Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to this Wilberforce Lecture and a particular welcome to the Right Honourable Clare Short, MP. Clare is one of the MPs who needs little or no introduction. She’s one of the instantly recognisable figures and voice in British politics. She’s been a Member of Parliament for the Ladywood Division of Birmingham since 1983, which is very proud as the ward in which she lives and the ward in which she was raised. And, of course, she became a member of the Government in 1997 as Secretary of State, a new post for international development, called DfID for short, and she stayed there until her resignation in May 2003.
I just want to thank Clare on behalf of our twin city of Freetown in Sierra Leone, because one of the first things which she did on election was to put resources into that country suffering from civil war, civil disturbance, enormous and horrendous problems, and for that, as a twin city, we are duly grateful. And, as a measure of Clare’s attitude towards her position, I recall that when politicians speak about listening to people they don’t always mean it because listening is a lost art, but Clare introduced a series of regional discussions to which she invited various NGOs and other agencies and interested parties to come and meet her on a regular basis to hear, first-hand, reports of projects in overseas countries. And, we were fortunate that the Freetown Society was always included in those discussions which took place in York and, again, for that we should be grateful.
However, tonight we’re here to commemorate William Wilberforce. Our lectures always focus upon human rights, upon civil liberties, and I’d just like to say that we anticipate the year 2007. That year marks the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade, not the abolition of slavery but the abolition of the slave trade, in which there will be international celebrations and commemorations and we hope that we, the Wilberforce Trust, along with the Council and other parties will play their share. So I will now say that next year, God willing, we have two lectures planned and we hope they will take place, because we don’t have an annual lecture, we have lectures as and when, as and when people are available and when things emerge. Next year we hope to have with us Dr Sheila Cassidy to speak about her experiences during the Pinochet regime in Chile, and we also hope to have the Chair of the Truth & Reconciliation & Human Rights Commission in Sierra Leone to speak about the enormously difficult task of creating a civil society in the wake of such atrocities and human despoliation.
Tonight, the theme is one which is very pertinent as the situation in Iraq gets gloomier and gloomier by the hour. Clare is going to speak to us about rethinking the war on terror. That’s her theme. Clare will speak for between 40 and 45 minutes and then we will have questions. I’ll repeat this later on but please indicate if you wish to ask a question. I will go round and pick at random three or four and then Clare will respond to clutches of questions and comments. When that is finished, I’ll then be inviting the Chair of the Wilberforce Lecture Panel, Councillor Inglis, to present Clare Short with the Wilberforce medallion, on which is embossed the first critical logo, the black slave kneeling and the first great sound byte, “Am I not a brother?” inscribed upon it. So it gives me great pleasure to invite the Right Honourable Clare Short, MP, to address you on this very important theme, Re-thinking the War on Terror. [Applause]
Thank you very much. I’m very pleased to be with you and very honoured to have been awarded the Wilberforce medallion. The title of my talk, as has been said, is Rethinking the War on Terror. My thesis is that the response of the United States to the terrible crime of September 11th 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 violence and conflict, a breakdown of international law as Kofi Annan warned at the recent meeting of the General Assembly, a further undermining of the authority of the United Nations. And this isn’t just fancying, this is taking place in front of our eyes and is an enormous risk to this world of ours if these trends continue. I think, in these circumstances, if it goes like that it’s 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, in a kind of twenty to thirty 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. I think we’re living at a time of enormous historical change and that this new era offers the possibility of a great advance for humanity. Globalisation, I’ll come on to this, but I think it parallels what the industrial revolution meant to countries like this. New technologies with a capacity to generate great wealth but, you know, people came from the countryside into the cities and lived in squalor and poverty but then the political movements to ensure that the abundance of wealth was properly used, I think globalisation creates the possibility of an uplift for the world because we can move the abundance of technology, of capital, of knowledge around and the question is are we capable of the political change that’s necessary to make this era into an era that would really benefit humanity?
