Jack Straw – 2006 Speech on the Global Response to Terrorism

The speech made by Jack Straw, the then Foreign Secretary, on 16 January 2006.

May I thank the Royal United Services Institute for organising today’s conference and the government of Saudi Arabia for their sponsorship. The fact that this is a joint conference serves to highlight the global nature of the threat we face.

I would also like to express a personal welcome to His Royal Highness Prince Saud. I have had the pleasure of working with him for nearly five years; he brings a rare combination of intellect and good humour to the diplomatic world.

Of course, the United Kingdom shares much with Saudi Arabia; above all it is the spiritual and religious home for the UK’s near two million British citizens of the Muslim faith. Tragically, this year’s Hajj has been marked by the death of over 350 pilgrims. The Saudi authorities have been working tirelessly to help those affected by the tragedy. The UK is the only Western country to send an officially sponsored and officially funded delegation to support its Hajj pilgrims – we expect more than 25 000 British people to go on the Hajj this year. This delegation, headed by Lord Patel of Blackburn, was on the ground quickly to do all it could to help British victims of the disaster. Our thoughts and prayers are with all those affected by this horrible accident.

In recent years, the people of Saudi Arabia have faced the horrors of terrorism repeatedly; they have done so with steadfastness and good sense. And today, the Saudi people and their government play a vital role in the global response to that terrorist threat. Their counter-terrorism achievements over the last two years have been striking – not just the disruption of Al Qaeda networks, but crucially also the winning of hearts and minds and the mobilisation of Saudi society against the extremists.

We have much to learn from the many and skilful ways in which Saudi Arabia has – on its own initiative and in its own interests – faced down the perversion of religion which is the seedbed of terrorism. They have also used their leadership in the Muslim world to encourage others to adopt a similarly comprehensive approach. We value highly our close partnership with them. And you can actually see – not least because of the efforts of the Saudi government – a sea-change in the region. For example, something which was not widely reported here in the UK was the Euro-Med summit held in November. It issued a communiqué which included a comprehensive statement on terrorism. Whenever you have Arab and Israeli delegations in the same room there are bound to be difficulties. In the past these difficulties have stopped us getting agreement on any such statement. So agreement on this communiqué was a significant step.

Terrorism is not new; nor is it new to Britain. In the great medieval chamber of Westminster Hall, they have just taken down the exhibition marking the 400th anniversary of the Gunpowder plot. Read the Hansard records of 1853 and you will find my predecessor as Foreign Secretary and Home Secretary, Lord Palmerston, defending the seizure of a stockpile of ‘war rockets’ from a warehouse in Southwark – allegedly intended for use against the Austro-Hungarian imperial family. And no-one in this country will forget the decades of terrorist attacks carried out by the Provisional IRA. In fact, it was from a white van parked just outside this building that the Provisional IRA launched three mortars at Downing Street. Had they been just 10 metres more accurate, they would have wiped out the entire Cabinet. It was the second time that PIRA had attempted to destroy that democratically elected government.

I don’t, then, underestimate the threat we have faced in the past. But what we have seen develop over the last decade is of a different order of magnitude to previous domestic and international terrorism. It combines global ambition, global reach and powerful means in an unprecedented way.

On one level, the global dimension of this modern terrorism stems from the way in which it organises and operates. It is not limited to one nationality or region. People from more than 40 countries passed through the terrorist training camps in Afghanistan before the September 11th attacks. It uses the tools of our modern, interconnected world – whether it is the internet or the international financial system – to recruit, to co-ordinate and to sustain itself. We have seen terrorists from the Middle East strike in the heart of New York, and young men born and brought up in this country go to Israel to carry out suicide attacks. The destruction which is threatened is also on a different scale from what we have seen before. On September 11th, the terrorists killed about 3000 people. But they wanted to kill the 30 000 people who worked in those buildings. And if there had been 300 000 people in the way of those planes, I have no doubt they would have killed them. Indeed many of today’s global terrorists would be only too willing to use weapons of mass destruction to maximise civilian casualties.

But this terrorism is global in another sense too – its overarching goal is to change the world in which we live. Guy Fawkes and the 19th Century revolutionaries justified their actions by saying that they wanted to bring down specific forms of government. The Irish Republican Army said that all they wanted was for Northern Ireland to be incorporated into the Irish Republic. In contrast, the aims of today’s global terrorism go beyond such relatively narrow national or political objectives. We are seeing an attack on the international community as a whole – on our common values and on our shared future.

Today I want to set out how our response must match the scale and breadth of this attack. On the one hand, we need to co-operate at an international and multilateral level to share evidence and intelligence, to disrupt terrorists’ networks, to cut off their sources of financing and to bring terrorists to justice.

