INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM – 12 December 2001

Dr Julian Lewis: I would be inclined to agree with some of the points made by the hon. and learned Member for Medway (Robert Marshall-Andrews) were it not for the fact that the result of using indigenous peoples and forces, in some of the recent campaigns that he opposed, has been not only the success of the campaign but the introduction of a system of democracy where none existed before. All the signs are that, despite what the hon. and learned Gentleman has just said, we will see a relatively democratic regime emerge in Afghanistan. All the signs are that, despite what he said about the KLA, we will see a relatively democratic regime in Kosovo. And all the signs are that, despite what he has just said, we are seeing a relatively democratic regime in Serbia.

The lesson was also learned right back in 1982 when, in spite of the same sort of objections expressed with the same sort of motives by the same sort of people on the same part of the political spectrum, we saw not only military success in the Falkland Islands but the emergence of democracy in Argentina itself. The only area in which our policy has so far failed was in the Gulf in 1990-91, when half-measures were employed in the case of Iraq, and we did not go to the assistance of those people locally who might have overthrown Saddam Hussein, which might have led to the emergence of a relatively democratic system there as well.

Mr Robert Marshall-Andrews: I know that the hon. Gentleman will accept that many of us supported the war in the Falklands and the war in Kuwait as being necessary. Will he accept, however, that the KLA did not win the war in Kosovo? The end of that war was brokered by the Russians after 78 days of bombing. Will he also accept that as a result of what happened in Kosovo, although there are the stems of democracy, the KLA is now the most widely feared drug-running terrorist organisation within the Kosovan and Albanian borders?

Dr Lewis: I will not accept the hon. and learned Gentleman's analysis. I believe that it was important that the Russians did not actively support the Serbs, and that was one of several factors in the successful outcome. What really mattered, however, was not the bombing campaign alone, as the right hon. Member for Swansea, East (Donald Anderson) seemed to imply, if I heard him correctly, but the fact that it was allied to the threat that ground forces would indeed be used.

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) indicated assent.

Dr Lewis: I am delighted to see some support from the Government in that analysis. It follows that one of three options will be taken: the first is to take no military action at all against such countries; the second is to take indiscriminate military action involving bombing alone, which will not work; the third is to do the one thing that has a chance of working, which is a combination of bombing and the use of ground forces – either one's own, in a threat or in actual invasion, or indigenous ground forces. Without ground forces of one sort or another, a military campaign will not be successful.

Several hon. Members rose –

Dr Lewis: I give way first to the hon. Member for Halifax (Alice Mahon).

Mrs Alice Mahon (Halifax): Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the North Atlantic Assembly, to which I am a delegate, was told by Interpol that in 1998 the KLA had very strong links with Osama bin Laden and, indeed, that he visited Albania to meet other terrorists? Does the hon. Gentleman not think it ironic that as the allies were acting as the air force for the KLA, those very same terrorists may have been plotting the twin towers tragedy?

Dr Lewis: If that is correct, and I have no reason to doubt it, my answer is that one can only deal with one problem at a time. If, when one has dealt with the proximate problem - which at that time was Serbian aggression - subordinate problems emerge, one can deal with those as well. I have every confidence that the Americans, under President Bush, and - I am proud to say this as a member of the loyal Opposition - the Government, if they continue on the path that they have consistently followed since 11 September, will prove equal to the occasion. I pay that compliment to the Government and hope that they will acknowledge that they have had unflinching support from the Conservatives, if not from other Opposition parties and some Labour Members. Our support has been given generously and wholeheartedly. We are happy to endorse the Government's actions so far and the success that they have met so far.

Mr Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): It so happened that last night I was at the annual dinner of my national service regiment, the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, who have returned for the second time from Kosovo. I stayed with them during their first tour of duty there. I asked them what the difference is now, and every one of those people who have just come back from Kosovo said that there is a terrible problem, not with the Serbs, as there was during their first tour of duty, but with KLA extremists. They are the problem facing British troops.

Dr Lewis: I assure the hon. Gentleman, who knows that I greatly respect his views although I sometimes disagree with them, that I entirely endorse what he has just said. I visited Kosovo as a member of the Select Committee on Defence. My point is that we are now in a far better position to deal with the problems in Kosovo - even if the boot is now on the other foot, as unjustifiably as it was when on the Serbian foot - than we would have been had we not dealt firmly with Milosevic's aggression.

Several hon. Members rose

Dr Lewis: I will now give way for the last time.

Mr Jon Owen Jones (Cardiff, Central): For the sake of the completeness of his list of examples of support for indigenous people in conflicts and the success rate thereof – I agree that there have been successes - why does the hon. Gentleman not use the example of Afghanistan itself? There, support – mainly from the Americans and Saudi Arabia – given to people such as the mujaheddin fomented the problems that face us now. Why not use that example as well?

Dr Lewis: I am happy to refer to that example. As I have had occasion to point out previously, one must be less selective about where one stops the clock when looking back on history. The cause of the problems is not the support that the Americans and the British special services gave to the mujaheddin in Afghanistan; it is the fact that in 1979 the then Soviet Union invaded the country and triggered the cycle of events with which we are still dealing today.

Having given genuine and well-deserved plaudits to the Government, I want to raise one small issue that has caused me some sadness. It relates to what might be an academic question: what would happen if Osama bin Laden - or, perhaps more realistically, one or another of his chief lieutenants - fell into the hands of the British forces rather than those of America or any other country? During our debate on the coalition against international terrorism on 1 November, I intervened on the Secretary of State for Defence to ask

"how he would resolve the following dilemma. If Osama bin Laden were to come into United Kingdom jurisdiction, would we be able to surrender him to America, given the restrictions that we have adopted on not surrendering anyone to a country which has the death penalty?"

