To call attention to new challenges in foreign policy, and to move for Papers.
My Lords, it is a great honour to be asked to open this debate. When I saw the list of distinguished speakers, I felt greatly overpromoted. However, my deficiencies will be more than made up for when my noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford replies to the debate from our side. All I can hope to contribute are some thoughts on the backdrop to a generally unhappy situation facing the world.
A tidal view of history explains why it is so hard to decide in which direction events are moving. Tides rise and fall. The turn of the tide is especially hard to spot because, unlike lunar tides, there are no timetables, and surface storms can conceal what is happening in the longer term. Most political thinkers and leaders ride the tide, or are swept away by it. A few play a part in turning it. Martin Luther, Karl Marx, Deng Xiaoping and Margaret Thatcher were tide turners; so perhaps were Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II. Now, Barack Obama has been elected on a wave of hope to lead his country.
Each tide-turner has identified a need for change and met the challenges that change creates. What are the challenges from which new opportunities may emerge? The first and greatest challenge is for national leaders—and not only politicians—to understand how people really feel and, thus, why they react as they do. Nowhere is this more important than under the shadow of world economic collapse. Ordinary people do not understand what is happening and nor, indeed, do the pundits. Having been swept along by a tide of credit, much of it toxic to borrowers as well as to lenders, they are waking up to a day of reckoning. That tide could still turn into a tsunami. Part of the prosperity of the past decade has been an illusion. Consumers have now changed direction and it is no good economic and political leaders urging and expecting them to spend to support demand. A cat that lands on a hot stove will avoid stoves, hot or cold, for a long time.
An early casualty of a depression is international altruism. It is replaced by domestically perceived self-interest. Protectionism leads to retaliation and so extends and prolongs a world recession. The bid by Congress to include the “Buy America” provisions in the American stimulation package was the first challenge that President Obama faced. He was helped to mitigate it by the immediate and very effective protests from the EU Commission. Perhaps predictably, China has indicated a determination to tackle the slowdown without resorting to protectionism. China was one of the first to spot and face the realities of our new economic situation.
Countering protectionism is, I believe, the top priority for the EU today. It is far more urgent than haggling about Lisbon. I foresee serious problems, particularly in France where President Sarkozy is already advocating blatant economic nationalism. Admittedly, the shadow of 1968 hangs over Paris. However, if members of the EU introduce internal protectionist measures, whether for goods or workers, it will contradict not only the terms of the single market, but the whole concept of the treaty of Rome and its successors.
Perhaps the greatest and most dangerous political challenge is the West’s present conflict with Islamicism. It is perceived through much of the Muslim world, especially in the fragmented Middle East, as a re-enactment of the Christian Crusades. The thousand-year memories of the massacre of Muslims by Christians in Syria and Palestine had faded until they were reawakened by European colonialist ventures in the latter part of the 19th century. With the end of the Ottoman Empire those memories slumbered again, but resentment of western exploitation—sometimes amounting to expropriation—of Muslim-owned oil led to the formation of OPEC in 1960. The subsequent oil shocks were the equivalent of huge tax hikes on the populations of oil-importing countries.
Since then, there has been a tidal change, with the Islamists, whose ideology is sometimes so extreme as to be a perversion of Islamic teaching, setting the agenda. Al-Qaeda has been in the vanguard, invoking jihad partly to settle scores inside the Muslim world, but also evoking the history—and probably the myths—of Saladin against the West. President Bush’s use of the word “crusade” after 9/11, reinforced by his “axis of evil” speech of 2002, has empowered the fundamentalists and played into the hands of the jihadists.
I believe that the West must show a new respect for the ancient and pre-Islamic civilisations of the Middle East. I believe that Turkey and Syria could then offer keys to progress on the Israel/Palestine situation, which continues to drip its poison into the area. This challenge is largely in the hands of the United States. Without American weapons and the annual military grant of some $2.4 billion, Israel would be defendable only with its own nuclear weapons. If a two-state solution is achievable, it will have to be recognised by Israel as its only viable option. Even on a small scale, Israel has been demonstrating that military action can now only reveal weakness. The failure of the 2006 Hezbollah war may have been repeated in Gaza this year because Israel’s declared intention of ending rocket attacks does not seem to have been achieved. History shows that eventually, however unpalatable, radical movements with popular support have to be engaged. Equally, Hamas and Hezbollah will have to accept that their own declared aims are not achievable. But with perhaps four years to get there, an American military commitment to a two-state solution could produce peace.
Iran is another country which has been sadly mishandled. The Shah, a weak and rather vain man whose overthrow 30 years ago was last month celebrated in Tehran, alienated his religious subjects by confusing modernisation with the introduction of some of the least attractive aspects of western culture. We should not be surprised that accusations of western global arrogance land on fertile ground in Iran. The Anglo-American monarchist plot in 1953 which overthrew the elected Prime Minister Mosaddeq because he had dared to nationalise British-owned oil is still remembered, and America’s decision to back Saddam Hussein when he attacked Iran in 1980 cost more than 1 million Iranian lives. Iran is another country whose long and distinguished history entitles it to our respect. We, after all, are relative newcomers to civilisation. Yet we patronisingly appear to deny the Iranians the right to nuclear reactors for power generation lest they be used for building nuclear weapons.
Nuclear weapons are probably as controversial as they have ever been. There are those who say that the great challenge is to rid the world of such abominations, and that every country which joins the nuclear club increases the chances of world disaster, so almost any steps are justified to prevent entry to it. I myself am not of that persuasion. First, science, however frightening, is irreversible. Secondly, had the bomb not been deployed against Japan, the world would never have recognised the horrors of its effects until uninhibited competitors, probably the United States and Russia, had resorted to a nuclear exchange. After that, there would have been little further debate because there would have been no debaters. Nuclear weapons have been clearly demonstrated as unusable. They kept the peace during nearly half a century of cold war, and perhaps what is most important is that they made conventional warfare between nuclear states too risky. Indeed in this they may in recent years have prevented serious conflict between India and Pakistan over Kashmir.
That there should be as few nuclear states as possible is desirable. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty ensured that the number of states with nuclear weapons rose only from five to nine over 40 years. Next year there will be an opportunity to reinvigorate it, and it will be worth paying a high price to do so. For example, the idea of the central provision of nuclear fuel for those countries that wish to generate nuclear power should be fully endorsed. A price not worth paying is a pre-emptive military attack against a state thought to be acquiring nuclear weapons. I refer of course to the possibility of an attack by Israel on Iran. None the less, progress towards nuclear disarmament with a considerable reduction in the thousands of warheads still held by the United States and Russia must be a priority.
My instinct, but not yet my conviction, is that we should renew our own Trident nuclear deterrent. However, the two carriers are another large cost and the fleet of smaller ships is dangerously reduced. Nor are supplies for the Army or the Royal Air Force what they would like to have and what I believe they need. Our Armed Forces are already overstretched and it is an act of political immorality to commit to an operation without the best available—I deliberately say available rather than affordable—equipment. Equally, to embark on military action without adequate resources is to risk not only lives but also the reputation of our Armed Forces. That, sadly, seems to have been one result of our recent operations in the Basra area where the Americans had to sort out the mess.
This brings me to changes in Russia. Russia, under the relatively benevolent if shambolic rule of Yeltsin, was revealed as having been a much overestimated enemy of the past. Sadly, under Vladimir Putin, Russia is not contributing to world stability. The reality is that Russia is unlikely to be a military superpower again. That combined with the humiliation felt by the old Soviet nomenklatura, of which Putin was a junior member, with the dismemberment of the Soviet Union conditions Russian actions today. The Russian economy has cashed in on the commodity boom but it has failed to develop in any other meaningful way. Russia manufactures little that anyone wants to buy, with the exception of a few sub-prime weapon systems. Its population is declining and its expectation of life dramatically so. Some in Russia look back with nostalgia to the Soviet days.
Democracy has little appeal to the Russians. There is no concept of accountability for power. You have power and you use it. Putin, whose macho character is reflected in his judo black belt, is very popular and could decide to do another two terms as president, which would be 12 more years under the new rules, after the more reflective yoga-loving Medvedev. Meanwhile, Putin’s primary aim is to turn Russia into an energy superpower. However, he will do whatever it takes to prevent either the Ukraine or Georgia joining NATO. The Russians see the recent Georgian adventure as a successful humiliation of the United States, which fortunately lacked the means to counter it.
It should not be necessary to argue the case for diplomacy rather than military action but I fear that it is. One rule of diplomacy should be that the more tyrannical a Government the nicer you should be to their people. Military action must always have a clear political objective and that objective must be achievable only by military means and not by diplomacy alone. The case for the 2003 Iraq war was at least arguable. Total removal of Saddam and his wicked brood has now left Iraq free to make a fresh choice between continued sectarian strife and some form of secular democracy. It is too early to say whether it has been justified.
I find the case for military operations in Afghanistan far less arguable. History has repeatedly demonstrated that Afghanistan is a country where invaders can win battles but not wars. Not even the Russians have had a more painful experience than the British of the dark and bloodthirsty convolutions of Afghan politics; where participants in warfare can change sides with lightning rapidity. However, one real challenge and opportunity for progress is to deal with the opium problem.
I turn to our crucial relations with the USA. President Obama’s writings before he appeared on the presidential horizon suggest a strong Anglo-Saxon dimension in his credo. That gives us opportunities for a positive relationship with the new President with a dialogue on the basis of intellectual equality. We must never again play the role of lapdog to America, as I fear we have done in recent years.
Tragically, America has used much of its military might to reduce its influence in the world. In spite of the disparity of power between us, we have much to contribute in one of the President’s top priorities: to reclaim the moral high ground. The climb to do so will be steep and hard. Of course, the current economic crisis will divert President Obama from spending the time he probably would wish on foreign policy. However, he has a strong Secretary of State and two envoys of distinction.
In arguing for diplomacy, one must also argue for the time and resources for diplomacy to work. I recognise that there are some matters—including protectionism, to which I have already referred—in which our interests can be well met by EU representation. I would, however, be most unhappy if the projected EU foreign service was ever seen as a replacement for our own embassies. How could it replace our national, commercial and defence interests, or, indeed, conduct liaison on our behalf with foreign security and intelligence services?
Do not let us forget that in Britain our ministry is not the Foreign Office but the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. It used to be staffed by the elite of British brains and talent; now it is of more uneven quality and morale inside it is falling. In recent years there have been many attractive and well paid opportunities outside the Civil Service; however, there may now be some outstanding people who could be recruited to the FCO as late entrants. Do not allow the Treasury to nit-pick pay and conditions; there is plenty of overripe fruit to be disposed of in the home departments. Diplomatic postings are no joy-ride; there are many uncomfortable and dangerous posts. I suggest that one talented diplomat is worth more to Britain than the cost of a dozen government checkers and inspectors.
