HL Deb 17 December 2001 vol 630 cc11-25

3.2 p.m.

The Minister for Trade (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean) rose to move, That this House takes note of the current situation in Afghanistan.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, since the unforgettable events of 11th September, this House has had several opportunities to discuss the international community's response to the threat of terrorism. Today, we look forward to hearing a fresh voice, in the form of the maiden speech by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Guthrie of Craigiebank. For my part, I very much welcome his choosing this debate for his first contribution. As a former colleague, I know first hand that his wise, practical and down-to-earth approach—and, indeed, his humour—will be of enormous value to us in this House.

The Government welcome the opportunity today to debate the situation in Afghanistan. We have achieved a great deal during the past three months since the terrible events of September 11th. But we must be clear too that we have a great deal more to do. We said that we were in this for the long haul, and we are.

Events on the ground have moved rapidly in Afghanistan. Let us not forget that only a few short weeks ago there was much speculation that our military campaign against terrorism could and would achieve nothing. Now there is similar speculation that its success is automatically guaranteed. Neither is true. The reality of this campaign is different. It is much more complex and tough. Of course, we regret any casualties caused—especially civilian casualties, which we continue to strive to minimise and avoid. But I pay tribute to the extraordinary efforts and courage of our Armed Forces, and of the armed forces of all our coalition partners, in pursuit of our objectives.

The pace of change in Afghanistan must not and will not obscure those objectives, which remain now as they have been throughout this campaign. They are as follows. Our first objective is to bring Osama bin Laden and the Al'Qaeda network to justice and prevent them posing a continuing terrorist threat. To that end, the second objective is to ensure that Afghanistan ceases to harbour and sustain international terrorism, including securing sufficient change in the leadership of Afghanistan to ensure that its links to international terrorism are broken. The third is to dismantle the mechanism of international terrorism and to ensure that states are deterred from supporting or harbouring it.

We have made great strides over a short period towards securing those objectives. First, bin Laden has not yet been apprehended, but he will be. As President Bush put it, we will bring bin Laden to justice or bring justice to him. Secondly, we have severely damaged the ability of Al'Qaeda to mount international terrorism, although we must be continually on our guard against it. Thirdly, the Taliban has been routed in Afghanistan and, accordingly, its ability to use Afghanistan as a base for international terrorism is effectively over. Fourthly, we have made widespread moves against the apparatus of international terrorism.

Behind those objectives and the purpose of what we have achieved lie the events of September 11th. Bin Laden and the Taliban want us to forget about September 11th. We shall never forget. Let us be clear. The loss of nearly 4,000 lives in New York. Washington and Pennsylvania resulted directly from the decision of the Al'Qaeda networks to launch those evil attacks. The loss of life in Afghanistan in the weeks that followed resulted directly from the decision of the Taliban regime to go on protecting the terrorists in defiance of the will of the international community and against the interests of the Afghan people.

Al'Qaeda and the Taliban made their own choices. They could have chosen to renounce terror. Instead, they chose the path of destruction. They chose the path of evil. We in the coalition made our choices too. We could have chosen to do nothing. Instead, we chose the path of tackling terror—of looking into the face of evil and deciding that good must come from it and that good must succeed.

I respect the view of those who disagreed with that choice, but I hope that they in turn respect the fact that the choice of military action as part of an overall diplomatic and humanitarian strategy was right, and that the campaign on all its fronts—military, diplomatic and humanitarian—has been vindicated by events.

The video of Osama bin Laden, believed to have been recorded in November this year and released by the US authorities last week, provides conclusive evidence of the role of Osama bin Laden and Al'Qaeda in the 11th September terrorist attacks. It reveals yet further disturbing evidence that he was behind the atrocities of 11th September and that if he is not stopped now, he will strike again.

