Liberal Intervention

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:13 pm on 15th November 2007.

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Photo of Lord Malloch-Brown Lord Malloch-Brown Minister of State (Africa, Asia and the UN), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Africa, Asia and the UN) 2:13 pm, 15th November 2007

My Lords, I join others who thanked my noble friend Lord Soley for bringing this subject before us today. I thank him for his reference to the hard-working Minister who has to deal with all of this and matters outside the House too. If that was a gentle reference to certain media stories in recent days, I should say that I wish that I could spend more time in the House. It is a very much more congenial place to be than the jungle beyond.

When the noble Lord, Lord Bew, spoke of neo-cons in his fascinating intervention, I was reminded how much the use of language in the United States has shifted and departed from the use of language here. Having lived in the United States for the past 21 years, I realised that this was the first time I was able to use the word "liberal" as a term of approbation in more than two decades. Therefore, I am a little disappointed that my noble friend Lady Turner made it clear that I should still use it with greater caution than I had originally intended.

It is clear to all of us that within the broad-based concept of liberal intervention is a subset called humanitarian intervention, where, as the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, indicated, there is a tighter, clearer definition of rules, terms and rationales for intervention. It is around that subset that I express the Government's support for the approach taken today by the noble Lord, Lord Soley. It was that subset which the Prime Minister had in mind when he talked about hard-headed internationalism, and which the former Prime Minister, Mr Blair, had in mind when, in that important Chicago speech, which has been mentioned today, he set out criteria.

There are, of course, long historical antecedents on intervention from Gladstone to Palmerston and Don Pacifico, as was suggested. However, this concept of humanitarian intervention is at its core moving towards a doctrine which is not just an optional one of conscience at the one end or national interest at the other motivating us to intervene, but instead involves a set of criteria in a globalised world where these are not interventions of choice but interventions of necessity, either because of the internal threat posed by mass crimes against humanity to the citizens of the state in which we are considering intervening, or because of an external threat that that state poses to its neighbours and to the world, as Afghanistan did when it harboured Al-Qaeda in 2001.

As regards the internal threat, a lot of work has been done to develop the doctrine of the responsibility to protect, and to intervene where a Government themselves have become the source of mass human rights abuses of their people, or at least are failing to protect their people against that. But that intervention, which is humanitarian in character, is very specifically motivated by the protection of people rather than by the claim of regime change. This is an enormously important distinction that has been brought out today. We are moving towards a world where we understand that there are circumstances involving external or internal threat to people which merit intervention. Mr Blair's conditions have been reviewed very well today. Therefore, I offer a slightly separate but overlapping set of criteria against which one might want to assess such interventions: first, that they are rule-based; secondly, that we are willing to sustain them over many decades; thirdly, that they are adequately burden-shared with others to allow us to sustain them; and, fourthly—this is what I think Mr Blair had in mind—that they are doable and achievable and that we will not end doing more harm than good and causing more loss of life.

I should say a word on each of those. First, obviously the most straightforward rule-based approach is where there is an unequivocal resolution of the UN Security Council to endorse an intervention, but we are all aware that sometimes life is not so simple. The case of Kosovo was raised. I believe that in a Written Answer of 1998, the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, said that a limited use of force was justifiable in support of purposes laid down by the Security Council, but without the council's express authorisation, when that was the only means to avert an immediate and overwhelming humanitarian catastrophe. Such cases would in the nature of things be exceptional and would depend on an objective assessment of the factual circumstances at the time and on the terms of relevant decisions of the Security Council bearing on the situation in question. The argument can be made that Kosovo met those conditions. The intervention, which averted a dramatic loss of life, was followed by a Security Council resolution that endorsed the subsequent military and political arrangements that were put in place.

The second criterion is that any intervention must be sustained. A number of senior British officials have, over recent months, talked of periods of up to 30 years to establish a successful, democratic, freestanding, prosperous and effective state in Afghanistan. Sometimes those statements are little misunderstood as meaning an open-ended military commitment by the UK for that period—which is not what is meant by that and I devoutly hope is not what occurs. Nevertheless, a role in training and a deep role in development and reconstruction support, at a significant cost to the United Kingdom and others, is likely to be the consequence of our intervention in 2001. While I argue that it is utterly justified by the circumstances that led us to make that intervention, perhaps politicians need to be clearer with each other and with electorates about the fact that these commitments and interventions are rarely short, clean and quickly over in the way that is sometimes implied at the start.

Thirdly, any intervention must be burden-shared. That brings us back to the United Nations and to the importance of trying to do it within a broad and, if possible, universal international coalition. It means that the human and financial costs are shared, and that it is easier to sustain the political will because we are all in it together. Fourthly, any intervention must be doable. Sierra Leone was doable. Kosovo was doable. We are going to make sure that Afghanistan is doable. But we are always tempted by that bridge too far to take on operations of such complexity and scale that they do not enjoy the confidence of the military that we ask to take on the task, let alone of public opinion.

