Previous SectionIndexHome Page


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): I now have to announce the result of the Division deferred from a previous day. On the motion on Road Traffic, the Ayes were 176 and the Noes were 282, so the motion was disagreed to. [The Division List is published at the end of today's debates.]

25 Apr 2001 : Column 369

Foreign and Security Policy

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): I should announce that Mr. Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

7.23 pm

Paddy Ashdown (Yeovil): I beg to move,

To be frank, I move the motion with a little sadness. That is not, of course, because there is any deficiency in the motion, which was drafted by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell), and is therefore perfect in every detail. It is because I suspect that this is the last time that I shall have the privilege of moving a motion on behalf of my party. [Hon. Members: "Shame."] I agree with that, but it was not said before today.

Nearly 100 years ago, Lord Curzon was speaking on foreign affairs. He was Viceroy of India then, and said:

He was speaking, what was, for his time, no more than the truth. He was speaking at the end of a century that took the rather new idea of the nation state and raised it to sophistication and at the beginning of a century when it became the engine of two of the most destructive wars in human history. The nation state that he was talking about was the arbiter of all things. There was nothing in international affairs except nation states. If a country was not a nation state, it was nothing. Nation states and their sovereign institutions were sovereign and not subject to interference from anywhere else. Their governments proposed and disposed; their parliaments were sovereign and did not have to acknowledge anybody else. Such parliaments were the means by which we governed ourselves, by which we ensured our common wealth and by which we established our identity. Nation states meeting in solemn conclave with other nation states drew up treaties, established borders and disposed the order of the world.

So it was, but so it no longer is. Things have changed fundamentally in our world in ways that I believe that we in the House and people in other nation state parliaments are reluctant to acknowledge. Nevertheless, such changes are facts of our lives. It was no more than 80 years after Lord Curzon uttered those words when, in 1992 or 1993, the United Nations calculated that there were about 87 conflicts throughout the world, of which only two were between nation states and about borders. All the rest were within the borders of nation states or across them, and concerned conflicts among tribes, ethnicities, religions and communities. Lest it be thought that I am talking about some far-flung corner of the world more primitive than our own, let us remember that one of those 87 conflicts was in Northern Ireland.

25 Apr 2001 : Column 370

Things have changed fundamentally. The position of the nation state as the single monopoly that proposes and disposes all and whose institutions are all-governing and entirely sovereign is no more. That monopolistic position has been eroded by two of what I think, internationally, are the greatest events of our age. They are the migration of power from the nation state up to global institutions and into the hands of the global players, and the atomisation of its power down to the communities that make it up and into the hands of individual citizens.

I shall give the House a small illustration. In September 1998, I was in the little villages of Suva Reka, near Pristina, when they were being bombarded, shelled, looted and burned by the main battle units of the Yugoslav army. I will not bore the House with the details, which are probably reasonably well known. However, two little things caught my eye. It was a sort of paradigm that illuminated a much larger event. Every Albanian village had a graveyard--there were too many of them--with freshly dug graves, and every Albanian house, be it extremely poor, had a satellite dish.

I noticed amidst the mayhem and misery that while all the graveyards pointed, according to Muslim tradition, towards Mecca, all the satellite dishes pointed towards Murdoch. I fell to wondering which of those two facts would more greatly influence the lives of the people round whom the war was raging. The answer was that Murdoch would affect their lives more than Mecca. I was seeing the globalisation of influence. Power was being handed up to the global players, to whose operations frontiers and borders are irrelevant. They are unconstrained by any of the institutions that we have created and beyond any code of practice. They operate at least amorally if not immorally. I do not say that they operate immorally but they operate outside any moral code. If that is the case, in due course some of them will, if they have not already, operate amorally.

Power is in the hands of satellite broadcasters, transnational corporations, commodity traders and currency speculators who can influence economies and destabilise regimes even as powerful as our own, as we remember with pain from black Wednesday. International problems accompany the globalisation of international power. That includes good things and bad things. We cannot tackle drugs or international crime unless we are prepared to do it internationally. Power has migrated from the institutions of nation states into the hands of global players. Problems have migrated there, too. More and more in the world today, it is not the power of this nation or that but the interrelationship between them that matters. It is our interdependence that is the most important factor. The institutions that we create to manage global events will determine whether we live in peace and prosperity. We must work together, across borders, because we can no longer resolve inside borders the problems from which our citizens suffer. In short, we must learn to pool our sovereignty.

