Issue No. 78, July/August 2004
Lord Butler's Report on UK Intelligence
"The fact of the matter is that it was the policy objectives that drove the intelligence, whereas the intelligence should have driven the policy objectives-the situation was wrong vice versa."1
If one accepts this analysis from veteran Labour MP, Tam Dalyell, the story about how and why Britain went to war against Iraq makes a great deal more sense than if one tries to believe that the decision for war flowed from the intelligence, as Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair would have the world think.
The policy decision to invade Iraq was made by the Bush administration, which wanted regime change in Baghdad. Tony Blair made a strategic decision to stand shoulder to shoulder with the United States. He knew that he could not justify Britain's participation in an invasion of Iraq to his own Party, Parliament and the British people unless he could demonstrate that Saddam Hussein posed a "current and serious" threat that urgently needed to be extinguished. For the war to be legal there had to be hard evidence that Iraq was not complying with United Nations resolutions. Blair therefore needed to convince people that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and was intent on using them.
Undoubtedly, the Prime Minister had become extremely worried about the nexus of states of concern, WMD and terrorists. After the attacks of September 11, 2001, there were heightened concerns about the scale of casualties that would arise from a WMD attack. Blair agreed with Bush that containment and deterrence were no longer satisfactory policy instruments, and that they could not afford to wait for terrorists or aggressive dictators actually to launch their attacks, but should plan to take preventive action. Together - and with little opposition at home or abroad - they went to war in 2001 to rout al Qaeda out of Afghanistan. Before the job was finished, Washington was indicating its intention to disarm Iraq forcibly. Blair went along with this too. But where Bush was set on regime change regardless of Saddam Hussein's response to the weapons inspectors, for Blair the primary motivation appears to have been to ensure that UN resolutions in respect of Iraq's WMD disarmament were finally enforced. If Saddam had fully and transparently complied, Blair appeared willing to let him remain in power.
The problems for Tony Blair were twofold: firstly that because the Bush administration was set on invasion in any eventuality it was not prepared to wait for diplomacy and weapons inspectors to complete their tasks; and secondly because the intelligence about Iraq's WMD capability was weak. There was certainly nothing to indicate that Iraq was more of a threat in 2002 than it had been in the previous decade. This meant that the Prime Minister had to try and choreograph the diplomatic process with the US timetable for war, and to attempt to portray Iraq as a threat through use of some fairly stale, limited and unreliable intelligence. He failed on the first count, although not through want of effort. On the second count he managed to convince enough Members of Parliament that the preferred second UN resolution had been unreasonably blocked and that preventive military action was unfortunately now a necessity.
This seems to explain how Blair ended up taking Britain to war without the backing of over half the country and many of its major allies, and on questionable legal grounds. In his mind, the issue of Iraq's WMD had to be resolved once and for all. More prevarication and compromise was out of the question. He probably concluded that Washington was providing an opportunity to remove the threat of Saddam Hussein's WMD and that the chance might not arise again. If Blair had been dictating the terms the process and timescale could well have been different, although the outcome may have been the same. But of course, Blair was not dictating the terms. Either Britain could participate with its closest defence ally and share in the inevitable military victory. Or it could insist that the inspectors be given more time; stand aside and watch the United States win the war on its own. Either way there would be political costs involved. He must have hoped that toppling a brutal dictator, uncovering his terrifying arsenal of WMD and accepting the plaudits of a grateful Iraqi people would soon wipe away the pre-conflict anxieties. As we now know, the reality was very different.
This is the wider context within which the Butler Report should be read and to which it has itself contributed a greater understanding of the basis upon which Britain went to war in 2003. Below, the Report's main conclusions and responses of the government and its critics are summarised, focusing particularly on debates in the House of Commons.
The Butler Report
The Butler inquiry was announced by Mr Blair on February 3, 2004, shortly after the publication of Lord Hutton's report2 on the Government's handling of intelligence on Iraq and days after President Bush announced an independent inquiry into US intelligence in the run-up to the conflict.3
Its wider remit was to investigate the intelligence coverage available on WMD programmes of countries of concern and on the global trade in WMD. Its narrower, and more politically controversial objective, was to investigate the accuracy of intelligence on Iraqi WMD up to March 2003, and to examine any discrepancies between the intelligence gathered, evaluated and used by the Government before the conflict, and between that intelligence and what had been discovered by the Iraq Survey Group since the end of the conflict. It was then to make recommendations to the Prime Minister for the future on the gathering, evaluation and use of intelligence on WMD, in the light of the difficulties of operating in countries of concern.
