Motion to Take Note
My Lords, it is a great privilege for me to lead this debate on behalf of my party.
A little over 100 years ago, in the midst of the last conflict in which a collection of military primitives in a faraway mountainous country defeated the most powerful military force on earth—I refer of course to the Boer War and the British Army—AE Housman wrote the poem A Shropshire Lad. It is famous for marking the futility of war and its pity. What is sometimes a little overlooked is the fact that it was also predicted that we were seeing a change in the times. I draw your Lordships’ attention to one stanza in particular—which, by the way, was said to echo in Churchill’s brain in the 1930s:
“On the idle hill of summer,
Sleepy with the flow of streams,
Far I hear the steady drummer
Drumming like a noise in dreams.
Far and near and low and louder
On the roads of earth go by,
Dear to friends and food for powder,
Soldiers marching, all to die”.
What Housman seemed to identify was that the long sylvan summer of stability of the 19th century was drawing to a close. The years in which he wrote the poem marked the last great shift of power from the old nations of Europe to the new rising nation of the United States. In the vacuum left behind by the old powers of Europe was played out the two great, terrible Golgothas of the 20th century.
You might argue that history comes in two phases. In one of them, the gimbals on which power is mounted are steady, stable and unchanged—these are predictable times, times when we can look ahead with confidence and know what will happen. They are not necessarily peaceful times but they are at least unbewildering times. Then there are the second phases, which are the times of change, when power shifts—these are turbulent times, puzzling times and, all too often, bloody times. We are living through the second of those, not the first. All is changing, although you would not think so to look at our foreign policy or our defence policy, for they are anchored firmly in the past and pay no attention to the new world which is now emerging. In this speech, I want to talk about two of those power shifts and then a third element which I think changes everything and needs to be addressed if we really want a foreign policy that serves the interests of our country.
We are experiencing not one power shift but two. We are experiencing a vertical power shift. Power is now migrating out of the institutions of the nation state, created to hold power to democratic accountability and to legality, on to the global stage, where, by and large, the institutions of democratic accountability are non-existent and the institutions of legality are very weak. If we look at the global stage, we see that the powers that are growing are those that have no relevance, no reference, to the frontiers of nation states, and we see other things which by and large we like; for example, the free transfer of information over the internet, the free transfer of trade, the mass movement of people, the power of the satellite broadcasters and the power of this great, vast, swirling money-go-round now circulating at increasing velocity—a volume of money 52 times the amount necessary to fund the trade that it was all created for. We see also the power of the international speculators which nearly wrecked everything only a couple or three years ago.
For the powerful, generally speaking, having lawless spaces is not unhelpful—we rather enjoy it because we can make up the rules for ourselves—but, sooner or later, the lawless spaces get occupied by the destroyers and that is exactly what has happened. For in this space now is also terrorism, which is international; and crime, which is international. The revelation of 9/11 is that you may be the most powerful nation on earth, but it will not save you one bright September day from a faraway danger of which you knew little, which invades your own space and destroys your citizens by using your own systems. It is calculated that 60% of the $4 million taken to fund 9/11 passed through the financial institutions of the Twin Towers.
In what looks to me like a deeply turbulent age, our capacity to create greater stability rather than greater turbulence will depend on our capacity to bring governance to the global stage. There is a sort of rule about stable democracies which is: where power goes, governance must follow. It seems to me, therefore, that if it is true that the globalisation of unregulated power is one of the great threats of our time, then one of the great challenges of our time is to bring governance to the global space. It is entirely in the interests of a medium-sized country such as the United Kingdom for us to assist in making that happen. My own view is that this will not happen through the spawning of further multilateral UN institutions—we need the UN; if we did not have it, we would have to invent it; it is necessary as an international forum; it is necessary as a legitimiser and developer of international law; it is necessary as a legitimiser of actions—but when it comes to taking difficult action in non-permissive circumstances, my guess is that coalitions of the willing will have greater effect. When in Bosnia, I had to report twice a year to the UN Security Council for the conduct of my mandate, but my managing board was the Peace Implementation Council—those who had committed to peace in Bosnia.
As we develop systems of governance on the global stage, I think that they are more likely to be created through the growth of treaty-based institutions. We see those already emerging: the WTO is one; Kyoto is another; the International Court of Justice is a third; and the G20, which is not quite a treaty but it has quasi-treaty powers, is another. It must be in our interests for us Britons to create, and to play our part in the creation of, such new institutions that bring governance to the global stage. We are a medium-sized nation. David Miliband when Foreign Secretary used to talk about a rule-based world order. It must be in our interests to do that, yet this features nowhere in the Government’s foreign policies. We are not actively playing our role. British civil servants and diplomats were the people who created the United Nations; we have an immense role to play. But our response is not only to ignore it but to cut the budget of the Foreign Office at the very moment when it has a significant role to play in something that is of real interest to our nation.
The second great power shift, and I need hardly talk about it, is that from west to east. Put your hand over the side of the boat. Feel how strong that tide is running. It is an economic tide to date, for sure, but that will develop into political power and military power. Let us look at where defence budgets are being augmented and where they are being diminished: they are being diminished in the West and being augmented in the East. We are seeing a new world developing that is totally different from the world that we have had. We are moving from 50 years—rather unusually, by the way—of a monopolar world dominated by a single colossus to a multipolar world in which the role of our foreign policy and our defence will be wholly different. If you want a model of what comes next, do not look at the last 50 years, as it seems to me myopically we do; look rather at the Europe of the 19th century, the famous five-sided concept of Europe, the European Areopagiticus, as Canning and Castlereagh used to call it. Britain’s role there was not fixed; it was always to play to the balance—a period of much more subtle foreign policy. Canning once said that Britain has no fixed allies, but it has fixed interests. It plays the relationships with the rest of the world. The revelation that we see now is that the 400 years of the hegemony of western power, western institutions and western values—I date 400 from the end of the Ottoman Empire—is over. We now have to share power in a multipolar world. I think that the United States will remain the most powerful nation on earth for the next 20 or 30 years, but the context in which she holds her power is wholly different.
Now, if we want to operate in the world, we have to move beyond the Atlantic club; we have to bring in other partners, and we have to bring in the Chinese. To those who say that the Chinese would play no part, I say that of course they would, because they have an interest in this, too. What is the number of Chinese serving under the blue flag and the blue helmet of the UN in the world today? Does anybody know? The figure is 3,700. In Africa, already committed to multilateral defence, what is the largest naval unit that is today fighting Somali pirates? Well, you are ahead of me: it is the Chinese—of course, it is; they want to keep the sea lanes open, just as we did in the days of our mercantile power. We have to begin to develop those relationships. We have to move into a wholly different kind of policy where we will, of course, rely on the Atlantic alliance as our primary alliance, but we will have to build alternatives and new coalitions beyond that. Where we do that is where we will succeed, and where we do not do it is where we will fail.
We have to get out of the kinetic age. We see a problem in the world and our first instinct is to bomb it. Clausewitz said that war is the extension of politics by other means. We remember the war, but we forget the politics. And so, we forgot the politics in Afghanistan. We did not co-operate with the neighbours; we did it all by kinetic power. We forget today the politics in ISIL; we do it all by kinetic power when there is a great, wide coalition to be built—Canning and Castlereagh would have understood—which would have involved Iran and Russia in order to isolate ISIL; and then you can use your military power to greater effect. We will never beat ISIL simply by using more western high explosive to kill more Muslim Arabs; it needs to be much wider than that. At this very moment, we believe that we live in the kinetic age, but we do not: we live in the new age of diplomacy, in which your capacity to build those wider coalitions to achieve the interests of your nation at the time—not necessarily coalitions of values, but coalitions of interest—will really define success or failure in the age to come. Canning and Castlereagh would have understood that very well; our foreign policy seems to ignore it completely.
Some believe that this means that this is the age of the network, so we do not have to worry about Europe as we can build wider networks with the Commonwealth. However, foreign policy depends on who shares your interests, not who shares your systems. It is madness that we should move away from Europe at this stage. Do we not understand how much the terms of trade have changed in Europe in the past 10 years? We no longer have a United States looking east across the Atlantic but one looking west across the Pacific. We do not have a United States any longer with troops in Europe dedicated to the defence of Europe. They are here because it serves their operations elsewhere in the world. We do not have a United States any longer that we can depend on as a defender of last resort and a friend in all circumstances.
On our eastern borders we have an aggressive Russian President who is prepared to use tanks to capture European territory. To our south-east we have an Arab world in flames. To our south we have a Maghreb in chaos right the way down to Mali. All around us are economic powers which are individually more powerful than any of us are individually in Europe. Is this the moment to abandon our solidarity with the rest of Europe? It is madness—it is madness beyond madness—in pursuit of what is called sovereignty, the totally elusive sovereignty of the cork bobbing around behind someone else’s ocean liner. This is not the moment to abandon that.
The third element that is changing is that this is no longer a world made up of nation states: it is a world which is uniquely interdependent in a way it never has been before. You have swine flu in Mexico; it is a problem for Aberdeen in the next hours. You have Lehman Brothers collapsing; the whole world goes down. You have fires in the Russian steppes; there are food riots in Africa. You have the irresponsible burning of fossil fuels in the West, and the drowning of Bangladesh. We are deeply interconnected and it is that interconnection that matters. We have to realise that there are no longer sovereign states. We used to pretend that there were issues which were domestic and others which were foreign policy. There is no domestic issue that does not have a foreign policy quotient to it. It is no longer the case that the nation state acting alone can determine its future.
When I was a young soldier fighting in the jungles of Borneo in the last of the imperial wars, if you were to ask me about the defence of Britain I would have said that it depended on a strong Navy, a strong Army, a strong Air Force and strong allies. Today that no longer applies. Today the Minister of Health is involved in the security of Britain because pandemic diseases are a threat to our security; the Minister of Industry—if we had one—would be involved because the cyber capacity of our enemies is a threat to our security; and the Minister of Home Affairs is involved because what that second-generation Muslim family in that terraced house in Bolton does is a threat to our security. The security of Britain rests no longer with the Ministry of Defence but with our capacity to network across the piece. It is the network—not the vertical high ground and the command structure—which is the paradigm structure of our age, and Whitehall knows that not at all.
Imagine that it is not me speaking today but that the year is 1879 and Lord Roberts of Kandahar is telling you about Afghanistan—not about how he lost but how he won. He would talk about his screw guns and his brilliant generalship. He would not mention drugs or poppies growing in the fields because they were not connected to anything. Afghanistan has always been a centre of the opium trade. Nowadays it is connected to crime in our inner cities. He would not have mentioned the mad mullah in the cave, although he had those too. The mad mullah of the time was called the Wali of Swat, about whom Edward Lear wrote a poem in which he asked who or what is the Wali of Swat; is he short, is he fat, is he squat? He would not ask today who or what was Osama bin Laden because he is connected to that terraced house in Bolton. Everything is connected to everything. Lord Roberts would not talk about collateral damage—he caused a lot of that—because it did not matter. Nowadays that piece of American high explosive falling on that wedding party in Afghanistan inadvertently matters very much and it is round the world a nanosecond later. Everything is connected to everything. It is no longer our vertical ability that matters but our ability to network. The most important thing about our nations and our organisations are the interconnectors, the docking points, that help us to build the wider coalitions that produce effective actions, rather than pretending stupidly sometimes that we can act alone or only with our friends.
