Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Seventh Report


1. On the morning of 11 September 2001, two civilian airliners crashed into the World Trade Center in New York and a third struck the Pentagon in Washington. A fourth crashed in Pennsylvania. All of those on board the aircraft died, as did thousands on the ground.

2. Shortly after the attacks, President George W Bush declared a "war on terrorism." The Prime Minister offered support to the United States in the war, because "whatever the dangers of the action we take, the dangers of inaction are far, far greater."[1]

3. The war against terrorism has changed the priorities of the United Kingdom's foreign policy. It has highlighted the importance of Britain's major alliances, and has caused the Government to develop a more pragmatic approach towards regimes with which it has major differences. This war has shifted the priorities of the United Nations and the European Union, and has affected the United Kingdom's and its allies' approach to NATO. It has underlined sharply the extent to which conflicts in Kashmir, Central Asia and—most obviously—the Middle East affect Britain's security and national interests. The threat that terrorists might gain access to weapons of mass destruction has also been treated with greater urgency, and this has affected the Government's policies towards 'states of concern,' particularly Iraq.

4. Crucially, the war against terrorism has also sparked an important and ongoing debate about how Britain might best forge strong, positive relationships with governments and people in the Islamic world. Winning the war necessitates the avoidance of a 'clash of civilizations,' which Osama bin Laden clearly sought to create through his devastating attacks on 11 September. This debate has also affected the priorities of the BBC World Service and the British Council.

5. In this Report, we examine the Government's foreign policies pre-11 September in some of the areas which have subsequently emerged as of central importance to the success of the war. We then consider the Government's immediate reaction to the 11 September attacks, and the military campaign in Afghanistan leading to the fall of the Taliban, before examining the conduct of the war to May 2002. The Report concludes with an assessment of the threats posed by weapons of mass destruction and states of concern, and highlights some considerations for the future.

6. The Committee visited New York and Washington just eight weeks after the attacks on those cities. Our impressions of that visit are recorded in our Report of December 2001[2] and in this Report. Some of us returned to the United States in March 2002, when we held important discussions at the United Nations and with the US Administration. That visit provided valuable material for this Report, and also helped to inform the debate on British-US relations which took place in Westminster Hall on 25 April.[3] Visits in October 2001, to Brussels, in January 2002, to Madrid, and in March 2002, to Turkey, also provided valuable insights. At Westminster, we heard oral evidence from the Secretary of State, the Rt hon Jack Straw, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State responsible for the Middle East, Ben Bradshaw, Mr Paul Bergne OBE,[4] Professor Paul Wilkinson,[5] Dr Rosemary Hollis,[6] Mr Michael Keating and Mr Andrew Gilmour,[7] and Mr Philip Stephens.[8] We also met informally some of those closely involved in the events which this Report considers, including Mr Mohammed Karzai, Dr Abdullah Abdullah,[9] Professor Ismael Qasimyar,[10] Sir Jeremy Greenstock[11] and Mr John Bolton.[12] To all those we met, and to those who submitted their views in writing, we are grateful.

7. This is a continuing Inquiry. We make this interim Report now, because with the Taliban defeated, al Qaeda disrupted, and much talk of what happens next, we believe that this is the time to take stock. We do not intend this Report to be our last word on the subject. Neither do we pretend to have answers to all the questions we pose in it. But we trust that we can be of some assistance in identifying the issues and in pointing the way. We will continue to monitor developments on behalf of Parliament, and we will report further to the House.

1   Tony Blair, speech to the Labour Party conference, 3 October 2001. Available at:- Back

2   See Second Report from the Foreign Affairs Committee, Session 2001-2002, British-US Relations, HC 327. Back

3   Official Report, 25 April 2002, col. 137WH. Back

4   Formerly the Prime Minister's special envoy to the United Front (Northern Alliance). Back

5   Professor of International Relations and Director of the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at the University of St Andrews, Scotland. Back

6   Head of the Middle East programme, the Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House, London. Back

7   Representatives of the Office of the UN Special Co-ordinator in the Occupied Territories (UNSCO). Mr Keating is Director, aid and socio-economic affairs, and Mr Gilmour is Chief, Regional Affairs and Senior Political Adviser to the Special Co-ordinator.  Back

8   Columnist, Financial Times, London. Back

9   Respectively, leader and foreign minister of the interim administration in Afghanistan. Back

10   Chair of Afghan Commission tasked with organising the Emergency Loya Jirga. Back

11   United Kingdom Permanent Representative (Ambassador) to the United Nations. Back

12   Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security, US Department of State, and Senior Adviser to the President and the Secretary of State on Arms Control, Non-proliferation and Disarmament. Back

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Prepared 20 June 2002