Headed by former Cabinet Secretary,4 Lord Butler of Brockwell, the other members of the committee were: former chief of the defence staff Field Marshal Lord Inge; former senior civil servant Sir John Chilcot; Labour MP Ann Taylor, chair of the House of Commons Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC); and Conservative MP Michael Mates, member of the ISC.
On July 14, 2004 The Butler Report was published. After what a number of people perceived to be the whitewash of the Hutton Report, many were surprised to find that the Butler Report offered serious criticism of British intelligence in relation to Iraq and also of the government's failure to provide warnings about the thinness of the evidence.5
Butler was particularly harsh about the Government's dossier of September 2002.6 "We conclude that it was a serious weakness that the JIC's7 warnings on the limitations of the intelligence underlying some of the judgements were not made sufficiently clear in the dossier."8 Furthermore, "the language in the dossier may have left with readers the impression that there was fuller and firmer intelligence behind the judgements than was the case: our view . . . is that judgements in the dossier went to (although not beyond) the outer limits of the intelligence available. The Prime Minister's description... of the picture painted by the intelligence services... as 'extensive, detailed and authoritative' may have reinforced this impression."9
Early in his Report Butler warned: "Intelligence merely provides techniques for improving the basis of knowledge. As with other techniques, it can be a dangerous tool if its limitations are not recognised by those who seek to use it."10 He then cast doubt on a "high proportion" of human intelligence sources and, therefore, on the quality of intelligence assessments given to ministers.
Perhaps of most significance was the finding that in July 2003 MI6 (the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS)) withdrew two reports that had derived from a "new source on trial" in September 2002. This source had provided significant assurance to those drafting the September dossier that active, current production of chemical and biological agents was taking place.
By July 2003, however, this "sourcing chain" had become discredited, with the sub-source reportedly denying ever providing the information in the reports. Hence, Butler found that information on Iraqi production of biological and chemical agents was "seriously flawed" and the grounds for British assessments that Iraq had recently produced such stocks "no longer exist".11
Problematically for Blair, the Prime Minister had specifically drawn upon this erroneous piece of intelligence in the Foreword to the September 2002 dossier to claim that: "the assessed intelligence has established beyond doubt that Saddam has continued to produce chemical and biological weapons."12
Ongoing production was an important factor in determining the contemporary and growing nature of the Iraqi threat and yet, as Butler says, it is now known that Iraq: "...did not have significant, if any, stocks of chemical or biological weapons in a state fit for use, or developed plans for using them."13 Indeed, Butler concludes that there was "no recent intelligence" to lead people to conclude Iraq was of more immediate concern than other countries, although its history prompted the view that there needed to be a threat of force to ensure Saddam Hussein's compliance.14 Moreover, when the opportunity to test this intelligence against what was happening on the ground presented itself, through the resumption of the international inspection process, the inquiry was "surprised" that no-one in government reassessed the quality of that intelligence once the inspectors failed to make any finds. Indeed, it is curious that whilst the Government was so willing to trust secretive (and sometimes questionable) intelligence sources, it was so unwilling to accept the demonstrable findings of the expert inspectors of UNMOVIC and the IAEA, who were attempting to confirm the accuracy and veracity of what these sources claimed.
In respect of the notorious and widely publicised claim that Iraq could use WMD within 45 minutes, Butler says that this should not have been included in the dossier without explaining what the claim referred to. As was revealed during the Hutton Inquiry, this dubious assertion only ever referred to battlefield chemical or biological munitions and not to any nuclear weapons or longer-range deliverable chemical and biological weapons (CBW). Moreover, the report also reveals that MI6 now says the intelligence report on the claim "has come into question", with doubts cast about one of the links in the reporting chain. Despite having withdrawn the reports a month earlier MI6 did not inform the Hutton Inquiry.15
Yet as the leader of the Conservative Party, Michael Howard, pointed out in the House of Commons on the day the Butler Report was published, the JIC had said on March 15, 2002 that intelligence on Iraq's WMD was "sporadic and patchy", and on August 21, 2002 that it had "little intelligence on Iraq's CBW doctrine, and know little about Iraq's CBW work since late 1998".16
In relation to the claim that Iraq had sought uranium from Niger, Butler accepted this as "credible", although there was no conclusive evidence that Iraq had actually purchased the material.
