning on an anti-British platform when, historically, the British imperial army was, and the British Army today is, very much rooted in the contribution of Scots to many of our country’s distinguished regiments? That is another aspect that those of us from England, Wales and Northern Ireland should remind our brothers and sisters in the rest of the United Kingdom about when they vote next week.
The end of the first world war, nearly 100 years ago, led to the treaty that resulted in the creation of a number of states. Turkey, which came out of the Ottoman empire, has already been mentioned, and others included countries on its borders, such as Syria, as well as Lebanon and Jordan, and countries further away, such as Saudi Arabia and Iraq. Later came the establishment of the state of Israel and the consequences that were touched on earlier.
The Kurds, who were scattered among up to three, four or five countries in the region, did not get a state at that time. Events in Iraq have led to the establishment of an embryonic state in the form of the Kurdistan Regional Government of Iraq, which has its own flag and defence forces—the very brave but poorly equipped peshmerga, who are fighting so hard and who are now, I am pleased to say, going to be armed by the United Kingdom, at last, as well as by other European partners.
There will be ramifications as a consequence of current events, because the PKK in Turkey and the PYD in Syria, which has been fighting against Assad, have been co-operating with the peshmerga to get the Yazidis and others off Mount Sinjar to safety. Yet we know that Turkey, Syria and Iran are very much against an independent Kurdish state, because of what the consequences would be. Therefore, a very complex development is going on.
Some people have said that the Sykes-Picot line, which was drawn on the map by French and British diplomats nearly 100 years ago, is dead. It is not yet dead, and we must be very careful. I believe that we may need a comprehensive international conference in the region at some point to redraw the boundaries.
Does the hon. Gentleman not consider that in the current environment of having so much instability in the region, which he is describing very well, to give encouragement to any particular group—however strong their cause, however powerful their case—might simply be the trigger for a further round of instability? Would not the fact that all sorts of others might want to redraw the boundaries, however ineptly they were drawn 100 years ago, contribute to the instability that we want to contain?
The instability is already there. We have to face reality. Will Syria continue as a state, or will it disintegrate into three or four component parts? If we take on ISIL and defeat and destroy it, I suspect that we will do so in alliance with a coalition of forces. Some of those forces will be non-state actors: the actors will not just be the Governments of the region, but groups such as the PYD, which is currently in effect in control of parts of Syria.
Whether we are talking about creating loose confederations, which may well be the outcome of the political discussions in Baghdad and the internal dynamics in Iraq, or about the outcome of what is happening in Syria, we need a little bit of vision in our thinking about how we can create a longer-lasting international framework for dealing with the issues. I am not saying that this is something for today—the priority today is to build a coalition to defeat the people who want to take the world back 900 years to some mythical Islamist caliphate—but we ultimately need to be aware that some issues coming out of this situation will have to be resolved.
In relation to people who want to take things back to what they were—the role of the man who admires the Soviet Union and wishes to recreate parts of it has already been mentioned—Russia’s policy now is an attempt not just to turn the clock back a few years, but to recreate some form of Soviet Union-style Russia as it was in the past. The so-called Eurasian customs union is the Putin model to rival the successful European Union, which has acted as a magnet for all the countries of central and eastern Europe. At the same time, Putin is espousing the very dangerous doctrine that Russia has a right to intervene in the internal affairs of any country where there are people who speak Russian. Following that logic is a recipe for renewed conflict all across Europe and in other parts of the world, so we have to resist it and stop it.
For too long, it seems to me, there has been an idea that dealing with problems in countries such as Syria and Ukraine is a matter for our leaders, while ordinary Back Benchers must follow. Well, that has changed. The history of Iraq shows how badly we were led, principally by Tony Blair and his apparatchiks. Going to war with Iraq was wrong and unnecessary. I am sorry to say that Tony Blair was not straight with this House or with the nation. Never again will we leave such decisions solely to our leaders.
There are three areas of the world over which we have great concerns. If we are not careful, we may get into military action without any clear objective. That has already been attempted—fortunately it failed—in respect of Syria.
In the Holy Land, there is an agreement of sorts between Israel and Palestine. Gaza is not a state, but neither is it allowed by Israel to be part of Palestine. It is ruled by a terrorist organisation, Hamas, with the consequences that we see each day—bombing, rockets and bloodshed. Although there are issues that we, the Egyptians and the Israelis agree on, the Palestinian militants have crackpot ideas, and hundreds of rockets are fired from Gaza into Israel. However, very few people are killed by those rockets, whereas approximately 2,000 innocent civilians in Gaza have been killed by Israeli offensives.
What is needed, as well as a lasting ceasefire, is a workable plan for the crossings into Israel and Egypt from Gaza by both land and sea. Gaza has a smaller land mass than the Isle of Wight but more than 1.8 million residents. Most of them are out of work because businesses can get few of their products out in order to sell them and local people do not have the money to buy things. I, like so many people, am concerned that we must find a more civilised way for innocent people to live, even if a terrorist gang is in charge. It is totally unacceptable that larger and larger developments by the Israelis are forcing many thousands of Palestinians from their homes.
Secondly, in Syria, President Bashar al-Assad no longer has control of the whole of his country. There was a movement in favour of democracy, but that has been overtaken by extremists, including Hamas and the much increased force of the so-called Islamic State, which is still more extreme. It has taken over a third of Syria and has moved into Iraq, murdering men and raping women and children of the Christian faith and other faiths who refuse to convert to Islam.
It is tempting to believe that we and the United States are able to sort that mess out. The trouble is that there is no evidence to suggest that we could achieve that, unless the Syrians and Iraqis start to take action themselves. My conclusion is that there is little that we can do militarily that would be useful. We must encourage the Syrians and the Iraqis to take control of their own destiny.
Finally, in Ukraine, there is a ceasefire for the moment, but it might break down at any time. All but Crimea and three of the areas nearest to Russia are under the control of the Ukrainian people. For the moment, we are standing back. Ukraine is not part of NATO. My fear is that the EU will act as if Ukraine is part of the EU. That would be undemocratic and unacceptable.
All three areas are worrying, but peaceful negotiation is always preferable to war. As Churchill said, jaw-jaw is better than war-war.
It is a pleasure to follow Mr Turner. We sit together on the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, which produced an interesting document recently on Magna Carta. One of our proposals was that this country should never go to war without a vote in both Houses of Parliament. That is an interesting proposal. Now that it is a convention, I hope that it will be accepted in statute.