One final thought: now that we are interconnected and the enemy is now inside the gates and not only outside, something else has changed. For the past thousands of years—I suppose since history began—defence has depended on collective defence; it is been our capacity to stand together that matters. If you are interconnected, you share a destiny with your enemy. It was the realisation of that that enabled me as a young diplomat in Geneva in the 1970s to participate in the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks with the Soviet Union. We understood that we shared a destiny and that using the weapons that we possessed would destroy not only ourselves but the others. It was an understanding of that shared destiny that brought peace, at last, to Northern Ireland. It is a failure to understand that shared destiny between Israel and its Arab neighbours which is the biggest impediment to peace in the Middle East today.
So it is that, in the modern interconnected age, it is not only collective defence that matters but an understanding of common security as well. This has been the common proposition of saints, heroes, visionaries and poets, but now it moves from a moral proposition to a necessity to shape and frame our policies for the future. The great John Donne’s poem states:
“Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee”.
For him, it was a proposition of morality; for us it is part of the equation for our success, perhaps even our survival.
My Lords, it is good to follow the magisterial speech of the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, about the utterly changed world that we and the whole of Europe now face and how we play our part in it. I think that it was the Akond of Swat rather than the Wali of Swat, but the rest was absolutely terrific—I did not agree with it all, but it was terrific. As I have only five minutes, I shall have to speak in shorthand in making my comments.
First, whether we like it or not, the role and direction of the United Kingdom is rapidly being recast and reshaped by forces much larger than any Government or current government policy. Technology and the ongoing information revolution and the rising power of Asia, Africa and Latin America are changing the landscape radically and we have to adapt much more quickly to this change, both to survive and to address the world challenges listed in the Motion.
We have been painfully reminded over the past few days that our enemies are in the Middle East, the Mediterranean and north Africa and that the direct mortal threat to our nation and the British people lies there on the sunny beaches of the Mediterranean shores. That is now our front line. We have now to commit fully and decisively to our friends in the region—such as Jordan, Egypt, when it gets its internal difficulties in better order, and other countries, including if possible Turkey, which is undergoing a great change of view at present—to crushing ISIS and closing down the vicious religious civil war bisecting Islam. We particularly need to crush ISIS, which is clear, undiluted and unqualified evil.
Secondly, our biggest competitors in this new world that the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, has so well described are the Chinese. They are on every continent operating everywhere and have a very active presence in the Middle East. Not only are they competitors but we have to work with them—I think that it is called “co-opetition” as well as “competition”. I am glad that we have signed up to the Chinese-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, although we must respect the sensitivities of the other giant world economy in Asia, that of our old and good friend Japan, whose help we need in many sectors. China is building its way through east Asia to the Middle East, to the Mediterranean and to south-east Europe. Even now, as we speak, it is taking over the Athenian harbour of Piraeus. As climate change comes into the debate, world decarbonisation depends overwhelmingly on China and India.
Thirdly, our prospects, our economic survival and our capacity to address these challenges now lie in the great emerging markets of Asia, to which the Commonwealth nations are both central and a gateway. That is a new reality that has not yet been fully grasped in Whitehall.
Fourthly, the central ocean of world development is now the Indian Ocean, not the Atlantic Ocean, and our defence interests and our defence against terrorism are coming to lie there just as much as in the north Atlantic, where they have been for the last 70 or 80 years.
Fifthly, our export and world economic strength is in services of every kind—not just financial, but in health, education, creative arts, every kind of design and project consultancy. I note with interest that in China services are now a bigger proportion of GDP than manufacturing. The same is going to happen here—it may have happened already—and all our manufactures are now bound up with and contain a big service element. They are all woven together. In fact, the statisticians should stop separating manufactures and services, because they are not separate.
Sixthly, the whole world energy equation is changing fast, although not, I am afraid, in the current direction of either UK or EU policy. Above all, developing countries need plentiful, cheap energy. That is the key to their development. Our trade partners simply have not yet shifted to this new situation, nor has our defence and security thinking. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, on that. Developing states need support with their defences and security as well as with their economies and development. I see no reason why our aid budget should not meet the cost of these needs where we provide them. We have to adjust our methods of deploying power and influence. We have to adjust our methods of trade promotion and export finance to match our rivals. As mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, our current struggle with the EU, not only to change our relationship with it but to the reform the whole of the EU to meet 21st-century challenges, is a step along this new road.
To see the totally altered world through a new lens demands a changed mindset among policymakers and the flag carriers in Britain of global business. We are contemplating nothing less than a grand repositioning of the United Kingdom in a networked world utterly transformed by the information and digital ages and presenting new and urgent tasks.
My Lords, I welcome this debate. I would like to make a few points about the UK’s role in meeting these great challenges via collaboration and, in some respects, via advances in science and technology. Governments and Parliaments need to explain more clearly the benefits of working through national and regional organisations, which have been mentioned already in the previous speech. We can be more effective in dealing with these problems through improved and broader training of civil servants in government. I had some experience as head of the Met Office, dealing with many UK agencies.
By comparison with France, Germany and some other countries, the broader training that their officials had gave them some advantage. We have very technical ones and this partly goes back to our university and school system where we teach people in a very narrow way. There are, of course, few who can quote great lumps of poetry, but they probably had military training and military experience, which is rather remarkable in the training world. The idea that people should have broad training is positively Napoleonic.
Sadly, in recent years, Governments have been reducing funding for civil servants’ training. One of the reasons for having a much broader training in understanding Governments around the world is that the role of civil servants is to represent the UK in many of these important agencies and international bodies. Sometimes we see the difference between them and representatives from our European partners. One of the interesting points about the Ministry of Defence, which I worked with because the Met Office was then part of the MoD, was that substantial numbers of officials and officers had considerable knowledge of foreign countries and foreign languages, not least Russian.
My second point is that the UK Government and Parliament need to realise that we can tackle global issues only through collaboration, and that UK politicians should desist from the “anti” phraseology all the time of “taking the lead”. It seems almost like a mantra for civil servants and politicians, in addressing an issue, to say, “We have to take the lead”. I am afraid that other countries rather snigger at this posturing in our country. If we are doing good work, the good work will be apparent. Indeed, as I saw in the world in which I worked, if you do make substantial contributions, or very important leadership is provided in committees, it is not a good idea to keep saying, “The UK made a lead on this or that or the other”. For example, I saw this where great improvements were made in improving forecasts of natural disasters. The person dealing with the effects of climate change and disasters is an extremely effective official from Public Health England—but it is not a good idea to boast too much about that.
My third point concerns how the UK should collaborate more effectively with other countries through international agencies. This has been touched on already. This is the vital element in dealing with climate change and other civil challenges. I have spoken before about the need for the UK to make more use of our membership of the UN agencies—as the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, commented. It is an essential role in reducing carbon emissions. So these are very technical issues.
Shipping is responsible for 15% of carbon emissions and the figure is rising, while aircraft are responsible for 7%. This was discussed yesterday. These are dealt with by the International Maritime Organization and international aviation bodies. We have to deal with road transport and the heating and cooling of buildings. All of these are areas where progressively, if we focus on them, we will be able to deal with these huge challenges. The co-ordination and publicising of our role needs to be much greater. I think that the Foreign Office has a department for dealing with this and it does not do this as strongly as it might do.
Recently, the Select Committee on the Arctic—of which I was a member—commented on the difficulties for the FCO to participate in some of these international bodies, particularly those dealing with the Arctic. This is not the fault of the officials, but of the fact that the budgets are very weak. One possibility is that there are many NGOs who can participate—I am president of an NGO that does participate in the Arctic discussions. Maybe this is one way forward. It will no longer be possible for a paid official to attend these relevant meetings.
Finally, I will go from the Arctic to the Equator, where most people live and where there is a huge and increasing population. Through the Newton programme, the Government are funding research groups, universities and SMEs to participate. This is one way in which we are dealing with perhaps one of the most critical challenges in the world.
I, too, wish to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, on securing this debate. He can be relied upon to give an interesting and inspiring contribution and today was no exception.
I begin by offering my deepest and heartfelt condolences to all the families and friends of those who lost loved ones in the barbaric atrocities that were perpetrated by extremists in Tunisia, Kuwait and France in the past week or so. I am deeply saddened that such acts of wanton violence are being committed in the name of Islam and I find it very difficult to comprehend that some young people are leaving the sanctuary of caring families and compassionate communities to join extremist groups such as Boko Haram and the so-called ISIS. The Government must do more to understand and address the complexity of factors that are driving some of our young into the arms of extremists.
Clearly, the war in Iraq and the West’s interventions in Syria and Libya have all contributed to creating widespread instability in the Middle East while simultaneously providing a fertile breeding ground for extremist groups and sectarian conflict. This is a terrible tragedy and there seems to be no end in sight to this cycle of instability and violence, but bombing Syria without a legal basis can only add to that turmoil.
Our Government must be consistent in their foreign policy and foreign aid programmes. It should be unacceptable for the Government to condemn human rights abuses or dictatorships in one country but appear to turn a blind eye to seemingly identical circumstances in others. This type of inconsistency only plays into the hands of the extremists and fundamentalists. Conflicts are a failure for all of us. UN figures indicate that, as at 31 May 2015, there were 3.9 million registered Syrian refugees and that around 7.6 million people had been internally displaced by violence. Of these, it is estimated that half are children and that many more millions are in need of humanitarian assistance.
Eight of the Countdown countries with the highest mortality rates for under-5s are currently affected by conflict. They include Afghanistan, Yemen, Chad, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan and Pakistan. Although the direct short-term effects of armed violence and conflict usually receive considerable attention, the indirect and long-term impacts are often overlooked. For example, only 43% of Syria’s hospitals are fully operational. The health system in many areas has totally collapsed. This has led to a downward spiral of all major health indicators that were improving before the war.
Violence and conflicts disproportionately impact on women and children. Even when they survive these terrible acts and all the associated hardships, they find themselves locked in a vicious cycle of poverty, deprivation, malnutrition, ill health and abuse. Children in conflict zones are at increased risk of dying from preventable illnesses such as measles, diarrhoea, malaria, malnutrition, respiratory infections and adolescent pregnancy.
