America’s actions in the ‘War on Terror’ clearly indicate that you can’t control people by oppressing them. It’s only through a sense of justice and order that people will agree and come together to effect change.
I am very pleased to be with you and very honoured to be awarded the Wilberforce Medal and to be invited to give the Wilberforce Lecture commemorating the work of William Wilberforce who as MP for Hull worked so assiduously for the abolition of slavery.
The title of my talk is ‘Rethinking the War on Terror’. My thesis is that the response of the United States to the terrible crime of September 11 2001 has been misconceived, has generated increased hostility to the United States and led to a big increase in the strength of Al Qaeda. My view is that the world is in very serious trouble and I fear that if we go on as we are, we face the risk of decades of bitter conflict, a breakdown in international law and – as Kofi Annan warned at the recent meeting of the General Assembly – a further undermining of the authority of the United Nations. These destructive developments are taking place in front of our eyes and if these trends continue there is an enormous risk to this world of ours.
I am afraid that if we go on like this, it is also likely that we’ll fail to adequately address the problems of poverty, global warming and environmental degradation which pose a major threat to the planet and its people. If we don’t get very serious about these problems, in a 20 to 30 year timescale, we’re going to have catastrophe after catastrophe that will harm and affect all of us.
I believe that the errors that have been made are capable of being corrected but, that we have to understand what went wrong if we want to try to begin to put things right. This is the purpose of this lecture.
We are living at a time of enormous historical change. This new era offers the possibility of a great advance for humanity. The experience of globalisation parallels for the developing world what the industrial revolution meant to countries like the UK. We have new technologies with the capacity to generate great wealth. But, just as we experienced at the time of the industrial revolution, people moved from poverty in the countryside into the cities and they lived in squalor. Then political movements developed which eventually ensured that the abundance of wealth was more fairly shared. I think globalisation creates the possibility of an equivalent uplift for the world because we can move the abundance of technology of capital and knowledge easily around the world.
The Wilberforce Lectures celebrate the historic role of Kingston upon Hull in combating the abuse of Human Rights personified in the work of the abolitionist William Wilberforce. They accompany the presentation of the Wilberforce Medallion to an individual who has made an outstanding contribution to the furtherance of human rights and democracy.
The question is, are we capable of the political change that’s necessary to turn this possibility into an era that will really benefit humanity?
So the new era offers the possibility of a great advance but I fear the present leadership of the world will fail to grasp that possibility and there’s a real growing danger that we will hand to the next generation a world of bitter division, turmoil and catastrophe.
Since the United Kingdom is the strongest supporter of the policies adopted by the United States since September 11 2001, we in this country have a particular responsibility to analyse and discuss these issues. There’s plenty of anger, understandably and reasonably, but our responsibility is bigger than that. Yes, somebody else did it, but our country is supporting a strategy that’s harmful to everybody and we’ve got to find a way of correcting it whoever’s fault it is that we got ourselves to where we are.
If my thesis is right then in this troubled world we’re in, Britain is part of the problem. But we’ve got to read and think and debate, to go back to those old political virtues – to educate, agitate and organise – to change the way in which the influence of our country is being exercised on the world stage.
I’m not of course alone in holding these views – a large proportion of the public and some very serious analysts from all sides of political traditions share this view. I met with a senior American just last week, who’d been a nuclear strategist but was a vicious critic of the American strategy in Iraq. The criticism and the worry about where we’re going, are not coming from one political tradition. Lots of people hold the same views but, because we’re living in an atmosphere of fear, growing fear and talk of war, there is a general presumption that we should all be loyal and not question the courage and wisdom of our leaders. Happily Britain is less deferential than it used to be but that atmosphere is strong in the House of Commons and certainly in the Labour Party so you’re seen as rocking the boat if you question the policy, no matter how sincerely and seriously the questioning is intended to be put.
I think this is a very worrying situation, grave mistakes are being made and the British Government is part of the problem, but because the official opposition supports the Government’s position on this question, despite the valiant efforts of the Liberal Democrats and the Nationalists, these mistakes have not been properly challenged and discussed in Parliament.
There is of course dissent on the Tory benches and in larger numbers amongst Labour backbenchers but enormous efforts are made to crush this dissent by crude pressure, by calls to loyalty, by the bringing forward of the General Election so that it’s due to be held in six months’ time although the mandate of the Government does not expire until June 2006.
