War against Terrorism

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:47 pm on 4th November 2004.

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Photo of Andrew Tyrie Andrew Tyrie Shadow Paymaster General 3:47 pm, 4th November 2004

I follow a couple of outstanding speeches from which I have picked up a lot. I particularly agreed with Mr. Pope about Guantanamo Bay, which deeply concerns me and to which I shall return in a moment. I also strongly agreed with the lion's share of the extremely thoughtful and well-researched speech of my right hon. Friend Sir John Stanley and, in particular, with his allusion to the threat from lack of control and potential loss of control over weapons of mass destruction in the former Soviet Union and, specifically, Russia. I gave quite a lot of thought to that issue during the years in which I worked in that part of the world.

Most people agree that things have not gone according to plan in this war. Most would agree that the price of the invasion of Iraq is considerable. It is worth listing what that price is. We have a western alliance that is divided and seen to be divided by those who resent western and American ascendancy. Our moral authority, to which the hon. Member for Hyndburn alluded, has been badly damaged by Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib. Just as importantly, the limits to western power and to the United States' power in particular has been brutally exposed by Iraq; the US is militarily strong, but that type of strength does not appear to be the right or best form of strength to deal with this threat. It looks as if Iraq will be the limit to even the most enthusiastic neo-conservatives' ambitions of rolling out the new foreign policy invented by their Washington think-tanks in the 1990s.

Even now, after 18 months, there is serious insurgency in Iraq, and few of us know how it will be brought to an end. We can hope, but that is all we can rely on. A military solution looks extremely difficult to find. The border, particularly with Iran, is poorly policed where it is policed at all, and the scope for further penetration of Iraq and the building up of what were described as al-Qaeda training camps will certainly continue unless there is some radical change of policy.

A middle east settlement is further away than it has been in many years. Far from accelerating the process, the invasion of Iraq has made it much worse. Far from acting as a deterrent against nuclear proliferation, which is probably the biggest threat to our security, the invasion of Iraq seems to be spurring several countries to maintain or enhance their weapons programmes, the most prominent of which are Iran and North Korea.

Far from winning over moderates in the middle east who yearn for a more western and democratic style of government, the invasion seems to have succeeded only in alienating large sections of the populations there. The effect of the invasion has been to strengthen Islamic fundamentalism, including militant fundamentalism, and weaken a number of secular Islamic states, some of which are now internally under threat from fundamentalism. There also seems to be a dangerous binding together of Arab nationalism and Islamic fundamentalism. That would worry me deeply, and it is reminiscent of what happened after Suez, which enabled Nasser to bind his breed of nationalism with socialism and anti-colonialism, which all but expelled the west from influencing much of the middle east for more than 20 years.

Finally, there is Iraq itself, to which I have hardly referred in my litany of things that seem to have gone wrong. We are told that up to 100,000 Iraqi casualties may have been sustained, although may be huge exaggeration; I have no way of knowing. I remain extremely concerned that our action has been deeply detrimental to western interests. We have performed a humanitarian act by removing a brutal dictator, but I can think of few other benefits that we have derived from our military action. Indeed, the Prime Minister seems to admit as much from time to time, when he says that he will apologise for the intelligence on the possible threat that led to the war, to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling alluded, but not for removing Saddam Hussein. By implication, that seems to be saying, "Well, I got rid of Saddam Hussein; he was an evil man, and I will not apologise for having done that good for the world."

A number of hon. Members may think that I have overcooked the down side, but even if they do not agree with all my points, most people would agree that we are in a mess. I want to explain why we are in that mess, and in so doing to make some suggestions on how to get out of it. We are not in the mess because we failed to do adequate post-war planning or did not send in enough troops, or because not enough thought was given to policing the Syrian or Iranian borders or the diplomacy before the invasion with a number of key middle east countries was poor, which it certainly was. Neither are we in a mess because we underestimated the Ba'athist capacity to plan for our occupation and make life difficult once we arrived, or because of al-Qaeda, about which the hon. Member for Hyndburn spoke. Those reasons fall into the category of second-order issues.

We are in a mess because the justification for military action given by George Bush and the Prime Minister has had dramatic repercussions in the way in which foreign policy is being conducted in the world. I am referring, of course, to regime change and pre-emption. Regime change and pre-emptive military action can never become the basis for orderly relations between states, and neither can attempts to impose western values at the barrel of a gun. The weak resent such doctrines, and that creates the conditions for the harbouring of terrorists in otherwise moderate Muslim populations. Meanwhile, those strong enough to seek to protect themselves from such policies will do so. It has not been lost on small states that do not share western values that North Korea—a nuclear power and a far more serious rogue state—did not get the same treatment just after it expelled inspectors, while Iraq was invaded just after letting them in.

