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UN: Responsibility to Protect — Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:51 pm on 30th June 2009.

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Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Spokesperson for Defence, Spokesperson for Culture, Media and Sport , Deputy Chief Whip 8:51 pm, 30th June 2009

My Lords, it falls to me to be the first person from these Benches to welcome the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Wakefield to this House. His was a thoughtful speech that helped point out that there are as many ways of looking at this problem as groups who will be involved in it. This is one of those debates where I know more about the subject now than I did when it started. I see his contribution in that light.

When I found that it had fallen to me to respond for my party on this subject, I went on a fairly steep learning curve—which has got steeper as the debate has gone on. It was explained to me in six points: just cause; right intention; final result; legitimate authority; appropriate means; and reasonable prospects of success. As we went through this, the noble Lord, Lord Jay, spoke of learning, study and getting in early to see whether the intervention can be successful. That suddenly made me think that that is the way to go, but it also terrified me. If you get in early you will make mistakes. You are bound to. There is no way you will not make mistakes. Whether getting in early to make the world a better place—literally, we are talking in global terms here—is a price worth paying for the mistakes made is a horrible decision to have to make for everybody concerned.

The noble Lord, Lord Parekh, pointed out that the two coming superpowers, China and India, probably have a different take on that to those within the traditional western world. If the UN is to mean anything, the opinions of China and India—particularly if they are in a bloc—must count for a great deal. If we could achieve consensus between the traditional western powers and China and India about defining a doctrine which can be acted upon, early intervention might become a vague possibility. I hope for an intervention that will not have to go down the route of military activity. Clearly the worst-case scenario is a bad or unsuccessful military intervention, something which creates resentment.

Iraq will probably hang over us for a while. Has Iraq been a successful intervention and did it have sufficient authority? We have been over this dozens of times. My opinion and those of my party on this are well known. Have we created a successful state there or have we merely managed to have a pause in an ongoing civil war? I hope the first is what has happened, but a possibility still exists of something hideous happening and intervention there.

As for the value judgments of our own society being placed on other societies, the ruling sections of Iran—the great culture that is Persia—might regard the threat and existence of this as a good reason for cracking down on any opposition to strengthen and protect their vision of what their society should be. It is a difficult job to balance these matters.

I look forward to hearing the Minister sum up. She could have given herself a rather easier ball to catch the first time. She has an extremely difficult job because the main problems with this doctrine concern the type of intervention, where it should take place, and at what level. We should stop people being slaughtered in genocide or ethnic cleansing—I hope that no one in the Chamber is in favour of that in any circumstances—but where do we intervene and how do we do it successfully? The real question is how we can get a doctrine that commands enough support on a worldwide basis. It is a difficult problem that we can only hope to get right most of the time. It would be interesting to know what the Government think are the limitations of our decision-making at this point.