Once again, bin Laden is condemned by his own words, boasting about his involvement in the evil attacks. He says, we calculated in advance the number of casualties from the enemy who would be killed based on the position of the tower. We calculated that the floors that would be hit would be three or four floors. I was the most optimistic of them all … Due to my experience in this field, I was thinking that the fire from the gas in the plane would melt the iron structure of the building and collapse the area where the plane hit and all the floors above it only. This is all we had hoped for". That is the chilling evidence of his complete disregard for human life. It demonstrates why the coalition's campaign is so necessary.

I am pleased to report that the military coalition is well on the way to achieving the campaign objectives. The Taliban protectors of the terrorist networks have been driven out of the major cities of Kabul, Mazar-i Sharif, Herat and Kandahar. The Al'Qaeda training camps have been destroyed. Al'Qaeda has been driven out of its key base in Tora Bora.

However, there is still a lot to do. Military operations will continue until the coalition's objectives have been fully met. Osama bin Laden and his associates must be brought to justice and the Al'Qaeda network prevented from posing a continuing terrorist threat. Make no mistake, these people would, if they could, perpetrate further evil and destruction. We believe that bin Laden remains in the Tora Bora region. We are pursuing him and the remaining Al'Qaeda terrorists and will continue to do so until we catch them or know that they are dead.

The Taliban harbourers of terrorists were a sinister, barbarous and fanatical regime. They demonstrated cruelty of medieval proportions towards the Afghan people—especially towards women, who had little or no access to healthcare or education and virtually no access to the outside world. The Taliban regime became a major obstacle to getting humanitarian relief through to the people of Afghanistan. Its collapse has given the Afghan people hope for a brighter future. Now that their grip on most of the country has gone, many more aid convoys are reaching the people who need them.

Since 11th September, the World Food Programme has brought 70,000 tonnes of food into the country. At present, the aid agencies and the international community are getting four times as much food into Afghanistan each day as they were at the beginning of October.

On the diplomatic front, we saw in Bonn perhaps the most astonishing success of all. Almost without exception, every forecast from every commentator was not just that Bonn would fail, but that it could not possibly succeed: that these were people who could not be in the same country as one another, let alone at the same conference. But what in fact happened was that the representatives of the non-Taliban Afghan factions, some of whom have certainly fought each other at different times over the past 20 years, sat down together in Bonn and thrashed out an agreement which puts Afghanistan back on the path to peace—although there is still a way to go.

In recording that, we express our gratitude to the UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, and to his Special Representative, Lakhdar Brahimi. Mr. Brahimi's patience, insight and skill were critical factors in bringing the negotiations to that remarkable conclusion. I also pay tribute to the Afghan participants.

I am also glad that we in the UK were able to play an active part in the process, through the involvement of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister and my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary, and through the work of diplomats such as Robert Cooper, Paul Bergne, Steven Evans, Andrew Tesoriere and many others. Now the interim Afghan authority is due to convene in Kabul on 22nd December. We all wish it well and we want it to succeed.

One indicator of the success already achieved is the position of women in Afghanistan. As little as four or five weeks ago, under the Taliban, women could not go outside their own homes without being accompanied by a man. Now, from Saturday, the new administration will include two women, with one of them the vice-president. That is an extraordinary level of social change delivered by the campaign we have mounted with the Afghan people. It is extraordinary in one sense, but it is entirely normal in another. Like everything else in the agreement, this is the beginning of a process of returning Afghanistan to normality.

I believe that the House can be proud of this country's role in the liberation of the Afghan people, and we can be especially proud of the courage of our troops at Bagram airfield in securing the air base and making it safe for the United Nations and other diplomatic and humanitarian missions. We were the first country to establish a diplomatic presence in Kabul, and we welcome the raising of the American flag at its mission in Kabul today for the first time since 1989. As the US said today, "We're here, and we're here to stay". My Lords, so are we.

Alongside that, however, there has always been the imperative on the international community to deliver a second liberation to free the Afghan people from the other scourges that have beset them for decades; from fear, hunger, poverty and war. There are several immediate and urgent tasks.