So, I think we are living in a very strange time when there is enormous political discussion in the country but this is not adequately reflected in Parliament and there is a growing contempt for our Parliamentary institutions and our politicians. And if I’m right that we’re living in a time of deep historical change, that’s very dangerous because how can we grasp the change and get our country to play a constructive role if the people give up on their democratic and political systems. The feeling of contempt is certainly out there in much greater strength than I’ve known in the course of my political lifetime.
Of course there is protest in Parliament but the dissenters, the outright dissenters – the Liberal Democrats and the Nationalist parties make up little more than one in thirteen of the votes in Parliament – and so they have little chance of bringing about a change of policy unless you get the breaking of ranks in one of the major parties, and you know how difficult and unusual that is – especially in a pre-election period.
I don’t know if you remember, but in the run up to the war in Iraq there was a lot of talk about Hitler and appeasement and the comparison with Saddam Hussein and Hitler and the wrongness of having appeased Hitler. In my view it was ridiculous to compare Saddam Hussein with his broken country and broken army with Germany and Hitler before the 2nd World War. But I think there is a parallel between those in politics who rejected appeasement and were vilified and marginalised and the attitude being shown to those who believe that the current approach to the war on terror is a disastrous mistake.
I remember going to the Commons shortly after the statue of Saddam Hussein had fallen when everyone was feeling triumphalist. You know, the war was over in a very short time, everything was fine, it was a very big victory and both the Labour and the Conservative benches were jeering and sneering at the Liberals and Charles Kennedy. It was vicious and nasty. That’s the kind of atmosphere you can get. What I’m trying to say is this is dangerous – we’ve got to have this discussion, we’ve got to claim the right in places like this and back in Parliament and the public have got to demand it of their politicians that we scrutinise what we’ve done and learn what’s gone wrong and start to put it right.
So, as I said, the atmosphere we’re living is very strange politically. In the country, people are, for example, buying more political books than for a very long time. They’re buying books about Islam and the history of the Middle East. People are buying all the books that are coming out of America that suggest that the route to war in Iraq was not accurately portrayed. And as people are agitating and engaged and in discussion but because the two major political parties are in agreement on these issues, that agitation isn’t adequately reflected in Parliament.
Lots of people refer to what’s happened in Iraq. And of course the war on terror is bigger than Iraq but Iraq is a spectacular disaster – and say it’s the biggest foreign policy error since Suez. I think it’s a much bigger foreign policy error than Suez myself but what’s notable about Suez was that the country was divided, there were massive demonstrations but Labour was against and the Government was for and therefore that agitation and division in the country was played out through our Parliamentary institutions. A it is worth remembering America was the good guy then and came in and rapped Britain and France and Israel over the knuckles and said you can’t behave in this way and put us back in our box.
But there you are, this is the atmosphere and these are the times and because of that and because of the crushing of proper debate in Parliament, I want to take this opportunity to congratulate the organisers of this lecture series for creating a space for dissent and for serious discussion of alternative views. You’ve taken on some radical issues and it’s right and important that we should do that in a format where we can have serious discussion rather than the short sound bites or the endless political gossip that sadly is now the majority of political coverage in our country. I hope there are similar events to this up and down the country so that the power of ideas can force a change of policy and correct the errors that have been made.
I think the underlying problem is that as I said, we’re living in a time of enormous historical change and that we lack the ideas and leadership to take hold of this new era and shape it in a way that will benefit humanity. I think it is notable that the United States knew where it was in the Cold War and knew who its enemy was. Having won the Cold War they have moved on to the “war on terror” so that it is easy to understand the world again. Clearly there was a serious problem on September 11 2001 but I think it is a much more complicated and different world that we’re now in. The move back to an old division of good guys and bad guys, so that we all know where we are, demonstrates a failure to understand the complexity of the problems that we need to address.
There are three major changes I think, taking place at the present time. The end of the Cold War, an intensification of the integration of the world economy, usually referred to as globalisation, which has come about because there is now one world economy, but also because the new information technologies move knowledge and ideas and capital around the world very rapidly; and the third major problem is the growth of great inequality and poverty and the dangerous erosion of the world’s environmental resources accompanied by the problem of global warming. All these three mighty new forces are creating a new world. And I believe we need a new approach if we are to manage this new era more wisely. If we fail, we’ll see a growth of disorder, suffering and environmental crises which will cause great turbulence and suffering across the world and the consequences will be felt in all parts of the world and not simply in the poorest countries.
