Salmond Speech in Iraq Debate

Text of speech by Scottish National Party Westminster leader Mr Alex Salmond MP in the House of Commons debate on Iraq, on behalf of the SNP/Plaid Cymru Group:

This debate is not about whether or not Saddam Hussein is a vile and murderous dictator.

He has proven that many times over and those of us across the parties who have a real concern about the direction the Prime Minister is taking have no doubts about it. Indeed some of us were opposing his policies when he was the blue-eyed boy of successive United States administrations - supported, armed and financed in pursuing his assault on Iran.

The House may recall British Ministers and companies did not have clean hands in that matter.

The United States provided Saddam with both weapons hardware and military intelligence. And of course the previous Conservative Government misled this House about the UK's dubious record on arms sales to Iraq.

Nor is the debate about whether Saddam Hussein should be forced to relinquish weapons of mass destruction. The Prime Minister's much-delayed dossier describes evidence of wish, intent and enormous cruelty - although not of immediate capability on nuclear weapons, or indeed links with international terrorism.

The real debate turns on what does or does not constitute United Nations sanction for action - about how important that is to this crisis and to the future of every one of us.

For those who flout the will of the international community - whether it is Israel on Palestine, or India on Kashmir - it is fashionable to dismiss international agreements or the United Nations itself in cynical terms.

Unfortunately, the Prime Minister himself came close to describing the UN in this way during his Sedgefield news conference on 3 September when he said - rightly - that it is "better to take action with the broadest possible basis of international support", but then went on to indicate that military action will be "done" anyway. As the Hon Member for Halifax has written: "These are dangerous words spoken by the Prime Minister."

Perhaps the most sensible remark of the Prime Minister in his Sedgefield press conference is that it was "a mistake for the West to ever back Saddam" in the first place.

I offer the thought that a gung-ho campaign of "regime change" in Iraq, without the explicit sanction of the United Nations, would be just as foolish and just as damaging in its long-term consequences for the Middle East and the wider world as the West's covert but unstinted support for Saddam some twenty years ago.

And instead of the murky and ultimately self-defeating doctrine of "my enemy's enemy is my friend", for many of us, the UN possess real potential and hope for collective security, particularly since the end of the cold war.

The press often refers to the Security Council as if it consisted of only the 5 permanent members. In fact, it consists of 15 - including at present the small European Nations of Ireland and Norway.

I had a scan through the press comment in these countries and it might be useful to inform the House of what seems to be the prevailing mood and how distant it is from the opinion in the United States and in, at least, the Cabinet in this country.

In most of these countries there is an expectation that the arms inspectors will be returning to Iraq, there is no assumption that the access will be unfettered, but there is a determination that if it is not then further action will be required.

There is, however, widespread disbelief that even while this process is underway that there could be the risk of unilateral action by the United States supported by the Prime Minister to enforce resolutions of the United Nations when the UN itself had not sanctioned such action.

I WOULD STRONGLY ADVISE THE GOVERNMENT TO NOW DISAVOW SUCH AN APPROACH.

That is not just a matter of international legality although that is a rather important matter - if there is no rule of law then might becomes right.

If it were right for strong countries to enforce United Nations resolutions unilaterally, then would that not be a legal basis for an invasion of Israel by its neighbours, or an assault by Pakistan upon India? Of course not.

But more immediately, the inherent risks of military action increase exponentially if it is unilateral. It increases even more when the doctrine of pre-emptive strikes is accepted. The trouble with pre-emptive strikes is that they work both ways.

Worst-case scenario is Armageddon - unrest throughout the Arab world, disruption of Saudi oil supplies and entire world economy, an extension of the conflict to Israel and perhaps Pakistan.

And even if this plunge into darkness was avoided there is the question of what regime in Iraq would replace the present one. Even the best-case scenario is problematic and costly in human life, Iraqi civilians, and our armed forces and the stability of the world economy.

The Prime Minister presumably has cast an eye on the stock market, the oil markets, people's concerns about their pensions, their jobs, and the lives of their sons and daughters in the armed forces.

Of course multi-lateral action also carries risks and costs in human life but it is inherently more containable, and upholding and regulating the rule of international law has long-term dividends.

Now it is possible that the President and the Prime Minister may be playing a game of brinkmanship - tough talk to secure a desirable and peaceful result. The trouble is that if they topple over the edge they just might take us all with them.

The House has to acknowledge that there is substantial scepticism and distrust of the motivations of both the American President and indeed the British Prime Minister.

For example the respected commentator Peter Kellner suggested last week that even the timing of the publication of the Prime Minister's dossier was dictated by a wish not to embarrass the German Chancellor in an election campaign.

There is a strong belief that American domestic politics, the mid term elections, economic problems, the wish to sustain the momentum and support of the war against terrorism, control of world oil, have all played some part in dictating the rushing of Iraq up the agenda by the US administration.

Let us hope that such base motives are not, in fact, the real reasons for the present direction of policy but can I offer this thought to the Prime Minister.

Could it not be that in the aftermath of last year's attack on the Twin Towers that much of America is still in shock from that atrocity?

Many people in the world are still anxious to support America, as we demonstrated our solidarity last year.

I note that only yesterday Mr Rumsfeld said that Chancellor Schroder's comments were "poisoning" the relationship between Germany and the United States. Is it not rather more possible that it is Mr Rumsfeld's comments and postures which are poisoning the relationship between America and the rest of the world.

And might it not be true that at this particular moment America needs a candid friend to tell the truth and not a cheerleader willing to pay the 'blood price'.

Someone who will spell out the risks inherent in the present approach and indeed how important it is that the world's richest and most powerful nation - above all - subscribe to the doctrine of collective security through the United Nations.

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