First, there is the need to ensure that Al'Qaeda and the Taliban are completely eliminated. Secondly, there is the immediate humanitarian emergency. Thirdly, there is the issue of the multinational force requested by the parties at Bonn to provide security assistance in Kabul and the surrounding areas for the nascent political community, and for the institutions of that fledgling state.

My right honourable friend the Prime Minister has made clear our willingness in principle to, play a leading role in any UN-mandated force to provide stability in Afghanistan", just as we were there to make a key contribution to the pursuit of the Al'Qaeda network and bin Laden, and continue to do so. However, there are still details to be discussed and no formal decisions have been taken yet.

The recent military co-ordination meeting, which was held in London on Friday and discussed options for an international security assistance force (ISAF), was a vital part of that process. However, it is important that the international community keeps its planning in step with the new interim authority in Afghanistan. In this regard a small international reconnaissance and liaison team, led by Major General McColl, is in Kabul to discuss proposals for the ISAF. He will report back later this week.

These are merely the most pressing needs of the new Afghan state, but there are many other problems that cannot be resolved quickly. Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the world. The country has known little but war, bloodshed and chaos for a generation; one-quarter of all children do not make it to their fifth birthday; one-third are orphans; and half are malnourished. The international community has let Afghanistan down in the past. We are not going to turn our backs on the Afghan people again.

The Bonn agreement set out a road map to a better future. We have to ensure that all the parties involved stay on the road and follow the map. There will be an emergency Loya Jirgah within six months, from which a broad-based traditional administration will emerge. Eighteen months after that, there will be a full Loya Jirgah to agree a new constitution, under which free and fair elections will be held for a fully representative government.

The international community and the UN have assisted the Afghan people to begin the process of rebuilding their nation. Their future is in their hands. We have an urgent responsibility to support the interim administration, and we will continue to support it to build a brighter future for all the people of Afghanistan.

I want to pay particular tribute to the central role that the United Nations has played since the beginning of this crisis. The UN moved rapidly into action by passing Security Council Resolution 1368. Two weeks later, it passed Resolution 1373, designed to tackle the organisations which support and finance the terrorists. Resolution 1373 was the first global resolution with an obligation on all states to tackle terrorism. All states owe it to the victims of September 11th to implement its provisions as soon as possible.

Important as the military, diplomatic and humanitarian efforts in Afghanistan are to the fight against international terrorism, their successful completion alone will not remove terrorism as a force in international affairs. Therefore, we must all do what we can to promote peace. That includes fostering the Middle East peace process, which represents the only way in which Palestinian grievances can be addressed and Israel's security guaranteed.

All our hopes for the Middle East are stretched to the limit. But despite that—perhaps because of that—we have to encourage both parties in that terrible conflict to go back, in appropriate circumstances, to the negotiating table.

We also have to step up international measures to combat terrorism. We have to work for universal acceptance of the principle that violence directed against civilians for political ends is never justified. We do not condone acts of terrorism carried out under the guise of fighting for freedom. Although we are prepared to talk to states which do not endorse this principle, our scope for active co-operation with them is indeed severely limited.

We have to go on providing development and humanitarian assistance and making the case for effective action to combat poverty, oppression, conflict, criminality and every malign force that excludes our fellow human beings from the benefits of a globalised world.

The shock and the tragedy of the attacks of September 11th remain with us all. The lives of many families can never be the same again. Our hearts, our thoughts and our prayers go out to them now, as they have done since that dreadful day. But we are determined that the victims should not have given their lives in vain. We all carry that responsibility: to make sure that the ability of international terrorists to kill, to damage, to destroy is halted, and then ended. I believe that we are all shouldering that responsibility. That is what the coalition is all about. That is what the campaign in Afghanistan has been about. That is what the continuing campaign will be about.

Let us all be in no doubt how hard that will be. We should not delude ourselves that the response to Al'Qaeda and the routing of its Taliban protectors in Afghanistan spells the end of the international terrorist threat or of the fight against it. We cannot put a time on when terrorism will be defeated, but defeat it we shall.

