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24 Sept 2002 : Column 73—continued

Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The last two contributors to this debate have had to contend with a

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continual low chatter throughout the Chamber, which is extremely insulting to them. I look to you for a ruling on the matter.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): The Chamber is rather full this afternoon, to say the least, but I think that what the hon. Gentleman says will be noted and hon. Members will listen to the speeches.

4.23 pm

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough): This has been an interesting debate so far. I hope that I am not overstating the case in saying that there has been a clear difference of view, as exemplified in the speeches of the right hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) and the hon. Member for Glasgow, Kelvin (Mr. Galloway).

The hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell) mentioned Churchill. In another famous debate on whether to go to war, in 1940 on the Norwegian campaign, somebody—Lloyd George, I think—said that Churchill should not allow himself to become an air raid shelter for the shortcomings of the Treasury Bench. I hope that the right hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley will not become an air raid shelter. It is up to the Prime Minister now. Whatever the sensitivities in his own party, he must speak directly to the British people and make a justification for war. He started to do that today, and we need more of that and a more serious debate on the issue.

We need a real debate on whether we are talking about acting alone or under the auspices of the UN, and whether we are talking about regime change or the removal or weapons of mass destruction. We have started to make progress. Our constituents are worried and look to the House for answers to these questions.

I want to make a stab, in my own inadequate way, at answering some of the questions. I do not believe that it is the job of the UN—or, even more problematically, of the US backed by the UK—to change a regime in the middle east. Leaving aside questions of international law, what are the practicalities? There are nearly 30 Arab nations, and not one is a democracy. Trying to impose our ideas of democracy on Iraq may unleash democratic Kurdish and Shia movements that could lead to the dissolution of the country. It would be wrong to believe that, from the Arab point of view, our system is necessarily superior to theirs.

This may not be the view of everybody in my party, but personally I reject the idea of regime change. If Saddam is in breach of UN resolutions, in my view it is right for the UN to use force, and I accept that without its use he is unlikely to make any movement at all. He would be extremely stupid to refuse to co-operate, but he has already proved himself a master of prevarication and brinkmanship, so we can look forward to weeks and months of frustration.

We have not really heard from the Treasury Bench whether this nation and this Parliament are prepared to act alone, with the US, to force the issue. US policy makers may be worried that the components of a nuclear weapons capability are so easy to disperse and hide that it would be necessary for the US to take over the country for a time. That may be their real aim, even if they have little confidence in restoring democracy in the long term.

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An attack, or the threat of an attack, may be justified on the basis of the breaking of UN resolutions, but I suspect that that will not be the real trigger—many countries are in breach of UN resolutions. Let us be serious. There are three sides of a triangle to justify a war: capability, means and intent. Does Saddam have the capability to manufacture weapons of mass destruction? We have the dossier, and I am prepared to accept that he does, but I would like to hear more about the weapons of mass destruction held by other countries in the region—Iran, Syria and Israel—and by other rogue states, notably North Korea.

Does Saddam have the means to deliver those weapons of mass destruction to the west? Nobody seriously suggests that he can do so militarily: he does not have the long-range missiles, and he would be met by an overwhelming, annihilatory response. We know from John Major that Saddam was given an explicit private warning before the Gulf war that any use of chemical or biological weapons would meet with immediate devastating retaliation. We know that Sir Michael Quinlan, the former permanent secretary at the Ministry of Defence, takes the view that deterrence has worked, and will work in the future.

The suggestion, then, is that Saddam will deliver the weapons not by conventional military means but by clandestine means. Where is the evidence of his links to al-Qaeda? What would he gain by such links? Are there terrorists already capable of inflicting devastating damage on our economy? Would not our acting alone make us a more likely target for Muslim fundamentalists? Are we not uniquely vulnerable to terrorist attacks, as an open society with no identification cards, and with the London underground, Heathrow and the channel tunnel? Means of delivery—the second side of the triangle—is problematical, not proven.