So the new era offers the possibility of a great advance, but I fear that the present leadership of the world will fail to grasp that possibility and there’s a real growing danger that we’ll hand to the next generation a world of bitter division, turmoil and catastrophe. And, since the United Kingdom is the strongest supporter of the policies adopted by the United States since September 11th 2001, we in this country have a particular responsibility to analyse and discuss these issues. There’s plenty of anger, understandably and reasonably, in the country 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 what our country’s doing, whoever’s fault it is that we’ve got ourselves to where we are.
If my thesis is right then, in this troubled world we’re in, Britain’s part of the problem and 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. Large proportions of the public and some very serious analysts from all sides of political traditions – I met with a senior American just last week who’d been a nuclear strategist, who’s a vicious critic of what’s the American strategy in Iraq, so it’s not coming from only one political tradition, the criticism and the worry about where we’re going.
Lots of people hold the same views but, because we’re living in an atmosphere of fear, growing fear and talk of war, there’s a general presumption that we should all be loyal and not question the courage and wisdom of our leaders. Happily, Britain’s less deferential than it used to be and there’s less of that than there used to be, but that atmosphere is in the House of Commons and certainly in the Labour Party undoubtedly, so you’re seen as rocking the boat if you question, no matter how sincerely and seriously the questioning is intended to be put. I think this is a very worrying situation. Grave mistakes have been 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 peer 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. And so I think we’re in a very strange time when there’s enormous political discussion in the country but not adequately reflected in Parliament, and 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 system because of this sense of contempt that is certainly out there at much greater heights than I’ve known in the course of my political lifetime.
Of course, there’s protest in Parliament but the dissenters, the outright dissenters, the Liberal Democrats and the Nationalist parties make up little more than 1 in 13 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 a party and you know how unusual and difficult 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, you know, 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 Second 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 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 great big victory, and both the Labour and the Conservative benches were jeering and sneering at the Liberals and Charles Kennedy was vicious and nasty, and that’s the kind of atmosphere that you can get. And, what I’m trying to say is that this is dangerous for us, we’ve got to have this discussion, we’ve got to claim the right in places like this and back into 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 in is very strange politically. In the country people are, for example, buying more political books than has gone on for a very long time. People are buying books about Islam, the history of the Middle East, people are buying all the books that are coming out of America that suggests that things weren’t quite as they should be. There’s people that are agitated 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 the spectacular disaster, and so 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 in a way and, of course, America was the good guy then and came in and slapped 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 we are, this is the atmosphere; these are the times and, because of that and because of the crushing of debate and 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 bytes or the endless political gossip that now is the majority of political coverage, sadly, in our country. I hope that similar events to this will be held 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’ve 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; two sides, saw itself as having won the Cold War and then no war, no division, what to do and then we’ve got war on terror again and we can order lots of arms again and it’s kind of easy to understand the world. I mean, clearly, there was a serious problem on September 11th 2001 but I think that factor is there. This is a much more complicated and different world but we’re now back to an old division that makes it simple to have good guys and bad guys and we all know where we are and that’s a failure to understand the complexity and 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 comes about because of the end of the Cold War but also the new information technologies which move knowledge and ideas around, and capital and technology around the world very rapidly, and a growing problem of great inequality and poverty and the dangerous erosion of the world’s environmental resources accompanied, as they are, by the growing problem of global warming. All these three and mighty new forces are at work together in a new world, and I believe we need a new approach if we’re to manage this era wisely and, 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 six billion of us and there’s going to be nine billion of us by 2020 to 2030. We were only just over one, about one point two billion people in 1900, three billion in 1960, six billion now we’re going to nine billion. That’s a fantastic change in just over 100 years. It’s no surprise, therefore, there’s a strain on our environmental resources. It’s a consequence of development, and in Britain in 1700 there were ten million people. When you get development children survive, people live longer and you get a growth of population that then stabilises, and that change is taking place across the world but it’s taking us to nine billion people fairly shortly, and 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% live in cities, and the projection is by twenty years that’ll be something like 65%.
