Liberal Intervention

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:05 pm on 15th November 2007.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Baroness Rawlings Baroness Rawlings Shadow Minister, International Development 2:05 pm, 15th November 2007

My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire. This has been a most interesting and wide-ranging debate, and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Soley, for initiating it so comprehensively this afternoon. I take this opportunity to say how pleased I am that the noble Lord, Lord Malloch-Brown, is answering these two debates today as he has such a deep knowledge and experience of these subjects. We are pleased, too, that he respects and shows that he understands the importance of your Lordships' House by his presence here rather than attending the Commonwealth Heads of Government in Uganda.

I quote, as did the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, the former Prime Minister speaking before the Chicago Economic Club on 22 April 1999. He said:

"The most pressing foreign policy problem we face is to identify the circumstances in which we should get actively involved in other people's conflicts".

What he said was significant for two reasons. First, he used the word "we" both to describe the joint responsibility of the United Kingdom and the United States in responding to issues of international concern and, more broadly, to emphasise the ever-increasing shift from a national to a truly global consciousness. Secondly, he framed the question of international foreign policy in terms of when and not whether it would be appropriate for civilised nations to intervene in those countries where humanitarian atrocities are widespread and oppression is the norm.

The former Prime Minister said:

"We cannot turn our backs on conflicts and the violation of human rights within other countries if we want still to be secure", and that,

"Acts of genocide can never be a purely internal matter".

The key message to be drawn from that and our debate today is that an increasingly globalised and inter-dependent world, the community of civilised nations, has a real commitment to the rest of the world to make certain that basic human rights are protected.

David Cameron, in his speech to the British American Project on 11 September 2006—and I am afraid that I cannot agree with the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, in his remarks on David Cameron—said that,

"we should be prepared to intervene for humanitarian purposes to rescue people from genocide".

He advocated the importance of a responsible approach to the question of humanitarian intervention, with humility and patience as guiding principles. He added,

"democracy cannot quickly be imposed from outside", and that force should be the last resort. Furthermore, he said that,

"we must strive to act with moral authority".

The noble Lord, Lord Bew, who concentrated mainly on Northern Ireland, rightly said that, in dire circumstances, in the end liberal intervention is "preferable to running away".

While the concept of liberal intervention is relatively clear by making sure that human rights violations do not occur, or continue to occur, its application is more problematic. What are the parameters of liberal intervention? The noble Lord, Lord Soley, rightly asked the question: when and how? He mentioned the closed regime in Burma, yet we saw pictures of the monks protesting. However, nowadays, with mobile phones it is increasingly difficult to stop any photography. The days of old-fashioned wireless jamming of the BBC World Service are happily nearly eradicated. We live in a different world.

Is the threshold of intervention to be determined by military resources of the UN or by the scale of any given humanitarian crisis? And, perhaps most importantly, which institution is best equipped to take the decision to intervene? Tony Blair referred to,

"the deadlock that undermined the effectiveness of the Security Council during the Cold War".

But that deadlock is not just an historical one. Since the end of the Cold War, the United Nations Security Council has on a number of occasions been either reluctant to sanction interventions or incapable of responding quickly enough to pressing humanitarian crises. As the Minister will know only too well, in the Rwandan genocide, for example, the Security Council failed to stop the violence, argued about whether genocide was happening and ordered a reduction in the UN peacekeeping force in the country. And in 1999, NATO intervened in Kosovo—as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Soley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Turner of Camden—without a UN mandate.

I add that earlier this year a UN envoy presented a plan to grant Kosovo limited independence under continued international supervision. The Security Council called for yet more talks with a deadline of 10 December after fierce protests from Russia and Serbia. I shall not go into more details in this short debate, but the Balkans are yet again in an extremely fragile state.

If the UN is to be the ultimate decision-maker on questions of intervention, the recurring question is whether the UN itself is in need of radical reform. As long as liberal intervention remains a necessary tool of foreign policy, does the Minister agree that it should be used only with responsibility and, above all, legitimacy? I am sure we are all very much looking forward to the Minister's response.