The JIC was cleared "of deliberate distortion or of culpable negligence" and in general, original intelligence was "reported correctly" in JIC assessments, with the exception of the 45-minute claim. Although Butler took the view that the chair of the JIC at the time, John Scarlett, need not withdraw from taking up the appointment as director of MI6 to which Blair had recently appointed him, the Report was laced with criticism of his handling of the intelligence and his relationship with Downing Street, the more notable, for being couched in the delicate "mandarin" euphemisms of a long serving British civil servant. For example, the inquiry said that there was a "... strong case for future JIC chairmen being people with experience of dealing with ministers in very senior roles and being 'demonstrably beyond influence' and so probably in their last post."17
On questions relating to the legal basis for the war, Butler revealed that although the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, did indeed conclude that UN resolutions were enough to justify going to war, this did require the Prime Minister, in the absence of another resolution, to be satisfied that: "there were strong factual grounds for concluding that Iraq had failed to take the final opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations... and that it was possible to demonstrate hard evidence of non-compliance and non-cooperation with the requirements of security council resolution 1441."18 Yet, reading the Report, it is extremely difficult to conclude that this criterion was satisfied. Surely "hard evidence of non-compliance" should involve the uncovering of some actual WMD or at least some other proof that they existed. Moreover, Butler says that "officials" cautioned that for Goldsmith and Blair to rely on an earlier resolution to claim that Iraq was in breach of its international obligations the proof "would need to be incontrovertible and of large-scale activity". As we know, the inspectors discovered nothing to this effect - far from it - and yet no reassessments were made, and Blair went ahead and allowed British armed forces to invade Iraq regardless.
Nevertheless, Butler stressed that there was no deliberate distortion on the government's part and that the inquiry had seen no evidence to suggest that the government had not acted in good faith. The fault was procedural and mistakes were "collective".
Political Responses to the Butler Report
For those seeking to understand what went wrong, perhaps the most unsatisfactory aspect of the Butler Inquiry and Report was that, in the words of Liberal Democrat leader, Charles Kennedy, the "political judgments" that informed the decision to go to war were not "placed properly under the microscope" because "that was not possible within the remit set".19
"Parliament was misled"
Nevertheless, there was enough in the careful phrasing to bolster critics of the war. As Robin Cook, MP, said, "After the Butler report, it is embarrassingly clear that Parliament was misled into voting for war on the basis of unreliable sources and over-heated analysis, producing between them false intelligence."20
It should be remembered that the Prime Minister's case for war was built around his assertion that Iraq, through its possession of WMD, constituted a "serious and current" threat.21 Because of the type of weaponry involved and Iraq's closed society it was extremely difficult to reach definitive conclusions about the extent and nature of this threat. Hence intelligence was called upon to play the major role in determining that Iraq posed a threat of sufficient magnitude and proximity to justify war.
Blair assumed that among the millions opposed to the war, some would have kept up their opposition regardless of whether or not Iraq had stockpiles of WMD. These he ignored, conentrating on the 'waverers' in the middle, whom he believed he could convince to support a change in policy, away from containment and deterrence and towards one of enforced disarmament. The exchange between Tony Blair and Robin Cook during the Prime Minister's statement to the House of Commons on the day of the Butler Report's publication is instructive in this respect.