Political leadership of the FCO is crucial. We have had many distinguished Foreign Secretaries, two of whom are with us today. Jack Straw is a politician of substance. The FCO has been strengthened by the arrival of the noble Lord, Lord Malloch-Brown. I am sorry that he is not with us today but I entirely understand why he cannot be. David Miliband is very bright but I can think of no one better fitted by political experience and deep historical scholarship to take over responsibility for the conduct of our foreign policy than my right honourable friend William Hague.
In 1848 Lord Palmerston declared:
“We have no eternal allies and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual and those interests it is our duty to follow”.
The United Kingdom has two great privileges earned by our national history: first, we are a permanent member of the Security Council; secondly, we are the founder of the Commonwealth. These should help us to understand and respect how those in other countries feel. In that way we can advance our own perpetual interests by offering a guiding hand to friend and foe. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, for opening the debate and for his wide-ranging speech. The debate comes at an important time, as our foreign policy challenges are exacerbated by the global economic downturn. From a British foreign policy perspective, I hope that we continue to take an integrated approach, with our foreign policy informed by defence, development, economic, environmental, trade and other factors.
The strength of British diplomacy has always been in its considerable reach, flowing from our history and, indeed, from our membership and active participation in a range of international institutions, from the United Nations and the World Bank to the European Union, the Commonwealth and NATO. The scale of the current foreign policy challenges makes it more important than ever that we use not only our alliances but our capacity to work in partnership and to build bridges across countries and continents.
There has been a significant change in the landscape, in particular with the new United States Administration, which offers a unique opportunity to reassert the place of the United States as a force for good in the world. I have seen the recent enthusiasm of the American people for a more constructive role in the world, although I am mindful that this may be undermined by the economic recession and a push for greater protectionism to safeguard jobs. The noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, made this point with respect to China and the European Union.
Other noble Lords will speak about challenges in the Middle East, in particular around the issues of peace and security; about issues of governance and human rights; about our relationships with India, China and Asia; and about Europe and the importance of the European Union exercising political as well as economic influence. In my brief remarks, I will focus on Africa, particularly sub-Saharan Africa. I declare an interest as chair of the Royal African Society.
We in this House have often debated the development and governance challenges facing the African continent, but we have not always looked at the broader strategic importance of the continent to our global foreign policy objectives. Africa is a continent of just under 1 billion people, a significant percentage of whom are young. There are 53 countries and great diversity, with more Muslims than in the Middle East. These countries need to be engaged in the global debate about peace and security, the environment, the global economy, trade and development. They also need to be engaged in the wider debate about the values and principles that frame the development of our countries, both domestically and globally. We must ensure that African leaders and peoples participate in our discussions about how we can live together in our world, which is one of the most important issues facing us today, given the ethnic, cultural, religious and other tensions that confront us.
The significant challenges facing the African continent have enormous foreign policy implications. I will touch on two areas: peace and security, and the economy. Conflict in Africa costs an estimated $18 billion a year. One study has estimated that £1 spent on conflict prevention generates more than £4 in savings to the international community. The Human Security Brief 2007 highlighted a continued positive trend in conflict reduction in Africa, with a decline in the overall magnitude of conflict. In the seven years between 1999 and 2006, the number of armed state and non-state conflicts fell by more than half, and there has been an increase in the number of negotiated settlements. When we look at some of the longest-running conflicts on that continent, it is clear that one side cannot win. In this respect, the roles of African regional institutions, the African Union and the UN have been particularly important, with the added impact of NGOs pushing for greater international activism.
It is clear that sustained attention by groups of states working with the United Nations and acting through diplomatic, political and economic channels to support peace processes and to assist countries emerging from conflict is important for post-conflict peacebuilding and development. We need to guard against the contagion effect of these conflicts on neighbouring countries, leading to regional and continental instability. We cannot be complacent, despite the progress that has been made. Instability remains a major problem in central Africa and the Horn. Peace in Sudan is still very fragile. We saw spiralling intercommunal violence in Kenya last year and we have seen rising violence in Zimbabwe and the Niger delta.
Too many states are fragile or failing. I hope that our Government will continue to play a positive role. Our knowledge and experience are vital and we could exercise considerable influence working with the United States, the European Union and other partners, but also with the African Union and African partners. The role of the international community in reducing conflict and instability remains vital and it is clear to me that our Government need to stay engaged. Our contribution to peacekeeping and peacemaking, our diplomatic efforts, our political contacts and indeed our reputation for fairness ensure that we have significant influence.
I turn to economic issues. The timing of the international financial crisis in many ways is a particularly cruel twist for Africa. In recent years, countries in sub-Saharan Africa have enjoyed some of their highest growth rates in decades, thanks both to favourable external conditions and to improved domestic policies, all of which has contributed to creating more stable and better governed societies. In regulatory reform, 2008 was also a record year for Africa, with three of the world’s top 10 performers in business regulation coming from sub-Saharan Africa—Senegal, Burkina Faso and Botswana—helping to assist not only domestic but also foreign direct investment. Africa recorded average growth rates of some 5.4 per cent between 1997 and 2007, and rising oil prices also helped Africa’s seven biggest oil economies, which are home to 27.7 per cent of the continent’s population.
All that, however, is changing. A slowdown in private capital flows will adversely affect economies that have been relying on those flows for much needed investment. Commodity prices are falling and remittances, which run at about $15 billion a year, are likely to be affected, as is foreign aid. I recognise our own Government’s commitment to maintaining aid flows, but of course the fall in the value of sterling has had a negative impact. I am pleased that our Government and indeed the Prime Minister are showing leadership on this issue. Last week, he announced that key additional representatives from Africa and Asia would be asked to attend the G20 financial crisis summit, as only South Africa is a member of that group.
I end by asking my noble friend to advise on the key issue of the reform of the international institutions, where Africa needs to have a stronger voice. I am by nature an optimist. I think that the next two years will be very difficult, but it is crucial for us in our foreign policy role to ensure that we maintain our contact with and our interest in African issues.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, for the tone with which he opened this debate. I agree with a good deal of his speech, particularly the emphasis on the new challenges we face.
I want to talk about the challenges that are posed for British foreign policy. We are, after all, in a transformed world in which the likelihood of major war between states is now very low. We face new challenges: global economic co-operation and the creation of a more sustainable, but still open, global economy; the enormous threat of climate change and the need for global co-operation and changes in domestic policy throughout the world to cope with that; the related threat of population growth, with another 300 million to 400 million people in Africa in the next 20 years and a similar number in southern Asia, with all the problems that that brings in terms of unemployed youth and the temptations of radical ideologies, whether secular or religious, that unemployed young men fall prey to; state failure and state collapse; and migration on a large scale, which will hit the richer countries of the world.
We know that we need much stronger regional and global governance but we are stuck with a world system in which nearly 200 state entities cling to their sovereignty and indeed a popular narrative in Britain which clings to our sovereignty as well while suggesting that others should co-operate more. There are some real challenges, therefore, for British foreign policy. Our foreign policy posture looks back—indeed, it is in many ways nostalgic. We talk about Britain as a world power, punching above our weight. We emphasise our “independent” deterrent. We wish to invest in aircraft carriers. The whole narrative of British foreign policy is, as Tim Garton-Ash has written, a footnote to Churchill. He defined Churchill’s view of British foreign policy as an unambiguous commitment to the United States and an ambiguous commitment to Europe.
I find on the Conservative Party website something that Churchill himself could have said to define the Conservative approach to British foreign policy today:
“Britain enjoys a unique position—it is the place where America, Europe and the Commonwealth meet. Our outlook and responsibilities have always been global”.
That is good, old-fashioned nostalgic stuff.
Tony Blair’s rhetoric was pretty similar and if one looks for the foreign policy of a post-Blair Labour Government, the most appropriate thing is to quote the title of a New Statesman article:
“Notes on a post-Blair foreign policy”.
That is perhaps about as far as they have got.
We have some real challenges therefore for British foreign policy: what we can afford, with whom we work and what we put first. The Conservatives so far fail on all of these. David Cameron suggests that the problems of the economy are domestic and that it is all therefore the Government’s fault. We know that it is far more complicated and global than that. William Hague suggests that we are threatened by the concept of a European Army, disregarding everything that Michael Portillo as Secretary of State for Defence did to promote European defence co-operation. It disregards even more, as I discovered last night, what Sir Alec Douglas-Home said 38 years ago when he was Foreign Secretary. When proposing British membership of the European Union, he said that Britain should find and pursue effectively practical joint defence policies in Europe. The Daily Mail did not like that so the Conservatives and Labour have now gone back on it.
Conservatives, as we know, have been colonised by right-wing think-tanks in Washington and now face the danger that, as the Obama Administration talk about a transatlantic relationship between the United States and the major European Governments collectively, the Conservatives will be committed to an exclusive relationship with Washington when Washington will want a broader relationship with Europe. Britain cannot have a coherent foreign policy unless it has a coherent European policy. My party will be giving this message very strongly as we approach the European elections and as we pick up the inconsistencies of a Conservative Party which finds it extremely difficult to cope with the whole European dimension. If we want to co-operate on climate change, economic recovery, migration or terrorism, we have to start with the regional dimension before we go on to the global.
With regard to the Government, we are led to believe that Gordon Brown has now succeeded in going to Washington before President Sarkozy and Chancellor Merkel but of course after the Japanese Prime Minister. We will hear more about the wonderful special relationship in which we accept 15,000 American troops in Britain under agreements shaped in the early 1950s, many of which have never been debated in Parliament. I came across an interesting quote some months ago in Kissinger’s memoirs in which he said how refreshing it was to meet Edward Heath as British Prime Minister, someone who saw the US relationship with Britain in terms of interests and not in terms of sentiment. I wish we could have a Prime Minister and a Foreign Secretary now who would see the same.
I regret that the British Government have not responded to President Sarkozy’s initiative for closer, franker British co-operation in foreign policy and defence or to invest in a positive relationship with the German Government. I regret that our Middle East policy follows the American perceptions far too closely, although we must hope that shifts in Washington’s policy will in turn lead to a shift in London.
The Liberal Democrat response to all of this is that we should cut our coat according to our cloth. We should co-operate with our neighbours at least as closely as with Washington. We should pursue a transatlantic relationship based on interests and not on illusions or sentiment. We note how enormously overstretched we are in defence and that we have to have a radical review of what we can afford in defence terms. That may pose large questions about future defence commitments and it certainly requires us, as my much regretted friend and colleague Tim Garden used to argue, to go further down the road of co-operation with our French partners and with others across the channel. We need a strong push for nuclear disarmament built around the review of the non-proliferation treaty next year and we must be prepared to think through what that means for the renewal of our own nuclear deterrent, an enormous cost hanging over future defence procurement which we have to start paying heavily from 2011 to 2012 onwards.