One in five of the people of the world are abjectly poor, hungry, don’t have access to clean water, little access to education, no proper healthcare, living in the margins of survival that were the conditions of working people in our cities at the time of the industrial revolution, but still living like that, one in five of us. And half the people of the world are very poor. Half of the people of the world have no sanitation, for example, so we’ve got this urbanising world without sanitation. It’s both a cause of constant ill health and also of humiliation, and all of this in a world with better communications than we’ve ever had. I think urban poor behave differently than rural poor, they’re more likely to agitate and organise and demand some change, whereas rural populations are more dispersed.
But also, in the face of the communications we now have, I’m sure it’ll feel even worse to see how people like us where 20% of the people of the world live 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’s also politically unsustainable, and you get crises like people walking across the Sahara desert, risking their lives to come across the Mediterranean just to try and get into Spain or Italy to try to be able to work, to try to be able to have a decent life for their family. There’s going to be more of that and, 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, the inequality.
We’ve got, in our environmental resources, very serious erosion of the fish stocks of the world. They’re over-fished – well gosh, who am I to come here and tell you about fish stocks, but I’m sure you know all about this more than I do but it’s very dangerous. Something like two billion people depend on fish for their major 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 third of the fish stocks of the world are endangered. Forests are shrinking, deserts and eroded land is spreading. There’s a growing strain on the water resources of the world. The projection is in another twenty years, two thirds of the world’s population will have a strain over water resources and we’ll have a likelihood of wars over water unless we manage our rivers properly and make sure everyone has shared and proper access.
And global warming. I think, you know, it was contentious and the world’s experts disagreed. They don’t now. It is recognised by virtually all the experts in the world that global warming is a reality and it will affect every country. I heard something on the radio this morning, for example, about the Thames Barrage which was built to stop flood tides in London and thought it would be used once every couple of years and it’s now being used six times a year, and the suggestion is that that’s all a consequence of the beginning of seas rising and so on and, of course, our coasts will erode and countries like this will be affected.
But, if you take Bangladesh, the largest, least developed country in the world, population about 130 million, it’s a great big river delta so it has constant floods and, obviously, very low-lying. It’s doing quite well in economic growth, getting more children to school, particularly girls to school, so population growth is slowing but it’s a very young population and, therefore, the size of the country, the population is going to increase by 50% over the next thirty years and it’s going to lose a third of its territory because of seas rising, because of global warming. And where are those – this is one country because, of course, in lots of the Pacific and West Indies whole islands will be wiped out and people will just have to move, and there’s going to be masses of refugees and enormous tension and conflict and, of course, a turbulence in weather patterns on top of that.
And we’re not taking much action. We had agreed a treaty that was going to cause the whole world to start to change but, of course, the biggest polluter in the world, 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 this is the context of the world that it’s living in. There are other great 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, or the history books probably will, to 1989 when the Berlin Wall came down and Nelson Mandela was released from prison – do you remember? And the whole world felt a wave of optimism.
Those were heady days, there was a 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, and we had two sides with masses of nuclear weaponry pointed at each other and the way we avoided war was by the threat to virtually destroy the planet if we ever went to war, and that was the system of keeping the peace, as you know, in the Cold War years. And, of course, 1989, the end of the Cold War, the end of the Berlin Wall and Nelson Mandela coming out of prison symbolised all that to end and no longer would Africa’s development be distorted by the evils of the Apartheid system, and we all hoped I think then that cuts in defence spending and a new world of mutual respect offered hope and advance to mankind. It was a very, very optimistic time, we all dreamed of something better, if you can recall.
I think then we underestimated the challenge of the end of the Cold War. For more than 50 years, every tension and conflict in the world had been managed through the prism of Cold War divisions. Violence was contained because both sides lined up at either end of most points of tension and, therefore, conflict couldn’t be allowed to erupt because it might lead to mutually assured destruction. After ’89, this system of order, a pretty primitive system of order, but that system of order was gone. The question was would the world have enough sense and quality of leadership to create a new world order or would we see a growth of disorder and conflict. And, at first, there were encouraging signs. Velvet revolutions in Eastern Europe, all the people on the streets, a change of regime without any violence. You remember.