I strongly support the work that DfID and the FCO are doing to raise the profile of women and girls on the political agenda and I welcome the Minister’s personal commitment to this. But if our Government are serious in wishing to empower women and girls, they must do more in areas such as family planning and maternal health in areas that are affected both by conflict and sectarian ideologies such as those in some Sunni and Shia communities. Perhaps the Minister will say what further steps are being taken by the Government to address these issues.
I note that DfID spends £900 million per year on health in developing countries and that the UK is one of the top two funders of the World Health Organization, UNICEF, the Vaccine Alliance, the Global Fund and the ICRC. Noble Lords may be interested to learn that these investments have led to over 36,000 maternal lives and over 64,000 neonatal lives being saved since the 2011 strategy. Perhaps the Minister will say whether there are any plans to further develop these strategies, particularly in those areas affected by conflicts.
Finally, I am sure that noble Lords will agree that we live in very difficult and troubled times. I passionately believe that we must make more concerted efforts to understand the mindset of those who seek to harm us, divide us, create fear in our midst and perpetrate brutal acts of violence against our citizens. But we, too, need a new and cohesive narrative between East and West. It is incumbent on our Government to protect us, but we must not allow the cornerstone of our civil liberties to be swept away in the process. We must defend our values of freedom, openness, compassion and tolerance. Undermining these values will be a victory for the extremists and a damning indictment of all the principles that we hold most dear.
My Lords, the United Kingdom remains a significant force in international relations, despite the changes in the last few years. The noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, is right that connectedness poses a challenge not only within government but within business and the whole technical world, which causes its own problems. Over the years, I have sat at a number of discussions where the prediction was that the nation state would be less significant in the future. Strangely enough, the nation state still seems to be alive and kicking. I suspect that that will continue to be the case for quite a long time.
Over the past 20 years, the UK has taken a very interventionist approach to international problems of the sort that we are discussing today. The results have been of mixed benefit. We have seen certain interventions that have undoubtedly been very positive—for instance, that in Sierra Leone—but we have seen others where the outcome has been very far from positive, such as in Iraq and, arguably, in Libya. There are others where the jury is still out; I cite particularly Afghanistan.
In the past two or three years, there seems to have been a certain turning away from this activism, partly as a result of political will perhaps being less evident, partly as a result of challenges in resourcing and partly because, in certain areas, we have been sidelined and others have taken the lead. On the whole, the reduction in activism has probably been to our advantage and a good thing. Two or three years ago, there was some enthusiasm for our intervening militarily in Syria. At the time, we would have had very little idea of what we were getting into. We would have had very little idea indeed of what conditions we would like to achieve and which were necessarily deliverable. I suspect that, had we intervened two years ago, we would now be rueing the day as the security problems from that area would have been even more complex than they are today.
Equally, there has been a certain amount of concern that the UK’s voice was not very evident in the discussions around the future of Ukraine, where we saw Germany and France taking a lead. That was probably the best outcome for us, partly because it is a good thing if Germany, in particular, and France take the lead on some of these issues, rather than our feeling that we have always to be at the party, and because, given the nature of the relationship between the United Kingdom and Russia, I suspect that, had we been involved, it would have made it more difficult to come to a resolution. In fact, there was not to be resolution but I do not think that it would have made it any better if we had been there.
Does that mean that I advocate a full reduction in the UK’s involvement in these issues? Not at all: I do not think we should see the recent reduction in activism as a loss of nerve. Ambition without capability to affect an outcome is entirely vacuous. I have a strong recollection in government of sitting around a number of tables while there were long and complex discussions about the British position on some problem or other, where we had absolutely no ability to affect the outcome whatever. It would have been better if we had spent our time focusing on areas where we could make a difference rather than feeling that we should have an opinion for every occasion.
My view, therefore, is that we should maintain strong capabilities, including strong military capabilities. Given my previous career, I obviously think we should maintain strong intelligence capabilities. However, we should use them very sparingly. We should use our capabilities only when we can make a real difference and when our interests are at play or where we feel that our contribution can make a significant difference to international stability of one sort or another. If we were to take that approach, our credibility would be increased and our tendency perhaps to overstretch our commitments sometimes would be reduced.
My Lords, I begin by expressing my profound sadness in the wake of the recent horrific terrorist attacks. A student from the University of Worcester was killed in Tunisia, which brought home to people locally that these problems are not “out there”. It demonstrated very clearly the connectivity, of which the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, spoke so eloquently.
What should our response be to the unprecedented times described so well by the noble Lord? While recognising that we have faced more difficult times, as the First World War commemorations remind us, we need to hold on to the strategic objectives that have underpinned British foreign policy since 1945 but adapt them for these new circumstances. We need to recognise that, although we live in an unprecedentedly connected world, it remains fractured and broken, and we need to work ever harder in partnership with others for the global common good.
The House of Bishops’ pastoral letter, Who is my Neighbour?, which was issued before the election, places emphasis on our belonging to a community of communities at home and a family of nations internationally. I quote:
“Just as the myth of personal autonomy distorts human communities, so the illusion that a nation can flourish without strong international alliances distorts the bigger picture of our shared humanity”.
The Government have rightly emphasised the economy. As Duncan Sandys noted when a Minister of Defence in the 1950s, the degree to which a country can have an active foreign policy is linked to the health of its economy. That said, we need to remember that the UK has the sixth-largest economy in the world, the world’s fifth-highest defence budget, one of its two main financial centres and the second-largest contribution to international financial assistance, which is pretty impressive for a country with 1% of the world’s population, even as power shifts east.
In view of that, we cannot shirk our responsibility to be a force for good in the world. The type of challenges highlighted by this debate can be managed only in partnership with others—working to win hearts and minds, as well as being involved in any defence initiatives. With this in mind, the Government have made some sensible choices, such as reinvesting in international development to help build stability and growth in vulnerable regions of the world, and leading the international campaign to combat sexual violence in conflict, to cite two examples.
In this new age, however, perhaps one of the greatest threats we face is not external but domestic: the continuing questions that hang over the union at home and our place in Europe. I am a fervent supporter of both the union and our engagement with Europe. Like the House of Bishops’ letter, to which I have already referred, I would not argue for the structures and institutions of the European Union as they stand now exactly, but I would argue, in the words of the letter, for,
“continuing to build structures of trust and cooperation between the nations of Europe. Ignoring or denying the extent to which European people share culture and heritage suggests that questions of identity and belonging have no currency except as political bargaining chips”.
Finally, the most pressing question of our age is climate change. In the newly launched Lambeth declaration, representatives of the major faiths, including the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, reminded us that climate change has already hit the poorest of the world very hard and that urgent action is needed to protect future generations. I hope that the Government will use the partnership to which I referred in the forthcoming international climate change talks in Paris this December. Climate change has the capacity to affect for ill the world and our place in it more than any other single factor. As the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, observed, quoting that wonderful 17th century priest and poet, John Donne, the imperative to which he referred is now not only a moral one, but a practical one.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, on the vigorous and most interesting way he delivered his speech, in the luxury facility of 15 minutes, about which I feel extremely jealous. I shall therefore restrict myself to very few remarks.
The first is on questions of activism and what we can actually do, in the kinetic way in which the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, described it. I look on what happened in Afghanistan and recall the phrase that almost wilful ignorance of local realities led to the West’s failures in Afghanistan. We have been there for 14 years now, and I see that the new Chief of the General Staff, General Carter, said very recently that the most important lesson that he learned was, before you get involved in these problems it is very important to have a good understanding of what the problem is and then limit your ambition accordingly. Those words could have been well taken into account many years ago.
Following on from that was what I regard as the disastrous invasion of Iraq, which unlocked the Sunni/Shia conflagration that we have now, running from Mali to Mumbai. Unlike the turbulence that the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, referred to—some of which, such as that of the Lehman Brothers, was capable of early solution—I do not see any early resolution of the conflagration of that sectarian struggle.
Against that background, I do not have time to discuss the need for sensitivity and intelligence in the approach to Russia at the present time in Ukraine and Georgia, where EU or NATO activity could easily provoke a very difficult situation, which is the last thing that we can afford at the present time. I regard what is happening in north Africa, the Middle East and beyond as just the beginning of what could be an absolutely catastrophic situation. I do not know whether noble Lords noticed an announcement in the paper only yesterday that Jordan has stopped food coupons for half a million refugees currently outside their camps. Nobody has any idea how those people will be fed.
The World Food Organisation says that the World Food Programme is running out of funds. The figures for displaced people in Syria are absolutely enormous. I have just checked the population of Yemen: it was 8 million in 1980; it is now 26 million. It imports 90% of its food, it has a shortage of water and a war going on right across its territory. The implications of what that might lead to are quite terrifying. As the noble Lord, Lord Evans, knows very well indeed, social media and the communications that can develop from them underpin the speed of things happening in this area.
I want to make one fundamental point. The noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, gave us four global challenges. He left out one: population. That is an issue that we do not talk about but which is devastating. Why did they demonstrate in Tahrir Square? It is because they did not have any jobs. The outcome of that is that there are even fewer jobs now. If you look at the explosion in population and at Tunisia, the man who committed this outrage was quite well educated, but he did not have a proper job. Some 3,000 of his chums have gone through Libya, training for Syria and other places, and there is a lack of jobs right across the globe. Saudi Arabia has a population of 24 million at the moment; it is forecast to be 48 million in 20 years’ time. That is not exclusive to them; it is all round the region. Part of the jihad I believe is built on the frustration of lack of jobs.
I pulled out an article that David Attenborough wrote in 2001 in the New Statesman. He wrote:
“The population of the world is now growing by nearly 80 million a year. One and a half million a week. A quarter of a million a day”.
He wrote that that is going to have to stop: it is a finite planet and it will stop at some point, and that,
“that can only happen in one of two ways. It can happen sooner, by fewer human births—in a word, by contraception”,
and family planning.
“The alternative is an increased death rate—the way that all other creatures must suffer, through famine or disease or predation. That, translated into human terms, means famine or disease or war—over oil or water or food or minerals or grazing rights or just living space”.
It is a terribly difficult subject to tackle. The absolute priority for the world now, looking at the longer term, is that our own aid programme and the United Nations efforts into family planning and contraception have to be a central ingredient in any approach that we take to tackling both the long-term and appallingly difficult short-term problems that we face.
My Lords, in the limited time that I have today I shall concentrate on Syria. Before I do so, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Ashdown on the magisterial tour d’horizon that he gave us of the changing world that we face in the 21st century.
Syria is now in its fifth year of war. In Parliament we have had two serious occasions to reflect on what the United Kingdom Government should do about it. We had our first debate on 30 August 2013. At that point, several people in this House and in the other place felt that taking action against Syria was the right thing to do. I note that the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Weardale, suggested that we probably would not have had a legal basis and that it probably would not have gone right. I respectfully suggest to him that that is a counterfactual. We cannot know because we decided not to do it. From my perspective, we had a clear legal position. The Chemical Weapons Convention had been breached and, as I had warned in many months leading up to that point, we were in a position where, if we did nothing, we would see the rise of jihadi movements. I did not predict that it would be called the Islamic state but that is what many of us in this Chamber had talked about at that time.