With regard to the failure to uncover the predicted WMD in Iraq, Blair asserted that the Butler Report "most certainly does not conclude that Saddam Hussein was not a threat in respect of WMD".22 Cook responded, "He is entitled to argue that that does not mean that there was no justification for the war, but it does surely mean that there was no urgent necessity for the war, because there was no imminent threat."23
During his responses the Prime Minister made a careful distinction between an "imminent" threat and the terminology he had used, namely, a "current and serious" threat. He noted that "...on 24 September, when I presented the dossier to the House, I said that I could not say that Saddam would use the weapons this year or next year."24 Blair then continued: "...if I had thought that Iraq was a direct threat to this country, I would have taken immediate action. I did not do that, but I did think that the WMD issue had to be dealt with. September 11 meant that we could not wait around for it to materialise; we had to get out and get after it now."25
Policy shifted because of 9/11, not Iraq's weapons
Blair's response reflected a point that Lord Butler had recognised: policy towards Iraq shifted because of September 11, not the pace of Iraq's weapons programmes. The government's case for taking action against Saddam rested more on what he might be capable of in the future than what he was capable of doing at the time. This was reflected in comments made by Jonathan Powell, the Prime Minister's Chief of Staff, who told Blair (in relation to the September dossier) that: "We will need to make it clear in launching the document that we do not claim that we have evidence that he is an imminent threat."26 Powell also told Alistair Campbell, Blair's Communications Director at the time: "In the penultimate para you need to make it clear Saddam could not attack us at the moment. The thesis is he could be a threat to the UK in the future if we do not check him."27 Leaving the 45-minute claim in did precisely the opposite, and no attempt was made by Downing Street to correct media headlines and stories that dramatised the threat evoked by this dossier claim, thereby provoking even greater fears among the British public (and so achieving the desired objective of bolstering the case for war).
Blair promises changes
On July 20, 2004, the week following the publication of the Butler Report, the Prime Minister led a major parliamentary debate on Iraq. He began by accepting Lord Butler's conclusions and announcing four resultant changes for government practice. First, he accepted the urgent need to fill the post of Chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee (subsequently taken on a temporary basis by William Ehrman). Second, he agreed that in light of Butler's criticism that too many of the crucial meetings had been informally constituted without proper minutes or records, in future those involved in directing policy would operate formally as an ad hoc Cabinet Committee. Third, he announced that MI6 would appoint someone to look at its validation process, the relationship between MI6 and the JIC, and its relationship with the Defence Intelligence Staff. Finally, he accepted that any future presentation of intelligence will separate the JIC assessment and the Government case and indicate if there are JIC caveats.
This last point was pursued by David Cameron (Conservative) who asked the Prime Minister if he accepted responsibility for Butler's conclusion in paragraph 465 of his Report that it was a "serious weakness that the JIC's warnings on the limitations underlying its judgements were not made sufficiently clear in the dossier".28 Blair replied that "of course" he took responsibility for that, but then reiterated that Butler had taken the view that the dossier did reflect the JIC assessments and that on that basis it clearly would be concluded that Saddam Hussein was a WMD threat, and "that he had intent, programmes and actual weapons".29 Nevertheless, The Conservative Party leader, Michael Howard, responded that by leaving out the caveats, qualifications and cautions offered by the intelligence services, the Prime Minister had given the country a "misleading impression of what the intelligence services had said".30
While welcoming the changes announced by the Prime Minister, Kennedy argued that Blair had still not quite understood what the British people wanted, and called on him to "demonstrate a genuine contrition for the misjudgments that have undoubtedly taken place".31
Intelligence used to "sell" policy
Robin Cook, Labour Foreign Secretary from 1997-2001, who had resigned as Leader of the House in protest before the war, expressed his astonishment at the September dossier, which bore no relation in tone to any of the intelligence assessments that he had seen when in office. It had been "one-sided, dogmatic and unqualified". The real problem was that rather than being used as the basis on which to make policy, intelligence had been used to "sell" policy.32
The former International Development Secretary, Clare Short, who resigned over Iraq weeks after the war started, pursued a similar line to that of Cook and Kilfoyle the week before, and challenged the Prime Minister about the fact that nowhere did Butler suggest that: "... there was a threat that was so urgent that we could not allow Blix to complete his job. That divided the international community, with all the consequences that flowed from it. Where did my right honourable Friend [Blair] get that information? Why was Blix not allowed enough time?"33
This point was emphasised by the leader of the Liberal Democrats, Charles Kennedy, later in the debate. Kennedy quoted Dr. David Kay, the former US head of the Iraq Survey Group, who, commenting on the Butler Report, said: "I think the Prime Minister... should have been able to tell before the war that the evidence did not exist for drawing the conclusion that Iraq presented a clear, present and imminent threat on the basis of existing weapons of mass destruction. That was not something that required a war." 34
Rushing to meet an American timetable
There were even some Conservative voices supporting this contention. John Baron said that there would have been nothing lost by giving the inspectors a little more time to complete their task - indeed, there was much to be gained: "... but instead we were rushing to meet an American military timetable that had only one outcome, namely war."35
Blair responded that "... we had a UN resolution for them to operate under which laid down a clear ultimatum to Saddam that action would follow if he did not comply with the benchmarks that I agreed with Hans Blix at the time."36 This was interpreted as a grudging acknowledgment that it might have been better to let Blix and his UNMOVIC inspectors have more time. Blair has continued to assert that without such an ultimatum built into a second resolution Saddam would not have complied. There would merely have been a repeat of the previous 12 years in which "... we would have allowed Saddam a certain amount of leeway, he would have made a few concessions and then carried on with his original intentions." The Prime Minister underlined, however, that he had tried to get the right benchmarks and had told the Americans that Blix needed more time to do his work, backed by an ultimatum. He went on to point out that some other countries had made it clear that they would not accept any resolution containing an ultimatum.