We have shown that the determination of the international community can defeat the evil that seeks to destroy us and that destroyed the lives of so many people on 11th September. We have shown that action to enforce universal values is a powerful force for good in the world. We have shown, too, that we have not forgotten 11th September and that we will not rest until we have made sure that such an atrocity can never happen again. We shall continue to strive so that good can come out of evil, and that good will come out of evil. I beg to move.

Moved, That this House takes note of the current situation in Afghanistan.—(Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean).

3.20 p.m.

Lord Howell of Guildford

My Lords, the House will be grateful to the Minister for setting out in such a clear way the Government's latest thinking on the unfolding crisis and saga of global terrorism. I share her anticipation of and enthusiasm for the forthcoming maiden speech of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Guthrie of Craigiebank. His vast experience and judgment will be an enormous asset to your Lordships' House.

It is now a little more than three months since the horrors of 11th September. I understand that bodies are still being brought out of the burning wreckage and that the ruins are being gradually dismantled amidst the smouldering horror—vividly reminding New Yorkers of what happened on that day.

Having listened to the noble Baroness, I am struck—as I am sure are many noble Lords—by the way in which that event, and the huge campaign against terrorism which has grown from it, interweaves and interconnects a vast range of issues which, in the past, we often used to discuss separately—for instance, issues of military deployment; of our own security; of development and third world and humanitarian aid; of the Middle East crisis and Gulf stability, to which the noble Baroness referred; of the future role of European defence forces and the role they will play, if any, in Afghanistan; of the role of NATO and the way it should be reshaped in the light of 11th September; of the handling of Russia and the way in which the Russians now fit into the global pattern and the pattern of reorganisation in Afghanistan, where again there are now Russian troops; and of our own civil liberties and internal security, which we debated in your Lordships' House last week. Those matters have created an entirely new landscape. It is against that new landscape of global interweave that we have to look at the next stage of events and what is about to happen.

Perhaps I may first deal with the foreground and raise one or two queries with the Minister. We understand that the affair in Tora Bora and the White Mountains is more or less over. Secretary of State Colin Powell said that he believed the Taliban were finished in that area. Whether it is finished in the whole of Afghanistan, no one is quite sure. One hopes that it is.

There remains the question of the monster, bin Laden. As the noble Baroness rightly said, the video confirms what no one should have really doubted—although some people did doubt it before—that this man was a planner of multi-mass murder—and enjoyed it. He took delight in the slaughter, mayhem, evil and sorrow that he was imposing on his fellow human beings. We need not have any doubts about that. I heard one distinguished and right reverend Prelate, a Member of the House, say over the weekend on "Thought for the Day" that in everything there was a clash of values. But in this case there is no clash of values. The values are on the side of those who have sought to halt evil; the sheer valueless evil was all on the other side. There is no ambiguity about this—it was pure evil, as the noble Baroness rightly emphasised. The sooner this particular embodiment of it is nailed—and I think someone will get him before long—the better.

We are seeing a curious saga coming to a close and a much bigger saga about to begin. It was not so much a question of state-sponsored terrorism as the emergence of a terrorist-sponsored state, which has now brought ruin on itself and much misery to the Afghan people, which we must do our best to repair.

The immediate question in regard to foreground is what kind of force are we to send? I know that the Prime Minister has trailed that he will be briefing Members of the other place about this issue very shortly, but there remain some disturbing questions for those of us who are following the situation from outside. Do the Afghans want a force? What size force do they want? General Fahim of the Northern Alliance said that he wanted 1,000 men at the most and indicated a general distaste for having any foreign troops in a stabilisation force. Mr Hamid Karzai, who has a formidable task, clearly wants a stronger force of 5,000 or 6,000. General Wesley Clarke said on the radio this morning that that might be enough for Kabul, but if we wanted serious policing of this enormous country it would take 25,000 or 30,000. Are we absolutely clear that we are organising the right force for the right job? That issue worries a number of people. I look forward to the expert views on that question which will be given later in the debate.

