My position on the necessity of armed intervention has always been clear. I do believe that there are circumstances in which it is right for the international community to intervene; that is why I supported military action against Slobodan Milosevic. But the latest foray into Iraq is part of a pattern of US foreign policy in the region, which is breathtaking in its hypocrisy and totally counterproductive.
The policy of continued military action and sanctions against Iraq would be easier to defend if it were applied as part of a consistent approach to the force of international law. But it is not. The grounds on which the air-strikes were ordered are weak. The US and UK governments cite UN Security Council resolution 688 as the basis for the air exclusion sectors over Baghdad. In fact, as France, China and Russia have consistently pointed out, the resolution gives no provision for such zones, and France pulled out of the air operations in the north in 1996 and the south in 1998.
As recently as 25 January, in answer to a question on the no-fly zone, the Prime Minister said: "We regularly discuss all aspects of our Iraq policy with the UN secretariat including the general secretary." Clearly, on this occasion the United Nations has not been consulted.
The hypocrisy of successive US administrations towards the Middle East is its most consistent feature. When Israel invaded the West Bank, the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem in 1967, the reaction of the US was to do nothing. The United States is quite happy to stand by as Palestinians including children are massacred by Israeli soldiers. The world's most powerful nation takes no action to implement UN resolutions to remove Israel from the occupied territories. And yet Iraq, which was forced out of its occupation of Kuwait 10 years ago, is still subject to punitive sanctions that serve only to harm the general population.
Baroness Symons argues on behalf of the British government that the no-fly zones have served a "vital humanitarian purpose" in limiting Saddam's ability to repress the Shi'ites in the south and the Kurds in the north. It is difficult to take this view seriously when America actively supports the regime in Turkey, which like Saddam is responsible for the deaths of thousands of Kurds.
World reaction to the latest military intervention has been rightly hostile, and Britain's participation does not bode well for the next big challenge, which is to persuade George Bush's government to pull back from its plans to tear up the international agreements on nuclear defence.
Many liberal commentators welcomed the collapse of the Soviet Union with optimistic forecasts that the end of the Cold War would lead to a future in which peace would prevail. In fact, world stability and peace are threatened by a super-power whose overriding objective is to make sure its will goes unchallenged. Central to this strategy is the creation of the National Missile Defence (NMD) system, known as "Son of Star Wars".
The NMD system would provide the US with a missile shield, giving it impunity to launch military strikes without fear of retaliation. Under Bush's vision, the NMD programme will be greatly accelerated. The deployment of the NMD system would destroy the anti-nuclear peace agreements of the last three decades. The cornerstone of those peace agreements has been the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty reached between the US and the former Soviet Union, which has formed the basis for global stability and international security, as well as US and Russian nuclear disarmament.
The United States, in a bid to obtain absolute military superiority under the pretext of preventing so-called "rogue" states from launching possible missile attack on it, is vigorously pushing forwards the development and deployment of the National Missile Defence umbrella. This is in flagrant disregard of the explicit stipulations of the ABM.
The US rationalisation for attempting to develop a missile shield to protect itself from attack is absurd. The view that a state such as North Korea is likely to launch a nuclear strike against the most powerful country in the world is, to put it mildly, eccentric. In fact, states such as China and Russia see the deployment of NMD as a direct threat to themselves which it is.
Since the establishment of a nuclear shield over the United States will seriously undermine global strategic stability and potentially trigger a new arms race, it has naturally encountered strong international opposition. This includes China, Russia, India, much European governmental and political opinion and considerable opposition in Britain.
Unfortunately, the British government has refused to rule out the use of British facilities such as Fylingdales for use by the US in an NMD system. Reports over the weekend imply that there is now agreement for improvements to British facilities in order to assist the development of NMD. These facilities are essential to NMD, and our opposition could therefore scupper the system. Britain is in a strong position to save the ABM Treaty and reinforce the balance it has protected.
The only previous time in history when the US felt safe from nuclear attack was when it was the only nuclear-capable country. This was when it used nuclear bombs against Japan.
Anyone who believes that under Son of Star Wars, Europe and the rest of the world will benefit from the benign protection of the US ought to consider its record since the Second World War. This is the state that has presided over such humanitarian efforts as those in Vietnam, Korea, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Iraq, not to mention active support for the coup against Allende in Chile and the campaign against Cuba, including armed intervention and illegal blockade.
The NMD is a blueprint for giving the United States unchallenged military might, while leaving those countries that support the deployment of NMD as unprotected targets for the enemies of America. The special relationship ought not to be so special that Britain offers George Bush a fig-leaf for his disastrous campaign in the Middle East. Nor should it mean we conspire with the new President to allow the United States to become the unassailably dominant military power on the face of the planet.
© 2001 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd.