War against Terrorism

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:31 pm on 4th November 2004.

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Photo of Michael Moore Michael Moore Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 4:31 pm, 4th November 2004

It is a privilege to participate in the debate.

Donald Anderson invited me to echo the comments of Baroness Williams, who described the report as brilliant. I am happy to do so. It clearly makes a substantial contribution. As the right hon. Gentleman pointed out, it is the fifth report in the series on the foreign policy aspects of the war on terrorism.

Once again, the Committee has served the House extremely well. The report should be read by all who have an interest in international affairs. As ever, the breadth of the Committee's work is impressive. Mr. Pope should not worry about a charge of political tourism being levelled at the Committee; the return achieved through the visits and the resulting report more than justifies the effort.

We are at an extremely important juncture in connection with the war on terrorism, with the re-election of President Bush helping to define the context in which international problems will now be tackled. It is not new for the Liberal Democrats to highlight differences with the US Administration's policies. Indeed, yesterday in this Chamber, we had the opportunity to debate that very subject. I repeat today that our principal hope is, as the hon. Member for Hyndburn suggested, that the President will take the opportunity in his second term to broaden his international focus and to widen the coalition of interests that seek to combat the threat of international terrorism.

As many right hon. and hon. Members have said, this is a key moment also for the Government. If ever there was a time to exert the influence that we have gained through our unique and strong relationship with the United States, it is now. With the imminent presidency of the G8, and in 2005 of the European Union, the Government have the opportunity to stamp their mark on all those pressing international issues.

The Committee's report highlights the scale of the challenges and the range of issues that fall under the foreign policy agenda in the war on terrorism. That conflict clearly has a military aspect, but it is far too simplistic to paint the picture of what needs to be done in khaki colours only. The series of reports of which this is the latest, lays that fact bare. It goes without saying that we need to defend ourselves: we need to tackle those who, explicitly or by default, would give aid to international terrorists. However, we need also to tackle the underlying conditions that fuel the terrorists' many and complex causes. We must not loose sight of the need to tackle those causes—the poverty that leads to conflict, which breeds further conflict, which lays the grounds for the growth of terrorism. The Committee has been right in interpreting its remit to look at a broad range of countries across the world, including Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, the middle east generally and the Russian Federation, while also re-examining the suitability of our international laws and organisations to address those matters. It is good that some of today's contributions have highlighted the particular importance of human rights in this policy area.

It is hard to do justice to the Committee's brief in the time available. Given our other recent opportunities to debate some of the issues in the report, I shall focus my remarks on just a few key matters.

I draw attention to Russia, which has featured in the debate already. The Committee's focus on Russia has been absolutely right and paints an alarming picture. It shows in more than one way the importance of Russia to the whole war on terror. Parts of the report, and the evidence supplied in the compilation of it, show that there are many in Russia who are suspicious of the west's terminology and think that the war on terror is simply a cover for spreading western influence through the regions of the world where it is not seen to be strong enough. Others have pointed out that it is a handy cover for some activities into which Russia itself wishes to extend its influence. Certainly the conflict in Chechnya, in terms of how Russia has pursued it and justified it, echoes many of the debates that we have in the west. Since the Committee's report was compiled, we have had the horrors in Beslan—unimaginable, terrible events. Sadly, the response to that from the Russian authorities has been almost exclusively in terms of that event's being part of international terrorism and the need to respond to it robustly. That is a mistaken analysis, and we must do everything to persuade the Russians to resist it.

The Committee has drawn particular attention to the existence of nuclear weapons, nuclear materials and other weapons of mass destruction, such as chemical and biological weapons. The situation in Russia is fundamentally alarming. The scale of the problems that remain since the end of the Soviet Union is beyond belief. Some good practical steps have been taken, which I do not want to decry. In particular, the Committee draws attention to the American initiative—the co-operative threat reduction programme—and Senator Lugar and others are prayed in aid. Their expertise has undoubtedly been useful in focusing attention on that matter.

The report is critical of the European Union and its contribution. I hope that the Minister can clarify the position in his response. It is important, as the report highlights, that we make a contribution to ending the nuclear threat from old weapons, missile material and nuclear material at a level commensurate with our economic size in the world.

