The National Security Council, chaired by the Prime Minister and attended by myself and other ministerial colleagues, meets regularly to discuss the ongoing operations in Libya, including stabilisation. In terms of recovering the costs of operations in Libya from the national transitional council, NATO’s intervention in Libya under a clear UN mandate has saved countless lives and is helping to bring new hope to a country that has suffered tyrannical rule for 42 years, but the UK did not play a leading role in this action for financial return.
Given the extended nature of the Libyan conflict, the tribal nature of the country and the experience in Iraq, will the Defence Secretary assure me that maximum attention will be given to conflict prevention and conflict resolution issues from now onwards, so that we do not have a recurrence of victory followed by great difficulties thereafter?
That is a key question. I visited Libya at the weekend. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned Iraq, but Libya has three big advantages coming out of this conflict compared with Iraq. First, we were careful not to cause civilian deaths, which has given the impression that we value human life higher; secondly, we did not target civilian infrastructure, so it is likely that the country will be able to move much more quickly to economic recovery; and thirdly we encouraged the NTC not to engage in a process similar to de-Ba’athification. I therefore find Libya in a much better place than Iraq was.
Given that the cost of our involvement in Libya is about £260 million and rising, at the same time as we have the biggest budget deficit in the G20, should we not be asking Libya and/or the Arab League to repay the cost, just as the Kuwaitis did after the first Gulf war?
As I said, we went into Libya not on the basis of recovering the costs, but because we believed there to be an imminent humanitarian disaster. Mindful of such disasters in previous generations, we can be proud that we averted this one. How costs are apportioned and whether other countries can help with those wider costs can be discussed, but only after the conflict has been concluded, which it has not yet been.
Is there not great concern in Libya about the future of the surface-to-air missiles? When I asked the Minister for the Armed Forces about this back in June, he said:
“We continue to assess the situation in Libya closely, including the potential proliferation of man-portable anti-aircraft missiles.”—[Official Report, 28 June 2011; Vol. 530, c. 672W.]
From his answer earlier, he does not seem to have been doing a great deal. This is a major threat and we need some evidence of urgency and some results.
This is one of the issues that I discussed at the weekend. The right hon. Gentleman is right that it is an urgent matter. We have provided a small team of UK military specialists to work alongside the Libyans and the United States in preventing surface-to-air missile proliferation. We have already disarmed a number of these missiles and identified a large number of sites where further activity will take place.