The plain fact is that the doctrines used to supply the intellectual support for the military action that we have taken are deeply dangerous and destabilising. They further neither America's nor Britain's national interests. They erode the things that keep order in the world, such as the principle of non-interference—"Don't invade my house, and I won't invade yours."

I would be less worried if I felt that we could heap all the blame on ideological zealotry in Washington and particularly on a small group of neo-conservatives. Unfortunately, however, I do not take that view, because my Prime Minister is in the vanguard on such issues and my country has been articulating the rhetoric. He has been arguing for several years that we should use military force to overthrow regimes that do not share western interests. What is more, he has been a vigorous advocate of such intervention even where broad-based support for it could not be obtained in the international community. He has made that clear in several important speeches.

If we persist with such a policy, anarchy ultimately beckons. Larger states that know that they are immune from the regime change treatment will use the same justification for their own actions, adopting the language of George Bush and of the Prime Minister to buttress their foreign policy interests. China has recently used the language of regime change in reference to Taiwan. North Korean spokesmen have been saying for two years that they may need to launch a pre-emptive strike on South Korea.

However, this is not just about language; it is about action, too. Putin has used the same logic to justify military action in Georgia. He is doing so not only to suppress terrorism, but to justify what he says is pre-emptive military action to secure his frontiers. The truth is that that is not what he is doing: he has deep interests in the Caucasus, which go way beyond trying to suppress the insurgency in Chechnya and have much more to do with ensuring that Russia maintains a tourniquet on oil supplies out of the Caspian sea. That is his aim, but he has found a new form of justification for it.

I have given only a hint of what lies in the Pandora's box that we have opened with our new policies. What we are dealing with—we must be clear about this, and I am very frustrated that so many people seem not to be—is a revolution in the foreign policy of the world's leading power, which our country is actively supporting. That revolution is deeply inimical to British interests.

I may be extremely and accidentally selective in the people whom I talk to in the foreign policy world—I talk to quite a few in this country and, indeed, in Washington, where I have a number of links—but I have the impression that the majority of people accept much of what I have said. That includes officials on the policy-making side; they might not put it quite the same way, but they basically accept what I have said. In fact, aside from small cliques and a diminishing number of people in think-tanks, it is difficult to find many supporters in London and Washington for these new doctrines and this new approach to foreign policy. Even the neo-conservatives in Washington are now arguing bitterly among themselves about whether they got things right.

I think that George Bush knows—many of his advisers certainly do—that the new US policy is derived from a number of misconceptions that gained ground after the cold war, and I can summarise them in three sentences. The first is the belief that the US preponderance after the cold war could be harnessed to impose a new world order. The second is the belief that the peoples, if not leaderships, of most countries share a deep-down yearning for American values. The third is that we can make the world a more secure, safe and peaceful place by spreading democracy around the world, even if we initially do so by force.

The first of those suppositions is simply wrong. It is not possible for America to impose a new world order, and I have tried to explain why. Indeed, it will create only a new world disorder. The second and third suppositions—that most countries want western values and that a democratic world inevitably means a more peaceful one—both need heavy qualification. On the second supposition, the truth is that, if anything, the world is becoming more heterogeneous and not more homogeneous in its values. That is a paradox of globalisation. The values that lie behind many communities are diverging, and communities are also becoming more local. Politics in all countries, whether democratic or not, is becoming more deeply local, while at the same time economic forces are pushing countries to become much more interdependent and creating a tension. Managing that tension will be a major challenge for policy makers in the 21st century.

As for the third supposition—the idea that if we make the whole world democratic, peace will break out everywhere—a huge amount of ink has been spilt on this subject. I will not try to launch into a lengthy debate; I shall only point out that the first world war was probably the most popular war in history. Asquith was jeered by a jingoistic crowd just outside this Hall, and the experience apparently had a deep influence on him and led him to change his mind about whether to take Britain into the war in 1914. He was sitting on the fence for a long time. If there had been referendums in Europe on whether to go to war in 1914, I am sure that there would have been three-to-one or four-to-one support in all countries. Indeed, a good number of the countries that participated were democracies or quasi-democracies. The mobilisation of jingoistic populism in democracies can be a source of conflict, just as much as a democratic country's wish to remain prosperous and peaceful can be.