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Michael Ancram: Fractured institutions – Saddam's other victims

It is given to few in history to live through seismic changes in the geometry of international relations, massive geo-political shifts which mark the transformation of one so-called 'international order' into another. Such events are marked by great political tremors, sometimes by a single violent surge or quake after which things will never be the same again, to be followed by further tremors and aftershocks as the world changes and adapts.

The End of the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall were such. The horror of 9/11, and the subsequent actions in Afghanistan and in Iraq were the tremors of readjustment on the geo-political landscape that flowed from them.

Original perspectives and fresh thinking are urgently needed. That which worked in the past will not necessarily work today.

During the Cold War an uneasy equilibrium existed as nations coalesced in two countervailing blocs around NATO and the Warsaw Pact.

The possession of nuclear weapons by both sides led to the ultimate deterrent doctrine of mutually assured destruction.

That doctrine worked because both sides reacted rationally in their assessment of the threats they faced. NATO and the UN evolved in this atmosphere. As did the EU.

It was then that the doctrine of containment and deterrence was developed, worked. The Cold War ended with passive victory for the West.

Hopes of peace however were misplaced. We live now in a far more uncertain world. As 9/11 demonstrated many of today's threats are irrational, unpredictable and able to strike with little or no warning. Terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, failed or rogue states, suppression, starvation, poverty and disease - these are today's threats.

The key institutions - the UN, NATO and the EU - were rattled by 9/11 but by and large they recovered their poise. The events leading up to the Iraq conflict and its aftermath changed that. The stresses tested these institutions to their limits causing them to crack and in some cases to fail.

The swift war in Iraq was a highly successful military operation. Subsequent wrangles about "the peace", however, have not resolved the problems with the UN, in NATO and in the EU. If anything the damage has been compounded. It is crucial that we urgently address the fundamental challenges now facing them.

These are the vicarious victims of the war against Saddam Hussein. In some cases the wounds were caused by the war and its run-up; in others they already existed but the harsh light of the crisis exposed them.

We need to start by examining the injuries suffered by these institutions and then look at the ways in which they can best be addressed.

In a world of pre-emption the need for a means of legitimation of the actions of nations is pressing. Should the body that confers such legitimacy be the UN, or another body or process? For many the United Nations is still widely perceived as the ultimate organisation of international co-operation, conferring necessary legitimacy on the actions of states in the international arena, but we must ask whether it remains the best way of doing so. The stark truth is that in the run up to the Iraq conflict the UN Security Council was rendered impotent, and in February when France made it explicitly clear that it would veto any 'second' resolution on Iraq whether reasonable or supported by the majority of the Security Council, it was effectively gridlocked.

The drive for a second Security Council Resolution gave disproportionate influence to small countries on the Security Council. Their fears of being left to hang out to dry by France effectively stymied the second resolution - they feared declaring their hand only to find that France vetoed the resolution anyway.

Far from being part of the vaunted strength of the UNSC they turned out to be contributors to its weakness. Government proposals for Security Council expansion will exacerbate this even further.

The result was stasis. At a moment when the UNSC was most needed, it was sidelined.

This raised a number of serious questions about the United Nations. Is the Security Council really supposed to follow through and enforce all its previous resolutions? Does this only apply to Chapter 7 resolutions? In any event what sanctions would be available to the UNSC to achieve such enforcement? Should permanent members have the unfettered right to veto draft resolutions at whichever stage and whatever their relationship to previously endorsed resolutions?

Is the 'big power' veto still a legitimate way of proceeding? That veto which in the past had been regarded as decisive was fundamentally challenged when Tony Blair announced that he would not be bound by 'an unreasonable veto'. What is an unreasonable veto and how, by what criteria and by who is it so defined?

As the UN now faces its greatest crisis of credibility we must look to the future. Aside from its vital role in rebuilding Iraq, it faces a number of severe challenges; the international threat of weapons of mass destruction in North Korea, the bloody genocide that has already claimed so many lives in the Congo, and the impending threat of a politically created humanitarian disaster in Zimbabwe and beyond.