We had the other debate on 26 September 2014, where the House overall took the view that this was not something in which we should get engaged any longer. That was after we had seen the rise of ISIL. At that point, the impression given by both President Obama and our own Prime Minister was that air strikes would be sufficient and that we could crush ISIL and then get back to the problem of dealing with Bashar al-Assad in Syria.
It has become evident that air strikes are no longer sufficient, and we have the Defence Secretary priming Members in the other place to the expectation that we will have yet another vote on whether we should expand the air strikes into Syria from Iraq. The legal basis in Iraq, of course, was that the Iraqi Government had invited us to come and assist them.
I asked the Minister at Question Time today what he imagined the legal basis would be for going into Syria, because that would be a clear distinction. As far as I can tell, the position of the Government is still that Bashar al-Assad has to go—in other words, that they are not prepared to talk to Bashar al-Assad. If Bashar al-Assad is the enemy, along with ISIL, how can the United Kingdom, without United Nations authorisation, come up with a legal base for intervention and carry out belligerent air strikes in a country where we have not been invited and where, coincidentally—and, I would say, rather seriously—another UNSC member, Russia, has significant interests?
Many talk about the end of the Cold War. I fear that we are seeing a new kind of cold war as we start going back to the 1970s and those kind of adventures. I would argue that when the Prime Minister talks of a full spectrum response, he needs to be mindful of how full and complete this country’s capabilities are in terms of a full spectrum response. More than that, leaving aside this country, the impact of a full spectrum response against a grouping that mobilises on the basis of theology and religion, would in effect be seen in the Muslim world as a full spectrum response against Muslims, particularly as ISIL has moved into Afghanistan—we know that as it beheaded 11 Taliban only recently—as it has moved into Pakistan and is moving further east still. It is already in Africa. Boko Haram has already pledged allegiance to it. Therefore, I would caution the Government against again responding disproportionately. We are back, I fear, to the Blair/Bush era of disproportionate responses. I do not for a second want to diminish the pain and suffering felt by the people who have lost family and friends in the ghastly attack in Tunisia, but there has to be a sense of proportionality.
In closing, I say to the Minister that there is another way. That other way was taken by France, which is a United Nations Security Council member. France chose to sit aside from that first post-9/11 war in Iraq. It has not suffered significant losses. I accept that it has a terrorism problem but it has not suffered losses in any other sense by having stood aside. We could do the same. We could be the honest broker. We need Russia on side for Iran and Syria and many other things. We could be the honest broker in trying to be the only United Nations Security Council member that pushes for a peace settlement—a peace accord—because that is what we need to do. We need to move back to resolving disputes through peaceful measures rather than resorting to bombs every time something goes wrong.
My Lords, I, too, am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, for introducing a debate which has already become a good example of what WH Auden—referring, it must be said, to diplomacy in China—described as a,
“conversation of the highly trained”.
Like the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester, I should like to start with one or two important key points. Ours is the fifth largest economy in the world. We are an open trading nation with our economic development dependent on global stability and respect for the rule of law. Like other nations, we are at risk in different ways from terrorism, conflict, climate change and the pressures of migration, which, as the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, rightly said, have led us into an unpredictable world.
We have respected and effective national assets, including our Armed Forces, to which I shall briefly return, a global diplomatic service—still, just, global but in need of reinforcement—effective security services, a substantial aid programme and, although no one has mentioned it yet, a highly effective British Council and BBC World Service, which play a key role in our soft diplomacy. So we have clout and we have assets, but we need to make certain that our assets match and enhance our clout.
We have long recognised—rightly, in my view—that we cannot protect and promote our interests around the world on our own. We need to engage with and help to shape the key international organisations, political and economic, to which we belong. Here, too, I agree completely with the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown. I want to refer to just two of those—NATO and the European Union—although that is in no way to suggest that the others which I shall not mention are not important.
First, there is NATO. The role of NATO has changed and is changing, rightly, after the collapse of the Soviet Union and as the world adapts, but the resurgent activism of Putin’s Russia shows that we still need NATO as part of a measured response to that threat. The United States and others look to us to help to ensure that it remains effective in the years ahead. We, of course, need to make certain that we get our economy in order, but, for example, promising to devote 2% of our GDP to defence and appearing to renege on that shortly after does not inspire confidence in our commitment to a strong defence. On an issue as important as defence and in a world as uncertain as today’s, we should surely be leading and influencing, not contracting.
The same is true of the European Union. We are a European country: look at a map. Terrorism, migration and conflict around Europe’s borders affect us and require a European response and European solutions. We need in our own interests to be playing a full part in negotiating those solutions, not opting out of the process. The same is true of the EU’s common foreign and security policy. I admire the determination of Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande, with support from President Obama, to go to Minsk to try to find a resolution to the conflict in Ukraine. I am not persuaded by the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Evans, that it did not matter that we were not there. I regret that we were not involved, and I hugely hope that that is not a precedent for the future. That is not in the great tradition of this country’s management of its foreign policy.
I hope that the Prime Minister’s negotiations on the European Union succeed. I hope that the referendum will be won. I hope that we will then play a full part in the European Union’s future development, and I see no conflict at all between doing that and developing strong political and economic links with China, India and Brazil and with Commonwealth countries around the world. It seems to me that we can and need to do both in the pursuit of our own interests.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, is to be richly congratulated on the title of his debate, even if it smacks of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. We have one and a quarter minutes on each of their four horses—terrorism, conflict, climate change and mass migration—although that may be pushing it a bit. It is also an awesome privilege to follow a former Permanent Under-Secretary at the FCO in a debate of this scope. Before I move away from the mover of the Motion, I concur on the significance of the Congress of Vienna—the subject of Henry Kissinger’s notable book—and likewise on the role of Castlereagh.
I do not possess ministerial experience akin to that of my noble friends Lord Howell and Lord King at the FCO and MoD respectively. When last night I surveyed the rich package of material provided by the Library in anticipation of this debate, I realised that the night would not be long enough profitably to absorb it all. I therefore went back two-thirds of a century to an earlier life as an amateur classicist and that agreeably Delphic device, the Sortes Vergilianae, whereby if confronted by a dilemma you first put your finger on a random page in Virgil and then put a pin into a random line on that page, hoping that the line serves you with guidance. Given that the Battle of Waterloo was precisely 200 years and one week ago, and was an heroic moment when we were nationally flying high, I have transferred from Virgil to the Duke of Wellington, who was not only the conqueror of Bonaparte at Waterloo but later a Conservative Prime Minister, and was still serving in the Conservative Cabinet 30 years after Waterloo. Linnaeus might well have regarded Sortes Wellingtonianae as a subspecies of tree but the range of his career up to this summer’s bicentennial should offer some guidance.
Somewhat telegraphically and with occasional quotation, I will offer random career experiences and accomplishments of the great Duke in broadly chronological order. When he was still what Bonaparte called a “sepoy general”, having commanded armies of 40,000 men in the field, received the thanks of Parliament for his victories and been made a Knight of the Bath, he was reduced to the command of a brigade of infantry. He replied to a sympathiser:
“I have ate the king’s salt; and therefore I conceive it to be my duty to serve, with unhesitating zeal and cheerfulness, when and wherever the king or his government may think proper to employ me”.
On the other hand, he was never a pushover. There is his later famous reply to a political master:
“My Lord, if I attempted to answer the mass of futile correspondence that surrounds me, I should be debarred from all serious business of campaigning. I must remind your Lordship—for the last time—that so long as I retain an independent position, I shall see that no officer under my Command is debarred by attending to … mere quill driving in your Lordship’s Office—from attending to his first duty—which is, and always has been, so to train the private men under his Command that they may, without question, beat any force opposed to them in the field. I am, My Lord, Your Obedient Servant, Wellington”.
There is a passage in Spain in 1809 when he showed rich Irish common sense relating to the attendance of Catholics in his army at Mass—I declare a Protestant interest of being three-eighths Irish—and another in 1811 when he responded equally imaginatively when it had come to his notice that Methodism was spreading very quickly in the Army. Colonel Stanhope’s Notes of Conversations with the Duke of Wellington does not imply a dietary discipline similar to Bonaparte’s—eight minutes for lunch and 12 for dinner—for Stanhope asserted:
“You little know what you are going to meet with. You will often have no dinner at all; I mean … literally no dinners, and not merely roughing it on a beefsteak or a bottle of port wine”.
Again in the peninsula, the Duke wrote:
“It is very necessary to attend to all this detail, and to trace a biscuit from Lisbon into the man’s mouth on the frontier, and to provide for its removal from place to place, by land or by water, or no military operations can be carried on”.
Likewise in the peninsula, he opined in 1809 about his Spanish allies:
“I am sure I don’t know what we are to do with these people. Put them behind stone walls, and I dare say they would defend them; but to manoeuvre with such rabble under fire is impossible”.
But by 1813 he wrote that the French were beaten back,
“in the most gallant style, by the Spanish troops, whose conduct was equal to that of any troops that I have seen engaged”.
All these characteristics and beliefs came together in his legendary remark on the very morrow of Waterloo, quoted by Creevey:
“It has been a damned nice thing—the nearest run thing you ever saw in your life”.
His impact on others can be derived from his nickname among his troops of Old Nosey. In the words of John Kincaid, who, as some have a good war, had a good battle two centuries ago last week:
“The sight of his long nose among us on a battle morning was worth 10,000 men any day of the week”.
Your Lordships may ask in what respect all this is about the subject of the debate. The great Duke’s Anglo-Irish qualities and values are still what this country is all about. To adapt from Shakespeare, if we are true to our own selves, we could not then be false to any man.
My Lords, I unreservedly thank the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, for his speech. It was powerful, analytical and challenging. I just hope that the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary find the time to read and ponder it. I also hope that all the contenders for the leadership of my own party read it, think about it and analyse its significance for what they are attempting to do.
There is a tremendous paradox about the age in which we live. We have on the one hand a total interdependence, illustrated by climate change, terrorism, health and all aspects of the global economy. But on the other hand there is an almost unprecedented period of unpredictability, instability, insecurity and vulnerability. In the context of all those issues, there is a desperate search by so many people to find a sense of identity. It is how we bring them together that matters in our foreign policy. Do we have in place not just the arrangements but the culture in Whitehall to see that what is essential to meet the challenges is interdepartmental co-operation? It can no longer be the preserve of this or that department because it crosses the frontiers of almost every significant department in government.