At the same time, we need a global effort to confront the propaganda of the terrorist, to address the sources of discontent which terrorists seek to exploit and to build a sense of common commitment to prosperity, peace and security based on freedom and the rule of law.

These two strands reinforce one another. If we want to show people the emptiness of the terrorist rhetoric then we must be consistent when fighting terrorism – both internationally and domestically – in upholding those values and freedoms we have set out to defend. These values – the rule of law, an independent judiciary, strong parliament, freedom of speech, multilateralism, respect for human rights – are ones of which we are rightly proud. And they stand in stark contrast to the repressive and divisive alternative offered by the terrorist. They need to be – and they are – an integral part of the United Kingdom’s counter-terrorism work.

First, then, let me turn to how international co-operation is helping us to protect ourselves from a terrorist attack, to prepare our response to any such attack, and to pursue those responsible for terrorism.

In the past few years we have increased the bilateral co-operation between countries faced with the threat of terrorism. Key to this has been increasing and improving the sharing of intelligence. Information we have received from foreign governments has saved lives in this country. And we have shared information and expertise in return. And we are continuing to strengthen this co-operation. Before September 11th we had 12 bilateral counter-terrorism programmes. Now we have over 80.

Among these, our counter-terrorist relationship with Saudi Arabia has gone from strength to strength, to both sides’ benefit. One symptom of this is the pace and level of visits in both directions. I am revealing no secret if I tell you that the Director general of the Security Service – who never seeks publicity for her overseas visits – has – to her horror – twice this year been lead item on the Saudi evening television news, being received by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. She wasn’t there to discuss the price of camels, even though she was spotted riding one! As I said, the existence of these visits shows the depth of our partnership.

This bilateral work has been complemented by multilateral action. In the United Nations we are working to ensure the implementation of Security Council Resolution 1373 which creates legal obligations on all states to crack down on terrorists, their supporters and their sources of finance. The swift extradition from Italy to the United Kingdom of a suspect in the attempted bombings on 21 July demonstrated the effectiveness of the new European Arrest Warrant. And we are very grateful to the Italian government and authorities for implementing both the spirit as well as the letter of that warrant.

In the coming year we want to see further progress: for example, agreement in the United Nations on a Comprehensive Convention on Terrorism and agreement to a European Evidence Warrant. In my speech at the UN General Assembly last September, I called for an international Arms Trade Treaty which, among other things, would help to keep weapons out of the hands of terrorists. And, the international community needs to continue to strengthen and uphold the international consensus against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

This is why the international community’s stand against Iran’s continued non-compliance with its Non Proliferation Treaty obligations and successive IAEA Board resolutions is so important. The onus is on Iran to act to give the international community confidence that its nuclear programme has exclusively peaceful purposes – confidence that has been sorely undermined by its history of concealment and deception. Iran’s failure to do so is the reason why last September the Board of Governors of the IAEA declared Iran to be non-compliant with those obligations. And it is the reason why we are now considering a referral of Iran to the United Nations Security Council through an emergency meeting of the IAEA Board.

The work to disrupt terrorist activities and minimise their consequences is vital. But alongside it we have also to tackle the factors which encourage radicalisation and recruitment. We need to do this both domestically and internationally.

So we are supporting the debate within Muslim communities in the UK and abroad and encouraging those who challenge the fallacies of the extremist message. Terrorists use a simplistic and perverse interpretation of history and Islamic theology to try to justify their actions; just as terrorists in the past have used a perverse interpretation of history and of Christian theology to justify their violence. We are not fooled that their interpretation represents the great religion of Islam. Their arguments have been clearly denounced by those who speak for the majority of Muslims. How can the killing of so many innocent civilians around the world have any such religious justification – indeed we have seen from Amman and Baghdad to Sharm El Sheikh and Riyadh that the majority of victims of these terrorists are men, women and children of the Islamic faith? And on what basis can they paint Britain, which is so vigorous in protecting and celebrating the religious freedom of the 1.6 million Muslims who live here, as a country hostile to Islam?

When the Organisation of the Islamic Conference held its historic summit in Mecca last month, on the initiative of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, the leaders of the Islamic world gathered there recognised that more needs to be done to protect Islam from infiltration by extremism. They agreed a work plan to support mainstream Islamic thought and to work with local and international communities to promote a positive path for Islam in the modern world. We salute this courageous initiative, the benefits of which will be felt for decades to come.

The terrorist propaganda has particular resonance among disaffected young Muslims suspicious of Western foreign policy. They are the most vulnerable to the conspiracy theories, distortions and lies told by the terrorists.