The hon. Gentleman referred to the Iraq war, and of course we do not know the truth of why we went into that war. We know that we were fed lies and all kinds of scares, such as that Britain could be attacked within 45 minutes using weapons of mass destruction that did not in fact exist. We still have yet to get the Chilcot report, which the Public Administration Committee discussed with Jeremy Heywood this week. We asked whether he was the blockage, because the Prime Minister has said that he is not stopping the report. All these years later, we do not know whether Tony Blair made an agreement with Bush that committed us to war, after which the House was forced into war based on a series of untruths. Some 179 British soldiers died in Iraq, and there were huge costs and uncounted Iraqi lives were lost.
I believe that we need to carry out another inquiry into our decision to go into Helmand province, which is arguably the worst military decision that we have taken since the charge of the Light Brigade. At the time, in 2006, we had lost only two British soldiers in combat in Afghanistan. We went into Helmand in the hope that not a shot would be fired, and we ended up with 453 soldiers lost in combat. Why did we do it?
May I suggest that a key reason was mission creep? We allowed the mission to morph, disastrously, from one of taking on and getting rid of al-Qaeda to one of nation building, which was a completely different ball game. That was the fundamental error that we made in Afghanistan.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I wrote to Tony Blair in 2003—the letter was on my blog and has been there ever since—saying, “If we go to war in Iraq without attempting to solve the Israel-Palestine problem, we will give a sense of injustice to Muslim communities from my local mosque to the far corners of the world.” At that time, we would not have thought it conceivable that young men and women educated and born here would go to the far east and take part in mediaeval barbarism. How did that happen? It is not about the imams, who have lost touch with the young people. It is about the internet and the flow of information that young people have. The sense of injustice has deepened since 2003. There was not the same division at that time. There were a few fanatics, and al-Qaeda existed, but there was minute support for it. Now it takes support from a huge percentage of the young Muslim population. That is deeply worrying, and we have to see the reason for it.
How we take decisions is an important issue. The most important decision that we have taken recently, of course, was on
We have had an interesting debate, and the two speeches that I have warmed to more than any others were those of Mr Redwood and Mr Clarke. We know that, incredibly, there is a fairly even spread in the House between the peace party and the “give war a chance” party. Even Labour Members have said that we should not be imprisoned by history. Of course we should be imprisoned by history—we should learn from it, because we have nothing else to go on from which to learn lessons.
I am grateful to the Government for holding the NATO summit in Newport, in my constituency. It was possible a grudging and belated acknowledgment of the wisdom of the local MP on foreign affairs matters. It was a great occasion, and I was particularly pleased by the decisions on the Baltic states. In ’89, ’90 and ’91 I had the pleasure of going to the three Baltic states and watching their struggle for independence. It was a great campaign: intelligent, courageous and restrained. It was difficult to win that independence, and they are frightened now—particularly Latvia and Estonia—because they have a large percentage of mother-tongue Russians. We owe it to them to be behind them and guarantee their independence.
It is, as ever, a pleasure to follow Paul Flynn, and I too welcome this debate. I would like more of these debates—I am sure I am not alone in that—not only because a lot is happening on the international stage that directly affects our interests, global possessions and so forth, but because it is important that those on the Front Benches are in touch with the mood of Back Benchers across the House. It is in their common interest to ensure that we minimise the chances of a vote taking place like the one that happened a year ago. More communication is good; we need more debates of this sort, and that this debate has been so oversubscribed illustrates that point well.
In the brief time available I will confine my remarks to ISIS and perhaps to what I consider to be the dilution of skills within the FCO—something that should concern us all. The Government are right to make a commitment that there will be no air strikes in Iraq unless that has been debated in this House and approved. They were also right to exhibit the cautious approach that they have shown to date, which is to be welcomed. We have heard it said many times that Iraq casts a long shadow, and the bar for military action has been raised. There is no doubt about that in the House, but I contend that it is not a bad thing, given the number of errors we have made in the region over the past 10 to 12 years.
I take issue with those who suggest—we have heard this quite a bit in the Chamber today—that by exhibiting a cautious approach and voting against action in Syria last year, Britain is somehow retreating from the world, or that we wish to bury our heads in the sand and do not want to play any more on the world stage. That is utter tosh. We are a key member of the UN Security Council and of NATO, and a prominent member of the Commonwealth. We are not retreating from the world, but if a slightly more cautious approach is needed, that is surely how it should be in this place, when the most serious decision we can make in this House is whether to send troops to war—a decision that costs lives and can result in great expense in both lives and treasure.
We have only to look back at our recent track record. There can be no denying that we went to war on a false premise in Iraq in 2003. There were no weapons of mass destruction. Fact: we went to war on a false premise. Some may dispute this, but I think that a key error—this was referred to by the hon. Member for Newport West—was in Afghanistan. We all agreed with the initial narrow objective of ridding Afghanistan of al-Qaeda. That was laudable and we supported it. It went wrong when we allowed the mission to morph into one of nation building, which was a much broader aim that we fundamentally under-resourced.
I am listening carefully to my hon. Friend and thinking about the vote last year, when regrettably I was not able to support the Government. Listening to my hon. Friend, I would say that the problem was that chemical weapons could be moved around very easily, and so as a military objective it was not very satisfactory.
I agree. Technically, the motion was about that, but there was also a push last year by the Government to arm rebels fighting Assad. However, because it would have been impossible to track and trace those arms, some of them would have ended up, inadvertently, in the hands of the very extremists we are now taking on in northern Iraq—a bitter irony if ever there was one.
It was precisely for that reason that my hon. Friend and I made common cause against the folly of that intervention. On Afghanistan, does our policy not tend to be too reactive to the last thing that happened? It was said that as soon as the Soviets left, the west left Afghanistan to stew in its own juices. It was to prevent that from happening again that the west made the bad mistake, as it turned out, of engaging in nation building.
I pay tribute to the work of my hon. Friend and others on both sides of the House in asking those difficult questions a year ago. We were right to do that. He is absolutely right about Afghanistan as well.
The litany of errors does not stop with Afghanistan. We now have the Libyan Government meeting on a Greek ferry off Tobruk; there is civil war; the number of civilian casualties is shooting up; and we have not got a proper policy. I certainly do not think our intervention helped the situation. We have now discussed Syria, and it is clear that the Government’s intentions to arm the rebels were misplaced, given that it would have been impossible to track and trace the arms. Our bigger issue is now taking on in Iraq some of the rebels who confronted Assad.
It is right to be cautious and to ask questions, and it is right that the bar has been set higher. I am pleased that Ministers realise the difference between air strikes in Iraq, which many of us could support, provided certain preconditions were in place, including a request from the Baghdad Government, and air strikes in Syria, which would be a much higher risk policy, not only because of Russian-built air defences, but because of the legalities and the fact that a common feature of the Syrian civil war has been the extremist groups lurking in the shadows and morphing into each other—al-Nusra, linked to al-Qaeda, for example—and would be difficult to say who might take ISIS’s place in Syria.
