Motion to Take Note
My Lords, in moving this Motion, I had hoped this morning to be able to put before your Lordships a crystal-clear and set-piece perception to illuminate how we see the current crises in the Middle East and developments in Libya so that the combined wisdom of your Lordships in this debate could then illuminate the scene. However, with the extremely fast-changing pace of events and in a world in which, as I reflected this morning, it becomes harder and harder to distinguish in the media between actual hard facts and April fools’ fabrications, I am afraid that it becomes impossible to encapsulate all that is happening, let alone provide a running commentary on all the newspaper headlines this morning, and certainly not in 20 minutes. As for defectors, who make the headlines in every newspaper this morning, I merely repeat what my right honourable friends have made clear—there will be accountability and there is no immunity.
Let me turn from very recent events to the Libya scene, and try to update your Lordships as best I can on the immediate situation. The United Kingdom is playing a key role in the action to implement UN Security Council Resolutions 1970 and 1973, which authorised military action to enforce the arms embargo and put in place a no-fly zone to prevent air attacks on Libyan people and to take all necessary measures to stop attacks on civilians while ruling out, of course, an occupation force.
The Libyan population wants the same rights and freedoms that people across the Middle East and north Africa are demanding and that are enshrined in the values of the United Nations charter. We believe it is incumbent upon all responsible nations to react to these calls and to play their part in taking humanitarian action, safeguarding human rights and promoting democracy in our modern, unstable and dangerous world. That is why the United Kingdom must play its full part in the international efforts to assist the Libyan people.
There is wide support for what we are doing in Libya from the United Nations, the Arab League, the African Union and most of Europe. As President Obama has said:
“Real leadership creates the conditions and coalitions for others to step up as well”.
There can be no doubt that we are doing our full bit, and more than our bit, in carrying out a global duty. I believe that some of the great emerging powers of the 21st century, which may think that they can stand aside from such situations, will come to see, and should be persuaded to see, that their own interests and futures, just as much as ours, are involved in taking swift and responsible action in such crises as the ones now taking place.
There have been 17 nations contributing assets to coalition operations, including nations from the region. More than 340 planes from 14 nations have been involved, and vessels from 11 nations are supporting the arms embargo. On Tuesday, Sweden announced that it would contribute eight fighter aircraft. The NATO Secretary-General has issued a request for further contributions, which we hope other countries will consider seriously and soon.
The case for this action remains utterly compelling. Appalling violence against Libyan citizens continues to take place, exposing the regime’s claims to have ordered ceasefires to be an utter sham. Resolution 1973 lays out very clearly the conditions that must be met, including an immediate ceasefire, a halt to all attacks on civilians and full humanitarian access to those in need. We will continue our efforts until these conditions are fulfilled. The Libyan regime will be judged by its actions, and not by its words. Our action is saving lives and is protecting hundreds of thousands of civilians in Libya; that is what the UN security resolution was for, and that is why we are implementing it. We are taking the utmost care to minimise the risk of civilian casualties. The only forces acting indiscriminately or deliberately inflicting casualties are, of course, the forces of Colonel Gaddafi and his regime.
As evidence of the care we are taking to minimise the risk of civilian casualties, on Wednesday, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary received a letter from the local council in Misrata thanking Britain and our allies for the targeted strikes and the enforcement of the no-fly zone, which are alleviating pressure on the people of Misrata. His letter stated that the local council can testify to the effectiveness and accuracy of those strikes, and confirmed that there has not been a single case of civilian injury, let alone death, in and around Misrata as a result of coalition activity. This is testament to the skill, experience and precision of our Armed Forces, and I am sure that the whole House will join me in paying strong tribute to them.
My Lords, on Sunday last, NATO allies decided to take on full responsibility for the implementation of all military aspects of Security Council Resolution 1973, including the civilian protection mission, along with the no-fly zone and arms embargo operations, which were already under NATO command. The transition to full NATO command has now been completed. The North Atlantic Council will provide executive political direction for the military operations. I hope that the whole House will welcome the speed at which NATO has moved to put in place the planning and launch of these three demanding operations.
The situation on the ground remains fluid. Regime forces have intensified their attacks, driving back opposition forces from ground that they had taken in recent days. Misrata remains under heavy attack, with further loss of civilian life—including, sadly, children—from mortars, sniper fire and attacks on all sides from regime tanks and personnel carriers. The Department for International Development has been involved in funding the successful provision of some humanitarian assistance to the city, and we are urgently examining options for the provision of further assistance. One obstacle to humanitarian support for the people of Misrata has been regime vessels trying to blockade the port. Those vessels were attacked by coalition aircraft on Wednesday. Four of them were sunk and one was beached.
On Tuesday, delegations including more than 30 Foreign Ministers, the UN Secretary-General and representatives of the Arab League, the EU and NATO and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference met in London. Our Government went into the conference, organised under the direction of my right honourable friend William Hague with a swiftness and efficiency about which there have been expressions of admiration and amazement, with three objectives, all of which were met. The first was to strengthen and broaden the international coalition committed to implementing Resolutions 1970 and 1973. That was achieved. Many more countries were involved in the conference and supporting our objectives than at the time of the Paris summit 11 days ago. There has been substantial progress during those 11 days.
Secondly, we aimed to focus attention on the delivery of urgent humanitarian assistance to alleviate suffering in Misrata and at Libya's borders, and to plan for the needs of Libya after conflict. The conference agreed priorities for a humanitarian response and welcomed an offer from the UN Secretary-General to lead the co-ordination of humanitarian assistance and planning for longer-term stabilisation. Turkey, other key regional players and the international agencies all offered to support that work and take it forward. Contingency military planning also continues in the EU to enable support for humanitarian operations, if so requested by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, as agreed at the European Council last week. It is right that we start planning now to support Libyans over the long term to build a peaceful and prosperous future.
Thirdly, we argued that the conference must agree the need for a political process led by the Libyan people which helps create the conditions in which the people of Libya can choose their own future, supported by the international community. The announcement of a political programme by the Transitional National Council was an important first step in that process. The conference was also attended by the UN Secretary-General's special representative for Libya, Mr Al-Khatib, who travelled to Libya last night.
The conference agreed that Gaddafi has lost all legitimacy and agreed to continue efforts to isolate him and his regime by considering additional sanctions on individuals and companies associated with the regime. We agreed to establish a Libya contact group to take that work forward. The contact group will provide leadership and overall political direction to the international effort to support Libya. It will act as a forum for co-ordinating international policy on Libya and will provide a focal point in the international community for contact with the Libyan parties. Qatar has agreed to convene the first meeting of the group, which we will co-chair. Thereafter, the chairmanship will rotate between the countries of the region and beyond.
The London conference showed that the greater part of the international community of responsible nations is united in its aims, which are to seek a Libya that poses a threat neither to its citizens nor to the region—nor, indeed, to overall global stability—and is working with the people of Libya as they choose their own way forward to a peaceful and stable future. The conference demonstrated clear international support for the people of Libya. With that support, there is every prospect of focused and sustained assistance to the people of Libya as they seek to determine their future.
Setting this in a wider scene, it must be acknowledged that it must be the people of Libya who lead and own the changes in their country, but it is critical to stress that the military, political and humanitarian effort is neither an exclusive British responsibility or action, nor a European one nor even a Western one. It is a global effort with global support. A total of 29 nations are either providing or offering various kinds of support, including military support, allowing overflights, logistical and financial support and humanitarian relief. That includes a diverse range of such countries as the United Arab Emirates, Canada, Belgium, Turkey, Qatar and others. There is also of course the multilateral angle, with support for everyone's aims being expressed by the European Union, the Arab League and the African Union. It is for all responsible nations in the modern world to support action, and we are working hard to ensure that that is the case.
As we know, instability extends far beyond Libya. An unprecedented wave of change is now sweeping across the Arab world, triggering a series of simultaneous crises. Almost every Middle Eastern country has been affected at the same time by demands for greater political openness and democratic freedom. In Yemen, the situation remains very tense, and we have advised evacuation. In Bahrain, there have been violent scenes, although the authorities remain committed to reform and dialogue. I shall not have time to discuss it now, but there is clearly an impact on the Middle East peace process, about which we are all very concerned; although we, indeed, continue to urge that it is also an opportunity to take progress forward in that difficult area.
Each nation involved has a distinct culture, political system and level of economic development. Whatever their futures hold, there will not be a single model or pattern. However, there is clearly a common hunger for justice, accountability, political rights and economic opportunity, given that the overwhelming majority of the demonstrations that we have seen have been peaceful and staged spontaneously by ordinary citizens, motivated and incentivised by the ease of communication in this information age. Our positive message to all Governments in the region is that, without change, popular grievances will not go away. The right to peaceful protest must be respected and responded to with dialogue.
We are asked whether we think that Iran, jihadi extremists or even the al-Qaeda network have been either the instigators or the beneficiaries of this turmoil. That they could exploit the situation if chaos continues is possible, but it is notable that all the protests have been more concerned with democracy and justice than with the dark and violent agenda of al-Qaeda. I have not yet mentioned Syria, but it, too, is facing the new realities of rising popular pressure and demands for better living standards and democracy, driven by increasing contact with neighbouring states.
In Egypt, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has stressed its commitment to safeguarding the legitimate demands of the Egyptian people, to overseeing a transition to democracy and to holding free and fair elections. We welcome positive steps on these commitments, including the referendum on constitutional amendments on 19 March. The Supreme Council has also issued on, 30 March, a constitutional declaration which will be important in setting out a temporary constitution until elections have been held and the arrangements of the rest of the transitional period set out. It is important to set a clear timetable for constitutional reform and the holding of parliamentary and presidential elections. We understand that the Supreme Council is inclined to hold parliamentary elections in September, but believe that sufficient time must be allowed for the opposition to coalesce and be ready to take a full part in free and fair elections.
None of this is about imposing western democratic models or prescribing outcomes. We are looking to assist the development of civil society, political parties and the electoral processes through technical advice and by building links between organisations in the great country of Egypt and the United Kingdom.
In Tunisia, a great deal of progress has been made since the dramatic events of January. A new Government have been formed, including opposition parties and independent figures. Media censorship has been removed. Formerly banned parties have been legalised. Political prisoners have been freed and elections for a constituent assembly have been announced for 24 July. No doubt we will be coming back to these issues during the debate. Of course, there is much more to report.
On the wider impact on oil markets, energy supplies, world trade and other matters that concern us all, these are crucial times for the whole global system that underpins world energy security and the smooth flow of world trade. The Middle East region still holds the bulk of world oil reserves and is the world’s major oil source. Fears for oil supplies have come just at the same time as tragic events in Japan have cast a shadow over the longer-term prospects of civil nuclear power as well. Clearly, instability in the Middle East is having an impact on oil markets and prices. Fears have been raised about a substantial rise in oil prices, particularly because of the situation in Libya which is quite a significant oil producer. However, it is worth noting that the Brent crude price is currently around $115 a barrel, which is 21 per cent lower than the high that it hit three years ago in 2008. The average price for this year so far is just over $104 a barrel.
Furthermore, in contrast to the past oil shocks which we all remember, particularly those of the 1980s and 1990s, global spare capacity and stock levels are not at historically stretched levels. There is a clear willingness among large oil producers to make up any shortfall in supply. We give credit to Saudi Arabia and other OPEC members for the reassuring statements that they have made on this issue. We will remain in touch with them both bilaterally and through the International Energy Forum to ensure that oil prices remain as stable as possible.
On the consumer side, the International Energy Agency holds emergency stock of 1.6 billion barrels. The IEA has confirmed that it is always ready to activate its emergency response procedures where necessary, although, since the markets are well supplied, that point is some way off. It is not necessary at the moment. While the trajectory for oil prices is obviously upward, and overall demand for oil will grow in the longer term, especially outside the OECD—that is where all the growth will come—the world is looking for much greater efficiency in oil usage; to new, non-oil, low-carbon technologies; and to a big shift into the low-carbon alternatives, including gas, a fuel which happens, at least at the moment, to be in plentiful supply for various reasons.
We are clear that Libya is in no sense a repeat of Iraq. Our role in Libya is primarily the protection of civilians. The immediate action has the full and unambiguous legal authority of the United Nations. It is backed by Arab countries and by a broad international coalition reaching well beyond the traditional western alliance. The UN resolution makes clear that there will be no foreign occupation of Libya.
However, the strategic context of what we are doing is clear, and needs to be made clear. Power and influence in the new world have shifted. Our necessary strategy as a nation is to reposition the UK in the reconfigured international order now shaping up. While maintaining established links and working to make the Europe Union more effective, we are at the same time establishing strong, new bonds with the emerging powers as well as making use of the amazing Commonwealth network that we have inherited, which today connects our country, and may do so even more tomorrow, with some of the fastest-growing and increasingly powerful nations on the planet.
Events such as the successful London conference this week and our swift and prompt actions in line with the mandate of the United Nations demonstrate that, on behalf of many nations, we are playing a decisive, deeply responsible and creative role, just as we should be doing in this new international scene of challenge, danger and complexity. I beg to move.
My Lords, I congratulate the Minister on his helpful update, both on Libya and on the wider repercussions of the Arab awakening. I shall have but three reflections. First, what are British interests in this conflict? Secondly, what light does this conflict throw on wider issues? Thirdly, what happens after Gaddafi?
First, it is perhaps not very fashionable nowadays to talk about British interests, either narrowly or more broadly defined. Certainly, interests as shown by the relatively low number of diplomatic personnel we have had in Tripoli suggest that we do not have major interests there as we do in certain neighbouring countries. Equally, we have substantial oil interests with British companies very much involved but, whatever the future of Libya, they will still have to sell the oil on which they are very much dependent.
We have an interest in migration. I recall that when I was in Libya, five or so years ago, it was claimed, following the time when he claimed that he was the leader of Africa as well of the Middle East, that Gaddafi invited all African citizens to come to his country. There were said to be up to a million people from sub-Saharan Africa waiting for Tunisian boatmen to bring them over to Europe. Over the weekend we heard that the first boat since the troubles had arrived in Italy with 300 potential migrants, mostly Eritreans and Ethiopians, with another 800 on the way. We certainly have an interest in moderating that illegal flow from north Africa.
However, what is crystal clear is that, more broadly defined, we have an interest in international law and in keeping in close touch with our allies, hence the importance of the two Security Council resolutions—1970 and 1973. They were a triumph of the Security Council, bringing on board all the relevant players without being vetoed by some who one might have thought would veto them on the grounds of interference in the internal affairs of another country. However, in my judgment a clear reading of both 1970 and 1973 leads to this conclusion: their primary purpose—certainly that of 1973—is as the Prime Minister said in the other place. Resolution 1973 limits our operations; its primary purpose is clearly civilian protection. All the activities that we take part in must be seen in that light. Clearly, when a military convoy threatened Benghazi, it was wholly consistent with Resolution 1973 for the French planes initially to take out those tanks and armoured personnel carriers. That was probably also true when we took out the ammunition dumps, which would have been used for attacks on civilians.
Beyond that there are difficulties. What happens if those tanks are retreating from civilian areas? What is the position on the supply of arms to both sides? I submit that a clear reading of Article 9 of Security Council Resolution 1970 shows that we cannot supply arms to either side in the conflict. Unless and until a new Security Council resolution in respect of arms supply is moved, we must be constrained, as NATO has now agreed. Although it is in the interests of the country, of world peace generally, and certainly of regional peace, that Gaddafi no longer be there—it is impossible to conceive of a pluralist democracy under the rule of law if Gaddafi remains in place—it would be wholly wrong to seek to remove him by force and have regime change. The carefully constructed coalition would evaporate if regime change was made a clear aim. We have to be extremely careful. It is in our interest to remain four-square within international law.
As a side reflection on this, there was no mention in the coalition document of the Maghreb, yet it is now at the centre of attention, which shows the extent to which events move quickly—beyond documents of even a year or so ago. However, in Libya and the Maghreb, the response to the Arab awakening may be the defining issue for the coalition, as perhaps Iraq was for my own Government over the period from 2000.
As a second reflection, what light does the conflict in Libya throw on other issues? From the United States we have had the Obama doctrine, which is more restrained and avoids the Richard Haass-type “reluctant sheriff” approach. It seeks to ensure that there is a new multilateralism, working with allies. It will be interesting to see the extent to which that new multilateralism is shown in other areas as well because of the fear of overstretch within the US Administration.
From the European Union, yes, there are resources, but not unity. Germany abstained from Resolution 1973. France was quick off the mark. Perhaps the German and French responses were due to the proximity of elections, but neither Baden-Württemberg nor the cantonal elections in France showed that they succeeded. However, we hear little about the European External Action Service. Disunity and the British-French alliance have been the major features of the European Union response. Perhaps there will also be new thoughts on humanitarian intervention, but I have no time to go along that path.
Finally, on the post-Gaddafi situation, some of his advisers may say to him that it would be wise now, having reached a high point and taken the oil-exporting areas, to stop, call for a real ceasefire and allow in observers and humanitarian assistance. At that point, he would possibly split the coalition. What is clear is that we have an interest in stability in the region; that we should work through our alliances to ensure that; and that the European Union has the resources of soft power. Certainly, from the experience in central and eastern Europe, with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, it has the instruments for soft power. Clearly, the United Nations must be in the driving seat. Clearly, the Arab League must be the party that is most engaged. Our interest should surely be to work through the European Union as one of our key instruments to ensure, as far as we can, that our border area—the Maghreb—is given as much, if not more, attention than the eastern partnership. That, surely, is in our interest, in the interests of the region and in global interests.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for this opportunity to debate events in the Middle East today. I am particularly grateful for his update on Yemen, Syria, Egypt and Tunisia, as well the very useful information provided on the status of world oil stocks.
In light of the dramatically changed situation in the Middle East and north Africa, what is needed now in the Foreign Office, the EU and Washington is a dramatic and game-changing shift of emphasis, possibly of a kind that this generation of policy-makers has never previously experienced. There are three broad imperatives that we need to contemplate in this new chapter of our international relations with the Middle East.
The first is brought about by the changing nature of international society, of which the Middle East is a good example right now. Demographics, communication and education have converged to make the populations of these countries less compliant to authoritarian rule than they were and less nationalistic in their loyalty to institutional structures that are of dubious legitimacy. Nasser’s dream of pan-Arabism can be seen in the social solidarity of Facebook on a given day and, in a less benign form, when Saudi Arabian tanks crossed into Bahrain to protect its rulers.
In Bahrain, where the US has its Fifth Fleet—and is therefore reluctant to say much about matters there—the situation is deteriorating. The Bahraini Government have halted flights to Lebanon, Iraq and Iran. They accuse these so-called unfriendly Governments of training demonstrators in Bahrain to become militant. No evidence whatever is provided for this, and every western analyst who knows the situation doubts it greatly. The US itself has said that it has no evidence of Iranian or Hezbollah involvement in the recent protests in Bahrain. The ruling family also cites Iranian involvement because Iranian television coverage of the protests was sympathetic to the protestors. On that count, so was the BBC; both showed similar pictures.
There are more sinister developments as well. Human Rights Watch has brought to my attention the fact that media and web messages put out across Bahrain now comprise Sunni clerics and others referring to Shia citizens as “vermin” and using language that is reminiscent of Hutu propaganda against Tutsis before the Rwandan genocide. Despite what my noble friend has said today, even a cursory glance at this morning’s newspapers shows that there is little evidence of a dialogue. Therefore, I think the time is now past where our Government might urge the two sides to sit at the table, and I would argue that a high-profile international mediator needs to be appointed by the United Nations Secretary-General to hold twin-track talks to bring the two sides together, at first separately and then in the hope of finding a modicum of common ground before the situation results in even more loss of life and an all-out civil war.
As regards Libya, we in the international community have learnt the lessons of Rwanda in our recognition of the UN norm of the responsibility to protect. Now, in Libya, we have put into practice the principle that every individual state has the responsibility to protect its citizens from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. Where a state falls down on this responsibility, the rest of us will move to afford that protection within the framework of the United Nations, and it is right that we should do so.
However, the practical precedent established through responsibility to protect will have implications for us in Libya and beyond. In the short term, we have to confront the question of what success looks like in Libya. While our actions have been bold, our aspirations undoubtedly need to be more limited. We should accept that when we intervene to prevent the loss of civilian life, and inevitably change the face of the Government who failed to protect their people, this might not result in more congenial rulers from our perspective. What should matter to us is that the rulers are acceptable to the majority of their own people. Democracy as we know it may not be the result, but procedural legitimacy in the consent of the ruled to their rulers is surely an objective we should always strive for.
But let me also be clear that to enshrine R2P as precedent in international law requires us to tread very carefully indeed. In my reading of the UN Secretary-General’s outcome document, agreed at the UN’s 2005 world summit, we can invoke this responsibility only in very limited circumstances. Paragraph 139 clearly states:
“we are prepared to take collective action, in a timely and decisive manner, through the Security Council, in accordance with the Charter, including Chapter VII, on a case-by-case basis and in cooperation with relevant regional organizations as appropriate”.
While we have been able to invoke R2P in the case of Libya, it is undoubtedly made possible due to the co-operation of the Arab League, the Organisation of Islamic States and, indeed, the African Union. In these early days of developing this norm, this must be right, and I do not think anyone in this House would suggest that we should do so despite the resistance of those regional organisations, if they had indeed resisted.
What does this mean for our strategic foreign policy responses to the other countries of the Middle East which are oppressing their citizens, but not as egregiously, as yet, as Gaddafi has done? Should we employ warm words and hope that things will blow over and that we can return to business as usual? I hope not. I hope that we will work with renewed vigour to use other instruments of foreign policy to bring about the changes that we all want to see.