It would, of course, be fatuous to suggest that distrust of ‘the West’ is entirely inexplicable or irrational. Balfour, Sykes-Picot and Suez – and much else – have left their sometimes indelible legacy. As Tony Blair has repeatedly argued, we have to right the wrongs, in Palestine and elsewhere, which are exploited so skilfully and relentlessly by the preachers of hatred and violence. And, as Condi Rice has said, we need also to acknowledge that for sixty years the United States has pursued stability at the expense of democracy in the Middle East without achieving either. They are her words – courageous sentiments with which I fully agree.

But the more recent facts speak for themselves. In the past five years the United Kingdom has provided well over £5 billion in development assistance to countries in the Muslim world. From Darfur to Aceh, we are helping Muslim communities realise a more peaceful future. The British people and government gave generously to the victims of the tsunami and of the earthquake in Pakistan. In Israel and the Occupied Territories we are working as part of the Quartet to achieve the goal of a viable Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel. And whatever your views on the war in Iraq, a large majority of Muslims in that country are now seizing the opportunity provided by Saddam Hussein’s downfall to give their nation a free and democratic future. Much more remains to be done. We have to help the Iraqi people achieve for themselves security and stability and to defeat and drive out the men of violence.

As someone who was in Iraq just ten days ago and has been backwards and forwards to that country, I have seen – amid the continuing violence – something remarkable happening. The small seeds of democracy have seen a fantastic flowering over the last 13 months. This time last year there was a high level of scepticism in advance of the first set of national elections – reinforced by a Sunni boycott. Those elections went ahead with a 60 per cent turnout. Then, against expectations, the constitution was drafted and put to the people on time on October 5. The Sunnis made the brave decision to participate in that referendum and in the elections in December. Those elections, I am told, had a higher turnout than we achieved here in this country for our general election. There are challenge ahead – above all security and the threat of terrorism and inter-communal violence. No-one underestimates these. But for Iraq to have met the United Nations timetable is a remarkable achievement and offers hope for the future.

For the same reason, we offer robust and consistent support for political and socio-economic development and human rights across the Islamic world. We are doing so bilaterally – through programme funds specifically designed to foster the rule of law, economic reform and growth, democratic participation and good governance – and multilaterally through the European Union’s EuroMed partnership programme and the G8 Broader Middle East and North Africa initiative.

We hope that all this will improve stability and security in the region. Terrorists find it more difficult to operate in countries with democratic and accountable governments. People with clear opportunities, a greater say in running their own affairs and more hope for the future, are less likely to be fooled by the terrorist propaganda.

But this is not just a Western agenda – it is the same one which the mostly Muslim authors of the Arab Human Development Reports have advocated so powerfully and persuasively. Transparent and clean government, a free press and an independent judiciary offer the chance for the young populations of the Middle East to realise their potential. The main beneficiaries of good government are the people themselves.

But it is an agenda which we in the West need to approach with some humility – not only because our still imperfect Western democracies took centuries to evolve, but also because the recent attacks in London show that we still have work to do in our own communities. This is why after the July 7th bombings the Government and Britain’s Muslim communities launched the Preventing Extremism Together initiative.

I often continuously talk to representatives of British Muslims about their specific concerns and how we can root them better into society. Although we may disagree – sometimes very strongly – on aspects of foreign policy, we share an equally passionate belief that the way to resolve those differences is through dialogue and democracy, not through violence. Equally, overseas we must be prepared to engage with those groups which are ready to align themselves to political processes and peaceful means to achieve their objectives, even though we may not feel comfortable with their aims.

But there is a further point I want to make. If we want to be seen to deliver justice and offer a stronger and better worldview than that of the terrorist, we have to be seen to stand by our values and our strengths. We have to show that when it comes to counter-terrorism we practice what we preach.

So, I want to set this out as plainly as possible. This Government is committed absolutely to our obligations under United Kingdom and international law.

In this context, I want to underline the enormous importance to us – in fact, the indispensability – of our alliance with the United States in the struggle against international terrorism. It is a partnership which has saved many lives of many nationalities. Condoleezza Rice set out in her statement last month the principles and values governing US policy and practice on counter-terrorism, including the rejection of torture. And when President Bush signed into law the Detainee Treatment Act on 30 December, he made clear that it codified what was already US government policy: the prohibition of the cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of any detainee in US custody anywhere.

Your Royal Highnesses, Ladies and Gentlemen, these days you often hear the accusation made that the scales have tipped away from human rights and towards counter-terrorism. It is a false dichotomy. There need be no zero sum equation between human rights and counter-terrorism. Counter-terrorism measures are there to help us preserve a democratic and free society. At the most basic level, measures which protect innocent civilians from an attack are supporting one of the most basic human rights of all – the right to be alive – and they protect people’s ability to enjoy fully their other rights. Equally, we respect and promote human rights not only because it is the correct thing to do but because that is one of the most effective ways to undermine the terrorists.