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Mr. Salmond: The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. One mistake that I think would be generally acknowledged, even perhaps by Ministers in retrospect, was the announcement at the start of the Kosovo action that no other military intervention was being considered. That, I feel, is the equivalent of an announcement during the second world war that only a bombing campaign against continental Europe was envisaged, without a D-day landing. I do not think that the Government would wish to make the same mistake again.

Let me now refer to what I suspect people should hear. I want the Government to take Macbeth's advice:

The most important aspect of the present situation is the necessity for speed, and that is why I feel extremely concerned. I know that the wise words are that it will take months and years, and that there cannot be a quick result or an effective early conclusion; but months and years are extremely dangerous in the case of this conflict, for three reasons.

First, the humanitarian clock is ticking. The concern expressed by Labour Members, by the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) and by my colleagues in Plaid Cymru over the last week will be shared by a growing number of people. Indeed, I think that everyone is now concerned about the fact that between 5 million and 7 million people risk starvation, but there is overwhelming evidence from aid agencies that in the current circumstances aid cannot get through. The Government say that it is the fault of the Taliban, and they are probably right—it probably is the Taliban's fault in many cases—but if a substantial number of people starve in Afghanistan over the coming weeks and months, believe me, it will not be the Taliban who are held responsible for that humanitarian disaster. The Government and the allies must therefore consider military action that will look for a conclusion sooner rather than later.

It was suggested from Pakistan this evening that 17 November—the onset of Ramadan—is being set as the deadline for the bombing phase of the campaign. Members would be interested to know whether the Government will confirm that during the debate. It is probably impossible to set deadlines, but the importance of Ramadan in the Islamic world, and also the fact that speed is of the essence, suggest that such deadlines might be welcome.

The second factor in favour of quick, early, effective action is public opinion in the Muslim world. Referring to the hitting of the Red Cross depot today, the Foreign Secretary said that no medicines or food had been involved. That is not what the International Committee of the Red Cross is saying, although it has confirmed that, thankfully, no Red Cross personnel were killed. All

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actions that result in civilian casualties will be as banners throughout the Muslim world, and the longer the action continues, the more difficult things will be.

The third and, in some ways, the strongest reason for an early end to the conflict is the fact that during the military stage of a campaign the chance of action spilling into neighbouring states and other conflicts is at its highest. We have already seen evidence in the past 24 hours of the danger of the simmering cold war in Kashmir becoming a hot one. The chances of spillover are at their greatest when military action is taking place.

Many hon. Members have said that good might come out of evil, and I share that view. I depart from some in believing that it was not possible for the American Administration, as indeed Nelson Mandela has said, simply to fold their hands in the face of the atrocities committed in Washington and New York. However, if we are to have action that, as the Foreign Secretary put it, makes the world a safer place as opposed to an ever more dangerous one, much more thought than we have witnessed today from Government Members needs to be given to the end game of the military action, as well as to the speed with which it is progressing.

I hope that the balance of the contributions that we have heard show that, although the Government have broad support, that support cannot in any way be taken for granted.

7.1 pm

Mr. Peter Kilfoyle (Liverpool, Walton): My hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard) made several references to anti-Americanism. That reminded me of a comment made by an American friend of mine, Irwin Stelzer, who would happily be described as on the right of the American political spectrum. He charged me with displaying a visceral anti-Americanism for daring to make some comments about American, and indeed British, policy pertaining to the terrible events of 11 September. I replied that, despite my rather pronounced viscera, there is not one iota of anti-Americanism therein. We have a duty in the House to discuss these issues, but we are having to do so against the background of a charge of anti-Americanism.

Within a week of the terrible events of 11 September, a broadsheet Lobby correspondent had a story about a Cabinet Minister spiked. It was entirely unrelated to the Departments concerned with the events post-11 September and certainly nothing to do with those events, but it was deemed by the editor to be unpatriotic in any way to criticise a member of the Cabinet at such a time. Frankly, there is a dereliction of duty on the part of both the fourth estate and ourselves if we do not raise the issues that are important to us with the candour that should be expected of us.

It is in the context of that constructive candour that I want to respond to some of the points made by the Foreign Secretary. He referred to the overwhelming evidence of the involvement of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda. I do not doubt that they are terrible people, guilty of terrible crimes, and that there is evidence against them, but the truth is that the document placed in the Library contained conclusions, not evidence. As I recall, there was a caveat on the top saying that it would not stand up to scrutiny in a court of law.

I do not object to that, but I would like to know, given that there is a Muslim view that we in the west have been less than even-handed in events such as Srebrenica and

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Sabra and Shatila, what evidence was presented to Muslim members of the alliance to convince them of the truth of the charges against Osama bin Laden. I do not ask to know what the evidence is, but has it been shared with those people, in order to cement the alliance?

