Center for Strategic Decision Research


Coping with Conflicts and Challenges

The Rt Hon Bruce George, MP
Chairman of the House of Commons Select Committee on Defense

The Rt Hon Bruce George
"Even though people are telling us that there is no link between Palestine and Israel and the general fight against terrorism, don’t believe it. You know there is."


We have discussed at enormous length a wide variety of threats and risks and, to my amazement, almost all of them begin with the letter C. We have challenges for the changing world in a complex environment, we have the clash of civilizations, chemical (as well as biological and radiological) weapons, climate change, either too much or too little CO2, the chasm dividing Europe and North America regarding capabilities, coping with the challenge of defense cuts, and Canada was mentioned along with a resurgent China, and the question of whether there should be a bigger coalition in Iraq. In addition we have talked about doing better in post-conflict reconstruction, crisis management, and counter-proliferation. There are also the dangers of Al-Qaeda, which can be spelled with a C, as well as the threats in Chechnya, the Caucasus, and the Caspian Sea region. We have also talked about the need for better connectivity of information systems and communications, the failures of counter-terrorism, and the dangers of cyber-terrorism, and, the biggest danger of all, Mr. Chandra’s chickens. 

I would now like to address a few isolated elements of what I think was a superb collection of presentations on Iraq and the Middle East.


Al-Qaeda forces are clearly manipulating the crisis in Palestine and Israel: they have no direct interest, they are capitalizing upon it. Even though people are telling us that there is no link between Palestine and Israel and the general fight against terrorism, don’t believe it. You know there is. The juxtaposition of Israel, Palestine, and Iraq delegitimizes the United States and the United Kingdom and makes any proposed solution seem improbable. So I am counting the time to the presidential election in the United States in the hope that the U.S. government, be it Republican or Democrat, will feel freed from its conspicuous subjugation to the will of the Israeli government. Now, please don’t think I am anti-Semitic, I am really not. I want to see an Israel that is safe and secure, but I do not see how that is incompatible with an independent secure Palestine. I just hope that when the election is over and an agenda can be reconstituted, we will remember the road map that does not begin with C and that must not be neglected. Developments in southern Israel must be consistent with the general implementation of the road map to which the U.S. is supposedly a party. Surely this is the appropriate way to proceed, and I hope diplomacy will ultimately prevail. 


Most people at this workshop are involved one way or another with the military. Clearly forces must be well equipped, properly configured, and properly funded. I heard the eloquent plea from France for more access to American markets. I would be more convinced if the French defense market was as open as the market they wish to see in the United States. But here is one plea, and it is not a plea for the Brits. There are two types of allies, allies with a capital A and allies with a small a. Allies with a capital A are constant, they are there with you when the going gets tough and even when decisions are being made that are stupid. Allies with a small a pick and choose which conflicts they get into. But what irritates me about not just Mr. Hunter’s “Buy America” act, which is truly absurd although one can excuse him because perhaps an election is coming, is the fact that it is ludicrous not to believe that if the United States wishes to export, then it must allow imports. 

I think the French and the Americans have much in common—no wonder they were allies in the late eighteenth century—and that is the desire to keep the market as closed as they can possibly keep it. We are pretty stupid: we are open to anybody, but even worse than Hunter’s act, we are calling on others for the ITA waiver. Ludicrous! It is one thing to not be nice to your fair-weather allies, but not being nice to your real allies is unacceptable. Really, we are talking about transmitting unclassified documents. We are not even getting that in the United Kingdom. So I think the U.S. has a little bit to ponder in the months ahead. I have no anxieties about the executive, but whoever said no one is safe while the legislature is in session clearly had the U.S. Congress in mind. 


When it comes to dealing with terrorism, the military has an important role. The Blair government produced a white paper that said our military strategy should be to prevent, to contain, to deter, to coerce, to disrupt, to defeat and destroy other conventional and terrorist opponents. But the fight against terrorism is not exclusively, not largely, a military activity. It is a societal activity and that is why the population must be convinced that there is a threat. Now you may have done that in the U.S., but I hear endlessly from people in my country that the threat of terrorism is a fabrication, it is a “wind up,” as we say, it is an illusion that allows the government to assume greater and greater power. Well, we have to do more to convince people that, as the government endlessly says in the U.K., a serious attack is not likely, it is inevitable. And in that fight some compromises on human rights, whether you like it or not, regrettably will have to be made. 