Some of that was very moving and very fine. Nelson Mandela became President of South Africa in that fantastic election where people stood all day in the sun for their right to vote, and there was enormous spirit of reconciliation despite the suffering that had been inflicted on him. We saw the agreement between Reagan and Gorbachev about the disarming of lots of nuclear weapons, and cuts in defence spending across the world. So that looked as though the hopeful world was coming, but there were also signs of growing disorder and a lack of will and capacity to tackle these problems.
In Somalia, for example, in the early eighties, a long-standing dictatorship collapsed into chaos and inter-clan fighting accompanied by desperately high levels of hunger and suffering, and in the Cold War years he would have been propped up or that would have been somehow contained. Not that he was a good ruler. I mean there was lots of ugliness in those years but following this a UN mission with US support, not part of it but in support, was deployed to Somalia and then, if you remember, 25 Pakistani peacekeepers were killed and then 18 US soldiers were killed and the bodies of the dead US soldiers were dragged through the streets of Mogadishu. President Clinton announced his intention to withdraw and a 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, massive displacement of people scattered across the world and then we’re told, “Al Qaeda might hide there,” but it’s an example of the new disorder, the failure of the post-Cold War world to give enough to the UN to make sure that these sorts of problems could be resolved, so a whole country was left in chaos.
Then, in 1994, a terrible genocide took place in Rwanda. In a hundred days a million people were killed, mostly by machete under orders, hacked to pieces, raped and killed and slaughtered. And there was a UN mission in Rwanda at the time supposedly policing a peace agreement that had been made but was then broken, and messages were sent constantly to the UN and to the Security Council saying a genocide was threatened, and 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 killing and slaughter.
So that tonight, if you see a picture I’m trying to give, the end of the Cold War, massive historical change, some urges to a better world but also the breakdown of the old order and the danger of a growth of disorder. And, of course, in Europe the former Communist leaders in the Balkans incited ethnic nationalism to keep themselves in power, and this led to extreme violence, ethnic cleansing – the phrase was a bit of a euphemism – mass rape and then, you remember, the slaughter of seven thousand Muslim men and boys in the supposedly UN-protected city of Srebrenica. 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.
But, alongside those failings, there was a struggle to create a new world order, and I think these are the choices that face us and we’ve got to get back to the new world order that would work. Kofi Annan said a couple of years ago that the Montreal Protocol, if you remember, which was negotiated in 1987 to phase out the world’s use of ozone-depleting substances was a great success. It was negotiated, all the countries in the world agreed, there was a process of phasing out and it’s been implemented and the damage that was being done to the ozone layer is beginning to repair itself, and that was all agreed and negotiated through the UN; the first really successful international environmental agreement.
And then in 1998, the Kyoto Agreement was negotiated, again through a UN process. As I said earlier, it’s gone wrong since then, but that was a very important agreement saying first, the OECD countries would over a twelve year period reduced their emissions to their, whatever it was, 1992 or something levels and then China and India and other countries who are, of course, fast-growing would come in but first the richest had to move first. That was the whole basis of Kyoto, now invoked because Russia’s joined it but, of course, with the biggest polluter in the world not agreeing 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 go with it, but I went shortly after that meeting to Bolivia and there was a former military dictator who been made to – Bolivia’s a very beautiful, very poor country – he’d been elected in a democratic election and he asked one of my staff, or someone asked on his behalf, if the International Criminal Court came in would people like him be able to travel any more. Well, I think that shows the power of it. The notion that there was going to be a world standard and that 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, and it was attended by more Presidents and Prime Minister than have ever attended a UN meeting before, and it was agreed that the reduction of poverty would be the priority for the world for the new millennium, and these famous Millennium Development Goals were agreed, that the world would work together to halve the proportion of people living in extreme poverty by 2015; that would be a billion people lifting themselves out of those very gross conditions of poverty that I talked about before. They’ve been replaced by a billion new people because of the world population growing, but we would have created a capacity in the international system to systematically reduce poverty as an absolute priority of international agreement.