That is something that we in the House, especially those on the Conservative Benches, fail to understand. The Conservatives believe that pooled sovereignty is somehow diminished sovereignty. That is astonishing. Have not the Conservatives been telling us for 50 years how important NATO is? That was the first revelation of the need to pool our sovereignty. What more fundamental sovereignty does a nation have than the sovereignty to defend itself? Straight after the last war, we realised that

25 Apr 2001 : Column 371

unless we pooled our sovereignty in defence, we could not assure the defence of our own country and the security of its citizens.

I fancy that that is happening elsewhere, too. We cannot create a secure economy unless we are prepared to operate in a global marketplace on a larger scale than we currently do. We cannot secure a safe environment--pollution is no respecter of borders--unless we learn to work with our neighbours. I expect that that will be true of the pound, as well.

There is an argument according to which we will lose our sovereignty if we enter the euro. The opposite is the case. If the British pound, relatively small, is positioned mentally somewhere in mid-Atlantic, between the most powerful currency in the world, the dollar, and the second most powerful currency in the world, the euro, we will have all the sovereignty of a cork bobbing along in the wake of two ocean liners.

We will have to work with others, even on defence. We have discovered--a revelation of the 1980s and 1990s--that even collective security is not sufficient. We must have common security. In the era of weapons of mass destruction, our destiny rests with not going to war, for winning a war by using mass destruction would destroy ourselves. The great statement of John Donne:

has been elevated from a poet's vision to an imperative of international affairs. It is the only means by which we can survive.

One such means is the creation not just of global institutions, but of regional institutions--supranational institutions at a regional level. It was not the intention of the founding fathers of the European Union, but by chance we have created in Europe what is effectively the world's first operating international test-bed for supranational institutions. It is not insignificant that the rest of the world is following our lead, nor that the rest of the world is regionalising, too. We have seen it in the summit of the Americas recently in Quebec, we have seen it in the North American Free Trade Area and inevitably we will see it in the Pacific region.

Europe is our region, and we must be part of that. Why? Not because one must believe in some transcendental vision of European unity, or because one is impressed by the great mechanisms that we have created to govern Europe, but for the simple and practical reason that it is only by working with our colleagues in the European Union that we can deliver for our citizens in this country the things that we want them to have: security, a safe and clean environment, a context in which to operate our industry, and a framework for a stable currency, which is a pressing need. That is not to excuse in any way the failures of democracy or the excessive bureaucratisation of the European Union. Of course it is a flawed institution. This place is a flawed institution, God knows. That is not a reason for abolishing it, but for reforming it. That is what we must do.

Let me be clear. We are living in a rather febrile period before a general election, so I am aware that my words might be taken out of context. Heavens above, that such a thing should happen! I am absolutely not saying that the nation state will disappear. It will remain the most important context for our identity and for our governance. I am merely saying that we must consider a re-assembly--a redistribution--of power.

25 Apr 2001 : Column 372

Some of the power that we used to hold uniquely to ourselves must be distributed upwards to global institutions, because that delivers what we want for our citizens, and some must be distributed downwards to devolved institutions. The latter point is as true for Britain as it is for Macedonia. The devolution of power to local communities will be the most important matter.

I come to the second point--not globalisation, but atomisation. We have seen power passed down to individual citizens in our society, who trade in the global marketplace, oblivious of borders, who use the internet, and who are capable, sometimes frighteningly, of suddenly coagulating together in ways that are not recommended by Governments and frighten them to death. We saw that in the fuel protests. We saw it, probably, at Diana's funeral. We saw it in the Danish referendum.

One of the things that we have discovered, and of which we should be aware, as it has a profound implication for foreign affairs, is that the old idea of a singular identity springing out of the unitary nation state has gone. The last time that we heard it expressed was in Norman Tebbit's cricket test. [Interruption.] The foreign land speech is another example, as the right hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) says.

People are discovering other identities for themselves, apart from that of the nation state. They are finding common cause with their community, their religious group, their ethnic group. When that happens, the motivations that are unleashed are not always good. Incidentally, that applies not just to other nations or to Albanians living in Macedonia. It applies to me, too.

Almost two decades ago, when I first entered the House, if I had been asked who I was, I would probably have said that I was British, and that would have been sufficient. If I am asked today who I am, I have to give a rather different answer. I am Irish by extraction, and proud of that fact. I am west country by love and choice. That is where my constituency is. I am British, of course, but I am also European. Unless I can express my identity in that more complex way, I cannot describe the space in which I want to live and, above all, in which I want my children to live.

