International Terrorism

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:56 pm on 18th October 2001.

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Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Trade), Department of Trade and Industry, Minister for Trade and Investment and Deputy Leader of the House of Lords (also Department of Trade and Industry), Minister of State (Trade and Investment) Deputy Leader of the House of Lords (also FCO) 5:56 pm, 18th October 2001

My Lords, this is the fourth time since 11th September that the House has had the opportunity of debating the international community's response to the threat of global terrorism.

In the three debates that we have had so far there has rightly been much questioning of the decisions taken by the Government. The proceedings have also been characterised by wholehearted, bipartisan support for our comprehensive approach, in which military, humanitarian and diplomatic efforts are of equal importance.

The breadth of that support has been a great source of strength for the country, for those of us with the responsibility of government and, very importantly, for our Armed Forces. We have been united in our admiration of the professionalism, effectiveness and, above all, dedication and courage of those who willingly risk their lives to make the world a safer place. Ours are the finest Armed Forces in the world, and we should again pay tribute to them today. Our thoughts are also with the patient and brave families who wait at home for their loved ones.

The previous Statement and debate in the House took place on the day after the start of military action. It has since continued for the past 11 days, with one pause last Friday. Cruise missiles launched from a Royal Navy submarine were involved on the first night and on 13th October. We have continued to be involved in the military action through the provision of refuelling and reconnaissance aircraft and the use of our facilities at Diego Garcia.

Our overall assessment of the strikes that have so far been carried out is that we have significantly impacted Al'Qaeda's capacity to train terrorists and have inflicted real damage on elements of the Taliban's military infrastructure. Achievement of the latter is, of course, essential if we are to end its support of Al'Qaeda. My noble friend Lord Bach will say more about that later.

Few conflicts are resolved by military action in a matter of days, and this was never going to be one of them. As both President Bush and the Prime Minister made clear from the outset, the terrain, the weather and the complexity of the targets mean that we can expect no early conclusion to this campaign. It will indeed be a long haul. It may take months, not days or weeks. As the United States President and the Prime Minister have underlined, a range of military tactics will be deployed. That is because we must eliminate the threat posed by terrorism. We need to remember that the threat is to our nation as a whole, to our families, to our places of work and to our communities.

The campaign objectives are set out in detail in a document lodged in the Library of the House. That document shows that the action has been carefully calibrated, that every effort has been made to ensure that it is proportionate to the task and that it meets our obligations under international law. Our objectives bear repetition here. They are clear and they are achievable. We must bring bin Laden and other Al'Qaeda leaders to justice and eliminate the terrorist threat that they pose. We must ensure that Afghanistan ceases to harbour and sustain international terrorism. If the Taliban regime does not comply with that objective, we must bring about sufficient change in that regime to ensure that its links with international terrorism are broken. The goal is to re-build stability in Afghanistan and thus help stabilise the region.

And let us be clear on this: our military action is focused on Osama bin Laden, the Al'Qaeda network and their Taliban allies. No further action is contemplated by the UK Government at present. The US President is also clearly focused on the operation in Afghanistan.

Some individuals may ask why military action is necessary and we should be clear about that. No one wants military action; it is always an awesome responsibility to decide to take it. By its very nature, it risks the lives of our servicemen and women and the lives of those who may get caught up in the conflict. We wanted a peaceful solution to the crisis following 11th September but the Taliban chose a different route.

A peaceful and achievable path was laid out very clearly by the US President and our Prime Minister from an early date: an ultimatum to the Taliban regime to hand over Osama bin Laden and his associates; to close down the Al'Qaeda network and terrorist camps; and to enable us to verify this. It bears repeating, and repeating again, that by rejecting this approach, by continuing to harbour and give support to Osama bin Laden and his terrorist network, it was the Taliban who chose to reject the path of peace.

The international community agrees with us. They know that this military action is needed. Canada, New Zealand, Australia, France and Germany, Spain, Italy and Portugal have all offered direct military support. The 15 countries of the European Union and the 19 members of NATO have all endorsed military action. Only yesterday, the Foreign Ministers of the European Union declared total solidarity with the United States. The United Nations Security Council in a unanimous resolution on 12th September expressed its readiness to take "all necessary steps" to defeat this terrorism; and the action taken is fully consistent with Article 51 of the UN Charter. We have not only justice on our side; what we are doing is justified under international law.

Rightly, questions are raised about civilian casualties. I assure your Lordships that we are making every effort to avoid civilian casualties in the present conflict by rigorously targeting military and terrorist assets only. Of course, the possibility of accidents and errors cannot be eliminated altogether. Fortunately they are rare, but there is always the chance that things will go wrong, however much care is taken. That is one of the huge responsibilities of those who decided that military action was necessary in the first place. But let us be crystal clear on one point: there is no moral equivalence between us and our enemy. While we seek to minimise civilian casualties, the terrorists seek to maximise them. That is exactly what they did on 11th September.