I welcome the caution. At the end of the day, the politics in Iraq must succeed. The elephant in the room is the Iraqi army. It has to be ground forces that defeat ISIS—air strikes alone will not succeed—but they must not be western. The symbolism of the west defeating this caliphate would be too great. The Iraqi army is the elephant in the room, but the politics must come through and succeed. What fomented the presence of ISIS was the very sectarian politics pursued by Maliki, the predecessor of the current Government. We must have more inclusive politics in Iraq, but at the same time we have to ensure that the army drives out ISIS.
In the five minutes available to me, I want to make three points and ask one specific question that I hope the Minister will reply to.
We are meeting in the shadow of the end of the NATO Heads of Government conference, and although I am sure it was a magnificent affair for the many Heads of Government and other putative members of NATO who attended, I think we should have a much more nuanced view of what NATO is about and what it has become. It did not shut up shop at the end of the cold war, sadly; instead, it cast around for something to do, and has now sought and obtained for itself a global role. Collectively, its member states already spend $1 trillion a year on arms, and according to the Wales declaration, many states that do not quite meet the 2% minimum requirement will have to increase their spending.
I think that is an incredibly generous description of how NATO is behaving under President Obama, although it certainly was belligerent under Bush.
NATO’s endless eastward expansion has encouraged an equal and opposite reaction on the other side, in Russia. Although I am not a defender of Putin or, indeed, of Russian foreign policy, one has to say that if there was a general agreement that Ukraine should be a neutral, non-nuclear state, the presence of NATO forces in Ukraine and joint exercises with Ukrainian forces were likely to encourage the Russian military to do the same across the border. If we want to see peace in the region, as we all do, surely there has to be demilitarisation and a process that brings about a peaceful reconciliation in Ukraine, if that is at all possible. Instead, what I hear all the time is the ratcheting up of the military options on both sides, with more and more exercises and more and more overflying.
This is a very dangerous situation that could indeed lead to some dreadful conflict. I want to sound a note of caution about it and also draw attention to the fact that NATO now gives itself the right to involve itself in any part of the world, at any time, through its rapid reaction force. Indeed, the Prime Minister wanted to bring another 33 countries on board. A global military power that can go in anywhere is not necessarily a good thing; indeed, it can provoke all the opposition and all the problems that we are discussing in today’s debate.
The question I want to put to the Minister—to which I hope I will get a reply either today or in writing—is this. The mutual defence agreement between Britain and the USA on the sharing of nuclear information, originally signed in 1958, comes up for renewal this year. There is no date set for Parliament to debate it, and apparently the Government do not seem terribly keen on that, yet President Obama sent a message to Congress on
Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the best ways to bring down conflict, tension and the international temperature is to be predictable? These unclear mandates lead to uncertainty and unpredictability.
Indeed, and the daily dangers from the situation in Ukraine and eastern Europe are pretty obvious for everyone to see. I hope we can think more carefully about this, rather than rushing more and more troops, more and more arms and more and more missiles into the area, and instead try to search for a political solution, difficult as I obviously recognise that to be.
I want to make two other points. This morning a number of us went to Room 14 to hear a statement from Dr Mustafa Barghouti of the Palestine National Initiative. He showed us a short film that was appalling, shocking and horrible. All I was seeing were pictures of buildings in Gaza that I have visited and known. They are all ruined, and there are 2,000 people dead and many families completely bereft of everything. The bitterness from that bombing by Israel continues and will continue for a very long time. Surely there should have been a response by the British Government on this. It is not good enough just to talk about Israel’s right to exist and its right to self-defence. There was a total disproportionality about the whole conflict. More than 2,000 Palestinians are dead; sadly, 100 Israelis are dead. I wish no one had died from that conflict, but unless we address the rights of and justice for the Palestinian people—their right to nationhood, their right to recognition, their right to travel, their right to trade; all those things—and instead keep them in prison in Gaza, this will all break out again in the not-too-distant future and we will have a renewal of all the horrible bloodletting that has happened over the past month.
There was a massive lobby of Parliament yesterday by supporters of Palestine. On
My final point in my remaining minute is simply this. I have been a Member of this House long enough to have discussed the Afghanistan war, the Iraq war, the Libya conflict and indeed, before that, the Gulf war. I am no supporter, sympathiser, apologist or whatever for ISIL—for what it stands for, what it does, what its methods are or for its current threat and attacks on the Kurdish people. Surely, however, some basic understanding of history will recognise that our interventions and our behaviour—American interventions, American behaviour—have created the circumstances in which ISIL has grown up. The money now going into the region for arms—from Saudi and other sources—as well as all the other weapons going in are a major cause of the current conflict within Iraq. Let us learn the lesson: intervention everywhere is surely not the solution; the solution is working with people on development and bringing about peaceful solutions to problems rather than the obsession with taking military intervention around the world.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for calling me to speak in this debate on the middle east and security matters. I am sorry that I have been nipping in and out of the Chamber.
It is important to get my concerns on the record, and I will be brief. I am greatly concerned about the impact that events in the middle east are having on our country, and about how these events are being perverted to give licence to hate. As a tolerant society, we cannot tolerate British people hating British people on the basis of the faith they are born into or choose to follow. I am deeply disturbed by the personal letters I have received from a number of my Jewish constituents—I have only 250 of them—expressing their distress at what the future holds in the UK for them and their families.
These are British citizens who have as much to do with the middle east as I do. It is not right that synagogues now have to be protected by security guards and that banners are being seen and chants are being heard that say, “Kill all Jews”, “Hitler was right” and “Death to all Jews”. This situation is not tolerable. There are no excuses.
I totally agree with my hon. Friend, and he is certainly right to raise issues about our Jewish constituents in this debate about security. The issue goes further than the physical threats. For the first time in my surgery, I encountered a family that is now fearful of its children going on a public bus to a Jewish school, or even of them going alone into the local Asda or Tesco. The family thinks how they look will give an indication of their being Jewish and that people will take an anti-Semitic view.
I am aware of those concerns; they are shared by members of the Jewish faith in my constituency.
The cancer of anti-Semitism is stalking our country under the disguise of a new cloak. This cloak must be stripped away, exposing the wickedness of those who lurk behind it. I am no saint in these matters. We all have the weakness to give in to the easy seduction of hate, so it is incumbent on us all to recognise the siren calls of that weakness and keep them in check.
In coming here today, I do not want to stand behind my Jewish constituents; I do not want to stand beside them; I want to stand in front of them. I say this: if I had Christian constituents, Hindu constituents or Muslim constituents who felt threatened as a result of their faith or colour, I would stand in front of them as well.