The challenges we face beyond the war on terror are very serious. If you take the population of the world, there are now 6 billion of us and there’s going to be 8 – 9 billion of us by 2030/2050. There were only about 1.5 billion people in 1900, 3 billion in 1960, 6 billion now and we’re going to 9 billion. That’s a fantastic change in just over 100 years. It’s no surprise therefore that there’s a strain on our environmental resources. This growth in population is a consequence of development. In Britain in 1700 there were only 10 million people – when development takes off, children survive, people live longer, population grows then stabilises and that change is taking place across the world but it’s taking us to 9 billion people fairly shortly. 90% of the new people will live in developing countries. At the same time the world population is urbanising. For the first time in human history, more than 50% of us are living in cities, and the projection is that 20 years from now the figure will be something like 65%. One in 5 of the people of the world is abjectly poor, hungry, doesn’t have access to clean water, little access to education, no proper health care, living in the margins of survival. One in 5 of us is still living in the conditions of working people at the time of the industrial revolution. And half the people of the world are very poor. Half the people of the world have no sanitation. So it’s an urbanising world without sanitation that is both a cause of constant ill health and also of humiliation and all of this in a world with better communication than we’ve ever had.
I think the urban poor will behave differently from the rural poor – they are more likely to agitate and organise and demand change. But also in the face of the communications we now have, I’m sure it will feel even worse to see how people like us – 20% of the people of the world living in countries like ours are living when people are scraping along in that kind of poverty. The sense of injustice is morally deep but I think it is also politically unsustainable and you get crisis like people walking across the Sahara desert, risking their lives to come across the Mediterranean to try to get into Spain or Italy, to try to be able to work, to try to build a decent life for their family. There’s going to be more of that if we don’t attend to it, it’s going to cause all sorts of tension and division and trouble for the future. Quite apart from the morality of it which is intolerable.
When we look at our environmental resources we’ve got very serious erosion of the fish stocks in the world – who am I to come to Hull and tell you about fish stocks! I am sure you know more about this than I do! – But something like 2 billion people depend on fish as their main source of protein and we are eroding our fish resources. It’s something that can be corrected but not enough action is being taken and a 3rd of fish stocks all over the world are in danger. Forests are shrinking, deserts are spreading and there is a growing strain on the water resources of the world. The projection is that in another 20 years, two thirds of the world’s population will live with serious strain over water resources. This means we will have wars over water, unless we manage our rivers properly and make sure everyone has fair and proper access.
Global warming was once contentious and the world’s experts disagreed, but they don’t now. It is recognised by virtually all the climate scientists in the world that global warming is a reality and it will affect every country. On the radio I heard this morning for example that the Thames Barrier which was built to stop flood tides in London, was designed to be used every couple of years and is now being used 6 times a year. The suggestion was that this is a consequence of the beginning of seas rising and as they do our coasts will erode and cities like London will be affected.
But if you take Bangladesh, the largest, least developed country in the world, with a population of about 140 million. It’s a great big river delta so it has constant floods and is low lying. It’s doing quite well in economic growth. It’s getting more children to school, particularly girls to school. The population growth is slowing. But it is a very young population and therefore the population is going to increase by 50% over the next 30 years and it’s going to lose at least a third of its territory because of seas rising. This is one country but of course in the Pacific and the West Indies, whole islands will be wiped out and people will just have to move – there will be very large numbers of
refugees. And we’re not taking much action to deal with the mounting threat. We had agreed a treaty in Kyoto in 1997 that was going to cause the whole world to start to change. But of course, the biggest polluter of all, the United States of America, doesn’t accept that there’s a problem and that anything needs to be done.
So, I’m trying to say the war on terror is a spectacular problem but also to draw attention to the wider context of the world we’re living in. There are other big challenges out there that need to be addressed and that are feeding some of the turbulence and disorder.
And then we have the consequences of the end of the Cold War. I think you could date the beginning of this era and the history books probably will to 1989. In 1989, the Berlin Wall came down and in 1990 Nelson Mandela was released from prison, do you remember? The whole world felt a wave of optimism. Those were heady days and the mood of hope across the world – the end of the Cold War and the end of apartheid. No longer would the world keep the peace through a system of mutually assured destruction – massive nuclear weaponry pointing at each other and the way we avoided war was by the threat to virtually destroy the planet if we ever went to war. That was the system of keeping the peace as you know, in the Cold War years.
Of course 1989 meant that all that would end and in addition no longer would Africa’s development be distorted by the evils of the apartheid system. We all hoped that cuts in defence spending and a new world of mutual respect offered the prospect of a great advance to mankind. It was a very, very optimistic time and we all dreamed of something better.
