Previous SectionIndexHome Page


Mike Gapes: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the relationship between the United States and Russia is central to the future of global security? Does he agree that it is extremely important that the summit scheduled for Moscow next year comes up with a strategic agreement whereby international security will be enhanced, and that no steps are taken that can undermine that relationship over the next few months? It is essential that those two countries work out a new strategic relationship.

Donald Anderson: It is vital to build on the Crawford summit and on the personal relationship between President Putin and President Bush. Russia is not a superpower in the way that it was in the 1970s and 1980s. It can, however, play a positive role. Although there are unilateralist adventures, as there were in respect of Kabul and Pristina, Russia is very much on side. That should be encouraged; it is in all our interests.

Previously, China's views on national sovereignty led it fundamentally to oppose intervention within states, yet it has been ready to assist the coalition, partly because of the overflow of Uighur terrorism from China into Afghanistan. Central Asia has gained a new salience with Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. I was delighted to learn that the Foreign Office is reappraising the role of the British Government and, indeed, of our European allies within central Asia, so the world is changing as a result of 11 September. In my judgment, it is changing positively.

President Bush's hesitation about engaging in the middle east, following the failed but magnificent efforts of his predecessor, has been overcome. The United States Administration have recognised that they must be committed to peace in the middle east because it affects their interests.

Jeremy Corbyn: Is not my right hon. Friend a tad optimistic? The Israeli Government seem to be set on assassination squads against certain Palestinian groups, bombing the headquarters of the president of the Palestinian Authority and launching rocket attacks on all sorts of Palestinian places. Does he not think that we must

12 Dec 2001 : Column 867

stop that and be much stronger with Israel so that there can be a genuine peace process, and that since 11 September the plight of the Palestinian people has got worse rather than better?

Donald Anderson: My hon. Friend has his own view. I agree in respect of the assassination policy, but his comments are totally one-sided; he has looked at one side of the balance sheet. Is he confident, for example, that Chairman Arafat has the will or the commitment to stop the suicide bombers, who are destined to destroy any fragile peace? The question must surely be asked. If Chairman Arafat were to exert himself more, could he not lock up and keep locked up those who are determined to undermine the peace process in the middle east? Let us have a broader approach, not a one-eyed approach, in respect of the middle east. Clearly, there is now more prospect of positive movement because the US is committed; only the US has the necessary clout in the area.

I shall seek to move on, as it is a short debate. I echo what the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife said in respect of the second phase. I am concerned that some in the US Administration do not take either a multilateral or unilateral approach, but support the concept of the posse: from time to time, rather like in the wild west, the sheriff, the United States, will gather a group of people to ride into the desert, catch the baddies, return and not have a continuing commitment. That is, if I may vastly oversimplify, the theme of Richard Haass, who is now a senior official in the State Department. There is a fear that the US may be ready, with selected allies, to go galloping off into certain areas, in which context Iraq has been mentioned most. I wholly endorse the wise comments of the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife that we must be very cautious about Iraq. The Taliban were never a real state: Saddam's Iraq is. The Taliban and al-Qaeda hardly had any air force or any modern surface-to-air missiles: Iraq does. Iraq also has residual weapons of mass destruction and considerable military potential. It is also questionable whether the Iraqi opposition would provide a successful replacement, quite apart from the major political implications for the region that the right hon. and learned Gentleman set out so eloquently.

Failed states cause major problems, and we all know which ones we mean. We understand that US special forces are already operating in Somalia. However, it is the role of our Government to urge caution. If further campaigns are to take place, military action should be low down on the list of options. We should, so far as we are able, seek to say to our US allies, "Yes, we are with you in Afghanistan and in rooting out the al-Qaeda networks, wherever they are, but beware of blundering into parts of the middle east where the ramifications would be serious." I suspect that debate is being held between each side of the Potomac—between the State Department and the Pentagon.

Major changes have occurred since 11 September. I hope that those who severely criticised the campaign and who were always ready to see the negative side will be ready to revisit their views. Anyone who looks at the situation objectively will now see a far more positive picture than before.

