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10 Jan 2001 : Column 278WH


1.29 pm

Mr. George Galloway (Glasgow, Kelvin): During the war against Yugoslavia the Secretary of State for International Development said that those of us who were opponents of the war were blinded by our visceral anti-Americanism. Even by her standards, that was baloney. The leader of the anti-war camp was my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn). So viscerally anti-American is he that he was blissfully married to one for more than 50 years. At the age of seven, I could recite large chunks of the inaugural address of the 35th President of the United States, John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Like many Scottish people who share my background, I grew up with a portrait of the late President. Indeed, it still hangs on the wall in my home.

Only a fool would deny the unprecedented success of the United States of America. It has built the greatest economy in the world, landed men on the moon, and is reaching for the furthest stars. Despite many difficulties, it has constructed the most successful multi-ethnic state in history, and its sporting, scientific, and cultural achievements bestride the world.

It would be equally absurd to deny the special relationship between our two countries--a former colonial relationship, it is true, but one in which the colony has become fantastically more powerful than its coloniser. None the less, we remain united by a common language, a shared history, and, not least, the monumental achievement--together with our allies--of defeating fascism in the cataclysm of the second world war.

My concern, which is widely shared throughout the country, has nothing to do with anti-Americanism and everything to do with our own self-respect, independence and place in the world. It is not anti-American to be conscious that the USA has many sides and is guilty of many dark deeds. Nor is it anti-American to assert that a country such as Great Britain--with its own history, achievements, culture and reputation--is degraded and diminished by voluntarily reducing itself to a little echo that is prepared to encourage the USA's worst instincts, even when we know that they are wrong, while failing in the primary duty of a true friend: to advise where its best interests lie.

I could dwell on some of the dark deeds to which I have alluded. I could detain this Chamber for longer than is available with an account of the post-war history of American foreign policy. I could talk about Guatemala, Iran, Lebanon, Cuba, Congo, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Chile, East Timor, El Salvador, Nicaragua and many other dark chapters, but I have neither the time nor the wish to do so at this stage. I intend to concentrate on the immediate past and, more importantly, the immediate future.

I know that President Clinton was a seductive kind of guy. All manner of people in all manner of places fell for his undoubted charms, but I could never warm to him after he killed a good friend of mine in the early days of his presidency, just to prove how macho he was. While reeling from setbacks delivered by opponents of his policy of gays in the military, he unleashed--for the first time, but sadly not for the last--a cruise missile to divert

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attention from a mess of his own making. The pretext was the bogus conspiracy, uncovered with a fanfare, to assassinate former President Bush on a visit to Kuwait.

Most hon. Members will have forgotten the incident, largely because evidence of a conspiracy was so threadbare that even the Kuwaitis quietly buried it, but not before her family buried my friend, Leila Al-Attar, the finest woman painter in the Arab world, on whose house one of President Clinton's missiles landed, killing her and other members of the household, blinding her husband and severing the legs of her son. The then British Government backed that illegal attack on Iraq, but they were virtually the only Government to do so.

Sadly, that pattern was to be repeated time and again. On the day before Miss Monica Lewinsky was to appear before a grand jury to testify about her affair with the President, Clinton launched a blizzard of cruise missiles against targets in Afghanistan and Sudan. In Afghanistan, the target was the obscurantist terrorist, Osama bin Laden, who was once lauded as a holy warrior to be assisted, armed, trained and financed by the British and American Governments, and those of some of our closest allies. No international legal authority existed for that attack, nor was it sought by the USA. It goes without saying that the assault solved nothing and made every matter worse. It further alienated Muslim opinion, inflated the burgeoning reputation of bin Laden and added a new twist to the hatred of the USA that exists in large parts of the third world. Britain, with its long experience of that part of the world, must have known that that was bound to be the result, but it loyally stood by its man. That deepened the already dangerous sense in which our country was seen as the tail wagged by the American dog--a dog which, not to put too fine a point on it, was increasingly out of control.

The attack upon Sudan was far worse. President Clinton did not confer with his Chiefs of Staff before selecting the Al-Shifa pharmaceuticals factory in Khartoum as his target. He did not confer with his Cabinet, and we must assume that he did not confer with his special friends in the Government. Had he done so, any of them would have told him that he must have better evidence than that which he ultimately produced to justify a massive missile attack on a factory producing vital medicines in one of the world's poorest countries. As the smoke cleared and the dead were carried out of the pharmaceuticals plant, only one Government on earth paraded its support for the American action--the UK Government.