The people of Afghanistan have suffered for years from conflict and civil war, often fuelled by the outside world, which has not done nearly enough to help them. The Taliban regime and Al'Qaeda are the latest in a long line of calamities to befall them. But it should be perfectly clear that we cannot give the people of Afghanistan all the help they need until the influence of the terrorists is broken.

Perhaps I may try to deal with some of the issues which I know are troubling your Lordships and others about the humanitarian problem. The international community has been trying to deal with the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan for years. It was a humanitarian crisis that was exacerbated by the Taliban regime and its policies. For years the Taliban regime has been obstructing international efforts to help. And right now, the blockage to the delivery of humanitarian assistance is being created by the Taliban. Even now, the Taliban continues to hamper aid deliveries by imposing unacceptable taxes, looting supplies and offices and harassing local United Nations and NGO staff.

Humanitarian assistance is as important a part of our strategy as the military campaign. We are working with other donors to relieve the suffering. The International Development Secretary has pledged a further £15 million, on top of the £25 million pledged since 11th September and the £32 million we have committed to the Afghan crisis since 1997. We have also earmarked £11 million for the poorest communities within Pakistan. The European Union has undertaken to mobilise without delay aid amounting to more than £200 million.

Aid is getting through. Perhaps I may give your Lordships some figures which I hope will answer some of the points. The World Food Programme deliveries have increased from an average of 200 metric tonnes per day to 900 metric tonnes per day. Since 7th October, the WFP reports that more than 5,000 metric tonnes of food has entered the country.

Of course much more needs to be done to get vital relief supplies into Afghanistan. The WFP's target is to transport 52,000 metric tonnes of food into Afghanistan every month. So far this month, it has dispatched 11,000 metric tonnes, of which 6,000 metric tonnes has managed to reach its destination. The remainder is either in transit or stuck at border crossings.

This must be an international effort. The appointment of Lakhdar Brahimi, a former Foreign Minister of Algeria and a distinguished and able international diplomat and statesman, to have overarching authority over these life-saving operations at the United Nations, is the clearest possible signal of the importance we attach to the humanitarian coalition. When the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary saw Ambassador Brahimi last week, they assured him of the United Kingdom's wholehearted commitment.

Relief is the most urgent task. But Ambassador Brahimi has also been given a political responsibility for the longer term reconstruction of Afghanistan. This, too, is vital to our long-term security and to the fight against terrorism. And even before we embarked on this fight against terrorism, Britain was taking a leading role in shaping international thinking on the long-term future of Afghanistan.

Some of your Lordships will be concerned about what more the international community can do; for example, what more the United Nations can do. In the weeks since the atrocities in the US, we have worked towards a shared vision with the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and regional players. A senior Foreign Office official, Robert Cooper, has been appointed to develop our thinking on the future of Afghanistan and to work with the UN on building a consensus on the way forward as the situation develops.

The world agrees that any future regime in Afghanistan should be broad-based and representative of the great diversity of the country's ethnic groupings. The domination of Mullah Omar's faction and the grouping which produced them cannot simply be replaced by another narrow faction, whether it be the Northern Alliance or some other group, because no regime will be sustainable unless it commands broad consent among those it would seek to govern.

Therefore, the United Nations will play a key role. I am sure everyone will join me in congratulating the UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, and his organisation as worthy winners of the Nobel Peace Prize. In Afghanistan, they will have yet another opportunity to demonstrate their value to the world, just as they have done so often in recent years; for example, in Kosovo, in East Timor and across the continent of Africa.

The United Nations is the only truly global organisation. It alone has the global reach, the instruments and the expertise to help the Afghan people establish the conditions for successful government in their country. Our task is to make sure that Kofi Annan and Lakhdar Brahimi also have the resources and the political backing to make that happen. We will do all we can.

The broader objectives of our campaign are to root out terrorism wherever it exists in the world. This involves strengthening domestic legislation and international co-operation against terrorists and their funds. It will involve sustained pressure on those states which aid and abet terrorism.

Domestically, the Government are taking steps within the United Kingdom to address this long-term threat. There can be no safe havens for terrorists. We will systematically attack their finances and movements until the machinery of terror is dismantled.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Home Secretary both made Statements to the House of Commons on 15th October on freezing terrorist assets and emergency legislation to strengthen our own anti-terrorist laws. The measures include making it an offence for financial institutions to fail to report suspected terrorist transactions and giving law enforcement agencies full access to passenger and freight information which air and sea carriers will be required to retain. The Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 will be overhauled to prevent anyone suspected or convicted of terrorist involvement being considered for asylum.