5.27 pm

Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport): The right hon. Member for Swansea, East (Donald Anderson) always has the ear of the House and we listen to his comments with great

12 Dec 2001 : Column 868

interest. Over the past dozen years, we have passed through three distinct phases of defence threat. The first was the cold war, when the Soviet Union built a wall to keep its people in. We faced the massive military threat of Russia, which had both conventional and nuclear weapons.

At that time, it was difficult to explain our defence strategy. I was the chairman of an organisation called Campaign for Defence and Multilateral Disarmament. My hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) was also heavily involved in that campaign and we visited schools and colleges to try to persuade students that it was necessary to have nuclear weapons and that mutual assured destruction was the way ahead. However, that was not an easy argument to win. In Liverpool, for example, we went down by 370 votes to 15, with the undergraduates almost universally rejecting the concept of mutual assured destruction. Indeed, it is not an attractive proposition.

I remember Mrs. Thatcher being asked whether she would press the nuclear button and she said with enthusiasm, "Of course." That was not an easy argument to put across, but it was the right approach. We faced down the evil empire and the Soviet Union was weighed down by its excessive military expenditure. Eventually, truth and right prevailed and Russia retrenched. We actually won that campaign. It was not easy, but a consistent thread running through the three phases that we have faced is that careful analysis, the proper motivation of well trained personnel in the Army, Navy and Air Force, and determination will win through to the right answer. That worked in the cold war, which ended at the end of the 1980s.

The second phase was a time of uncertainty, especially from Russia's point of view. Russia was like the Vatican without the Pope after the fall of communism. The Russians were bemused and lost. Their military-industrial combines, which were such an important part of their overall economy, were no longer required in the same way. Russia also lost the satellite countries that purchased its military equipment, and it had to watch the advance of NATO, which took its markets as well as its allies.

Russia had to regroup, which led to uncertainty there, and there was uncertainty too in the United States as it watched Europe taking the peace dividend with enthusiasm. American defence expenditure remains at about 3.2 per cent. of gross domestic product, but European defence expenditure has fallen from 3 per cent. to about 2 per cent. of GDP. In Germany, it is 1.5 per cent. of GDP, and in Luxembourg it is 1.1 per cent.

Last week, I visited the American national defence university, where I picked up some vibrant phrases. I was told, for instance, that Europe was behaving like a "big, fat, lazy Switzerland" with regard to defence.

The Americans are conscious that, in financial terms, the European defence effort is only 60 per cent. of the effort made by the US, but that it is only about 15 per cent. as effective. The Americans have between six and seven times the military power of the whole of Europe. That gap is too large for complacency. It is not acceptable that the Americans should spend 26 per cent. of their defence effort on research and technology, whereas none of the European countries spend anything like as much. The United Kingdom and Turkey come closest to the American proportion. The technology gap is deeply worrying, and it was worrying before 11 September.

12 Dec 2001 : Column 869

As for the European perspective, Europe was groping for a role in defence, and produced the concept of the European security and defence identity. After the agreement reached by the UK and France at St. Malo in December 1998, the concept was that Europe would develop its own command structure within NATO. However, it is not good enough to develop command structures without increasing capability. A Texan told me that people in his state had another vibrant phrase for those who acted in that way. He said that they called them "ranchers with big hats but no cattle".

The third phase of the defence threat arose after 11 September, when the situation changed. A new type of threat exists, and it is no longer sufficient to plan in terms of deterrence. We must work to prevent the terrorist threat from being taken further.

That requires decisive military action. I am surprised that the House so far has let off hon. Members such as the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge), the international development spokesman for the Liberal Democrat party. She is in the Chamber at present, and her policy was clearly contrary to that of her party, in that she urged that we should stop the bombing during Ramadan. Those who agreed with the hon. Lady stand in a direct and consistent line with those many Labour Members who belonged to the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament during the cold war.

There will always be people—well meaning enough though they may be—who lack the ability to recognise military need. They will shrink from military measures, and fail to carry through the measures that are needed.


Next Section

IndexHome Page