It also means that we must realise that we should be betraying the British people, and I do not use “betraying” lightly, if we do not help them to understand that we can no longer talk as we used to about our national interests in what we are doing. We have to understand that our interests, as people living in the United Kingdom, are best served by the interests of the wider international community of which we are essentially a part. Our leadership will therefore be judged by the contribution it makes to strengthening what is necessary to handle that reality of interdependence. We played a key part in founding so many of the indispensable international institutions after the Second World War. We need to regenerate an understanding in Britain that we must strengthen those international institutions, and our part within them, to meet the challenges that we now face. Sadly, so often, it seems to be about trying to run away from that reality and find solace in a kind of popular isolationism. That is a disaster for the British people. Their interests will be found in facing up to the reality and strengthening our part within it.
I want to make a couple of specific points in this context. I care desperately about the effectiveness of the non-proliferation treaty—of course I do, as any sane person must. Yet there is in the eyes of the world an interesting situation, as we try to impose limits on other people’s nuclear capability in the interests of humanity while insisting that our well-being depends upon our nuclear capability. I am a realist and, having been a Defence Minister as well as a Foreign Office Minister, I realise that we are where we are. But when the NPT was originally achieved, there was definitely a firm understanding that the existing nuclear powers would contribute steadily and demonstrably to the limitation of their own nuclear capability. Where is the evidence for that? How can we have successful influence in the world unless there is credibility?
There will be huge new challenges on China. We also face the challenges of the ugly realities, if I may use that phrase, of Russia today. We will be judged by how we contribute to enabling the world as a whole, starting with Europe, to face up to these challenges. However, it means not institutionalising the differences that are there. Dialogue with Russia and China is crucial. When the Russians proposed a federal solution to Ukraine, we may well have mistrusted their intentions but that does not mean that we should dismiss the concept of federalism in itself. We must be prepared to take up a challenge and an idea to see what we can do towards building bridges.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure for me to follow the remarks of my noble friend Lord Ashdown, who has given us an extraordinarily challenging picture of the world in which we live and which, alas, is opening before us. I begin by underlining something that was said by the noble Lord, Lord Jay of Ewelme, who of course knows the Foreign Office very well. He said, and he was absolutely right, that the failure of the British Government to go to Minsk was an abdication of responsibility, which was central. We should remember that we signed the Budapest memorandum, which made the United Kingdom one of the guarantors of the independence of Ukraine. It was a crucial commitment. For us then not even to appear at a critical meeting about the future of Ukraine, which is still deeply unresolved, was frankly an abdication of our responsibility. That is not the right way to deal with a troubled and increasingly perilous world.
The noble Lord, Lord Jay of Ewelme, might have gone on to point to another dangerous abdication. It is that, sadly, the United Kingdom has now clearly abdicated any responsibility for the huge range of refugees who are now flooding Europe and the world more generally. Even being willing to take one part of the 400,000 refugees the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is trying to settle would have been an indication of a moral duty that we share with our fellow Europeans, and from which we cannot abdicate. I found that extremely sad. The United Kingdom has a responsibility, as a past great power and a present still very significant power, to show a willingness to recognise that we cannot just walk away and leave refugees rotting in their camps all over the Middle East in countries such as Lebanon and Jordan, which are far poorer than we are, and to which we then refuse to give any example of some share in the responsibility for running this difficult world.
I want to talk briefly about two specific things, both squarely within our range of responsibility. The first is that we have made a very impressive start on getting a serious agreement out of the Paris environmental conference which is due to start at the end of November this year. It may well be our last chance to avoid steady deterioration to a situation where we once again abdicate from literally saving our own world. Between 1880 and now, there has already been just under a 1% increase in global temperatures. That is half way to the 2% that most of the world’s greatest scientists—including our own, such as the noble Lord, Lord Stern, and others—have indicated clearly is the point at which the world cannot easily survive. We are half way there already, and 1% more will take us into the 2% level where, I repeat, many of our own and the world’s greatest scientists are clear that the world’s future becomes counted in very short terms indeed.
Therefore, can the Government say, first, whether they will keep entirely to the commitments they made when my excellent colleague Mr Ed Davey was Secretary of State for the Environment, to ensure that we retain that energetic effort to cut carbon emissions and resolve that we will take dramatic steps to lower emissions in this century? Will they say that they are still committed to that ambitious and inspiring plan? Secondly, will they also say what they suggest should happen in respect of sanctions against those countries—there are several of them—that simply refuse to be bound by any international commitment to addressing climate change? Sanctions can be very effective, and without them we can say in advance that the environment faces a steady deterioration. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester was absolutely right in pointing out that it is the poorest in the world who are the first and most serious victims.
I will quickly add one other thing before I sit down. It is also crucial that we face up to the huge onward rush of migrants. The noble Lord, Lord King, with his usual extraordinary insight and common sense, pointed out how serious this is. We need to come up with something very close to a Marshall plan—a huge effort to build up the economic standards of those living in poorer countries. For example, our scientists might simply look at the extraordinary solar potential of the Sahara and ask whether there is not some possibility of addressing the problems of the people of the Sahara flooding out of the area because, currently, it spells death. That could of course be a major step forward for the climate if we only had the imagination and the wisdom to try to do it.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, is surely to be congratulated both on the timing and the content of today’s debate and on the typically forceful and perceptive way in which he introduced it. I still remember when he was a lone voice in the 1990s warning us that our response to the conflicts in the Balkans was hopelessly inadequate. He was right then to sound a note of alarm and he is right to do so now.
No one who is not terminally complacent can dispute that the many global challenges we face now are real and daunting and that our responses to them, both nationally and collectively, fall short of what is required if they are to be managed and mastered. In particular, we must recognise that the multilateral organisations on which we have come to rely so much—none of these challenges can be handled by Britain acting alone—are struggling to find the right responses. That is true of the UN and its Security Council, where large and vulnerable no-go areas have opened up in respect of Syria, Crimea and Ukraine, and the disputes in the East and South China Seas. It is true, too, of NATO, where we are having to recreate effective deterrents towards a Russia which has decided, unjustifiably in my view, to treat us once again as an adversary. It is true of the European Union, where the problems of mass migration, the Greek economy and stabilising Ukraine are testing the organisation to its limits. If we are being honest with ourselves, we must recognise that the rules-based international community, whose laborious construction we have devoted so much energy and resource to since the end of the Second World War and above all since the end of the Cold War, and on which our security and prosperity depend, is eroding and frail. How can we reverse this drift towards a “new world disorder”? I make no apology for using a phrase that was the title of a book that I wrote some years ago.
We clearly need to do all we can to ensure that the two big UN conferences later this year—the sustainable development one in New York in September and the Paris conference on climate change in December—come to successful and meaningful conclusions. I would suggest that we need to roll back some of those Security Council no-go areas. One day, perhaps not tomorrow, the UN could provide the framework for a settlement in Syria. Is not it also time for the Security Council to lay down the parameters for a two-state solution of the Palestine problem and revive the momentum towards direct negotiations between the parties, which has faltered so badly? Should we not press the case for the disputes for the East and South China Seas to be submitted to international arbitration, either under the law of the sea convention or through the International Court of Justice?
What then can one say about our own British contribution to dealing with these many challenges? As a single word reply, I would suggest “patchy”. For the two big UN conferences, our commitment to the UN target of 0.7% and our performance in shaping the EU’s leadership role on climate change should enable us to operate effectively and influentially—and that is about where the good news stops. Our abdication of a leading role on Ukraine cannot be masked by reiteration of our support for economic sanctions. Our contribution to the fight against IS is pretty marginal. Should not we be stepping up our involvement and overcoming our reluctance to strike ISIS assets in Syria? I raised this issue in the debate on the Address, and I would very much welcome a response from the noble Earl when he winds up this debate. Would not that, too, enable us to call more forcefully for better co-ordination of both the military and the political campaigns, which is so sadly lacking? As for NATO, we will lack both the credibility, the influence and the ability to respond, if we cannot commit ourselves to the 2% target for the years ahead.
The Prime Minister’s negotiations for reform of the European Union are clearly a necessary prelude to what is now an inevitable in-out referendum. Britain’s influence in the EU has been far greater over the years than the Eurosceptics will give credit for, but it can be sustained only by pursuing objectives that all members can support, and by demonstrating commitment to the overall enterprise rather than just trying to carve out a few more niches for ourselves. In that context, while I support the objections of the Government and others to the EU having a system of mandatory quotas for immigrants, I regret—and, indeed, I feel shame—that the Government have been unwilling to make a voluntary offer to take in some additional bona fide asylum seekers.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Ashdown on securing this debate—and I must say that it was good to hear him in full cry, just like the old days. I wish to declare an interest as chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Population, Development and Reproductive Health, and point out a factor that is not in the title of the debate but which, thank goodness, the noble Lord, Lord King, addressed earlier. I call it population dynamics. It includes population size, the growth trends of the population, age structure and urbanisation. These are terribly important issues.
In two weeks’ time, my all-party group will launch a report we have been working on to coincide with World Population Day, entitled Population Dynamics and the Sustainable Development Goals. It includes sections on mass migration and conflict, because we were interested in the relationship between rapid population growth and the factors in the title of this debate. I hope noble Lords will read it. It follows a previous report of the group, four years ago, entitled The Return of the Population Factor and the paper from the Royal Society two years ago entitled People and the Planet.
These links must be made. Countries with high fertility rates and rapid population growth are mostly the fragile states with high proportions of young people with no access to education or employment. This leads to unrest, migration to find a better life—and conflict. In areas where they are suffering floods or desertification because of climate change, which my noble friend Lady Williams spoke about, they are even more likely to try to migrate or to start wars against other people, fighting over what is left of the land. Across the Arab world, millions of young men outnumber their fathers and grandfathers, are receiving no proper education and have no prospects for the future. Is it any wonder that they are attracted by extreme ideologies that offer a future and a purpose for their lives?
As the noble Lord, Lord King, said, people are afraid of mentioning population growth—or dynamics, which I prefer to call it—conjuring up as it does the previous century’s terrible attempts at coercive birth control. Birth control can be done voluntarily. Many countries are doing it, if supplies are available, and there is evidence worldwide that that is now happening. We must take it seriously. We must ensure at the lowest level that every woman has access to contraception to be able to have the number of children she wants. I am glad to say that the previous Government led the way. This way, not only will countries have fewer people to cope with in the future, but women will be empowered and able to take their rightful place in society. They cannot do that if they are just breeding machines. If women take their rightful place in society, it benefits everyone. The World Bank has shown that when women are empowered and take part in their society, the economy benefits.
My final point is that western developed democracies must take climate change seriously. We must cut the greed and energy consumption that is causing climate change and forcing people to flee the countries affected and come to our shores seeking a better life. Why should they not? I hope noble Lords will read our paper as I have given only a taste of it. Denial of climate change must stop and much greater efforts must be made to stabilise the number of people in this world. Action must be taken for all our sakes.
