Ukraine, Middle East, North Africa and Security
Rory Stewart (Penrith and The Border, Conservative)
We gather here today on the eve of a vote in Scotland that could tear the United Kingdom apart after 300 years together, and the question for us—whether in Scotland or in foreign policy—is: are we proud of ourselves? Are we serious?
We look around the world, from Kabul to Tripoli, from Damascus to Baghdad to Kiev, and we see the wreck of international foreign policy over the last 20 years. So lamentable is that wreck that it is hardly worth holding the House’s attention to list the fiascos that we see today. The Afghan economy has gone into a 40% contraction since January this year, and the two Presidents are in a stand-off on the basis of ethnic divisions, and it has not even been raised seriously in this House. In Tripoli, the Misrata militia have been dabbling their toes in the American embassy swimming pool three years after our intervention. In Iraq, following a surge on which the US Government spent $420 billion and deployed over 100,000 troops a year, we are now confronted with the re-emergence of something even worse than General Petraeus confronted in 2007. And people have spoken much more eloquently than myself about the fiasco we currently face in Ukraine.
So lamentable is this problem that we should not do what it would be tempting to do, which is to learn the lessons of this and talk about our mistakes, look at the limits of our knowledge, our power and our legitimacy, and confront the fact that we are not good enough in this country at seeing what we cannot do, what we do not know and what, frankly, people do not want us to do. So lamentable is the situation that instead of emphasising humility, we in fact need to rediscover our confidence and our energy. A time has come, in fact, to rebuild, and rebuilding the seriousness of this country means acknowledging failure and regaining public trust by showing people that we have learned the lessons of where we went wrong, and then investing in our institutions.
My right hon. and learned Friend Mr Clarke pointed out that on the National Security Council it is quite difficult to know what is happening in the world, and that is not very surprising because, despite our grand protestations about how we are going to remodel the world from Mali to central Africa, in fact our capacity—the number of people in defence intelligence within the Foreign Office—is pathetically poor. The entire extra capacity committed to Syria was a single SMS1 officer, a D7 and a D6. When the crisis broke out in Russia and Ukraine, we discovered that the United Kingdom had cancelled its Russian analysis section in the defence intelligence service and we had to move the South Caucasus officer over to Crimea. When I and my hon. Friend Nadhim Zahawi turned up in Kurdistan two weeks ago, we discovered a single consul general who did not have the staff or the resources to visit any of the refugee camps or make it to the front line.
We need to get out of a situation in which only three of our 15 ambassadors in the middle east speak Arabic. We need to understand that our Foreign Office has a budget half that of the French Foreign Office and considerably smaller than the amount we commit to the winter fuel allowance. Before any of us go around talking about our brilliant strategy for Ukraine or Iraq, we should begin rebuilding those basic institutions: we should challenge the Government, and challenge the Opposition, to commit immediately more resources towards policy and analysis and understanding of what is going on on the ground, because there are no options for Ministers and there are no scenarios we can discuss in this House unless we understand the situation on the ground.
Peter Hain (Neath, Labour)
I support the hon. Gentleman’s point about resourcing the Foreign Office—and the Foreign Secretary may agree on that, too. The budget cuts, which started under the Labour Government, have been remorselessly pursued under the hon. Gentleman’s Government. For a lot of other Whitehall Departments the Foreign Office budget is not even petty cash, but the cuts have been disastrous in their effect on the Foreign Office’s capabilities.
Rory Stewart (Penrith and The Border, Conservative)
I thank the right hon. Gentleman very much for his intervention. As he knows, this is not simply a question of resources; it is also a question of the priority we put on policy analysis and challenge. It is about the people we promote and the people we hold accountable when they fail, and it is about a seriousness within the institution about getting to grips with these issues.
We all roughly understand what a solution to ISIL in Iraq would look like in theory—a regional solution, which people have talked about, and a political solution on the ground using the Sunni tribes against ISIL—but these are not things that can be resolved here on a whiteboard. They are things that entirely depend on being on the ground. There is the question of exactly what Qatar’s role is in this and how we can shift its position, the question of what we can get from Saudi Arabia, and the question of how we deal with the fact that foreign fighters are coming out of Turkey and oil is going back into Turkey. Those elements of the regional solution are not theory; they are practice. They are the practice of defence attachés and diplomats on the ground working day in, day out. The question of how to use the Sunni tribes against ISIL is, again, no theory; it is about this Sunni tribe or sheikh, that Sunni tribe or sheikh, this weapon, that money, this long-term strategy. The question of what the Iraqi Government are is not about generic statements about legitimacy or inclusiveness; it is about questions such as, “What is the role of Ibrahim Jaafari in this Government, and are any of these Sunnis who are currently standing for the Iraqi Government actually credible?”
The questions in Ukraine are the same kinds of questions. We can create the theoretical framework, but in the end we need some moral principles behind us. What do we make of this man Putin? Such questions can only be answered by looking at our own values. What kind of moral obligation do we feel we have to the Ukrainian people? What kind of obligation do we feel we have to the international order or the international system? How much risk are we prepared to take? How many sacrifices are we really prepared to make to confront Putin over Ukraine?
Unless we rediscover the ability to focus on what we can do and what we ought to do, this foreign policy, which should be a theatre of heroism, will instead be a narrow stage for impotence, self-flattery and oblivion.