A first and foremost consideration here must be to extend and reinforce the precautionary principle in arms exports. While we all look forward to agreement on the arms control treaty at the UN next year, I urge our Government to lead by example and to announce a unilateral review of the criteria by which we issue licences. Stability founded through instilling fear, and supported through the use of force, is ephemeral. I recognise that there are legitimate concerns on the part of the defence industry in terms of business and employment, but I think that we can address those concerns in the slightly longer term. There is no reason why spin-offs from defence research cannot be put to civilian use—that has been done very successfully for years—and we need to reward greater innovation in that regard through the tax system and through reskilling and training.
A further set of levers is those we employ through international fora. The dexterity at the United Nations Security Council in adopting Resolutions 1970 and 1973 reflects a dramatic change on the part of the international community. This must be sustained through the use of capacity building and generous support for those countries which embrace transitions to reform and a cooling of support for those which continue in their bad old ways. The use of smart sanctions, travel bans and asset freezing all have their place in signalling that we are on the side of the people, but most important will be our ability to use the EU more imaginatively to advance a European position, which till recently has been lacking in these unfolding events.
However, we also need to build a longer-term perspective into our domestic audience here at home. People are increasingly weary of foreign interventions and wonder why we are called upon to do the right thing so frequently. We have to be clear that democracies do not establish themselves overnight, particularly in traditional Muslim societies. Civil society does not just arise when the repression of the ancien régime is removed. These processes take time, often follow a tortuous path, and we need to be patient and resilient in our support for them. We may soon be celebrating the holding of elections but perhaps not their outcome. We may encourage the toppling of dictators but may not welcome the system of rule that will replace them. Our foreign policy in the Middle East must be reprimed for the longer term on the right side of history for the Arab world to look to us as friends and partners in the future.
My Lords, it seems to me remarkable how often over the past couple of decades names and places that only a short while before we had thought consigned for ever to our history books have come back to haunt us. The Balkans, Afghanistan, Iraq, Tripoli and Benghazi were all rather exotic and ill understood reminders of a colourful and imperial past but we could not conceive how they might relate to our national security as we approached the latter years of the 20th century. How wrong we were. The nature and scale of our mistake must give us pause when anyone seeks to tell us what they think the next couple of decades will look like. However, today we must deal with today’s problems—and Libya is most certainly one of those.
Public debate on Libya so far has been characterised by often rather ad hoc and isolated consideration of individual events rather than by an appreciation of the situation as a whole. The media ask whether Gaddafi should be a target or whether we should arm the rebels, and so on, to which the answer must be, “Well, it all depends”. It depends obviously on the legality of various actions but it also depends on whether and how such actions contribute to the achievement of our goals. What are those goals?
The rationale for the international military intervention was to protect civilians, and the military objectives are set out fairly clearly in United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973. One understands the political and moral imperative to safeguard civilians, as far as that is possible, and the urgency of the requirement. One understands that in such circumstances it is not always possible to have thought through every single possible consequence before acting. But before committing our forces we should always think about how such commitment would end, the political objectives we are pursuing, and how military force is linked to these. In the case of Libya, it seems to me clear that the political objective has to be the removal of Gaddafi. I say this not because of the nastiness of his regime or because of a desire to spread democracy around the world—we were, after all, quite content to treat with Gaddafi when he seemed secure in power—but because of the logic of the Security Council resolution. It enjoins us to protect civilians. Those civilians need protection because they are under threat from Gaddafi. It seems to me inconceivable that Gaddafi would now forgive and forget those who have come out in opposition to his regime, so they will continue to be under threat, and therefore continue to need protection all the while Gaddafi remains in power. Therefore, our military intervention, although not designed to oust Gaddafi, can end only with his removal.
Since the protection of civilians forms the limit of our military involvement, the removal of Gaddafi—the political objective—must be achieved by other means. What are those means? That is exactly the question that the international community should be—and I hope now is—addressing. I am not able to stand here and set out the answer. It will depend on careful analysis of the power structures in Libya; on the motivations of key actors, particularly those currently supporting Gaddafi; on the various incentives and disincentives that might be effective in such circumstances; and then on the careful application of such means as recommend themselves. Some will work, some will not, and some will work better than others. There will inevitably be an element of trial and error, but each move should be part of a coherent approach to achieving the objective—the removal of Gaddafi. I hope that the recent defection of Moussa Koussa will have helped to deliver some valuable insights on this score and so contribute to the international community's handling of the situation.
One important strand will be the effect of the rebel forces. They form one—but only one—factor in the calculations that are no doubt being made by members of Gaddafi's regime. Not because they are going to take Tripoli by force—that seems unlikely in the extreme—but because their very existence gives rise to the need to choose sides. So what they do does matter. Should we, therefore, give them arms, as some have suggested? The answer, I would venture, depends first, as I said, on the legal basis for such action, but then on the degree to which it is likely to contribute to the achievement of the political objective. It is not, fundamentally, a military question. The rebels have very limited combat power not just because of a shortage of weapons, but because of a lack of training, a lack of discipline, a lack of structure, a lack of command and control, a lack of planning capacity, a lack of logistic support—I could go on. Giving them better weapons will make a difference, but it will not make up for these other deficiencies. The important consideration is what effect such a decision would have on the process of undermining Gaddafi.
Meanwhile, we have to think very carefully about the consequences of our continuing military involvement in Libya. Although Afghanistan has been pushed off the front pages for the moment, it still consumes a great deal of our military capacity. What little we have had left in the locker over the past couple of years for dealing with other contingencies has consisted mainly of air and maritime capabilities. These have largely been consumed by the Libya operation, so that locker is now looking pretty bare. Yet we still face huge risks. To cite just one example, the possibility of an Iranian miscalculation in the Gulf, whether provoked by a third party or otherwise, is something that we must continue to guard against. The potential consequences of such an event could be very severe, in an area where our vital national interests are concerned in a way that they are not in Libya. I am not suggesting that we should never use our military forces just in case we need them for something else: that would be a logical absurdity. What I am saying is that before committing our forces we should always take into account and weigh up the relative risks to our national interests elsewhere. Failing to do so could leave us strategically unbalanced.
This is academic in the case of Libya, since we are now committed there. Once again, our military personnel have demonstrated the courage, skill and thoughtful determination that make them rightly the pride of this nation. But let us be in no doubt: we are spreading our Armed Forces very thin. They will do what is asked of them, but for all their can-do attitude, they are a finite resource—and ever more finite by the month.
Having committed to Libya, we must see the endeavour through to a successful conclusion. However, in view of the risks elsewhere, in view of the grave dangers to us should such risks materialise and in view of the degree to which we have now drawn down on our military account, we have yet one more reason for placing the very highest degree of urgency on finding a political resolution to this crisis as soon as possible.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for this debate, and for the way the Motion is phrased to allow us to examine the rest of the Middle East and not simply Libya. I will talk about Libya and about the possible opportunities, referred to briefly by the Minister, that the present discontent may create for Israel and Palestine.
The just war theory, which is deeply embedded in both Christian and humanist thought, is clear that violence must be a last resort, entered into with deep regret and justified only in order to prevent greater violence and repression. I believe that this was achieved through Resolution 1973 and I congratulate both the Government and military personnel on playing a leading part in the international achievement of pathways for humanitarian aid, particularly in eastern Libya, and in the prevention of civilian massacres in Benghazi and Misrata. The involvement of the Arab League is crucial to make it clear that this is no western, let alone Christian, intervention. I was grateful to the Leader of the House for his firm statement last week in an exchange with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Exeter that faith differences must play no part in this humanitarian operation.
Just war theory also requires clarity about the exit strategy, and about what constitutes success. Exit must be as speedy as possible. There must be no attempt to impose a solution from outside on any people. I would value further comment from the Minister on this, and in particular on our strategy if a stalemate develops between pro and anti-Gaddafi forces.
Among the dangers of any dramatic social change is the threat to freedom of religion—both between religions and within religions—which was referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner. Our welcome of the fragile development of Egyptian democracy must be tempered with a close watch on the violence against Coptic churches, such as that on 8 March which left at least 13 people dead, and on violence against women, which may be in the name of religion but should have no part in the doctrine of any religious faith.
Egyptian democracy leads to possibilities for Israel and Palestine. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has often said that Arab-Israeli peace will come only once the Arab world democratises. In February, the UK, France and Germany committed themselves to work for welcoming Palestine as a full member of the United Nations by September 2011. That would include serious consideration of the establishment of a two-state solution, which would provide increased security for both Israel and Palestine at this time of heightening tension. Perhaps the noble Lord will tell us how the negotiations with EU partners are progressing and whether they are being damaged by the current unrest.
The Christian church has a responsibility to facilitate dialogue between the three great Abrahamic faiths. The Archbishop of Westminster and the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury will host a two-day conference in London in July to help to identify ways in which our churches can work alongside local Christians in the Holy Land to achieve mutual respect and honour. If the two-state solution were one of the results of the Arab spring, it would be a major contribution to the peace not only of the Middle East but of the whole world.
My Lords, I shall comment only on Libya, and indeed on only two aspects of it, avoiding the temptation to follow a number of other points that have been raised by noble Lords, as in the time available it would be better to concentrate my remarks. Of the two points that I wish to make, one is quite short, although I shall deal with the second at greater length.
The short one relates to the character of Gaddafi’s forces. When this situation began, I noticed press reports that Gaddafi was calling in debts from sub-Saharan countries that he had helped in the past. In particular, I noticed reports of troops being flown in from Eritrea and Zimbabwe—presumably to replace desertions from Gaddafi’s army. I have heard recently that similar support has come from Chad and Niger. Can the Minister confirm that that is the case? Can he also confirm that it is contrary to Security Council Resolution 1973? Is it still happening? What is being done to interdict these reinforcements, and do they not now constitute a very substantial part of Gaddafi’s army?
I can understand noble Lords’ concern that coalition forces should not intervene directly or invade Libya, but I think we should recognise that some other countries have already done that. There is not an even playing field in this respect and we should be more alert to the problem. We are not talking about fighting Gaddafi’s forces; these are not Gaddafi’s forces, and we should deal with that as well. Parenthetically, one thing that we should not do, but which Resolution 1973 appears to do, is to hide behind the pretence that these are mercenaries. I do not think that they are.
The other matter relates to the actions of the European Union. On Monday and Tuesday, 14 and 15 March, members of your Lordships’ EU Sub-Committee C visited Brussels. As noble Lords will know, that was a few days after David Cameron and Mr Sarkozy had been rebuffed by the Council of Ministers over the proposal for a Libyan no-fly zone. The sub-committee was primarily concerned with an inquiry into south Sudan, but we also took some evidence on Libya and I want to refer to some of that.
However, what I found most telling was the dinner that had been organised by UKREP on Monday, which was attended by several representatives from other member states at ambassadorial level. One should note that this came after support had been indicated by the Arab League. During the evening, I was struck by the vehemence of the rejection of any form of help for the Libyan democratic opposition. Not all but most of those present were using almost any argument they could lay their hands on to avoid dealing with a very clear problem right on their own doorstep. They ended by asserting that it was now too late to do anything —something that was nearly true on the subsequent Saturday but was certainly not true on that Monday.
On Tuesday, we took evidence from Mr Mingarelli, the director of the Middle East and Southern Neighbourhood, External Action Service. He brought out a more substantial problem with a no-fly zone. He said:
“Everybody says that only NATO has the capacity to mount such an operation … quickly. I have heard our chief of military staff, General van Osch, saying that it would take a long time for the EU to mount such an operation while NATO could do that rather quickly”.
Mr Mingarelli also commented on regional support. He said on the Tuesday that,
“I was yesterday in Cairo. Amr Moussa told Lady Ashton very clearly that the Arab League requests the Security Council ... to impose a no-fly zone. ... Amr Moussa was a little amazed yesterday because Lady Ashton was asking for clarification of his position. He said, ‘But there is nothing to clarify. It is clear. Look at our statement. We request the Security Council to take all necessary measures to impose a no-fly zone for the sake of protecting civilians. So what more do you want?’”.
There are some external matters that the European Union can handle, an example being trade. However, an urgent crisis with a potential military dimension is quite another matter. The EU seems instinctively to shy away from such, even in cases such as Libya, where inaction would produce a worse case, even from a purely internal EU outlook. I think that it is bad to shy away from such problems. It is even worse to create arguments against action to cover up an inability or unwillingness to act. Moreover, it is positively dangerous to pretend to be an actor in a situation while lacking the will and the capability to act. When you do not have the will and the capability, you should withdraw with such grace as you can muster instead of intermeddling in the situation to frustrate other people. That, I fear, is where the EU has left itself.
Now, it could be said that in a sense it did not matter—that Britain and France got the Security Council resolution a few days later—and it could be said that an extended debate on the issue was perhaps no bad thing. Indeed, Alistair Burt, in giving evidence to our committee, very gallantly and diplomatically took that line, and I hope that our European partners will reciprocate his consideration in due course.
More realistically, the French Foreign Minister is reported to have said that these events have killed the Union’s CSDP. I think he is right in substance but, unfortunately, I see that the Union is returning to playing games rather than being a player. I refer to the draft Council decision on a European Union military operation to support humanitarian assistance in Libya, which I understand is due for decision today. Our sub-committee became aware of this just yesterday morning. Of course, humanitarian assistance is a good thing but that has been there from the outset. The question, then, is: what is the EU military element going to do if it is attached to such an expedition? I see that the draft Council decision—it may have changed by this afternoon—recites that Egypt and Tunisia have,
“agreed on a possible EU military presence in their respective countries”.
That can mean only that humanitarian assistance is going to be delivered across the borders from Tunisia or Egypt and that an EU military presence will be there. However, what is that military presence going to do? The directive goes on at great length about the various operations and about establishing strategic control to rest with the Political and Security Committee, as well as various other things, until it finally staggers down to Article 8, where it says that consultation will take place with the African Union and NATO as appropriate. This does not seem to be a coherent way of planning a military operation which is ongoing, particularly when we bear in mind the way in which some of these countries have acted in these matters. I hope that HMG are in a position to get a better outcome if a decision is taken today. However, I leave that to the Minister.
I conclude with another gem from Tuesday’s evidence. It was given by Commissioner Fule, which I hope I am pronouncing correctly, who explained the European Union’s neighbourhood policy. He concluded:
“The neighbourhood policy, so far, is a set of instruments that will take us from point A to point B, but we have never defined point B”.
Wait, my Lords. He continued:
“We always hide behind words like ‘creating a tone of stability, prosperity and peace’”.
The noble Lord, Lord Radice, intervened, “And democracy”. Commissioner Fule replied:
“We have never used that word”.
Therein lies another problem.
My Lords, I also thank the Minister for the up-to-date briefing that he gave the House today. Many points have already been made in a debate that is going to stretch across a lot of talent and experience.
I start by saying that I support the Government in what they are doing, through NATO, in Libya. There is absolutely no doubt that, had timely action not been taken, Benghazi and eastern Libya would have fallen, and the consequences for the civilian population in that area would have been grim indeed. Our forces in the air, at sea and on land are now in action under a UN mandate, and this nation and this Parliament must stand united. If Gaddafi were to prevail, heaven help the Libyans. Indeed, for the wider Maghreb it would have profound implications that would impact on an area much wider than just north Africa.
When I was Secretary-General of NATO, I was occasionally asked to speculate on the circumstances that could provoke a European response where the Americans might be reluctant to come in and bail us out. Dangerous though that speculation was likely to be, I occasionally used north Africa as my example of Europe’s backyard where trouble could easily be precipitated in one of many countries, with real ripple effects hitting a Europe where we would still not have the proper capabilities to handle it on our own. I take no great pride in being proved correct in my forecast.
Europe, despite its relative prosperity and economic muscle, is still not, as we have seen, able to act in its own self-interest without US leadership and military capabilities. Only two nations—America and this country—were able to use precision cruise missiles at the beginning of this crisis and to have a decisive effect on Gaddafi’s military power. No other nation in Europe has that capability. What a mockery it makes of the grand ambitions for Europe to be robust, self-sufficient and independent of US influence and power.
One of the most despairing aspects of events in the past few weeks has been the disunited and pretty undignified squabble among European members of NATO about how to organise a multinational no-fly zone. As all the NATO nations know, there is only one organisation capable of arranging and commanding a complex multinational military operation, and that is NATO, through its military headquarters at SHAPE. One of the most uplifting aspects of the crisis so far has been the fact that everybody eventually came to realise that glaringly obvious point; and now, in the past 48 hours, NATO has, with its Canadian commander, at last taken over the whole operation.
I can empathise like nobody else with Secretary-General Rasmussen in the somewhat confused commentary that he has had to provide over these weeks. I know it only too well. I have seen it, done it and have quite a few T-shirts to show for it. We should realise that NATO is the sum of its parts. Unlike the EU and the UN, NATO is not some monolithic organisation with its own corporate identity and a vast bureaucracy; it is as powerful or as feeble as its member states want it to be. When nations put national interests and primitive rivalries before collective security and collective action, NATO becomes a paper tiger in an increasingly complex and dangerous international jungle.
As we can all now see, things are not over. Defections from the Gaddafi regime there will be, and the more the better—and a bag full of trouble they will bring with them as it happens and the regime unravels. The fighting will continue to ebb and flow along the Mediterranean coast and we will assuredly be faced with new dilemmas in the next few weeks.
If the attrition goes on and civilians cannot be saved just from the air, will we simply stand back if boots on the ground could be decisive? If we took that route, whose boots would be on the ground? Even in the best-case scenario of a stabilisation force on the ground in post-conflict Libya, whose boots would make up that force? The boots assuredly will not be American. The President and his Defence Secretary made it very clear this week that their people are tired of coming to the rescue of a Europe that will not invest in its own security insurance.
It is still an embarrassing and, indeed, scandalous fact that there are almost twice as many people in Europe as in the United States of America, yet we can deploy only about 2 or 3 per cent of them outside national boundaries. Who will supply them in Libya, whether in conflict or in peacekeeping; in Syria, if that odious regime were to disintegrate; in Yemen, if the president clings on to the death; in Bahrain, if the violence abates; or even in Palestine/Israel when common sense and uneasy peace eventually break out? Europe had better wake up to the challenge that it faces at this historic moment. Loud noises and self-congratulation about Arab awakening and Arab “springs” as the masses rise up against dictatorships will simply turn to dust if one uprising leads to a new repressive regime.
I want to make two final brief, important points. First, this country’s coalition Government should be reaching out in Britain to all those who can contribute to thinking on this issue. In the US it is seen as publicly important—essential, even—that the President and the Administration should consult and involve a wide range of experts and political players. I did precisely that when I was Secretary of State for Defence and we were engaged in the conflict over Kosovo. It gave a clear message of national resolve, first to the British people; secondly, to our forces who are in action risking their lives; and, thirdly and very importantly, to those whom we are confronting. My American friends are amazed at how British politics is so unhelpfully government-centric on these serious issues. I do relate that not simply to this Government but to the previous one as well. I exempt the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Astor, who has been a model of reaching out to other elements in society.
Finally, in the midst of this crisis and all that it means and all the attention that it takes, let us not forget that thousands of British troops are engaged in a continuing war in Afghanistan. They are making progress but they are still in danger and still being killed and injured. Our resolve there must not weaken at any point simply because we are focusing our attention for the moment on events closer to home. The stakes there are high. Leaving prematurely would be a mistake, and all the sacrifices would be in vain.
My Lords, the military intervention in Libya was one of the most difficult areas on which to decide—whether it would be a good thing, a bad thing or where it would end, and many of those questions still have to be answered. However, naturally and understandably we look at the difficulties and obstacles that we created in Iraq and the lessons that we have to learn from that. I shall come back to one or two of those later.
When I had to make my own mind up, as one does on these issues, I looked not so much to Iraq but back to Bosnia and the instance when we had major conflict on the European continent to which, as Europe, we were unable to respond. We saw the carnage, bloodshed and, indeed, the genocide that took place within the former Yugoslavia during those terrible civil wars. That was when many of us said that Europe could never allow violence of that scale to take place in our own backyard again, and it made me resolute that the intervention in Libya was correct. That part of north Africa may not be part of the classic European continent but it is part of our backyard. Maybe unlike my noble friend, with whom I agree on many things, I believe that Europe has performed not too badly in a number of areas—I shall come to when it has not performed so well—but Europe introduced sanctions much wider than the UN sanction regime early on, and was united in that.
The noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, our colleague and high representative in Europe, was one of the first to draw attention to the need for Europe to react to greater democratisation and the various new movements in north Africa and the Middle East. Indeed, France and the United Kingdom were leading the political movements to make sure that practical action to help the anti-Gaddafi forces could take place, not necessarily within a European Union context, but before Benghazi fell. The United States, understandably because of its recent history in Iraq and Afghanistan, was very unwilling to take a lead—rightly, because it is our neighbourhood and not that of the United States. The European Union in its emergency Council meeting on 11 March stated categorically—all 27 member states in unanimity—that the Gaddafi regime could no longer act as an intermediary and had to go in terms of a Government of Libya. Those are the positive points in how the European Union reacted.
It is clear that the abstention by Germany in the Security Council was a major blow to European unity. If it was a part of trying to save regional elections in Baden-Württemberg, that clearly did not work. Perhaps even more ironically, although I welcome it, Germany then came back at the subsequent Council and welcomed the UN peace resolution.
What we have shown here—almost going back to the St Malo agreement at the beginning of the previous Government—is that for European defence to work, it has to work practically and has to work between the two nations which account for some 50 per cent of defence expenditure, ourselves and France. As the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, said, this situation was never in the coalition agreement. Ironically, I doubt that this situation was even in the minds of the two Governments when they signed the two UK-French defence treaties at the end of last year—a time that would have been much closer to this situation. The circumstances would have been around all sorts of defence co-operation—aircraft carriers and nuclear—but would never have been seen to be about something more practical that could take place in Libya.
