BY THE RT HON JACK STRAW MP
I begin by paying a tribute to Dr Akila Al-Hashimi, a senior member of the Iraqi Governing Council, who died earlier today.
I had the privilege of meeting Dr Al-Hashimi earlier this year. I was struck by her courage and her dedication to the Iraqi people.
Dr Al-Hashimi was murdered by those who would deny the Iraqi people the democratic, prosperous future they so richly deserve. The best service we can render her memory is to defeat the terrorists and to ensure that her vision of a peaceful, free Iraq prevails.
We owe this service to all those who have fallen in the cause of peace in Iraq. Sergio Vieira De Mello and the UN personnel who were killed or injured in the blast in Baghdad on 19 August were committed to bringing the ideals of the United Nations to the people of Iraq. They paid the ultimate sacrifice for their dedication. We mourn their loss. But we will not weaken in our resolve to help the Iraqi people rebuild their country on the principles of justice and security.
What makes Iraq so important was the way it tested the role and purpose of this institution over more than a dozen years. The international community remained in agreement throughout that the regime of Saddam Hussein posed a Chapter VII threat to international peace and security by its proliferation of weapons of mass destruction programmes, and its unparalleled defiance of the will of the United Nations. Yet we divided on when and what action was necessary to deal with that threat.
Of course I acknowledge the controversy over the military action we took, and the heavy responsibilities we now bear. But I firmly believe that the decision we took was the right one. The authority of the United Nations was at stake. Having given Saddam Hussein's regime a `final opportunity' to comply with the UN, what would have happened if we had simply turned away? Would the world be a safer place today? No. Would Iraq be a better place today? No. Would the United Nations be a stronger institution today? No. Saddam Hussein would have been emboldened by our failure to act, every dictator would have been encouraged to follow his example, and the authority of the United Nations would have been gravely weakened.
Yet whatever the arguments of the spring, we must now come together again for a common purpose. As the Security Council has recognised in three resolutions, 1472, 1483 and 1500, we have a shared interest in helping Iraqi citizens to embrace the rights and freedoms which they have been denied for so long and for which this institution was founded. Yes, the security situation presents formidable challenges. Terrorists who despise freedom are seeking to plunge Iraq into chaos. They have inflicted terrible blows on the Iraqi people, coalition soldiers, and international aid workers. But ultimately they will fail.
And let us not lose sight of what has been achieved and what is taking shape. Saddam Hussein's reign of terror is over. The apparatus of torture and oppression which claimed hundreds of thousands of lives is at an end. Instead we have the beginnings of representative government run by Iraqis for Iraqis; new Ministries providing daily services to the people; a free press; the freedom for members of all religious communities to worship as they wish; hospitals and schools in operation; bustling traffic on the streets and highways and a start to real economic regeneration.
We shall stay in Iraq as long, but only as long, as it is necessary to meet our clear responsibilities; and to restore sovereignty to the Iraqi people as quickly as we can in on orderly manner. I hope that we can agree a new Security Council Resolution to strengthen the UN's role in Iraq. In managing this transition, we should be guided by three central principles:
- first, the transfer of powers must reflect realities on the ground in Iraq, particularly the need to ensure security;
- second, the Iraqi institutions must be sufficiently robust to take on increasing responsibilities;
- and third, the exercise of executive powers and responsibilities must be based on good governance, involving representative Iraqi authorities and coherent constitutional arrangements.
In other words, the timetable should be driven by the needs of the Iraqi people and their capacity progressively to assume democratic control, rather than by fixing arbitrary deadlines.
Iraq is sadly not the only territory in the Middle East where the international community faces great challenges. Three months ago we all had high hopes about the work of the Quartet in Israel and the Occupied Territories. It is tragic that these hopes were blown apart on 19 August by the terrorist atrocity in Jerusalem. But the international community has to stay united on both the means and the ends. There are no alternatives to the Road Map; and there can be no alternatives to the outcome the entire world wishes to see - two states living side by side in peace and security. This is the only fitting memorial to the thousands who have died on both sides since the beginning of this appalling conflict.
The breadth of the issues being tackled by the UN and its agencies demonstrates the continued relevance of this institution.
The Counter-Terrorism Committee has given the UN a focus for its work post 11 September. But we must now build upon it, giving it the expertise and the remit to reinforce the capacity of Member States to tackle and to overcome terrorism.
We all know that proliferation is one of the greatest threats we face. Much good work is being done by UN agencies, particularly the IAEA. But the Security Council itself has not addressed this issue for ten years. It is time that it did.
Problems of internal conflict, on the other hand, are regularly on the Security Council agenda. The UN has unrivalled expertise and experience, and has achieved great things in countries as far apart as East Timor and Sierra Leone. But nation-building is a collaborative effort, requiring the resources and commitment of Member States if the UN's peace-building is to be effective. We need new mechanisms to prevent conflict and help states before they collapse.
We must also make a real success of the Millennium Declaration.
We have to overcome the set back of Cancun, and to secure a positive outcome
to the Doha Round.
These and other shared problems require collective responses, as the Secretary General so eloquently said in his speech on Tuesday.
A key to this is to ensure that the UN itself remains an effective global forum capable of delivering results. The Secretary General posed some difficult questions two days ago. I welcome his initiative to seek the advice of a distinguished group to make proposals on reform. I welcome too his commitment to modernise the UN and its Agencies.
The UK is committed to making the Security Council more representative. The issue is not whether but how to do this. But a bigger and more representative Council will not in itself make it easier to make tough choices. The most important ingredient is the political will and determination of the Members of the Council to take effective action.
The most important part of the Secretary General's speech was about the choices now confronting the UN. He is right.
We have indeed come to a fork in the road. Down one route lies a world in which the United Nations strengthens its role as the collective instrument for protecting our peace and security. Down the other route lies a world in which `collective action' becomes a synonym for `inaction'. We must not take this second route. The Secretary General's speech was a challenge to us all. We all share a world in which international terrorists strike down the innocent regardless of faith or nationality, and we are all less secure when weapons of mass destruction are in reckless hands. We do not have the luxury simply of rejecting unilateralism, while proposing no multilateral means of confronting these threats.
The British government is profoundly committed to the
ideals of the UN. To us, the importance of this organisation has always
been its ability to put those high ideals into effect. We will work wholeheartedly
with the Secretary General and the international community to ensure that
the United Nations retains both its idealism and its effectiveness.