Tony Blair – 2001 Speech at Lord Mayor’s Banquet

The speech made by Tony Blair, the then Prime Minister, on 12 November 2001.

First let us offer our deep condolences and sympathy yet again to the people of New York and to the families of the victims of the latest air tragedy. Our hearts go out to the brave people there who have been through so much and with such dignity and courage.

Meanwhile, following the outrage of 11 September, we pursue those responsible for it in Afghanistan. It is clear the Taliban are unravelling. But they are not beaten yet or Al Qaida yet hunted down. We must continue until they are. We must use the territory gained in and around Mazar-e-Sharif to get supplies and food to refugees and the starving inside Afghanistan. Let us show we are as committed to alleviating human suffering as the Taliban are to creating it.

After the conflict, we must make good our promise to help bring in a broad-based Afghan government, representative of all peoples, including the Pushtoon and enable the reconstruction of that sorry land to take place.

This mission is important in all its aspects, military, humanitarian and diplomatic.

The terrible events of 11 September have made the case for engagement not isolationism as the only serious foreign policy on offer.

The atrocities in New York and Washington were the work of evil men. Men who distorted and dishonoured the message of one of the world’s great religions and civilisations. Their aim was to stimulate militant fundamentalism; to separate the United States from its allies; and to bring our way of life and our economies to their knees.

In those objectives they have already failed.

But one illusion has been shattered on 11 September: that we can have the good life of the West irrespective of the state of the rest of the world.

Once chaos and strife have got a grip on a region or a country trouble will soon be exported.

Out of such regions and countries come humanitarian tragedies; centres for trafficking in weapons, drugs and people; havens for criminal organisations; and sanctuaries for terrorists.

After all it was a dismal camp in the foothills of Afghanistan that gave birth to the murderous assault on the sparkling heart of New York’s financial centre.

The war against terrorism is not just a police action to root out the networks and those who protect them, although it is certainly that. It needs to be a series of political actions designed to remove the conditions under which such acts of evil can flourish and be tolerated. The dragon’s teeth are planted in the fertile soil of wrongs unrighted, of disputes left to fester for years or even decades, of failed states, of poverty and deprivation.

In April 1999, at the height of the Kosovo crisis, I spoke in Chicago about a doctrine or idea of international community, where we took a more active and interventionist role in solving the world’s problems.

I elaborated on this idea in my Leader’s speech this year in Brighton.

Some say it’s Utopian; others that it is dangerous to think that we can resolve all these problems by ourselves.

But the point I was making was simply that self-interest for a nation and the interests of the broader community are no longer in conflict. There are few problems from which we remain immune. In the war against terrorism the moralists and the realists are partners, not antagonists. The fact we can’t solve everything doesn’t mean we try to solve nothing.

What is clear is that 11 September has not just given impetus and urgency to such solutions, it has opened the world up. Countries are revising their relations with others, pondering the opportunities for re-alignment. New alliances or deeper alliances are being fashioned, new world views formed. And it is all happening fast. There is a shortcut through normal diplomacy. So we should grasp the moment and move, not let our world slip back into rigidity. We need boldness, grip and follow through.

The starting point is to make a leap of imagination from this grand hall and splendid banquet to the streets of the Arab world where bright, angry, disaffected young men – by no means always from poor families, but still with neither work nor prospects – seek outlets for their feelings of betrayal and frustration. They fall for dogmas that tell them to blame their troubles on a distant Satan, and gives their lives meaning by committing themselves to relentless struggle.

We can add to that an extremist and perverted version of Islam which seeks to shoulder aside or overthrow moderate counsels; a failed state in Afghanistan pulled down by poverty and desperation, whose rulers have made common cause with mass murderers; accusations from the Arab world of double standards in the Middle East peace process; in Africa, grinding poverty, pandemic disease, a rash of failed states, where problems seldom leave their stain on one nation but spread to whole regions.

More broadly we should work to develop inter-faith understanding. Already much is being done to bring the faiths together, like George Carey’s initiative on the World Faiths Development Dialogue. And who can forget the poignant scenes of reconciliation when the Pope went to pray at the Grand Omayyad Mosque in Damascus? Soon George and I hope to convene a seminar of scholars on furthering Christian/Muslim dialogue.

Systematically in each case we should seek redress.

The Middle East Peace Process must be re-started. We should contrive the first steps in mutual confidence and security on both sides, one of which would be action by the Palestinian Authority against suspected terrorists and Israel withdrawing fully from Area A. Then after those critical steps, we should reconvene proper negotiations based on two fixed principles: a viable Palestinian state; and the state of Israel accepted fully by its Arab neighbours. If Israel is to recognise that the Palestinians will have their own state, it is only right that the Arab world explicitly and clearly recognises Israel’s right to exist secure within its own borders. Everything else is negotiation and the sooner it starts, the better.

On Iraq, the time has come for a new UN resolution to provide for the arms inspectors to return and for the Saddam-induced suffering of the Iraqi people to be ended.

