Queen’s Speech — Debate (5th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:48 pm on 15th May 2013.

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Photo of Lord Hylton Lord Hylton Crossbench 8:48 pm, 15th May 2013

My Lords, I have very great sympathy with what the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, has just said. However, in this long debate I believe and hope that I may have found an area which has not yet been covered.

I want to argue that the war on terror, as waged since 2001, has been a costly failure. Afghanistan and Iraq were then already suffering trauma from previous wars and the impact of sanctions. Today they remain dysfunctional states, with high levels of corruption. Despite having major natural resources, it is likely that both countries will need more than one generation to become normal societies. As a side-effect, Pakistan has been partly destabilized, with political assassinations not fully curbed by elements of martial law. This is particularly serious in a country that owns nuclear weapons. All three countries are saddled with huge police and military forces for which they have difficulty paying except at the expense of their civilian populations. For example, in Pakistan barely half the children attend primary school. In Iraq the security forces are almost 1 million-strong, which equates to 12% of adult males. This is happening at a time when the Government of Iraq cannot organise sufficient electricity, water or sewers, and while schools and health services are poor.

The war in Syria, where some British volunteers are probably fighting, threatens—as has been mentioned—Iraq and Lebanon, together with Jordan and Turkey. Meanwhile, the virus of terrorism has spread widely to Yemen, Somalia, Mali, Algeria and elsewhere. The extreme jihadi pursuit of aggressive war remains attractive to partially educated young people. However, even graduates, when politically powerless, can be recruited to the ideology of violence. Unstable and despairing people can make good suicide bombers.

I am not alone in thinking that the so-called war on terror has gone badly wrong. Experienced British diplomats such as Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles and Sir Ivor Roberts have expressed strong disquiet. In the United States Mr Robert Grenier, the former CIA chief in Pakistan who was later director of its antiterrorism centre, proposed that the United States should find ways of appealing to the many Muslims who have sympathies with al-Qaeda but who disapprove of its methods. He said that the US would have to open paths to justice for those long denied it, whether in Kashmir, Chechnya or Palestine.

Unethical methods and shortcuts considered expedient largely explain why the West does not hold the high moral ground. Indefinite detention without trial for 10 years or more cannot be justified by law-abiding democracies. Guantanamo Bay remains open despite President Obama’s pledge to close it. We do not know how many other prisoners are detained elsewhere.

I remind Her Majesty’s Government of the case of Mr Shaker Aamer, the former British resident, who has twice been cleared for release but who remains incarcerated and separated from his family, who cannot visit him. In the past, suspects have undoubtedly been transferred to third countries for purposes of torture. Enhanced interrogation by techniques such as waterboarding were approved. If we still condemn what was done by the Gestapo and the KGB—as I hope we do—surely the West has to be clear and open about its treatment of suspects. Do the Government accept the criticisms that have been made of the Gibson inquiry? They should also be warned that many eyes will watch their implementation of the Justice and Security Act.

In recent years a shoot-to-kill policy has been adopted, overturning the previous doctrine of minimum force. So-called targeted drone attacks have killed many innocent civilians in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, as well as some suspected terrorists. Each death or wounding raises up scores of relatives eager for revenge. Warfare by remote control will never win hearts and minds, but it will alienate many. It should at the minimum be controlled by civilians and not intelligence agencies.

Everything I have mentioned, together with the long-standing demonisation of national resistance and liberation movements, should be reconsidered most urgently. We should understand how religious beliefs often motivate political behaviour. We should examine the demographics of North Africa, the Middle East and southern Asia. These will guide and govern what is likely to happen in future.

The co-ordinated use of soft power, which has been mentioned already, seems a better strategy, usable alongside or instead of hard power. Joseph Nye defines soft power as the,

“ability to get what you want through attraction rather than through coercion or payments”.

For him, there were three components of such power—culture, where this can attract others; political values, where these are credibly projected; and foreign policies, where they are,

“seen as legitimate and having moral authority”.

During the Cold War, the West by and large had these. I fear, however, that during the war on terror it may have lost them. Robert Pape, Mr B Raman and others have described ways to recover credibility.

Huge sums have been lavished on brutal rulers and on allies who demand far more from us than they can give in return. Further billions have been spent in search of military victory in countries that have then needed complete reconstruction. We must re-examine what we have tried to achieve and the methods that we have condoned for so long. Only after fundamental revision and acknowledgement of policy faults will we be able to face the world with a good conscience. The days of single-power hegemony are over, just as much as those of empire. Hard as it may be, these are the facts that we have to face. They demand the recasting of our foreign, defence and security policies, and our security should rely less on searches and other static protections and far more on good intelligence.