It is a sign of real and fundamental weakness that the UN has failed to get to grips with these crises. Its record in censoring countries for human rights abuses leaves much to be desired. A credible UN must show that it is capable of tackling such challenges, if it is not to risk becoming just an expensive accessory.

Then there is NATO which throughout the entire Iraq conflict sat uninvolved and unused. In what was arguably a defensive exercise to remove a potential threat to members of NATO it had no role and made no contribution. Indeed it only made the news when some members, as a gesture of political protest sought to prevent another member from receiving a missile defence system it required for its self-defence.

The cornerstone of the international security policy of Western Europe for over fifty years. The key player within it was and remains the USA. Western Europe needs NATO. Eastern Europe - demonstrated by their keenness to sign up - both wants and needs NATO to ensure their stability. Even Russia wants to be associated with NATO. The big question is whether and for how long the United States sees value in remaining actively involved in NATO. NATO needs the US. If it is to remain at the centre of our security strategy then the US must be persuaded it needs NATO.

These US doubts were by no means new. Even before Iraq they had begun to set in. After 9/11 there was a 'moment' when for the first time NATO invoked Article 5. A traumatised US gratefully accepted this as a demonstration of NATO's robust response to the threat to any of its members. But that was where it ended. The Afghanistan war, despite post-conflict involvement, was not a NATO engagement. The US and the UK bore the brunt of that campaign. US doubts about the value of its unreciprocated commitment to Europe through NATO increased. They developed in spades both in the run up to and during the Iraq War when any sense of NATO solidarity was not only absent, but replaced by positive attempts to thwart it. From the beginning of the conflict the spirit of NATO was undermined by France, Germany and Belgium. Not only America had apparently begun to question NATO and its future role.

Some even argued that NATO has passed its sell-by date. I disagree. The old role may have gone, but there are new threats to be met. Prague last autumn touched on the edges of this - but that was pre-Iraq. The Iraq challenge can now be summarised as both a regional and international threat that the UN balked at, and which had to be met by a coalition of the willing without the cover of either of these institutions. Could NATO have had a role, should it have had a role, and what should that role have been?

Iraq was out of area, but then so is Afghanistan. It was not classic self-defence, but then the doctrine of pre-emption rarely is. Could in this instance NATO have embraced the doctrine of pre-emption with all the potential military obligations that would flow from that? Could this have encompassed authorising out-of-area conflicts, with what justification, and on what legal principle? These are questions that need answering.

The European Union was also severely damaged by the diplomatic wrangles leading up to and through the Iraq war. France and Germany along with eight other members ranged against the UK, Spain, Portugal, Holland and Italy along with most of the new accession countries as well. The schism was deep, crossing old friendships and oblivious to the usual squabbles between arguments of integration versus flexibility.

The fault line now lies between the traditionalist Europeans on the one side and what might loosely be termed the 'Atlanticists' on the other. This definition can be further refined by the pre-Iraq divide that grew between the countervailing arguments of Europe and America or Europe or America? Those, more Lilliputian than David, who dream of a Europe to rival and compete with America have tended to be 'old Europe'. They appear genuinely to believe that Europe can become an emerging superpower to rival the USA. By contrast many of those who are "new Europe" in their thinking, particularly the Central and Eastern Europeans, while they genuinely and wholeheartedly embrace Europe, see the US not as a rival but as a liberator and friend.

Post-Iraq Europe has lost direction.

The certainties that bound it together are fractured. Integrationist friend has been set against integrationist friend. The concept of a unified foreign policy is an unsalvageable victim. There is no unified euro-view either on the foreign affairs front or in terms of defence and security, nor is there ever likely to be.

But the changed circumstances go further. The comfortable progress to integration has been publicly undermined to the point of dis-integration - as witnessed earlier this week by President Chirac backing away from the growth and stability pact, a key symbol of integration..