My noble friend Lord Trimble also mentioned the EU’s potential further use of a mission in Libya. We were quite amazed to see—our eyebrows were rather raised—that this was not going to be a civilian mission but a military mission, EU for Libya. I stress that all that the Council decision perhaps today does is to move forward to a planning stage, rather than to decide that action should be taken, and that such action should be humanitarian. There is a huge potential contradiction or conflict in that the only reason military assistance from Europe would be required would be for humanitarian assistance, which I am sure we would all applaud, and that would be only if humanitarian aid cannot be delivered without military help. It will be delivered with military help only if there is likely to be conflict in terms of its delivery. I welcome the pre-planning that is taking place and that the lessons from Iraq have been learnt. In the pre-planning of such a mission—should it ever be used and it is not necessarily intended that it should—I urge the Government to look at those contradictions very carefully. If it takes place, it needs to be successful rather than a failure.
In my final minute, I come back to the broader issue of the area and Europe. One of the contradictions of the European Union is that its power, its soft power and its whole raison d’être in a practical sense, is around an economic bloc, and around trade and commercial relationships within itself and the rest of the world. That is where its power really lies. It is about doing business with whoever in the rest of the world wants to do business. Unlike other international organisations, the EU has a very high ethical content in terms of membership, the Copenhagen criteria, the rule of law, democracy, human rights and the rights of minorities, et cetera. It is extremely difficult to reconcile those two different arms to the rest of the world when it has to make decisions.
On neighbourhood policy in the south and in the eastern Mediterranean, it is important to remember that, while trade relations will always continue and the EU will continue to use its leverage there, clearly now it cannot offer membership to democracies and those countries in north Africa which we hope will meet the Copenhagen criteria. But it should be able to offer a much closer political, as well as economic, relationship to those countries, which is only available to those countries that have similar standards to those in Europe. That is the way in which I believe European neighbourhood policy needs to proceed in a practical and an ethical way.
My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for this opportunity for the debate and for his exposition of where we stand. It is clear that a large number of British people feel that we should not be involved in Libya. That is hardly surprising when one looks back and sees that, on balance, there is a general consensus that the invasion of Iraq was wrong. When one saw what was in Afghanistan by way of terrorist training camps, one felt that the initial invasion was correct, but I believe that the expansion of that role into Helmand was a mistake, which we have lived to regret. This has cost the nation a great deal in blood and treasure. Despite those experiences, I have to say that I very reluctantly accept that our involvement in Libya—the no-fly zone—was the right thing to do. I do not intend to rehearse all the arguments, but I have no doubt that it stopped effectively mass killings in Benghazi and it had a strong UN resolution.
There are a huge number of dangers now. I shall run through some of the things where I believe that risks exist. On civilian casualties, our people have done really well in terms of not causing any. I was very much involved in the targeting process when I was Chief of Defence Intelligence and I know the effort and care that is taken in that respect. However, we would be deluding ourselves if we believed that there would be no civilian casualties, particularly as the situation progresses. It will happen. It would be a nonsense to pretend that there will not be any. Indeed, there may have been one or two already of which we are not aware. That is just a fact of life. We need to harden our hearts to that and to make sure that we expose the fact that there is no moral equivalence between what we are doing and what Gaddafi is doing. Of course, if those things mount, there will be huge pressure from the Arab states and others, as well as a break-up of the coalition.
It is super that NATO has taken over and lovely that the coalition is getting bigger—we should expand it. But it is interesting that most of the fast jets going in are air-to-air, and there has been no air-to-air combat. We need ground-attack aircraft. Only the core players are doing ground attack. That is something that we should address.
There is a real danger of stalemate, which could lead to a division within the country and civil war. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, eloquently explained the military capability of the rebels. In my sailor’s language, I would say that in military terms the rebels are basically a rabble. They have got a long way to go to be able to do anything militarily. But arming them is extremely dangerous. For example, if rebel forces are fighting Gaddafi’s forces and no civilians are there, what exactly is the position for the NATO commander in terms of hitting forces? He is not protecting civilian forces. What should he do? The UN resolution does not cover that. What if the rebel forces in a town inadvertently kill some civilians? What does the NATO commando do about that? These are real difficulties which have to be confronted.
Who exactly are the rebels? I hope that the Government are clear on who they are because I am not clear at all. Clearly, the composition of Libya after this is up to the Libyans. It is nothing to do with us. But we need to think carefully about arming the rebels. I have not seen anything clear about where that is going. Mission creep from the UN resolution to regime change is dangerous. We need to go back to the UN and ask whether it wants regime change. I have heard a lot of what has been said about that. Clearly, all of us would like Gaddafi to go. He is a murderous, deranged thug and we would love to have him out of the way, but the legality of doing that is difficult. Similarly, we would have to go back to the UN to talk about the legality of arming the rebels. In addition, there is the danger of pressure to use land forces. Air power is not decisive, as was shown in Kosovo; it took the threat of invasion in Kosovo to change the game. We need to be aware of pressures for that.
I am sure that we have learnt many lessons. I shall pick one. I believe that the Government have to run the rule over the SDSR. For example, notwithstanding many attempts to show otherwise, there is no doubt that a carrier and air group would have been invaluable at all stages of this operation, particularly early on. On that point, I should like to wish the Royal Air Force a happy birthday, as it was formed 93 years ago today. The Royal Navy gave 2,500 aircraft and 55,000 men to help to form the new RAF. Is it not interesting that today the SDSR has got rid of all of our maritime fixed-wing aircraft? “Invincible” is being towed past Libya for scrap and “Ark Royal” is on eBay for sale. That is something that we need to ponder.
We should have real concern about all these changes. The Minister touched on this. I believe that al-Qaeda has been caught out by what has happened. There are opportunities for us. We should do some detailed risk analysis work. The impact of events from Algeria to Oman and the issues within Bahrain and Yemen et cetera are very real. I believe that blithely to ignore these real-world events in terms of the SDSR would be worthy of today’s date. We need to do something about it.
What next? We need to keep hitting Gaddafi’s forces when he is killing civilians, for example, in Misrata. There is no doubt about that whatever. As many speakers have said, we need to use every lever, because we need to do this politically. One hopes that Moussa Koussa is the first of many people who will come over, although we cannot necessarily bank on it. We need pressure on assets. We need to tighten up the arms and wider embargoes. We need to use the contact group to the maximum extent and to redouble our aid efforts, but we really need to ensure that the truth of what we are doing gets out to the wider Muslim world. This is very important. We have seen before how there can be radicalisation if that does not happen. There is no moral equivalence between what Gaddafi is doing—abusing human rights and killing and torturing his own people—and our careful, measured response. That message needs to get out. The World Service is good at that. We need to make sure that we get the message out wherever we possibly can, because it is very important.
We all hope otherwise but, notwithstanding the latest defection and the prospect that there may be others, this may be a long haul. As a number of speakers have said, this will not end until Gaddafi goes, although we have no legal cover for regime change. We have to be absolutely resolute in opposing mission creep or the breaking of any of the UN resolutions. If there were any move towards the use of land forces, I believe that we should immediately leave the coalition.
My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for the way in which he introduced this very important debate. I know that the whole House will be with me in wishing our Armed Forces, which have been tasked by the Government to participate in the implementation of UN Resolution 1973, well. We should all admire the way in which each succeeding generation of service men and women contribute with great credit to the Government of the day’s determination to be seen to be punching above their weight in the world scene.
Understandably, the 6,000 mile round trips to attack targets in Libya by two-seater Tornado aircraft operating out of RAF Marham in Norfolk were highlighted. These were epic flights, but this should not overshadow admiration for the numerous and extremely rapid deployments to forward operating airfields of a variety of aircraft types and their ground supporting crews with all that they need by way of munitions, spares and supplies. Equally commendable were the movement and attacks from Royal Navy ships and submarines in the relevant areas of the Mediterranean.
Such short-notice movements of operational units and their essential support and their rapid involvement in very precise kinetic attacks rely on detailed fore-planning. Personnel must also have regular opportunities to train to ensure that all will go smoothly and seamlessly when the Government require. Too often, training exercises have been curtailed or even cancelled in the search for in-year economies. This is a risky choice for any Government aspiring to a robust foreign policy and intent on mounting or sustaining expeditionary operations, particularly at short notice, with the minimum of embarrassing mistakes or PR disasters.
The initial operations from RAF Marham underline the much valued, but poorly understood, characteristics of air operations and the responsiveness and flexibility of air power. However, it is not solely aircraft and weapon performances that contribute to the fighting attributes of air power; it is also the resourcefulness, ingenuity and imagination of the crews and commanders who turn the theories of air power into practicalities, such as we have seen in recent days.
How often our Armed Forces are committed to operations in wars of choice must ultimately be balanced against their numbers, their equipment and the other resources necessary to fulfil the objectives or mission that they have been given. Following our long involvements in Iraq and Afghanistan and the reductions that have been implemented, or are shortly to be implemented, in the wake of last year’s strategic defence and security review, our forces have reached levels of commitment that have to be reduced—witness the firm determination of Her Majesty’s Government to withdraw from combat operations in Afghanistan by 2015. A few tight years were forecast before a real-terms increase in defence budgets from 2015 would fund the defence aspirations of the 2020s, but then the unexpected happened, yet again. How rapidly the international security situation changed in the first few days and weeks of 2011. Fortuitously for the Government, current operations in Libya call mainly for effort from the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy as the United Kingdom’s contribution, forces less committed than in Afghanistan.
I turn now to the great unknown about this Libyan engagement. As the Government have admitted, the fulfilment of UN Resolution 1973 is not easily measured unless there is a major and beneficial change in the present shares of authority over the different regions of Libya. Rightly, the additional costs are to be funded from the reserve, but that too should not be seen as open-ended. While there were compelling reasons to get quickly into the rescue and evacuation of British nationals, particularly from Libya, at the start of the uprisings in the new year, of its nature that was going to be of only short duration, and they were operations of necessity.
The Prime Minister has said that it was not reasonable to argue that, because we could not help everywhere, we should not attempt to help to prevent a humanitarian disaster in Libya, but what we might characterise as humanitarian might be seen very differently through Arab and Islamic eyes. The switch from destroying Libyan air defences to the continuing night-after-night interdiction of Libyan armour and weapons storage, attempting to impose a no-drive zone and loose talk of arming the rebels, smacks of mission creep. We are on a high wire, without any safety net and in the hands of opinion-formers who could quickly turn these developments to our disadvantage. Are we not very close to being accused of involvement and taking sides in a Libyan civil war? Once again, we will face the accusation that oil-starved colonialists are up to their knavish tricks.
We have certainly ensured that in Gaddafi we now have an enemy for life. If he survives in power, our national interests will again be under renewed threat from him. Hopefully, however, sooner rather than later there has to be an exit and an end to our involvement. The experiences of recent history are not necessarily always relevant, but as a general rule no-fly zones or no-drive zones are rather like maritime mounted blockades: none, on its own, is likely to achieve any clear-cut political result. Consequently, once started they can become a long and protracted task.
Much more in the non-military field by politics and diplomacy has to be done and will surely be needed to bring about an internationally acceptable outcome in Libya. I therefore welcome the large international meeting of Foreign Ministers held in London earlier this week and the recent news of the defection of the Libyan Foreign Minister. This may well be a result of the efforts of the FCO and other government agencies that we cannot yet know about. We had rather a poor start when the Libyan crisis erupted, with delays in evacuating our citizens and the apparently crass attempt to infiltrate Special Forces into the country near Benghazi. Since then, there seems to have been a steadier hand on the tiller and I look forward to a satisfactory and hopefully early release from this new operation, which is adding to the overcommitment of our Armed Forces at this present time. Perhaps we should take a lesson from President Obama’s approach and realise that we cannot take on more and more military operations. Others must be persuaded to take the strain.
My Lords, I must confess to a certain degree of unease about our Libyan operation. The Minister’s statement has gone some way towards attenuating that, but he has not assuaged my anxiety altogether. China, India, Russia, Brazil, Turkey and Germany were unsympathetic to the UN resolution and have remained highly critical of the way in which we have interpreted the resolution and are conducting the operation. I am also struck by the fact that the United States is discreetly distancing itself from how the operation is going. It is increasingly being seen in the world at large as an Anglo-French operation, an operation by two middle-ranking former imperial powers living out an imperial fantasy and struggling to find a role for themselves. I do not say that they are right; rather, I am simply alerting the House to voices outside our Chamber.
The story began in Benghazi. When the rebellion took place, Colonel Gaddafi said that he was going to hunt down the rebels from house to house and would show no mercy. There was no certainty at the time that he would have acted on those words, but nevertheless we could not take the risk, so we went to the United Nations and obtained Resolutions 1970 and 1973. With the memory of Srebrenica and Rwanda, we were absolutely right to do so.
Resolution 1973, in order to be effective and for our operation to enjoy global legitimacy, had to be minimal, and I think we are in danger of forgetting what it has committed us to. First, it allows us to protect civilians under threat. There must be a direct or indirect threat. Simply an assumption that Colonel Gaddafi has arms stored away somewhere does not entitle us to act on it. Secondly, Resolution 1973 commits us to respecting the,
“sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity and national unity”,
of Libya. Thirdly, the resolution excludes,
“a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory”.
Fourthly and finally, Resolution 1973 stresses the need to facilitate dialogue with a view to securing,
“the political reforms necessary to find a peaceful and sustainable solution”.
Instead, we have been busy interpreting the resolution in an extremely wide and extensive manner. The United Kingdom alone has conducted 160 aerial missions, has used missiles and has tried to destroy military facilities and ammunition stores. Personally, I do not see any basis for this because there is no guarantee that these were being used or planned to be used against civilians. There is nothing other than the potential capacity for them to be so used, which could be said about almost anything.
We have also gone a little further and talked rather loosely—although the Government have not—of regime change. Resolution 1973 makes it very clear, as does public international law, that this is not something within our authority. We have been talking about arming rebels, and I am told that CIA teams are already on the ground busy doing the job. I must confess that when I read and then supported Resolution 1973, I had no idea that this kind of interpretation could conceivably be put upon it.
What is more, what we have been doing is to throw almost all our weight behind one party in a civil war situation. The rebels make noises about committing themselves to secular democracy, which is music to our ears. We are supporting them but without asking, as the noble Lord, Lord West of Spithead, pointed out, who they are. I do not know much about them, but I do know one thing: Libya has sent a large number of people to fight with al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, and 80 to 85 per cent have come from the Benghazi area. The rebels have also been talking about administering justice to the “enemies of the revolution”, and handing out instant justice to black African soldiers. The Interim Transitional National Council through which they operate does not seem to have a clear policy. Let us also remember that when people come to power having been backed by foreign powers, they lack legitimacy. Put simply, they are so fatally compromised that one could not possibly expect them to deliver on their promises to create a secular democracy.
Let us consider the long-term damage of what we are doing. The United Nations is in danger of being discredited because it is being seen as supporting a particular group of powers rather than representing global opinion. The whole idea of humanitarian intervention runs the risk of being discredited. We are in danger of losing our credibility because we are giving the impression that we said one thing when Resolution 1973 was mooted and then went on to interpret it in the way we liked. It is also deflecting our attention from larger questions in Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen. I am also a little disturbed that, when the rebels engaged in violence, we could easily have said to them, “Resort to peaceful protest as the people of Tunisia and Egypt have done”. Instead we accepted violence as a fait accompli, a fact of life, and went on to support it; we have even talked about arming it. Where does that lead us?
I hope that I have said enough to indicate why I feel deeply disturbed. On the question of what we can do now, I want to end by suggesting at least three things. First, we should ask Colonel Gaddafi to pull back his troops from Ajdabiya, Misrata and Zawiya and restore the flow of water, gas and electricity to those areas. Once he has done that, our intervention should stop. We have done enough to create the conditions in which some kind of political dialogue and settlement can take place, and we should leave the Libyans to do this.
Secondly, as Resolution 1973 makes clear, the Secretary-General of the United Nations and the ad hoc high-level committee of the Peace and Security Council of the African Union are supposed to negotiate a settlement. Rather than trying to take over these affairs, we should expect these two bodies, regionally concentrated, to deal with the matter, and perhaps ask Egypt and Turkey to play an important role.
Thirdly and finally, since all this is being legitimised in the name of Resolution 1973, a question arises: who is going to interpret the resolution? Whose authority is to be accepted? We, who are a party to it? As I said at the time of the Iraq war, I would have thought that in situations like this when the interpretation of UN resolutions is in dispute, it should be possible for us or the United Nations to refer the matter to the International Court of Justice for an advisory opinion. If that proves to be difficult, it should be possible for the United Nations to set up a body of expert jurists on the matter and their interpretation of the resolution should be binding, not the kind of interpretation that a particular interested party might choose to put upon it.
My Lords, I will not detain your Lordships for more than a few moments, but I start by declaring an interest in that I am, and have been for some six or seven years, chairman of the Libyan British Business Council. I have visited Libya some 15 to 20 times over the past five or six years and naturally have many contacts in that country, some of whom I have been in touch with in recent times.
The arrival of Moussa Koussa in London the other day is an important step forward. It demonstrates the degree of dissent among Gaddafi’s immediate supporters. Moussa Koussa, who I have met in past years, was a very senior member of Gaddafi’s regime and his departure will be a considerable blow. No doubt there are other defectors waiting to leave; I hope so. I believe that the process of senior people leaving Gaddafi in a steady stream is an important element in bringing the matter to a conclusion, and I hope that that will happen very soon.
There are three important steps that need to be taken. First, the steps which the Government are now taking to bring to an end the violence going on in Libya, and above all the attacks by Gaddafi’s forces on civilians and other elements, particularly in the east of the country. But one does need to take a little care. There are, I believe, some fairly unsavoury elements within the so-called rebels, and we need to be clear that they do not reach a point where they get rather careless in responding to the attacks on them and fall out with local civilians. It may be in that context, as the noble Lord, Lord West, pointed out, that the present terms of Security Council Resolution 1973 in particular will not be appropriate for that purpose. Therefore, maybe we should go back to the UN to get some additional authority if that is necessary. I emphasise at once that I am not for a moment suggesting that we should be authorising an incursion of land forces. Everybody agrees that that would be a bad thing and so do I. But a further UN authority that stops short of that may be desirable.
Sanctions will be an inevitable and, I dare say, essential part of the present process, including a prohibition on the supply of further arms. But sanctions have a habit of hitting the wrong people: they tend to be a rather blunt weapon in these circumstances. We should not attach too much reliance on them in bringing this matter to a conclusion.
The second objective will be the installation of an interim Government, the precursor of which is the departure of Gaddafi and his acolytes. I hope that that can be achieved as soon as may be. That will pave the way for the third and final objective, which must of course be an opportunity for the Libyans to choose for themselves who they have as their Government for the future. They need an opportunity to choose a Government in a free and fair manner. I think it was the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, who suggested that it might not be quite the democratic process that we enjoy and adopt here in London, but something that ensures that the people of Libya have a free and fair opportunity to choose who should govern them.
I yearn for the day when Libya can return to the community of nations in a responsible and civilised manner and I hope that day comes very soon.
My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Howell, for providing this opportunity for us to debate a rapidly changing and uncertain situation. The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, posed the question as to our national interest in this and he gave a number of answers. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, asked whether we were not making an enemy for life out of Colonel Gaddafi. He has been an enemy for a very long time. We have a national interest that goes back considerably. Let us not forget that this was the man who provided shiploads of Semtex and other weapons to prosecute a terrorist campaign within the United Kingdom on both sides of the Irish Sea and beyond. This is the regime that was responsible for the Lockerbie bombing and the death of WPC Yvonne Fletcher.
Let us reflect on that event in 1984. WPC Fletcher was policing a protest of Libyan dissidents outside the Libyan embassy. They were there to protest against the regime of Colonel Gaddafi, and she was shot. Much later, the regime effectively accepted responsibility for her death. But what was it about? It was the typical reaction of this regime to anyone who questioned the regime and tried to express a different opinion—not only dissidents in the traditional sense of the word. One of the dilemmas in the medium term in rebuilding the country is that all trade unions, political parties and groups that had any disagreement with the regime have been got rid of, frequently by horrible violence. What we are about—I strongly support the line being taken by the coalition Government and their allies in this regard—is policing international law. This regime has been opposed to international law and has sought in many ways through terrorism and other means to undermine the rule of international law.
It is important for us to see this in that context. We are thinking of this in the context of Iraq and Afghanistan, where we went much further than the notion of policing and holding the peace. In the first instance in Iraq, we did have a no-fly zone in Kurdistan, for example, which went on for a long period of time but did introduce the opportunity for the Kurds to have their own autonomous area in relative peace and stability. That is how we need to understand our intervention. We need to understand it as a support for international law.
The weakness of international law as it has developed over the recent past with, for example, the responsibility to protect is that the law requires to be policed. If there is not the possibility of using legitimate force to police the law, it is weak and cannot be implemented. That is our responsibility and that is what we have undertaken. That is also the limit of what we should be doing, but we should be doing it clearly, unashamedly and firmly on behalf of the international community. That is what we are doing. We have sought the support of the United Nations in that regard.
What would be the implications of not implementing the rule of law? The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, has already mentioned people fleeing for their lives from a place where they could not be safe, and coming to Italy, France and the United Kingdom. But there are wider implications. They are for all those in this so-called Arab spring or awakening. If Gaddafi is not stopped in this international policing operation, the message would be that those who seek to challenge authoritarian dictatorships should not expect any protection from the international community and in particular the international democratic community. The message to authoritarian dictators is that if they are prepared to use force against their own people—as the army in Egypt was not prepared to do—do not worry because there are no adverse consequences from the international democratic community. That would be a terrible thing.
