Foreign Affairs - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords am 4:28 pm ar 5 Mawrth 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland Non-affiliated 4:28, 5 Mawrth 2024

My Lords, when I was in office at the EU, I visited the Middle East more than anywhere else. In Sderot in Israel, I was presented with a sculpture of a rose, fashioned from one of the hundreds of Hamas rockets fired regularly at the town, and visited the places where children played underground to keep them safe. Sderot was targeted on 7 October by Hamas terrorists.

On my visits to Gaza, I would often visit a school for deaf children offering education and vocational training to those with an additional disadvantage in a place where children had few opportunities. It now lies in ruins. I am filled with overwhelming sorrow at what is happening and has happened and with shame that we have failed over decades to find a lasting, viable solution.

Meantime, the region risks falling into greater chaos. I am only too aware of the influence and control that Iran exercises in the region. It had been my hope that, after dealing with the nuclear issue, we would move on to tackling the problems that, in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen, see Iran exacerbate already deeply troubled states. We need longer-term thinking here. Twenty years from now, will we have curtailed and contained Iran’s influence? What will be the role of the key Arab countries, especially Saudi Arabia, in bringing stability and prosperity to their neighbourhood? I believe there is a need for even greater UK engagement in this area.

Ten years ago, I celebrated with Ukraine the signing of the long-awaited association agreement with the European Union. The country was already in conflict after the taking of Crimea and the invasion of parts of the Donbas, and the hope was for a plan to resolve Russia’s incursion and find a new future closer to Europe. Just before the pandemic took hold, I was in Kyiv in a cold winter. While I was there, hundreds of people were killed by bombs, guns or freezing weather as power stations were targeted in the Donbas. In Kyiv, I was told repeatedly that Ukrainians felt they were alone: left to deal with ongoing aggression by themselves. I worried then that Russia was waiting. Now, after two years of war, many of the people I stood with in Maidan a decade ago are gone.

There is a need for a new broad security architecture that is more than the important continued military engagement and NATO expansion, and which will provide economic and political security well into the decades ahead. In 20 years’ time, what of Russia? Do we need a plan for containment—to write the equivalent of the “long telegram”—and where do UK relations with the European Union fit in strategic terms in that time period?

Many countries, especially in what we call the global South, are no longer prepared to fall into line with our views simply because it is expected, even if the principle in question is one they accept. Discussing Ukraine, one African leader asked when we were going to pay real attention to what was happening on his continent, pointing to the 17 coups in Africa during the last six years and the 18 armed conflicts in 2021 alone.

Old relationships do not always translate into strong links, especially as economies grow and political alliances shift and develop. Their present and future growth depends on diversifying relationships or dumping old ones in favour of new. We need to forge these new relationships.

Too often, we describe crises as coming out of nowhere. Too often, it is because we were not looking hard enough. I learned a long time ago that there is no issue any nation can solve alone; it is in our partnerships and our alliances that we find the strength and resources to tackle problems. Governments need to think in decades, not years: to resolve problems that have taken decades or longer to bubble up and burst; to tackle underlying causes, not just manifestations, as they affect us; to understand the nature of long-term needs and commit to resolving them, and to do so based on democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Those are the values that Britain has been known and respected for across the globe. This is, above all, about our own long-term security and, looking across our world, it cannot wait.