The Foreign Secretary repudiated the notion that bin Laden and his accomplices could be arraigned before an international court. There are learned Members, both Government and Opposition, who will raise these matters with far more eloquence and knowledge than I could ever hope to have, but a question occurred to me: if we accept that the only effective way of dealing with Osama bin Laden is to apprehend him, if that is possible, and arraign him before an American court, where does that leave Muslim public opinion as regards Sharon?

Would the Lebanon be justified in demanding that Ariel Sharon be arraigned before a Lebanese court for the events in Shatila and Sabra? We are talking about international terrorism. I agree with the Foreign Secretary that the International Criminal Court will not have retrospective jurisdiction, but could Cambodia or Chile arraign Henry Kissinger on charges of international terrorism? I ask because that is the history that has informed the Muslim view.

I was taken by the reference to drugs as part of the post facto justification for the military intervention in Afghanistan. I do not recall any suggestion in the past that we should use military force to eradicate that source of narcotics. I also wonder whether the Northern Alliance, as an even greater trafficker in narcotics, would also be fair game for military action. I doubt it, because the realpolitik and the military exigencies dictate otherwise.

If we are talking about international terrorism, let us switch to another part of the world. What do we say to those who support $1.8 billion being dedicated to the fight against the FARC on the ground of combating drug production in Colombia? Leaving aside the fact that defoliants are being spread—memories of Vietnam come to mind—over the areas controlled by the FARC and have infected more than 10,000 Ecuadorians, and that the Brazilian Government will not allow the Colombian army to cross the border in pursuit of alleged FARC supporters, we must consider that that money is being used to support elements within the Colombian Government and its supporters in the Colombian establishment who finance the right-wing death squads and are more involved in the drug trade than the FARC is. We are opening an enormous can of worms. We are told that action is being taken on that matter, but I wonder how consistent it is.

I echo the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson) about the military dangers. We seem to be using traditional modes of warfare to deal with, in the jargon, an asymmetrical threat. I am unclear, and hope for illumination, about whether the bombing is intended to break the Taliban and bring them to the bargaining table or to prepare for ground troops to go in. If it is the former, I presume that it is already failing, because there are no signs, after a second week, that the Taliban are breaking up and are prepared to hand over bin Laden—even if they knew where he was.

If the bombing is to prepare for ground troops, we will shortly have the snows upon us, so it is a preparation for a very long haul indeed. I have not yet seen the publication on objectives that has been placed in the

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Library, but when I do I shall examine the objectives closely in the context of what I supposed was to be a short-term military action in Afghanistan.

Intelligence is also very important. Al-Qaeda has been set up as a deliberately nebulous cell system in which normal modes of intelligence such as electronic eavesdropping do not appear to work. Given the signal failure of the intelligence services to do anything to prepare for the terrible events of 11 September—I did not expect them to know the detail—I wonder how much better informed we are about the present disposition of al-Qaeda. How good is our intelligence, because that is the basis on which we must judge the military action that is taking place? I fear that we are literally and metaphorically shooting in the dark.

My greatest concern is the voice of those who wish to widen the war. The way in which elements in the American Administration have sought to shape an agenda that is dramatically different from that of the British Government is no secret. I would like to put on record my support and admiration for the Prime Minister's attempts to rein in those who wish to widen the war aims to include those other countries.

On British television on the night of 11 September, Richard Perle, the chairman of the Defence Review Board—a not uninfluential position—and a man formerly known by the sobriquet "the Prince of Darkness" urged that we ought to widen our aims beyond Afghanistan. He named those other countries that he felt should be the object of our military ire, including Iran, Iraq, Syria and Libya. Subsequently, that has been reinforced by Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, John Negroponte and others who would be fairly described as fully paid-up members of the hawkish tendency within the present Administration. Our Prime Minister has his hands full in trying to counteract that within the alliance.

I do not see that as an anti-American comment; quite the reverse. I wish all power to the elbow of Colin Powell, who seems to be trying to pursue a far broader and more consensual path in resolving these admittedly difficult issues.

We have to be patient and cautious in how we deal with the matters facing the alliance. My mind races to my reading, many moons ago, of Thucydides on the Peloponnesian war. While Pericles carved his name out for posterity with fine and warm words that have gone down through the ages, I recall the words at the same time of King Archidamus, the leader of the Spartan league, who, in a typically laconic speech, said:

I do not have to remind all the erudite Members who surround me that the Spartans won that war. These should be the watchwords for the alliance as we go down this difficult path: slow and cautious.

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