I think then we underestimated the challenge of the end of the Cold War. For the last 50 years every tension and conflict in the world had been managed through the prism of the Cold War. Both sides lined up behind most points of tension and therefore conflict couldn’t be allowed to erupt because it might lead to the destruction of humanity.
After 1989, this system of order – a pretty primitive system of order – was gone. The question was whether the world could develop a new leadership capable of creating a new world order, or would we see a growth of disorder and conflict? And at first there were encouraging signs – the Velvet Revolution in Eastern Europe, masses of people on the streets, change in regimes without any violence, do you remember? Some of that was very moving and very fine.
Nelson Mandela became President of South Africa after that fantastic election in 1994 when people stood all day in the sun to exercise their right to vote. And he led an enormous spirit of reconciliation, despite the suffering that had been inflicted on him and the black people of South Africa.
We also saw the agreement between Reagan and Gorbachev reducing the deployment of nuclear weapons, and cuts in defence spending across the world. So there was hope that the new world was coming. But there were also signs of growing disorder and a lack of real capacity to tackle these problems. In Somalia for example, in the early 80s, a longstanding dictatorship collapsed into chaos and inter-clan fighting was accompanied by desperately high levels of hunger and suffering. In the Cold War years, either he would have been propped up or the situation would have been somehow contained. Not that he was a good ruler, I am not trying to romanticise the Cold War years, but the crisis led to the UN with US support being deployed in Somalia. And then 25 Pakistani peacekeepers were killed and then 18 US soldiers were killed and the body of a dead US soldier was dragged through the streets of Mogadishu. President Clinton announced his intention to withdraw and the failed UN mission withdrew in 1995 leaving Somalia in chaos and it’s still in chaos to this day. It doesn’t have a Government, there has been massive displacement of people scattered across the world and then we’re told Al Qaeda might be organising there. This is an example of the new disorder, the failure of the post Cold War world to give enough support to the UN mission to make sure that the problem was resolved, instead a whole country was left in chaos.
Then, in 1994, a terrible genocide took place in Rwanda. In 100 days, a million people were killed, mostly by machete. A million people hacked to pieces, raped and slaughtered. And there was a UN mission in Rwanda at the time supposedly policing a peace agreement that had been made and then broken. Messages were sent constantly to the UN, and to the Security Council saying that genocide was threatened. What they did was refuse to use the word genocide, so that the obligations we all have under the Genocide Convention – which is always to intervene to prevent genocide – were not invoked and Rwanda was allowed to explode into that terrible and dreadful slaughter.
So you can see the picture I’m trying to give – end of the Cold War, massive historical change, some changes for the better but also a break down of the old order and the danger of a growth in disorder. In Europe, the former Communist leaders in the Balkans incited ethnic nationalism to keep themselves in power and this led to extreme violence and ethnic cleansing – the phrase was a bit of a euphemism – mass rape and then remember, in Srebrenica the slaughter of 7,000 Muslim men and boys in a supposedly UN-protected city. The international response to these developments was very, very weak and that was in our own continent of Europe. Another example of the post Cold War disorder.
However, there were some signs of progress alongside these failures. Kofi Anan reminded us a couple of years ago that the Montreal Protocol, which was negotiated in 1987 to phase out the world’s use of ozone depleting substances, was a great success. It was negotiated through the UN and there was a process agreed and a phasing out is being implemented. The damage that is being done to the ozone layer is beginning to repair itself. This was the world’s first really successful International Environmental Agreement.
And then in 1998, the Kyoto Agreement was negotiated – again through a UN process. It was a very important agreement. It recognised the danger of global warming and laid down that first the OECD countries would, over a 12 year period reduce their carbon emissions to their1992 levels; and then China, India and other countries which are of course fast growing would come in. The Kyoto protocol has now taken effect because Russia has joined it, but the big disappointment is that the biggest polluter in the world has not agreed to cooperate.
We also agreed a treaty to abolish land mines which I signed on behalf of the UK Government in Ottawa in 1997. There were negotiations in Rome for a treaty to establish an international criminal court – again America won’t support it but it is a very important development. I went shortly after that meeting to Bolivia and there was a former military dictator who had been elected. He’d been elected in a democratic election but one of his staff asked mine whether if the international criminal court took effect, would people like him be able to travel any more. Well I think that small example shows the potential power of it. The promise was that there were going to be world wide standards and any dictator who breached basic humanitarian law would be subject to some international authority and jurisdiction.
