Queen’s Speech — Debate (5th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:02 pm on 15th May 2013.

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Photo of Lord Alderdice Lord Alderdice Liberal Democrat 6:02 pm, 15th May 2013

My Lords, for the first couple of years of the coalition Government I was much encouraged and, indeed, enthused, by the change in the approach to foreign policy. It seemed that a number of problems had arisen. I listened carefully to the noble Lord, Lord Triesman—who is not in his place—and was struck by the fact that he was commending the Government for the improved investment in and development of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office; that there was a move away from some of the unfortunate approaches that had been taken during the George W Bush period; and that there were problems with the Government’s addressing of the European question. I found myself agreeing with him, and then thinking, “Wait a minute. The previous Government eviscerated the Foreign and Commonwealth Office that is now being repaired”. It was not just George W Bush during his period as the President, but Blair and Brown who were also in government. Our many problems with Europe were not fundamentally addressed during that time.

I will touch on Europe; on cyberspace, which was spoken about so eloquently by the noble Lord, Lord Reid, it not being the first time he has focused our minds on it; and on the situation in the Middle East, to which I devote a good deal of my thinking.

I have always been a convinced and committed European. I have based a lot of my own thinking and work in areas of conflict on the model of conflict resolution that Europe demonstrates. However, those of us who are pro-Europeans must recognise what my noble friend Lord Maclennan said about the inadequacy of European democracy. Many of us wanted to see the development of a Europe of the regions. Instead of that, we have not just a Europe of nation states but a Europe of national Governments, each playing off against the other. We must understand, too, that this inadequacy is not just in its democratic structures but in its failure to deliver on many of the things that could have been delivered in economic terms.

It is not possible to speak about Europe being a massive success these days. The worry is that we are a long way from getting through the problem. There is much talk about networks working together but, when it comes to the possibility of the European network being used in foreign affairs, where have we been in dealing with the Middle East? It is, I regret to say, still impossible to get our German colleagues to say anything that might be viewed as critical of any policy of the Israeli Government. It has proved almost impossible to get clear decisions from all Governments together on any serious foreign policy issue of any contention.

Of course it would be wonderful if we could work together on defence, but what has actually happened? Europe has basked under the umbrella of American protection since the Second World War. Not one of the countries, much less our own, is giving the resource necessary for Europe to defend itself. Again, in Germany, it is not yet possible to have a military parade in public, never mind to make commitments to serious overseas engagement. This is the reality of Europe. Unless those of us who are pro-Europe are able to convince the rest of our colleagues in Europe to take seriously what needs to be done on democratisation, on solving the economic problems, on having a common foreign and security policy and on being able to invest enough in defence, our people will not be persuaded that Europe is a viable entity. That would be an ultimate tragedy. That is the network that is closest to where we live.

The noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, mentioned the network of the Commonwealth. Like him, I regret that there was not more focus on it in the gracious Speech. It is another important network for us.

As I said, the noble Lord, Lord Reid, referred to the fifth space that has now opened. There is land, sea, air, space and, now, for the first time, one created by mankind: cyberspace. Much work and investment has gone into it. However, there are two areas which we have yet to address properly. One is international law in cyberspace. The noble Lord, Lord Reid, mentioned the Stuxnet virus. Had there been an equivalent attack by one country on another in any of the other four spaces, it would have been a declaration of war. However, within cyberspace, we are unclear on the rules of international law. Some time soon, we need to be. Otherwise there will be a tragedy of the kind that the noble Lord referred to: there will be some kind of attack without real attribution being clear. This is an area on which I hope my noble friend will be able to tell me the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is focusing some serious international legal attention.

The second area is the psychology of working in cyberspace in war. In the other four spaces, in the main we understand how people function. However, all of us know that when people start sending emails to each other, tweeting and texting, they suddenly behave in a different way: less inhibited, less thoughtful and less understanding of the consequences of their actions in many cases. I am yet to see sufficient attention being paid to research in the psychology of cyberwar and cyberterrorism; I declare an interest as someone who has given time academically and in business to this area. I hope that my noble friend will be able to tell me that additional resource will be devoted to research into understanding how people function in this fifth space.

Finally, I turn to the Middle East, which is the issue that frightens me the most. During the last election, people used to say, “I agree with Nick”. In this case, I agree with Paddy, because I am extremely frightened by what is happening in the Middle East. Much of what has been done from outside has created only more trouble. The notion that we are now starting to supply weapons that are massively surplus to any possible requirement in the region because we want to engage in some kind of influence is total foolishness. Again, I come to the network. We will not solve the Israel-Palestine problem by engaging just those two players. It will have to be done regionally. The Arab peace initiative has not had the attention from this country, from the United States or from others externally. It has been retabled, and it needs to be responded to. We will never resolve the problems with Cyprus, north and south, unless we understand the need for regional engagement. The more that energy becomes available there, the more it will either become an instrument for co-operation or a basis for new conflicts there.

Syria is no longer only a Syrian problem. I went out to Lebanon a few weeks ago, just to see how things were going, and I came back very fearful because that border is already entirely breached. Hezbollah is attacking back into villages which have its faithful within Syria and which are under attack from others, and atrocities are being committed within Lebanon itself. Jordan is being deeply destabilised by the number of refugees, and now we have attacks in Iraq and Turkey. It is almost already too late. When Russia sets down its requirements, it is also saying to the United States, “Stop acting like a cowboy, prepared to do things without United Nations agreements. This is a line you should not cross”. For that reason, as well as for many others, I desperately hope that when we come to debate the Queen’s Speech next year we will not do so in the context of some kind of catastrophic conflagration that has developed from the situation in the Middle East, because we are perilously close to it.