Lastly, we have to explain to our public the world in which we live, and that is the biggest foreign policy challenge that British political leaders now face. For too long, Governments, both Conservative and Labour, have been frightened of the Daily Mail and the Murdoch and the Rothermere press. For too long, they have gone on pulling out the old nostalgic ideas without trying to educate our public in the world in which we now live. Britain is not a global power with global interests distinct from our European neighbours. Let us just look at how much more the Germans export to China, Brazil and Russia than we do; let us just look at how much more German investment there is in Latin America. If Britain is a global power, the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery of Alamein, may wish to say, it would help if we paid a little more attention to Latin America, for example.
So we need to explain to our public what is possible, what we can afford, where perhaps we need to be a little more modest, certainly where we need to co-operate a great deal more actively with our European neighbours; and design a foreign policy which addresses the challenges of 2009 to 2020, not of 1945 to 1960.
My Lords, my thanks, too, go to the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, for leading this important debate. I shall address a particular foreign policy challenge, that of Afghanistan, a country with which I have been associated for almost 30 years.
During the past eight years, billions of dollars have been poured into Afghanistan along with many thousands of foreign soldiers and hundreds of aid agencies. Incalculable numbers of visits by politicians and dignitaries from all over the world have taken place and yet, despite all this, there has been a slow but inexorable decline in security, in the rule of law and in the overall reduction of poverty.
Records show that while registration of girls in grade 1 is about 40 per cent, it falls to 1 per cent by grade 12, and this largely due to lack of security and Taliban action. The culture of violence and impunity prevails, exercised not only by the Taliban but by the private militias of erstwhile warlords, many of whom are suspected of war crimes and who continue to occupy key ministerial posts and use their positions to consolidate their holds on society and now on the drug industry. While a small coterie has become immensely rich, real poverty affects some 75 per cent of the population. Afghanistan is now defined as a narco-mafia state, with the drug networks linked to terrorism. The Taliban, it is said, has provided more resources from the diaspora than has the international community.
There are of course some good news stories: under the national solidarity programme, villages were each given some US$20,000 under strict conditions and now number approximately 22,000 widely spread throughout the country. Participants report that this was the first time that they felt like citizens, because they were trusted sufficiently to make their own decisions. Approximately 80 per cent of Afghans have access to primary health care, albeit rudimentary; transport infrastructure has improved; nearly 2 million refugees have returned; and there is growing private sector investment in telecommunications, construction and small industries. For example, the Logar copper reserves have attracted investments of $2.8 billion, elections have been held, a National Assembly inaugurated and a further election will be held this year.
These gains, welcome as they are, are not enough. So what went wrong? The list is long but some key errors can be identified. Not enough money was allocated directly to the Government at their most vulnerable early stages. For example, in 2001, Afghanistan had approximately 240,000 civil servants who had somehow managed to keep the country going through years of civil war and yet donors chose to give more than $2 billion to their own agencies.
As a result, the UN and NGOs set up organisations parallel to the Afghan Government, who received only $20 million to fund their entire budget for the first year. This was a key error and resulted in humiliation, dysfunctional ministries and a vast discrepancy in salaries, which, in turn, drew competent civil servants out of government service to become highly paid drivers and translators.
Meanwhile, the Government were hard put to find salaries for doctors, teachers and the police. Once the full impact of this policy became clear, there was a volte face whereby all money went henceforth to the Government, but unconditionally and with a total lack of accountability.
Another serious gap lay in the failure to implement much of the Bonn agreement. For example, it had been agreed that provincial governors would be appointed through the Civil Service Commission. This is not happening, nor has it ever, which allows, in turn, for patronage and allegiances to take the place of proper government procedure.
Donors felt that support for police training was outside their mandates and, again, donors’ adherence to millennium development goals meant that there was almost no investment in secondary and tertiary education, which has seriously depleted Afghanistan's skills base.
The international community is no less culpable for the current state of Afghanistan. The confusion of priorities is astonishing to witness. Primary tasks were seen as eliminating the threat of terrorism, or the threat of drugs, or to accommodate, rather than confront, local criminal networks. By now Helmand is considered to be British, Uruzgan is Australian, Kandahar is Canadian and so on.
The aid agencies planned and implemented thousands of small projects, often resulting in haphazard coverage; three wells in one community and none in another, for example. The projects largely ignored the civil service and the need to capacity-build at the most local levels. The lack of coherence and co-ordination has led to fragmentation, corruption and the infiltration of the Taliban.
Among all the priorities that the different foreign actors took upon themselves, two basic, clear and urgent necessities—namely, state building and security—were largely ignored. These types of early errors fly in the face of all that we know about the reconstruction of post-conflict societies. Do we really have to keep learning that institution building and national security are the top priorities on day one?
What can be done? What can be rescued from this jumble of conflicting efforts? First and foremost, no country can be stable unless it has a functioning state that performs key functions for its citizens. Researchers in this field say that this necessarily invokes at least four factors: a leadership and management team with a commitment to good governance based on the rule of law; relentless focus on national accountability systems; the development of a vibrant civil society; and, finally, the development of small and medium-sized firms that will give citizens a stake in the future of their country. Sadly, none of these factors operates in Afghanistan at the moment.
A clear and consensual plan of action would enable political coherence, a united front against both the drugs industry and the Taliban, and, ultimately, against criminal networks. A unitary security force with a strategic plan, rather than the present parallel structures with differing pay and regulations, would help to prevent fragmentation and penetration of the armed forces by drug networks. Collective accountability could ensure that revenue is directed towards government and not to warlords and commanders. The evidence suggests that what is on the books is a great deal less than what is collected.
Military assistance might focus on protecting villages rather than searching out insurgents—which, in effect, is the cause of most military and civilian fatalities—and on the police, together with involvement in a massive programme of public works in co-operation with Afghan construction companies. There are still opportunities to achieve these targets in Afghanistan if the international community is prepared to act collectively and toughly and provide sufficient resources for Afghanistan to work towards its own future. The UK is in a strong position, in that it is a major donor, with a leadership position within the World Bank. DfID has done excellent work in some areas on institution building. Given these strengths, perhaps the UK can go further in promoting an agreed national plan for Afghanistan together with the means to implement it.
My Lords, like my predecessors, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Marlesford on a quite remarkable speech introducing this debate—a three-dimensional tour d’horizon, which covered almost every topic with great consistency. I follow that by congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, on a compact presentation of an expert insight into an important subject. For my part, I intend to focus largely on the resources, skills, partnerships and alliances with which we should respond to the challenges identified by my noble friend Lord Marlesford. The question is all the more necessary in the light of the economic and financial pressures that we are facing today.
I start with a word about defence. We have long been accustomed, in government or out of it, to being able to fulfil our central objective, which is the availability of first-rate, world-class strategically mobile conventional forces. We have seen that displayed from the Iranian embassy in London to the Falkland Islands and the Gulf War. Today, however, despite the sustained, wholehearted commitment of our forces to the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, one gets the increasing impression of repeated delays and inadequacies of equipment in almost every direction. Sadly, that is accompanied, as my noble friend pointed out, by a decline in morale and even, indeed, reputation, which is largely undeserved. The whole of this was summed up by an Economist headline the other day: “Overstretched, overwhelmed and over there”.
In the mean time, there has been an important intervention from the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, and others in the letter that they wrote to the Times on 16 January. They drew attention to the way in which the world is changing, a point also touched on by my noble friend Lord Marlesford. The issue of a world free of nuclear weapons is now firmly on the public agenda. It was placed there initially, a year or more ago, by a galère of distinguished American statesmen, including Secretaries of State Shultz and Kissinger, Secretaries of Defence Perry and Carlucci and Senator Sam Nunn. It is now known and widely supported as the “nuclear security project”. It has been endorsed by many Members of this House and recognised in the qualified response from my noble friend Lord Marlesford.
The letter to the Times written by the noble and gallant Lord and other noble Lords said that having,
“placed the issue … firmly on the public agenda … it is difficult to see how the United Kingdom can exert leadership and influence on this issue if we insist on a costly successor to Trident that will not only preserve our own nuclear-power status … but might … encourage others to believe that nuclear weapons were still, somehow, vital to the secure defence of self-respecting nations”.
The letter continues, in the context of our own defence strategy:
“Rather than perpetuating Trident, the case is much stronger for funding our Armed Forces with what they need to meet the commitments actually laid upon them”.
That seems to be the important conclusion. I recognise that the difference between my noble friend and me is not as large as all that, because the process that one undertakes by accepting that analysis can be conducted with respect for both arguments.
On civil expenditure, similar tensions exist between the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development. In today’s complex world there can be no doubt about the huge importance of having a high-quality Diplomatic Service, for which we are traditionally renowned. French Foreign Secretaries have constantly said that our Diplomatic Service is “second only to our own”. I have heard similar tributes paid to our Diplomatic Service by Chinese Foreign Ministers with whom I have negotiated. This House is filled with noble Lords who are lively exhibits in support of my proposition. However, there is no doubt now about the erosion, as a result of pressure from the Treasury, of that quality. In short, there can be no doubt that there is an imbalance between the underresourced Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the much larger DfID budget. That imbalance is quite literally crippling our diplomatic efforts. I say that without being insensitive to the importance of the DfID budget, which was well spelt out by the noble Baroness, Lady Amos. However, the slogan “Making Poverty History” attaches a magic to that half of the equation, leading to an imbalance that inhibits our capacity in other respects.
In what other ways should we promote British interests? Our claim to superpower status was extinguished about a century ago and our claim to great power status shrinks alongside the emergence of the great Asian nations, China and India, and even alongside the untidy and unattractive symbol of Russia struggling to recreate itself. One demonstration of that is the fact that the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, paid her first overseas visit not to Europe but to the Pacific states, indicating that America is a trans-Pacific nation.
In response to these diverse challenges we have bilateral links that are of real value and importance to us. We have them with India because of our long association with it and we have them with China because of our increasingly intimate association with that country. As my noble friend Lord Howell is fond of pointing out, we have such links with a range of Commonwealth countries. That point was emphasised by my noble friend Lord Marlesford. We should never forget the value of that relationship.
Correspondingly, however, we should not overlook the extent to which, on many major issues, we share pressing and continuous common interests most of all with the leading members of the European Union but indeed with the whole of the Union. My noble friend Lord Howell has underlined the importance of that in recent interventions. It is not a question of choosing between the Commonwealth and Europe, or in any other narrow fashion. Despite the diversity of opinions in my own party, I am glad to say that its leaders have clearly expressed their recognition of the importance of our European relationship. My right honourable friend William Hague made his maiden speech almost 30 years ago at the astonishing age of 16 in a debate at the party conference to which I replied. He has lived up to my expectations. He has said:
“I am as convinced as ever that our place is to be in Europe but not run by Europe”.