And then in the year 2000 a meeting of the United Nations General Assembly was called to mark the new millennium. It was attended by more presidents and Prime Ministers than had ever attended a UN meeting before. It was agreed that the reduction of poverty would be a priority for the world in the new millennium. And the famous Millennium Development Goals were agreed and the world committed to work together to halve the proportion of people living in extreme poverty by 2015 – which would mean a billion people lifting themselves out of those very gross conditions of poverty that I talked about before. They’d be replaced by a billion new people because of the world population growing but we would have created capacity in the new international system to dramatically reduce poverty as an absolute priority. The goals included getting all children into primary schools – including the girls. This is the most powerful intervention in a poor country that can be made; Girls who have been to school, event if it’s just primary, will bring transformation as they grow up. They marry slightly later, have fewer children who are more likely to survive, increase household income and are better at getting their own children to school and accessing health care. The goals included a commitment to reduce infant mortality by providing clean water and access to basic health care.
These were unprecedented agreements agreed at the UN and following this, the World Bank, the IMF, all the regional development banks and the OECD countries all agreed to make meeting the Millennium Development Goals an absolute priority in the new millennium.
These were important advance They demonstrate an effort to establish a new world order based on a commitment to international treaties, a strengthened UN focused on the challenge of growing poverty and a commitment to the rule of law and human rights for all. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights agreed in 1948 imposes on all of us a duty to do all in our power to bring about the securing of all rights for all people. That includes the right to speak freely and not be persecuted politically but it also includes the right to go to school and to work to make a living. The Declaration on human rights has never been properly honoured because shortly after it was negotiated the world split. The west talked about the “Blue Rights”, the freedom rights and the communist world talked about the “Red Rights” or the full belly rights. But now we were coming back together to say human rights means everything a human being needs to be free which includes the freedom to speak, to express an opinion, to enjoy your culture but also to be able to eat, to be able to work, to have health care. The Declaration says for example that primary education should be free and we’ve never really honoured it and this was a new chance to really mean it now, to use the wealth and the possibility and the abundance that globalisation could make available to really lift up the world and make it more just and sustainable.
All of these developments were taking place at the same time, growing disorder, but progress towards international treaties but there was a different mood in the United States of America. Remember, before President Bush the US had a deep sense that it had won the Cold War and this was even called the end of history: America had won, and everything would be made in its image. And had a huge difficulty about being bound by international treaties. It’s important to remember that under President Clinton the US didn’t sign up to Kyoto, wouldn’t sign up to the International Criminal Court or even the Convention on the Rights of the Child. There’s only two countries in the world who would not agree to the Convention on the Rights of the Child – recognising the basic rights of every child in the world, Somalia who didn’t have a government so it couldn’t, and the United States of America who just object so much to international treaty frameworks.
The United States of America, the world’s only great power, the mightiest county in the world, had great difficulty understanding that systems of treaties and rules protect the strong as well as the weak. After the Cold War, it found enormous difficulty in embracing the kind of world order that I’ve been trying to describe, which I believe is not just morally preferable, I think it’s the only way to manage this era and we won’t have an orderly world unless we can proceed in that kind of way. The fact that the US find it very difficult to perceive the world like this is holding back historical development. On top of that we have inherited the residue of the United States and Saudi backing for an Islamist resistance which helped to bring the Soviet Union down through the war in Afghanistan. It’s really important to remember that Al Qaeda came out of US/Saudi intervention in Afghanistan and again to learn the lessons. It was in Afghanistan that Osama Bin Laden came to prominence and where the Islamist fighters came together and got their training.
I don’t want here to cloud the picture that I’m trying to draw with too much detail, but my argument is at the end of the Cold War there were two futures struggling against each other. One would be based on international treaties, a strong commitment to the rule of law, respect for the UN, human rights for all people and sustainable development, alongside a major effort to adjust to the environmental strain on the world. The other was a world of growing disorder and US power and the undermining of international law and treaties. And sitting in the middle of this contested view of the world, is the Middle East which contains most of the world’s oil resources and a deep, bitter, unresolved conflict between Israel and the Palestinian people.