I am grateful for the opportunity to take part in this thoughtful debate. I will start my brief remarks with a reflection on Ukraine.
Russia is undoubtedly breaching international law and its previous commitment to non-interference in Ukraine’s affairs. I want to make it crystal clear that I condemn President Putin’s hostile actions and violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty. We do, however, have to understand better what is going on in that area if we are de-escalate the situation and find the solutions that we seek. Russia has long been suspicious of western intentions on its borders, and it fears encirclement. The history and culture of Ukraine and Russia are inextricably bound together. In this context, no Russian Government would coolly accept the drawing of Ukraine into the EU or NATO.
Extremely experienced and respected commentators and ex-diplomats, including Sir Roderic Braithwaite and Sir Brian Barder, have observed that the west has badly mishandled relations with both Ukraine and Moscow with irresponsible talk of EU and NATO membership. Members of the European Parliament will vote next week on whether to ratify the EU-UK association agreement. I think we should be deeply uneasy about actions and statements that suggest a wish to draw Ukraine into NATO or the EU at a time when that will only escalate tensions.
Does the hon. Lady agree that at the time of Ukraine’s independence at the end of the Soviet Union it became specifically a non-nuclear power, and specifically sought to be neutral-ish within the region and to pursue a peaceful course? Does she not think that that is something that we should have respected, and should respect now?
I absolutely believe that that is at the heart of the problems that we are facing. The association agreement requires Ukraine to steadily approximate its legislation to that of the EU, a process to be monitored and even enforced by the EU. It sets up a political dialogue designed explicitly to
“promote gradual convergence on foreign and security matters with the aim of Ukraine’s ever-deeper involvement in the European security area.”
That is not compatible with what my hon. Friend has just described, namely the understanding and settlement for Ukraine in the past. I believe that at a time of such heightened tension, this agreement is inflammatory and divisive.
Does the hon. Lady accept that there are neutral countries in the European Union, including Ireland, and that that does not imply any kind of military threat to Russia? Does she accept that the Budapest memorandum was actually about the giving up of nuclear weapons—it did not particularly mention any alliances—in return for the guarantee of the respecting of Ukraine’s existing borders and its independence, which Russia has clearly breached?
There is no doubt that Russia has clearly breached that, and I absolutely condemn Russia as much as anyone else in the House, but I also think that the EU has been particularly provocative in the actions that it has taken and in the language in the association agreement. In my view, to suggest that Ukraine has a chance of joining the EU or NATO undermines the agreement that was made in the past.
In Washington, hawks in Congress are shouting about appeasement, and demanding action such as a NATO rapid reaction force to be deployed across eastern Europe to deter Moscow. Meanwhile, Britain is planning to send troops to Ukraine for exercises. I seriously question whether those actions will have the desired effect. The best instrument for co-operation and peace must be the UN Security Council. By definition, that must include Russian involvement, and must take account of Russia's interests and fears in its own backyard. I share the view that we should declare that Ukrainian membership of either the EU or NATO is not on the cards, and never will be. That might help to calm the situation, and it would be no more than a recognition of geopolitical reality. At the same time, Russia must stop seeing the world in zero-sum terms, and must stop seeing Ukraine as an extension of Russia.
There are many reasons why it is in Europe’s best interests to re-engage with Russia, and not the least of those is the rise of the vicious and barbaric terrorism in the middle east. That is why I believe that we should be very concerned about what is happening in the context of the rise of ISIL. On Monday, the Prime Minister rightly said:
“Britain is clear that we need to oppose not only violent extremists, but the extremist narrative.”—[Hansard, 8 September 2014; Vol. 585, c. 660.]
If we are to halt the influence of ISIL’s vile narrative, we would do well to try to better understand it, and to understand why it appeals to some disenchanted and marginalised young men. Professor Paul Rogers of Bradford university’s peace studies department, who is a specialist in international security and politics, points out that ISIL and others like it make effective use of western foreign policy to advance their warped message of a western expansionist “far enemy” intent on destroying Islam. ISIL does not care about consistency, justice, human rights or international law, but it has been very adept at exploiting any double standards on our part—such as the illegal invasion of Iraq, and such as continuing support for the Israeli Government despite ongoing breaches of international law, repeated horrific and disproportionate attacks on Gaza, and, now, the biggest land grab in the occupied territories for 30 years.
Double standards are wrong in themselves, but the fact they are exploited by ISIL is another reason, if it were needed, to ensure that we have a foreign policy with—dare I say—an ethical dimension. I do not believe that there is a “quick fix” military response that will defeat the likes of ISIL. Its ideology and influence need to be undermined, and airstrikes will do the opposite. That is precisely why ISIL is goading us to invade with its terrible, barbaric beheadings. That analysis is backed up by Richard Barrett, the former head of counter-terrorism at MI6, who warns that western military action would precisely play into IS hands and would, in a sense, be a recruiting sergeant for it. Airstrikes are sometimes promoted as some kind of intervention-light, whereas we know there is really no such thing—that precision accuracy is in reality all too often not precise. As ISIL well knows, those bombs often result in civilian deaths, which would greatly assist the extremists’ long-term recruitment drive. I completely understand the desire to do something, as people are being murdered, starved and raped, but we must not make things worse.
In the short term, the Red Cross principle of impartial aid to all victims of armed conflict must now dominate as our model for humanitarian intervention, not the doctrine that we must pick one side and help it. Moreover, our diplomatic efforts must intensify, and I want to know what progress has been made on working with Turkey, given the major concerns that ISIL is selling stolen oil through the Turkish border. What pressure are we putting on the Gulf regimes like Saudi Arabia—and surely that is compromised when, as I discovered in an answer received just today to a parliamentary question, it transpires that we have more than 200 civil servants from the MOD working for the Saudi Government?
Then there is Qatar, from which funds are often channelled to extremist groups, yet this is the same Qatar to whom we also sell millions of pounds-worth of weaponry. Surely we have more leverage than just calling Qatar “unwise” as the Prime Minister did on Monday—not forgetting that Qataris own a large portion of Sainsbury’s, a chunk of the London Stock Exchange, and London’s iconic Shard. We must continue to work with Iran, too.
Then, as I have said, there is also Russia. Unless we change our stance on what is happening in Russia and Ukraine, the possibility of working with Russia to try to stem extremism in the middle east will be massively undermined.
I came to this debate to listen to what was being said, and I have to say that I was deeply impressed by the speech of my right hon.
