Middle East: Security

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:37 pm on 7th January 2020.

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Photo of Ben Wallace Ben Wallace The Secretary of State for Defence 3:37 pm, 7th January 2020

The hon. Gentleman asks some good questions. First, we would of course condemn any attacks on heritage sites, and we recognise that they would be against international law. My counterpart, Mark Esper, the US Defence Secretary, has already clearly said that the US will not target heritage sites. If anyone were to do that, no matter whether they were friend or foe, we would of course call them out.

We observe and support the international rule of law, of course, which is why we support UN article 51 on the inherent right of a nation to defend itself. How a nation takes those sometimes very difficult decisions is, first, a matter for that nation and the intelligence and evidence it has in front of it at the time. I cannot speak for what the United States had in front of it at the time it made that decision; that is a matter for the United States Law Officers and, indeed, the President of the United States. What I can say of the intelligence that I have seen is that there is definitely a case to answer on the cause of self-defence. That is not me speaking for the United States; that is a matter for the United States. Every single leader has a very difficult challenge. They are the ones responsible for the decisions they make at the time, based on the information that is available to them.

I cannot expand further on the basis on which the United States made that decision. However, I know that the hon. Gentleman supports the inherent right in article 51 for a nation to defend itself. It is part of international law, and the UK Government defend a nation’s right to take that action if it is in accordance with article 51.