There is also the question of what is to be the mandate for the stabilisation force. Is it to rebuild infrastructure? Is it to help the Americans in the cleaning up of the remainder of the Taliban in the mountains? Will it have a Chapter VII mandate? Will its members be able not only to defend themselves but to enforce some kind of peace? These are urgent questions because all of this is supposed to happen on Saturday night.

Those of us who follow these matters—and, indeed, the Parliaments of this country, which treasure and cherish our army and its brilliant performance—want to be absolutely sure that we, and those in charge on the military side, have a clear view of what is expected. We want to be certain that this is not some kind of gesture politics before we have thought out precise tasks and roles. Yes, we understand what needs to he done, but vagueness of purpose and vagueness about the size of the force is dangerous. While clearly the Afghan people must now be supported and fed—it is good news that more food is getting through—nation-building has to be done by the Afghan people. We can perform only certain, specialised—and maybe unfamiliar—roles in supporting it.

So that is the foreground. I am grateful to the noble Baroness for commenting on those issues. It may be that we will hear a little more when her noble friend comes to reply to the debate.

Perhaps I may now turn to the background, which the Minister also covered and which is a far longer stretch ahead of us. I wish to make only a few points. Solving the problem in Afghanistan—if that is what we have done—does not begin to solve the world's terrorist crisis. It takes out one miserable terrorist-sponsored state, but it does not even ensure that Afghanistan will settle down rapidly. I hope that it will, but the chances of Afghanistan leaping into instant democracy after years of civil war and the traumas of recent months are very slight. It is indeed a situation where there is far to go.

It may be that some events have occurred overnight. I hear that the sellers of burkas have put up their shutters or discarded their stock and taken on CD ROM's instead; the sound of music is to be heard and life allowed to return after the hideous dark night of the Taliban. That is fine—but the habit of democratic debate and argument, the give and take, will take very much longer to appear. That is the first consideration which we need to bear in mind.

Secondly, Afghanistan is not the only theatre of war. The one thing we have learned is that the Al'Qaeda is a vast network of cells, not necessarily with any one particular head, and that it is embedded across the globe. As I understand it, to some extent it is embedded in Iraq; there is growing evidence that Saddam Hussein had more than a passing interest in the horrors of 11th September and may have more than a passing interest in future atrocities being planned. It appears that some of the Al'Qaeda cells are still operating in Somalia and in Bosnia; that there are training camps in Indonesia and the Philippines and that, nearer home, there may well be Al'Qaeda networks in Germany. Then we have our own home base in the United Kingdom to consider—at one stage described as "a safe haven for terrorists".

I would like to think, as I am sure would your Lordships, that, after the efforts of last week, we now have some good and, dare I say, much-improved legislation of an anti-terrorist kind in place, in order to do our part in helping to close the net on the terrorist networks of the planet. I would also like to think that our position will not be weakened or undermined by any more European Union treaty deals, reached over our heads, bypassing the scrutiny of this House among other places, and imposed on us by prerogative decision, without necessarily any relevance to terrorism. That aspect was dealt with last week, and I hope that we can put such distractions behind us when focusing on the need to close in on global terrorism wherever it is found.

That is the home front. World-wide, the requirement is very clear: we must stick very closely—and not everyone will like this—with the Americans. The President, George Bush, said recently that the Euro-allies "have a tendency to wilt". I feel with him. After the weekend, when there were distinct tones of anti-Americanism coming from some EU leaders, I can understand why the Americans feel a little uneasy about the commitment of their European allies—not their British allies; about them I think that they have no doubts at all. The commitment demonstrated by the Prime Minister is much admired and is very strong. For the rest, however, the message which needs to be asserted even more strongly than in the past is that we must move very closely with America in the next phases of the anti-terrorist campaign.