Picking up on this, Short cited Blix's book "Disarming Iraq"37 , in which the former head of UNMOVIC made it clear that a majority of the UN Security Council, including France, Germany and Russia, were willing to have benchmarks and a deadline, but that "...they were not willing to accept a resolution that meant that Britain and the US would decide whether that resolution had been adhered to. My honourable Friend [Blair] threw away the possibility of united international action on the request for automaticity."38
The Prime Minister disagreed with her and insisted that France would not have accepted any ultimatum, without which Saddam would not have acceded to the demands of Resolution 1441.39 He went on to remind the House of Commons that the crucial debate of March 18, 2003, about whether or not to go to war, was not about the dossier but about the consequences of Resolution 1441. At that time Saddam was not complying properly, and another resolution containing an ultimatum could not be secured. Mr Blair posed the question: "So what were we to do? We could have backed away - or we could have decided to make sure, this time, that Saddam was incapable in the future of developing WMD, as he had every intention of doing. I still think that we made the right decision."40
While he admitted that the JIC assessment of September 9, 2002 describes the intelligence as limited, the Prime Minister told MPs that its judgements based on that intelligence nevertheless included the assessment that Iraq then had available a number of biological warfare and chemical warfare agents and weapons, and that "even if stocks of chemical and biological weapons are limited, they would allow for focused strikes against key military targets or for strategic purposes (such as a strike against Israel or Kuwait)".41
Blair asserted that although the liberation of Iraq from Saddam was not the legal case for war, as he had made clear at the time, it did mean that Britain could go to war "with a clear conscience and a strong heart".42 He then made another revealing declaration when he said in relation to Saddam Hussein and WMD that "Any risk of his developing or using them was a risk never worth taking..."43
There was some sympathy for Blair's dilemma, however. A number of MPs, including Labour's Ann Clwyd, who had long campaigned to highlight the plight of the Kurds and Marsh Arabs in Iraq, supported Blair's argument that containment had not worked, the sanctions were too loose and Saddam Hussein was getting exactly what he wanted.44
Alan Beith, a Liberal Democrat member of the parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee, and the MP who would have been his Party's representative on the Butler Inquiry had his Party agreed to participate, found it "... impossible to imagine the Prime Minister deciding not to participate when President Bush decided to launch an invasion of Iraq... Equally, it is impossible to imagine the Prime Minister deciding that the current threat to British interests which he perceived were such that we would have gone ahead if President Bush had decided not to."45
Veteran Conservative MP, Sir Patrick Cormack, said that the Prime Minister had acted with "extraordinary courage... for the leader of the Labour party... I thought that the leadership that he gave was of a national character and that it deserved support".46 Michael Meacher, who was a Minister of State in Blair's government from 1997 to 2003, believed that the Prime Minister had offered Britain's support to the United States for the war in Iraq at the Crawford summit in April 2002.47 Meacher said that Blair's problem arose because the available intelligence was unable to deliver the incontrovertible evidence of large-scale Iraqi WMD activity. The UN inspectors had left in 1998 and the evidence was almost non-existent. The Prime Minister then presented weapons that were unaccounted for as if they were definitely (and currently) possessed by Saddam's regime. Sources were treated as reliable when clearly they were not, and they were not checked with the expertise of intelligence staff. Meacher concluded: "Being sinuous with the truth may not be lying, but it is certainly not open or honest. Presenting a seriously misleading account of the facts may not be lying, but it is not truthful or straightforward either."48