Internationally, UN Security Council Resolution 1373 is the centrepiece of the global efforts. It represents a significant crackdown on those who fund and provide safe havens for terrorists, and Britain as chair of the Security Council committee which oversees the implementation of Resolution 1373 will play a key role in its success. I am sure that everyone will join me in expressing our thanks to Sir Jeremy Greenstock, our Ambassador to the UN, who will oversee that task. There is no better man for the job.

We are now supported by the broadest possible range of countries from east and west, north and south, Muslim and non-Muslim. We are not at war with Islam; nor do we seek a clash of civilisations. Islam is part of our civilisation--a full and valuable part--and Muslims are part of our communities and a part of what was attacked on 11th September. Our quarrel with Mullah Omar and the Taliban regime is not over their religious practices, but the terrorism that they propagate and support. I know that the Prime Minister and Secretary of State--indeed, all Ministers--have repeated that over and over again, but it bears repeating over and over again. We cannot say it often enough. There are those who want our Islamic community here and overseas to believe something quite different--of course they do--to try to justify the murders that they have committed and the murders that they say they want to commit. Bin Laden wants to drive a wedge between the Islamic world and the West, and we must not let him succeed. The terrorists are the enemies of the Islamic community, as they are the enemies of everyone who believes in tolerance, fairness and inclusiveness in our society and in global society.

We all suffer from the threat of terrorism, no matter from which part of the world we hail or which religion we practise, and we all have an interest in removing it. The Government and people of Pakistan recognise this. We should once again praise their courage in taking a firm stand against terror and supporting the military action.

We have to resolve the conflicts and the perceived injustices which terrorists exploit for their own ends. I know that a number of noble Lords have concerns about how all that is now happening will affect what is going on in the Middle East. At a time when the rest of the world is coming together to combat terrorism fighting continues in the Middle East. Our efforts to secure a just, lasting and comprehensive settlement are more important now than they were before. We were all profoundly shocked at the news of the assassination yesterday of the Israeli Minister for Tourism, Rechavam Ze'evi. The Foreign Secretary telephoned Shimon Peres immediately to express the shock of the British Government at what had happened and to ask that our condolences be passed to the Minister's family. This terrible news underlines so vividly the need for a peace process. It also underlines the potential of extremists who aim to disrupt that process. They must not be allowed to achieve their objectives. We call on the Palestinian Authority to do all that it can to bring the perpetrators to justice and we call on Israel to demonstrate the utmost restraint.

But the peace process was important before yesterday and before 11th September. The Mitchell plan was on the table for months. Resolving the Middle East peace process had been a top priority for this country, the US and the EU long before that. On 15th October my right honourable friend the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary discussed the way forward with Yasser Arafat. Peace between Israel and the Palestinians will come only through a political process which implements "land for peace" and brings security for Israel within recognised borders and an end to occupation and leads to a viable, democratic and peaceful Palestinian state. It is time for the political will which exists on both sides to be turned into reality, and it is time that the men of violence have the wisdom to recognise that a concession which helps secure a lasting peace for the young people of the region is not a concession at all but an immense gain.

We all want peace but sometimes there can be no peace until we have fought for it. I understand the fears which military action evokes, but the action that we are taking with our allies is designed to make the world safer, not more dangerous. By far the greater danger would lie in leaving the threat of terrorism unchallenged. The closure of the House of Representatives is another reminder of the will of some to undermine democracy. Military action is essential to avert more terrorist attacks.

But the military action is only part of the fight against terrorism. The surest way to defeat these evils is to build a more inclusive world where the cries of the people of Afghanistan, Sierra Leone and Kosovo do not go unheard. Of course the critics will say that we cannot succeed and we shall make the situation worse, but they said the same about the Kosovo campaign and look what happened. Now there is a democratic Serbia, Milosevic is in the dock, refugees are returning and new prosperity is on the way.

I believe that the world is coming together in a new community to tackle terrorism, but in that process we must consider honestly what allows terrorism to grow and why some ground appears to be so very fertile for the men of violence to propagate their terrible evil. We must try to learn from this process, use all of our formidable assets to understand how terrorism can flourish and do everything that we can to extinguish injustice and suffering. We have a huge responsibility not only to defeat terrorism but to deal with the circumstances that terrorists exploit in their desire to spread their evil. We believe that there will be a better future for the people of Afghanistan and, we hope, a safer world for all of us. This Government are committed to that task. I beg to move.

Moved, That this House takes note of recent developments in relation to the coalition against international terrorism.--(Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean.)