Friend Dr Fox. I was one of those who stood up in eastern Europe to defend our values. I was one of those who stood up for the values of tolerance, freedom of speech and particularly the rule of law. In this speech, I want to take us back to the situation in Israel and Gaza, notwithstanding that there is a ceasefire, which continues to hold. I also want to draw attention to my entries in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
The trouble with saying anything about the Israel-Gaza situation is that unless we come out immediately as pro-Palestinian, we are put down as just listening to pro-Israeli military propaganda. This is both untrue and misses the point. Nothing I say is going to be anti-Palestinian, but what I say is going to be completely anti-Hamas.
I have no sympathy for Israel when it comes to the building of settlements. The Foreign Secretary has already condemned this and I agree with him, and I urge Prime Minister Netanyahu to think again, but it would be wrong to address the situation in the middle east without condemning Hamas. It would be too easy to be dismissive of the role of Hamas in the current conflict, preferring to take a one-sided view of what Israel can do, rather than also round on Hamas. I am well aware of the history of the region. I have been in the region during a period of Hamas rocket attacks. In fact, I think I was in Jerusalem when Hamas fired its first rocket in that direction.
We should not forget that this conflict came about as a result of Hamas firing rockets at Israel. I cannot see that it does any good to claim that this is not so. Hamas launched over 4,000 rockets in the recent period. It does no good to claim simply that these were homemade rockets when so many were Iranian in origin. What does this say about those who call for an arms embargo against Israel while allowing Hamas still to receive these rockets—these rockets that bring so many in the region within their reach? I cannot see that it does any good to claim that few of these fell in Israel or that Iron Dome protected Israel, as if simply having the means of protection was itself a crime. Nor does it do any good to see this as a numbers game. We all want to see an end to the killing, but totting up how many have been killed does not provide a justifiable comparison. If we simply descend into a one-for-one argument, we descend into an area into which I, for one, would be ashamed to go.
We cannot achieve any results without looking at the tactics of either side. Hamas effectively uses the civilian population as a shield for its rockets and as a safe haven from which to fire those rockets. We have already seen it using United Nations schools and a medical facility to store rockets. Hamas was described by a constituent as a
The shocking images of 22 Palestinians being lined up to be shot for allegedly supporting Israel should have sent shivers down the spines of those watching. This all demonstrates that the solution to Gaza does not lie in a Hamas-controlled state. I remain convinced that the region needs a two-state solution. Israeli attempts to build more settlements are admittedly not the way forward, but neither is a situation that includes Hamas in its current position.
It is a pleasure to be called to speak in this important debate. During the summer, I was contacted by hundreds of constituents from across Oldham and Saddleworth—the two very distinct parts of my constituency—who were appalled by what was happening in Gaza and Israel. The inter-faith forum comprising all religious groups in my constituency mounted a petition that amassed more than 8,300 signatures in six days. It was presented to Downing Street during the recess, and it called for Parliament to be recalled to debate the crisis facing Gaza and Israel. Many of my constituents were hugely disappointed that the Government did not believe a recall was warranted.
We have already heard about the tragedy of the loss of life over the past few weeks, in Gaza in particular but also in Israel. This comes two years after the previous violence in the area. After the 2012 bombardment of Gaza, I was as appalled as many other hon. Members were, and I wanted to go and see for myself exactly what was happening. It was a moving experience, and it has left me with strong views. Consequently, I was disappointed that the Prime Minister did not feel able to condemn the indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks by Israel. That was highly regrettable and a huge mistake. We should be able to stand up to our friends and tell them when we disagree with them.
The Foreign Secretary and my right hon. Friend Mr Alexander have rightly said that a Palestinian child’s life is worth no less than that of an Israeli child. However, those are only warm words unless they are backed up by action. My hon. Friend Paul Flynn has rightly pointed out that much of the anger felt by our young people nationally and internationally is a result of the perceived injustice of no action being taken. Nothing is being done. We could not even recall Parliament. What message does that send? What does that make politics look like to ordinary people? It really is appalling.
We must obviously welcome the peace that we now have, but history shows us that it will be sustained only if there is international pressure from Egypt and other neighbours as well as from us and, in particular, from the United States. Many have called for an investigation into whether the UK has supplied arms and components in this area. I was interested in what the Foreign Secretary said about there being no evidence for that, but I would like to see the details published. Until we have sustainable peace across the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Israel, there should be an arms embargo from the UK.
Does my hon. Friend agree with the statement made that Israel is indifferent to opinion in this country and in many other countries because it is shored up by public opinion in the United States? Is it not time for us to make a stand against Israel and tell it that it has gone too far?
I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. The EU association agreement with Israel and the preferential trade terms should also be re-examined. The UK’s trade with Israel’s illegal settlements in Palestinian territory is not only illegal under international law, but a barrier to long-term peace. One way people get around the law is by mislabelling products. I was really disappointed by the response I received from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on that issue. I hope that the Home Secretary will be able to say in her response to this debate how we are monitoring that and ensuring that the law is enforced.
Caroline Lucas and my hon. Friend Richard Burden have both made important points about the inconsistency of our approach, which relates to the injustice that people perceive is meted out by us. There is such a difference in our approach to different areas. Sanctions against Russia are well deserved, but why is the same not happening in respect of Israel? We need to be able to explain that.
In the long term, we must press the Israeli Government to be brave and take action on the settlements built by Israelis on Palestinian land. The most recent encroachment, days after the agreed peace deal, was most unhelpful, to say the least. Israel must also lift the blockade on Gaza, as stipulated in the peace agreement. We must also demand that Israel ends the discriminatory approach of its law. One law is applied to Israeli children and another is applied to Palestinian children. That is outrageous. We should be demanding more, not just from Israeli leaders, but from the Palestinian leaders of Hamas and Fatah, as they are not blameless. Leaders on both sides have let down their people, but there is hope and I believe that ordinary people will prevail. I was sincerely moved by the real desire of ordinary Palestinians and Israelis for peace. In the long term they will prevail.
A network of terror is evolving across the middle east and it poses an existential threat to British and western interests both there and here at home. ISIL is just the most recent example of a network of terror that has been evolving over many years and which we need to confront. ISIL is operating out of Syria and northern Iraq, but there are also state-sponsored terrorist organisations, which have not been mentioned extensively in this debate, such as Hezbollah and Hamas. So the terror networks we face are diverse and they often have competing priorities.
What would be an appropriate western response to the threat of ISIL? I agree with my hon. Friend Rory Stewart that it is almost as though we have lost the institutional capability to analyse what is going on in the world. Because of global networks and the rapidity with which information is disseminated on the internet, we need to up our game in terms of understanding what is happening on the ground. Our response has to be multi-level, coherent and concerted, because this threat is complex and evolving, and in order to confront it we need to change our mindset.