Nobody has ever said that we were going to be run by Europe. He made that central point. The leader of the Opposition, David Cameron, has said:
“We believe it would be wrong for Britain to leave the European Union”.
That is a simple summation.
I close by drawing attention to a statement to similar effect made long before those, and made even more clearly and with higher authority. It comes from a document that emerged after I had been in partnership on the Front Bench with my noble friend Lady Thatcher for some 10 years, and in partnership as Foreign Secretary for a couple of years. It emerged on 24 June 1984, on the eve of the Fontainebleau European Council, at which we were able—perhaps I should more rightly say that she was able—to secure the success that we needed in relation to the British budget question. On the eve of that conference, we circulated a document on the future of Europe, which set out our wider vision of the organisation. It talked about political co-operation, which was then the right jargon. It stated:
“The Ten need to act”—
there were only 10 of us then—
“with more vigour and greater purpose. Cooperation should not just be a matter of making declarations in the face of increasingly complex challenges. The Ten have the weight and must show more political will to act together: concentrate their efforts where their leverage is greatest and their interests most directly touched e.g. in the Middle East and Africa; and recognise that influence does not last if not backed by the necessary resources. Member States must take more seriously their solemn commitments to consult and take account of partners’ views and work for common positions. The objective should be the progressive attainment of a common external policy”.
On defence and security, the document states:
“Our objective must be to strengthen the European pillar of the Alliance and improve European defence cooperation”.
Those objectives were valid at that time and remain valid today for any Government. I hope that they will be taken fully on board by the prospective Conservative Government under the leadership of my right honourable friends David Cameron and William Hague.
My Lords, I, too, am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, for initiating this far-reaching debate. I am also grateful for the emphasis he laid on the importance of taking seriously both history and ideas if we are to develop an effective foreign policy for the future.
Today we have the opportunity to discuss foreign policy in the round and examine the principles and thrust of our response to its new challenges. I was particularly grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, for raising nuclear weaponry and its future within our world and our own policy.
I want to concentrate on two areas: the need to refresh the post-1945 world order at a time of economic challenge and, in so doing, to take full account of differences in ideology and religious perception across our world. In his seminal July 2007 lecture, “New Diplomacy: Challenges for Foreign Policy”, the Foreign Secretary spoke of the need for today’s foreign policy to reflect the new distribution of power. We have already had references in this debate to the growing strength of China and India as being key to the need to innovate and modernise existing international bodies and structures. Over the past few months this need has been amply illustrated by the complete inability of existing international financial institutions to provide collective action on a global scale. I was particularly grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, for weaving together foreign and economic policy when discussing the situation in Africa, for the two are deeply dependent on each other.
Therefore, I am encouraged that the Government have made reform of the international financial institutions a key element of the package of proposals to be considered by the G20 when it meets in London on 2 April. If such reforms are to be sustainable, the financial institutions need to be publicly and transparently accountable. One way to go some way in this direction would be to ensure that developing and developed countries had equality of voice and of vote. For this reason, many from this Bench will support the “Put People First” rally in London on 28 March.
Secondly, and still more crucially, we need to tackle the battle of ideas and we need to do that thoroughly. Sometimes it seems that every newcomer on taking up their role with regard to foreign affairs makes a promise to tackle that battle of ideas; George W Bush spoke in September 2001 of “waging a war on ideas”, but then actually failed to do any such thing. The Foreign Secretary in his 2007 speech spoke of the ways that winning the battle of ideas was fundamental to securing Britain’s foreign policy priorities. Yet I am far from convinced that the foreign policy establishment understands sufficiently the interaction of politics and religion in global politics, whether that be in Gaza or Iran.
Too often we are taken away from the important by the urgent. We make necessary and right responses to particular foreign policy issues without taking seriously the background to them. So, James Jones, an American religious psychologist and academic of comparative religion, notes in his informative study, Blood that Cries Out from the Earth, that liberal democracies based on the values of individual rights and government by negotiation and compromise have not yet begun to find a way to respond to those who are convinced that God has given them the single master plan for how society should be organised and governed. That view is held widely across the world.
That understanding of the divine mandate is shared by Christian reconstructionists in America, by Muslim jihadi around the world, by ultra-orthodox Jews in Israel and by groups such as the Japanese Buddhist group Aum Shinrikyo and the Hindu nationalist party India. I agree with and stress James Jones’s analysis that whether such a divine mission can coexist with liberal democracy remains one of the major religious and political issues of the beginning of the 21st century.
I suggest that policymakers need to pay far greater attention to this than they have done hitherto. All too often, foreign policymakers here in Europe and in America display a propensity to rely on the advice of social scientists who employ rational choice models or game theory in attempts to comprehend sacred values that are deeply held for non-instrumental reasons. I do not think that it takes a bishop to recognise that such sacred values are not open to the instrumental calculus of statistically based social sciences.
It is not my intention here to rehearse the well established thesis that religion is among the missing dimensions of statecraft. Rather, it is to suggest that meeting many of the foreign challenges of the present and the future will depend on a better understanding of how religion and politics are mixed together in our world. Counterterrorism policies that appeal to the self-interest of religiously motivated terrorists are unlikely to succeed. Threatening Iran with a further tightening of sanctions is unlikely to succeed when the regime’s description of the US as the “great Satan” is to do not with the religious foundation of America, but far more with its materialist values.
We stand little chance of winning the battle of ideas if we speak all the time of United Nations resolutions, unilateralism, multilateralism, weapons inspectors, coercion and non-coercion. We need a new language and a new vision for dealing with this battle of ideas, and that remains one of the most pressing foreign policy challengers for our Government and for our generation.
My Lords, I respectfully agree that we ignore the religious dimension in our foreign policy formulation and objectives at our peril. Like previous speakers, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, on providing such an excellent platform for the debate. My only criticism is that, so far as I recall, the only mention of the European Union was as a potential threat to our Diplomatic Service, and I follow rather more the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, who invites us to follow the advice of the Oracle at Delphi to know ourselves and our capacities, and perhaps the words of Robert Burns:
“to see ourselves as others see us”—
not as some nostalgic sepia-tinted vision of the past.
The noble Lord invited us to examine the new challenges which face us in foreign policy. In my judgment, to appreciate those challenges we need to understand the context in which we are likely to operate over the next 10 and 20 years and the instruments available to us and our allies. However, first, there should be a word of caution about predictions. The joy of forecasting is that it is very fallible; by contrast, hindsight gives us 20:20 vision, and a look back over the past 20 years would show, first, that 20 years ago the Berlin Wall was still there and many would not have forecast its fall. Since then, there has been not only the fall of the Soviet Union, but many of its empire’s former members and even parts of the former Soviet Union are now in the European Union and NATO.
Again, 10 years ago there were rather naïve assumptions that Russia would be just like us and become a western-style democracy. Since then, an amendment has been moved, as we say, that although Russia is part of the Council of Europe, we saw the new and more aggressive style under Putin from about 2003-04. Again, eight years ago, we had not had the World Trade Centre bombing; 9/11 coloured the world perceptions of the threat of Islamic fundamentalism and the US self-perception as being invulnerable on its own territory—hence, the “war on terror”, the “axis of evil” and the distortion which followed in US foreign policy which, I hope, will be modified under President Obama. Perhaps the last of those elements which would give the forecasters a certain humility is what happened in the past year or two in respect of the bursting of the bubble in the world financial system, whether that started from Lehman Brothers or, even earlier, sub-prime mortgages, and the effect that the crisis is likely to have not only on western capitalism— which was affected alone, perhaps, in the 1930s’ depression—but the whole world.
That was a word of caution. With due hesitation, I ask: what challenges are likely to face us as we proceed during the next five, 10 or 20 years? There appears to be reasonable consensus among the forecasters and the thinktankers. This is hardly surprising, because these people swim in the same goldfish bowl and advise the same groups. For example, the excellent report by the United States National Intelligence Council, published last November, Global Trends, drew very heavily on the think tanks in Europe and around the world; it is as though they were the same people who advised the European Union on strategy or who wrote the French white paper on defence.
The NIC reports certain relative certainties and certain key uncertainties. Its analysis of trends, and hence challenges, which other forecasts, as I said, replicate, talks of the rise of India and China by 2025; of the relative power of non-state actors; of the shift in relative wealth and world power from West to East, and of the US becoming less dominant and a first among equals. It talks of continued economic growth—with a question mark—putting pressure on energy, food and water, and about the increasing potential for conflict. The key uncertainties are energy security, the effect of climate change, whether mercantilism protectionism will stage a comeback, the effect of a nuclear-armed Iran, and whether stability can be achieved in the greater Middle East.
The European security strategy that I mentioned, published last autumn, follows that same trend, as does the excellent French white paper on defence. I looked for a similar UK paper; the nearest I found was the FCO White Paper on UK international priorities that was published three years ago in March 2006. The 2003 White Paper promised us that the Government had committed themselves to a review every two years, to ensure that foreign policy remained relevant and kept up with the pace of change. Well, three years have passed, and it would be helpful to learn from my noble friend when we might have that FCO contribution.
In this consensus, we will clearly have a changed context. Perhaps the major omission is the insufficient emphasis given to world population and its effects on conflicts. I think, for example, of the Rwanda genocide: was it 800,000 or a million people killed in that bloodbath between March and June 1994? That was essentially a conflict over land between the Hutu and the Tutsi. The problems in Kenya two years ago between the Luo and other tribes were, again, largely about population and land. In only 80 years, the Kenyan population has gone from 2.9 million to 37 million. On the violence in Gaza, in 1950 its population was 240,000: it is now 1.5 million and will soon move to 2.2 million. With that sort of increase, how can one seek to provide education and health for those young people, and prevent them becoming so radicalised? Something can yet be done. The Arab populations in the West Bank and in Israel proper do not have that same population boom.
If the challenges have been identified, what sort of instruments do we have? It has been mentioned that, globally, the United Nations and, indeed, the whole post-Second World War institutional framework needs to be examined—and I pay tribute here to the work of the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, and his colleagues on the high-level panel, about which relatively little has been done since—as does, clearly, the regional level of western organisations. NATO is now 60 years old and needs a new strategic concept. For the UK, I concede that the initiative of President Medvedev at Evian on the new European security architecture fits ill with the Georgia invasion, but should not be dismissed out of hand.
The particular challenge for us is to balance our links with the United States, our closest bilateral relationship, with membership of the European Union. Pace the Daily Mail, the US ambassador to NATO recently said that,
“the US needs, the UK needs, NATO needs, the democratic world needs a stronger, more capable European defence capacity. An ESDP with only soft power is not enough”.