That is why I am so disappointed by the way that the European Union has responded. My noble friend Lord Teverson indicated that it is not that there was no response from the EU, but that it was modest, limited and, as my noble friend Lord Trimble said, even a little confused. We come back to the intervention of Britain and France. Our two countries justified their place on the Security Council, because it was Britain and France—Nicolas Sarkozy and David Cameron—who came together and pressed the case for the United Nations to take responsibility in this matter. Sometimes we think of them as just two nations that are members of the Security Council, and we forget that our relationships within the Commonwealth on the part of the UK and la Francophonie in the case of France, are important in the context of the United Nations. If used properly and wisely they can actually bring forward much greater and more appropriate decision-making in that important forum.
That is what was done and both those leaders and their diplomatic services deserve credit for that. It shows that their position on the Security Council is important. Sadly, our German friends and colleagues did not do themselves or the European Union any good in their failure to understand that this is a matter of international law and it must be sustained. That is why when we think about Colonel Gaddafi—I do not doubt that he needs to leave the leadership of his country—there is the matter of international law. In Resolution 1970, repeated in Resolution 1973, the Security Council referred him to the International Criminal Court prosecutor. That needs to be pursued. The way to pursue that is through international law. This man has repeatedly broken international law, not just recently with his own people, but much more widely. That is how we should press the case forward.
However, if we say that international law needs to be observed there, we need to understand that that is the case more widely. I say this to our very good and much beloved friends in Israel. They, too, must observe international law. They have dealt with their difficult and perilous situation through politics and military force in the past. They have split the Palestinians, because divide and conquer is always a good way of dealing with your enemies. They have had bilateral treaties with Jordan and Egypt and have sought others with other countries but they have not been prepared to treat more widely. Most importantly, they know that the repeated illegal settlement activity is in the end not in the interests of themselves or of international law. We must say to our friends, “We will use all our resources to protect you but only within the rule of international law”.
As we move forward in this difficult operation, which will probably be messy and uncertain and is likely to be long-term, it should be not that we are backing the rebels against Colonel Gaddafi but that we are backing international law for the protection of all the citizens in Libya, of whichever side, and much beyond. If we stand as a country for that with our ally France, and with our other allies and the United Nations, I believe we will not only do good but see international law take steps forward, even in this difficult and confused situation. When things are very confused and in flux and uncertainty, the certainty of law may be an important thing to which to return.
My Lords, I heartily endorse everything that the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, has just said. We should have the imperatives of international law in mind here. I supported the creation of the no-fly zone in Libya, feeling that it was absolutely for the right reasons: we have to step in to prevent the killing of innocent civilians. Yet I cannot pretend that I was not torn.
No one in this Chamber can be immune to the obvious contradictions of any such intervention because in Côte d'Ivoire, at this very time, a murderous dictator is also killing his people. The United Nations has described the slaughter by Laurent Gbagbo of innocent people as possible crimes against humanity. Neighbours in Africa want him removed from power but no steps have been taken by the international community to do anything in his case. In next door Bahrain, opposition demonstrators have been killed by the regime which is now being assisted by the Saudis. Again, we have not chosen to act. I share the view that the fact that we cannot do the right thing everywhere does not mean we cannot do the right thing somewhere. However, we are also highly selective in how we use international law, which therefore creates a real degree of scepticism around the world about our purposes.
Any such intervention has to be based on law and international consent. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner of Margravine, about the importance of the concept of the “responsibility to protect” doctrine—in shorthand, R2P. That doctrine was formulated by the Canadian-sponsored International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty in 2001. We should remember that that was because of the genocides in Rwanda and the Balkans. The doctrine was then embraced unanimously by the General Assembly of the UN in 2005. I am in no way a neo-conservative. I believe, however, that there are times when we have to act. If human rights have any meaning at all, we have a duty to safeguard the humanity of people around the world.
The principle is simple. It is that we have a responsibility to protect our citizens from killing and ethnic cleansing, but we also have a responsibility to others. If a country is unwilling or unable to do so, or if the Government of a country are in fact the perpetrator of the violence, the international community has a duty to launch a military intervention. Yet there are six criteria which have to be met: it has to be a just cause; there has to be the right intention; it has to be last resort; the means have to be proportionate; there have to be reasonable prospects of success; and there has to be the right authority. In many ways, it replicates the law of self-defence as we have it in our domestic law. You are entitled to use proportionate force to defend yourself but also to use it is to defend someone else who is being attacked.
The UN Security Council deemed that those criteria which I have just mentioned for R2P had been met in this case. The bombing of Libyan army columns outside rebel-held Benghazi, to protect the residents from a threatened massacre by Gaddafi and his sons, satisfied the legal tests. I take the view that the resolution also covers the bombing of military installations. I do not agree with my noble friend Lord Parekh; there is evidence based on the past as well as the recent behaviour of Gaddafi.
Because of the mess that was made around law over the Iraq debacle, our Prime Minister was clear now that the same travesty could not be repeated and he rightly secured that UN resolution. I praise him for that. He also furnished the Cabinet with the full legal advice of the Attorney-General and, in turn, provided MPs with a note which properly reflected the legal advice authorising military action, so a lot had been learnt from the Iraq war failures. My concern is that the learning was not enough.
We are now falling into the same trap as we did in Iraq, where we are over-reading Resolutions 1970 and 1973 in order to justify what was not within the ambit of those who voted in favour of them. Resolution 1970 made it clear there was a total embargo on providing arms to either side. Resolution 1973 did not vary that position. It said that “all necessary means” should be used to prevent a massacre, but that is not the same as providing arms to rebels. Neither is it about regime change. Resolution 1973 provides no waiver of Resolution 1970. The noble Lord, Lord Trimble, asked whether the supply of reinforcements to Gaddafi from other parts of Africa would be a contravention of Resolution 1970: indeed it would, in my view.
We should remember from experience that arming rebels too often has consequences for the arms donor 10 years down the road. We remember all too well the cost of arming the mujaheddin in Afghanistan. Those very weapons that we gave to them are now being used against our own troops. Last week, I heard both David Cameron and Hillary Clinton maintain that Resolution 1973 could be interpreted to sanction the provision of armaments to the rebels. We are back in the Iraq situation, with our country and the United States interpreting resolutions in ways that suit our purposes. I remind the House of the convoluted legal arguments that were constructed around Resolution 1447 to say that we did not have to go back to the UN.
In this present conflict, our Government should be going back to the sanctions committee that was established under Resolution 1970. If we intend in any way to arm anybody, we have to secure a waiver on the arming embargo. Resolution 1970 created the mandate of the sanctions committee, which has the role of considering the ambit of that resolution. That is my answer to my noble friend Lord Parekh on who should be looking at the interpretation of resolutions. We should not be doing that without referring back but it is unlikely that we would secure any waiver or shift. That puts us between a rock and a hard place, because we all want to see the back of Gaddafi.
No Prime Minister likes to feel that he is failing in his purpose, even if the desired outcome was unspoken, but we must keep saying that regime change is not an objective sanctioned in law. The desired political outcome may be the removal of Gaddafi but, as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, says, we have to do that by political means. There is a role for Turkey and Egypt.
I know that the possibility of being left with a stalemate, with Gaddafi still not gone, is one that we do not desire or want to contemplate but the alternative could be worse. We could be sucked into a lengthy conflict and I do not think that the people of this country want that. I remind the House and the Government that John Stuart Mill said it rather well and better than any of us. If a people want it, the love of liberty is the thing that enables them to wrest democracy—to wrest the liberty that they want—from their oppressors. If it is bestowed on them, I am afraid that it never has the same value—it is never as real or as permanent. So we have to let the people of Libya confront their abusers and win their own freedom. I know that that is hard because we can see on 24-hour television an unequal fight, but we have to be very mindful of international law.
Finally, it has been said that women have not been mentioned here yet in the discussion. I support what the Minister said about the role that we can play in democracy-building in somewhere like Egypt. However, all I can say is that my heart sank when I saw that there was not one woman on the constitutional committee that has been established for the new Egypt—not one woman. Yet we saw so many wonderful women in Tahrir Square during the period of revolt.
We have only recently had that horrible business on our screens—of seeing that young woman lawyer, Iman al-Obeidi, pleading for help from journalists and saying that she had been gang-raped by 15 of Gaddafi’s men. She was dragged away and has not been seen since. We have to have our voices heard on the things that are happening to women in these countries, and we must ensure that their voices are heard in the creation of anything new that comes out of these changes.
My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the previous two contributions because my contribution will continue the theme that the intervention is less about going to war than about upholding the law. I thank my noble friend the Minister for securing this debate for us today and for the thoroughness with which he has outlined the fast-moving and dynamic situation in Libya.
While the media’s attention is often focused on our leaders at Cabinet level, I know that much of the hour-by-hour painstaking and vital work is being undertaken by my noble friend the Minister, his colleague Alistair Burt at the Foreign Office and my noble friend Lord Astor at defence. I assure them that this is valued and that our thoughts are with them at this challenging time. We hope that, in the words of the prayer, they might not only do the right thing but might do it in the right way.
There is an old aphorism that says that history repeats itself—it has to because no one listens. We have made reference in the past to Iraq, but there are some encouraging signs that the Government have learnt the lessons of previous mistakes that have been made and are seeking to reposition themselves, in the words of the Minister in his opening remarks, in international society. First, they have stressed the centrality of the United Nations and worked in a way that enhances that institution’s role as the only legitimate vehicle through which armed intervention can be sanctioned, in accordance with the UN charter. That is given particular salience with regard to Libya, since it itself arose out of an aspiration set out in a UN resolution in 1949. The United Nations has a responsibility to protect civilians, as has already been mentioned, and that is central to Resolutions 1970 and 1973.
Secondly, the Government have stressed that the crimes perpetrated by Colonel Gaddafi against his own people should be subject to investigation by the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court and charges brought. This action reminds us that we have an international system of justice to which all leaders should be held accountable, and that message needs to go out loud and clear to others seeking to cling to power through the brutal repression of peaceful movements for change. The fact that the referral to the International Criminal Court was made unanimously and that it included China and India, which are not signatories to the Rome statute, showed the strength of the international opinion in support of the legitimate aspirations of the Libyan people.
Thirdly, the Government have demonstrated that we ourselves are a parliamentary democracy. The noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, made reference to the Attorney-General’s advice, which was published in the note that was circulated to parliamentarians. While the Government retain the royal prerogative powers to deploy Armed Forces on specific missions, we know that those missions are likely to be much more effective in the long term if they are backed up by the wisdom and the authority that come from these Houses of Parliament. The speedy bringing of a substantive Motion to the other place within a few days of the UN resolution, and its passing by 557 votes to 13, strengthens that case.
Fourthly, the Government have placed great emphasis on minimising civilian casualties and placed that at the heart of military operations. The Secretary of State for Defence has gone as far as saying that the bar should be set at zero for civilian casualties. This is critical, not only to retaining support at home but in Libya on the ground. The London conference placed protecting civilians as its first agenda point. The establishment of a unified command and control of operations under NATO will strengthen the co-ordination of military activities and therefore assist towards achieving that objective.
We also need to make that point to opposition forces on the ground. In many ways the use of violence, even under extreme provocation, has been a weakness of their cause, allowing Gaddafi to portray this as a civil war rather than as a brutal repression of dissent. We should remember how this contrasts with the popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt and those that are going on now in Yemen, Bahrain and Syria, where they have placed non-violence at the heart of their regimes. Reference should be made to some question marks about the opposition forces themselves. The noble Lord, Lord West, and my noble friend Lord Trefgarne have raised some important questions about the rebel forces and the need to exercise restraint. We should emphasise that, because the United Nations resolution says that the objective is to minimise civilian casualties.
I was caught by the remarks of a 16 year-old Libyan schoolgirl called Ghada Imread, which were carried in the Independent on 29 March. When asked by the reporter whether she agreed with the aims of the opposition forces that were advancing on her town in order to liberate it, she replied hesitantly, “Some”, and then added:
“But they shouldn’t use guns. We want peace”.
I think Ghada speaks in a sense for the wider opposition movement within Libya: this is a peaceful aspiration, and the sooner the violence stops, the better. We should therefore not flinch from reminding everyone involved that the first demand of United Nations Resolution 1973 is the demand for an immediate and verifiable ceasefire and a complete end to violence. That is our aim, and the greater the speed with which we are able to secure that objective, the stronger the international agreement and support will be.
Fifthly, the Government have placed great emphasis on demonstrating international solidarity and placed it at the heart of their operations. Indeed, it was the second point on the agenda of the London conference, which was attended by 40 countries. Here I would ask the Minister to look again at the role being played by the African Union with its efforts to negotiate a peaceful settlement to this conflict. Its unique role and perspective were specifically recognised and encouraged in Resolution 1973. The communiqué from the African Union high level ad hoc committee on Libya on 19 March claimed that the committee felt that it had been refused permission by the Security Council to travel to Tripoli to undertake negotiations with the Government of Libya and the National Transitional Council in order to call for an immediate cessation of hostilities in line with the resolution. I should be grateful if my noble friend the Minister could update us on the role of the African Union and explain what the circumstances were that led to the denial of that involvement and what actions are going to be taken to ensure that it can be involved as soon as possible. Furthermore, in talking about the involvement of the wider international community, will my noble friend say what role Italy is playing in this? It is the largest investor in Libya. It is the first port of call for many refugees. It is the former colonial power and retains close commercial and political ties. I understand that Italy has offered a mediator role in the region. I should be grateful if my noble friend could update the House at some stage on its involvement.
When the coalition came to power there was very much a sense of a new direction for British foreign policy, one that placed respect for international law and the importance of international institutions at the heart of its activities—one that said that prevention was going to be better than intervention, that we should focus humanitarian aid to win hearts and minds and build relationships through trade. Whatever the problems we face, that remains the defining policy of this coalition Government and I encourage then to hold to it.
My Lords, I want first to congratulate the Government and the Prime Minister because they acted rightly and effectively. It is important to put that on the record and have it known. I also take the view that, as always with these situations, military intervention is uncertain; you do not know what is going to follow. Both the Minister and other people have said that we must not put boots on the ground and that we must exit quickly and so on. The problem is that, once you start a military action, knowing how and when it will end is incredibly difficult. It also raises the issue of what we do in the post-conflict situation. The failure in respect of Iraq was not the issues around the United Nations but the absence of a workable post-conflict plan. Colin Powell had such a plan, but when he was replaced by Donald Rumsfeld it went out of the window and we paid a very high price for it.
The temptation in these situations is to compare one intervention with the previous intervention. Making comparisons with Iraq is not particularly helpful. What matters is looking at this intervention as part of a historical process. I have made the point on many previous occasions that it is not just the West that intervenes. I have discussed these arguments with my noble friend Lord Parekh in the past, but I remind the House that India thought that it was absolutely right to intervene and remove the East Pakistan Government and replace it with Bangladesh. What was happening in East Pakistan then was very similar to what is happening in Libya now. In other words, intervention is carried out by others. I have referred in the past to debates in this House in the 19th century on the ending of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, which cost us 12,000 military lives and released some 200,000 slaves. Those debates reflected many of the arguments now, particularly about international law. Intervention has a long history.
What fascinates me about this situation is that, with the collapse of the Cold War, the acceleration towards a wish for democracy, freedom and the rule of law has become clear. People in the Maghreb and the Middle East are not going on to the streets crying out for al-Qaeda or another dictator; they are going on to the streets crying out for democracy, the rule of law and human rights—they know what they want. The problem for them is delivering it, and our problem is helping them. Libya has had for 42 years a particularly brutal dictatorship. I sometimes think that we fail to get over the message that there is a very important difference between extreme and efficient dictators such as Gaddafi, Saddam Hussein, Adolf Hitler and others and those Governments, of Saudi Arabia, for example, who may be authoritarian but are capable of being moved. If we see the current events in the context of a historical process of people crying out for democracy and recognising that you cannot have a modern, stable state without democracy and human rights, we begin to understand them a bit better.
It is important to remember that, following the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, Gaddafi feared the same would happen to him. That is why he came to the British Government and said that he had a weapons of mass destruction programme, that he was—as the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, said—supporting terrorism and that he was going to stop. The previous Government got a lot of criticism for trying then to engage with him, but they were exactly right. If a dictatorship looks as though it is changing and breaking down, you need to help it happen, but when it fails, as it so dramatically did when Gaddafi turned his guns on his own citizens, you have to intervene.
The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, referred to the European Union. My frustration with the EU is along the lines of that of the noble Lord, Lord Robertson: it is an economic giant but a political and military pygmy. I do not have time to develop the argument, so I shall use, as always, a rather casual analogy. It is like a family being brutalised and beaten up, with the kids being killed, and the next door neighbours—Europe in this case—sitting down, calling a case conference and discussing whether they should stop the benefits of the guy who is doing it. You have to have a police force and you have to be able to intervene. If we had been able to remove Saddam Hussein in 1993 after the first Gulf War, there would not have been a second Gulf War. Nor would there have been 10 years of sanctions, which all brutal and efficient dictatorships manage to redirect on to their opposition within their own country. That is why sanction regimes can often be inefficient.
We should look at this as a process where our role is to encourage and promote, without being embarrassed about it, democracy, the rule of law and human rights. These are not just western concepts. Many societies throughout history and around the world have shown these attributes; they might not have used the same words or the same structures, but that is what they have done. There is bound to be a natural desire for freedom in people, and we need to stand up and speak for it.
Law has been mentioned often in this debate; it is a very strong issue. Lawyers have failed to grasp the problem, and continue to fail to grasp, that if we do not deal with brutal dictators and give ourselves a power to remove them, however difficult it might be to draw up that law, we enable them to continue—in whatever country, whatever culture and whatever society. It is not easy. I do not pretend for one moment that you can have a law up your sleeve which you can pull out and put into effect, because, at the end of the day, the political reality is that the world is not ready for it. The political aspect tells you that you cannot do it. But let us just imagine if, in late 1944 or early 1945, we had said, “Well, we’ve expelled the Nazis from all the countries they’ve invaded, but we’re going to let Hitler stay in power and we might apply a few sanctions”. We would have been laughed out of court. It would have been politically impossible and morally disgusting. Lawyers fail to face up to that, which is why I get so cross with them when they argue the moral case about removing brutal dictators. Yes, it is difficult, and, no, we do not have a way of doing it at the moment—I acknowledge that—but you cannot just duck the problem.
The key issue for us now is the post-conflict situation. We cannot say, as some have done, that we will simply withdraw. We may get pulled further in. If this battle continues, we may have to have boots on the ground. We have to face that reality. We will not walk away if, suddenly, Gaddafi gets even stronger and refugees start pouring out of the area and coming over to Europe.
I desperately hope that the rebels win, but, as has been indicated, we do not really know very much about them, so, by God, we need to put in an effort to help build the institutions of a state which begins to provide some stability, because 42 years of brutal dictatorship breaks down community relations at all levels. All forms of brutal dictatorships do that and we forget it at our peril. People are not often aware—indeed, I was shocked when I heard it—that, at the end of the Second World War, infighting among the French resistance cost more lives of French resistance fighters than were lost to the Nazis during the whole occupation.
I shall have to go away and read Edmund Burke; I am not 100 per cent sure about that. I am not entirely against lawyers, although I have a long list of names of lawyers whom I would pay not to defend me.
Under evolving international law, we need to think a lot harder about the reality of politics. We need some way of facing up to the fact that leaving extreme dictators in power is not really a morally acceptable position.
My Lords, I will keep off the dangerous subject of lawyers. I thank the Minister for the opportunity to have this debate today. He has addressed the House with his usual courtesy and respect in changing circumstances to fill us in on some of the issues that are not immediately apparent, and I am enormously grateful to him for that.
One point that the Minister made has come up in a number of strands in speeches made by noble Lords—the parallel between Libya and Iraq. May I enter a caveat here? People have a tendency to look at the most recent history of Iraq as a snapshot. It is not a snapshot. There are strong parallels between what is happening now in Libya with what happened in Iraq in the early 1990s. The first resolution that was passed at the United Nations in the 1990s was followed by 17 resolutions and 12 years of Saddam Hussein running riot around the world, and a divided international community. Indeed, Saddam himself made the point that it was the divisions in the international community that gave him the opportunity to do what he then set out to do. However, I do not want to get hung up on Iraq. I am very conscious of the fact that, with so many noble and gallant Lords and a former Secretary-General of NATO in the Chamber, I am very much the amateur in this matter. I hope to look later at the post-conflict plan that my noble friend Lord Soley has talked about.
The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, made a very important point about how we know what victory looks like. How do we know what the end game looks like after Resolution 1973, which I support? We must be conscious of that. A number of noble Lords have spoken about the necessity to remove Colonel Gaddafi and the means whereby we do that within a legal framework. These are issues from which we cannot resile; they are also issues that it is not easy to debate in a public forum such as this.
I should like to take up a theme that my noble friends Lord Soley and Lord West raised about the nature of the rebels. My noble friend Lord West described them as a rabble; that sounded a little insulting, but in reality they are a rabble. It is a disparate group of people. We do not know who they are; we do not know what their backgrounds and capabilities are. Arming the rebels is a very serious issue. We know nothing about their background and, as we can see on our televisions every night, they are patently untrained, with no chain of command and no experience, particularly regarding modern and sophisticated weaponry. That is the issue that we have to address. How can there be a mechanism that brings together this disparate band of people?
Talking about disparate bands of people, we know very little about the Interim Transitional National Council. It is a group of 30, largely lawyers, businessmen and academics. I take the point of my noble friend Lady Kennedy that we are not hearing much about any women being involved, other than as victims. Yes, a group of people has to come together to create a leadership, but we do not know who they are and in some cases we do not even know their names for security reasons. Do we know whether they have the breadth and depth to lead a country to a new future? There is a vacuum, and that vacuum troubles me.
The Minister referred to jihadist activity and was very positive in his remarks on whether al-Qaeda and other jihadists were in the area. As we discussed in the House the other day, I think al-Qaeda has been caught on the hop by what has happened in the Middle East, but you can bet your boots that it will not be on the hop now. It will be seeing and seeking opportunities. I do not expect the Minister to be fulsome in any response on this matter. I am assuming that the intelligence and security community is looking hard at the activities in the region, not just in relation to Libya but particularly to Yemen and throughout the region.