All of a sudden the work on the future of Europe, far from appearing forward and modern seems inward-looking and out of date. The real choice lies between an improved and dynamic partnership of sovereign nations and an increasingly top heavy, out-of-touch supranational entity that will soon to all intents and purposes become a sovereign political union. In any event these choices are so fundamental that any move towards the latter could only logically and legitimately proceed with the consent of the British people, freely and democratically given in a referendum before any treaty incorporating such changes is ratified.

The lessons of Iraq must be learned. In the EU that means not only recognition that ever-closer integration simply will not work but also that there is now a real risk of a transatlantic split.

These are all institution-centric problems. They became clear in the run-up to and the conduct of the conflict in Iraq. There is however also a wider context that must be understood before we can suggest ways to proceed with modernising and changing these institutions.

We need for a start to ask the fundamental question about the three institutions as to what their purpose is. It is only when purpose has been established that we can begin to look more closely at the options for reform and change.

For the moment we need to tread warily in seeking to provide complete or final answers. The complexities of the solutions and their inter-relationships are great.

We must start by understanding what we are trying to achieve. A world without threatening or expansionist totalitarian hegemonies, whether religious or secular. A world in which the Rule of Law, personal and religious freedom, and human rights are recognised and underwritten. A world in which terrorism as the enemy of civilization is pursued, rooted out and eliminated with the cooperative efforts of the whole international community.

As Iain Duncan Smith said in Prague last week there is a clear link between global insecurity and injustice. In tackling both of these our self-interest has rightly coincided with our conscience in preventing failing states becoming rogue and potential breeding grounds for terrorists.

In that context I will look at the institutions in the reverse order to that in which I introduced them.

Europe is perhaps the easiest of the injured institutions within which to identify the options. They have been around for some time. There are essentially two; a supranationalist European superpower, or a more outward looking intergovernmental Union.

Even before Iraq many of us had believed that some in Europe were aiming for the bridge too far, for the politically united Europe in a form that could in the realms of fantasy eventually rival the US as a superpower. This so-called 'projet' has been on the agenda for some time. For many in Europe it is the fulfilment of the grand dream that began some fifty years ago. Its never was a realistic or workable dream and nor is it now. Rather pathetically it is the pursuit of a fifty-year-old dream that is no longer relevant to the challenges of today. Iraq reawakened inherent weaknesses that were already there under the surface. Iraq brought them to the surface.

The newest draft constitution, which is designed to be the guiding text of the 'project', crystallises many of these weaknesses and fears. For all the denials of our government, what is on offer is a constitution for a discrete political entity, a politically united Europe, or - in the Prime Minister's preferred words - a 'superpower'. The constitution embraces a separate legal personality for the EU. A declaration of the supremacy of EU law, explicit for the first time in this Treaty. A five-year president. A Foreign Secretary with his own diplomatic service. A charter of legally enforceable fundamental rights. And many areas of policy from economic coordination, through asylum and immigration to a common foreign and defence policy where increasingly the centralized institutions of the EU will exercise control. It is the near fulfillment of the European supranationalist dream.

Iain Duncan Smith began the process of setting out a well-worked alternative to this in Prague last week. Our preferred option is a Europe that is a genuine partnership of sovereign nations, with carefully agreed rules of partnership. It is not merged nor diluted. As Iain Duncan Smith said in Prague last week: "Our vision of the New Europe is about more than a just reaction to the faults of the EU's existing arrangements". He went on to set out our positive steps to make the EU work and in that speech he made very clear that "The European nations and the US cannot tackle global insecurity if we become rivals rather than partners". In that sentence he put his finger on one of the biggest problems facing the EU and its adaptation to the post-Cold War world - too often it tries to be built up in to a rival bloc, not a partner, of the US. I will touch on this a little later.