I read a speech by the Chief of the Defence Staff, Sir Michael Boyce, with some puzzlement. The implication that there was a divergence from the American view and that we had a different way to go was quite wrong. I do not think that there is a divergence or a choice. As for the squabble over who should be part of the Afghanistan force, what part the rapid reaction force should play in it and whether there should be a wider remit, this is a terrible distraction from the main focus on which international effort must be aimed. It is very good that, as I understand it, it is to be led by this country.

I hope that we do not spend too much time in endless discussions about whether this is a moment for the European Union to assert its super-state role, to project its power in the world, and so on. These are distractions from the task. There seems to be a constant confusion between the sort of partnership of sovereignties seen in NATO, which works extremely well, and this idea of the pooling of sovereignties. I hear this even in some of the things said by the Foreign Secretary. It is a quite different and unworkable concept when it comes to dealing with security, foreign affairs and issues such as finding a solution for the Afghanistan problem.

Instead of bickering, the task is now to focus on the real issues post-phase one, after the defeat of the Taliban, and those real issues loom up and demand our attention. They are, first, the tidying up of the Afghanistan security threat. Secondly, to look at ways in which the festering terrorism of the Middle East can be contained. The idea that came from the European Union at the weekend—that monitors should be put all over the Occupied Territories—was quite barmy. I am very glad that the British Government shot it down at the United Nations. There is no doubt that Hamas must somehow be eliminated before it takes over the whole area, and that Mr Arafat and senior Palestinians must somehow be given the backbone and determination to do it. That is the first task.

The second task is to go on clearing out the Al'Qaeda cells. There is growing evidence that they have not only weapons and plans but also access to nuclear and to biological materials. There is evidence that the Pakistani nuclear programme somehow leaked into the hands of Al'Qaeda. It is a matter of the highest priority that this issue be addressed very sharply and very soon.

Finally, we need new thinking about our military and security deployments, operations and resources. Obviously a huge new resource has to go into intelligence—where there was a catastrophic failure, as the Financial Times set out in some fascinating articles. I am glad to hear the Secretary of State for Defence talking about more men on the ground in the homeland. In other words, more emphasis on bodies like the Territorial units, reflecting the increased emphasis that the Americans are putting on their own homeland defence through the National Guard. If that is serious—and I hope that it is—and the regular army supports it, which I hope that it does, then we will need some changes in the provisions to encourage more Territorials, who will be increasingly needed to ensure our own home security.

There are some new ideas evolving on how our Armed Forces should work and on how our non-armed anti-terrorist forces should be mobilised. I do not think that these new ideas will come from Laeken—on which we shall shortly hear a Statement—or from those who are hostile to the Americans, or from those who said from the start that bombing would not work; it has. I hope that these new thoughts will come from the Government and, if they are bold enough, innovative enough and realistic enough, I happily stand here, as I have before, and say that we will continue to give them our full support.

3.37 p.m.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, I also look forward to the maiden speech of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Guthrie. He has been very helpful and kind to me on a number of professional occasions in the past and I look forward to his many contributions in debate here.

This is another unavoidably interim debate. No doubt there will be many more, as the situation continues to move in ways which none of us can predict more than a week or two ahead. It is remarkable how rapidly the Taliban regime has collapsed. As I read the American newspapers, I note a degree of happy triumphalism at what is seen to be a massive success for American arms. That is not the whole story. It is also a tribute to the pragmatism of many people in Afghanistan who clearly recognise that, when a fight is lost, the best thing to do is to surrender and, if possible, change sides.

We do not yet have the successful construction of a successor regime. The Bonn agreement is very welcome. Translating the Bonn agreement into practice and having a stable government which maintains law and order across the whole of Afghanistan, however, is a very long way off, let alone the massive, costly and long-term reconstruction of Afghan watercourses, its agricultural base and the whole economy and society, which is a 10 to 20-year programme at least.