Unless you can coordinate the activities of central, regional, and local governments, unless you have connectivity, and unless you have a government that says and thinks in a collective way and does not simply reflect the balance of democracy within that system, you have to do better. We have to get the police better trained, we have to make intelligence more effective, we have to get the private security industry better involved in what we call the wider police family. And since the principal targets of terrorism are commercial in nature, then we must put more responsibility on security managers and the directors responsible in large and small enterprises, and companies will have to play a bigger part in defending themselves. 


For my last point, I would like to say that all along we have had in our minds that the principal threat is not Russia, it is not smuggling—they are both problems but they are not insuperable problems. The problem we face is Islamic extremism and that is something that we have not been very well prepared for, not as well as we ought to have been. There have been 1,400 years of struggle between Islam and non-Islamic states: the periods of Islamic hegemony and the periods in recent years of Western hegemony. And there are many causes of Islamic extremism. 

But their extremism is not their strength, it is their weakness. They represent failed states, they represent countries, as the UN said recently, that find it very difficult to run their economy, experience corruption, have a lack of experience, improperly use indigenous resources, exclude 50% of the population, i.e., women, from involvement in decision making. And so I think that one of the first things that should be done is for people to start looking in the mirror and wondering where their failures are in addition to seeing where we have contributed in the past or the present to those evils that are befalling Islamic states. There are, as I said, connections between Iraq, Israel, and Palestine and I think we ought to remind people that it was the United States and NATO that supported Muslim people in Bosnia, Macedonia, and Kosovo. They forget that. They also forget that the United States virtually defeated the United Kingdom, France, and Israel over the issue of the Suez Canal. So the United States’ record in dealing with Islam is not as negative as some people would see it. 

It is very important that we become more successful—we have been miserably unsuccessful—in convincing the so-called Arab street, because they have grievances against their own governments. It is rather ironic and unfortunate that the Islamic governments that are fully in support of the war against terrorism are governments that themselves are almost illegitimate, that are closed governments that deny access to their own people. The chickens are coming home to roost in Saudi Arabia, and if they do not mend their ways pretty swiftly it will be to their profound disadvantage and even more profoundly to our disadvantage. So we have to listen, not succumb, not engage in a process of appeasement; if Arabs or Muslims scream, we cannot drop to our knees and say, What do you want? We cannot do that, but we have to show that there is no clash of civilizations, that there is a great deal in common between our civilization and their civilization and that maybe we can contribute more, if they wish it. 

I was in Algeria recently but before that I knew little about Algerian history. Almost 2,000 people were killed in their civil war, and the elections were stolen by the military in 1991 when Islamic extremists won it. Then, twelve years later, they had one of the best-conducted elections I have ever seen, and I am a professional observer of elections because of my role in the OSCE parliamentary assembly. So I truly think that Muslim countries can become civil societies—Malaysia, Indonesia, best of all, Turkey, Morocco, with the beginning of reform with the young king, Algeria, with the reforms by President Bouteflika, Jordan, which was surrounded by crises but now shows evidence of a burgeoning democracy. 

So let’s not entirely give up hope. Let us hope that one day Uzbekistan, Kazhakstan, and Kyrgystan will continue the process of democratization. Let us try to rekindle that interest, though not in our exact style of democracy—it is ludicrous to assume that you can simply transfer a set of political structures and a political culture to a region that has not experienced them. But we need to encourage Islamic states in the principles of justice, integrity, and tolerance, and it would help if we show a little more of those things ourselves. We should encourage a gradual association with more moderate Islamic forces, and we should perhaps do far more than we have been doing. 

In his presentation, former Indonesian President Habibie said that Islam is compatible with democracy and with scientific improvement. Here is a man who is a scientist, an engineer, a rationalist, and a devoted Muslim who became president for a short time, and in his mind he can reconcile civil society and an Islamic state. He believes that one can be rational, scientific, and Muslim. Now, there are not many people like that around, and those that are must be encouraged. 


I believe we are in a dangerous situation in the world, but I believe there is also much good that we have forgotten. Things are better now than they were. For example, when we talked about the Black Sea, I did not see many problems there. Russia, I hope, is democratizing, and Bulgaria and Romania are now allies. A lot of good is happening, but we must deal with Islamic fundamentalism. Whether or not you agree with the American/British action in Iraq, it is no time to gloat, it is no time to say those bastards deserved it, let us see if we can gain from the wreckage. It is in the interest of us all, those who are there and those who are not, to help the Allies move towards extricating themselves administratively and politically. I hope that by 2005 we will see a government that will have some elements of representation and that will be a little more democratic. And I think it is in all of our interests, the UN, NATO, the Germans, the French, the Spanish, the Chinese, everybody, that, despite the many failures we have had, when the process finishes it is more right than wrong.


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