Here is the point. If we force upon people the unitary identities of their nation states, the result is blood, almost always. If we force the Catholic to say in Belfast that he cannot have an attachment to the island of Ireland and be Catholic and British at the same time, we will have blood on our streets, and we have. If we force the Muslim in Sarajevo to choose between his Yugoslavian and his Muslim identity, there will be shells in his city and in Srebrenica in his neighbouring communities.

The world is no longer as Curzon saw it. In the 18th century, the apogee of the nation state, there were only two conditions: nation statehood or nothingness. The world today is much more complex. I sat down in the margins of a Balkan conference recently with our ex-ambassador in Belgrade and for fun, doodling, we came up with the new institutions that we had to deal with. Of course, there were states, but there were also what we called non-internationally recognised state-like entities, or NIRSLES. There are lots of them about. Kosovo is state-like, but it is not internationally recognised, and we have to deal with it. The Palestinians and the Albanian community in the Balkans are further examples.

25 Apr 2001 : Column 373

Then there are partially internationally recognised state-like entities, or PIRSLES. Taiwan is partially internationally recognised and clearly a state. There are also internationally recognised non-state-like entities. Bosnia is internationally recognised and we declare it a state, but it is manifestly not: it is two states. I make the point not just for levity, but to show the complexity of the matters with which we must deal. Using the language of the 18th century and speaking of states or non-states, as we still do, and not altering our way of thinking means that we cannot resolve some of the problems that confront us.

I apologise to the House, but at this stage I am extremely pessimistic. The theory is that at the end of the cold war, having avoided global destruction, we live in safer and more secure times. I do not believe that to be the case. I think that we live in times of almost terrifying dissolution and change. The old institutions are breaking down. The old structures no longer apply. I fear that for the next two or three decades, the world will be very unstable, full of conflict and very frightening.

The words that echo in my head are those in A. E. Housman's great prophetic poem, written before the first world war, in which he said:

I am very worried about an era that may be characterised by the death of creeds--what great creeds are there today? I fear that it may be characterised also by the dissolution, incapacity and disconnection of institutions that do not seem to work any longer.

So, what do we have to do? Fundamentally, we have to change our way of thinking. We must break ourselves out of the language and conventional thinking of the old nation state. We must start thinking in more different ways. That is not new. Many times in our history, power has broken out of the institutions that we created to ensure accountability. It happened in Magna Carta, in Cromwell's time and when the Reform Act of 1832 took effect. We, too, are in a period in which we must create new institutions capable of dealing with power in the places to which it has migrated. That means one thing: accepting the globalisation of power and creating the instruments for global Governments of one sort or another.

I ask hon. Members to note that I do not refer to a global government, or to some parliament of the United Nations, although it has a part to play. We need to create all sorts of multilateral and international institutions to begin to cope with the problems that confront us. For example, it is unreasonable that we should ask the World Trade Organisation, which was created and formed to deal with trade, to deal also with environmental problems. We need to create a parallel institution that is capable of thinking about how it preserves the world's environment.

25 Apr 2001 : Column 374

My next conclusion is that the power of individual, unilateral action by states will diminish, however powerful they are. Increasingly, what matters will be the effectiveness and powers of the multilateral institutions that we create, which should be capable of dealing with the world's problems.

I think also that regional organisations will increasingly develop. Incidentally, I think that one of the effects will be the counteraction of the move towards free trade. As regional organisations grow, there will be a strong tendency towards the re-erection of tariff barriers. That must be resisted. The point is, however, that in terms of supranational regional organisations, ours is Europe. It is essential that we play our part in that.

If someone asked me what Europe must do in the next two decades to keep secure, I would answer that it had two primary foreign policy aims. The first is to maintain the Atlantic relationship through a period of great change and enormous tension, and the second is to assure the survival and ascendancy of democracy and the free-market system in the Russian Federation. We in Europe can do neither of those things unless we get our act together and work in a more co-ordinated fashion.

I believe that the Atlantic relationship will come under very severe pressure as the areas of interest, in terms of the euro on the one hand and of the dollar on the other, inevitably come into competition. As we get our act together, the handling of that relationship will require great skill and subtlety. I believe that the reform of NATO is crucial, as is the creation of what we were talking about as long ago as Kennedy and Kissinger--a twin-pillar NATO in which Europe and the United States work as equal partners. For instance, that is why it is our essential that we get our act together in a European common defence force.

Of course, all that is difficult and we will not necessarily have a smooth path, but it is, to my mind, more certain that the Atlantic relationship will be threatened if we in Europe do not begin to bear the burden of our own defence and cope with our own problems in our backyard. If we continue to call in the United States every time we have a problem and ask it to risk its treasure and the blood of its young citizens to solve Europe's problems on its borders in places such as the Balkans, we may be sure that the Atlantic relationship will sunder, and it will deserve to do so.

