Armed Forces

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:31 pm on 15th May 2002.

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Photo of Lord Moynihan Lord Moynihan Conservative 4:31 pm, 15th May 2002

My Lords, I am delighted to participate in this important debate which affords us the opportunity to cover so many key defence and security issues. As many noble Lords have said, our Armed Forces, who are deployed across the world, from Afghanistan to Kosovo and from Bosnia to Sierra Leone, have an outstanding professional reputation. I, too, wish to pay tribute to our troops for the distinction with which they have served, and continue to serve, in these operations, and to record the deep debt of gratitude which we in this country owe them.

The quality and readiness of our Armed Forces are recognised as among the best in the world. Yet this is a critical time for our Armed Forces and for our defence planning. The last decade saw efforts to sustain effective Armed Forces with the necessary equipment, training and manpower to meet the challenges of the post-Cold War era. Now the post-September 11th era has presented us with new and difficult challenges.

One of the indelible consequences of the terrible events of September 11th was the recognition that our security environment has changed. That change must now be factored into our defence planning and policy. Up until September 11th, many thought that we lived in a world with no direct threats to our and American security. We were wrong and we were not prepared. Although, as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Guthrie, stated, the post-Cold War strategic environment envisaged by the Strategic Defence Review has not transformed completely overnight, nevertheless I would argue that a paradigm shift has taken place. If we wish to continue to play a leading role in promoting international security and stability, it is vital that our defence policy be flexible and able to adapt as the contours of the international landscape change and as we are faced by new circumstances and new threats.

The Strategic Defence Review, now almost four years old, perhaps did not adequately take into account the threat from international terrorism and the growing likelihood of asymmetric action, and therefore it did not make homeland security a priority. Undoubtedly we will now need to make further adjustments to our Armed Forces, and, indeed, to the structure of policy formulation, in order to take account of these threats.

The reason we need to consider these issues is that more than 10 years after the collapse of the bipolar world, we find ourselves faced by a bewildering array of complex problems and diverse threats. Cut adrift from the perverse stability provided by the Cold War and the need to contain Soviet power, and faced by a tide of instability and conflict which seemed to sweep across a number of regions in the world over the past decade, we, together with our partners in the UN, in NATO and in the EU, have increasingly addressed the dilemma of humanitarian "wars of choice", the legitimate uses of military force other than in self-defence and the need to maintain peace in divided societies, in a world where inter-state atrocities progressively replaced the old paradigm of intra-state wars—Rwanda, East Timor, Bosnia, Kosovo, Sierra Leone and the Great Lakes region of Africa to name but a few.

At the same time, major contradictions in global society were also becoming apparent—contradictions between unprecedented peace and prosperity for some and protracted conflict and desperate poverty for others; and between rapid economic globalisation on the one hand and increasing political fragmentation on the other. In a world where globalisation was ensuring that our economies were integrating faster and on more levels than ever before, paradoxically the politics of separatism and nationalism were fragmenting societies and tearing them apart.

Yet time and time again we have failed to devote the same necessary resources to the resolution of the underlying causes of conflict as we do to the diplomatic and perceived military might used to end the fighting. Beyond the CNN headline-making appeal of waging and winning wars, the making and keeping of a permanent peace through the long, slow process of the restoration of a country or region, the reconstruction of its towns and villages, its businesses and communities, the revival of its spirit and its people were too often neglected.

Perhaps this explains why we have spent much of the decade in the Balkans, winning the war we had eventually chosen to fight and yet coming too close to losing the peace that we sought to impose, and which, indeed, has still to be won. It is a lesson that I am still not convinced we have learnt, even in the wake of September 11th. It is one that I hope the new chapter of the SDR will address.

Upon this landscape, September 11th literally exploded and changed that perception overnight. As Ashton B. Carter put it in the journal, International Security:

"on 11 September, 2001, the post-Cold War security bubble finally burst".

September 11th has thus opened a new chapter in our foreign policy and in our defence policy. We are now engaged in a new kind of war against a far different kind of enemy from any the country has previously known. Our definition of national security must include homeland security and must strike the right balance between the contribution that our Armed Forces should make to home defence on the one hand and to countering threats abroad on the other.

While the campaign in Afghanistan has been successful on many levels, we should not forget that it has potentially stopped only one powerful, dangerous and well-financed terrorist organisation. It is a victory indeed, but it is no more than the closing of the first chapter in the coalition against international terrorism. It will not be the end of the story. It does not decrease the threat of attack from any one of the many proscribed terrorist groups which have been born out of hatred and religious fervour.

Nor does it touch on our wider objective to do everything to eliminate the threat posed by international terrorism. This front of the war can be won only by pooling resources to establish a co-ordinated, unified, military response—indeed, an international response—against terror and the tactics of terror, built on the vital importance of the special relationship referred to by my noble friend Lord Black.

Military solutions can go only so far in defeating the enemy. The Afghan campaign was a success in that it toppled the sponsors of terrorism, the Taliban. The CIA estimates that only some 25 to 30 per cent of Al'Qaeda cells have been wrapped up. I agree with the comments of the noble Viscount, Lord Slim, in that regard. Intelligence and broad international co-operation are critical to draining the swamp. One only has to think of the September 11th hijackers operating out of terrorist cells in Hamburg. This is a challenge which can be effectively tackled only by a long-term approach that incorporates the full range of civilian and military means at our disposal.