The questions which I suggest we should be addressing today are these. First, how does the international community share the responsibilities of rebuilding Afghanistan and reintegrating it into the international system? Secondly, what role do the different parties—international institutions such as the UN, the various UN agencies and, of course, the European Union and NATO—play in this? What roles should the United States and the United Kingdom play in a large, ambitious and long-term task?

Thirdly, how do we reinforce stability in the region around Afghanistan? I refer not merely to the Middle East, but also to south Asia. We on these Benches have said in every debate on this subject that the problem of Kashmir is part of the problem of Afghanistan. We saw that again with the attacks in New Delhi. So we must examine the security of the region as a whole, as well as that of central Asia.

Fourthly, how much wider should the hunt for terrorist networks be drawn? Rogue states are again being cited—there are suggestions about Somalia, Iraq, Yemen and the like. And what do we have to do about the terrorist threat within the West? Lastly, what are the lessons for Britain?

What comes next? Clearly, there must be nation building for Afghanistan. This is a long-term commitment for the global community. What we have learnt from Afghanistan and from some other states is that collapsed states export disorder: refugees, drugs and eventually even terrorists. It was the failure to help rebuild Afghanistan after 1989 which carne back to haunt the United States and the international community. It was a classic mistake for the United States to walk away from Afghanistan so quickly and so easily after the Soviet withdrawal. We must not repeat that mistake, and we must not allow the United States to repeat it.

We should, however, recognise how enormous the task may be. Afghanistan is not alone. If we are talking about rebuilding collapsed states and preventing weak states collapsing, the United States is already, of course, talking about Somalia—a state in which central order virtually does not run; about the Yemen; about Iraq—a state, again, where the central government, authoritarian as they are, do not control the whole territory; and about the Arab-Israeli conflict.

In Britain, we are committed to nation building in Sierra Leone, in effect. We may well find ourselves committed to some kind of co-operative nation rebuilding in Zimbabwe after the course of the next year, if Zimbabwe turns out as badly as, sadly, it may do.

The tensions of transition from traditional societies to modern social and economic life cause disorder across the whole of Africa and central, west and south Asia—that is, across Africa and the Middle East. And there will be more, including the collapse of regimes which are major oil producers. So we need to strengthen international institutions for this task. In previous debates a number of noble Lords have referred to how far we need to take into account the implications of the Brahimi report and a whole host of other proposals concerning the need to reform and strengthen the United Nations. That has not yet been done.

We also need to insist—here I disagree strongly with the noble Lord, Lord Howell—that the United States remains engaged. There are many things in the current American debate which should leave us extremely worried. The phrase "super-powers don't do dishes" reverberates from discussions that I had in Washington some weeks ago. It indicates a degree of disdain for nation building—namely, that others do those things; that the role of the United States' allies is to come in behind and tidy up, or, as Admiral Boyce recently put it, "backfilling" for the United States, just as other nations occasionally backfill for Britain in other theatres.

Backfilling for the United States is not a particularly glorious role for Britain. We must also insist that the United States remains engaged financially in a task in regard to which, in the US Congress, it is hard to get a commitment to the idea that the United States still needs to pay. I remember, in 1990, visiting someone I knew well on the National Security Council, and hearing in relation to eastern Europe the stern phrase: "Last time, we paid for you. This time, you are going to pay for them". There is a sense in which, although I welcome the Chancellor of the Exchequer's speech on the need for a new Marshall Plan for the region—and recognise how ambitious financially and multilaterally it is to use that sort of language—a Marshall Plan has to be a global commitment by all the advanced industrial countries. The United States cannot off-load that on to Europe. This means that the role of the European Union remains important. We need also to engage the Asian states and the richer Latin-American states, given our mutual interest in global stability, in controlling the flow of refugees and in maintaining access to oil.

Where shall we be going next? There is much talk in Washington about moving on to Iraq, in spite of all the briefings that have appeared about the lack of evidence that Iraq really is involved in the Al'Qaeda network. Sadly, that is part of the triumphalism after the action in Afghanistan. Having seen the campaign go so well there, it is assumed that what worked there—in very different circumstances, with a very different structure of government and tribal societies—might possibly be transferred to Iraq. There have also been suggestions about Somalia and other countries.