If we are to create a new world order based on international law, we must give priority to resolving the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian people. And peace is possible if we commit to establishing two states side by side, one for the Palestinian people and one for the Israeli people with probably a US peace-keeping force so that people can feel safe and start to build their new countries and trade and flourish in the neighbourhood that they share. We had agreement reached in the Oslo Peace Accord in 1993 embraced by the Palestinian people giving up their dream of one united state in order to have their own state. And more recently after the Oslo process stalled, a Road Map was negotiated in 2003, through the UN, European Union, Russia and the US which was supposed to lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state by the end of 2005. This proposal had the support of the majority of Israeli and Palestinian people. But many in Israel, backed by the United States, were not willing to support such a settlement and instead encouraged a constant expansion of illegal settlements on Palestinian land in the occupied territories. This causes as you know, enormous anger and grievance in the Arab world and explains why the US supports corrupt dictatorships which are willing to support US policy against the wishes of their people across the Middle East. The truth is that democracy in the Middle East would produce governments which were anti-American and anti-Israeli because the people who see the endless humiliation of the Palestinian people and knowing how much the world relies on their oil feel that they have a duty to do something to end Palestinian suffering and feel very, very angry that that’s not being done.
As you will know, the majority of the people of Europe share the sense that the suffering of the Palestinians is deeply unjust and believe that there ought to be a settlement and understand this to be a fundamental reason for the instability and anger there is in the Middle East.
Now it’s this situation, plus the suffering of the Iraqi people under UN sanctions which has led to ever-growing support for a violent resistance movement targeted against US interests. This is the backdrop to the attack on the twin towers on 11 September 2001. Nearly 3,000 innocent civilians – from 40 different countries in the world were killed. This attack hurt and humiliated the world’s greatest power. And I want to remind you, and to remind ourselves, that the first reaction across the world was one of massive solidarity with America – everywhere. The UN Security Council met and unanimously passed a Resolution setting up a new committee which would ask every country in the world to cooperate in sharing information, tightening up on money laundering, cooperating to catch the group who would commit such a heinous crime. The General Assembly met and unanimously supported that position and Le Monde famously had a headline in English saying ‘we’re all American now’ meaning that we must all stand in solidarity against this evil that has been done. And it’s also forgotten that the first reaction in America was to cooperate in a way it hadn’t before certainly under the Bush administration, in international agreements as thought they realised that a more just world order would make the world safer and stronger in dealing with Al Qaeda. We hadn’t been able to get any agreements since the Seattle meeting of the WTO on starting a new trade round that would be fairer to poorer countries, but in November 2001 we had a meeting in Doha and everyone agreed on an agenda for a trade round which if delivered, and it’s still not there, would make trade rules fairer for poorer countries. In March 2002 there was a meeting in Monterey in Mexico about financing development and there was an international consensus about the best way of achieving that reduction of poverty that everyone had committed to and after years of declining aid spending after the end of the Cold War, both the US and Europe agreed to increase their aid spending. And in September in Johannesburg there was a meeting to look at progress on the environment 10 years after the UN meeting on the Environment in Rio. There had been a great strain in the international system because the environmental agenda had been seen as the rich countries telling the poor countries not to do it like we did and imposing conditions that would make development very difficult. There was little recognition in the OECD countries that we’d polluted and plundered the planet and that now we were trying to bring in rules that would stop the poorer countries developing and thus there was great difficulty in reaching agreement. In Johannesburg the agreement was that there had to be an absolute commitment to development and the reduction of poverty and that we’d all change to use the resources of the world fairly and sustainably. So immediately after September 11 2001 the world came together and the Americans felt that they needed the rest of the world and all these agreements were reached and going down the road which I think is essential if we are to manage this world that we’re living in now.
When the United States decided to take military action against Afghanistan, almost all countries agreed. The world didn’t like to see a poor country with lots of hungry people being bombed but they knew that the Taliban government had been asked to hand over Osama Bin Laden for trial and had refused and that he led the grouping who had organised the attack on the twin towers and after a very short war which is what you get in these very weak countries when the fighters slip away and come back later, the United Nations was brought in to help the Afghans put together a new interim government and a route to a constitution. Then the whole world came together in Tokyo to provide resources to help Afghanistan rebuild, and NATO provided troops to stabilise Kabul. So just to remind us, the world was still together on Afghanistan. The failure to stand down the war lords’ armies, create a united army and begin to deal with the war lords who depended on drug running led to problems later on in Afghanistan, but at the beginning the world was united. But then came the decision of the United States to rush to war in Iraq in March 2003. I don’t have to go through the details, you have all lived through the story. We can discuss the detail in question time later if you wish. We could of course have stuck with Hans Blix. There was a problem to be dealt with but there was no need to rush to war and there was no WMD as everybody knows very clearly now. And the attack on Iraq shattered the post September 11 consensus. It weakened the UN desperately and it remains weakened. International law was set aside as Kofi Annan has said. There’s no doubt that all the UN lawyers thought there was no authority for war and most British lawyers thought it too. It was an illegal war.