My Lords, I came into this debate realising how little I knew and wondering what the problem was. Then I suddenly thought, “It’s geographic”—we do not teach geography any more. Then I realised that the problem was tribalism. I went to the Library and tried to find out what tribes there were in the world. I started with Scythia in the ninth century BC. I realised that those who had tribes probably now have to look at history—which is not taught very well by anybody, and geography is not taught, and getting a map of the world is becoming extremely difficult—and the empires to realise who were the people who created these empires.
Listening to what I have heard today, I realised that we, the British, were the ones who created the greatest empire long after the Scythians and others in the ninth century BC, who were followed by others. Therefore we—partly because of the English language—have a greater responsibility than anyone else to try to put things right. Since we do not teach geography and history, our knowledge of other people’s territories—excepting that of the eminent people in the Foreign Office—is relatively limited, and we have forgotten that one of the reasons we went out into the world was because of the produce and minerals that could be produced which created that added value. At one time it was sugar, and now perhaps of equal importance is fresh, pure water.
My question to us all today is: what can this Government do to follow this up and which countries have historic relationships with their own area? I wanted to look up Scythia in the Library but we could not find out where it was; it was rather difficult. I looked out the histories of all the territories and frontiers. One of my favourite subjects is of course the coastal areas of the world and the sea, which is so productive. I have argued bitterly that we, the British, have the greatest control over the seas because of the 200-mile exclusion zone, and that if we got together with the French we would have 75%.
With which other countries can we help at this point in time to bring about a recovery in those countries that do not have enough to eat, do not have enough food and do not have pure water? We have all these skills within us here. The French have an interesting phrase, which I learnt when I worked with them in Africa and other territories: it is called “grenouiller”. I wondered what it was and was told that if you are confronted by something and you are a “grenouille”, you have the opportunity to “sauter”—to jump over it—or to go under it. I assumed that this was the origin of the phrase “frogging about”. But no: grenouiller means that you stir the pot when you are cooking a stew to see what comes to the top.
In a way, we have stirred the pot today. We know that it is not necessarily a defence of the realm issue, but it is an issue where we should be able to encourage those countries that were productive in the past, and were part of colonial empires, to be able to reproduce their food, their livestock and other things. It is not a big problem, but I hope that the Minister will tell us all what this Government are going to do to take the lead in bringing about a recovery. Because of our geographic position and for other reasons, I believe that we have a greater responsibility than any other nation.
I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, on obtaining this debate and on the masterly way in which he introduced it. Although the Motion says that the House should take note, like the noble Lord, Lord Judd, I too hope that the Government will also take note of many of the wise things that have been said today.
I declare an interest as a member of the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy. Several foxes having been shot in what I was going to say, I shall concentrate on conflict, one of the challenges that the noble Lord introduced in his Motion. I was extremely disappointed that during the recent election campaign I saw precious little evidence, if any, of any consideration of the role of this nation in the world. I have not yet seen any evidence that the Government have come up with a national security strategy on which our response to the various challenges that have been mentioned can be based. That is particularly worrying in the case of conflict, because a national security strategy is needed to inform the defence and security review that we are promised in the early autumn—with the ringing example of the failure of the flawed 2010 review, which was not so based.
In connection with that, if we look at our ability to take on conflict, we cannot but recognise that we have an extremely unbalanced order of battle, which is more akin to Cold War requirements than to meeting the challenges that have been so eloquently described by many noble Lords today. For an island race, we have very few small ships. I beg the Government to reconsider the reduction they are making in the size of the Army, considering that in recent years—in addition to the places the Secretary of State for Defence described this week where the Army was operating—the Army has dealt with the foot and mouth problem, undertaken strike-breaking for ambulance and tanker drivers, provided security for the Olympic Games, coped with the floods, dealt with Ebola overseas and is now dealing with the earthquake in Nepal. If you undermine something that is supporting the fabric of the nation, you are actually undermining the ability of us to meet many of these challenges.
I was particularly pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, mentioned that when any ministry is involved in thinking about what it is going to do, it must consider the role in the world that that thing may be playing. I pick on one aspect, which is mass migration. At present, the ability of the Home Office to handle the numbers of people coming into this country is hampered by the millstone of over half a million unresolved cases, which means that anyone coming in will have to wait an extremely long time to get to the head of the queue. In meeting these challenges, we therefore must consider how we are going to deal with them practically. I agree with my noble friend Lord Howell that, when looking at these challenges, we must consider that our aid programme is now a front-line weapon, particularly in relation to our role in the world.
My feeling is that the role of the country in the world and the meeting of these various challenges have been ignored by the Government, unfortunately, and I do not see any evidence that planning is being made to meet them any better than it has been. I ask the Minister that, following this debate, we in this House should have regular opportunities for updates on this subject and to discuss our role in the world and the meeting of these challenges, to make sure that any momentum started is maintained.
My Lords, Syria is torn by terrorism, which causes mass migration, but there is a ray of hope. I have spoken twice in this Parliament about the three cantons of Afrin, Kobane and Jazira, and have visited the last of those. A journalist from Aleppo told me in London that Afrin is still free; we know that Kobane and Jazira are now reconnected, following defeats for ISIS. Why do our Government ignore the admirable self-administration by these cantons? Will they visit Jazira, where access is quite easy? Surely they should support the aim of the cantons for common citizenship for all ethnic and religious groups, and for equality for women. The cantons are built up from local communities. They seek a federal solution for Syria.
Will the Government provide modern equipment and arms for the YPG? Will they give scholarships to Syrians, especially those whose studies have been stopped by the war? Such people have huge potential for rebuilding Syria.
Your Lordships will have heard of the murders by ISIS in Kobane of 25 June. Over 320 people were killed and injured—men, women and children. This was revenge, probably mounted from Turkey, with no military purpose. The atrocity caused more deaths than attacks in Tunisia, Kuwait and France put together but has been shamefully underreported. I have met two eyewitnesses of Kobane, that Stalingrad of Syria. They said that the town was 80% destroyed by the long siege. Of the four hospitals, two were half-destroyed and two severely damaged. Six schools were destroyed and another nine may be repairable. All the utilities need urgent attention.
Will the Government provide medicines, school books and seeds for next year’s harvest? Equipment and training for clearing mines and unexploded shells will be more important still. If the Government cannot provide that directly, will they at least mobilise the international agencies? I ask our Government to ignore contradictory criticism that the PYD, the largest party, is linked to the PKK in Turkey and to the Assad regime. The leaders of Jazira, whom I met, struck me as ordinary decent democrats doing their best under difficult circumstances. We should remember that all three cantons have acted only in self-defence, mainly against attacks from ISIS.
Something worthwhile and hopeful is happening in these cantons. Their neighbours could and should be more helpful to this positive experiment. The Kurdistan Regional Government could help by improving access to Jazira by bridge and by land. Turkey should stop talking about invading and making a buffer zone, and should allow uninterrupted passage for medical and relief supplies. We recognise that it has been helpful over refugees, but will Her Majesty’s Government ask for free passage for relief supplies and for grain exports from Jazira? As a NATO ally, Turkey should stop helping ISIS. Saudi Arabia and some Gulf states, which claim close relations with us, should also disown and cut off all support for ISIS. Enough harm has been done already. When different ancestries, cultures and faiths want to co-operate and to live together, they deserve our full help and support.
My Lords, I hope the Minister will understand when I say that he has my full sympathy in having to wind up a debate like this one. One of the few compensations of no longer being in government is that I do not have to do things like that.
I begin with a point that my noble friend Lord Ashdown started the debate with: that the UK’s set of assumptions about foreign policy is stuck in the 1980s, having failed to reconcile itself to how transformed the world has become. Timothy Garton Ash wrote some years ago about all British foreign policy being footnotes to Churchill. In some ways, it is footnotes not just to Churchill but also to Thatcher. My wife reminded me the other day that she had been in the front row to hear the Bruges speech, and afterwards Mrs Thatcher came up to her and said, “Yes, of course, my dear. But you know, they owe us so much”. That is a one-sided view of our relationship with our European partners. Part of the problem we now face is that we have an English nationalist nostalgia in which the refusal to recognise that there is another perspective that we need to understand is regarded as very important. Dominic Lawson’s attack on Philip Hammond in the Daily Mail last week was a classic of that. He asked whether the Foreign Secretary had “gone native”. What was Philip Hammond’s crime? He had gone round the other 27 member states and listened to their Foreign Secretaries and Prime Ministers and understood that they also have a point of view. Unless we are able to work in a multilateral world, which we no longer dominate, and listen occasionally to other countries’ points of view, we will not succeed. The attack on the BBC for not pursuing a much more nationalistic interpretation of ISIL is a good example. The BBC is an example of soft power partly because it does not always follow the most narrow-minded British perspective. We have to recognise that.
Several noble Lords have mentioned the decline in our knowledge of foreign languages and foreign countries. Every time the Foreign Office is cut further, that decline goes further. It is extremely important that we maintain an ability to understand how others go. I myself was much concerned when our Prime Minister went to Warsaw and he appeared not to have been briefed in advance about how the Poles see their relationship with the UK. For example, they see their contribution to our war effort in the Second World War, and the inability of the British to respond at the end of the war, as a very important part of that relationship. If you do not understand things like that, you will not get on terribly well with your partners. There is a resistance, as a number of noble Lords have said, to recognising how transformed our global agenda has become. Remember that in the 2010 SDSR, the list of top-tier threats to Britain were almost entirely non-military: climate change, organised crime, terrorism, global pandemics and so on. The foreign policy debate in this country has not really grasped how important those have now become.
Co-operation on managing migration and organised crime has been mentioned. With regard to co-operation on managing organised crime, Europol is not a threat to British sovereignty but is essentially a part of how we have to handle all these transnational dimensions. When I was briefly a spokesman at the Home Office and was briefed by people from the Yorkshire regional organised crime unit, they started by saying that there is no such thing as domestic serious organised crime. All criminal networks cross boundaries, and that is therefore the world in which we absolutely have to operate.
I agree strongly with the noble Lord, Lord King, and my noble friend Lady Tonge that population growth is also a vital matter. William Hague and others did very well to stress the importance of transforming the role of women as one of the ways of tackling the enormously important issue of overpopulation. When I was in government, I asked the Foreign Office whether sexual frustration played a part in recruitment to ISIS and in violent terrorism. In short order I received some fascinating and rather horrifying studies of the extent to which young men who have no jobs, no prospects and no access to women work out their sexual frustrations by becoming violent extremists. All those things are caught up together and therefore they have to be part of our broader foreign policy.
The nostalgic looking to Washington and wanting to be validated by Washington all the time as being still a great power is to be found in the Daily Mail, the Daily Telegraph and other newspapers as part of the British foreign policy debate. This is as old as the hills. John F Kennedy said that he wanted to rebuild an Atlantic community on the basis that Britain would be one of its major European partners, along with France and Germany. Yet we are still saying, “Please can we come to Washington because we don’t want to have to deal with the French and the Germans”. These days, of course, Washington is looking primarily to Berlin as its major European partner rather than to Britain.
