William Hague – 2006 Speech on the Battle Against Terrorism

The speech made by William Hague, the then Shadow Foreign Secretary, on 16 February 2006.

“I am delighted to be with you tonight and grateful for the opportunity to address you. It is a particular pleasure to speak here at the School of Advanced International Studies. It is an impressive institution, with a well deserved reputation as one of the leading centres of strategic thought in your country. As you prepare for your careers in government, business, journalism, international law or non-profit organisations, I wish you well, and am looking forward to hearing your thoughts and questions tonight. Many of the issues I will raise no doubt feature in your courses of study and it is a privilege to address such an informed audience.

Few countries enjoy such close ties of kinship, shared adversity, and common economic opportunity as the United States and the United Kingdom. We share a common history, common values and common interests.

We have developed over the years a powerful alliance in business and employment: today the United Kingdom is the top destination for United States foreign direct investment, and the United States is the location of the largest proportion of UK overseas assets.

These factors alone would be enough to result in warm relations between our countries. But it is the additional dimension of close co-operation in foreign and defence policy over the last century, with the vast and mutual sacrifices it has entailed, which makes a sense of special partnership undeniable, and, in the view of many of us, the phrase ‘special relationship’, irresistible.

This does not mean that there have not been disagreements. Churchill and Roosevelt, who spent more time together than any other leaders of our countries in history and presided over the most gargantuan achievements of Anglo-American co-operation, had many sharp disagreements over the conduct of World War II and its aftermath. Margaret Thatcher famously complained to Ronald Reagan over the invasion of Grenada. Washington and London had a fundamental and very public disagreement over Suez, and again over the Balkans in the 1990s. And we have not seen eye to eye on issues such as the Kyoto Treaty.

Yet these disagreements have only rarely disrupted a relationship which remains the cornerstone of strategic thinking in London, and I hope in Washington too.

I am visiting Washington DC to affirm that broad and historic alliance and also to raise issues important to the future of our united and special partnership.

In the British Conservative Party, we have had a long period in opposition but we are now preparing for government again. Before we come into government, we want to have the deepest possible understanding of how foreign policy should be conducted and in doing so we are looking at many questions afresh. But in one thing we are clear from the onset: our relationship with the United States is central to our foreign policy, and will be one of deep and enduring partnership.

In the 21st century we find ourselves at a unique moment, not only in our own history, but in that of the world as well.

In the last two decades the most striking changes have taken place. The security environment of the 1980s and the times we live in now could scarcely be more different.

Who could have imagined in 1989 that Poland, the Czech Republic and the Baltic states would today be members of NATO; that Eastern Bloc would be replaced by Eastern expansion; that the Ukraine would be discussing membership with the Alliance; or that Belarus would have a democratic opposition party?

Who would have said that we would be regularly consulting with Russia on security issues – or indeed that the US, Europe and others would be throwing their weight behind a Russian proposal to resolve the nuclear standoff with Iran?

Today there are almost no ‘far away countries of which we know little’. If anything, we are now affected by events beyond our borders as much as by those inside them. This is not merely the result of the so-called ‘CNN effect’, but a reflection of the reality that our freedom and our values may sometimes have to be defended beyond our neighbourhoods.

Paradoxically while the end of the Cold War and the advent of globalisation have removed the walls of separation between us, they have also made us vulnerable.

It is now far easier for terrorists and criminals to organise, coordinate their activities; to move money, and disseminate their ideas.

Proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the attendant threat of nuclear material falling into the hands of terrorists have risen to the top of the international community’s agenda. The AQ Khan experience shows that the control of nuclear weapons technology and the prevention of secondary proliferation is difficult, even when the state in question is willing. The danger is brought into focus by recalling that terrorists wishing to wreak nuclear havoc, unlike states seeking nuclear weapons, do not need access to uranium mines or nuclear facilities, or to master the complex technology necessary to build a deliverable weapon – all they need is enough smuggled or stolen fissile material to build a crude bomb.

Nor are we dealing with these new threats in isolation. Old problems continue to persist and complicate our endeavours. Indeed as someone recently remarked, the new strategic environment seems almost too chaotic – enough sometimes for diplomats to yearn for the simplicities, however dangerous they were, of the Cold War era.

When I speak about this new international background I see it as a common framework for all and not, as some would describe it, as an American construct, inspired by the attacks of September 11th.