Crispin Blunt, Conservative member of the House of Commons Defence Committee, agreed that the decision to go to war had been made by Bush early in 2002. He revealed that the Defence Committee had heard evidence that British officers attached to US Central Command were privy to the planning for an operation in Iraq in early summer 2002. "From that point on, the assessment of intelligence data conflated analysis into advocacy in order to find a rationale for the war that had already been decided on for other reasons."49
Tony Wright, Labour Chair of the Public Administration Select Committee, concluded that whereas the Prime Minister would have liked to have resolved the situation without military action, President Bush was unable not to take military action because this would have been a humiliating defeat.50
Alex Salmond, the former leader of the Scottish Nationalist Party took this theme to a more critical conclusion: "... there could be an argument for staying close to a major ally, but not so close as we have reached in the current ridiculous position... I do not believe in my country right or wrong, but the Government believe in another country right or wrong."51
Jack Straw, Blair's Foreign Secretary, denied that the invasion of Iraq was a pre-emptive action, noting that pre-emption implied a rush to judgment and twelve years experince with Iraq was hardly that. He argued that since the United Nations had originally authorised military action, circumstances had changed and this had to be taken into account. Containment and sanctions had failed to work. Once Resolution 1441 had been passed, the argument was no longer about intelligence.52 Straw was emphasising the line taken by the Prime Minister earlier in the debate when he said: "... the dossier was not the basis on which we went to war, but the basis on which we went to the UN. That is what we did. As a result of going to the UN, we got resolution 1441 - which, incidentally, accepted on behalf of the whole international community that Saddam Hussein was a WMD threat who had to be dealt with. People may ignore that now, but that is precisely what the resolution said."53
In this debate, Blair was greatly helped by the weak performance of the Conservative leadership, which had been hamstrung by its wholehearted support for the initial decision to go to war. Concluding the debate for them, the Shadow Foreign Secretary, Michael Ancram, effectively backed Blair's position: "I still believe that... had we not gone to war then, we would have had to do so in future when it might have been much more dangerous and difficult."54
While observers agreed that Howard had performed poorly during this debate, William Hague, a former leader of the Conservative Party, made some telling points. He said that the idea that someone could have told the Prime Minister that Iraq had WMD that could be mobilised against Britain in 45 minutes, and that the Prime Minister did not ask to what sort of weapons this referred was "absolutely unimaginable".55 Robin Cook echoed this sentiment, describing it as "breathtaking" that between September 2002 and March 2003 the Prime Minister believed that he and John Scarlett were talking about long-range systems, while Scarlett believed that they were talking about battlefield weapons.56 A former Defence Minister during Margaret Thatcher's premiership, Sir John Stanley, added that it was "extraordinary and reprehensible" and "gross negligence" that the Prime Minister took the country to war without having asked to which Iraqi weapons system the 45-minute WMD claim related.57 Hague also regarded it as incredible that the Prime Minister was not told that key evidence identified in the Butler inquiry was withdrawn in July 2003, which would have been in time to inform the Hutton Inquiry (instead, the inquiry was kept in the dark). Although they clearly differed on the wisdom of invading Iraq, Cook, Hague and Stanley seemed to share the view that the intelligence was never really an important factor in the Government's decision to go to war.