I believe that there will be an opportunity at some future time for us to think even more widely. One of the most significant problems in our world today is the instability that is created by currency speculation. We cannot recreate the Bretton Woods agreement, but is it impossible for us to consider establishing at a future stage some relationship between the euro and the dollar? Such a relationship could not only copper-fasten the political relationship that remains the axis of assuring effective preservation of western values in the world; it could also provide some stability against speculation, thus creating twin currencies that might act as the most effective trading currencies in the world and dampen the instabilities that are created by currency speculation. However, that is probably something for a long time in the future.

I have two other points, the first of which is about Europe itself. I think that we cannot go on living in a never-never land and having a free ride; we pretend that we can be an economic giant, as we are with respect to

25 Apr 2001 : Column 375

the euro, but remain a political pygmy that is incapable of getting its act together. That is an impossible position. The euro gives us an area of influence, things to protect and views to proselytise and propose. We will have to invest. Europe's current problem is that it has created a very tight economic institution--the euro--that is set within a very weak political institution. We will have to strengthen the political institutions of Europe. For instance, we will have to protect power around our borders to be able to secure them.

We will also have to adopt what we have failed to adopt in the Balkans so far: a co-ordinated regional European approach. We cannot go on dealing with Balkan nations piecemeal. When we dealt with Croatia, we thought that we had solved the problem, but in so doing, we blew up Bosnia. We solved Bosnia in Dayton, but forgot Kosovo. When we finished in Kosovo, we forgot to set it within a regional framework in the southern Balkans, and--lo and behold--Macedonia is now at the edge of war. We in Europe must have a co-ordinated Balkans policy that applies to the region and recognises that it is not the individual nations that matter in the Balkans, but the interconnection between them.

My last point is that I think that we will discover in the very near future that the security of nations--even medium-sized ones such as ours--cannot be secured except within a framework of international law that is clear and understandable, and which is policed and enforced. Let us not get too worried about our pace in assembling that framework. Frankly, we have not done terribly well, but no body of law springs from a single pen or technical textbook. Law is created by practice and precedent. We have slowly and untidily invented new rules for international intervention. We saw them in Kurdistan and Kosovo. We have invented new ways of going about things.

I can tell the House that when I returned from my trip of September 1998, which I mentioned earlier, I went to see the Prime Minister. I said that I thought that we must use air power immediately, and that if we did not do so, Milosevic would seek to clear out Kosovo completely. Of course, that was the terrifying Operation Horseshoe that we saw later. The Prime Minister said that in the absence of a Security Council resolution, which we would not get, we had not yet assembled a case under articles 1 and 5 of the UN charter to proceed legally with such a proposal. I think that he was right. We had to wait until the humanitarian situation got worse, which it did in due course, before we intervened. However, the fact that we did it legally under articles 1 and 5 makes it easier to do in future. We have created a precedent for international law. Part of that has to be an international court that is capable of dealing with war crimes tribunals. It is essential that we establish such an institution.

The day after I had been shelled by the Serb units, I went up to the Dulje heights and spoke to some of the Serb artillery commanders. At that stage, they were more frightened of an indictment from The Hague than of bombs from NATO aircraft. If we had used such means then, it might have been the only way in which we could have constrained their actions. That same day, when I went to see President Milosevic, I gave him a bag of the cherries that I had collected from his citizens who were living in the forest and who had lived on nothing else for six weeks. However, I also took him a copy of the Geneva convention with marks against the paragraphs in respect

25 Apr 2001 : Column 376

of which I believed that his forces--and him, as he had now been informed of it--had specifically contravened international law, for which he would subsequently be indictable, as indeed he was. That is an essential component of the international institutions that we must create not only to ensure justice after crimes have been committed but to act as a means of restraining the worst activities of those who, in due course, would probably fear the international court in The Hague more than the use of arms.

All has changed except our way of thinking and the language that we use to try to resolve our problems. At a time of huge instability, great tension and strong dissolution, the only way in which to create a secure, peaceful and prosperous world for the future is to establish multilateral instruments that are capable of achieving it.

Curzon's days are gone, and I prefer to use a text by Gladstone. I suppose that I can say that he was my great predecessor as party leader, although that is slightly self-aggrandising. During the second Midlothian campaign, when he was seeking to be Prime Minister, at a time when British forces were invading Afghanistan, he spoke the following remarkable words:

a statement of moral principle for his time, and, I suspect, a code of survival for ours.

Next Section

IndexHome Page