Foreign Affairs - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords am 7:03 pm ar 5 Mawrth 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Lord Alderdice Lord Alderdice Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol 7:03, 5 Mawrth 2024

My Lords, I remind the House of my interests in the register, especially as executive chairman of the Changing Character of War Centre at Pembroke College, Oxford, and as founding chairman of the Concord Foundation, an independent peacebuilding organisation.

As others have commented, our world is spinning into increasing turmoil. It is not just the spreading violence and war; people across the globe believe that they can no longer trust the institutions they depended on for stability. They see widespread corruption and incompetence in their political, faith, intellectual, and even sporting and cultural elites. They see the galloping extension of disruptive technologies they do not understand, and they believe that their leaders neither understand them nor know how to control them. They fear the existential threats of climate catastrophe and global, perhaps even nuclear, war. Addressing these complex issues meaningfully in five minutes is not possible, so I will focus on just three questions for the Foreign Secretary.

First, on the Russia-Ukraine war, I am rather proud of the role our country has played to date in the war effort, going back long before the February 2022 invasion. While our military, intelligence and political contributions have been—and continue to be—very significant, we need to realise that we have a real problem of replacement of our stocks of weapons and ammunition, as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, has pointed out. However, whatever the outcome of the war, and we do not know what it will be yet, there will come a stage—I fully recognise that now is not the time—for negotiations that bring it all to a political conclusion. Do His Majesty’s Government agree that, in the meantime, it is important to ensure that there are some protected channels of communication with Russia, which can be of use when the time comes?

Secondly, on Israel-Gaza, we all agree that the Hamas attacks of 7 October were utterly appalling and unforgivable, but that the problems between Israel and the Palestinians did not start in 2023. The military actions taken by Israel after the immediate response are not defending Israel but harming Israel. The noble Lord, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, is a wonderful Minister and representative of our country at home and abroad, but I disagree with any suggestion that the international community is united in support of Israel. On the contrary, the actions of the IDF, with the deaths of thousands on thousands of women, children and babies, sick people in hospitals and elderly people, starving and terrified as they are caged in and unable to escape the horrors, have undermined the moral standing of Israel. Outside western Europe and North America, the perspective is completely different from what it is here. Indeed, our own standing as a country is being affected.

In any situation of violent political conflict—I am fairly familiar with them—however tempting it may be to back one side or the other, when you do that, you simply become part of the conflict. Sometimes there is absolutely nothing else that you can do, and you have to back one side, but the consequence is a very limited role in brokering peace. If and when this war ends, there will need to be someone to ensure the security of Gaza and, despite what the Israeli Prime Minister says, that is not a role that can be undertaken by Israel. I rather doubt that our own country or our US ally can undertake it either. Are His Majesty’s Government taking seriously, as I believe they should, the offer from President Erdoğan of Turkey for his country to play a significant role, with others, in providing some security to all sides in that context?

Finally, I turn to Tunisia, a country that triggered the so-called Arab spring, which gave us such hope for democracy in the MENA region. How are His Majesty’s Government responding to the suspension of democratic structures and the imprisonment by current President Saied of many elected representatives, including the former assembly speaker, Sheikh Rached Ghannouchi, who had been working against the odds to build a pluralist and Muslim democracy? I emphasise “Muslim” democracy, not Islamist. What are His Majesty’s Government doing to press the President of Tunisia to release the democratic politicians of all parties and allow them to build a new pluralist and democratic Tunisia, which can give hope again to all of us for democracy in that region?