Ideally in what is an increasingly fluid world what we are seeking is a partnership that is agile and flexible and can match changing circumstances. To achieve this it would certainly be necessary to place less stress on the Treaties and the acquis - towards a simpler statement of competences, to pursue framework rather than specific directives, and to return power back to national parliaments.

There is still a good deal of merit in the Gaullist concept of the 'Europe de Patries'. It has been heavily eroded by recent treaties, to an extent by Maastricht but particularly and more recently by Amsterdam and Nice, which absorbed to the centre many national state interests for almost nothing in return. It would therefore require proactive retrieval of power by the nation states. That will require determination and strong political will. The extent should now become a matter of urgent consultation with likeminded allies in Europe.

We could make swift progress by genuinely accepting different interests which in turn predicate different levels of involvement and at different speeds. The best example of this is currently in relation to the Euro, but it could extend to other areas as well. In many ways this element is more consistent with enlargement than anything emanating from the Convention. While the 'applicant' countries may publicly purport to be 'communitaire', privately there is a good deal of unease about how to identify and protect particular national differences and difficulties. An enlarged Europe will only work if members, old and new, do not feel 'put upon' by established regional powers. The ability to be different, inherent in any theory of variable geometry, is not a luxury but an essential if Europe is not to split from within.

There is then the Europe working in partnership with rather than in rivalry to America. The US, at the height of its strength, is inevitably tempted towards the concept of 'unipolarity', to look to do things on its own, to resent and distance if not marginalize those erstwhile friends who when the fair weather ended were noticeable at best by their absence and at worst by downright hostility. What is required is the development of a flexible Europe within which such groupings can occur without undermining the whole. It will need to be a relaxed Europe, which is capable of presiding benignly over such groupings. It will need to be a non-centralised, non-conforming, non-coercive Europe.

Above all it must be a Europe based on the democracies of its national parliaments. They should be initiators of legislation. They should be the forums of accountability. They should have the right to prevent further integration and centralisation, applying principles of 'subsidiarity and proportionality' as it would be term in Europe, where it does not meet the agreed objectives of the more outward looking EU. They should be the fount of power and authority, through their governments, to the EU. That would create an EU that does meet the needs of the new century, able to move with the increasingly agile partnerships that are modern international relations.

Then there is NATO. If the underlying principle for us is the need to keep the US bound into European Security, then it is not possible simply to set NATO to one side. Nor would it be right to do so. NATO is now irreversibly enlarged. We need to define the new strategic role for the new Nato.

Territorial defence is clearly no longer its sole purpose. There is no longer a single static enemy. The new foes are multiple, diffuse, transient and global. NATO has to be able to respond in much wider, more pro-active defensive role. The deterrent effect of its combined might needs to be more mobile and more diffuse. Article 5, which I believe must remain a central element, must more clearly indicate real intent and the force to back it up, if it is to deter and if necessary pre-empt both state and non-state aggressors.

It would be futile to seek a NATO where every member nation is required proportionately to replicate the same military capability as each other. This would not only lead to increasing duplication and disorganization. It would also place undue burdens on the smaller members. What we need to seek is a NATO where each member contributes within its means relevant and deployable capabilities, thereby creating a NATO of skills and breadth, a NATO that can credibly be seen as an efficient military organisation with the flexibility to respond effectively to threats and aggressions from whatever quarter. While the larger nations must contribute across a wider range of capabilities, smaller nations will specialise so they can play a real part. In this way NATO could continue and strengthen its role.

The key question is as to whether NATO in its role and functions can continue to be based, however loosely on the principles and legal definitions of self-defence. Already over these last years it has operated out of area. In Afghanistan two of its members, namely the US and the UK, invoked Article 51 of the UN Charter to pray self-defence as the justification of war in Afghanistan. The growing and inevitable doctrine of pre-emption, upon which I have spoken on other occasions, if it is to become part of the role of NATO, will require 'out-of-area' capabilities that will extend beyond the conventional containment and deterrence capabilities of the past. Search and destroy, direct military intervention to restore human rights and the rule of law, peace-making and peace-keeping are all becoming central parts of the role which NATO increasingly has to play if it is to retain its relevance.