The inability to love our neighbours, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester would put it, is absolutely a part of this. Resentment of Germany and France is clearly there in the current Eurosceptic debate. The other week I had a look at the website of Historians for Britain—part of the campaign for Britain—which states, “Europe is a threat to British Values”. That is fascinating and horrifying. It goes on to argue that European culture has historically been far more anti-Semitic than that of the British, which, for those of us who have dug into the history of St William of York—my saint name—and others, skates over the circumstances in which the English expelled the Jews and others.
Therefore, we are deeply muddled about who we are, where we are in the world and what our identity is. David Starkey, one of the leading historians in Britain, held a wonderful debate at the Hay Festival the other week with Jonathan Sumption about Magna Carta as an exclusively English phenomenon, having nothing to do with the French or the papal legate who were at Runnymede or all the others who were necessarily concerned. Some of us will remember that the reason Magna Carta survived was that Simon de Montfort, a French nobleman who happened to be the king’s brother-in-law, insisted on pushing Magna Carta against an authoritarian king. The European Union is a highly imperfect body but it is the basis on which we have to found the multilateral diplomacy with which we work in the world.
We have confusion in our policy towards the Middle East. I was rather horrified at a conference the other week to hear a senior Israeli Minister describe Saudi Arabia as a moderate power. We are in severe danger of finding ourselves caught on the hard-line Sunni side of a Sunni/Shia divide. If and when a settlement on the nuclear issue with Iran is formed, the possibility of being able to moderate a growing Sunni/Shia conflict will come up and we should grasp it. However, a range of issues, including the commitment to increase British forces in the Gulf and expand our base in Bahrain, suggests that the British Government do not fully understand the complexity of Middle East relations or have not entirely thought through how much we need to pursue a multilateral diplomatic effort there. So we have a foreign policy that is based on nostalgia, status and a claim to walk tall in the world, to punch above our weight and to leadership, but without being prepared to pay for the cost of global leadership in military or diplomatic terms.
The Prime Minister’s insistence on the 2% pledge at the Cardiff NATO summit and not following it through is another good example of the gap between rhetoric and practice. That gap leaves our public deeply confused. We are confused most of all because we are still talking about British foreign policy and British sovereignty standing tall in the world, but it is a sovereignty that is defined as threatened most of all by the European Court of Human Rights telling us that prisoners must have the vote, whereas we are happily selling off British companies to foreign companies or selling increasing chunks of Whitehall to Chinese, Arab or other investors to be converted into hotels along the state processional route—a subject on which I have a Question next week. So we are also confused about what British sovereignty is about.
We need a multilateral foreign policy covering a much broader agenda than defence and classic diplomacy, and we need, above all, to explain that to our domestic public in terms that they can understand and will support.
My Lords, I want to thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate and, above all, thank the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, for securing the debate, which has given the House some time and space to consider, not so much in specific detail but in general terms, what this country’s role is and what it should be when we are faced with a plethora of global challenges. If I may say so, the mood of the House is that the noble Lord’s speech was a brilliant speech. All who have spoken in the debate have risen to the challenge that the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, set us. In my remarks I will attempt to pick out some themes that seem important to Her Majesty’s Opposition and make some general points, too.
It was on 5 December 1962, at the military academy West Point, that the by then former Secretary of State, Dean Acheson, made his now almost clichéd remark:
“Great Britain has lost an empire and has not yet found a role”.
No doubt an expression of topical American frustration, but it is a statement that, over 50 years later, still perhaps reverberates. Many of us believe that joining the EC and becoming a player in the expanded European Union was an important part of the answer to Acheson. But, to put it mildly, it has not been without its difficulties. It has in fact become, in many ways, the obsession of modern British politics.
In his briefing paper, A Force for Order: Strategic Underpinnings of the Next NSS and SDSR, Professor Malcolm Chalmers from RUSI puts it rather differently. He argues that up to 1939 the UK pursued a predominantly nationalist grand strategy but that since 1949, with the formation of NATO, the grand strategy has been based on a,
“permanent alliance and economic partnership with fellow democracies in the US and Western Europe, and on support for the rules-based international order created after 1945”.
If that grand strategy analysis is correct, and it seems fairly convincing, it too has to face now the global challenges that were never even foreseen by the signatories to NATO or the original EC.
Six days ago, 30 of our fellow citizens were brutally and obscenely massacred while holidaying on a beautiful beach in a country that had made some progress in modernising and democratising its system. They were killed by one individual, probably helped by others, who presumably thought that he was performing God’s will. NATO was not set up to deal with that sort of threat, the threat that ISIL particularly represents: an appalling mixture of medieval barbarism and modern technology that can fatally strike in Tunisia, Kuwait and France in just one day.
What should Britain’s role be in combating this powerful, evil threat? One thing is certain: it should not be to pretend that we can somehow escape, that we can hide away, pull up the drawbridge, hope that it just goes away and, even if it does not go away, that it will just not notice us and pass by. Withdrawal from the world is not an option for us. Our common sense, our history and, most importantly, our values do not allow us even to contemplate that.
There is an argument about whether our country is gradually retreating anyway from the world. Many will have seen the Economist article, which described “Little Britain” as,
“a shrinking actor on the global stage”.
We hear that the Americans are pressing us to be more proactive. I share the views expressed by the noble Lords, Lord Hannay and Lord Jay, and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, that what we did not do as far as Ukraine is concerned is a blot and not in the British interest.
Whatever our view may be on the issue that I have raised, I hope that we are all agreed that Britain can and should continue to play a leading role in global affairs and must never allow a false choice to be created between nation building at home and engagement on the world stage. We can and must do both. Future success and security depend on us doing both. Our membership of all the bodies that we belong to, from the EU to the Security Council, right through to the Commonwealth, NATO, G7 and G20, and of course, vitally, the EU, makes us unique—and we can add to that Britain’s history, language and culture. Of course, we should not try to boss the world, but we should always be there as a supporter of multilateralism, of partnership, persuading, advising, advocating and leading where necessary in finding solutions to the world’s most intractable problems.
This is the country that in the last century only has given the world the BBC, the British Council and the National Health Service—just to name three world-beating organisations—and, over a longer period, perhaps parliamentary democracy and the rule of law. We still have an important part to play. We are and have been and must always be an outward-facing country.
Among our strengths around the world are of course—and this needs to be said; the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, mentioned it—our Armed Forces, who continue rightly to be admired. Their roles as peacekeepers and, in the last analysis, as our protectors are crucial. I hope that the House will want in this debate to pay a tribute to them and to all others—by whom I mean all our diplomats and all those who work for us at home and abroad—who not only protect our country’s interests, which is vital, but seek to build a better world.
All the global challenges that are in the title of this debate are connected. Mass migration is an area where until recently the European Union—and I am afraid that includes the UK, too—has not behaved at all well; in fact, we have behaved extremely badly. The disgraceful decision, taken last autumn, to stop the Mare Nostrum scheme and to impose Operation Triton, which, frankly, meant that boats were not permitted to be further than 30 miles off the Italian coast—as if that would somehow prevent desperate people trying to cross the Mediterranean—was roundly criticised in this House, not least by the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, and other noble Lords. It was a terrible mistake I am afraid—I say that as a great pro-European—by the European Union and our Government. There will be an important debate in this House next week on that matter, and I ask the Minister whether we can have a generous, humane policy, more in keeping with our traditions as a country, from Her Majesty’s Government in the future.
I finish by saying a few words about climate change, which is included in the title of this debate. It is an enormous threat. It is an issue of global and national security and I am sure the Government want a strong agreement in Paris which sets ambitious targets for the future.
We are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, for introducing the debate. It has given us an opportunity to have a general debate and to discuss different and detailed policies. We all look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to speak on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government in this debate with a speakers’ list that would be the envy of any second Chamber throughout the world.
I pay tribute to the distinguished contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon, to foreign affairs over the years and to his formidable speech in which he described very aptly the multipolar interconnected world in which we now live. I welcome the important role he will play in the Srebrenica commemoration event at Westminster Abbey on Monday. My visit to the country and to Srebrenica last August will for ever remain in my memory.
I also thank all noble Lords for their valuable contributions today. I will do my best to answer all questions but, if I am unable to do so in the available time, I will write and place copies in the Library.
We have heard today how terrorism, conflict, climate change, mass migration and population present new and evolving challenges to our national and global security—challenges more complex than those identified under the strategic defence and security review in 2010. In the past five years the threat levels from violent extremism and terrorism, Russian aggression, cyber attacks and global conflict have grown. Ebola, which was mentioned by many noble Lords, and the flooding over the winter of 2013 highlight the continued risk to the UK from public health issues and extreme weather.
The United Kingdom has an integral role in tackling these challenges head on. Our military, diplomatic and development capabilities are respected around the world and, as other noble Lords have done, I pay tribute to all those involved. The Government are clear that there will be no reduction in Britain’s influence. Our next strategic defence and security review, in consultation with this House, the other place, our key allies, industry, academics and other interest parties will be positive and assertive about Britain’s role in the world and keep this country safe now and for the future.
A number of noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Jay and Lord Ramsbotham, commented on our defence budget. We have the second largest defence budget in NATO and the largest in the EU. We are one of only four countries that spends 2%. We are the US’s largest partner in the coalition air effort against ISIL, bearing more of the load in terms of strikes in Iraq than we did in either of the Gulf Wars. The budget means we have been able to commit to spending more than £160 billion on equipment over the next decade to keep Britain safe. This includes new joint strike fighters, more surveillance aircraft, hunter-killer submarines, two aircraft carriers and the most advanced armoured vehicles.
Let me now take each of the four themes of the debate in turn. The global terrorist threat has become more diffuse and more diverse. At home and overseas, more groups seek to do us harm than ever before and their ideology of violent extremism is spreading. I join the noble Lord, Lord Bach, my noble friend Lord Howell and the noble Baroness, Lady Manzoor, in paying tribute to the 38 people who lost their lives in a despicable act of terrorism in Tunisia almost a week ago. British experts and officials have been working around the clock since the attack to support British nationals, and to help gather evidence. It is right that tomorrow we will hold a minute’s silence to remember all those affected, and to show that we will not be cowed by hatred and intolerance.
As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said in his Statement on Monday, we will pursue a full spectrum response to the kind of appalling terrorism we saw in Tunisia, in Kuwait and in France last week. That means we must make sure that the powers we give our security services keep pace with changes in technology. We must deal with the security threats at source and take on the radical narrative that is poisoning young minds. Our work overseas is critical to that response. We are and must continue to be at the forefront of international efforts to combat them. We work in close partnership with other Governments on shared counterterrorism priorities and building their capacity in a manner consistent with our values and which strengthens the rule of law. As my noble friend Lord Howell said, defeating ISIL and its like, safeguarding our citizens, our values and our way of life, will be achieved only by co-ordinated international action. As leading members of the global anti-ISIL coalition, our Armed Forces have made a significant contribution to dismantling ISIL militarily.