In that context, what constitutes an appropriate response? It is right that we consider using British military air power, if required, but that needs to be done in the context of building alliances with other Gulf states to support the peshmerga and the Iraqi armed forces on the ground, in order to defeat ISIL on the physical battlefield. It is critical that we recognise that there is not only the physical battlefield but a digital one, which requires as much energy to confront. The battle against the networks is being played out on the internet and in cyberspace. It is a mistake to view ISIL purely as some kind of mediaeval phenomenon. Although it might be promulgating a mediaeval philosophy, the group understands the potential of the digital world to disseminate its message, the power of viruses on the internet and how to manipulate global opinion.
As I have said, the theatre of this war is not just physical but digital, and ISIL’s capability in that area will only improve and expand. We need to ensure that our response is equally flexible. We must be clear about the values that we want to promulgate on social networks. We want to encourage moderate groups, which believe in peace and in moving this situation forward.
We need to confront the evil ideology of ISIL through the use of our soft power and to understand how we can use those networks in a way that confronts ISIL and those who wish to use social networking to disseminate their message. We need to use our soft power to come up with political solutions that people in the region can buy into and that take us forward.
As other Members have said, we must not be trapped by history. We need to learn the lessons from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but we must not be paralysed by past mistakes. We should recognise that the circumstances and the conditions that we now face are very different from those 10 years ago. It is important that we are clear about the values that we want to assert in the world. There is a perception, which has been building over time, that the west is retreating. It is felt that the US is retreating from the world and that, because of the vote that we had in the House of Commons last year, the UK is too. But it is a perception. We must not retreat. We must prepare ourselves, be flexible and be ready for a long haul.
I apologise profusely for being out of the debate for most of the afternoon. I heard the speeches by the Front Benchers and then I had to attend a meeting at the Home Office about the data retention Bill.
I wish to discuss the issues that have been brought to my attention by my constituents. I will try not to repeat the points that I have heard. All sides of the argument have been eloquently made. I want to focus on Syria and Iraq. My hon. Friend Jeremy Corbyn has been in the House longer than me, but I have been here for 17 years, and on each occasion that we have discussed intervening in another country, there has been early consideration of the legality of such a move. I remember the discussions that we had on Iraq, and the elaboration of the just war theory, which comes all the way down from Thomas Aquinas.
Under the just war theory, before we enter into military action of any sort, particularly in another country, there has to be just cause, appropriate legal authority, proportionality, and the action should be taken in the last resort. Those are just some elements of the just war theory. I am anxious that we are taking the next step towards military intervention in Iraq and Syria without full cognisance of our legal position. Is there a just cause for an intervention at this stage by this state—the United Kingdom—when there are other parties that could be acting?
With regard to legal authority, I hope that whatever action we take we commit ourselves to ensuring that it is done through the United Nations with an appropriate resolution. No action should be taken unless there is the appropriate resolution. That was the problem with Iraq that caused such division both in our community and throughout the world.
I am concerned that we seem to be rushing fairly quickly to an extensive bombing campaign. No bombing campaign is based on precision bombing. We have seen that time and again, in every intervention in the past century. Proportionality was introduced to protect civilians but, in the bombing campaigns we have waged in recent years, there has been no protection of civilians.
That leads us to the question of who should undertake action if action is taken. There is an excellent article by Sunny Hundal on the Labour List website—I mention that because it contains many of my own thoughts and I do not want him to accuse me of plagiarism. UK engagement is exactly what ISIS wants. It wants the US, the UK and other western countries to invade Iraq and kill civilians, because that would unite radical Sunni elements in the middle east against such intervention. Sunny’s second point, which I fully agree with, is that ISIS would want to ally us with Assad, or even elements of the Assad regime if he goes. That, too, would unite radical Islamist forces against the west. As Sunny points out, ISIS would want the symbolism of the UK linking up with the US yet again to invade or threaten to take military against a Muslim country. I fear that UK involvement will mean that we have fallen into the trap that ISIS has set us.
If in accordance with just war theory there is a sound reason or a just cause for intervention, if it is the last resort and if it is a humanitarian intervention, I plead that the UK is not part of it. I agree with other hon. Members that other states in the region have a responsibility to act. They also have the resources to act. They have the military resources because we have sold them those resources. In recent years, Europe has sold Qatar €200 million-worth of military hardware. We have sold Jordan €34 million-worth of military hardware. Saudi Arabia has had €2,264 million in military exports.
Is my Friend aware that Saudi Arabia has possibly the worst human rights record in the region? It is unclear where many of the weapons that are sold to Saudi Arabia end up.
The whole argument was that the weapons were sold to Saudi Arabia so that they could be used in its defence, and to ensure that in the region it has a military presence that can effect the suppression of violence and the maintenance of peace. We have sold those weapons to those states, and it is now their responsibility to intervene on a humanitarian basis if necessary within the region. I agree that bombs usually do nothing more than elicit more violence; my hon. Friend has made that point in the past. Therefore, we should ensure that we supply humanitarian aid to the region.
Like other hon. Members, I was lobbied all summer on Gaza. We had a meeting of 200 people in my constituency, which mobilised with the 100,000 on the demonstration. People tell me that British citizens fight not just in the Palestinian cause and elsewhere in the middle east, but for the Israel defence force. I would like to know from the Home Secretary what action will be taken with regard to their passports, and what action will be taken against them when they seek to return to this country.
May I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the register, not least as an unremunerated director of the Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding?
I want to make two central points in the time available to me. First, the mission is clear. The mission of the international community should be to destroy the Islamic State. It would be a humanitarian action. Its behaviour and the appalling terror it has meted out in the area it controls comfortably jumps that hurdle. Having said that, the response must come from the international community, under the authority of a resolution of the Security Council of the United Nations. For obvious reasons, it should be seen not as a western intervention against Islamic State but as one that involves the nations of the region. In that sense, it is essential to have the engagement of Iraq and Syria as the areas of the battlefield on which this war must be fought and won, and the neighbouring nations of Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia must be part of the coalition.
We cannot just fight this war in Iraq because Syria has an air defence system under the control of someone with whom we do not want to do business, because then we will not achieve our mission and destroy Islamic State. In this complex area, we will, at the same time, have to force a settlement, as far as is possible, between Assad, the Free Syrian Army and the moderate constitutional forces of political Islam that are ranged against him. That means getting the Geneva process going and, critically, getting the Russians engaged, because Assad is Russia’s client. Just as the Russians enabled us to relieve him of his chemical weapons, they will be central in getting him to the negotiating table.
My central point has been repeated many times in this House. Despite the issues we face in trying to get international co-operation to support Iraq—such as the complexity of Kurdistan and the nature of the sectarian government that has plagued Iraq for the past few years—achieving the military mission will, somehow or other, have to involve Syria and Iraq.