The consequences of this are already becoming clear. There needs to be clearer understanding of the legal authority under international law for military intervention. Nato's relationships with the United Nations - about which more later - and with the UN Charter need to be clarified. The UN has only ever approved two conflicts in its entire history, Korea and the First Gulf War. How often can we expect Nato to act without explicit UN authority, as we did in Kosovo?

In a world of global threats, what is the meaning of the term 'out-of-area'? NATO already accepts invitations to intervene in a peace-making role by the UN 'out of area'. Are there limits? For instance, NATO could be asked by the UN to intervene, say, in Africa.

For Nato to act as one in an international crisis, there also needs to be a shared assessment of threats. That was clearly lacking before the recent war in Iraq. Alternatively, suggestions have been made that a renewed and strengthened NATO should divide into two tiers. It is not clear whether these should be a division of function or of area. The idea of one set of functions, those of direct intervention, for the US and another, those of nation building and peacekeeping, for the rest, tends to destroy the essential cohesion of NATO where combined action creates the dynamic. Division of area might be considered, although it would be unrealistic for the European end of NATO to consider major military intervention and action out of area without the assistance and involvement of the US except on the most limited scale. The UK would probably be most able to undertake such action, but unless the circumstances were exceptional we would prefer US involvement. Or maybe Nato will become a military alliance, based upon common values, from which coalitions of the willing can be drawn.

The Government talks about the importance of sustaining NATO as the "superior alliance". There are fears that the direction being pursued by the EU, in particular through the new draft constitution, fails to guarantee the supremacy of NATO. This will undermine and eventually fatally debilitate and destroy NATO. The developing autonomy of the ESDP has already destabilised NATO. The UK Government attacked the recent Brussels mini-summit for undermining NATO, but these countries in turn cited the ESDP as the authority and agenda for that meeting. Under the Constitution this will be exacerbated. This must be reversed.

Due to the rise in anti-Americanism in a number of European states, some in the US government have begun to re-examine the role of the trans-Atlantic partnership. It is hard to blame them. If we believe, as I do, in preserving and strengthening NATO, then we have an urgent task to persuade our American colleagues that primacy of NATO in Europe is vital for their national security too. We need to show them that their substantial investment in European defence is a prerequisite of global stability and peace, and that on the newer front of proactive preemption their position both physically and psychologically will be stronger with NATO than without it. NATO however will have to be seen to be changing if we are to succeed. And it will need to have changed if it is to have the relevance I seek for it in the future.

Lastly there is the United Nations. Of the injured institutions this is probably the most difficult to find clearly pictured in the crystal ball. Do we need the UN? Can an institution developed in a bi-polar world be made relevant to a uni-polar or multi-polar world? My answer to the first question is yes from which it follows that my answer to the second question is that a way to recreate its relevance must be found. The US and we need to consider how such relevance can sit easily alongside the US aim of international primacy as per their National Security Strategy Document.

What is certain is that it cannot continue as the powerless international organisation it has now in practice become. If it is to play an important role in international affairs in the 21st century, it must redefine its role. It must work with the grain of events and developments rather than against them. At a humanitarian level the UN has effective agencies such as the World Food Programme, the UNHCR, and UNRWA and so on. In terms of Health and Education it contributes valuably and constructively to a better world. While we still need to challenge the detailed effectiveness of some these, they fulfil a vital role. Nor does it help presiding over a system that can put Colonel Gadaffi of Libya in the chair of the UN Human Right Commission, or Iraq in the lead on disarmament! These idiocies undermine credibility, and measures need to be taken to avoid them happening in the future.