To my certain knowledge, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office does not, indeed never did, believe that the Al-Shifa factory was owned by Osama bin Laden, or was ever used for the production of chemical weapons. To my certain knowledge, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office knew from the beginning that this murderous act, carried out by President Clinton on the eve of his mistress's court appearance, was based upon a bright shining lie.

Like the conspiracy that never was, involving former President Bush in Kuwait, not much is heard about that lie. Indeed, reports suggest that in the near future the United States Government will reach a massive out-of-court settlement, paying millions of pounds in

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compensation to the aggrieved owners of Al-Shifa. Of course, this crime has not been forgotten in Sudan, or elsewhere in the Arab world, or by the 1 billion-strong Muslim population. Nor have they forgotten Britain's support for that crime.

Hon. Members will recall the rampage of British and American aeroplanes--only British and American aeroplanes--when we launched the verminous Operation Desert Fox during Ramadan in 1998. It killed and maimed countless civilians; it destroyed power, water and sewage facilities; it hit hospitals, bridges, schools and other essential civilian infrastructure. It was another mindlessly violent spasm, timed to divert a mounting threat to President Clinton's position, and again only one Government supported it--our own. Not even Operation Desert Fox's best friends can pretend that it was anything other than a monstrous, utterly self-defeating debacle, which strengthened the regime that it sought to weaken while degrading and diminishing the only two countries that participated.

Similarly, the so-called no-fly zones, which, without a shred of lawful authority, British and American planes--only British and American planes--patrol daily, violate the sovereign rights of Iraq. Meanwhile, millions of pounds of taxpayers' money are expended to kill and maim the very Iraqi civilians that the policy claims to protect.

According to two unimpeachable former international civil servants who are closely associated with the United Nations' policy towards Iraq, the sanctions policy is killing an Iraqi child approximately every seven minutes of every day and every night--a mass grave of innocents; children dying before they even know that they are Iraqi, but dying for no reason other than that they are Iraqi. Of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, the Governments of only two countries wish to continue this policy--a policy described by the Democratic party's chief whip in Congress, David Bonior, with whom I shall speak in Michigan later this month, as "infanticide masquerading as policy." Those two Governments are our own and that of the United States.

Even today, at the NATO meeting in Brussels, only two countries are resisting the rapidly emerging European consensus that the deployment of depleted uranium weapons should be halted until their impact on health and the environment has been assessed. There are no prizes for guessing which two countries they are.

In Britain just before D day it was said that all that was wrong with the American armed forces was that they were overpaid, oversexed and over here. I would not have gone along with that, and I have no problem with President Clinton's remuneration or libido, but I and a very large number of people in this country strongly resent the overwhelming extent to which he has been, politically speaking, "over here"--over here, over there, over everywhere--seeming to project American power like a giant with the mind of a child.

I know that the current leaders of both countries regard themselves as ideological fellow travellers, soulmates and friends. However, America has just turned off the third way--the Clinton-Gore Administration has been dumped by the side of the road and the country has a new Government of the

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Republican right. The party of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, and of George Bush Senior, who served under both Nixon and Reagan, is massing on the banks of the Potomac.

I say to the Minister, although I know that he will not be able to acknowledge it, that the Labour party in Parliament and in the country will refuse to be led into the same kind of relationship with the new American Government that it had with the old one. There will be trouble ahead if the Government seek to contend that it can be business as usual with President Bush and the Republican right.

It is frequently said that the Bush Administration will be more isolationist than its predecessor, and I very much hope that that will be so. However, early indications are that the new United States Government will be not so much isolationist as unilateralist, paying not the slightest attention to international opinion, international law and international alliances, and projecting a unilaterally American power wherever the Bush Administration determines that American interests lie.

Nowhere will that be more evident than in the new Administration's attitude to the so-called star wars fantasy of the national missile defence concept of a shield guarding the American mainland from ballistic attack. President Bush has appointed his own Dr. Strangelove to the defence portfolio in the form of Donald Rumsfeld, who also served Presidents Nixon and Reagan and is regarded as one of NMD's most fanatical supporters. The next Secretary of State, General Colin Powell, has signalled full steam ahead for NMD.

That policy, which will cost as much as $60,000 million, would be a fantastically destabilising development and an absolute breach of the strategic arms limitation treaties to which the USA has solemnly committed itself. The cover story spun by Dr. Strangelove is that this Ozymandian scheme is required because of the threat that is posed by so-called rogue states. Of course, that is a fast-moving definition. The two Koreas are rapidly conflating, Iran is busy reforming, Libya is turning into a Klondike and--according to the latest reports--even Iraqi policy is under review. It is likely that any conceivable nuclear threat to the USA from such a source would be delivered not by intercontinental ballistic missiles, but in a suitcase--in which case it would be better to beef up American customs than to saddle the world with the NMD monstrosity.