And going on from there, in Guantanamo Bay we’ve got all these prisoners picked up in Afghanistan many of whom are guilty of very little. But America has decided not to adhere to the Geneva Convention and thus they are detained indefinitely. And we also have the torture in Abu Ghraib. So we see international law and the UN, the Geneva Convention and human rights law all marginalised and set aside by some of the countries that in the past have been the strongest supporters of a world order based on those kinds of values. And as you know, to our shame, the UK supported this war and I think it’s a tragedy. The UK has a special relationship with America because of history and language and our experiences of the 1st and 2nd World Wars. But the duty of a good friend is to stop the other from making a grave error and not to collude as Tony Blair did.
And now we’ve got a terrible situation in Iraq – chaos and disorder. Large numbers of Iraqis dead and injured and the coalition not even counting civilian casualties in Iraq. There is an Iraq Body Count – you can look up on the web – its estimate is that between 13,000 – 15,000 Iraqi civilians have died and on top of this more deaths are occurring all the time, on top of that probably several thousand young Iraqi soldiers, many of whom were conscripts have also lost their lives. And of course 600 US troops have lost their lives and if the position that threatens goes on I fear that those numbers will go to more than a 1000 US troops. The insurgency against the occupation is supported by many Iraqi people and has strengthened Al Qaeda throughout the Middle East which of course is coming to Iraq in order to be able to attack its enemy which is the United States of America.
This danger was predicted by an analyst of a very different political persuasion from my own. It was Michael Howard, who is no relation to the leader of the Conservative Party but one of the UK’s most prominent military historians who said in October 2001 and I quote him “when in the immediate aftermath of the attack on the World Trade Centre the American Secretary of State Colin Powell declared that America was at war, he made a very natural but terrible and irrevocable error.” He goes on “what Colin Powell said makes sense if one uses the term ‘war’ in the sense of a war against crime or against drug trafficking that is the mobilisation of all available resources against the dangerous anti social activity, while it can never be entirely eliminated it can be reduced to so it is not a threat to stability. The British in their time (this is one of our great military historians) have fought many battles, in Palestine, in Ireland, Cyprus and in Malaya to mention only a few but we never called them wars, we called them emergencies. To declare war on terrorists or even more illiterately on terrorism is to accord them a status and dignity that they seek which they do not deserve. It confers on them a kind of legitimacy”… and he goes on “to use the term ‘war’ is not simply a matter of legality or pedantic semantics it has deeper and more dangerous consequences – to declare that one is at war is immediately to claim war psychosis that may be totally counter-productive to the objective which we seek. It will arouse an immediate expectation and demand for spectacular military action against some easily identified adversary”. He said this in October 2001 before the Iraq war… “The use of force is no longer seen as a last resort to be avoided if humanly possible but the first and the sooner it is used the better”. I will quote just a little more of him because he’s very wise: “now our struggle against terrorism as we’ve discovered over the past century and not least in Northern Ireland, is unlike a war against drugs or a war against crime in one vital respect, it’s fundamentally a battle for hearts and minds. Without hearts and minds one cannot obtain intelligence and without intelligence, terrorists can never be defeated”. And of course if the people of the Middle East see no other way to justice then more and more young men, who are disgruntled and unemployed will be attracted to that way of proceeding and that’s the reality of history” And this is my last quote from him, “the intricate game of skill played between terrorists and the authorities, as we discovered in both Palestine and Ireland, the terrorists have already won an important battle if they can provoke the authorities into using overt armed force against them, they will then be in a win-win situation, either they will escape to fight another day or they will be feted and celebrated as martyrs. The process of fighting them will mean innocent civilians will certainly be hurt which will further erode the moral authority of the government”. He made that speech in October 2001, prescient it most certainly was. I’m afraid these predictions come true. There is considerable evidence of growth in support for Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden since the Iraq war. To take one example, there’s a Washington-based research centre called the Pew Research Center and it completed its second survey of public opinion in some European countries and four large developing Muslim countries in March 2004. It found opinion hostile to the United States is pervasive and that Osama bin Laden is viewed favourably by 65% of the people in Pakistan, 55% in Jordan and 45% in Morocco. Even in Turkey where bin Laden is very unpopular as many as 31% say the suicide attacks against Americans and other Westerners in Iraq are justified. The majority in all four countries see the ‘war on terror’ as an effort to control Middle East oil and to dominate the world. I fear that the March 2005 survey will be even worse.