The most difficult of the three factors is intent. What would Saddam gain by attacking the west, apart from his own immediate destruction? Has he not outlived all his foreign and domestic opponents by being at least rational and not suicidal? I do not think that anyone seriously suggests that he intends to attack the west. Would he attack Israel, which already has a nuclear deterrent?

A correspondent posed two questions to me: is it Saddam's intention to obtain atomic weapons and, were he to do so, would he use them, either physically or as a means to blackmail other countries? My correspondent says that if the answer to those two questions is yes, an attack is justified. I suspect that that is behind US thinking. We are frightened that possession of such weapons would give Saddam an ability to blackmail other countries in the region. That is a justifiable point of view. However, I suggest that other countries in the region which Saddam might wish to blackmail are under, or could be under, the American nuclear and military umbrella.

Is the proposed attack really about a new concept of global thinking? That is the issue. Is the Truman doctrine—the concept of deterrence that has preserved peace and stability for more than 50 years—to be replaced by a new Bush doctrine of using a pre-emptive strike to overthrow dangerous regimes that could pose a threat? Truman coined his readiness to use force to protect

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existing democratic regimes from communist takeover. He was obviously thinking in the context of 1947 and the defence of western Europe. We pay tribute to the foundation of NATO.

I believe that the Bush doctrine, if there is one, is very much more dangerous. I am strongly pro-American, and to equate their love of liberty with the regimes they oppose is ridiculous. However, the United States is a superpower, and with ultimate power comes great risks. With hundreds of billions of dollars of defence expenditure, it can crush any enemy in the world. I do not believe that absolute power will corrupt the US, but there are risks. Like all other superpowers in history, it will come to realise the limits of force. We already know that overwhelming military power cannot, for instance, defeat suicide bombers.

Yesterday I received a letter from some Iraqi exiles. They oppose war with Iraq because they believe that it will bolster Saddam's claim that he is a champion of the Palestinian cause. We can destroy Saddam, but can we destroy his adopted cause of Palestinian autonomy? The best way in which to deal with Muslim terrorism is for America—and only America can do this—to put pressure on Israel to abide by UN resolutions and withdraw completely from the west bank.

Where will the Bush doctrine take us? Where will it stop? What are the tests? A military junta is allowed to acquire a nuclear weapon in Pakistan but not in Iraq and, presumably, not in North Korea or Iran. Pakistan was only righting the balance with India, and Saddam would claim that he was righting the balance with Israel.

I do not believe that the case for attacking Iraq unilaterally, without the UN, has yet been made. That is not to say that it is wrong to threaten force—that is the only language that Saddam understands. No doubt there will be weeks of frustration. No doubt when the UN teams go in there will be more frustration and delays. However, the fact remains that after 1998, the UN contained Saddam and kept him on some sort of leash.

Finally, I remain of the belief that it is safe to contain rather than to threaten destruction of Saddam's regime. If he is threatened with destruction, he could act irrationally, with incalculable consequences for the world community. Let us march in step with fellow permanent members of the UN Security Council and insist on weapons inspections, backed by the use of international force if they are not complied with. That is the right path to take.

4.33 pm

Dr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East and Musselburgh): The House of Commons is at its best on occasions such as this, and so it should be, because there is nothing more important than war and peace. There is no more important debate than that about whether the Government will send our forces to war. We know what war means—the killing of civilians and our service men and women.

There is agreement across the House about a satisfactory outcome to the problem. It would be the reintroduction of the United Nations inspectors on a basis that enabled them to do their work properly. It would be the identification of the locations of all weapons of mass destruction, the facilities for manufacturing them and their destruction. The achievement of that outcome without the use of military force is surely what everyone in the House of Commons wants.