The real truth is that the NMD threat--it is a threat and a weapon--would, if it worked, allow the USA first-strike capacity with impunity and a massive thermonuclear goal of a start in any conflict. It is aimed not at Pyongyang, but at Peking and, to a lesser extent, Moscow.

One of the many storm clouds gathering over Washington is the contempt for Russia and the fear and loathing of China in the writing and thinking of people such as Richard Perle, who was known during the Reagan years as the prince of darkness and is now, again, close to the heart of presidential policy making.The $64,000 question is whether the Government will agree to submit and allow our country to become an offshore radar station and an early

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warning system with a 14-storey skyscraper on the Yorkshire moors, because that is an indispensable component of the system. As with the cruise missile deployment at Greenham Common, we, who will have no protection from the missile shield, will have placed ourselves in the front line as an important target in any nuclear conflagration. I predict a massive wave of protest and political turmoil in this country if that ultimate act of obeisance is made.

British agreement would be a fatal rupture with our European partners, all of whom oppose and fear this development. It would mark us forever as veritable slaves of American policy. Hugo Young stated the position perfectly in The Guardian when he wrote:

1.46 pm

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. John Battle) : The subject of this debate is the Government's policy towards the USA and my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Kelvin (Mr. Galloway) raised a series of wide-ranging questions to which I shall try to respond in the brief time remaining.

It is customary to congratulate the hon. Member who initiates a debate, but I want to go a step further than the usual courtesy and congratulate my hon. Friend on his outspoken, passionate and fearless commitment. He often speaks for the voiceless when others do not, without fear or favour. That earns him great respect. International affairs is not a route to popularity internationally or in one's constituency, which, as a Minister, I now know. My hon. Friend has tenaciously maintained his position and I remember him campaigning on international development some years before he came to the House. It is not easy for hon. Members to maintain their position against the odds and I compliment him on that.

My hon. Friend referred to the United States as the "most successful multi-ethnic state in history" whose "sporting, scientific and cultural achievements bestride the world." He said that we remain united by a common language and a shared history, and not least by the "monumental achievement", with our other allies, "of defeating fascism in the cataclysm of the second world war." I draw attention to those two points because I do not want to accuse my hon. Friend of being anti-American. However, I do not accept that we are a little echo or the tail being wagged by the dog.

I want to explain our policy in two areas. First, the United States is and will remain a close political ally of the United Kingdom, although the position has changed since the recent election. Secondly, I want to emphasise, as the Minister responsible for trade at the Foreign Office, that the USA remains our number one trading partner, and I hope that my comments on that and on the international affairs of the alliance will be taken in that context.

This morning, I had a meeting with the heads of mission of all our Latin American embassies to discuss the situation in every Latin American, central American and Caribbean country. The changed Administration in

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the United States is of great interest because, as yet, it is unclear whether they will be more unilateral or more multilateral in their approach. We have to watch what happens carefully and develop relationships with new people to move politics on, particularly for Latin America and elsewhere.

Let us consider trade--almost to get it out of the way. I am not suggesting that it is the most important issue, but I want to put it into perspective. We are key trading partners with the United States of America; it is at the top of the table for imports, exports and investment. Our interests in the 50 states individually outweigh our interests in many other countries in the world. The Government organisation, Invest UK, reports that of the 757 inward investment projects secured for the United Kingdom, 48 per cent. or 363 of them were from America. Of the 200 largest internet companies on the Nasdaq exchange, 134 have a European presence and, of those, 96 have a United Kingdom presence. The United States economy is slowing down, but it is not showing any reverse in those trends. The best United States firms will continue to invest heavily in new technologies and the United Kingdom is the key area of its investment.

As we enter 2001, the trade links are strong, and they are strengthening. We can fully expect the traditional bilateral deficit in trade in goods with the United States to disappear this year. Growth in some of the sectors has been absolutely incredible. I mention that only to suggest that our two-way trade in goods and services of about £80 billion a year reflects our mutually strong and important trade links, and a trading relationship that goes back more than 100 years. In that context, it is important that we work together and have a relationship that is not antagonistic. This is not just about trade, but £15 billion worth of investments is an important factor in our mutual trade relationship.

I shall now focus on international security. The United States is a world superpower and our closest ally. We work as partners in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. We face common threats, common challenges and our common security is mutually entwined. A good, close working relationship with the United States of America best advances our mutual interests and those of interdependency internationally. A strained antagonistic relationship would benefit no one.