One issue that I feel I have to raise, as a former Secretary of State for Scotland, is Moussa Koussa. I was dismayed at some of the remarks made by some of my friends, in this House and elsewhere, but also by members of the coalition, giving him an almost euphoric welcome to this country. I am not squeamish; I realise that in a situation of conflict, the opportunity to bring someone over from the other side is to be welcomed. There are many Members of this House, using their professional skills, who have dealt with defectors to the value of this country’s security. But, please, do not let us forget the consequences of Lockerbie, not just on the international community but on a quiet and respectable Scottish town that will for ever be known as the place of one of the worst atrocities that this country has ever known. I thank the Minister for his statement that there will be no immunity. I look forward to greater investigation of the role of Moussa Koussa in the Lockerbie bombing and in other atrocities, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice.
There is one area in which I am less sanguine than the Minister, and that is about oil markets. I want to talk about the post-conflict situation. People assume that oil is oil is oil. It is not. The oil from different countries is different. Libya was the world’s 12th biggest provider of oil, which is the most traded commodity in the world. Now there is barely a trickle coming from Libya. It is very useful that Qatar has agreed to be the marketplace for Libyan oil, but how is that oil to be transported out of Libya? The men and women who were evacuated from the oilfields have caused a reduction in output from Libya that may be very difficult to restore. We know from past experience how easy it is to disrupt oil supplies. Saudi Arabia has offered to step into the breach, but the oil that is produced in Saudi Arabia is of a different quality from that produced in Libya. You need to mix the sweet crude from Libya with the coarser oil from Saudi Arabia to produce the petroleum products that we all use.
The international community needs to address the issue of onward oil supply and, as it does so, to put together a post-conflict plan for Libya. If people have struggled in Libya and throughout the Middle East only to reach an end game that leads to poverty, despair and a lack of future, the prospects for democracy will be harder to maintain. I urge the Minister to consider the issues of the post-conflict plan and not to be so sanguine about oil prices, because I believe that they will go up. Saudi Arabia alone used half of its oil revenues from last year to pay off dissidents within its ranks. All is not well, but I hope that someone, somewhere, can give us an idea of what the end game will look like.
My Lords, I think that it is proper for me to declare that, in the past, I have been chairman of the Middle East committee of the London Chamber of Commerce and, later, a founder member of the Arab-British Chamber of Commerce, of which I was the first chairman—temporarily, because it became clear to me that the paltry few words of Arabic that I achieved were not good enough for a chairman to run its business. We got a very fine chairman, but I stayed as the British vice-chairman, working with an Arab co-chairman for about 20 years. All those jobs, I have to declare, were unpaid.
I was very proud of what we achieved over a good many years for British-Arab relations. We were dealing with 16 or 17 Arab countries, not only pushing exports but persuading our Arab brothers to import their goods and business into this country. The noble Baroness, Lady Symons, is not in her place at the moment, but she has grasped the nettle and taken on the job of chairman of the Arab-British Chamber of Commerce. That gives me considerable confidence.
I do not wish to discuss Libya. Enough has been said. I draw the Minister’s attention to Bahrain; in my view, the immediate problem in the area is Bahrain. There is real danger of collapse there. The whole system is remarkably fragile. Of course the people deserve more democracy—more say in their affairs—but the Minister will be aware that whatever the outcome, it will be a Shia Government, based on the population of the country. I have a number of Muslim friends who are Shia, and there is nothing wrong in that, but that will give those across the very narrow water, in Iran, a great opportunity to meddle in the affairs of that country. With the big bridge, it is really a stepping stone into Saudi. There will be Shia government among all the Gulf states. I impress on the Minister that we should concentrate on trying to resolve that and get a good Government.
We should not be too keen to get rid of the ruling family. That would not be entirely sensible. Bahrain has been very successful commercially. It has been a base for the American navy; we use it. It must be kept on a good, strong, democratic path. I hope that the Minister will take note of my few words and agree that, given the fragile state at the moment, it is sensible for Saudi to have troops on both sides of the bridge. I hope that my message alerts the Foreign Office and wakes it up, so that it does an immediate good job in Bahrain.
My Lords, I join all of your Lordships who have welcomed the policy in Security Council Resolution 1973. I congratulate the Government on putting together such a wide and broad coalition in support of it. I fear that that coalition may be much more difficult to hold together as events develop and as we seek to reinterpret the words of the resolution.
The background of the two resolutions is that they were predicated on the belief in the possibility that Colonel Gaddafi would simply fold his tent and melt quietly into the night. That has not been the case. Indeed, he is digging his heels in rapidly. In passing, the Foreign Secretary may be too optimistic, perhaps even unwise, in describing the Libyan regime as “crumbling” because of the defection of its Foreign Minister. Sometimes we can be too simplistic.
From the beginning, the Prime Minister has clearly said that Gaddafi must go. He has said more recently that there can be no end game until Gaddafi has gone. Those three of four words certainly resonate among the general population, and perhaps the world at large. I will relate a cautionary tale. The Shah of Persia ruled from 1941 to 1979 in what became a more and more repressive regime. Within the country itself and internationally, there was great clamour which coalesced into three simple words: “The Shah out”. I remember calling it out myself; I do not say that that made any difference to the outcome. The Shah went, and what did we get? The Ayatollah Khomeini, and a direct line to where we are now with Iran. I add another cautionary tale. People say, “The democratic process must be owned be the people; the people must decide who they want”. The Ayatollah Khomeini was actually confirmed in a referendum.
The body language is quite clear. We want regime change. There is no doubt about it. I do not know how we can reach a conclusion with only one outcome to this problem. As the situation develops—as there is ebb and flow between the rebel and government forces—we have had to look for new solutions. That begs a question which echoes that of my noble friends Lord West and Lady Liddell: who are the rebels? The US Secretary of State, Mrs Clinton, has said,
“we don’t know as much as we would like to know”,
about the national transitional council for Libya, this 30-strong group representing the opposition. We had better start finding out fast, if we are thinking of arming them. That is making policy on the hoof, which is always very bad.
Besides, what sort of weapons are we going to provide? What is the practicality of that? A few more rifles and automatic weapons will not be of any good. Are we giving them sophisticated weaponry? I do not for one second go so far as to suggest that we try to put tanks in, but even if we provide sophisticated weaponry how is it to be delivered? Who will do the training? Have we got the time for all this to happen? It really does not make any sense at all. What happens if the rebel army does not succeed? Let no one doubt Gaddafi’s determination to win.
If we think the unthinkable—that, perhaps, despite making efforts under UNSCR 1973 to the letter, it looks as though Gaddafi will succeed in not quelling but suppressing the rebellion—what do we do? I fear that the cold logic is that troops will at some stage have to be put on the ground. The resolution makes it quite clear that that is not permitted. The Government, and the Leader of the House, have repeated that. So if we have to go back to the UN on that resolution—back to the prospect of putting troops on the ground—we have to start working very hard with the international coalition, otherwise the whole thing is going to collapse.
It has often been said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. We know that good intentions are involved here, but I fear very much that the outcome might well be a Libya which is no better than that which we have now. In that regard, our demand for humanitarian assistance—which we have to provide—will be of no avail if we do not realise what we are actually going to do. The glaring gap in all discussions about this, in the Government’s policy, and in the positions of the coalition and the UN is that there is no mention of what the endgame is. That has been repeated several times in this House. That is the most important thing.
Events are moving fast. In your Lordships’ House and the other place we are in Recess for almost four weeks. How will the Government keep us informed of what is happening during that period? I am not asking for the recall of Parliament, although that might have to be done; it is a matter for the other place. The Government must be open and transparent, as they have been up to now. I fear that, in the murky reinterpretation of the resolutions, the Government may be falling into bad ways and not living up to what they have done so far.
I end on a slightly optimistic note. There is no parallel and I do not suggest that there is. Regimes and events can change very quickly for the better. I recall that it was thought that the South African apartheid regime was invincible, but within a couple of years it went. We hope that in Libya it will take less time than that. Optimistically, I believe essentially that the power of the people will prevail.
My Lords, over my years in your Lordships’ House I have never forgotten the advice that a Chief Whip once gave me: “When you are very unimportant, always have three speeches ready for long debates”. I am not quite sure which of the three speeches I shall use today but I think it will be a rather personal one. I hate a number of words—words that end in “ism”, such as “fundamentalism” and “terrorism”. However, I quite like “tribalism”. Being a MacDonald of the Isles, although I was not there at the time, I think of the massacre of Glencoe.
I have had dealings with the Middle East. I chaired the Middle East trade committee for the Government for 10 years. I was almost always involved with the more difficult countries, which no one wanted to be involved with, such as various parts of Africa, not least Libya. I learnt that in the ancient world of the Mediterranean, you should look back to the past. Obviously, you should go back to the Phoenicians and their three cities of that period, the Numidians and, possibly—coming further forward—to the first aggressive acts that took place with the Barbary pirates. They were from Libya, Algeria and Morocco. In those days—the 1600s—the Barbary pirates used to invade us and the west coast of Ireland, where they would capture whole villages. They even got as far as Iceland, where they had mercenaries. One of their great successes, or so they claimed, was arriving in Penzance one Sunday in 1625 and capturing the entire church congregation, taking it into slavery. Looking at these areas, you find that many of these people from the ancient tribes have become quite important. In Libya, we have a scene of tribalism.
I am not saying that I dislike people who keep citing UN resolutions or talking about international intervention. The most important things about Middle East peace were the Harrogate speech of Lord Home and Resolution 242 for a just and lasting peace in the Middle East. I point out that there are other prejudices. One we heard earlier was that women are not well treated. As your Lordships know well, there were two great women in the Middle East. The first was that remarkable woman, Gertrude Bell, who effectively made peace in Iraq. She was much loved. Rather like one of our great female characters in the Lords, there was Olwen Brogan, an archaeologist who went to Libya after the war in 1947. She remained there in the desert, where she found Leptis Magna and so on. She had the ear of Colonel Gaddafi, who had great respect for her.
How many of us speaking today in your Lordships’ House have been to Libya? Often we speak using second-hand information from other people, including excellent reports from the House of Lords Information Office. However, you often need to have been there to understand things. I hope I will not let myself or the House down in what I am about to say, but I want to explain how some of these things work. If you are a member of a tribe, you often cannot talk to the other tribe—you need an interlocutor. I have had the difficulty of being an interlocutor on these issues, unwillingly and unwittingly. Let us assume that among the problems with Libya is that it really was funding terrorism. This was partly because their flag was green. The colonel, as he was known, used to finance anything green. He financed the Greenham Common peace women when they were trying to get rid of nuclear arms there. I am told that he funded Greenpeace in the interests of peace but I have no evidence of that.
Your Lordships will remember that, as Alanbrooke wrote in his diaries, on 1 March 1941 we lost Benghazi. We then got it back at some point. Your Lordships will remember that we had troops in Libya until, I think, 1970. These are things that we have forgotten. Then Libya started to fund terrorism. There was no doubt that it was funding the IRA because Ireland is green. That may be an excuse or a reason. It was pretty serious stuff. That upset the United States no end, so what does it do? It gets permission from the British to bomb the Libyans from England. This caused a lot of upset and lots of reactions here. I declare an interest as I was in the hotel business and our hotel was empty because the Americans would not come to London. Discussions took place in a hotel in Geneva, or wherever it was, and the Libyans explained that Lockerbie was a reaction to the bombing of their country by the United States and that they intended to bring down an airplane full of American troops. I do not think they ever intended that the airplane should come down somewhere in Scotland. They came to see me to apologise, saying, “My Lord, we did not know that your house was nearby”. They were referring to Galloway House, my old family home that we left years ago.
When the Libyans in the Libyan embassy were attacked by people outside, they opened fire. However, they would not have intended to kill a woman. They apologised for that and wanted to pay blood money. They asked me if I could help in that regard as my mother was Lord Mayor of Westminster at the time. These may seem trite issues but those who think that we are dealing with fairly stupid people do not understand this part of the world—we come back to tribalism. One day I happened to be told that Libyans lived to a great age. My noble friend Lord McColl was involved in Libya in connection with humanitarian operations on his mercy ship, of which the Libyans were very appreciative. I said to him that I had heard that Gaddafi’s father had lived to be 106. At the time my noble friend wanted to talk to someone more important than me—that was perfectly reasonable—but he turned round and said, “Yes, Malcolm, I think if I remember rightly, he could have done. I last operated on him when he was 103 but I cannot remember whether it was the lunar or solar calendar”.
We really have to understand these people. There is tribalism and it will go on. Intervention has to be very carefully thought out. We should respect the fact that it is their country and it is their right to do what they wish with it.
My Lords, I speak as someone who opposed the so-called humanitarian interventions in both Iraq and Kosovo. There is a difference this time; there is a resolution from the UN which authorises intervention in a limited way to protect civilians. However, similar problems exist this time as did when the other interventions occurred. I opposed those other interventions because so much emphasis was placed on bombing and this always involves civilian deaths and injuries. I recall how appalled I was by the campaign against Serbia involving 78 days of unremitting bombing of a virtually defenceless people.
I am old enough to remember the Blitz on London in the Second World War. My sister and I were living with our parents on the outskirts of London. We were not evacuated. When I watched the bombing of Serbia on TV, I was reminded of my mother saying, “If we can hear it coming down it’s not going to hit us”. She said that very often. We were lucky but others were hit, including our neighbours. It is a terrifying experience and we inflicted it on others in our interventions. In Serbia cluster bombs were used in urban areas. Those bombs are designed to harm people, including children. Schools and hospitals were hit and much of the country’s infrastructure was destroyed, and for what? Neutral observers claimed that the exodus of Albanians, which we claimed caused our intervention, did not take place until after the bombing commenced. We were intervening in a separatist conflict undertaken by the KLA, which was armed from abroad and claimed Kosovo for itself. When they succeeded as a result of our bombing, they set about getting rid of much of the Serbian population, together with the Roma people and anyone who did not support them, in a most brutal way. The wounds of the conflict remain.
As for Iraq, many people now believe that it was, to put it mildly, a mistake. Again, many thousands of people were killed as a result of our intervention. Is the situation any better? I doubt it. Those in power have strong links with the extremist regime of Iran. The situation of women seems worse than it was under Saddam Hussein. Certainly it is a great deal worse for homosexuals, who face persecution and often death. Christians also allege persecution and many are now refugees. There are still terrorist attacks in the streets. Thousands have died to achieve this doubtful result.
Although in the case of Libya we have a basis for action because of the UN resolution which did not exist in Iran or Kosovo, there are similarities. The UN resolution does not give us the authority to join in on one side of a civil war. What do we know about the insurgents? They claim to be freedom fighters. Others have made similar claims when seeking our assistance, but these have not always turned out to be the case. About Libya, we do not know. It is clear that many countries are not keen on intervention, although of course the veto was not used. The United States is notably cautious—more so than in previous interventions. The President is clearly not willing to undertake the role of the world's policeman.
We have our own domestic problems. The marchers last weekend complained that we have been told that there must be spending cuts because there is no money, yet money can always be found for war. The complaint may be unfair but it is legitimate. We must not become involved in a lengthy dispute and must endeavour to disengage as soon as we can. It is no doubt satisfying to get rid of nasty dictators, but that is not the end of the story, as we should know from previous experience.
My Lords, first, I thank the Minister for his valued introduction. I will draw the attention of the House to one of the unsung heroes of the conflict in Libya. We have heard about the actions of the United Kingdom, France, NATO and the United States. The Minister spoke of 17 contributing nations. However, little attention has been given to the valiant George Cross island of Malta. Last weekend I was in Valletta in Malta. I spoke to the Prime Minister, Dr Lawrence Gonzi, who was accompanied by Malta's excellent High Commissioner in London, Joseph Zammit Tabona. Noble Lords will know that Dr Gonzi’s party has a majority of one in the Maltese Parliament.
During this crisis, more than 16,000 people have been evacuated from Libya via Malta. Malta has helped more than 100 countries evacuate people from Libya. Valletta harbour and the international airport were fully geared up for the operation—we should bear in mind that this is a very small country—and dozens of persons who required medical assistance were treated. Malta's police and civil protection workers worked round the clock for three weeks to deal with the crisis.
Malta has played an active role in protecting Libyan citizens since the start of the crisis, even as it projected a neutral stance and kept such a low profile that very few people noticed what it was doing. An official in the office of the Prime Minister of Malta was appointed as a liaison officer to facilitate the sending of aid to Libya's worst-hit cities. He dealt with a group of Libyans living in Malta, and with Maltese businessmen—there are many Maltese businessmen in Libya, as the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, will know—who are liaising with Libyan rebel forces. The Maltese Government helped to relay to the international military forces distress calls from the aid vessel sent from Malta that came under attack from Libyan patrol boats off Misrata. So far, three ships have arrived from Malta, enabling almost €2 million-worth of food and medicines to reach rebel-held cities.
Noble Lords should bear in mind that Malta is 93 kilometres south of Sicily and only 288 kilometres east of Tunisia. Its land area is a magnificent 300 square kilometres and it is one of the world’s smallest countries, with a population of less than 400,000—the same size as many local authorities in this country. Once again, these George Cross islands—there are three of them—have risen to the occasion. I hope that, in replying to the debate, the Minister will find time to acknowledge our gratitude to Malta and that the thanks of your Lordships can be conveyed to Dr Gonzi, its Prime Minister, when he visits London on 10 May.
Turning to the wider issue, the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, asked whether anyone had been to Libya. I was in Libya last year. I was there not as an exalted interlocutor, as the noble Lord was, but was visiting a number of the ancient sites. What impressed me—perhaps “impress” is the wrong word—was the complete emptiness of the streets, barring the arms, the security, the police and the soldiers. The wonderful beaches have not a single beach umbrella on them and there are virtually no tourist hotels. The Libyans to whom I spoke said, “We don’t get any tourists”. The point is that they do not welcome them. This is a very inward-looking state.
I believe that at the root of the problems in many parts of the world is our acceptance of despots and dictators, as my noble friend Lord Alderdice mentioned earlier. I always think of the words of Dr Kissinger. When talking about despots, he said, “That’s all right. They’re our despots”. The trouble is that we have adopted too many despots and dictators. We have dealt with them and treated them as equals. However, they are not equals, due to the way that they treat their citizens. The noble Lord, Lord West, described Colonel Gaddafi as a “murderous, deranged thug”. I presume that that was one of the kinder expressions that he might have used. However, these are the people we were dealing with.
Other noble Lords have spoken about the people in these turbulent regions being concerned with democracy, justice, law and human rights. However, many of the people in these turbulent countries are concerned about food, goods and natural freedoms that we take for granted. They are not so interested in the wider world. They are perhaps not interested in democracy as we know it, but they want a standard of life which these dictators and despots have not given them.
We have spoken of an Arab spring, but I am looking forward to a Middle East summer in which the citizens who have lived under these despots will have more democratic regimes, more food and more freedoms. Within that Middle East summer, as was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Alderdice, we also hope that there will be peace between Israel and the Palestinians. In my view—this has always been my view—the first step towards that is both sides sitting down at the table without preconditions of any sort so that, in this Middle East summer which we hope for, there will be peace in that part of the region as well.
My Lords, I imagine that I speak for many people on both sides of this Chamber when I say that, for all the hesitations that I might have had at the outset about our involvement in Libya, now that our forces are engaged alongside our allies I totally support this operation. Like all of us, I pray for the lives of our very gallant service men and women and for the success of our arms.
I thank the Government for giving us the opportunity to have this debate today and for essentially offering to listen to what Parliament has to say before important decisions are taken. I want to comment on three of the potential decisions that are coming up in the short term and then make another set of observations about the wider picture in the medium and longer term.
I am not one of those who believe that we have to have a Security Council resolution whenever we take military action anywhere. I do not believe that at all. However, it is important that, having gone to all the trouble that we have gone to and having used up our credibility in the United Nations and the Security Council to get these two resolutions, we observe the maximum good faith in complying with them. Therefore, it is absolutely clear that we should follow the spirit as well as the letter of 1973 and not deploy ground troops in Libya.
I have many reasons for not wanting to deploy ground troops. First, there are the practical difficulties, including the difficulty in extracting them and the complications that a ground campaign always involves. It is clear to me that we should take that view of the meaning of the resolution. Certainly anything more than the rapid insertion and extraction of Special Forces, if they are needed for some special operation, should not be contemplated.
Secondly, for the same reason, we have to take a clear view that the resolution bans the sale or provision of arms to anybody in Libya, so the idea of arming rebels must be out of the question. There are good practical reasons for not doing that, particularly if you do not know much about who these people are and to what use these weapons might ultimately be put in future years. That should be completely excluded.
Thirdly, there should be no question of our targeting Colonel Gaddafi. I deplore the remarks of the Secretary of State for Defence in the media when he implied that he thought that the UN resolutions were at least a cover or excuse for targeting Gaddafi. They are nothing of the kind. Again, it would be extremely damaging to our position in the United Nations and in the world if we were to breach the spirit of the resolutions in that way. It would be bad for the standing of the western world as a whole if it appeared that we were arrogating to ourselves the right to eliminate or assassinate any leaders of third-world countries whom we wanted to remove. It must be rather humiliating that the Secretary of State was contradicted and corrected on the radio the next morning by the Chief of the Defence Staff on that important matter.
Looking at the wider picture and the medium and longer term, I am not someone who believes in the concept of active, ethical foreign policies or liberal interventionism, as it is often called. One can always make a strong moral argument for intervention anywhere in the world to try to save lives or to help people; the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, with his usual eloquence, made a strong case for that this morning. Other motives also come into play. Unfortunately, such operations seem to have a fatal attraction for a certain type of Prime Minister as an ego trip but, whether the motives are very pure and very good or less pure and less good, we should exert a degree of self-discipline and use our arms quite strictly to defend ourselves and our allies when they are attacked, or in the necessary defence of our vital interests. We should be quite clear about that.