Secondly, we must find a way of dealing fairly with political Islam. Like my hon. Friend John Howell, I much appreciated the speech made by my right hon. Friend Dr Fox. There is a battle of ideas, but the playing field on which the battle of ideology will be carried out must be properly defined. My right hon. Friend did not address the question of why Hamas behaves as it does and why perfectly decent Palestinian students studying in London who are not religious fundamentalists support Hamas. We need to get to a place where we understand the forces of political Islam that we are dealing with.
The Government are now sitting on a review of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, conducted by Sir John Jenkins.
Does the hon. Gentleman not think that a political dialogue is needed at all levels, including Hamas in the elected Government of Gaza, to bring about and encourage a unified Government in Palestine, which will be in the interests of all Palestinians and of the region?
I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman.
We face the much bigger question of how we will engage with political Islam. I am a secular, gay, western politician, and the values of political Islam are absolutely antithetical to mine, but people should be allowed to stand for election on a platform that brings their religious beliefs into play, much as the Muslim Brotherhood have throughout much of the middle east. We have yet to address the question of how we will engage with the Muslim Brotherhood fairly and reasonably, rather than doing so unfairly and unreasonably, tainting them with things of which they are not guilty. If their supporters cannot support the Brotherhood and are unreasonably suppressed, they might eventually make the transition to the ghastliness of what we have seen in Islamic State. In achieving a political and military mission to destroy Islamic State and everything it stands for, we must isolate it from the other political forces in the region. That means establishing the criteria by which we engage with political Islam.
My request to the Government, as they sit on the Jenkins report on the behaviour of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and its potential engagement, or not, with terrorist activities, is to establish in that report the criteria of what is reasonable and acceptable for a political movement such as the Muslim Brotherhood to undertake. What is the reasonable playing field for it to engage with me and the rest of us in the battle of ideas and ideology to which my right hon. Friend Dr Fox referred?
I have listened intently to the previous speeches. Given the political unrest that continues to grow, it does not surprise me to hear the many economic, political and humanitarian concerns that have been raised by so many Members. As my party’s spokesperson on human rights, I want to speak about the violations of human rights that have taken place across Ukraine, the middle east and north Africa—specifically, the persecution of Christians and what has happened to them. Some Members touched on that, particularly the right hon. Members for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) and for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden).
Were it not for Russia annexing Crimea and the unrest that there has been in the east, in particular, Ukraine was on the cusp of something good. The Davis cup tennis event was to be held there at the beginning of August, but that could not happen because of the unrest. Then there was the dreadful downing of flight MH17 back in July, when so many people lost their lives—a ghastly attack. The intervention of Russian troops in Ukraine, in collusion with the pro-Russian groups that live in the country, has left many Christians fearful of suffering persecution at their hands. Today we have an opportunity to speak for them. Corey Bailey of International Christian Concern has said that last month four volunteers from the Far East Broadcasting Company in Ukraine, which broadcasts the gospel across that country, were pulled from their building, and once it was discovered that they were evangelical Christians, they were beaten to death for their faith. Corey Bailey has claimed that pro-Russian separatists are suspicious of foreign or western influences and see evangelical Christians as a threat.
Andrew Bennett, Canada’s ambassador for religious freedom, has warned of the persecution of Catholics as the political crisis grows in Ukraine. There are clearly concerns about Christians of all denominations. In July this year, it was revealed that two deacons from the Church of Christians of Evangelical Faith and the two sons of the church’s pastor had been tortured and murdered at the hands of the separatists. The so-called militia of the Donetsk People’s Republic broke into the premises of the church and took the four men away. The terrorists also charged the church members with a crime against the DNR—namely, support for the Ukrainian army. Kidnappings, beatings, torture, threats of death and assaults at places of prayer are all happening to Christians in Ukraine, and we cannot ignore their plight.
The title of the debate also refers to the middle east and north Africa. At one stage, 20% of the population in north Africa and the middle east were Christian; that figure has now fallen to 4%. We are all aware of the toxic spread of ISIL across the middle east. In recent weeks, the western world has been brought to its knees in mourning for the two American journalists who were so brutally murdered because of their nationality—their rights, beliefs and freedoms as Americans. We have all joined in condemnation of this terrorist attack and of the so-called British citizens fighting their war.
The World Watch List includes Syria, where 600,000 Christians have fled the country or lost their lives in the civil war and where I fear that Christianity will cease to exist. In Iraq, we have seen the displacement of some 500,000 people around Mosul and the plains of Nineveh. Virtually all of Mosul’s remaining Christian population has fled. I believe that there is an axis of evil. In Iran, all Christian activity is illegal, from evangelism to Bible training and even reading of the scripture. The Iranian regime’s constitution and criminal code has legalised barbaric punishments for Christians such as amputation of limbs, gouging out of eyes, crucifixion, torture and public executions. In addition, pregnant women are executed and women in jail are abused. This happens in Iran on a regular basis.
In Sudan, faith-related killings, damaging of Christian properties, detention and forced marriage are taking place. We welcome the fact that Meriam Ibrahim was able to leave Sudan and go to Italy, but there are many others like her.
Finally, despite international pressure and the involvement of the Nigerian military, there has been no sign at all of the kidnapped girls in Nigeria, which is of great concern to us.
This has been a sombre debate. I urge the Government to be aware of the desperate plight of Christians and minorities across the world. Unfortunately, their struggles are often lost in the military or political coverage of these conflicts. Let us not be the country that stands silent while such suffering goes on all around us.
Order. In order to accommodate the six remaining Back-Bench colleagues who wish to take part, I am afraid that I have, with immediate effect, to reduce the time limit on Back-Bench contributions to three minutes.
May I apologise for missing a large part of the debate because of Select Committee duties? Personally I find great danger in these types of debates, because I do not have all the facts. If I had been fully and properly briefed by a general and by MI6, my words would, I hope, be wiser, but I will do the best I can with what I have learned and read.
This is a debate on world security, particularly in the middle east and the Gulf states. I want to touch briefly on two points relating to the NATO summit and any possible military conflict in Iraq.
I am delighted that NATO appears to have woken up to the fact that responsibility must be shared and that the share of the budget must be increased to at least 2% over the next 10 years. Why, however, should it take 10 years? If we look around the world, we see what a chaotic state it is in, so I would suggest that it should be done in one year or even less. Why should the United States continue to bear so much of the responsibility for world security? Every time they do something, they are often pilloried for it. They may get it right or wrong, but surely we would be in a better place to criticise if we took a bigger share of responsibility.