Our diplomatic network, working through international fora, is focused on stemming the flow of foreign fighters and resources to terrorist groups, strengthening borders and countering extremist narratives. We are helping affected regions build the long-term political stability and effective governance that will reduce the operating space for terrorist groups.
That brings me to the second theme, which is that of conflict. Conflict and instability prevent economic development and trap people in poverty. More than 1.5 billion people now live in fragile and conflict-affected states. Conflict and instability overseas affect the UK directly, providing fertile ground for terrorists and organised crime groups. A number of noble Lords have mentioned Syria. With more than 230,000 dead and 12.2 million in dire need of humanitarian aid, Syria is arguably one of the most difficult and tragic conflicts of our generation, and it is affecting families here.
If we do not tackle the root causes of conflict and if we do not invest our resources in enabling political settlements, we will spend more on trying to deal with the consequences. The Government’s work to promote stability in fragile countries is not only morally right, it is a sound investment and in our national interest. That work is made strategic and integrated through our Building Stability Overseas Strategy. Since its launch in 2011, the Government, working together with NGOs and international partners, have established an improved early warning system to inform early action that helps prepare for and prevent conflict. A £20 million rapid response mechanism has been created to enable the Government to respond more effectively to new cases of conflict and instability, and the conflict pool has been replaced by the conflict, stability and security fund, which is worth more than £1 billion. It draws together new and existing resources from across government under the strategic direction of the National Security Council.
A distressing aspect of conflict is the despicable and systematic use of sexual violence—a practice this Government are determined to end once and for all. A year ago, London hosted the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict. That landmark summit was a powerful demonstration of the British Government’s resolve to build concerted international action to end impunity and bring perpetrators to justice. But that was just the beginning. I am delighted that my noble friend Lady Anelay of St Johns has been asked to continue this important work as the Prime Minister’s Special Representative on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict. I know that she will give it her tireless commitment and support.
Climate change was mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, and other Peers. It is not isolated from the other challenges of this debate. As well as our environment, it threatens global prosperity, national security and poverty eradication. Just as with other challenges, we can address it only by working with our international partners, as we did at the G7 summit this month and as my noble friend Lady Anelay has done this very week at the United Nations.
A global climate deal is the only way to deliver the scale of action required. I am proud to say that the UK’s leadership is recognised worldwide. We have reduced emissions by 25% from 1990 levels and will reduce emissions by 80% by 2050. We pressed hard for the European Union to commit to reduce emissions by at least 40% by 2030. We have committed £3.87 billion over the last five years to support the poorest and most vulnerable countries to reduce emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change.
A key part of protecting the United Kingdom’s security is controlling and managing migration. Not only do we wish to protect the human rights of migrants and stop human trafficking and smuggling, but migration has links with many other priorities, including those we have debated today. We have to address the humanitarian tragedy unfolding before us but we know that rescuing those in distress at sea intensifies the pressure on countries to cope with those who have to be landed in European ports.
The European Union member states agree that we cannot resolve this crisis without a long-term comprehensive approach that tackles the drivers of this problem. We are already taking concrete steps. For example, we are part of the core group of the Khartoum process, which is an EU-African Union initiative to tackle trafficking and smuggling in the Horn of Africa. We are working hard to help bring order and stability to Libya, not least to make it more difficult for the smugglers and traffickers to operate.
The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, mentioned the statement made earlier today by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence. ISIL poses a threat to Britain. Last September, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister told the House of Commons that ISIL needs to be destroyed in Syria as well as in Iraq. The Prime Minister made clear then that he believes there is a strong case for us to do more in Syria, which remains his view today. However, as he said in September, it would be better if there was a consensus supporting such action in the House of Commons—so his views have not changed.
It is right for MPs to think about these issues and what more we can do to tackle ISIL. Clearly, these issues need to be considered properly and any proposal to play a bigger role in airstrikes over Syria needs to be carefully deliberated. The NSC has discussed military proposals to take part in airstrikes in Syria during this new Government. The Prime Minister has always been clear that we would return to the House. Her Majesty’s Government think that there is a case for doing more in Syria but more thought, deliberation and time are needed before we decide whether to return to Parliament.
The noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, suggested that we need a United Nations Security Council resolution for a military response. Action has already been taken by partners in Syria, which we support. The Government’s support for actions being taken against ISIL and other terrorist groups in Syria, as well as in Iraq, should be made clear. United Kingdom intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance were already part of the international effort in Syria and were essential in keeping the United Kingdom safe.
The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, asked whether Her Majesty’s Government would take full cognisance of the three northern cantons, now free. The United Kingdom does not intend to make specific contact with the Kurdish cantons on political issues in Syria. We do not support the Democratic Union Party formation of temporary administrations in the Kurdish areas of Syria. This move was not conducted in consultation with the wider Syrian population or the international community. It will be for all Syrians to decide the exact nature of the political settlement in Syria as part of a transition process, including whether an autonomous region will be created for the Kurds in Syria.
We also recognise the difficult circumstances that the Syrian Kurds face in the midst of the continuing civil war and their fight against ISIL. However, the United Kingdom does not provide lethal equipment to anyone in Syria.
The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, also asked whether Her Majesty’s Government would give scholarships to Syrians prevented from completing their studies. The United Kingdom has tripled the budget for Chevening scholarships—founded by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and partners—for Syrians to study postgraduate courses at United Kingdom universities in 2015-16, increasing the number to 34.
The noble Lord also asked whether Her Majesty’s Government will provide medicines, medical equipment, schooling and books. The United Kingdom has allocated £900 million in humanitarian assistance for those affected by the conflict in Syria. This includes funds for health services, education for children and support for agriculture and livelihoods. The United Kingdom is not currently funding demining in Syria, but we do not rule out funding it in future.
We continue to discuss Syria on a regular basis with our Turkish allies. Decisions of this kind are a sovereign matter for the Turkish Government. Of course, we continue to press all our international partners to work towards a political solution to the Syrian crisis. Only a political solution can bring about the inclusive, unified government that Syrians need, and which can effectively combat the extremists.
The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, mentioned the global challenges in climate change, which is one of the most serious threats we face. It threatens economic prosperity, national security, poverty eradication and the environment. The United Kingdom is playing its part, but this is a global problem and all countries must act. The best way to achieve this is with a global climate deal in Paris in December, but we need the right deal. It needs ambitious emission targets, binding rules and a mechanism to increase ambition over time, and it needs to send the right signal to businesses and investors.
The noble Baroness also asked whether the targets from the previous Government were still being set. As I think I said earlier, we are committed to meeting our climate change target of an 80% reduction in emissions by 2050. We have already made great strides towards that goal, with emissions down by 30% since 1990.
The noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Chesterton, asked whether the Foreign and Commonwealth Office could do more with wider UN agencies, NGOs and scientists to address climate change. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office engages with a wide range of UN agencies, other international agencies such as the OECD and the International Energy Agency, NGOs, academics and business groups in its climate change work across the world. The FCO Prosperity Fund funds projects overseas with a wide range of agencies and NGOs to address climate change. The noble Baroness, Lady Manzoor, and other noble Lords also congratulated the Government and the previous Government on the DfID budget and the work that it is doing throughout the Mediterranean at the moment.
My noble friend Lord Howell and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, mentioned partnerships with international organisations. Working in partnerships with others will be crucial to our success in building stability. We are working with the UN, the EU and the Commonwealth and are engaging them to take an integrated response to building stability and preventing conflict. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office is also talking to key regional powers, such as South Africa, India, Brazil and China to increase co-operation in tackling conflict.
The noble Baroness, Lady Manzoor, mentioned our pledges to Syria. The United Kingdom has pledged £800 million in response to the humanitarian crisis, making us the largest bilateral donor after the US.
To conclude, the Government will be unrelenting in using the UK’s global role to tackle the international challenges of terrorism, conflict, climate change and mass migration. We will do so though a long-term, comprehensive approach, using our world-class Armed Forces, diplomats and overseas aid to build stability, security and prosperity. And we are committed to using the full weight of the United Kingdom’s unique position as a member of the UN Security Council, NATO, the EU, the G7, the G20 and the Commonwealth as a strong and stabilising force for good in today’s uncertain world.
My Lords, it has been a great privilege to listen to this debate, which has been quite remarkable for containing so many weighty contributions, let alone to have introduced it. I am most grateful to the Minister for his comprehensive reply and to all others who have spoken, especially for the kind words that were said.
I want to say two brief things in the three or four minutes that are left to me. First, I pick up the telling intervention of my noble friend Lord Wallace, who said he had been informed that there were no international criminal gangs in Britain that were domestic. The whole point is that there are no longer any issues in Britain that are domestic and that do not have an international dimension. We used to separate domestic affairs from foreign affairs. I do not understand why we have not discussed foreign affairs because, in fact, there are no domestic affairs, not the economy, mortgages, crime, the environment or security—nothing that we call domestic—which do not have an international dimension. What that means is that you cannot deliver to the citizens of this country the things you want to deliver to them simply by working within our borders: you have to work internationally. Internationalism is an essential theme and stream of being able to deliver good governance because, if you will not work effectively with international partners, you cannot deliver within an interconnected world the things you want your citizens to have. That is why it is so important that we should discuss this today.
Secondly, oh how Canning and Castlereagh would have loved this age of movement! There are not one but many powers and shifting alliances. It is an age when you have national interests and you put together alliances that serve those interests in the short term, not the long term. Of course, the cornerstone of all we do will be Europe and NATO but it is how we build alliances beyond that which matters in being able to deliver the best interests of this country. So a shifting, much more subtle foreign policy is required. Yes, I know, in those days the French called us “perfide Albion”, but that was only because they were jealous of our success. The truth is that that is what we have to do again. We have become obsessed by shock and awe into believing that this is the kinetic age—you see a problem, you bomb it. God knows how many times we have done that in the world and ended up not with success but failure, and we are doing it again.
It is diplomacy that creates the context that makes military action effective. That is what Clausewitz said, and that old truth still applies fundamentally today. Unless we learn it, we will go on failing and being puzzled and bewildered as to why we fail. This is not the kinetic age, this is the diplomatic age—a new diplomatic age. So what a terrible tragedy that at this time, when we who are so skilled and good at this, decide to cut our Foreign and Commonwealth Office. If there is one lesson to learn from this debate, which has been remarkable in many ways, it is that to underperform on the diplomatic front is a sure way to going on ensuring that what we try to do in the world we succeed in far more often than we certainly should, at grave cost to our national interest and, even more, to the lives and blood of many of our own citizens and far too many of the citizens of other countries too.