I have three reasons for saying that, two of which are permanent and long-standing and one of which is related to the present situation and conjuncture. The first of these is often given, so I need not dwell on it: it is almost impossible to predict in advance how a military operation will develop. There are always enormous risks in any kind of intervention. One can easily find oneself welcomed on day one as a liberator and then spat at or shot at only a month later as an unwanted invader. In the enthusiasm or moral conviction of the moment, it is easy to underestimate the risk of such operations.
My second reason, which is a strong one, is that a moral foreign policy almost certainly becomes a contradiction in terms. You get no moral credit for a moral foreign policy, nor can you. You are absolutely bound to end up in all kinds of contradictions and inconsistencies, which immediately undermines any ethical or moral conviction that you might wish to project. We are involved in Libya at present but, as has been said, why not in Ivory Coast, where there is an equally strong or an even greater case for humanitarian intervention? Why not in Zimbabwe or Somalia, or the Congo, where millions of people have been killed in civil wars over the past 20 years? Would we intervene in China to defend Tibet against destruction? The answer is clearly and obviously no. Immediately one is involved in these contradictions.
I have not been in the Middle East in the past two weeks, but I am absolutely certain that there must be many people there saying today, “Why is it that the West is supporting democracy in Libya against Gaddafi but not supporting democracy in Bahrain against the Khalifa Government?”. In answer to that, they say, “Ah, the Khalifa Government are the pawns of the West. They are the allies and friends of the West and Gaddafi is their enemy”. Ultimately, you end up with a reputation not merely for selfishness, which you get if you have a policy simply based on your own self-interest, but also for duplicity and hypocrisy, which is not helpful. One has to impose a certain self-denying ordinance on oneself for those reasons.
Unfortunately, there is a specific reason today why we should take a very restricted view of the extent to which we can extend our overseas military commitments. This Government, since they came to power some 10 months ago, have seriously eroded our defence capability. In just a few months, they have destroyed our maritime surveillance capability. They have decommissioned the Nimrod aircraft. They have got rid of battle tanks and helicopters. I am told that 10 of the 22 Chinooks that I ordered are being cancelled. Most horrific of all, they have decommissioned the Harriers and got rid of our carrier strike capability, a capability that could be very useful at the present time in Libya. When I denounced this decision a couple of months ago as short-termist and irresponsible, little did I think that within a few weeks we would live to regret it. Those Harriers could have been enormously valuable to us to support the operations on which we are now launched.
I fear that everything that I am hearing is that the coalition Government are determined to go on with these defence cuts, that this is not the end of the story and that they regard the defence budget as a kind of milk cow so that they can continue to get more and more money. I hope that it is a consolation for the pilots who have been laid off and for our defence forces that the Government see fit to give £200 million a year to India, which is twice what would have been required to maintain our own carrier strike capability. India is increasing its defence spending by more than 6 per cent per annum and is building up a carrier strike capability of its own. In my view, this is a disastrous policy. To extend our commitments while reducing our resources seems to me to be the very essence of irresponsibility and recklessness. The Government must understand that, if they wish to will the end, they must will the means.
My Lords, first, I applaud my noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford for so characteristically and knowledgeably opening our proceedings and for, ever since the Libyan crisis broke, keeping your Lordships’ House so very well informed. We are very grateful to him.
The noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, and the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, and I frequently went to Egypt under the auspices of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy to engage with a whole spectrum of politicians, to meet people in civil society and academia, and specifically to promote the participation of women in the political life of the country. While we were there, we learnt of mistreatment by the police, the corruption, the alienation from politics of so many people and the unprecedented poverty, which were part of the cocktail of despair which led to the upsurge of so much activity as we saw unleashed.
The situation in Egypt is really widely shared elsewhere in the region. The economy has been growing well. There have been substantial tax reforms and economic liberalisation. But, simply put, no economic system could grow fast enough to give jobs to the fully 61 per cent of the population under the age of 30, which is the same figure for Libya. The so-called Arab spring is certainly about young people accessing the internet and wanting political change, but it is undoubtedly about the lack of economic opportunity for millions of young Arabs.
Nowhere is that more so than in Yemen, where 73 per cent of the population is under the age of 30. As I have seen for myself when visiting, it is a country divided by fundamental tribal and religious differences, it has a chronic shortage of water and is a shelter for al-Qaeda. It is a poor country that is having to deal with a continual influx of desperate Somalis fleeing the nightmare that is their homeland.
The issues in Libya have been well expressed today. There is the deliberate government policy of physically seeking to destroy political opposition. There are all the humanitarian consequences of that, which for us perhaps means a mass of people from north Africa seeking entry into Europe. Again, that is a human tragedy, but it impacts on the European political debate and European attitudes. The situations in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Libya, Bahrain, Syria and others do not suggest clear endings and we will need to look at each country on a case-by-case basis.
In addition to the yearning for political change and economic opportunity, there remains one issue about which all Arabs, young and old, feel passionately: the Israel/Palestine conflict. We have a particular interest as violence and tension there invariably affect the attitudes and emotions of many British citizens. Ultimately, in a sense, in the Middle East, all roads lead to Jerusalem. I would have thought that this is precisely the time for Israel, in its own best interests, to think out of the box and counterintuitively and to send a different message to all those young Arabs who are so clearly expressing themselves politically and to road-test a more radical approach in its relationships with its near neighbours.
This brings me to Syria, where there are real concerns about civil and political rights and police activity. I declare an interest as a director of the British Syrian Society. The geopolitical location of Syria has always been pivotal in the region. Whatever political developments take place there in the future, it is worth reminding ourselves that Israel, a vibrant democracy, illegally occupies a substantial chunk of Syrian territory. There is no religious or strategic reason for this. Syria has sought a dialogue with Israel, brokered by Turkey. It deploys Hezbollah to punish Israel for this occupation, hence the link to Iran.
What is happening in the Middle East is a moment to be seized upon. It is spontaneous and has little to do with Iranian theocracy or Osama bin Laden. Dramatic change offers a potential opportunity to resolve a problem at the heart of the region. In this unfolding drama, we are seeing the emergence of Turkey, our great friend, as a wise and steady regional influence; we see yet again how vulnerable we are in respect of energy security; and we see the United States, fiscally and militarily overstretched, drawing back as the American public demands. What we cannot escape from is that what is happening in the Middle East is happening in our own backyard, and whatever emerges in the region will impact on us, whether we like it or not.
My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for initiating this debate and add my thanks to my noble friend Lady Royall of Blaisdon, who asked for this debate last week when we had the first Statement on the implementation of the no-fly zone over Libya.
This has been a wide-ranging and interesting debate. I have a particular interest in our Armed Forces personnel. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, used the term “strategic balance”. I think that that term would do justice to a diplomat from the Foreign Office in the sense that I believe that this is about overstretch. I am concerned about our Armed Forces personnel because UN Resolution 1973 calls for a no-fly zone and the people who have to implement it are our Armed Forces. We call on them, they deliver what they are asked to do and they do it time after time.
HMS “Cumberland” has been playing a very important role over the past two weeks. She was on her way home, having been at sea for months. Obviously, the personnel on that ship will now not see their families for some time. Some folk may regard that as a small issue against the important issues of the Middle East. In its own right, that is possibly the case, but alongside the “Cumberland” is HMS “York”, which was on her way to the Falklands and had to be diverted. My concern is that what we are asking the Armed Forces to do is actually stretching the overstretch. It is a concern that we have to respond to more substantially than perhaps we were able to do before.
That said, I have yet to come across anyone who disagrees with what has happened and I congratulate the Government on delivering the broad-based coalition of countries and forces. But here we are again with UK forces in the first wave, at the forefront, and on this occasion not even alongside our American allies. We cannot keep doing this. At some point we have to recognise that if this is the wish of British Governments of whatever colour—I include the previous Government —we have to make sure that our Armed Forces have the resources and the respect that they deserve. The personnel on HMS “Cumberland” will lose their jobs when they get back to the UK. I do not know, but some of the pilots will also probably leave the services through redundancy. We say fine words about the work that they do, but if I was a member of the Armed Forces I would be looking at it from my family’s point of view.
This year, anyone in the services earning £21,000 or above will not get a pay award. Again, people may think that that is a small issue when set against an international challenge such as this, but we must take into account the fact that accommodation charges have increased, and that is for accommodation that many of us would not deem to live in. Also, we were given to understand that service pensions would not be involved in the public sector review of pensions, but they now have been. If we want to treat our Armed Forces personnel during periods of austerity in the same way as we treat people walking up and down Whitehall doing safe day-in, day-out jobs, we are going to have a very different Armed Forces in this country from what we have at the moment. That is something that we need to address.
Some people may feel that it is not appropriate to raise these issues in a debate about foreign policy and strategy, but we cannot carry out our foreign strategy without the full support of our Armed Forces in delivering it for us. They will decide whether we actually succeed or we fail. I think that I speak for many of us when I say that the noble Lord, Lord Astor, has done a sterling job keeping us informed through the briefings that he has been holding on the strategic defence and security review. The pay bill, as I know only too well having chaired the Armed Forces Pay Review Body some years ago, is not the lion’s share of our defence budget. There is no real need to be punitive towards the gallant men and women who do such a proud job for this country. I urge the Government to take the opportunity offered by the situation in Libya to review the situation for our Armed Forces personnel. They will not appear to be making a U-turn and they will not lose face, because many of us will thank them and congratulate them on recognising the covenant that we owe to our Armed Forces.
My Lords, I join others in thanking the Minister for his opening statement and his continuing leadership in this House, alongside the leadership being shown by our Government on the international stage for the necessary and measured action to date in Libya. I also join many in this House in extending our thoughts and prayers to our brave Armed Forces and, of course, the innocent civilians who have been caught up in this tragic conflict.
Some of the key questions that were asked of the coalition’s intervention in Libya have already been answered. Bloodshed in Benghazi was to be averted and thankfully it has been. The no-fly zone was to be effective and the Libyan air force is at a standstill. That has been achieved. There are cracks, as we hoped, in Colonel Gaddafi’s top ranks; the defection of ex-Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa reflects that.
However, challenging questions remain. Do we arm the rebels? The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, and the noble Lord, Lord West, referred to that. Who are the rebels? Who specifically leads them? Many reports suggest that on both of these questions no one is clear. The old adage, “My enemy’s enemy is my friend”, is perhaps in part applicable in this instance.
People are united by one noble aim, some would argue, but notable aim nevertheless, which is opposition to the current regime led by Colonel Gaddafi. If Colonel Gaddafi is to be toppled or if he, as far removed as it sounds currently, steps aside, what will be the premise of the interim Government? The noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, referred to tribalism. Does the interim council represent the wide-ranging interests of Libya? It is believed that there are up to 140 tribes in Libya and the influence of many of them extends beyond the political boundaries into Tunisia, Egypt and Chad. Of these tribes, there are arguably about 30 with demonstrable influence in Libya. Indeed, as was mentioned earlier, some of the people coming to Libya to fight for the cause are coming because of these tribal associations. Notwithstanding Colonel Gaddafi’s 42-year rule, many Libyans depend on their tribes for their rights and protections and their ability to secure employment.
Alongside this historical perspective and the emerging political leadership, there also remains a void in the military leadership, strategy and direction. The noble Lord, Lord West, referred to that. We have all witnessed media reports on our televisions of scenes bordering on the chaotic as we see fighters without direction or strategy driving up a road one moment and then coming back down the next. Are these the people who we are seriously suggesting should be armed? What about their training? Who provides that, even in terms of basic weaponry? A level of training is needed. Should the UN, NATO or the coalition countries specifically provide it? Indeed, as has been said, are we resourced to do that?
Of course, there is finally the question of the legality of such an action within existing resolutions. One of the real achievements of the current action has been the secure, legal base on which I believe the coalition has acted, in comparison with the intervention in the second Iraq war. However, we have already seen the extent to which there are now varying explanations of UN Security Council Resolution 1973. The noble Baronesses, Lady Falkner and Lady Kennedy, have said that this security resolution was based on the responsibility to protect—a noble doctrine that emerged in the aftermath of the tragic genocides in Bosnia and Rwanda. The six principles set out by the responsibility to protect have, to a large part, been met already. However, if we decide to arm the opposition, whoever they may be, I am concerned that the fragile coalition that currently exists not only will be tested but will crack. That would be to the detriment of the success that we have seen thus far.
One of the major failings of the second war in Iraq was the fragmented international response—the lack of authority. As many, including me, argued at the time, there was a lack of a legal international sanction. We need to learn the lesson and ensure that, if required, a new resolution, as other noble Lords have said, is sought.
What next for Libya and the region? Ceasefire is indeed a noble intent—an objective of Resolution 1973. What we see right now, as we all acknowledge, is a civil war. Whether it is to our liking or not, there remains a small amount of support for Colonel Gaddafi and his regime. I refer back to the tribes of Libya, as I believe that the resolution lies in part with them. Those tribes have affiliations across the wider Arab and African region. My noble friend the Minister talked about the Libyan contact group, but I believe that we should also seek to engage the tribal leaders from across Libya to ensure that, alongside the interim council, they are empowered in the country’s future and have a stake in it. In that way, we will demonstrate actively that we respect the historical traditions and cultures of the people of the country and of the wider region, which will bring greater benefit.
Secondly, on the continuation of the no-fly zone, that is where countries of the Arab League and others, such as Turkey and Egypt, can lend help. Notwithstanding Egypt’s own difficulties, it has a large air force and it should help. These are our allies in the region and now is the time for them to stand up and be counted through support in military means as well. This would carry a dual benefit: it would involve the region in resolving some of its own issues and challenges but, more importantly, it would allay the concerns and ever increasing support behind the idea and perception that this intervention again demonstrates that it is the West against the Arab countries or, as some including Colonel Gaddafi’s regime suggest, it is the crusaders against Islam or the Muslim world. It is not.
Thirdly, there is the international role in state building and the institutions that need to be built. I believe, as we all do, that Parliament and the judiciary are key in ensuring that we do not descend into a situation of prolonged instability that benefits no one. Certainly, that is where we can lend not only our support and expertise but, dare I say it, our people in helping to strengthen assistance in building the infrastructure of the country and in energy security.
In a question that I posed to my noble friend the Leader of the House some weeks back, I asked about the domino effect across the Middle East, which continues. We remain concerned about the continuing and deteriorating situations as we speak in other Middle East countries including Yemen and Bahrain and, of course, in the continuing conflict between Israel and Palestine. However, what we do in Libya and how we seek to resolve the challenges of where we are today will, to my mind, determine how we are judged by history and, perhaps more significantly, on the criteria of morality and protecting civilian life, which we have set as the basis of our intervention.
My Lords, as Lord Advocate I prosecuted the Lockerbie trial. I mention that not to claim any great insight into the present situation in Libya. Nor do I claim that the focus of attention should be on that one horrific incident, although I can at least bear witness to the horror of one aspect of Gaddafi’s terrorism. The priority has to be the protecting of the civilian population, while ensuring a transition to a democratic state founded on the rule of law and respecting human rights. Thereafter, there are any number of criminal offences that should be addressed.
I mention Lockerbie because it has been central to our relations with Libya over the past two decades and more, and because the trial has some lessons for us in the pursuit of justice and the rule of law. Before I go any further, I say that I am speaking strictly for myself as it is four and a half years since I have been in the Crown Office and had any contact with any of the evidence. Megrahi was convicted of the murder of 270 people: 259 on Pan Am 103 and 11 on the ground in Lockerbie. Scottish terms of conviction and indictment also narrate certain factors which go along with the conviction. In this case, Megrahi was convicted while acting along with others, who were unnamed. Moussa Koussa’s defection to the United Kingdom and his connection to Lockerbie have been much commented on in the past 24 hours. From my knowledge, which I emphasise is elderly, he is a “person of interest”. I am pleased that the Prime Minister has acceded to the Crown Office’s request that prosecutors and police should have access to him. However, he is no more than that. No warrant has been issued for his arrest, and there are others who would also be of interest. That should be borne in mind, and I say no more on the matter.
The other aspect of the conviction was that Megrahi was acting in furtherance of the aims and objectives of the JSO, the Libyan intelligence services, so the court was satisfied of the culpability of the Libyan state for what happened, acting through the agency of its intelligence service. The conviction was important in bringing to justice one of the people who was responsible for that atrocity. The trial was innovative both in being in the Netherlands and in the adaptations that were made for that purpose. I pay particular tribute to the late, lamented Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary who was particularly important to that, and to the Foreign Office, which set it up.
Thereafter, the road becomes somewhat trickier. I choose my words carefully: there were times, more than once, when I had the strong impression that Megrahi’s conviction was seen as an inconvenience and an impediment to developing relations with Libya.
I acknowledge that the rapprochement was significant and important because it led to the renunciation by Gaddafi of weapons of mass destruction. Other claims that were made for it, such as the provision of intelligence on al-Qaeda, I take with, frankly, a little more scepticism, particularly as Gaddafi is now claiming that virtually everyone who is involved in the rebellion is motivated by al-Qaeda. However, the negotiation of the prisoner transfer agreement, in the expectation—and, I suspect, the hope—that it would lead to the return of Megrahi to Libya, was an error of judgment. It was in the face of an agreement with the United States that, if convicted, he would remain in Scotland and serve his sentence there, and, importantly, of commitments that were given to American relatives—often through me, acting, as I believed at the time, on the advice of the Government of the day.
The announcement of the enhanced judicial co-operation, which included a commitment to the prisoner transfer agreement, at the same time—and I think in the same press release—as the contracts for BP, did nothing to dispel the impression that we were prepared to compromise on our principles of justice. This, along with the eventual return of Megrahi, undermined the confidence of the United States and of American relatives in our commitment to justice on this issue. One has only to have regard to the letter from Robert Mueller to the Justice Minister in Scotland, Kenny MacAskill, to understand the depth of anger that was provoked. I remind the House that if, and I stress “if”, there were to be any prospect of any new trial arising out of the Lockerbie incident, or possibly on other matters that need US co-operation, that co-operation has been put in difficulty as a result of what was done by the British and Scottish Governments. Relations between prosecutors remain good but between Governments they do not.
It did not. It said that there may have been a miscarriage of justice and referred it back to the Appeal Court. Had the appeal gone forward, it would have been the Appeal Court that ruled on that. For myself, I think it was unfortunate that that appeal was withdrawn, since the matter was then not dealt with. However, there now seems to be at least an acceptance that Libya was responsible for the Lockerbie bombing.
At the end of the trial, Louis Freeh, the then director of the FBI, telephoned me. One of the messages that he wanted to give me was that it demonstrated to the world, particularly to the United States, that we can bring justice home to terrorists with patience and international co-operation, and that the US could learn that it did not need a military response. That lesson has been lost or obscured in the aftermath of 9/11, but it is even more relevant now.
We need to bring through a strong commitment to international justice. One of the most powerful of the speeches that I have listened to today was that of the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, who outlined the reason for that. Through our present mission, we are promoting that international justice. I accept with limitations that we are doing the right thing and that it is legal, but we must go further.
What we have seen and witnessed in Libya is truly shocking: enforced disappearances, beatings, torture, horrific rapes and extrajudicial killings, as well as attacks on civilian populations. Holding people to account for these crimes is of vital importance, and part of that is ensuring that people are brought before the International Criminal Court or other courts as appropriate. It sends out a powerful message, not just to dictators and despots but also to those who chafe under such tyrannical regimes. If we are to build a world where human rights are universally respected, our commitment to those fundamental values must not be waived in the face of expediency.
My Lords, it is customary in this House to welcome the holding of a debate on a subject as important as the one that we are discussing today and to thank the initiator of the debate, in this case the Government in the form of the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford. I do so all the more because the noble Lord introduced the debate with an extremely wide-ranging and thoughtful contribution which set us off on the right foot.
I do so, though, feeling that the timing of the debate has been a bit dilatory. We should have had a debate on a matter as significant as the commitment of the Armed Forces of this country to active service at the latest on the same day as the House of Commons, which was 21 March. That we did not shines an uncomfortable light on the relative inflexibility of our procedures in comparison with those in another place. Be that as it may, I believe that I spotted in the Statement of the right honourable gentleman the Foreign Secretary that the Government intend in future to put decisions about the engagement of our Armed Forces on either a conventional or a statutory basis. That surely means that we in this House will need to adapt our procedures accordingly or be completely marginalised. My own view is that we should respect the primacy of the other place, which would mean not taking a vote on the matter here, but that we should ensure that our views are taken into account. That can be done only if we hold a debate no later than any proceedings in the other place. I hope that the Minister can say that these issues will be considered carefully by the Government and that they will revert to the House in due course.
It is striking that, amid all the acres of newsprint that have been devoted to the issue of Libya in the past few weeks, so little reference has been made to the watershed nature of the decision taken by the Security Council in Resolution 1973. Five years ago, the whole membership of the United Nations, all 192 of them, signed up to the principle that, where a regime was unable or unwilling to protect its own citizens, the international community had a responsibility to protect them, if necessary and as a last resort by the use of force. I suppose that I should declare an interest as having been a member of the panel which made the recommendation for that decision to the Secretary-General of the UN, who passed it on to the membership.
Since that time, 2005, there has been much verbal commitment but considerable controversy and absolutely no real action to give effect to the responsibility to protect, if one leaves on one side the rather welcome efforts which the international community made to prevent Kenya slipping into anarchy after its contested elections. Many believed, and quite a few hoped, that the responsibility to protect would remain just so many words on paper—an empty aspiration but not a reality. Well, now Resolution 1973 has given the lie to that, and has done so in the most solemnly legal and legitimising way, in a resolution aimed at protecting the citizens of Libya, who were being grievously repressed by their own ruler. In my view, that resolution is every bit as important a Rubicon to have crossed as was Resolution 678, which authorised the use of force to reverse Iraq’s aggression against Kuwait in 1990. Both will be seen as important landmarks in the post-Cold War history of the UN, of much wider significance than the issues at stake in Iraq or Libya themselves.
