Yesterday, we debated the following motion on Libya:
That this House welcomes United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 1973; deplores the ongoing use of violence by the Libyan regime; acknowledges the demonstrable need, regional support and clear legal basis for urgent action to protect the people of Libya; accordingly supports Her Majesty’s Government, working with others, in the taking of all necessary measures to protect civilians and civilian-populated areas under threat of attack in Libya and to enforce the No Fly Zone, including the use of UK armed forces and military assets in accordance with UNSC Resolution 1973; and offers its wholehearted support to the men and women of Her Majesty’s armed forces.
Unfortunately, after spending the day in the Chamber, I was not called to speak. Had I been called, I would have said broadly what follows:
I came to the House today minded to abstain on this motion, or even to vote against the Government, but I rise to offer qualified support.
I am persuaded that, if we accept the right of the policeman and the judge to intervene in the activities of the criminal, then we should accept the role of the United Nations in preventing and halting mass atrocities under the doctrine of Responsibility to Protect, which emerged following the Rwandan genocide of 1994.
I want to express support for the Armed Forces. The Prime Minister has set out the justice of their cause and I do not doubt that they will now meet this challenge.
I have great sympathy with their position. In my time, I helped enforce the no fly zone over the former Yugoslavia. I have seen my wife sent to war three times – once to Afghanistan and twice to Iraq. I forget how many times she was deployed in connection with the Iraqi no fly zone, over the years.
Were it not for the speeches of honorable members before me, I would defer to no one in my loathing of war.
I am profoundly sceptical of the use of armed force – and force generally – to produce good outcomes. I am deeply concerned about the full range of the situation in which we find ourselves, including the variable support of the Arab and Muslim peoples and nations.
Colleagues outside the House have put to me the classical liberal case for non-intervention: that Libya is not aggressing against the UK; that we cannot afford the cost in blood and treasure; that the record of the United Nations is risible; and that the record of Iraq and Afghanistan speaks for itself.
That argument assumes that the international order is an anarchy amongst nation states, which it is not. It also provides no answer to mass atrocities in the world, such as the one which threatened to engulf Benghazi: I believe that the world must have an answer to such problems.
Whether people like it or not, the nations of the world exist within the framework of the United Nations, which adopted the Responsibility to Protect in 2006, reaffirming it in 2009.
RTP is an international norm which focuses on preventing and halting four crimes: genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing. States have a responsibility to protect their own populations against such crimes. If States cannot so protect their populations alone, the international community has a responsibility to assist.
Finally, under RTP, if a State is manifestly failing to protect its citizens from mass atrocities and peaceful measures are inadequate, the international community has the responsibility to intervene at first diplomatically, then more coercively, and as a last resort, with military force.
I have mixed feelings about this responsibility. On the one hand, it provides for a world in which nations do not stand by in the presence of mass atrocities. On the other, it may be a burden that cannot be borne.
The foreign policies of the Western nations have been a counterproductive mess for an extremely long time. We find ourselves once again engaged in armed conflict against a brutal dictator whom we have recently supported. As we survey the Arab world’s own Springtime of the Peoples, we see now more clearly than ever before, that the prime purpose of democracy is to avoid violent revolution.
Perhaps we now accept universally that government has no source of power but the sovereign people, that only those governments freely elected are valid. We should apply this principle universally and consistently, though we should not back it with force.
Many of my constituents will want to know what all this means for Kashmir. With Kashmir in mind, they allege that we are quick to do the right thing, when it is in our own interests. It has been put to me that it is humiliating that, after so much time and campaigning for self-determination for Kashmir, the world has leapt so quickly to aid Libya.
Since we have not delivered self-determination for Kashmir, since we did so little for the people of Sri Lanka, since we sell arms to the unelected and since we have ignored brutal tyranny where we could, then perhaps, if my constituents allege selective morality, they may be forgiven.
I wish the situation were otherwise, but wishful thinking is of no use in this world. I accept that relations between and, in extremis, within nations are governed by the institutional framework of the United Nations and so I give my support to the Government in its efforts to protect the people of Libya from a mass atrocity. But it is qualified in this: I go no further.
This long and unpredictable journey began before the House gave its consent. Now that it is in progress, we must hope and pray for a swift end to conflict and a lasting peace.
There is and will be much to lament about this situation. I have no enthusiasm for this conflict or any other. But I cannot accept a world order in which we forever turn away from crimes against humanity. For all my misgivings, I believe it was right that I supported this motion.