Yesterday, I was at Northwood and saw the first naval EU operation, Atalanta. It was under the command of a British admiral, which is light-years away from that suspicion of the EU one hears so often from the other side.
I shall end on this note. I recently met a member of Kadima in Israel. She was sitting alongside Mr Netanyahu, their likely next Prime Minister, and told him that it had taken four years for her party to reach that point of recognition which Israel had to reach on an accommodation with a two-state solution. If the Opposition get into power, will we have to wait a similar time for recognition of the fact that the European Union is our key partner, that we share the same broad objectives over most of the ground and that, day-to-day, we are reaching common positions with our European partners over world issues? That is the reality if we seek to know ourselves, and to move realistically to the future.
My Lords, I have moved seamlessly from the Front Bench, because I do not want to disturb the protocol of the House when we have two excellent Front-Bench speakers. It is also a fact that, although I spent the first 10 years of my working life deeply involved in foreign policy, first as international secretary of the Labour Party and then as political secretary to Lord Callaghan, this is my first speech in a foreign affairs debate. I have occasionally dipped into European matters, but I hope that the House will treat me with its gentleness for a maiden speaker in this respect—not least because I find myself sandwiched between the noble Lords, Lord Anderson and Lord Hurd, two acknowledged experts in this field.
First, the introduction to the debate by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, was absolutely masterful. I agreed with almost every word; I suspect that we will both spend the early morning tomorrow thinking about where one or other of us has got it wrong. Seriously, it was a tremendous speech, spoiled a little by his over-confidence in Mr Hague. I want more than one judiciously selected quote from the noble Lord, Lord Howell, to convince me that Mr Hague is not a better biographer or after-dinner speaker than he would a Foreign Secretary make, but we will see. We were certainly greatly helped in setting the tone for this debate by that opening from the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford.
As to predictions, the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, gave us a good gypsy’s warning. I remember 20 years ago discussing the future of Germany at a think-tank gathering in Berlin. We had just concluded that German unity was a 21st-century matter, when discussions were interrupted to tell us that the East Germans had opened Check-point Charlie and that we should all get in a taxi to go down and look at that move. As Harold Macmillan warned us many years ago, “Events, dear boy, events” can sometimes upset even the best futurology.
Some contributions will be useful because they will give us an idea of where the political parties want to take us on foreign policy. As my noble friend Lord Wallace said, the New Statesman told us recently that Mr Miliband is working on a post-Blair foreign policy. As has already been said, if that means an end to the love affair with some of the wilder shores of American neo-conservatism on foreign policy objectives, it is greatly to be welcomed.
Even more, I look forward to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Howell. If we are, as opinion polls suggest, within 15 months of a Conservative Government, the country is entitled to know how the Conservatives will square the circle between the assurances frequently given in this House by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, and the noble Lord, Lord Howell, about their commitment to Europe, and the whole tone and body language of the Conservative approach to Europe. Last week, when I saw Mr Brown, Chancellor Merkel and President Sarkozy together in Berlin, I wondered what kind of gathering that would have been if a Conservative Prime Minister had been there, safely armed with a victory based on hostility to Europe.
I say that with some experience. In 1974, I was adviser to a Labour Government who entered office committed to European policy crafted in response to short-term party-political needs. I worry that the Conservative Party will do exactly the same and be a disruptive force in Europe just when every bit of evidence and advice we get from friends around the world concerns the need for Europe to pull together and to be a proper partner. We frequently hear about expectations of the Obama Administration, but the message loud and clear from that Administration is the need for a united European partnership to meet the global challenge that we face.
Recently, I went to a meeting of the All-Party China Group that a Chinese Minister attended. He gave the strong message that the visit of Secretary of State Clinton had been extremely successful and that China and America thought that they had the basis for co-operation in the face of the economic challenges facing the world. Speaking from the Chinese point of view, the Minister wanted a European partner in and a European dimension to that effort to join America and China. The noble Baroness, Lady Amos, will know about that from her experience.
The noble Lord, Lord Howell, often prays in aid the Commonwealth. I am as strong a Commonwealth supporter as anyone, but if you talk to representatives of any Commonwealth country, they want to know these days not what Britain will do for them, but what Britain can influence Europe to do to meet their needs. I look forward to hearing the contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Howell.
Perhaps I may say one more thing about the contribution of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe. I went to a presentation on Hong Kong the other day. It was only when I heard how the Hong Kong settlement was working in practice that I realised just what a triumph it was for his diplomacy. We now have in Hong Kong a world city that is prospering free, very much thanks to his effort. Although there will be many claims for his successes in his career, Hong Kong will be high on that list.
As for my party, we are secure on the ground to which the right reverend Prelate referred. As liberal democracies, we must hold firm to some good, old-fashioned values. Torturing people is wrong. It is a measure of how far we have not come that 70 years ago, the bombing of a single Spanish town, Guernica, could provoke a masterpiece and world outrage, yet today, we can contemplate “shock and awe” as an instrument of war and look on Gaza as part of the Middle East tragedy.
This country has great opportunities. I visited Syria as part of an IPU delegation. The Foreign Secretary has already been there. There are opportunities to involve Syria in the Middle East peace process. That should be continued. I have one other worry, which again brings us back to our European commitment. I worry about the fragility of east European democracies. If we are to hold them in the democratic family, they will need help and assistance from Europe.
As always, this House contributes great wisdom. I hope that part of the Minister's duties after this debate will be to send a copy of Hansard to the Foreign Secretary.
My Lords, I join in thanking my noble friend, not just for making possible and launching this debate but for the shrewd and elegant way in which he covered the ground. It was extraordinarily skilful.
I am tempted to follow the noble Lord, Lord McNally, because his worries about a future meeting—perhaps in the quite near future—between Chancellor Merkel, President Sarkozy and my right honourable friend who is now the leader of the Opposition are bizarre. Those happen to be two people with whom I know that my right honourable friend has close and happy dealings a great deal of the time, so the noble Lord can rest assured that his nightmare will not take place, but I shall not pre-empt what my noble friend Lord Howell may say when he winds up.
I want to deal with just one aspect, which is the instrument of foreign policy; namely, the Foreign Office and mainly the Foreign Office at home. I have a personal interest. It is just over 56 years since, my bowler hat in hand, I tiptoed into the Foreign Office for the first time as a humble Third Secretary. Most of my working life—not all of it, but most of it—has in some way or other been concerned with the Foreign Office. I am proud of that association and I know that the Foreign Service today is full of men and women of integrity and high talent. I believe that it continues to provide an attractive and valuable career.
That is all the more reason why we should notice and take account of what I believe is a malaise becoming increasingly apparent in its working. I base that not on statistics or surveys but on a steady accumulation of anecdotal evidence from friends, acquaintances and strangers, varied in content but almost unanimous in its thrust. That thrust is that the Foreign Office in London—which is what I am mainly talking about—is ceasing to be a storehouse of knowledge providing valued advice to Ministers and is increasingly an office of management, management of a steadily shrinking overseas service. It is management applying at the request of the Treasury the latest techniques of modern administration: targets, frameworks, mission statements, public service agreements, departmental strategic objectives, and so forth.
I am not qualified to rubbish those techniques and I am certain that they have their place, but method should be the servant, not the master of policy. I have been doing some research for a book. In the 19th century, the Foreign Office was essentially a management office, a tiny one. In that century, policy was for many years gripped by two amazing Foreign Secretaries, Lord Palmerston and Lord Salisbury, who liked to pretend aristocratic ignorance of detail but in fact worked hard and long, treating their officials as clerks and their senior officials as super-clerks—that was a phrase of the time. Lord Salisbury passed on and the officials became powerful national figures: Crowe, Arthur Nicholson and later Vansittart were well-known names. Perhaps that went too far, but I worry now that the Foreign Office in London may be reverting, despite the talent deployed there, to an age of super-clerks, rather than policy advisors who have time to think and to bring weight to bear through their advice to Ministers. This is all in the name of financial discipline and economy and, of course, money is important—money is tight and money will probably get tighter. I am not sure that we set about allocating it in the right way.
When I was Foreign Secretary, I tried to get our overseas efforts looked at as one—I refer to defence, Foreign Office, aid, British Council, overseas services of the BBC. We made some painful progress, but certainly not enough. The present distribution of resources in our overseas effort weighs heavily against the Foreign Office in an age when diplomacy is more widespread and, I believe, more important than ever. Of course, the balance needs to shift—it needs to take account of changes in the world. Much—perhaps most—EU business is now done either in Brussels or between national departments, and that is right. It is natural, though, to me, strange, that Her Majesty’s ambassador in Kabul, Her Majesty’s ambassador in Beijing and the high commissioner in Delhi now have bigger staffs and carry more weight than our ambassadors in Rome and Berlin; I do not complain at all about those necessary shifts.
We should be aware, however, that shifts and balances are one thing, but the squeeze on the service is undeniable. The House of Commons Select Committee, in what I thought was a very moderate report, talked about the serious risk of overstretch—a net reduction of 400 staff planned over the next five years. It is sad to me and to others—perhaps to most noble Lords present—to see the closure of posts, many of which we have known, and to see our representation, in Latin America and Africa in particular, slip. I am not sure that the choices here are always wise.
I shall give a very small example—life is composed of small examples. If I were a Treasury official crouched over my computer, looking at the facts and figures, I might well decide it was not necessary to have a high commissioner in Swaziland, as has been decided. That Treasury official would not, however, know that the relationship between the King of Swaziland and the British high commissioner was traditionally very close and important—that relationship cannot be reproduced by the high commissioner in Pretoria, or by an aid official in Swaziland.
That brings me to a point, which has already been touched upon, about our aid programme. It is very good news that the Government have been able to increase that programme substantially. My worry is not about the size of the programme but about the growing feeling that the efforts of DfID bear less and less relation to the foreign policy of this country. It seems to be a different exercise with different priorities. I believe that we need to look at the working of the 2002 Act. There is nothing wrong with specifying the reduction of poverty as the basis and the focus of the aid programme. I will not now go into the question of ministerial responsibility, because that is a controversy in its own right, but I point out that it is perfectly possible to have a separate Cabinet Minister for aid without having a separate department increasingly diverging, in my view, from the foreign policy of this country. I do not believe that the 2002 Act was designed as a decree of divorce between our aid programme and our foreign policy. I think that that needs to be scrutinised.