Success in the operations which are being undertaken under Resolution 1973 cannot be guaranteed. Many have already spoken in this debate about the challenges we face—the costs, the risks of failure and the risks of stalemate. But it is surely legitimate to ask them, and to ask all those worldwide who have raised their voices in criticism, what alternative they would have favoured. How were they prepared to prevent the inhabitants of Benghazi and other cities in the east of Libya to whom Colonel Gaddafi had promised no mercy? Would they have preferred us to watch and wash our hands of the whole matter—to have stood by, as we did during the Cold War when civilians were slaughtered as, for example, they were in Hama in Syria by President Hafez al-Assad? In my view, great credit is due to our Government and to those other Governments who make up the coalition and voted for Security Council Resolution 1973, and who are now working to implement it.
We should not overlook the wider benefits that could accrue if this operation is successful—the precedent that will be created by making the responsibility to protect a living reality and the deterrent effect that that could have in future on those rulers who might be tempted to oppress and massacre their citizens.
How should we be defining success? Clearly, it is crucial to stick firmly to the mandate that we have to protect as many of the citizens of Libya as we can from the tender mercies of Gaddafi and, on the other hand, to avoid any occupation of the country. If carrying out that mandate imposes constraints on us, they are surely worth accepting as a necessary price for keeping together a wide coalition including, above all, the Arab League. That is the argument against being drawn into loose talk about targeting Gaddafi or speculating on the case for allowing mission creep to bring us towards regime change. Although I am no lawyer, I have had a good deal to do with drafting and interpreting Security Council resolutions, and I find the assertions that Security Council Resolution 1973 in some way overrides or provides a way round the arms embargo on Libya in an earlier resolution fairly dubious and not very convincing.
We should also be doing everything we can to help those Libyans who have escaped from Gaddafi’s grasp to create and build up the institutions of civil society needed to make a market economy, so that in due course they can stand on their own feet and decide their own future in free and fair elections. That is what was done successfully in the Kurdish-populated parts of Iraq in 1991 and thereafter, once the northern no-fly zone had deterred Saddam Hussein from overrunning them. It was underpinned by earmarking a proportion of the resources from Iraq’s oil exports, and it was done without challenging the future territorial integrity of the country. There could surely be a lesson there for Libya and a task for the UN's humanitarian agencies to help the population in those parts of the country where they can work freely and in security. I doubt whether it is wise to look too far ahead at this point at the situation in Libya. It is extraordinarily fluid. I suggest that we need to avoid setting artificial deadlines and agonising too much about exit strategies. The first priority is to implement the mandate which we have.
Of course, there will be lessons to be learnt and conclusions to be drawn—some of them nearer to home—from those events. The role we played at the UN and the role we are playing in Libya is appropriate for a country which is a permanent member of the Security Council and one of the two leading European states in working for international peace and security, but we cannot do that without providing our Armed Forces with the resources they need to do the tasks we ask them to undertake. I fear that in our preoccupation with the need for austerity we may have cut too close to the bone.
We also need to work harder to achieve European solidarity on big decisions in regions which are effectively on our doorstep. I very much regret the German decision to abstain on Resolution 1973, particularly as it was completely unnecessary. The German Government could have supported the resolution while making it clear that their forces would not be involved in any military action. Other members of the Security Council did that. However, it is more important to look ahead and avoid such divisions in future. That is all the more necessary given the clear US preference for working in future as a member of coalitions of a wider kind, not just coalitions of the obedient, as they did in the past.
We Europeans have been calling for such an evolution in US policy for years. We must not flinch from it or criticise it now that it is upon us—however unexpectedly. Europe has an important role to play in these game-changing developments in the wider Middle East, in the economic as well as in the political and military fields. The EU should surely be spearheading a wider international effort to offer assistance to those countries which emerge from autocracy and set themselves on the course of establishing democratic institutions and the rule of law. We should be providing better trade access, encouragement for investment and advice, where it is welcome. I very much hope that the Minister can set out what the Government intend to do to ensure that the EU rises to the occasion in that wider context.
My Lords, as a follow-on to that, I propose to the House something which may seem too wide and long term for this debate, but it is a proposal that would give hope to civilians in the region if we begin to take it seriously now.
Since our previous debate on the Middle East, in which I spoke briefly about the work of Moon Valley in the West Bank, I have been approached, because of what I said but also because of the positive response from the Minister, by the Tunisian ambassador, the Government of Jordan, the Egyptian ambassador through the British Egyptian Society and Morocco as well as by Gaza through the quartet. They are all now asking for similar involvement in their countries. That in itself is remarkable. I know that the Lord Speaker and many other noble Lords have been working towards broadening the awareness of the work of this House, so we should pause and take note of the significant and wide attention paid to our debates and the positive effects that they can have on world events.
I realise that today's debate was called mainly for views on the immediate military, security, political and humanitarian situation. However, it is now recognised that the danger of large-scale aggressive interventions, however well meant, arises when no exit has been pre-planned and when the work of helping the people to rebuild a peaceful and prosperous future for the nation is not taken as seriously as resolving the conflict itself.
I suggest today to Her Majesty's Government, but also collectively to noble Lords, many of whom have experience and skills in retail, farming, philanthropy and international business, that on a larger scale than the project in the West Bank, we could now start to structure and organise help for the people in many of these reformed countries in north Africa and the Middle East to get back into sustainable and profitable employment.
Moon Valley, to remind noble Lords, is a social enterprise that, with the help of DfID, Oxfam, the Portland Trust, which is Sir Ronald Cohen's foundation, and Technoserve, which is an excellent American NGO, and with the encouragement and support of Sainsbury’s, Marks & Spencer, the Co-operative Group, Ottolenghi the restaurateur and others, are helping West Bank farmers to sell their goods to UK retailers and to Europe and North America.
The countries that contacted me are all, in their various ways and at different stages, committed to developing a system of government which is conducted with the consent of their people. They can produce some fabulous products—now I am on home ground and in my element. In north Africa and the Middle East, many of these countries provide herbs and exotic spices, succulent tomatoes and peppers, nutritious dates and nuts, olives and olive oil products using traditional methods from biblical times, long staple cottons and yarns and exquisite textiles and clothing.
In addition to the food and textile business, these countries possess another potential. There is scope to create non-oil energy from agricultural waste, including olive oil waste, to the benefit of the farmers. After the last, excellent debate of the noble Lord, Lord Howell, here, and then the subsequent discussion with people at the Saïd Business School in Oxford, they have asked to get their people into sustainable employment by helping them with market access; that is, connection to the retailers of food and clothing; training and skills in technology and agronomy, and the quality standards that come with them; and business mentoring in entrepreneurship and finance. In particular, however, they want to know how to develop responsible processes to ensure that their farmers and workers down the line—at least one-third of whom are women, who also want to be able to run their own countries—get the benefits of this trade.
This is what we are beginning to develop in the West Bank, and I think that it can eventually be extended to Tunisia, Morocco, Jordan, Egypt and, perhaps later, Sudan, Gaza and, whatever happens, eventually Libya. Today I am suggesting to the House and to Her Majesty's Government that we can help create for these countries a new organisation, a social enterprise that could provide specific, pragmatic help to the people in these countries that want to develop and grow. This social enterprise could eventually be run by Arab businesspeople, become self-financing, and allow all the people, particularly the farmers and traders who have a stake in the emergence of the Arab spring, to be involved.
We have therefore been in discussion with retailers in the EU and the USA—I was with Wholefoods USA here last week—and, in this country, with Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury's, the Co-operative Group, the mail-order N Brown Group, of which I am a non-executive director, and ASOS, through my noble friend Lord Ali. I also chair the Sindicatum Climate Change Foundation, which is a charity that works on sustainable energy in the region. All of these, I am pretty sure, would support such an enterprise and would even, I think, be willing to put some skills and resources into it. I am also speaking to representatives of the Governments of those countries and businesspeople within them.
We can foresee the formation of “Moon Crescent”, a special enterprise committed to working like Moon Valley in the West Bank but on a wider scale, helping any country in the MENA region that has decided to govern with the consent of its people by providing market access, transferring business and marketing skills with technical high-quality standards and ensuring fair trade so that the workers in those industries are well treated.
Will the Minister ask Her Majesty’s Government in what way they might support such an initiative, possibly together with the Arab League, the African Union, the quartet and the World Bank? I suggest that we might invite those interested in supporting such initiatives, together with people trying to build new forms of government in the region, to meet with us and discuss on a pragmatic basis how this concept may be put into practice.
My Lords, it has been a privilege to listen today to such an incisive, important and well informed debate. I thank the Minister for enabling this to take place. Most of all, I offer my thanks to the young men and women of our Armed Forces who, once again, have been sent into the eye of the storm and performed brilliantly. It is because of their expertise that so few civilians, if any, have died as a result of the coalition bombing. If there had been casualties, you may be sure that Gaddafi would have dragged every camera crew in Tripoli to the mortuary to see them, as he did in 1986.
Nevertheless, we stand on a difficult and potentially slippery slope. The Middle East has often proved to be a pathway to chaos. It is difficult to think of a single occasion since the Second World War when we have become heavily involved in events in the region and not come away with a bloody nose. I hope I am wrong. Perhaps I have forgotten some great triumph, but from Suez to Iraq, Iran, Palestine and so many of the deserts beyond, it has been a desperately hard road. That is why we must be deeply cautious about arming any of the combatants. The noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, referred to some of the legal questions that arise, and many others to the practical difficulties. I, like them, simply do not know who these anti-Gaddafi rebels are or what they want. They may not even know themselves what they want, apart from to get rid of Gaddafi. Are these people any better than Osama bin Laden? We have to ask those difficult questions because we in the West armed him, too—another very bloody nose.
There has also been a potentially dangerous tendency to equate every anti-government demonstration in the Middle East with a demand for democracy. I am not sure that link is always clear or convincing. There has been an even bolder leap of faith in proclaiming that Arab democracy will lead to peace in the Middle East and a willingness to deal with Israel. The hatred of Israel has been a remarkably popular cause in much of the Arab world. We cannot change that fact simply by trying to ignore it. That is why we should applaud the Prime Minister for calling the summit earlier this week in London, not simply to examine the conditions of combat but to start work on the still more important plan for the peace that might lie beyond.
Let us face it: we occupy no great moral high ground in this process. The war in Iraq saw to that. Too many people remember our chaotic dealings with Gaddafi himself, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Boyd, pointed out. Our policy towards Gaddafi over the past 30 years has been blown from one corner to another. We reviled him and imprisoned his agent for mass murder; then we embraced him and educated his sons; and now—another somersault—we are trying to get rid of him. Diplomacy requires us to climb into some pretty uncomfortable beds at times, but there have been few beds as rumpled as that of Colonel Gaddafi. If we found it necessary to climb into his bed, surely it was never necessary to kiss him on both cheeks in the process. Gaddafi must have been laughing all the way back to his tent after that. He made fools not just of Mr Blair but of us all.
However, perhaps we can now make the fresh start that we need. There is a fashionable description of what we are seeing. It is called, as we have heard, the Arab spring. I hope that is right and that it is more than simply a headline. It is undeniable that some sort of profound change is happening in many countries. The Facebook revolution has stripped these oppressive regimes of the power to cover up their crimes. The secret state has been undermined. This opens up opportunities for a broader peace in the Middle East that were unthinkable even a few years ago. We may be on the brink of a historic opportunity; it is one we cannot afford to miss. People ask, “What is the end game?”. That must be the end game—peace, not just in Libya but more broadly throughout the Middle East.
That is easier said than done, of course. If peace is to happen, it is a process in which, as the noble Lords, Lord Alderdice and Lord Risby, said, Israel must play its part, no matter how difficult that must be for it. A true peace will require courage and initiative from the Israelis. It will require them to take great risks and give up things that they cherish. But any hope of peace must also embrace ordinary Arabs, not just elites. If this Arab spring is to turn to glorious summer, it must mean a much wider spread of economic opportunity than is currently the case in most of these societies.
If it is to be part of our policy to help rebel Arab groups form new Governments, it must also be part of our policy to insist that they become partners in a wider Middle East peace, one based on the recognition that Israel has the right to exist. It would be folly to help Libyan rebels take power only to discover yet again that we had backed the wrong horse. The details will be far more complex than simply the recognition of Israel of course, but we have to pursue the goal of a wider peace remorselessly, unremittingly and, if necessary, ruthlessly; otherwise, what is the point of all this? We have to use all the power and influence we have with our allies, particularly the United States, to insist that this battle we are fighting in Libya does not turn into another wasted opportunity. Whatever aid is given, it has a price, and that price is a commitment to a wider peace. It is not just the future of Libya we are fighting for; our future is also at stake here.
My Lords, when one has at some time in one’s career been exposed to classified papers one recognises how little one knows when the stream of classified papers dries up. I have had that experience twice. I did not enjoy it on either occasion but I feel rather naked talking about these matters at a time like this when so much is changing so fast.
Two issues are being discussed today. One is whether we should or should not arm the very brave young freedom fighters in Libya. It seems to me that if Mr Gaddafi is to be defeated by military means—that is not the only possibility, of course—we have only two choices: either we arm them or we do it ourselves. I do not detect much appetite among your Lordships for doing it ourselves. Therefore, we need to think very carefully about giving the means to do it to other people.
It has been said that we do not know anything about these freedom fighters. I dispute that. I think that we know a great deal about them. First, they are very brave. I am very grateful to the Minister for his remarks about al-Qaeda. He pointed out that through all this turbulence in the Middle East there has been virtually no support for al-Qaeda. People are not shouting in the streets for al-Qaeda, they are shouting for democracy, freedom of assembly and freedom of speech—things they have learnt from us. That is marvellous. From everything I can see, events in the Middle East over the past few weeks have been nothing more than a disaster for al-Qaeda. It has not got very far with its recruiting campaigns among the young men on the streets of Sanaa or Damascus or those battling Gaddafi in Libya. I very much agreed with the comments of my noble friend Lord Soley. I will give him the reference to Edmund Burke later. Burke advised us not to ask what the lawyers tell us we may do but to find out what peace, honour and justice tell us we must do. My noble friend and I, and I am sure a lot of other Members of this House, agree with those sentiments.
I will not spend long talking about the military side of this. We have a marvellous opportunity with the arrival of Mr Moussa Koussa. His name sounds like a very bad Greek dessert. No doubt he will have been talking. If he has not been, I suggest that we tell him that we have a seat in a C-130 waiting to take him back to Tripoli as soon as we can get him on board. He would then start to sing quite quickly. We should make a recording of everything that Mr Moussa Koussa says to our interrogators and play it back to Libya. Given the comments that some of his colleagues in Tripoli have made recently, it would be interesting if this came to the ears of Colonel Gaddafi, and it might encourage quite a few others to follow Mr Moussa Koussa as quickly as possible.
I will make a couple of more general points. It has been said, not least by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, that Libya is not of vital interest to us. I am sorry that I have the temerity to disagree, but Libya at the moment is of absolutely vital interest to us. If things go wrong there, it will have an appalling effect on the rest of the Middle East, with consequences for our interests as well. I am not suggesting that we change the deployment of forces, but we should concentrate our diplomatic efforts on Mr Moussa Koussa and Libya, to the detriment of other diplomatic activities that we have been engaged in recently. I hate to think what will happen if Libya goes wrong.
We have tended to view the situation in Libya too much through the prism of UK interests. We are understandably concerned about the case of policewoman Fletcher and about Lockerbie. However, those issues do not play strongly on the streets of Yemen, Bahrain and Syria. What to them is the loss of one policewoman? What is the loss of 130 people in an aeroplane? It is terrible to us, but they are not as interested because of the number of corpses on their streets every day.
My noble friend Lord Robertson said that what is happening in Libya is a wake-up call for the European Community. I heard my noble friend say the same at the time of Kosovo. I do not think that there is a full recognition in this country of the enormity of the military contribution of the United States to what is going on in the Middle East. Two hundred Tomahawk missiles have been launched, with brilliant accuracy. My noble friend said that the only people who had these were us and the United States. He did not point out that we sent three winging through the air while the United States sent 200. It is rather reminiscent of Kosovo, where 85 per cent of the attack missions were flown by American aircraft. What is happening now is that the Americans are using B-2s—a brilliant piece of kit—all the way from Kansas, not Norfolk. We read that other European NATO nations are supplying hundreds of planes, but I have not seen any sign of them in action.
I am glad to see my noble friend Lady Turner in her seat. She was very distressed by what happened in Kosovo. She spoke of indiscriminate bombing. I was the Minister responsible for approving every target that we attacked in Kosovo and I assure her that the bombing was not indiscriminate. I am sure that I will not persuade her to my point of view as to its utility, but I assure her that it was far from indiscriminate.
I have one question for the Government and I should be very obliged if the Minister would take it on board. With this, we come to political matters. I do not understand why this Government, most of whose activities over Libya I sincerely applaud, are still recognising Gaddafi’s administration. There was an answer to that in another place on 18 March. The Prime Minister said in reply to a question from Mr Chishti, Member for Gillingham and Rainham:
“My hon. Friend asks a good question. As he knows, in this country, we recognise countries rather than Governments”.—[Official Report, Commons, 18/3/11; col. 632.]
I read that sentence countless times and I still do not understand it. What the devil is the difference between a country and a Government? How do you withdraw recognition from Canada or Nigeria? That sentence is absolute gobbledegook. There is no reason whatever why we cannot withdraw recognition. In this country, as I understand it, we recognise who is in control of a country, whether we like them or not. To say “we recognise countries” is blithering nonsense. Can the Minister define what the Prime Minister meant and say why on earth we cannot follow the French, the Qataris and many others in giving recognition to the interim council based in Benghazi? I think that that would be a major contribution to isolating Gaddafi in Tripoli even further than he is already.
My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, and the Government for providing us with the opportunity to have this timely and thorough debate on the developing events in Libya and the wider north African and Middle Eastern regions.
In opening the debate, the noble Lord said that he had not been able to give us a crystal-clear analysis. We well understand that, and we understand that what is happening in Libya and across the Middle East is indeed a fast-moving and fluid picture. However, the noble Lord made an important and impressive speech in the House today in bringing us up to date with events and looking ahead to what may happen in the weeks to come.
At this point, I apologise for the absence from these Benches of my noble friend Lady Symons of Vernham Dean for this part of the debate. She was clearly in her place for the first part of the debate but she has an unavoidable personal commitment this afternoon, which means that I am rising in her place.
I begin my remarks by placing on the record our admiration of and gratitude for the work of our Armed Forces who are currently engaged in the Libyan conflict, as many noble Lords have said. Our men and women of the RAF and Royal Navy are bravely carrying out their duties in the skies and seas around Libya, and working diligently to implement the terms of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973. Their work is difficult and they are operating in dangerous circumstances. We all owe them a debt of gratitude.
I thank the Minister for relaying the message from the people and council of Misrata about the accuracy of the air strike earlier this week and the fact that no civilians were hurt during it. As my noble friend Lord West said, enormous effort and care is taken by our Air Force. However, we should also heed his warning that civilians could be wounded or killed, and this, as many noble Lords have said, would be a tragedy—not only for the individuals themselves but because of the impact that it would have on the views of our citizens and of citizens in the Arab world.
Over the weekend of 19 and 20 March, it was right, alongside others in the international community, and with the legal force of the United Nations, for the UK to intervene in Libya. We saw with our own eyes what the Libyan regime was capable of, and we heard from the media reports, from Libyans on the ground and from British citizens evacuated from Tripoli and oil fields across the Libyan desert of the violent crackdown on unarmed demonstrators by Gaddafi’s forces. We learnt of militia violence and disappearances in areas held by his forces, and we heard Colonel Gaddafi boast that he would go house to house and treat the 700,000 people of Benghazi with no mercy or compassion. Military action in Libya has already avoided the scale of slaughter that would have taken place. As Her Majesty’s loyal Opposition we support the Government’s actions under the UN resolution. However, it is also our duty as an Opposition to be serious about scrutiny of the Government, and we will not hesitate to ask tough questions when they need to be asked.
Having listened to the debate today, I am encouraged that noble Lords from across your Lordships’ House are prepared similarly to speak with appropriate candour. It is important to remember the background to this debate. We have all watched over the past few months—at times with nervous anticipation, and at times with grave concern—as a movement for change has spread from Tunisia and Egypt, to Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, and now Syria, a movement in which women as well as men are participating. Events in north Africa and the Middle East are demonstrating that real power can lie in the common causes that unite people and that the denial of freedom is unsustainable.
Rising aspiration and a greater urgency in the desire for change has motivated youthful civilian populations to rise up and act against oppression which they feel they have too long endured. These are combustible circumstances, and the world has been witnessing an unprecedented wave of change whose end point is as yet unknown. The international community has a duty to the people of north Africa and the Middle East, and to the world, to ensure that what began with the best intentions is able to reach stable conclusions. The Government were right to convene the conference on Libya held in London on Tuesday, and we support the establishment of a Libya contact group, a move for which my right honourable friend the shadow Foreign Secretary has called.
I suggest that the Minister and his colleagues might consider inviting representatives of other UK political parties to such conferences in the future. As my noble friend Lord Robertson said, all British Governments are too government-centric and we should be reaching out to all those who can contribute to the discussions and solutions. It is vital that military action in the region has international support and, most importantly, support among the countries of the Arab League. While the majority of the military might being exercised in the implementation of UN Resolution 1973 is American, French and British, we welcome the transfer of command for the Libya operation to NATO. My noble friend reminded us of the enduring importance of NATO not only as the cornerstone of our security, but as a force for empowering the decisions taken by the international community.