There is a danger in how Russia has been assisting Iran. I appreciate that both sides would maintain that that is an entirely civil programme, and we debated that specific issue here in Westminster Hall recently. However, it is important, as we reach the denouement of the situation in Iran at the International Atomic Energy Agency in the coming weeks, that we can persuade Russia of the importance and dangers of the programme and persuade Iran that it is folly to pursue that path.

Another area where Russia plays an important role is Ukraine. Because of the inconclusive results of the presidential election at the weekend—again, that is something to have arisen since the Committee's report—the process will run to a second round. On that issue we see an overlap between the war on terrorism, and old-fashioned political land grab and the desire of the respective blocs, such as Russia, and the United States and the west, to gain as much influence as possible. We shall have to watch the process with great care, because for all our preoccupation, rightly, with the war on terror, we must not lose sight of other geopolitical concerns.

A common thread of today's contributions and a serious thrust of the report is concern about nuclear proliferation. The case study of Pakistan is one that should alarm us all. The report colourfully depicts the A. Q. Khan network as offering almost tailored packages of nuclear expertise to anybody able to provide the funds to buy them. Indeed, the report quotes someone talking about a "nuclear Wal-Mart" having existed in Pakistan.

I appreciate the sensitivity of our dealings with Pakistan, not least because it has been an important ally in the military battles that we have been fighting in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Equally, Pakistan is not a member of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and for that reason some of the regular sanctions that we might hope to use through the IAEA do not exist. In dealing with President Musharraf and his allies in the regime, however, we must be clear that we cannot accept the way in which they have behaved in recent years, whether in the nuclear field or, as has been mentioned, on human rights.

Probably our most important debate in the House and elsewhere in the last couple of years has been about international law. The report makes a major contribution to that debate. We live in a changed world. Do we therefore need changed responses? I will not enter into the debate that the hon. Members for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples) and for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) began. They set out cogent arguments that illustrate the complexities of the issue. However, there is no doubt that there is more dispute about how we legitimise interventions and maintain peace and security in the world than there has been for a generation or more.

There are serious international initiatives seeking to tackle the issue, the most important of which is perhaps the high-level panel that the Secretary-General of the United Nations set up. That panel is due to report soon. As I have mentioned in recent debates, I hope that we will have an opportunity to debate its conclusions in the House and come to our own views on the way forward for the international community.

As the report sets out, whether we are talking about self-defence, anticipatory self-defence and how that interleaves with the US pre-emption doctrine, or the grey area of humanitarian intervention, we must be careful in altering our ideas to reflect a changed world situation not to provide arguments that will justify a Chinese intervention in Taiwan or a North Korean strike against South Korea or some other part of the world. That will be a finely balanced set of arguments, and we in this country must be alive to it.

We debated the reform of the United Nations this time last week in the Chamber. I hope that in responding to the Committee's work the Minister might say something about the United Nations counter-terrorism committee. In our Committee's previous reports the UN committee, originally chaired by Sir Jeremy Greenstock, has been highlighted as a significant development. I support the initiative, which is a very important part of the UN machinery. However, the report expresses real concerns that it has lost its way, although I accept that there have been attempts to update it and to provide it with proper support and political clout in recent months. Will the Minister give us his perspective on that? That is an example of a broader issue: we must collectively modernise the legal and institutional frameworks for our interventions and maintenance of peace in the world. We must not lose sight of that.

I shall comment briefly on situation in the middle east. I echo the comments made by hon. and right hon. Members about the depressing spectacle that it makes. Our pessimism is made more acute by the political weakness of Ariel Sharon and the political and sad physical frailty of President Arafat. Like the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon, I worry that the road map is dead and that we have been going through the motions for too long. Now is the time for the Quartet to have its bluff called. We will have to find a new solution if the new term for President Bush means that we cannot make progress. As I said, I am not entirely convinced that the policy proposed by Mr. Maples would be effective, but it is an alternative view, and we certainly need something dramatic in order to make progress.

It is always instructive and a pleasure to participate in debates instigated by the Foreign Affairs Committee. Once again, its members have brought a sharp focus to bear on the most pressing of international issues, and its work on this debate shows us that the war against terrorism, however that is defined, is not simply a military matter. I join others in commending this fine report and in encouraging the Committee to continue its excellent work.