UN SCR 1973 and Libya

Here is my speech in the debate on United Nations Security Council resolution 1973 on Monday 21 March 2011

7.50 pm

Mike Gapes (Ilford South) (Lab/Co-op): I am glad to follow the hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis), because he gave what I thought was his version of Tony Blair's Chicago speech of 1999. Where Tony Blair had five criteria, the hon. Gentleman seems to have four, but the consequence would still be the interventionist view that I know he has held for many years.

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman should be so pessimistic about the consequences of what is happening in Libya. None of us can predict what will happen. He is quite right that the Gaddafi regime may persist for some time, in some form or other. He is also possibly right about the alternative outcome of partition, which other hon. Members have mentioned. Another view is that we could be moving towards what might be described as "Somalia with oil", which would be the worst possible outcome. Therefore, we in Europe should be particularly concerned about what is happening in Libya, because it is geographically on the borders of the European Union. Libya is not remote or a long way away; it is of vital, direct, national and European interest to us.

In that context, I want to praise the work of our diplomats in the UN, who have worked hand in glove with French diplomats in the UN to get the Security Council resolution. What has been done through co-operation between Britain and France, as the two European permanent members of the Security Council, is vital. Unfortunately, the Defence Secretary has left his place, but at least the Foreign Secretary is here. [ Interruption. ] The Foreign Secretary will know that I gave given him his correct designation today, unlike when he appeared before the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs last week.

I wanted to ask the Defence Secretary about co-operation between the UK and France on the defence front, because clearly there is a new understanding and agreement. If, as is expected, the lead of the operation is transferred from the United States, there will be interesting questions about where it should go. Turkey appears to be blocking any development of a NATO-based command. What will happen then? Is an alternative arrangement possible? Clearly the European Union is not capable of performing that role and, given Germany's position, would not be likely to do so. What will happen to control of the forces that are brought together? There will be a continuing US role, even though it wants to step back, and those forces will include other European states, the Qataris and others who will enter the coalition. Britain and France will be working at the core of that coalition, but we need to know how that will work in practice. Perhaps we could have an indication of that in the winding-up speeches.

In the time left to me, I want to concentrate on what the development of the Security Council resolution means for the future of international co-operation. There were four groups among the 15 members of the Security Council. There was Britain and France, which clearly saw early that an intervention had to be made to stop the massacres and the killing of hundreds of thousands of people in Libya. Then there was the United States, which clearly saw the same thing but, because of internal, institutional problems-and, I suspect, because the Obama Administration rightly want to take a multilateral approach to international politics, in contrast to the predecessor, Bush Administration-did not want to play the lead role.

Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife) (Lab): Given the previous US regime's role, does my hon. Friend accept that if the US President had been involved, that might have hindered our ability to get a resolution?

Mike Gapes: I do accept that, but I think the US Administration left it pretty late before finally making up their mind to move. It would have been helpful if the prevarication had not gone on for quite so long, but in principle I agree with my hon. Friend.

Then there was a third group, made up of countries in the Security Council that supported the action, even though many of the countries in their region were unhappy. Three African member states-South Africa, Gabon and Nigeria-voted for action, despite the fact that the African Union collectively has not taken the same position. That is significant. There was also Lebanon, representing the only Arab voice in the Security Council.

Then we have the fourth group, made up of China and Russia-traditionally, one of them would have vetoed the resolution, but they chose not to-and Germany, which, as we all know, has its own national view and history. Germany does not wish to put its forces in harm's way and has always been reluctant to take a role in any international involvement. Indeed, I remember the angst in the SPD-the German Social Democratic 
party-even when it debated sending people to peacekeeping missions outside Europe. Then there are Brazil and India, which take a more traditionalist view about non-intervention, which is similar to that of China and Russia.

My point is that, because of the responsibility to protect, which was agreed in 2005 and 2006, and because of the way this debate has been framed, the UN has passed a watershed. The interventions to defend the Kurds in Iraq in 1991 and 1992 were made without a Security Council resolution. The intervention in Kosovo was also made without one, as was the intervention in Iraq, but today we have a new approach, and I hope that it is a model for the future.



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