My main concern—this is a narrow point, but, I believe, an important one—is that the Foreign Office in London has been hollowed out. I believe that it should, once again, consist of and produce a reserve of knowledge that can put advice from overseas posts in a strategic context, hold its own in arguments with the Prime Minister and with No. 10. This, again, is a matter that we could debate separately. The Prime Minister is absolutely entitled to feel sure that the foreign policy that he and his colleagues have worked out is being consistently and efficiently applied. In return, however, the Foreign Office should be equipped to remind the Prime Minister, from time to time, that the world is not exactly as he or she wishes it to be and to put certain restraints on the natural and proper enthusiasms, or, as Keynes said, “animal spirits”, that you find coming out of No. 10. Not all the knowledge needs to be home-grown. One of my regrets as Foreign Secretary is that I did not, in the rush of events, give enough time and attention to the huge body of information and insight from outside Whitehall, outside the foreign service, in the think-tanks, in the universities and so on. This has increased in recent years and I am not convinced so far that the Foreign Office, and the Secretary of State in particular, borrow sufficiently from it.
Diplomacy used to be quite narrow in scope. It used to be about frontiers, colonies and dynasties. Now it is about almost everything under the sun, including the sun, climate change, trade and finance, and energy security—almost every human activity now requires, in a globalised world, intercourse between nation states, which cling to their authority. Not all of this should be done by the Foreign Office, of course not, but the Foreign Office should be, as far as Britain is concerned, the co-ordinator, the guide and the shepherd. I think it is very important, in this baffling world, that it should keep and, where necessary, repair and restore its tradition of excellence.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, on obtaining and introducing, so interestingly and ably, this debate on the challenges to our foreign policy at a very crucial time. Among many other concerns and, indeed, opportunities for our foreign policy, surely the most urgent challenge at this moment must be the establishment of a more rational, fully joined-up foreign, defence and aid policy to help lead to a greater stability in the Middle East and south-west Asia, where the Arab-Israel confrontation and the Kashmir dispute are still key and core issues.
To have any hope of success, any new policy can only be developed in conjunction with the new American Administration, with this country as a valued and supportive friend, but one who is not afraid to offer our own views and experience, and as much as possible in conjunction with our fellow European partners. We cannot simply go on charging into military commitments without due consideration of what they will entail, and I am afraid that there is plenty of evidence of that with this Government. Then, when original raisons d’être are shown to have no substance, or when all the difficulties that should have been anticipated become a reality, we not only produce excuses and new reasons for what we have embarked upon but actually start to pursue these, rather self-satisfyingly, as the new aims of operations, however difficult they may be to achieve. For instance, anyone who, having read history, believes that Afghanistan, of all countries, can have a tidy, lasting, western-style democracy imposed from above or from outside, needs his head examined. As the great Duke of Wellington once said, 200 years ago:
“I always had a horror of revolutionising any country from outside for political object … if they rise up themselves, well and good, but to stir them up is a fearful responsibility.”
That still stands.
It is not so much the British Army that has lost its way in Afghanistan, as a recent, rather sad article in the Economist tried to make out, as that it has never had a consistent and navigable politico-strategic way to follow in the first place and certainly not one in keeping with the resources allotted to it. It would, therefore, not be surprising if commanders on the ground are sometimes a bit perplexed as to the best tactics to follow at any given time. The Army and the Royal Marines, magnificently supported by the Royal Air Force, have undoubtedly done their very best, under the most wretchedly difficult circumstances; they have shown remarkable dedication, motivation and courage and are paying a high cost in terms of lives and wounds. Indeed, only yesterday, my parent regiment, the Rifles, very sadly lost another three riflemen. They have also had tactical successes, inflicting many casualties on the Taliban, which must have weakened the opposition. All that reflects great credit on the professionalism, leadership and esprit de corps of our forces. However, as they know, and as many in your Lordships’ House know, they have not got as far in changing the hearts, minds and attitudes of the inhabitants of Helmand province as they would have liked, and as indeed is so necessary for any real stability in the area. They have also had some serious problems with their lines of communication and supplies through Pakistan.
So if we—NATO, because this, perhaps surprisingly, has been accepted as a NATO commitment—are to make any real progress in Afghanistan, and there can be no question, for a number of compelling reasons, of this country pulling out in the foreseeable future, we will need a new coherent strategy and a political and economic programme to help to put that into effect. In bringing this about, there must be no complacency; otherwise, the situation could very seriously deteriorate.
I hope that the experienced and forceful Richard Holbrooke, sent by President Obama to make an up-to-date appraisal of the overall situation, will be able to extend his remit to include recommendations for a more regional policy. Now that the Iranian President has opened the door to dialogue just a chink, it may not be too fanciful to hope that this, too, could contribute to more stability in the area. A new strategy will certainly need as close co-operation with Pakistan as it is possible to get, and that in itself will require careful, skilled and subtle diplomacy of the highest order in view of Pakistan’s very difficult position. So much diplomacy is required but there are so few resources for it at the moment.
We must certainly deliver aid more quickly and effectively than at present. Although I have longer-term reservations about the infusion of more troops, in the short term more troops from somewhere may well be required to give the inhabitants in the south and Helmand province proper and not fleeting protection. We must try, by one means or another, to separate from among those opposing us the more moderates from the Holy War and Arabic extremists, who still have to be dealt with not only by inducements but also with the help of meaningful negotiations, as has happened in that area in times gone by.
It is no good going on slavishly and oversimplistically equating the Taliban with al-Qaeda. Here again, a study of the history of the area will show how wide of the mark that is likely to be, for al-Qaeda looks outwards and internationally, while the Taliban is essentially home-grown and inward-looking, with its inherent Afghan hatred of foreign occupation. Nor, of course, must one become obsessed with the idea so often put forward that a permanently “tamed” and even occupied Afghanistan is the only way to counter, and ultimately defeat, the international terrorist threat to us and to other countries. That is nonsense.
What is now required is for the policy elements of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office—the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, put this so much better than I could possibly do—with the invaluable advice, no doubt, of the much respected Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, who may have sensibly been brought in to match the wider responsibilities of Richard Holbrooke and the Ministry of Defence, and with the Chiefs of Staff and their advisers, no longer to wait, as occurred under the previous regime, for No. 10 to tell them what to do but to get together, with links with their contacts in the new American Administration and with the overall American commander, and to put forward practicable options to Ministers. Those options, with the resources to carry them through, will have a chance of bringing to that unhappy area just enough stability to enable us before too long, and having disrupted al-Qaeda considerably, as we have already, to hand over any military responsibilities to the indigenous people with our heads held high.
My Lords, I join in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, not only, as many other noble Lords have said, on taking on the responsibility of opening this most interesting debate but on the way in which he introduced it. I take particular pleasure in the fact that I am following the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, as will be apparent from certain remarks that I shall make in support of some of what he said.
This debate refers to the new challenges in foreign policy. Of course, we see these against the background of a dangerous and destabilised world. It was already in that condition, and seriously so, before the arrival of the economic crunch, which is yet to have its impact in any significant way on many corners of the world and which I think will certainly make conditions in some countries immensely more difficult than they are even at the moment.
One of the most obvious examples of a destabilised area is the Middle East. I am sure that many others will wish to comment about the situation there. With regard to Israel, I am struck that at the moment when Mr Netanyahu, who might be seen as the more extreme candidate, is about to become the leader of Israel, Mr George Mitchell is arriving as a possible negotiator or conciliator. With his experience of bringing together the extremes in Northern Ireland, perhaps there is just a glimmer of hope there, although I cannot see that it will be more than that. However, if there is no one to outflank the parties, then, if there is any sense left, there is perhaps just a possibility of recognising that at last there must be a better understanding and a chance of achieving a settlement. Certainly, it seems that the Israel/Palestine situation has been deteriorating and not improving.
I wish to turn particularly to the area that the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, talked about. He rightly paid tribute, as I wish to do, to the extraordinary courage, dedication and professionalism of our Armed Forces, and he referred to the deaths of members of the Rifles. I am a much more junior member of the regiment which he so signally graced in his time, but I recall that the regiment that I had the honour to serve, which now makes up the Rifles, had as its cap badge the battle honour “Jellalabad 1840” as the clearest possible reminder of the world in which we move. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bramall, said, people who do not know the history of Afghanistan do not deserve to play any part in determining policy hereafter.
I say that against the background of what I believe to be the much more serious situation that has now emerged—that is, what many have suggested is the virtual disappearance of the Durand line. Now, there is almost no border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, and people are now talking about the development of “Paktunistan”. Into this present terrible cocktail—we know that agreement was recently reached by the Pakistan army—is added the fact that in the Pashtun and Baluch areas there is now virtually no rule of government law. Policy is directed as though we are dealing with Governments who have sovereign power over all the territories that are currently defined as their borders, but that makes the situation for our forces in Helmand much graver and more difficult. I do not wish to be too apocalyptic about it but I have heard the leaders of both Pakistan and Afghanistan described as being in a sense more like the lord mayors of their capital cities than rulers with power and responsibility over the whole of their countries. That makes the situation extremely challenging.
It is against that background that the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, referred to the “dislike of the invader” and foreign occupation. We know about the Russian situation. Some of us will remember or know somebody who lives on in a senior position. Bob Gates was, in an earlier incarnation, head of the CIA. In his memoir, which he published in 1996, he referred to the final departure of the Russians, saying that at last Afghanistan was free of the foreign invader. Now the new Secretary for Defence in the Obama Administration, Bob Gates has to face up to exactly the challenge that he previously recognised in the difficult position of the Russians at that time.
I pick up on the point made by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, about al-Qaeda. I wonder to what extent this is still an al-Qaeda problem, and whether al-Qaeda is, in some ways, marginalised. How will the situation develop in Helmand province and the border areas of Pakistan, where al-Qaeda is seen, in a sense, as a foreign invader? It seems to me that that is what happened in Iraq. In the end, the Iraqis decided that they did not want al-Qaeda’s presence and activities, as they had in the past. Against this background, I look to see what approaches we can make. Above all, this needs an international approach. We certainly need a co-operative approach from Russia, or we could face serious problems as to how we supply our forces in Afghanistan, in view of recent developments in Pakistan. Russia, China, Iran and India have a keen interest in the stability of the area and must undoubtedly be seriously worried about the challenges that are now developing.
Against that background, I certainly welcome the constructive approach of President Obama. I hope that it will lead to constructive discussions with each of the countries concerned. I hope that there will be constructive discussions with Iran; there are areas in which we are able to have very helpful and constructive relations. I recall the number of serving members of the Iranian Army who lost their lives in trying to prevent drug traffic out of Afghanistan and Pakistan, through Iran and into Europe. China, which now faces the gravest of economic problems, has a keen interest in greater stability, and surely India cannot look with anything but the greatest apprehension at the risk of major instability in its nuclear-armed neighbour.
I hope that the plea that has come from so many speakers today will be heard. As a former Secretary of State for Defence, I am well aware of the importance of “jaw, jaw” and the role of the Foreign Office, exactly as my noble friend Lord Hurd, with whom I had the honour and privilege of working on many occasions, said. I always saw those of us in Defence as being very much at the service of the Foreign Office, with military might and the iron fist available very much as second-best. The leadership of the Foreign Office and our effective foreign policy was much the best way forward.
