War against Terrorism

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:02 pm on 4th November 2004.

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Photo of John Stanley John Stanley Conservative, Tonbridge and Malling 3:02 pm, 4th November 2004

I am happy to explain my position to my hon. Friend. I voted for the war in Iraq on 18 March 2003. I did so with the benefit of what the Prime Minister of this country said to me and the rest of the House of Commons about the threat from Saddam Hussein. We were told that Saddam Hussein had a large number of weapons of mass destruction, some of which could be ready to use within 45 minutes, and that they threatened vital British interests such as the sovereign base areas in Cyprus. That was the basis on which I cast my vote. Knowing what I do now in terms of the threat, I make it clear that if I had had such knowledge at the time, there is no way in which I would have supported an invasion of Iraq.

I want now to move beyond Iraq and point to the consequences for security elsewhere of our huge commitment there. I turn first to Afghanistan. As the House knows, several members of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs were able to go there earlier this year. There has undoubtedly been a huge consumption of military resources and finance in Iraq. However, we must ask what the impact has been on places such as Afghanistan. I welcome the fact that a successful democratic election has taken place, but the Prime Minister was not justified in seeking to convey the impression in Prime Minister's Question Time yesterday that, because Afghanistan has seen one successful election, that is the end of the country's difficulties. If he runs true to form, he may well suggest after the Iraqi elections in January next year that that will be the end of difficulties in that country. I am afraid that that will not be the case.

On security in Afghanistan, the Committee says—it is not contested—that President Karzai's writ runs in only part of the country, and arguably in a relatively small part. The warlords effectively reign supreme in their own areas. They are flush with funds. They are able to buy the weapons and recruit the militias that they want. The Taliban and al-Qaeda are far from eliminated there; indeed, they are having some success in rebuilding their positions. As the right hon. Member for Swansea, East indicated, we have far too few boots on the ground to provide credible security, yet security is fundamental to a stable democracy.

In reality, the job in Afghanistan is only half done. We have not put in the necessary resources—armed forces and finances—partly, if not largely, because of the substantial commitments made by the British and American Governments in Iraq. We are paying a heavy cost in Afghanistan.

Next is the situation in Russia, which is extraordinarily important. One justification, with which I agreed, that the Prime Minister cited for invading Iraq was the huge, long-term, worldwide danger of the al-Qaeda and extreme Islamic terrorist threat coalescing with the possession of weapons of mass destruction. I agree with him that that is the single greatest threat that the world faces, but he made those remarks about the wrong country. We now know that there are no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, but what he said is totally valid in relation to Russia and the WMD stockpile of the former Soviet Union. It is the largest stockpile in the world, and it has the potential to be a serious threat if terrorists get their hands on any portion of it.

As far as we know, that stockpile covers the full range of WMDs. I shall deal first with the nuclear weapons. As a member of the defence committee of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, I had the benefit a few months ago of being given a briefing, including pictures and photographs, on the security dimension of the nuclear materials that have been extracted from the reactors of former Soviet naval ships—submarines and surface vessels. Pictures showing the inadequacy of security surrounding those nuclear materials were deeply disturbing.

As for chemical weapons, the Foreign Affairs Committee had the benefit of being briefed in person by US Senator Richard Lugar, one of the world's leading experts on such weapons in the former Soviet Union stockpile. Inside what is now Russia, a huge stockpile of chemical weapons is still waiting to be decommissioned. There are worries about the security of those weapons.

Finally, President Yeltsin admitted that the former Soviet Union had a biological weapons programme, in complete contravention of its signing of the biological weapons convention. There has been an eerie and worrying silence, certainly in terms of any public documentation of which I am aware, as to whether those biological weapons have been destroyed, and if not, where they are.

I hope and believe that the basic problem in Russia is not will. The Russians are keen to get rid of that huge arsenal. With the terrorist problem that they have in their country, one can understand why they should be keen. The problem is money. Huge sums are being spent in Iraq to deal with what must be faced up to as the internal security consequences of our invasion of that country, when those same sums would be of enormous value in dealing with the former Soviet Union's stockpile. In 2003, the Chancellor announced a £3 billion special reserve to cover military operations in Iraq. The US Congress has appropriated a staggering $100 billion for military operations in Iraq. If that money, or even some of it, had been used and was now being used to remove the former Soviet stockpile, that would be a huge improvement in world security.

In conclusion, we cannot reach a definitive view as yet of whether the world is a safer place as a result of the invasion. However, there are grounds for serious worries about what will happen when the al-Qaeda elements that have now poured into Iraq get the benefit of operational experience and go back to other countries around the world. I hope that I am proved wrong, but I fear that there may be some awesome and awful consequences once those al-Qaeda operatives who are working now in Iraq, doing such appalling things, get back to other parts of the world.