To a certain extent, I agree with Jeremy Corbyn that we should stop intervening in countries such as Iraq. In my view, the intervention in Iraq was a disaster—and so it has been proved. However, if we go into countries such as Iraq with promises that we will save them, restore all the things they want and help them live as near as possible to a law-abiding life, do we not have a responsibility when we pull out? We have lost brave members of our armed forces who have been killed or severely wounded. To simply leave such a country and abandon it to its fate would be a dereliction of our duty. Future politicians should ask the question raised by the hon. Gentleman: do we go in, can we afford to go in and how on earth do we get out; and if we do get out, should we go back in if what we were attempting to do has not been achieved?
I am not for one minute advocating boots on the ground, but if we were asked by an international confederation, including the Iraqis, to send troops to help deal with this minority group of 13,000 people—militarily we could succeed and teach a lesson to this barbaric group—would the Government consider putting British military boots on the ground?
Finally, if any British military action, including bombing, is to take place, will the Prime Minister and the Executive come to the House to ask its permission to send our armed forces into harm’s way?
I want to focus on Ukraine and Russia in the short time allowed to me. In 1988 and the early 1990s I chaired a parliamentary group, the Future of Europe Trust, dedicated to building links with Russia. I am appalled at what has happened between Russia and Ukraine. It is totally unnecessary and I think the west has done quite a lot of damage through not consulting on moves towards European Union membership for Ukraine after its nuclear disarmament. I also think that the approach of NATO has been quite wrong.
I refer the House to what the then US Secretary of State Mr Baker said at the time of the reunification of Germany. He said that there would be
“no extension of NATO’s jurisdiction for forces of NATO one inch to the east”.
The Russian newspaper Kommersant reported that President Putin made it clear at the 2008 NATO conference in Bucharest that, because Ukraine and, for that matter, Belarus are so clearly in Russia’s back yard, any move towards bringing NATO to Ukraine would cause severe problems with Russia. We have to take that into consideration. There is also the history of Crimea, which was taken by French and British forces, and that means Russia would see NATO coming into Ukraine as another defeat. Russia has always had security worries since the French attack under Napoleon and, of course, that by Hitler in the second world war.
However, I see Russia potentially as a friend. It helped us enormously through the northern distribution network when the Afghan war was at its height, and it did not interrupt our use of the Manas air base in Kyrgyzstan. If we do not make some sort of accommodation with Russia, we will have huge problems with Iran. Many hon. Friends have referred to the need to deal with the Syrian theatre, which is also a subject in this debate, but without Russian help that will be impossible. We need to be accommodating as far the small Russian base at Tartus in Syria is concerned.
The way forward is to say firmly that NATO will not move into Ukraine, part of which is anyway in Asia. The European Union needs to show some sympathy in dealing with that. We now need a realistic policy: we cannot go on with expansion that undermines Russian security, and we must think very carefully about bringing the Russians on board to resolve the terrible problems in Syria, Iraq and the surrounding areas.
I welcome this debate. Sadly, I feel that it is too little and too late, given the time available to us to address the subject and given that I believe Parliament should have been recalled many weeks ago because of the genocidal atrocities that we have seen, sadly, in Iraq and Syria over the summer.
We talk about history and the shadow it casts—with Iraq and, indeed, the Syria vote—but that emphasises how Parliament needs to be involved at the earliest stage if it is to consider the scale of any threat; to hold the Government to account for their actions or, as some of us see it, inaction; and to ensure that Parliament is behind the way the Government are going not only in relation to decisions that have already been made, such as to arm the peshmerga, but in relation to further action, not least air strikes, that should be properly considered by Parliament.
Syria and Iraq. We must also recognise that there is a need to look at the historical view, including by asking who were the friends of the British in Iraq. When we remember the centenary of the first world war, we should ask ourselves, “Who manned the Iraq levies?” It was the Assyrian Chaldeans, the Christians who now face extermination at the hands of ISIS jihadists. Such historical bonds should have an effect on our view of the national interest.
As has already been said, we must recognise that ISIS stands for the destruction of homes, lives and places of worship—such as the tomb of Jonah in the city of Nineveh—that have stood the test of time and existed for the Assyrians for some 6,000 years. As several hon. Members have said, including my hon. Friend James Morris, this network has not just sprung up over the summer, but has existed for many years. It threatens basic freedoms, not least that of religion. Boko Haram has declared a caliphate in Nigeria and militant Islam is having an impact in Indonesia, Pakistan and Egypt.
What must we do? I look forward to hearing about further action when Ministers return to the House. Such action should include aid—we should not underestimate the huge humanitarian support and aid coming from Britain—as well as safety. My hon. Friend Nadhim Zahawi talked about the need for a safe zone. That would be complex and would take time, but we should consider it.
In the meantime, we must not ignore the need for asylum and safety. Australia has been very generous, like other countries, and has suggested that it will take some 4,400 Iraqi or Syrian refugees. I understand that, under the vulnerable persons relocation scheme, 50 or so refugees have come to this country. We must be ready to follow the Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, who has said that
“watching preventable genocide is not a credible option”.
In other words, we should say, “Never again”.
When Parliament met last year to discuss military action in Syria, I asked myself two questions. The first was: does Assad’s Government pose some sort of threat to the United Kingdom? In my opinion, the answer was, and still is, clearly no. The second question that was important to answer was: would the action we took be likely to improve things for the civilians living in Syria? Again I felt that the answer was no. That was based partly on conversations that I had had in Syria with leaders of Christian communities, who condemned Assad but warned that the alternatives would be far worse. In considering whether we should support military action against ISIS, as we are now, I asked myself the same questions.
This has been a tremendous debate. I have listened with interest and have learned something from virtually everyone who has spoken. I have agreed with much that has been said by Opposition Members. This time, I have come up with slightly different answers. I believe that ISIS does pose a threat to the United Kingdom. Its aim is to spread its warped version of its religion at the point of a sword. Many of its followers come from Britain and may come back to Britain and commit atrocities here. My answer to the question whether intervention would help civilians in the area is also yes.
It would help not only the Christians, but the Yazidis, the Kurds, the Shi’a and even the Sunni Muslims who do not want that kind of Sunni Islam to be imposed upon them. I therefore believe that there are humanitarian reasons for taking military action.
If that conclusion is correct, we have to consider working with other people who are opposed to ISIS. That clearly means talking to Iran, which has an enormous role in the region. Uncomfortable though it may be for some, myself included, it also means considering talks of some sort with Assad’s Government. I am mindful that during the second world war we were forced to work with Stalin, who killed more people than Hitler. We were right to do so, because Hitler posed the obvious threat to our security. Since then, we have continued to work with regimes with dubious human rights records because we have been afraid of the alternatives. If we are committed to ridding ourselves of the evil that is ISIS, we have to be willing to work with anyone who is prepared to share the commitment to get rid of it.