The continuing importance of the support from the Arab League is clear. However, there are reports that across Arab countries there is a growing ambivalence about the intervention. Success and legitimacy of intervention depends on these states’ support. Can the Minister tell us what the Government are doing to ensure the stability of the international coalition? In terms of military support, can he update us on which Arab nations have committed forces to the conflict? Does he agree that now is the time for all-party parliamentary groups for Arab League countries to reinvigorate their contacts with groups in those countries?
The decision to take part in military action in Libya comes with difficulties. Of course I understand why some may ask why we have chosen to intervene in Libya when there are hard cases elsewhere, as my noble friend pointed out, but it was right that the international community took the action that it did in Libya. When the UN resolution was passed we had a responsibility to protect. We have both the responsibility and the opportunity to help enforce international law and save innocent citizens from slaughter. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, that with UN Resolution 1973 a Rubicon has been passed. We are now acting on that responsibility, and all agree that we must protect people when the UN says that we should.
The Libyan national council’s call for a democratic new Libya is encouraging. However, are the Government fully aware of the intentions and motivations of all the rebels on the ground? The Minister suggested that al-Qaeda is not behind those fighting in opposition to the Gaddafi forces, and I welcome that. I trust, however, that the risk assessment called for by my noble friend is being undertaken. Such uncertainty ties in to wider questions about what the intended outcome of this conflict is in the eyes of this Government and the wider international community. I was glad to hear of the key task that Turkey was given at the London conference in relation to the post-conflict situation. However, as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, and my noble friend Lady Liddell asked, how do we know what the end game looks like? The noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, said that it is peace, but peace can come in different shapes and sizes.
On Monday, in his Statement to the other place, the Prime Minister explicitly said that there would be no British boots on the ground. Does the Minister envisage this continuing to be the case? Mission creep is dangerous and we must respect Resolution 1973 and, if necessary, go back to the UN.
Several of my noble friends raised the importance of the covenant and of reviewing the SDSR. Does the Minister agree with his honourable friend James Arbuthnot MP, chair of the Defence Select Committee in the other place, that in the light of events and our experiences in Libya it is now time to revisit the strategic defence and security review? The Minister has spoken about the defection to the UK by the Libyan Foreign Minister, Mr Koussa. We do not forget his past and we agree that he must not escape justice but we also agree that his treatment must not discourage further defections from the Gaddafi regime.
Libya is rightly uppermost in our minds today but this debate is also about the wider Middle East. In Tunisia, political parties are emerging. Public meetings are taking place about constitutional and legal reform. Of course there is disagreement. There have been reports that some parties want to see the country governed by Sharia law and some commentators are saying that women should not participate in public life. But the prevailing tone is very positive and an inclusive process appears to be gaining ground. It is significant that the interim Government have set aside the use of capital punishment, have signed the international protocols against the use of torture and have signed up to the International Criminal Court. I understand that a Tunisian trade delegation to this country is expected shortly. That is an excellent indication of growing confidence and determination to underpin the new political freedoms with sound economic activity. I trust that my noble friend Lord Stone will speak to the delegation about the Moon Valley social enterprise.
Egypt is arguably one of the two most important countries in the Arab Middle East. It has a huge population of almost 80 million and extremes of great wealth and abject poverty. As the noble Lord, Lord Risby, said, there is high unemployment and, in particular, a lack of jobs for young people, which is causing social unrest. Moreover, Egypt has been one of the main bulwarks of the Middle East peace process and any change in its Government’s policy towards that peace process has self-evident implications for prospects of peace across the region and beyond.
There is a wide range of opinion in Egypt about the way the future of the country should develop. There is a strong sense of optimism among many in Egypt that the election planned will be the beginning of a new political settlement. We are mindful of course about the attacks on the Coptic church, as raised by the right reverend Prelate, and about the attacks on women. It is our view that we need as much contact and discussion as possible with our friends in Egypt about the sort of future that they are hoping to build. I wholeheartedly agree with my noble friend Lady Kennedy of The Shaws about the importance of the role of women in building the new institutions and systems of that country and the other countries of the region.
The Minister spoke of the tensions in Yemen, a country which is so tragically a byword for violence and lawlessness. Perhaps we do not hear as much about Yemen as we do about other countries in the region but its fate should concern us all. The situation in Yemen is urgent and potentially catastrophic—not only for Yemen itself but for the stability of its neighbours. It is, after all, in Saudi Arabia’s backyard and the Saudis are unlikely to fail to react if Yemen sinks into complete anarchy.
Your Lordships have today voiced concerns in the redrawing of the political landscape of the Middle East about the future of the Middle East peace process. The fact is that in the next few years many people throughout the region will have the right to elect their Governments. The feelings of frustration and anger about the continued inability of the United Nations—either through resolutions or via persuasion—to engage in any meaningful process may well find expression in how such people vote.
Put at its most brutal, there is a window of opportunity now for the Israelis to engage with their close neighbours—the Palestinians, the Egyptians and the Jordanians—as partners in the search for peace. We urge them to take it. We urge them to take it because the two-state solution may not be on the table for very much longer. The Israelis need to listen to their friends while there is still time to do so.
Your Lordships have spoken with knowledge and concern about the winds of change in the Middle East, in Libya and throughout the region. Change there undoubtedly is, but there is also great uncertainty about what this change will lead to. We want to see this change lead to greater democracy not only because we believe in the rights of all individuals to express an opinion about what sort of Government they live under, but because it is the most fair, just and stable form of government. Democracy, human rights and the rule of law are the bedrocks of civil society. That is the prospect that change in the region, in Libya and throughout the Middle East holds out. That is the future we want to see in the Middle East. That is the future the Middle East and, especially, the people of the Middle East deserve.
My Lords, I begin by thanking all noble Lords who have spoken and the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, who spoke for the Opposition, for their very positive support for the overall pattern of government policy and for the trend and direction we are seeking to go in. No one is going to claim—I shall not—that there is complete certainty and that we can predict exactly what is going to happen. We cannot. There are risks and twists and turns ahead that none of us can foresee, but the general support is strong, and that is very gratifying. What is even more gratifying for all of us, and it will be gratifying for our Armed Forces, is the praise for the way they are performing, as usual, with efficiency, precision and determination. We have our debates across the Floor about equipment and resourcing generally—they have gone on almost regardless of who is in government—and we are right to be concerned about them, but our Armed Forces are composed of very dedicated, brave and courageous people. There is no question about that. That shows up in moments of crisis.
It is not physically possible for me to address every one of very many fine speeches that have been made this afternoon, so I shall just have to make my peace afterwards with noble Lords I do not mention. I will try to cover as best I can a number of specific questions that have very properly been put to me. I am sure I shall not achieve total satisfaction; in fact, I know I will not. We will just have to do our best and sort things out afterwards.
I shall deal first with the great general questions that have dominated the debate this afternoon. The first and central question is: are we sticking to the resolutions? We have the legal cover of the two resolutions: Resolution 1970 and Resolution 1973. Are we adhering to them? The answer is an emphatic yes. We believe we are in every respect. There were questions about how they should be interpreted and whether they allowed certain developments. I am not going in any particular order, but I come to the very authoritative comments on the resolutions by the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy. I point out to her and to others who are quite properly examining this problem that Resolution 1973 authorises “all necessary measures” to protect civilians,
“notwithstanding paragraph 9 of resolution 1970”.
That is why it is seen as a powerful resolution that fully covers what the allied coalition forces, including HMG’s forces, are doing. That is why there has been a wider debate on how much more it would permit. We must distinguish between legal advice from the expert lawyers on what it would permit and what is actually intended. One of the questions that came up, which my right honourable friend the Prime Minister dealt with, is, “Would it cover the arming of the rebels?”, as opposed to, “Do you intend to arm the rebels?”. As far as the first question is concerned, there is a legal opinion, which may be disputed by other expert lawyers because—surprise, surprise—not all the lawyers agree with each other, that in certain circumstances it would permit the arming of rebels. Is there a policy intention so to do? No, that is not the intention at this stage, but nevertheless there is a resolution standing and that is how it could be interpreted.
The bigger question that has run through the debate is not so much about whether we arm the rebels as who the rebels are. What exactly is their provenance? Are they a mixture of people, are there good and bad among them, and how do we distinguish between them? The answer is that it is not easy. We are maintaining a regular dialogue with the Interim Transitional National Council in Libya. Both my right honourable friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary met Mr Jabril, one of the most prominent leaders of the national council, when he visited London earlier this week. We have sent an initial mission to Benghazi which has been successful and plan to follow up with a second mission very soon. We will be exploring the humanitarian reconstruction and development needs as a priority, and we are actively considering what assistance we can provide within the provisions of UNSCR 1970 and 1973. That both answers the question about what we are doing and enables us to establish a channel through which we can assess more clearly the nature and resource of the people operating, whether they are people we would not wish to associate with, and so on. These things cannot be answered in precise terms from the Dispatch Box now or at any point in the near future, but this is what is happening.
Another general question that we have all asked each other during the debate is: what happens next? There is of course the first Libya Contact Group meeting in Doha in a fortnight’s time, which I described in my earlier comments. However, once again, it would be foolish for anyone at this Dispatch Box to claim that they could predict exactly what the course of events on the ground will be. In my opening speech I mentioned that the Gaddafi regime’s forces—including some mercenaries, a point made by one of your Lordships—had very recently made some substantial advances again. But the tide can flow either way and things may look very different in two weeks’ time.
I turn to the important point made repeatedly by the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, and many others: how do we maintain and mobilise this vast coalition of forces—forces which have their origins far outside the old traditional pattern of the western alliance—and how do we keep the momentum going? This is exactly what the contact group will address and increasingly focus on. Clearly, as was said at the London conference on Tuesday, the need is not just for involvement in the immediate problems of preventing civilians being slaughtered in large numbers, which is what the immediate mission is all about, but for mobilising to support Libya with a really cohesive and effective post-conflict strategy. Some people, looking back to the light and shade of the Iraq conflict, would say that that was what was missing in that campaign. A post-conflict strategy was not there and the whole pattern, which was declared wrongly in its first military days as one of total success then spiralled downwards into appalling years of slaughter and bloodshed. That we do not want to see again, ever.
Those are the general themes that emerged in the debate and these are my general answers, always with the necessary qualification that none of us can see exactly how this situation is going to pan out over the next few days or weeks. Our aim is the protection of civilian life and our political strategy has been openly declared by Ministers, by the Arab League and by many countries around the world, which is that the world would be a much better place and Libya would be in a much better situation if Gaddafi and his gang were to go. That is our political strategy which is being backed up by pressures of the financial and trading kind, and all kinds of other pressures which I cannot go into now. That is the pattern of activity as we go forward.
I now come to a range of specific issues that were raised by your Lordships and I will try to address them by name. The noble Baroness, Lady Liddell, made an obviously very learned and well-informed speech. She rightly said that we must be on our guard over the presence of dark forces such as al-Qaeda. As far as Yemen is concerned, she is absolutely right. There is a real al-Qaeda problem in northern Yemen. It is not the only problem in Yemen, which is in a very dangerous situation, as I said in my opening speech. We have advised British nationals, and I would advise all other nationals, to get out as quickly as they can, because if the explosive situation occurs, the first thing that will be closed and inaccessible is the airport. We have been advising for some time all our nationals to get out. But the al-Qaeda danger is there.
That danger may be in other of the countries where there is protest—there are only traces—but it is interesting how, as the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, was saying, Egypt and Tunis and, as far as we can tell, in the completely different situation in Libya, the jihadist extremist element has been invisible: it has not been there. That is not to say that al-Qaeda strategists—if there are such people—and those who are looking for the opportunity for more murder and mayhem will not be studying the situation and seeing what they can make out of it, but at the moment they have not been playing a leading part. They are not part of the cause of and motivation for what is happening.
The noble Baroness, Lady Liddell, also said that I was a bit sanguine on oil prices. Her judgment may be better than mine, but it is a bold person who predicts oil price movements in the future. It is rather like currency movements: one does not know at all what will happen. Generally, at the moment, it seems that oil markets have not exploded in the way they did in some of the oil shocks of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. They have not even risen to the heights of 2008. There are factors, even as the world recovers from recession, that seem to be calming the overall energy markets. Of course, that could change.
How will Qatar go through the mechanism of trading and selling Libyan oil from the Libyan fields under opposition control and use the money for humanitarian support for the opposition forces? That has yet to be worked out and I cannot give the noble Baroness a precise mechanism by which that will be done, but a lot of work is going on at the moment.
My noble friend Lord Trimble and several other noble Lords all raised the question of the EU’s role in all of this. As the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, said, the German abstention had been in his words “a major blow”. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, referred to that in a well-informed speech. Obviously, this meant that the initial impact of the role of the EU was not as co-ordinated and focused as it should have been. But the EU has collectively and strongly condemned Colonel Gaddafi's policies and person. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said that he hoped the EU would rise to the occasion. So do I. It seems to me possible and hopeful that that will happen. The EU Council conclusions welcomed Resolution 1973 and the Council expressed its determination to contribute to its implementation as well. That is where it has got to and maybe it will now develop further thoughts.
We had some debate this afternoon on whether the EU should develop a military dimension. I cannot comment on whether that will happen. For the moment, what we see is that NATO has taken the lead, as the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, rightly said. NATO is in charge; it is the one body that has acted extremely swiftly and effectively. I suspect that will be the way forward with it as the organising force. If there are additional humanitarian roles that the EU can play, those will be very welcome indeed.
My noble friend Lord Bates asked where the African Union featured in the pattern of things. We know that there will be a diverse range of views among African states. That is not surprising; one or two African states were always traditionally supporters of Colonel Gaddafi. He spread a lot of money around in Africa, no doubt in trying to buy other friends as well. However, the African Union has condemned what Colonel Gaddafi’s regime is doing and continues to support our actions in Libya, particularly our objective of protecting civilians and securing an end to the violence perpetrated by the Gaddafi forces. That is the African Union's position and while I cannot guarantee this, I understand that it will be represented at future meetings. We shall be working very hard to see that it is involved.
My noble friend Lord Bates made another interesting point which had not really occurred to me. He said that it was perhaps not right to refer to one possible outcome in Libya—it is not one I hope for—as a civil war, because that would somehow immediately give credibility to the Gaddafi side of it. As he rightly said, this is not a civil war but a very cruel and dangerous dictator inflicting hideous damage on his own citizens. Somehow, a civil war sounds a little more respectable than that, which it is not.
My noble friend also asked about Italy. The Italians have made a significant contribution to the military effort, including surveillance, air defence and ground attack planes as well as maritime assets. As of yesterday, we understand that Italy had 12 aircraft, four ships and one submarine under NATO command for use in Libya. Some air operations have of course been from Italian airbases as well, so the contribution has been substantial. I could go into the longer-term history of Italy's connection and involvement with Libya but that would take much too long. That raises investment and oil production issues but Italy has been active in recognising the need for the sort of action that we are seeking to take.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds asked about the Middle East peace process, as did a number of your Lordships. We are pushing as hard as we can for the parties to return to negotiations as soon as possible and we are co-ordinating closely with France and Germany as the so-called E3. We have set out our views on what the parameters for negotiations should be: the 1967 borders, with arrangements to protect Israel’s security; preventing the resurgence of terrorism; having a just, fair and agreed solution to the refugee question; and, fulfilling the aspirations of both parties for Jerusalem. We have debated those matters again and again in this House and they are very familiar to us. If we can get some movement on that now, even among the general turmoil of the region, that in our view will be a major step forward.
The noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, asked in addition about the Ivory Coast, which is not exactly in our brief today but indicates how broad a canvas we are dealing with. The situation in the Côte d'Ivoire is moving fast. We are committed to the crisis being resolved and President Ouattara taking up the office to which he has been democratically elected. The obstruction of the democratic process and associated violence raises broad concerns that affect the global community and democracy in Africa. As the noble Baroness can hear, I am reading out a suggested brief from officials in my department which does not give much information beyond what we knew already, However, from what I have seen for myself in the newspapers the situation in Abidjan is very dangerous and there will obviously great violence before President Gbagbo, who was declared to have been unelected long ago, finally surrenders. If more of his troops desert, that would finally bring him down. Côte d’Ivoire is perhaps an example of the general point that we cannot engage in everything, but that does not rule out our need to focus carefully on certain selected areas. That we are focusing on Libya seems to be entirely right.
Some, such as the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Stamford, have asked whether we should not have the same sort of policy approach towards Bahrain. We argue that that is a completely different position. We have to be selective, use our judgment and accept that in Bahrain there is a different set of issues. We are clear that the Government of Bahrain and their security forces should respect the civil rights of peaceful protesters. We have called for an end to all acts of harassment by the Bahraini security forces. We are in direct contact with the Bahraini authorities and their leaders and have insisted that they show real leadership in promoting tolerance, equal access to justice and the rule of law. They are seeking a reform process and, as the noble Viscount, Lord Slim, urged, we should be very firm in pressing it on them, as indeed we are. However, to compare the situation there with Libya is to make a large jump in logic that is not justified.
I entirely agree with the Government about Bahrain. The point that I was making was simply that there are inevitably going to be people misinterpreting the position. Once you get into an active, interventionist foreign policy, people will always try to find areas where we appear to be acting inconsistently and hypocritically.
That is a fair point, which I think the noble Lord recognises is a point of argument rather than of policy, and I accept it.
The noble Lord, Lord Stone, comes forward in these debates with marvellously constructive proposals for really making things hum on the ground. He spoke about opening small businesses, retail shops and so on, which are the lifeblood of almost all the economies that we are talking about and without which they will never prosper again. He said that our powerful supermarket chains in this country could help. These are fascinating proposals; I shall take them away and study them as closely as his earlier proposals in a debate that we had a few weeks ago about Palestine.
The noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, wanted to know what the Prime Minister meant on the recognition issue when he said that we recognise countries, not Governments. I would use almost the same words although perhaps I would say that we recognise states, not Governments. I do not see the difficulty that the noble Lord is having over this. States have Governments that are lawful; if there is not a lawful Government or no clear Government, there is no basis for recognition. At the moment we recognise those countries that have a lawful Government. Even if they are in a state of hostility, we still recognise them. I am not too sure that I see the problem. Perhaps he can explain it.
My noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire, who is a considerable expert on these finer points, tells me that it is a question of being in control of territory. That is the judgment. In many of these areas there is a neat formula and there is real life, and when it comes to real life one has to use a bit of judgment in assessing who to recognise and who is in charge or control of any Government in any country at any one time. The position is that it is states that we recognise, not Governments.
All the speeches today were good so comparisons are odious, but my noble friend Lord Alderdice put the matter with wonderful clarity when he said that the answer to “What are we doing?” is that we are doing our duty as a responsible nation: policing international law. That is a matter that all nations which want to play in the responsible league and not wash their hands and step aside or be freeloaders have to face as well. On that basis, we shall be seeking more and more coalition co-operation from a wider range of nations, all of whose interests, including ours, are affected by having a potential rogue state, or a state promoting illegal violent acts which destroy other states, in our midst. That is what a rogue Libya could do. It is a big oil state near our own continent of Europe which is very influential in being able to damage trade routes and whose influence could even extend down towards the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean area. This affects everyone’s interests increasingly, in this globalised, integrated trading and energy system on which we all depend.
The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, in a characteristically fine speech, asked the big question about Benghazi and what we have done in the past few days. Could we have stood by? Suppose we had done nothing, and just watched while the Gaddafi troops rode into Benghazi, shot down the women and children, piled up their bodies, and said, “This is the way it is”. The world would once again have allowed a crazed dictator to exert his evil will on innocent people. Of course we could not have done that; of course we had to act, and of course other countries had to act with us. I believe that that case will sink in even to those countries that have stood back from the UN resolution or actually opposed it. However, nobody on the Security Council did that—there were abstentions but no opposition.
As for the defectors who have arrived here and made all the headlines in recent days, including Moussa Koussa, I said at the beginning of the debate that he will not be given immunity. Nevertheless, he is in a way a symptom or evidence of a trend which one feels may be helpful—the desertion of Gaddafi by his immediate gang. How he would hang on and whether he would hang on, whether he would seek peace, are all questions that have been raised and will be debated. If all those around him, one by one, or maybe in twos and threes, desert him, that would, in a sense, be one of the most satisfactory ways of moving out of this dark situation, resulting in the total abandonment by all his advisers of this unpredictable and dangerous man.
Those are my comments on the detailed points raised by your Lordships. In the short term, we will continue to take measures to isolate this man and his regime and to secure their departure. We will continue to support the opposition, to prevent attacks on the civilian population and to prevent humanitarian crises. We will see this through—that is our aim. Our long-term objective is a unified Libya under a central Government who represent the will of the people for more openness and democracy, which is not run by Gaddafi and does not pose external threats either in the region or more broadly.
I tried at the beginning of this debate to place events in a wider strategic context. As your Lordships have echoed and recognised, a wind of change is blowing through the Middle East. Every BBC broadcast that one listens to on waking up brings news of more dramatic developments in countries we have not even mentioned in the debate, such as Kuwait, Jordan and, indeed, Iran. It is the responsibility of civilised nations across the world to react to these calls for change and to play our part in taking humanitarian action, safeguarding human rights and promoting democracy. That is why the United Kingdom will continue to be at the forefront of the international efforts to assist the Libyan people and those across the Middle East more generally.
The pace of change across the world is very fast and unpredictable. If the UK is to prosecute a successful foreign policy in future, one that protects and promotes our interests and our nation, our approach must reflect the reconfigured international order that is now emerging. That means working not only bilaterally, to build new links with both established and emerging powers, but also multilaterally, to make our engagement with multilateral institutions much more effective. The way in which we have responded to the Libya crisis and the wider change in the Middle East that we have discussed today is evidence that we are successfully rising to the current challenges in foreign policy.