And the goals included getting all children into school, into primary school at least, including the girls. The single most powerful intervention in a poor country that can be made is to get a generation of children to school including the girls. Girls who’ve been to school, even if it’s just primary, they bring transformation as they grow up. They marry slightly later, have less children and are more likely to survive, increase household income, are better at getting their own children to school and getting healthcare. So that’s one of them, all children in the world in primary education, reductions in infant and maternal mortality by providing clean water and by access to basic healthcare. Unprecedented agreements agreed through the UN and then the World Bank, the IMF, all the regional development banks, the OECD countries, all agreed to make these an absolute priority of all our development efforts in the new millennium. So, another really important advance.
So, in the years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, we saw an effort to create a new world order based on the commitment to international treaties, the rule of law, a strengthened UN, focus on the challenge of growing poverty and a commitment to human rights for all. The International Convention on Human Rights imposes on all of us a duty to do all in our power to bring about the securing of all rights for all people, and that includes, yes, the right to speak and not be persecuted politically, but it includes the right to go to school, the right to make a living. Really the Convention on Human Rights has never been properly honoured because, shortly after it was negotiated, the world split into West and the Communist world, and the West talked about what’s called the blue rights, the freedom rights, and the Communist world talked about the red lights and the full belly rights, but we were coming back together to say human rights means everything that the human being needs to be basically free, which include the freedom to speak, to express an opinion, to enjoy your culture but also to be able to eat, be able to work, to have some healthcare. The Convention says, for example, that primary education should be free and we’ve never really honoured it, but this was a new chance to really mean it now; to use the wealth and the possibility, the abundance that globalisation could make available to really lift up the world and make it more just and sustainable.
Now, all of this was going on; growing disorder, the movements towards international treaties, but then we had the United States of America which – and remember this is before President Bush – with a deep sense that it had won the Cold War, remember the end of history, history had finished, America had won and everything would be made in its image for evermore, and it now was the world’s only great power; the world’s hyper-power, as the French called it. And it had a deep 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 conventions on the right of the child. You know, there’s only two countries in the world that wouldn’t agree to the convention on the rights of the child, recognising basic rights for every child in the world: Somalia that didn’t have a government so it couldn’t, and the United States of America who just object so much to international treaty frameworks. A real difficulty for the world’s only great power, the mightiest country in the world to understand that systems of treaties and rules protect it too.
After the Cold War without the balance it found enormous difficulty in seeing that 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, but the US found it very difficult to perceive the world like this. And, on top of that, we inherited the residue of the United States and Saudi backing for Islamist resistance which helped to bring the Soviet Union down through the war in Afghanistan. It’s really important to remember Al Qaeda came out of that, you know, 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 and experience and would pull from all corners of the world, and it is important to recall that it was the United States and its faithful ally, Saudi Arabia, that brought into being the movement that later became known as Al Qaeda, they provided funding, support, and there’s no question about it.
I don’t want here to cloud the picture 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 of international treaties, a strong commitment to the rule of law and respect for the UN, all human rights for all people, and a focus on sustainable development and addressing the environmental strain on the world. The other was a world of growing disorder and US power being unwilling to see itself trammelled by 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. Now, those of us who favour resolving conflict through international law strongly supported a peace agreement to establish two states side by side, one for the Palestinian people and one for the Israeli people, with probably a US or maybe some other sort of peacekeeping force so both peoples could feel safe and start to build their new country and trade and flourish in the neighbourhood that they share.