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I believe that the document published by the Government today is an intelligence assessment which we should accept. I accept the document's basis that since the UN inspectors left Iraq, the regime has produced chemical and biological weapons, tried to further its attempts to develop a nuclear weapon, and extended the range of its ballistic missile programme. In so doing, the Iraqi regime is flouting the authority of the United Nations. That is an important point. We are not talking about India or Pakistan. The Iraqi regime is supposed to be complying with the successive UN Security Council resolutions to which many right hon. and hon. Members have referred.

What is to be done? In the final analysis, can force be justified in these circumstances with United Nations authority? There is an overwhelming consensus on this side of the House that any use of force to achieve the objectives must be authorised by the United Nations Security Council. However, I think that no one in their right mind would want force to be used.

The importance of the United Nations cannot be underestimated. I welcome the fact that a considerable number of speakers, including my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) and my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell), have referred to the importance of the United Nations. When the institution was born in 1945 in San Francisco, in the aftermath of the second world war, there were hopes that it would enable us to develop a world in which we did not go to war on the scale that we had in the past, and that we would rise to the challenge posed by man's ability to produce weapons of mass destruction which, if ever they were used, would make the planet uninhabitable for the majority of the human population.

Giving the Security Council the power to enforce resolutions was deliberate. That was the basic structure of the UN. Once the resolutions were passed and the decisions taken democratically by the community of states throughout the world, the Security Council would be the marshal and have the responsibility of ensuring that there was no proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. In those days, the focus was on nuclear weapons, following Nagasaki and Hiroshima, but today, rightly, there is an increasing focus on and concern about chemical and biological weapons—all weapons of mass destruction.

Reference has been made to the important change in the US military doctrine, which was confirmed last week. I see many people today in the House who took part in debates during the cold war. Indeed, the bulk of my political life took place during the cold war. We did not agree on a lot of matters but, funnily enough, we are beginning to agree more now. Cold war policy was based on mutually assured destruction—a willingness actually to use nuclear weapons. It was a dangerous situation and the world was a dangerous place.

The national security strategy document published last week by the United States is very important. In it we can see the effects of two great changes in the military and security landscape that have taken place in the past two decades. There was genuine concern that the cold war would become a real, hot war between NATO and the USSR, with both sides armed to the teeth with nuclear warheads. The cold war came to an end and it is true to say that the world was a safer place for it. However, it is far harder to say that the world remains a safer place now.

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Since the atrocities of 11 September last year, the focus of the US has shifted to rogue states and international terrorism.

The US strategy paper states:

The development of the policy of pre-emption, as my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough rightly called it, is important. I am sure that the House will want to return to it in the weeks ahead.

When the House debated the annual report of the Intelligence and Security Committee last July—a Committee of which I am pleased to be a member—I set out my concerns about the threat of international terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. International terrorism is many years old and nations have been developing weapon of mass destruction for decades, but together they pose a terrifying combination. The risk of hostile nations giving international terrorists access to weapons of mass destruction is a real issue that needs to be addressed. It is no secret that international measures to contain the development of weapons of mass destruction leave a lot to be desired. We must make greater progress towards blocking such access.

We should all be concerned at the build-up towards a new military operation in Iraq and the United States' apparent disregard for the international community and the United Nations—that has been referred to by Labour members. There is widespread concern in the country, which has been provoked by some of the statements from Rumsfeld and Cheney. The United States is the only superpower and we want to see it support the United Nations; and if it takes action, we want that action to be authorised by the United Nations. A particular cause for alarm is the impact that a unilateral attack would have on the stability of the middle east and on the coalition against international terrorism that has been pieced together since 11 September last year.

The situation is fast changing and there is scope for a UN mandate to tackle it, avoiding fresh military action. Weapons inspections to enforce Iraqi compliance with UN Security Council resolutions must be effective, and the inspectors must be allowed to do their work without limits.

It remains my sincere hope that this situation will be resolved without the use of fresh military action against Iraq. The enforcement of UN resolutions must be strict and effective. I am sure that I join many of my colleagues in urging the Government to do what they can to pursue a resolution to this crisis within the international community and without recourse to war.

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