The question of the UN's future role remains. Should it simply become a glorified humanitarian agency and how would that help it further its goal of establishing 'international peace and security'? I believe it has reached a crossroads. It has, and we as part of it have, to decide whether just to strengthen its limited peacekeeping functions, or deliberately make a step change and to develop a peacemaking role with all that that would entail. The UN is based on its sovereign nation states. If it were to go down this road, it would have to work out how it would deliver its humanitarian, peacekeeping and peacemaking roles effectively in a world increasingly shaped by non-state actors.

Then there is the matter of the Security Council. Have the events of the last few months fatally undermined the concept of the Security Council or simply its reputation in Washington DC? What we know is that when the question was asked of it in relation to action with Iraq it split and was unable to produce an answer.

A Security Council that under pressure becomes gridlocked is an answer to nothing. If the UN is to have a relevant and influential role then it needs a Security Council that has clout, that does not become hidebound, and that reflects actual power within the world.

I believe that we need urgently to reform the criteria for membership of the Security Council. The Government's pathetic response of simply increasing the membership by ten, five permanent without veto and five new rotational solves nothing and confuses everything.

We need to re-examine the criteria for membership. Should there not then be criteria for membership based on some formula of population, GDP, military capability and political stability? Should there be a firm rule that the SC should proceed by consensus rather than majority vote, and that any minority or individual member dissenting from the consensus must show just reason for suspending unanimity.

Selfish commercial reasons should not be enough. Failure to agree should not make internationally illegal any unilateral or bilateral action without some further process of declarator as to illegality and the reason for it. The loose concept of the 'unreasonable' veto must be nailed.

If the principle of pre-emption - whether military, economic or political - is adopted, there would then need to be some means to support decisions and resolutions duly taken. This would entail a step change in the rather supine and ineffective way in which the UN currently backs up its own resolutions.

If this route is taken, there would need to be urgent action to establish the authority vested in such forces and the basis upon which they could be recruited and from where? The UN would have to graduate to a real force to be reckoned with, not just keeping the peace but helping to make it as well.

I firmly believe that of all the three fractured institutions, the UN is the most vulnerable. If it is to be rescued, it must change and change radically. We should lead that change.

I suppose as a most radical option I should ask whether any of the injured institutions is necessary. If this was truly a unilateralist's world then the answer might be no. Whatever the position it must be not in their current form. For all the apparent unipolar power of the US, I doubt whether this it truly is a unilateralist world. Primacy rests not simply upon power, but also on acceptance. In the end the US has to work with her allies if dangerous isolation is not to ensue. The Anglo-US relationship remains very special. In the run up to the Iraq conflict, and indeed since, UK influence was undoubtedly central to persuading America of the diplomatic and political value of the 'UN route'.

What is indisputable is that these three institutions cannot post-Iraq simply be reformed in their old images or aspirations. The world has changed and so must they. They must adapt to perform different roles with different structures. They must still be able to provide international legitimacy for actions taken.

They must also be capable of evolving relations with the currently relatively quiescent giants of Russia and China. These will not remain quiet forever, and the institutions we rebuild now must be shaped to encompass them rather than alienate them.

I personally am allergic to 'new world orders' the broken axles of which litter the trails of history. Nevertheless the three institutions injured by the Iraq experience, can form the basis for new international partnerships and cooperation. They need to be restyled so that they can work together, each secure within its own role, none pulling rank on another, and all distinct. They can form a platform of stability that can be enlarged and matched by other institutions and partnerships in other parts of the world. But only if they are reshaped to meet the challenges of the future, not the threats of fifty years ago.

None of them are worth preserving for their history, only for their potential future contributions. No one, least of all me, is advocating a Hobbesian world where might alone is right, but we live in a world where might must at least be recognised and harnessed.

Iraq awoke the world to the weaknesses and imperfections of the institutions upon which with complacency the international community had for too long put store. Their credibility was exposed by Iraq for the sham it had increasingly become.

Tonight I have offered one set of options for a way forward. There may well be others. What is certain is that they cannot go on as they are. They must change, and we can and must lead the drive for that change.

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