We should offer Syria, Iran and other nations in the same position a new relationship if they will work with us to end violence and promote a solution that is just for both Palestinians and Israelis and if they will join the international consensus on weapons of mass destruction. There can be a new beginning to their relations with the West. The opening is there now; I hope they will take it.

These countries all have an interest, too, in fighting religious extremism. It is quite extraordinary that Usama Bin Laden should claim over the weekend that Afghanistan is the only Islamic nation in the world. His aim is clear: to Talibanize all Islamic countries around the world. The time has come for the voices of mainstream Islam to take on the extremists. This is not a battle we in the West can fight. We cannot impose our own models on very different societies. But we can help and we can offer support for the vast majority of decent Muslims in that battle. It needs to be made clear again and again that our quarrel is not with Islam but with extremism and fanaticism, whether it be Christian, Jewish, Hindu or Islam.

In respect of Russia, we should mark the fact that in Afghanistan we have worked together; in the war against international terrorism, we stand together; and that both Russia and the US and EU have much to gain from us being partners. Central to that new relationship should be a change in Russia/NATO relations.

In Africa, I hope that in the New Year we can put forward a new initiative to tackle emerging conflicts before they develop, and offer the help needed to develop their economies and allow them to provide good governance and democracy for their people; and that a plan for Africa will be agreed at the G7/8 Summit in Canada.

Success in the talks to launch a new WTO round in Doha is vital. Seattle was a lost opportunity. The negotiations will be tough and with the Conference ending tomorrow, time is now running short. But at this time of economic uncertainty it is essential we agree on the agenda for a new trade round. Success means increased trade flows and rising living standards around the world. Failure would mean a retreat into protectionism and isolationism. All parties should show the necessary flexibility to achieve this.

Closing down the terrorist network in Afghanistan will not be the end of terrorism. We need to find a way of dealing with weapons of mass destruction to prevent their proliferation both to states and to terrorist organisations. We, in the EU, should offer advice, training and equipment to the countries of central Asia to help them introduce the strongest possible controls on sensitive exports and we should consider increasing our present programmes of support for safe storage and secure destruction of sensitive nuclear and chemical materials.

We are working hard to find a global solution to the problem of climate change and the agreement in Marrakesh shows that we can come together to tackle one of the most significant environmental challenges of today. We need to continue to improve international co-operation on poverty and the environment in the run up to the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg next year.

And if we are going to have a doctrine of international community we need to strengthen the UN as the body that helps put it into practice.

In the UN we are lucky to have the leadership of a highly talented and reforming Secretary-General on the threshold of a new term of office. We need to back him in his reforms and give him the practical support he needs. For example, bringing to a close the long drawn out negotiations on UN Security Council reform so that it becomes truly representative and truly effective in its operation.

In the aftermath of the disasters of the 1930s and the Second World War our predecessors took a number of fundamental courageous and far-reaching decisions. Above all they decided to find collective responses to the scourges of war and economic slump which individual national actions had done more to foment than to resolve. And they established a number of international structures and organisations to provide these collective responses – the UN, NATO, the IMF and the World Bank – that have lasted to this day.

After the Cold War, despite the talk of a new world order, we failed to renew these institutions or create new ones. Perhaps the euphoria that accompanied the crumbling of the Soviet bloc reduced the incentive to take a hard and radical look at the conduct of international affairs. Now it is time to do so.

As for Britain, we have much to offer and much to gain, in the changing world taking shape around us. Once again the vital role in foreign policy that our Armed Forces play has been demonstrated. They give us a standing which few can match and we should be very proud of them.

I hope, too, we have buried the myth that Britain has to choose between being strong in Europe or strong with the United States. Afghanistan has shown vividly how the relationships reinforce each other; and that both the United States and our European partners value our role with the other. So let us play our full part in Europe not retreat to its margins; and let us proclaim our closeness to the United States and use it to bring Europe closer to America.

The solidarity of our European partners in this present crisis has been total. It will remain so; and that is a real cause for hope.

Let us in Britain use the strengths of our history – our place in Europe, our alliance with the United States, our traditional ties with the Arab world, India, China or the Commonwealth – to build a solid future of influence for our nation. As I found in South America earlier this year, people respect Britain and want us engaged. We should not disappoint them.

Above all, I know the British people recognise the link between what happens in the outside world and what happens on our own streets in Britain. The 11 September was an attack on us all. Defeating those responsible is essential to our security; to economic confidence, so badly hit by terrorism; to the stability of our society, from the reduction of external threats down to the drugs trade – 90 per cent of the heroin in Britain originating in Afghanistan.

Our jobs and living standards depend on confidence in our way of life. Today world events can lift or shatter that confidence. We have much to do at home. But now, more than ever before what we do abroad can affect our homeland. For years, you in the City know the impact of global markets. Now we see the impact of global politics. So let us seize the chance in this time, to make a difference. Future generations will thank us if we do; and not forgive us if we fail.