In that, I argue that, as has been said today, Darfur posed a situation where the prospect of direct intervention to end the terrible killings that were going on in that region was properly resisted by British and other western politicians. It ultimately was not doable. The prospect of putting a British expeditionary force, with perhaps American and other European allies, into a landlocked region of Sudan the size of France with no obvious logistics and support systems available, against the overt hostility and military opposition of the Government in Khartoum, was not a plausible route to pursue, despite the dreadful things that were happening in Darfur. Instead, we were required to go through the painstakingly difficult, preposterously extended and still not ultimately successful effort to build an international coalition and to secure the support of China for more effective sanctions and pressure on the Government. We continue with that. The level of killing, fortunately, has gone down to a much lower level. We cannot pretend that we are not tempted. How much more difficult this is than the easier pulling the trigger on an intervention might have seemed; but ultimately we will conclude that, for all its difficulties, this is the correct way to proceed.

That brings us to the great gap between soft and hard power. At the hard power end, when it is doable and meets that test, it has all the clarity and cleanness of going in, sorting out the situation and changing the situation on the ground in a dramatic way. Soft power is just that; often just too pliable, too soft, too putty-like in its ability to change the behaviours of Governments in their international relations and in how they behave towards their own people. We will hear increasingly from both sides of the House the discussion about how we develop something between soft and hard power. What range of instruments is available to us which, through international coalitions and having the will of the international community behind us, allows us to pressure Governments more effectively to moderate and change how they behave?

When we make an intervention because we believe that we have answered correctly the questions that we have posed ourselves—even there we move first from the pre-emptive phase where we want to apply soft power or harder forms of it to make an intervention unnecessary—we move to the next phase, which is peacekeeping. The need to strengthen UN and AU peacekeeping capabilities to give them the means to act effectively is an enormous challenge for all of us. Sierra Leone has been mentioned as a success. We should remember the circumstances under which that British intervention took place. The UN force there had not been sufficiently strongly armed to do the job. It had essentially been routed at the time the UK deployed. The UK was brilliantly able to restore order and allow a strengthened UN force to take over again. In East Timor, an Australian expeditionary force under a UN mandate initially established order before UN peacekeepers could take over. UN peacekeepers are lightly armed and are usually unable to undertake much offensive action.

Even when they do take over in the next phase, we are seeing the difficulties of mobilising a force for Darfur and the difficulties of even beginning to plan a force for Somalia. We have huge challenges of training, equipment, cost, mobility, and shaping the kinds of forces that these operations need. At one end, they need highly mobile forces that are able to undertake offensive activity if necessary and, at the other end, given that these wars are in countries' population centres, there is the need for police capabilities, normally of an armed Carabinieri kind, which can keep peace in refugee camps and can keep ethnic groups from each other's throats. Those are skills that often soldiers do not have but police forces do. As we work our way through the mechanics of intervention, we can see that there are a lot of capabilities and issues that we have not adequately addressed if we are to do this on an international basis.

Thinking about moving beyond the intervention, I will quote from the Prime Minister's speech earlier this week, in which he argued that it is not just a matter of military intervention and peacekeeping but whether afterwards we have sufficient commitment to and vision of a recovery and reconstruction effort, and whether we have sorted out how the UN can be the fulcrum of an international effort to engage in that. He said:

"But where breakdowns occur, the UN—and regional bodies such as the EU and African Union— must now also agree to systematically combine traditional emergency aid and peacekeeping with stabilisation, reconstruction and development.

There are many steps the international community can assist with on the ladder from insecurity and conflict to stability and prosperity. So I propose that, in future, Security Council peacekeeping resolutions and UN envoys should make stabilisation, reconstruction and development an equal priority; that the international community should be ready to act with a standby civilian force including police and judiciary who can be deployed to rebuild civic societies; and that to repair damaged economies we sponsor local economic development agencies—in each area the international community able to offer a practical route map from failure to stability".

So we have our work cut out for us if we are to go beyond the doctrinal conditions for intervention to creating the means, institutions and processes to deliver on stabilisation and nation-building, where we need to do it.

Finally, I look forward to the debate next week on our Armed Forces. I suspect that we will discuss a situation where there is a great fear that too much is being asked of our Armed Forces and that our investment in them and the support we are giving them are insufficient to the growing challenges we are putting their way. I suspect we will hear some voices say that we should, therefore, retrench and pull back from the activities we ask our Armed Forces to undertake. I suspect that from some of those same voices we will hear a caution about nation-building, the long commitment that that takes and the implicit romanticism of the idea that you can stand up other people's nations for them.

Against that, as we grapple with a global society where other people's problems are our own problems, where terrorists can find sanctuary in Afghanistan, where illegal migration from failing and failed societies can cause huge difficulties, where failed societies harbour not just poverty but breakdowns of public health and other issues that impact on all of us, from these Benches you will hear the argument that humanitarian intervention with clear rules built around an internationalised effort to achieve the goals that we mutually set ourselves will become more, not less, important as we seek to build a world of justice and opportunity for all and, equally, a world where those of us living in rich societies believe that our Governments, our armed forces and the institutions we have created, such as the UN, work not just to help the world's poor and those living in weak countries, but to offer protection for a 21st-century global society where no problems can be kept out any more by old-fashioned borders alone.