Violations of human rights, poverty, infectious diseases, organised crime, and human trafficking are not only problems for the people of the countries in which they occur. The genocide in Darfur …

Iran’s nuclear aspirations do not affect Israel and the United States alone; Hamas’s victory in the Palestinian elections is not just a concern for its immediate neighbours. Likewise the rise of Islamic fundamentalism and the risks associated with our shared dependence on Middle Easter oil are quandaries we have all in common.

These are immense issues, and it is impossible to contemplate dealing with any of them without close co-operation with the United States.

It is against this background that the relationship between our two countries evolves. The relationship should be solid but not slavish, firm but also fair.

In many areas American leadership has been unmistakable and strong:

Together in Afghanistan we are not only fighting terrorists but working to build a country.

In Iraq, we are helping build a democratic country that is unified, free and at peace with itself and with its neighbours; an Iraq that respects the rights of Iraqi people and the rule of law.

Indeed in a world where cynicism and pessimism seem to govern the news agenda we do well to remember the crucial role that America and Britain play in the wider world.

But to make sure that our victories are not hollow and that we remain respected rather than feared, our values must not become victims of our struggle.

Winning the battle against the perpetrators of terrorism requires moral as well as military strength – the kind of moral strength in the eyes of the world which America so richly deserved for carrying the burden of two world wars, painstakingly rebuilding Japan and Western Europe and, in more recent times, resolutely leading NATO in stopping another wave of ethnic cleansing in the Balkans. In the light of these actions it has always been possible to view America as a great but compassionate power.

But lately we have seen the tensions created by the new realities of the War on Terror.

Reports of prisoner abuse by British and American troops -however isolated- and accounts, accurate or not, of the mistreatment of detainees at Guantanamo and extraordinary rendition flights leading to the torture of suspects, have led to a critical erosion in our moral authority.

This has resulted in a loss of goodwill towards America which could be as serious in the long-term as the sharpest of military defeats.

It is ludicrous that opinion polls indicate that a majority of Europeans now believe the United States poses the greatest threat to international security, but, shockingly, it is also true.

We therefore must not forget that the most important quality of democracy, which we are trying to spread today in Iraq and elsewhere, is respect for the rule of law. In standing up for the rule of law, we must be careful not to employ methods that undermine it. To do so would be to set a poor example to those who look to the Western world for leadership, and would undermine our achievements among emerging and new democracies.

Such moral firmness is necessary even though the war we are fighting is not an ordinary one.

However difficult, certain lessons must be learnt. The undermining of goodwill towards the US cause is particularly alarming since the war on terror is not remotely won. Indeed it seems to be the case that international terrorist networks based around revolutionary fundamentalist Islam are currently gaining recruits rather than losing them.

Furthermore the war on terror is not fought in isolation. Instability in the Middle East could worsen in the coming years: the next administration to take office in America or in Britain could face a nuclear armed Iran, continued violence in Afghanistan, a still unstable Iraq, a stalled peace process between Israel and Palestine and major instability in one of our major Arab allies – all at the same time. All of these conflicts have the potential to feed into or be hijacked by forms of terrorism.

Such a combination of factors would present the most alarming outlook for world peace since the darkest moments of the Cold War. You only have to think about such a scenario for a moment to realise how important it is to place the maximum pressure on Iran to return to meaningful negotiations about its nuclear ambitions. And while no-one wishes to contemplate military options in dealing with Iran, it would certainly be wrong to rule them out.

In dealing with such dangerous issues, the US and the United Kingdom must remain close allies.

Firstly, our alliance must also be strong enough to make a frank assessment of successes and setbacks in the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as in the broader prosecution of the war on terror.

I still believe that we were right to support the war in Iraq, but it seems obvious now that the great difficulties of uniting and securing such a country were seriously underestimated. More ground troops were needed, not to win the war but to secure the peace, and it was evidently a mistake to disband the Iraqi army so early.

We cannot now abandon the people working so hard in Iraq to create a stable and democratic country, nor abandon the leaders valiantly pursuing a similar course in Afghanistan.

To hand Afghanistan back to the Taliban is unthinkable, but given our experience in Iraq, and given our concern to use our armed forces wisely and not to risk their lives unnecessarily, they are many questions we are asking in the British Parliament about the fresh deployment of NATO forces in Afghanistan, which is spearheaded by Britain.

Are there sufficient troops to meet our objectives? Is it possible to simultaneously achieve the twin objectives of creating political stability and drastically reducing the opium trade? And are we receiving sufficient support from our allies?

Secondly, we must continue to coordinate our policy towards Iran’s nuclear programme. It is unmistakable that Washington’s weight is indispensable towards achieving meaningful progress with Iran – this was amply demonstrated in the agreement reached among the Permanent Five Members of the Security Council in London last month.