There was an agreement reached in the Oslo Peace Accord in 1993 and embraced by the Palestinian people, giving up their dream of one united state for all the people of the region. And more recently, in 2004, there was negotiated through – 2002/3 rather – through the UN, the European Union, Russia and the US, a roadmap for the establishment of a Palestinian state by the end of 2004. And this proposal has the support in survey after survey of the majority of Israeli and Palestinian people but many in Israel, backed by the United States, favour an expansionist Israel armed with nuclear weapons which regularly breaches international law to support and encourage illegal settlements on Palestinian lands in the Occupied Territories.
This is, as you know, the cause of enormous anger and grievance in the Arab world and has caused the US in its desire to dominate this oil-rich region, to support and prop-up corrupt dictatorships which are willing to support US policy against the wishes of their people and, thus, the mess of the Middle East. Because democracy in the Middle East would produce governments that were anti-American and anti-Israeli. People who speak the same language and see the endless humiliation of the Palestinian people and know how much the world relies on their oil feel that they have a duty to do something to liberate them and feel very, very angry that that’s not being done. As you’ll know, the majority of the people of Europe share the sense that it’s deeply unjust and that there ought to be a settlement, but this is the fundamental reason for the instability and anger there is in the Middle East. And, of course, the people feel as well as their suffering, they feel humiliated that their whole culture and people are humiliated by this constant marginalisation despite them having this rich oil resource that the world is so dependant upon.
Now, it’s this situation, plus the years of 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 was the backdrop to the attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon on 11th September 2001 which led to the death of nearly three thousand innocent civilians from forty different countries in the world, large numbers of them not American, and hurt and humiliated the world’s greatest power. And I want to remind you and us to remind ourselves of the first reaction across the world, which is one of massive solidarity with America everywhere. The UN Security Council met and unanimously passed a resolution setting up a new committee that would ask every country in the world to cooperate in sharing information, tightening up on money laundering, cooperating to catch the group that would commit such a heinous crime.
The General Assembly met and unanimously supported that position. Le Monde famously, and given now the vilification of the French, had a headline in English saying, “We’re all American now,” meaning, you know, we must all stand in solidarity against this evil that’s been done. And it’s also forgotten that the first reaction of America was to cooperate in ways it hadn’t before, and certainly under the Bush administration, in international agreements, so we haven’t been able to get any agreement in Seattle on getting a new trade round that would produce trade rules that would be fairer to poorer countries but, in November 2001, we had a meeting in Doha and everyone agreed on the 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 on 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 all agreeing to increase their aid spending, and then in September in Johannesburg there was a meeting to look at progress on the environment ten years after Rio, which I think was a very important, another UN meeting where there was an adjustment. Because the environmental agenda had been seen as the rich countries telling the poor countries not to do it like we did; that we’d polluted and plundered the world and now we were trying to bring in rules that would stop the poorest countries developing, and if we go that way we’ll never get agreement. In Johannesburg, the agreement was that there had to be an absolute commitment to development and the reduction of poverty and then we all changed to use the resources of the world sustainably. So, immediately after September 11th 2001, the world came together and the Americans felt that they needed the rest of the world and all these agreements which were reached that were going down the road that I think is essential in order to manage their turbulent world we’re living in now.
When the United States decided to take military action against Afghanistan, the world supported it. The world didn’t like to see a poor country with lots of hungry people being bombed but they knew the Taliban government had been asked to hand over Osama bin Laden and had refused, and that’s the grouping that had organised the attack on the Twin Towers, and after again a very short war, which is what you get in these very weak countries when, of course, 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 and so on, and the whole world came together in Tokyo to provide resources to help Afghanistan rebuild, NATO provided troops to stabilise Kabul. So, just to remind us the world was still together on Afghanistan, and the errors in Afghanistan came later; the failure to stand down the warlords and, therefore, to get a united country and deal with the drug growing, the world united.
But then, 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’ve all been ploughing through that. We can come to any of it for questions; you know, how we could have gone on with Hans Blitz. Yes, there was a problem to be dealt with but there was no need to rush. There wasn’t any imminent threat from the WMD, as everybody knows very clearly now, and that shattered the post-September 11th consensus. It weakened the UN desperately and the UN remains weakened. International law was set aside as Kofi Annan has said. I mean there’s no doubt that all the UN lawyers thought there was no authority for war, and most of British lawyers thought it too, and Kofi has said recently it was an illegal war.