The tragedy is that defence has not been a powerful ally in support of an effective foreign policy. The tragedy of recent years is that events in Iraq and Afghanistan have underlined the limitations of military power and, in that way, undermined the effectiveness of the position that we can adopt in our foreign policy and the influence that we could bring to bear. We are undermined by recent events and the limitations that have been shown on military power. Undoubtedly, the economic situation of this country also means that substantial improvement in the funding of our Armed Forces and defence will be extremely difficult. That will also pose considerable limitations on what we are able to do to tackle those situations. Against that background, maximum international co-operation will be essential for our country if we are to make any progress in the difficult and dangerous challenges that we will face in the future.
My Lords, this is a particularly appropriate moment to consider new challenges in foreign policy. Perhaps the most challenging and, I hope, encouraging, is the opportunity presented by a new President of the United States and the extent to which Her Majesty’s Government and our European partners can respond to that opportunity by supporting the apparent readiness of President Obama to depart from what one commentator has described as,
“the breathtaking incompetence of the Bush administration”.
It is incompetence with which British Ministers, over the past eight years, have too readily associated themselves, without much benefit to British or international interests. I propose today to touch briefly on the two subjects of dialogue and diplomacy, both of which have been touched on by several noble Lords, most particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, in that remarkable introduction to the debate.
As to dialogue, I have spoken often—too often, many may think—in this House about the need to be ready, as we have in the past, to talk to those with whom we disagree, whether they are so-called terrorists or unfriendly regimes. In that context, I draw the attention of the House to a remarkable letter in today’s Times about the need to talk to Hamas, signed by—among others—the noble Lord, Lord Patten of Barnes, the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, and, most remarkably, a former Foreign Minister of Israel. I will not pursue that subject, which, as I say, I have talked about very often in this House.
I hope that we can support and encourage President Obama in his proclaimed readiness to enter into contact with Iran, a contact that President Ahmadinejad has welcomed, provided Iran is treated with due respect. This proviso is hardly surprising when we recall that President Khatami’s readiness to talk and the outpouring of sympathy from the Iranian population after 9/11 were greeted by President Bush’s decision to brand Iran as part of the axis of evil. It remains to be seen how the Iranians react to the appointment of Dennis Ross as President Obama’s special adviser on the Gulf. The press has already cast some doubt on the wisdom of that appointment.
As for diplomacy, many in this House have deplored the repeated failure of the Bush Administration to make adequate use of their highly experienced professional diplomats. Apart from the fact that the United States system still provides for a large number of embassies to be offered as a reward for political or financial support, the top hamper of the State Department itself still suffers a virtual renewal with every change of Administration.
The noble Lord, Lord Hurd, spoke eloquently about the dangers of reducing our Diplomatic Service. As a postscript, I add that the noble Lord has spoken too modestly about his failure to take external expertise sufficiently into account. I remember well two remarkable seminars on Germany and the Soviet Union, which the noble Lord arranged as Foreign Secretary and in which a significant group of academics played a very large role.
It will not surprise your Lordships if, as a former head of the Diplomatic Service—I do not know whether I should also describe myself as a “lively exhibit”—I urge Ministers to continue to support our professional service. It is a service which, as I know well and as others have said, has been the envy, and I suspect still is the envy, of many other countries. International relations is about more than giving aid. I do not grudge the financial support, indeed munificence, made available to the Department for International Development, but I believe it is time to correct what has become a serious imbalance between aid and diplomacy. We have in our Diplomatic Service a unique resource for pursuing and promoting our national and international interests, not only in our bilateral relationships which still need constant attention even in this age of globalisation and instant communication, but also in the leading role our diplomats play in a wide variety of international institutions, whether it be the European Union, the United Nations or the Commonwealth.
Perhaps I may pick up one point made by both the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, and the noble Lord, Lord King, about relationships between the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Ministry of Defence. I should like to take a rather belated opportunity to thank the noble and gallant Lord for the way in which he paid considerable attention to that relationship when he was Chief of the Defence Staff and I was Permanent Under-Secretary in the Foreign Office. Indeed, it was largely at his instigation that we instituted regular lunches between the chiefs of staff and the senior Foreign Office board, and it is fair to say that I hope that the initiative has been followed by his successors and indeed by my successors. I should like to thank him for that.
I hope that when the Minister comes to reply, he will feel able to confirm the Government’s continuing commitment to a global foreign policy and a readiness to provide adequate resources to enable Her Majesty’s Diplomatic Service to fulfil that commitment. Finally, I regard it as a real privilege to have taken part in a quite exceptional debate, and I echo the hope of the noble Lord, Lord McNally—I mean this seriously—that the Minister will draw the Hansard account of this debate to the attention of both the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and the Secretary of State for Defence.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, for this debate. I wish to take this opportunity to raise the profile of Latin America, where there are plenty of challenges relating to foreign policy. As chair of the All-Party Parliamentary British-Latin American Group, I will take this opportunity to ensure that such an important part of the world is not forgotten. Unfortunately, the ambassadors to the UK from the Latin American countries feel that their countries have been placed somewhat on the back-burner in recent years. Inevitably, with fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, the events in Gaza and the Middle East more generally, Latin America is not exactly on the front pages of our newspapers or on our television screens. Moreover, it does not help us with our Latin American friends when we close our embassies in their countries, thus signalling as far as they are concerned the lessening of their importance, to say nothing of the added workload for those of our ambassadors who are out in the field, flying the flag on our behalf. In my view, closing embassies has been a retrograde step, which, as a country, we may well yet come to deeply regret.
Latin America, as I am sure my noble friend knows well, could provide business and investment opportunities for UK companies which may be curtailed in other parts of the world. Certainly Brazil stands out as a country wide open with opportunities for UK businesses, as the Brazilian ambassador always emphasises. Perhaps my noble friend can give his assessment of how the UK is investing in Latin America, especially in Brazil, and what the Government are doing to encourage such investment. I emphasise UK investment because at the last annual general meeting of the all-party group we had in attendance 18 ambassadors from Latin American countries both large and small. Investment was high on all their agendas, together with at that time questions surrounding changes in our migration rules and the restrictions that these were placing on citizens from Latin American countries. I understand that aspects of the latter are still under discussion with the Government. The former remains vital to both the UK and our friends in Latin America.
I turn now to a specific Latin American country. I have just returned from Bolivia, where I was part of a delegation to La Paz and Santa Cruz organised by the Inter-Parliamentary Union. This organisation, headed so ably by Kenneth Courtenay, is invaluable in furthering relationships between the UK and different countries across the world. Since taking over as chair of the all-party group, I have been in the fortunate position of seeing this work at close quarters and admiring the expertise and dedication of Ken and his colleagues. Our visit to Bolivia was no exception. We met the Bolivian vice-president, the presidents of both the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate, the Foreign Minister, the president of the new human rights commission and the ombudsman. We also met with NGOs and representatives of indigenous people from different parts of the country.
The politicians took an early opportunity to raise an important issue for them and, in turn, I shall raise it today. They expressed their deep concern about the UK Government’s recent decision to require Bolivian citizens wishing to visit the UK to have a visa to enter this country. The Bolivian Government emphasised that Bolivians travelling here are neither delinquents nor criminals, but in Bolivian eyes they are being treated as such. The Bolivian Government want to know why Bolivia and Venezuela have been singled out over visas when other Latin American countries have not had such a requirement placed on them. Perhaps my noble friend could explain to the House the Government’s thinking behind the visa decision.
It was an interesting and exciting time to be visiting Bolivia, which is the poorest and least developed of all the Latin American countries. Some 64 per cent of the population live below the poverty line; this figure rises to 80 per cent in the rural areas. President Evo Morales was first elected to power in January 2006. His manifesto included enhancing the social welfare of the majority of Bolivians, especially children and the elderly; enhancing the political rights of those Bolivians who are of indigenous descent and who have long been excluded from decision-making processes; and entering into new relationships with the main foreign companies and increasing their tax contributions, particularly from gas resources. As the indigenous people are in the majority in Bolivia, the measures affecting them are particularly popular.
President Morales himself is the first indigenous Bolivian president, having been elected to a five-year term of office. In August 2008, he won a recall referendum with 67 per cent of the vote and, on 25 January this year, he called a further referendum on the text of a new constitution. Participation in this was over 90 per cent and international observers confirmed that it was conducted freely and fairly. The “yes” option won by over 61 per cent of the valid votes counted. The number of politicians now in favour of the constitution stands at 73 per cent because the opposition parties have split and 12 per cent of those opposition politicians have pledged to support the Government in their aims for constitutional change. Of course the implementation of the constitution will not be plain sailing and opposition will undoubtedly continue, especially from Podemos, the main opposition party. However, once the genie is out of the lamp, things can never be quite the same again. The hopes and aspirations of those who never before felt that they counted have been raised beyond their wildest dreams. As the vice-president put it:
“There has been a recognition by the indigenous people that they can now be anything they want to be”.
The Morales Government will have to move as swiftly as they are able to enact their promises because of these high expectations.
A key issue for the UK is the position of BG Bolivia and other oil and gas producers in Bolivia and what the Morales Government describe as,
“entering into new relationships with the main foreign companies”—
in other words, renegotiating existing contracts. Last Wednesday, we visited the gas plant of BG Bolivia, La Vertiente, in the Tarija district. The plant has been nationalised by the Government, which means that the Bolivian state now owns 51 per cent of it. The Bolivian Government have established a new national company whose duty is to oversee gas extraction. However, we were told that there are not enough people employed to carry out this task properly, which hampers negotiations and creates frustrations. A great deal of suspicion in Bolivia about foreigners involved in the extraction industries has built up over the years. Against this background, some members of the delegation, including me, feared the worst when it came to discussing the renegotiation of the contract between the Bolivian Government and BG Bolivia. However, in our briefing we were told that in the last four months there has been “a lot of progress” and that they are,
“almost at a stage of final agreement”.
President Morales has met personally with BG Bolivia representatives on a number of occasions and asked for a further meeting in the near future. It is to be hoped that this is a positive position from which a new and positive relationship can develop. Perhaps the Minister can comment on this.
In the time available, it has been possible to give only a flavour of Bolivia in its new phase, but I know that your Lordships will wish for the good bilateral relationships that we have with Bolivia and all Latin American countries to continue.