Thirdly, we must also not shy away from addressing the grievances that motivate many to feel anger towards the western world, and that some use to justify supporting and financing violent extremists. Foremost among these is the still unresolved conflict between Israel and the Palestinians where American and UK leadership, in concert with our European partners, still has an essential role to play.

Finally, a fundamental challenge of the international terrorism we are fighting today is ideology. Al Qaeda is often presented as a global terrorist organisation. However it is less of an organisation than an ideology.

Whilst it is true that bin Laden managed to create a base and some kind of organisation in Afghanistan, it is difficult to see Al Qaeda as a traditional and coherent terrorist network in the way commonly conceived.

Military pressure is but one way of defeating such a network.

We destroyed, quite rightly, the bases of the Taliban. Yet since then we have seen in Britain citizens of our own country, born and bred in our own neighbourhoods, with the right to vote, to free speech and to education become terrorist suicide bombers on the buses and trains of London.

In addition to our military power we must have sound intelligence, political dialogue, and diplomatic and economic engagement with those in countries producing terrorism who are free from its influence and find its teachings abhorrent. This translates into political dialogue, economic help, educational and aid programmes, and the promotion of reform and education.

Looking back on the Cold War we should take confidence that the enduring values of freedom and democracy eventually triumphed, just as much as economic power and military muscle.

In fulfilling our strategic goals we must work with others, particularly our NATO allies. NATO embodies the absolutely vital partnership between Europe and North America. Neither Europe nor America can afford to see these bonds loosened.

Beyond Europe’s borders, NATO’s assumption of new responsibilities for the stabilisation and rebuilding of Afghanistan, and its training of security forces in Iraq, are tentative but vital steps for the alliance.

However they are too often influenced by issues of lack of capability, and sometimes regrettably by national politics.

Generating the forces required for the crucial NATO deployment to Afghanistan has been a protracted and acrimonious affair, and highlights the importance of there being ‘more than one number to call when Washington wants to talk to Europe’.

Some policy makers in Washington have continued to support every effort towards closer European integration, even in the field of foreign affairs and defence. The assumption has been that a unified Europe would inevitably prove more pro-Atlanticist, and more pro-American; in other words that a wholly integrated Europe is in the US interest.

Today, however, following the transatlantic rift over the Iraq war and disagreements over Afghanistan, such an analysis is at odds with the reality of the post Cold War transatlantic relationship. America’s interests are best served when European states act flexibly according to their national interest.

Today the European nations working through NATO have an unprecedented chance to prove their military credibility. Europe wants to do more, and should be able to do much more, and but only under NATO auspices.

The danger of weakening NATO either by political designs or divided loyalties, at a time when it needs to provide readily available, well trained and interoperable forces, is clear. NATO has a vital ongoing role to play which must not be diluted by the EU on the one hand, or rendered inadequate by the US, on the other.

In this context we must continue to work closely with the US on the fundamental issue of how to enhance the ability of our forces to operate together. Efforts to improve mechanisms for exchanging technology at the industrial level between the US and the UK remain an important part of this work. A genuine strategic partnership must entail careful consideration of the consequences for allies of changes in US procurement programmes or policies

Britain plans to build two new aircraft carriers to carry out the vital task of projecting force over huge distances. Integral to the project are the aircraft for those carriers. It is essential that we receive assurances from the US that we will have what we need to operate, maintain, and upgrade our preferred option; the Joint Strike Fighter, under our Sovereign control. After all we are equity partners in this programme.

As the new Shadow Foreign Secretary, I have the task of getting to grips with the major policy questions that have emerged globally at the beginning of the twenty-first-century: how to understand and influence Iran; how to adapt foreign policy to the rapid economic rise of China and India; how to win support for a different model of Europe that is open, flexible and decentralised rather than ever more centralised and bureaucratic; how to help fight the great evils of our world – preventing genocide, and focussing in our aid efforts on preventing and treating HIV and AIDS. The latter in particular is an area where relatively small amounts of money, effectively spent, can achieve considerable results.

Finally, we must face the reality of climate change, arguably the biggest threat facing our planet today. We are working to a timetable set by nature rather than our own choice and we cannot afford to be sluggish in our responses to a challenge that threatens the very sustainability of our life on this planet.

Following the President’s State of the Union Address the world is looking to the United States to offer sustained leadership in tackling this momentous issue.

This will require the type of cooperation which I consider to be the essence of the special relationship – the ability to put aside differences and work together for the common good, and a willingness not to shy away from difficult choices. It is vital that these practices endure.