To shows of approval on both sides of the House, the Secretary of State robustly replied:

"I would have no hesitation or difficulty about achieving that." - [Official Report, 1 November 2001; Vol. 373, c. 1022-23.]

I was therefore sorry to see a Press Association release dated 9 December and headed "Britain against bin Laden death penalty, says Hoon". It reports the Secretary of State as saying:

"We do extradite people to countries with the death penalty, obviously subject to certain undertakings."

The release continues:

"Asked whether this meant that the US authorities would have to offer assurances that bin Laden would not face execution, Mr Hoon said: 'That is the position'."

Whoever has got at the Secretary of State, that is a sad reversal of a welcome and robust answer he had previously given in the House.

Mr Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen North): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

 

Dr Lewis: No, because others want to speak and time is limited.


I was fortunate enough to participate in the first of these debates, during the emergency sitting that took place when Parliament was recalled on 14 September, so soon after the events in New York and elsewhere in the United States. I said then that it was pointless and probably self-defeating to speculate publicly about specific measures of retaliation; that remains my view. However, it is permissible to examine the extent to which the abstract theory of terrorism has or has not been borne out by the events of the past three months.

 

All terrorism has a specific central feature, which is the ability to cause maximum mayhem with minimum effort. However, the brand of terrorism with which we are dealing appeared at the outset to combine three other deadly features: high-tech terrorism, stateless terrorism and suicide terrorism. I shall briefly consider each of those three.

 

High-tech terrorism is that which uses the assets of developed states as weapons against those states. That, together with the weapons of mass destruction that the terrorists would like to acquire, could constitute a form of military jujitsu, whereby the opponent's greater weight is turned into a weapon against him. However, it is interesting to note that although the attacks on New York's twin towers seemed to subscribe strongly to that principle - what else but something on the scale of airliners packed with fuel could have achieved such devastation - there seems to have been a failure on the part of that terrorist organisation to stay its hand long enough, until it had the more deadly weapons which, we understand from the Government's understandably limited comments, the bin Laden organisation has sought and continues to seek. We must be thankful that, in a sense, the attacks in America were premature - or so it can be argued.

 

What of stateless terrorism? That appears to be a possibility when one first examines the bin Laden organisation and the way in which its tentacles extend to so many countries. In fact, that has not been achieved either. Al-Qaeda is cross-border, but is dependent on what have been described as "failed states". The very fact that it has had to operate in states such as Afghanistan has turned out to be a weakness in its armour. It is significant that when things began to go wrong in Afghanistan, the indigenous people who had supported the Taliban turned against al-Qaeda and bin Laden to a considerable extent, continually referring to them as "foreigners" and surrendering themselves while leaving al-Qaeda fighters to try to save their own necks.

 

The third feature is the most worrying: suicide terrorism. At the outset, parallels were rightly drawn between the events in America and the attack on Pearl Harbour. The reason why that parallel is especially strong can be seen in discoveries made after the second world war about Japanese thinking at the time of the attack on Pearl Harbour. Any rational calculation would have shown that, however successful that attack might be, the Japanese were bound to lose in the end. Documents uncovered after the war revealed their attitude to have been along these lines - I quote from memory: "Sometimes a situation arises when all you can do is kick up your heels and leap into the gorge." Such was the degree of fanaticism consistently shown throughout the Far East war by the Japanese, who often sacrificed themselves in the face of impossible odds and in impossible situations.

 

We have had to ask ourselves, would the same sort of remorseless self-sacrifice be shown on a large scale by the bin Laden organisation and the Taliban? The answer is, again, that that has not yet been proved to be the case - indeed, there are indications that it was not the case.

 

I was intrigued by the confirmation by the Secretary of State for Defence, in testimony to the Select Committee as recently as 28 November, that it appears that a significant number of the 19 hijackers on the four planes did not know that they were on a suicide mission. I see that the Minister is nodding. Therefore bin Laden had felt it was reliable to inform only a minority of those whom he was sending to their death that that would occur.

 

I noted in yesterday's Evening Standard the report by Jeremy Campbell about the video that has been discovered in Afghanistan. It shows bin Laden

" 'gloating and chuckling' on the tape".

It is said that he

"seems amused by the fact that more than half the 19 hijackers did not know they would die, but thought they were on a routine hijacking".

It seems that the organisation is not exactly overwhelmed with people who are anxious to go to Paradise with all the many benefits - the 72 virgins and all the rest of it - that their leaders tell them to expect.

I wish to give others a chance to contribute to the debate, so I shall curtail my remarks. Given uncertainty about the severity and the persistence of the threat, the correct approach to our undertaking necessary and, I hope, temporary infringements of some of our traditional liberties should be sunset legislation - legislation that will lapse automatically, unless specifically renewed, after an agreed period.

 

Democracy has always faced these problems in wartime. Churchill's chief of staff on the COS Committee during the war was Lord Ismay, who later became the first Secretary General of NATO. I shall conclude by referring to something that he observed in his memoirs, which is as true in relation to terrorism today as it was in relation to the more conventional threat that nearly destroyed the democratic systems of the west in the past. He said:

"It is easy to criticise peaceful democracies for their habitual lack of preparedness when a war breaks out, but it is only fair to recognise that the dice are loaded against them. Dictators, bent on aggression, ... are masters of their own timetable. They are free to decide when to strike, where to strike and how to strike, and to arrange their armament programmes accordingly. Their potential victims, the democracies, ... with their inherent hatred of war, do not know when or where the blow will fall, or what manner of blow it will be."

We must bear in mind that if we are to win this war, as has been the case with previous wars, there must be no half-measures. We must use indigenous opposition and build coalitions. However, we must not be ruled by the fact that we build coalitions. We must do what is right, what is necessary and what is efficacious in eradicating the terrorist threat to modern civilisation.