And going on from there, in Guantanamo Bay we’ve got all these prisoners picked up in Afghanistan, and America has decided not to adhere to the Geneva Convention and basic human rights treaties, and we have the torture in Abu Ghraib. So we’ve seen international law, the UN, the Geneva Convention and Human Rights law all marginalised and set aside by the some of the countries that in the past have been the strongest supporters of a world order based on those kind of values. And, as you know, to our shame the UK supported this war, and I think it’s a tragedy. I’ve got a book coming out soon and it gives my explanation of why I think it happened, but I think we didn’t honour the special relationship. If we had a special relationship with America because of links of history and language and the experiences of the First and Second World Wars, the duty of a good friend is to stop a friend from making a gross error, and to go along with it was not to be a friend. It was to be a fig leaf and, as they say, what’s the use of a transparent fig leaf?
And now we’ve got a terrible situation in Iraq. Chaos and disorder, large numbers of Iraqis dead and injured. You know, the Coalition not even counting civilian casualties in Iraq, so there’s an Iraq body count you can look up on the web. It’s estimate is between thirteen thousand and fifteen thousand Iraqi civilians have died and, of course, there’s more deaths all the time, and on top of that probably seven thousand young soldiers, many of whom were conscripts. Of course, sixty some UK troops, and if the decision that threaten goes on, I fear that those numbers will go more than a thousand US troops. There’s an insurgency against the occupation supported by many Iraqi people and a strengthened Al Qaeda throughout the Middle East which, of course, is coming to Iraq in order to be able to attack the enemy, the United States of America.
This danger was predicted by analysts of a very different political persuasion than my own. It was Sir Michael Howard. No relation to the leader of the Conservative Party, but he’s 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 made 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 a dangerous antisocial activity, one that can never be entirely eliminated but can be reduced to and kept at a level that does not threaten social stability. The British, in their time,”
This is one of our great military historians:
“have fought many such wars in Palestine, in Ireland, in Cyprus, 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 at once to accord them a status and dignity that they seek which they do not deserve. It confers on them a kind of legitimacy.”
So we get a horrendous crime that then is transmuted into a war based on an injustice in the Middle East. That’s what he’s saying. A terrible error, to move in this way and talk in this way. And he goes on,
“But to use, or rather misuse 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 create a war psychosis that may be totally counter productive for the objective that we seek. It will rouse an immediate expectation and demand for spectacular military action against some easily identifiable adversaries.”
He said this in October 2001 before the Iraq war.
“The use of force is no longer seen as a last resource to be avoided if humanly possible but as the first, and the sooner it is used the better.”
And then, just a little more of him, because it’s very wise,
“Now, a 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 is fundamentally a battle for hearts and minds. Without hearts and minds one cannot obtain the 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 bit from him,
“In 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 defeated and celebrate it as martyrs. In the process of fighting them, a lot of innocent civilians will certainly be hurt which will further erode the moral authority of the government.”
He wrote that in, or he made that speech in October 2001. Prescient it was. I’m afraid these predictions have come true. There’s considerable evidence of a growth in support for Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden since the Iraq war. To take one example – and I won’t be much longer I promise – there’s a Washington-based research centre called the Pugh Research Centre and it completed its second survey of public opinion in some European countries and four large predominantly Muslim countries in March 2004. It found that anger against 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 that a suicide attack against Americans and other Westerners in Iraq are justified. Majorities in all four countries doubt the sincerity of the war on terror and see it as an effort to control the Middle East oil and to dominate the world, and I feel when they do the March 2005 survey it 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’s a senior CIA analyst and he says,
“In the aftermath of the 11th September attacks, it was impossible to imagine how a war waged against Al Qaeda could fail to benefit the United States. More than two years later, the war on terrorism perks along and has grown to dimensions that far exceed destroying Al Qaeda. We still have a small force engaged in Afghanistan, and we have waged a second ineffective war against Iraq that is inaugurated and intensifying Islamist insurgency.”