My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, for securing this debate and giving me the opportunity to talk about foreign policy challenges in the Great Lakes region of Africa, following on from the overview provided by the noble Baroness, Lady Amos. I want to refer, in particular, to recent developments discussed in Uganda in meetings with government Ministers, opposition party leaders and local MPs during parliamentary workshops held in Kampala last week. I record our gratitude to the Prime Minister of Uganda, Professor Apolo Nsibambi, the Foreign Affairs Minister, Oryem Henry Okello, Dr Latigo, the leader of the Opposition in the Ugandan Parliament, and many senior parliamentarians for the detailed briefing that they gave us during our short visit.
Noble Lords will know of my interests in strengthening democracy in the region in my role as the vice-chairman of the Africa All-Party Parliamentary Group and as a council member for the UK Parliament with AWEPA. As a member of the FCO and the CPA parliamentary delegation to Uganda, I was made particularly aware of the progress of DfID-partnered multidonor projects, such as Deepening Democracy, and of AWEPA plans for providing parliamentary support in Uganda.
The reason for concentrating on Uganda is that it is the centre of a region that has for decades suffered fraudulent elections, tyranny, civil wars, rebellion, terrorism, mass torture, genocide, forced migration and the creation of millions of refugees and internally displaced persons. Not one of the region’s states, which include the Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda, has remained unscathed in that time. Yet it is self-evident that the success or failure of developing democratic, transparent and accountable governance will determine the stability of that region and thus of a major part of the African continent. We know that securing that success presents a major policy challenge to the nation states, the regional political institutions and the major donor nations, in particular the United Kingdom. To the west and north of the region, in the DRC and in southern Sudan, the situation remains grimly volatile. In Kenya to the east, the violence that followed the recent elections generated uncertainty and instability. In the heart of the region lies Uganda, a country that suffered 40 years of coups, dictatorships and guerrilla war, resulting in 1 million Ugandans killed, 500,000 seriously injured and 2 million uprooted as refugees.
Your Lordships will be aware that for more than two decades the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army has terrorised great swathes of the Congo, southern Sudan and Uganda. The conflict in northern Uganda is one of the longest running and most brutal in Africa, with thousands of children abducted to become child soldiers and more than 1 million internally displaced people in refugee camps. Peace talks between the Government and the LRA broke down last year when the LRA’s leader, Joseph Kony, refused to sign for fear of an International Criminal Court warrant issued against him. This ran contrary to previous statements made by the LRA that its members would be willing to face trial. With the ICC’s chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, insisting on Kony’s arrest, it seems unlikely that the indictment will be dropped. The LRA has resumed attacks on communities along the DRC-Sudan border, with reports of horrific violence, atrocities and the abduction of over 150 children to be recruited into the LRA’s ranks. As many as 50,000 people are thought to have been displaced in the affected areas.
In mid-December, Uganda, the DRC and southern Sudan launched a combined military offensive on LRA positions. Although this initiative, named Operation Lightning Thunder, is now recognised not to have quite lived up to its name, it is nevertheless thought to have splintered the LRA forces into several groups totalling at most a few hundred. In any event, at present Uganda has an agreement that its armed forces’ actions in the Congo may continue until the LRA leadership is captured or killed, effectively destroying the rebels as a force. It now seems probable that the remnants of the LRA are trapped in the north-eastern corner of the DRC and are likely to surrender.
Ugandan government Ministers, however, have made it clear that such is the trauma suffered by their people in the impoverished northern region of Uganda that normality will not be achieved until the threat of the return of Kony and his cronies is finally removed. Government Ministers stressed to us their determination that Kony and his second and third in command, Okot Odhiambo and Dominic Ongwen, should first be put on trial in a court constructed for that purpose in Uganda. Only then would they be handed over to the International Criminal Court to face any charges of war crimes. Can the Minister in his response or later tell your Lordships’ House whether Her Majesty’s Government think that there is adequate scope in the Ugandan domestic justice system to try LRA fighters and commanders and thus suspend the ICC indictments? Do Her Majesty’s Government feel that they can do anything to ensure that the process is seen and demonstrated to be credible?
What steps are our Government considering with the Ugandan Government to facilitate more defections from the LRA’s ranks and to support those who have defected as part of an embassy programme? What measures are Her Majesty’s Government taking to support the Governments of the region in their efforts to find and arrest Joseph Kony? What actions are our Government proposing to ensure that adequate protection and assistance is given to those civilians affected, or terrorised, by recent LRA attacks? What is the Government’s response to the concerns that the UN force in the DRC does not have sufficient capacity to protect civilians at risk of attack in the northern DRC?
Our discussions in Kampala with Ugandan parliamentarians showed that there is a real fear that the LRA will be able to return to northern Uganda itself. If Kony were able to send even a few elements of his forces back to that area for just a short period, this would be hugely destabilising for the ongoing process. Such a scenario will not have been lost on Kony.
The Prime Minister of Uganda, Professor Apolo Nsibambi, is responsible for planning a $600 million reconstruction budget with international donors. This programme is needed to resettle the north once Kony’s rebels are finally defeated. The challenge is the hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons still in the camps in the north, of which some 20 per cent are orphaned children, disabled adults or elderly infirm, who will be very hard to resettle.
While the turmoil in the DRC continues to threaten progress, by meeting the major humanitarian challenges of resettling refugees, rebuilding schools and clinics, and by stimulating local markets and the economy, Uganda could well become a bastion of stability in an otherwise turbulent region. The challenge for Her Majesty’s Government is to ensure that the United Kingdom support programme continues to nurture and strengthen the institutions fundamental to democratic development. Can the Minister confirm that the Government are, for example, committed to the Deepening Democracy programme and other parliamentary support programmes in the longer term?
Uganda holds a pivotal role in the United Kingdom’s interests in this region and Ugandan parliamentarians hold the closest ties to Britain. Uganda currently holds an African Union seat on the UN Security Council. With the recently confirmed oilfields in Lake Albert expected to enter initial production next year, the Ugandan economy could be transformed.
In the mean time, it is clear from meetings and discussions in Kampala that there is a cross-party determination among Uganda’s parliamentarians to strengthen their Parliament and a multiparty democratic structure to support it. This fact is demonstrated by well over 100 MPs attending the UK-funded two-day workshop organised by our high commission in Kampala. Full credit must be given to our high commissioner, Martin Shearman, to his deputy, Jason Grimes, and to Isabel Turner for their extraordinary efforts in providing a catalyst for Ugandan parliamentarians of all parties to work together in addressing the challenges faced by their region.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, especially for his excellent introduction. This is a timely debate because, in his own metaphor, we are riding a new wave of foreign policy and have entered the Obama-Clinton era of international relations.
It seems the spirit of Robin Cook is abroad again and I believe that the Government are rightly rethinking, or have the chance to rethink, their policies in the Middle East and south Asia. I hope that this will include a radical change in the way Britain and NATO have tried to protect reconstruction in Afghanistan. For some time, I have questioned whether military force has become an end in itself rather than a guarantor of national rights and freedoms.
I am also persuaded that through mainly US influence, as in Iraq, the Afghan people have watched massive aid contracts benefiting the contractors more than the intended beneficiaries. The evidence is very strong on this and I warmly endorse what my noble friend Lady D’Souza said about the loss of capacity of centralised government, a deliberate policy mistake on a scale comparable to de-Baathification in Iraq. I hope the Minister will say something about the UK forging a new direction post-Blair in its diplomatic and development policies, with or without the United States. This could be signalled both at NATO and at the forthcoming G20 summit.
I have heard our Armed Forces Ministers talk rather disparagingly about NATO members who prefer to keep away from the front line and I wonder whether anyone has had a chance to study the experience of the Hungarian provincial reconstruction team in Pul-i-Khumri, the capital of Baghlan province north of Kabul. There the Hungarians have been deliberately attempting to support local institutions and aid projects away from the front line but, because they were in uniform, their efforts were frustrated at every turn. The aid agencies have been saying for years that armies cannot do development except in emergencies. For this reason, I hope that Her Majesty’s Government will design a new strategy which genuinely puts the Afghan people first. We have an enlarged embassy but I am not sure that we have a new strategy.
Today I want to give an example of another important post-conflict country in south Asia which receives much less attention but where, on a smaller scale, we have a much better track record. I was in Nepal earlier this month with the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, as members of an IPU delegation led by Sir John Stanley. We met the new Maoist Prime Minister, Prachanda, and several Ministers and MPs of all political parties. We wanted to know how successful they have been in moving from a destructive civil war to a new constitutional democracy. I am glad to say that they are progressing well, though it is still a struggle.
The UK has been in the forefront of the UN-led peace process and has supported the consequent search for change through a new parliamentary system and for a way out of violence and poverty. We have been prepared to talk discreetly to the Maoists for some time, while our US allies still see them as terrorists and keep them on the wanted list. This is still paying dividends; the UK is held in high esteem and, through our embassy, DfID and other channels, has been associated with some of the best practice in power sharing and the drafting of the new constitution before May next year. I say to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, and my noble friend Lord Wright—none of whom are in their place—that in this sense much of the DfID budget that they are attacking is diplomacy. I hope I can send that message through the Conservative Front Bench before the wind-up of the debate.
The image we have of Nepal is one of tranquillity, conjured up by the Himalayan peaks and the smile of the honest Gurkha. But that vision contrasts somewhat with the confusion of the political scene, a faltering economy still held up by militants in the labour force and violence in the Terai plain. The world recession has already cut the number of tourists and is now hitting at migrant workers returning from places like Dubai, whose remittances were a significant proportion of national income.
The two armies remain in separate camps. The chances of the Nepal Army merging with the People’s Liberation Army still seem quite remote, although there are moves to integrate the youngest group of Maoist soldiers as a priority. I know that our Government are supporting this. Both armies are jealous of their independence and the human rights agencies have attacked them both for their defence of impunity and for refusing to investigate disappearances and atrocities on both sides.
One potentially brighter spot is the presence of an active media, which still enjoy a degree of independence, although they, too, have suffered from the killing of a prominent journalist and they have to exercise a degree of self-censorship.
One nationwide programme which the UK has supported since the 1990s has been in forestry, which affects the lives of 40 per cent of the population. Specifically, DfID has supported thousands of community groups all over Nepal which are replanting and maintaining the forest while using it to provide fuel and fodder as they always have done. We visited one of these user groups in Baglung province, in the shadow of the Annapurna range. We found that they have plenty of ideas for the new constitution and, just like us, they were discussing climate change, alternative energy, more benefits for women and minorities, a healthier lifestyle, better economic opportunities and, of course, support for forestry.
For the moment, these ideas chime in well with the new Maoist philosophy. They are now the mantra of political leaders and those who are drafting the new constitution. But they are still only aspirations and hard to turn into reality. It will be impossible to satisfy all the expectations of the people even in the present interim constitution. And yet Nepal is a good example of a post-conflict society and of which we should take note. It is capable of overcoming the mistakes of the past and also offers a good example of our foreign policy generally. I wish we could support other countries with the same blend of our experience and practical action.