I very much hope that the British Government are setting their face firmly against such an extension and are using what influence they may have in Washington to put that case across. When I was in Washington a couple of weeks ago, I was saddened by the extent to which the tremendous warmth of feeling expressed by the Congressmen to whom we spoke in regard to how Tony Blair had supported the United States was without any expression of mutuality—without any sense that the United States should, therefore, listen to Tony Blair a little more in exchanges between the two countries.

Clearly, what is needed in combating international terrorism and in pursuing the wider ramifications of the international terrorist network is closer co-operation among all democratic states. But that needs to be within the context of international law and through and within multilateral institutions, not by unilateral action and not—again, I disagree strongly with the noble Lord, Lord Howell—simply by clinging close to the United States whatever it does, accepting that treaties may be imposed over our heads, or torn up over our heads, by the United States without our having any influence. We need, instead, to be stressing in our relations with the United States, and with our major European partners and others, that as far as possible, if we are talking about the international community, it has to be a multilateral community.

In that context, we have also to talk about the Arab-Israeli conflict. I was struck, when reading the coverage on Afghanistan in the Financial Times on Saturday, to see the passing comment that one had to understand that, Sentiment towards the US in the Arab world is influenced mainly by US attitudes towards the Arab-Israeli conflict". If that is the case, we have to do something about the Arab-Israeli conflict. We cannot leave this entirely to the Americans; and we certainly cannot leave it to Prime Minister Sharon. The proposals for international monitors on the ground are a useful contribution to an extraordinarily difficult situation, which risks becoming worse within the next two or three weeks. We shall debate the matter briefly later today.

Finally, what are the implications for Britain? The first is that the British Government are committing themselves to a series of heavy global commitments. The speech by the Chancellor of the Exchequer indicates a long-term and significant increase in British contributions to international assistance for development across the world. Admiral Boyce's speech to RUSI clearly indicates also an expansion of Britain's military commitments and responsibilities.

If we are talking about links with the United States and with Europe, I again disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Howell. Admiral Boyce signalled a number of areas in which British interests and American interests do not entirely go together. Therefore, the question of the balance that Britain must strike between the United States and our European commitments is extremely important for us to work out. One of my conclusions is that closer EU military co-operation is needed much more after the events of 11th September than previously.

I regret that we have made so little progress towards the rapid reaction force. I regret, too, that some of our European partners, including the Italian and Belgian governments at Laeken at the weekend, seem remarkably unserious about it. If we are to be taken seriously in Washington, we need to have credible military forces that the United States feels are of some use in joint action. Otherwise, policymakers in Washington will leave us to do the dishes and clean up afterwards.

The implications for British forces, about which my noble friend Lord Redesdale will say more, are complex. We have used special forces heavily in Afghanistan. The balance between the special forces and the infantry is one that we may need to look at again. We must consider British and European intelligence assets alongside American intelligence assets in the complex area of transnational terrorism, as well as failed states, which can raise all kinds of different assumptions of what we need to know. If we wish to learn from the Americans, we probably need to invest much more heavily in precision guided weapons. If we do commit ourselves long term to nation building, we need to think about how Britain makes a contribution to what we may have to call the "gendarmerie" function—the policing function that conies behind the first strike forces. We have to consider whether Britain should leave that to other states in a kind of role specialisation system, or whether we need to create a territorial reserve, as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Howell, so that we can send highly capable policing units abroad for extended periods. Those are large, complex questions that we shall no doubt debate again.

We shall have to take on board the depth of British commitment that the Government have accepted. They will come back in the future with their budget for defence, overseas aid, and so on. In managing this complex situation—I know that there is a great distance to go before a stable Afghanistan is established, let alone a stable region beyond—we need to promote as broad a multilateral approach as possible.