This is a CIA, still serving senior CIA analyst.
“What began as a war 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 or rhetoric constitutes terrorism and has become a war that attracts only feeble support outside the English-speaking world. Osama bin Laden, in his wildest dreams, could hardly have hoped for this.”
So, it’s reasonable to conclude that the war on terror was misconceived and is going badly. The question is what can be done to rescue us from this worrying prospect? My view is that the US is in very serious trouble in Iraq. It’s a quagmire, and that means we’re in trouble too, which is causing dreadful suffering for 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 just simply wave a wand and put things right. The views he’s expressed on Palestine-Israel, the core of the issue at the heart of the anger of the Middle East, are pretty well as bad as those of President Bush, but he has stressed that he wants to work with the international community and to get an exit strategy from Iraq.
Now, that’s important because the neo-conservative analysts, who are so entrenched in the Bush administration, want long term bases in Iraq and, of course, just as I can read their publications so can people in Iraq, and they know that. So, the change of president in the US would open the possibility of a demand for change policy in the Middle East. It would, it seems to me, require the rest of the world to say, “You can only have our help to get out of the quagmire in Iraq if we move on Palestine-Israel, and we need the courage of keeping the world together in order to use this crisis to get some progress”, and that would be a possibility if only – because 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 look for an exit from Iraq by a responsible handover and a settlement of Israel-Palestine and really meant it, then there’s a time when the US is in trouble, it would be totally isolated and I think the UK would have considerable influence to bring about that shift. And, if we fail, I think we’re going to have decades of this. More and more security, more and more fear, weaker and weaker UN, more and more disorder. Most of North Africa is Muslim and some of it is spreading, you know. Algeria’s had a terrible war when the people weren’t allowed to have the government they voted for. The capacity of this to spread even further and cause even more poison and harm and death and suffering is very great indeed.
My view is, as I’ve said, it’s easy to see the way forward in the Middle East. Two states, Israel-Palestine, US plus other peace-keepers, a responsible exit and handover from Iraq, asking the international community 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. You know, there would be a real – I mean it’s not simple but there would be a real possibility of beginning to turn that round, and all WMD out of the region, including Israel’s nuclear weapons, and Iran, Syria and the rest have all said they will all give up everything if the region could be denuclearised. So that’s what we have to do in the Middle East. At the same time, we’ve got to get the world back to the focus on poverty, on fair trade and dealing with global warming and on sustainable development.
These things are an enormous challenge but progress is possible. I really believe the only way to manage this era is with more justice, is with respect for international law. America has more unprecedented military power. There is no country in human history that has had such power. It can’t control poor Afghanistan or Iraq. You cannot control people by oppressing them. It’s only through a sense of justice and order that people will agree on and come together, then the bulk of people will cooperate and then, of course, you can always deal with those that are intransigent. So I think 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.
And there it is. We’ve got to rethink the war on terror. The present approach is misconceived and failing. The UK has a special responsibility because we’ve encouraged the United States in this error. The UK political system is failing us in failing to address this question and encourage and allow a proper debate, and it lies with people like you, and I hope I, to deal with the ideas, to read the books, to demand the change, to hold representatives to account, to use the power of the vote, to stand on human rights law, strong multi-lateral agreements on trade and the environment, labour standards, a commitment to justice and sustainable development.
The future is going to be very ugly unless we can get back to their final values, and if we can there’s an enormous job to do but it’s a noble and fine job, and it would centre the world on a new world order to replace the Cold War around which we could all combine, and I would love to see the UK’s foreign policy standing centrally for that and then us 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 for those sort of values and that sort of international order. We must do it. And I think we’ll get there in the end, the question is how much suffering and pain and loss before wisdom prevails. Thank you very much. [Applause]