I wish to respond to my hon. Friend's points about particular relationships in certain situations. I am more than happy to take interventions from him, but I just want to put matters on the record. Yes, we are allies over Iraq. I emphasise once again for the record that Security Council resolution 1284 offers a way out of the sanctions. We want them to be suspended and then lifted. The United Nations fast-track procedures, which were introduced a year ago, mean that the majority of goods do not need to be submitted to the sanctions committee for approval.

The United Nations is delivering more goods, more quickly to the Iraqi people. The sanction committee approves the majority of contracts for Iraq. There has been comment about this in the media in recent days. In fact, the United Kingdom put on hold less than 2 per cent. of the contracts that were submitted for approval,

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and those were referring to concerns about weapons of mass destruction. Occasionally, it needs to be put clearly on the record that claims that items such as food, children's toys and so on have been held up by Britain are not true. In light of my hon. Friend's knowledge of Kuwait and particular people there, I wish to put it on record that 600 Kuwaiti prisoners are still missing in Iraq. The position is not quite as one-sided as it is sometimes presented.

There has been much speculation about President-elect Bush's plans for a national missile defence system. I stress the word "speculation" because what we have been hearing is commentary rather than fact and analysis, and my business is not speculation. The Government will wait until the Bush Administration take office before considering any proposals that they make. Having checked, I do not think that Colin Powell has made statements on the record about pressing ahead on the national missile defence system. That is the situation as far as I am aware.

The European Union is not taking sides between the United States and Russia on that complex and sensitive issue; we want them to find an agreed way forward. Along with our European Union partners, we have made it clear that we want to preserve the anti-ballistic missile treaty and our strategic stability. I represent an area that is not far from Fylingdales and, as far as I am aware, the United States has not put in any request to us as about the deployment of such a system, and we do not expect them to do so until, or unless, they decide to proceed with such a deployment. As far as I am aware, nothing will arrive at Fylingdales next week.

Mr. Galloway : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way so graciously, and for his kind comments. Of course no planning application has been received. The Bush Administration are not yet in place. However, that event is only days away, and I assure my hon. Friend that Colin Powell has said that the NMD project will go ahead. Most significantly, the appointment of Donald Rumsfeld--who is the ideologue, the mainspring and the most fanatical and fervent supporter of NMD--as Defence Secretary, suggests that they will adopt a full-steam ahead attitude towards that policy.

Mr. Battle : I did say that as far as I was aware, there were no such plans. I did not know of Colin Powell's comments, and we will have to check that. I would like to assume the best rather than the worst--pessimism of the intellect and optimism of the will, I am tempted to say. Thomas Hardy, that great poet from Wessex, emphasised that we should have the courage to look the worst in the face in order to be able to change reality. He was only a poet, but I tend to share his view of reality.

We need to keep a close eye on the situation. I simply say to my hon. Friend--if I may indulge in a comment on the national missile defence business--that the records state that out of 18 attempts, only two have been successful. There are large question marks over the entire project. We cannot reasonably be expected to say how we would respond if we received such a request: we cannot know what the circumstances and proposals might be in reality. However, my hon. Friend has put down a marker. It has been heard and will echo outside this Chamber.

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The anti-ballistic missile treaty remains, in general terms, the foundation and basis of arms control. We should keep an eye on that and work with it to ensure that our planet, in the 21st century, is a safer and securer place, without violence.

On the issue of depleted uranium, a report of yesterday's meeting in Brussels suggests that it is untrue that a European Union consensus for a moratorium is emerging. However, as my hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces spelt out in the House yesterday, we take the matter seriously. We are insisting that all information on the health effects should be pooled and shared. Next week, the chief medical officers of NATO member countries will meet to discuss the health impact. The matter has not been swept under the carpet.

I refer to the question of whether the election of President-elect Bush will mean the end of any "special relationship". Of course, the President-elect has a different world view from President Clinton. However, a report in the 9 January edition of the International Herald Tribune states:

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On "Breakfast with Frost", the Prime Minister said:

My hon. Friend has set out a whole agenda, on which there are many more items. I warmed to the list of countries and areas of the world that he would have wanted to discuss, if we had but world enough and time--many of them in central and Latin America and south-east Asia. He referred to Plan Colombia, for example. We need to get our heads together about those serious, pertinent matters. There is space and time for a dynamic conversation. We are not a tail being wagged by the dog. We need a dialogue in which we move events on.

Mike Hancock (in the Chair) : Excellent timing.

Question put and agreed to.

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