There’s a very important book called Imperial Hubris – Why the West is Losing the War on Terror which is published in America this year by ‘Anonymous’ who is a senior CIA person and he says in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, it was impossible to imagine how war waged against Al Qaeda could fail to benefit the United States. More than two years later, the war on terror has lurched along this road and the war in Afghanistan and Iraq has intensified Islamist insurgencies – this is a CIA analyst. What began as a war which almost no one opposed is now a military campaign that is undefined, open-ended and failing. It is moreover perceived by many to be based on the idea that any anti-US action constitutes terrorism. Osama bin Laden, in his wildest dreams could hardly have hoped for more.
So we can conclude that the War on Terror’ was misconceived and is going badly. The question is what can be done to rescue it from this worrying prospect. The US is in very serious trouble in Iraq, it’s a quagmire – that means we’re in trouble too. It’s causing dreadful suffering to the people of Iraq and also great loss of life for the occupying forces. The question is how can this policy be reconsidered and changed? A change of president in the United States would help but it’s wrong to believe that Kerry would be an instant answer and would simply just wave a wand and put things right. The views he’s expressed about Palestine and Israel and issues at the heart of the anger of the Middle East are as bad as those of President Bush. But he has stressed that he wants to work with the international community to get an exit strategy from Iraq. Now that’s good because the Bush administration is committed to building and occupying and is seeking long term bases in Iraq so in this sense Kerry’s position is better than that of Bush.
So a change of President in the US would open the possibility of a demand for change policy in the Middle East. It seems to me to require the rest of the world to say, you can only have our help to get out of the quagmire in Iraq if you move on Palestine and Israel.
We need the courage to work together in order to use these crises to make progress. This would create a real possibility. Whatever the outcome of the Presidential election, we’ve got to deal with this and that’s where the UK comes in. We’ve been the most important ally of the United States and if we shifted our policy to effect a responsible handover in Iraq and a settlement of Israel/Palestine, then at a time when the US is in trouble it would be totally isolated and I think the UK would have the ability to bring about that shift. And if we fail, I think we’re going to have decades of this. More poor security, more and more fear, weaker UN, more and more disorder. Most of North Africa is Muslim and the instability could spread across both the Middle East and Africa. Algeria has recently emerged from a terrible war because the people weren’t allowed to have the Government they voted for. The capacity of this anger and disorder to spread even further and cause even more poison and harm and death and suffering is very great indeed.
As I’ve said, it’s easy to see the way forward in the Middle East – two states, Israel/Palestine, UN plus other peace-keepers, a sensible exit strategy from Iraq asking the international communities and Muslim and Arab countries to come in and replace the coalition. And of course it wouldn’t be a target for Al Qaeda if the Americans weren’t there. It’s not simple but there would be a real possibility of beginning to turn that around. And then it could be agreed that all WMD should be removed from the region, including Israel’s nuclear weapons.
America has unprecedented military power. There is no country in human history that has had such power. And yet it can’t control poor Afghanistan and poor Iraq. You can’t control people by oppressing them. It’s only through a sense of justice and order that people will agree and come together. When there is justice, the bulk of people will co- operate and then of course you can always deal with those who are intransigent. So I conclude if we fail to make progress, we’re going to see growing catastrophe and turmoil that goes beyond the war on terror and breaks down the international order in the way I’ve tried to describe. We’ve got to re-think the war on terror which is clearly failing. The UK has a special responsibility because we encouraged the United States in this error. The UK’s political system is failing us, it’s failing to address this question and allowing a proper debate and it lies with people like you and I hope me, to deal with the ideas, to read the books that demand the change to hold representatives to account – to use the power of the vote. We must stand on human rights law, strong multi-lateral agreements, and the environment, and make a stand for a commitment to justice and sustainable development. The future is going to be very ugly unless we can get back those values. But if we can, there’s an enormous job to do but it’s a noble and fine job to set the world on the road to a new world order to replace the Cold War. And I would love to see the UK espousing policies standing central to that using all our influence on the world stage in the UN Security Council, in the IMF, in the World Bank, in the EU, in the Commonwealth – those sort of values and that sort of international order. I think we’ll get there in the end – the question is how much pain and suffering before that will prevail.
Thank you very much.