As quoted at the start of this article, Labour's Tam Dalyell concluded that it was the policy objectives that drove the intelligence rather than the other way around.58 For many, the most crucial passage in the Butler Report was its conclusion that when the government took the decision to take stronger action against Iraq "there was no intelligence that Iraq was of more immediate concern". "In other words," as Cook noted, "the intelligence did not change; the assessment of the picture inside Iraq did not change. The change that precipitated the movement away from containment to invasion was not a change in Iraq, but a regime change in Washington and the election of a Bush Administration with a commitment to invasion."59
Cook made the distinction between invading a country that is an imminent threat and doing so because it might become a threat at some unknown and unspecified date in the future. In the latter case it would be necessary to place "an enormous weight on the capacity to have reliable and accurate intelligence. Yet what we have learned from the whole saga of Iraq... [is] that intelligence can never be that reliable". In conclusion, he called on the government now to reassure the public by "formally and loudly" ditching the US doctrine of the pre-emptive strike.60
John Gummer, a former Conservative Cabinet Minister during Mrs Thatcher's tenure as Prime Minister, was equally concerned about the implications of accepting the pre-emptive doctrine: "The problem is that once one accepts the theory of the preventive war, one opens the gates for everyone to claim it in every case - India, Pakistan or any country with a long-standing grudge or a serious problem. All can claim that in their own case, although not in that of others, they are acting to prevent war. That is why the problem is fundamental."61 Baron agreed, saying: "Civilised nations do not go goose-stepping around the world invading countries because they think that they may be a threat, then, when they find that they are not, justifying it by claiming that the world is a better place. That is the law of the jungle. It is illegal, because article 2 of the United Nations emphasises that member states cannot engage in regime change."62
The British Government knew that Iraq "could not attack us" at the time it went to war with Iraq. Tony Blair acted on the thesis that Saddam Hussein "could be a threat to the UK in the future if we do not check him".63 This was the line being pushed by President Bush, and there is every reason to believe that Blair took the same view, while differing over questions of timing and the need for international backing. By taking preventive military action to remove a potential rather than an existing threat, and to do so without specific UN sanction, the United States and Britain have set a dangerous precedent. It can be in no-one's interests for states to assume the right to attack their neighbours on the basis of perceptions of future hostile intent.
Their actions have serious implications for international security, international law and counter-proliferation policy. With regard to security, Cook articulated a concern raised by many opponents of the war. Noting that it was a great irony that it was precisely the intervention in Iraq that has created the conditions - poor security, open borders and a population with a grievance - in which al Qaeda is now thriving, he concluded: "... I fear that, by invading Iraq, we responded in precisely the way that Osama bin Laden wanted. As a consequence, we and the west will have to live with violent confrontations and the violent consequences of this strategic blunder for a decade to come."64
1. Tam Dalyell, MP, House of Commons, Official Report,
July 20, 2004, Column 237.
2. For an analysis of the Hutton Report see Stephen
Pullinger, 'The Hutton Inquiry: was Iraq a Serious and Current Threat?',
News Analysis, Disarmament Diplomacy 73 (October/November
3. George Jones, 'Tories back out of Butler inquiry',
Daily Telegraph, February 2, 2004.
4. This is the Britain's most senior civil servant:
a position from which Lord Butler retired in January 1998.
5. Paul Reynolds, 'Devil in the Detail', July 15,
2004, BBC Analysis at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/3894403.stm
6. Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction - The assessment
of the British Government, published September 24, 2003. This is what
became known as the 'September dossier'. Can be found at: http://www.number10.gov.uk/output/page271.asp
7. The Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) sets
goals for the UK intelligence agencies, evaluates their output and presents
summaries to the Prime Minister. It comprises the heads of the British
intelligence agencies and normally meets once a week.
8. Review of Intelligence on Weapons of Mass Destruction,
Report of a Committee of Privy Counsellors, July 14, 2004, HC 898. Hereafter
referred to as the 'Butler Report', Para. 34.
9. Ibid. Para. 464.
10. Ibid. Para. 47.
11. At-a-glance: Butler Report, BBC News website,
July 14, 2004 at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/3892809.stm
12. The Prime Minister's foreword to the September
2002 dossier entitled Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction - The assessment
of the British Government, op. cit.
13. BBC, At-a-glance: Butler Report, op. cit.
15. George Jones, 'MI6 doubted 45-minute claim
before Hutton inquiry', Daily Telegraph, July 16, 2004.
16. Rt. Hon. Michael Howard, MP, Official Report,
July 14, 2004, Column 1437.
17. BBC, At-a-glance: Butler Report, op.
18. Butler Report, reported in the Times
On-line at: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,15629-1179054,00.html
19. Rt. Hon. Charles Kennedy, MP, Official Report,
July 14, 2004, Column 1439.
20. Robin Cook, MP, writing in The Independent,
July 15, 2004.
21. See Stephen Pullinger, News Analysis, 'The
Hutton Inquiry: was Iraq a Serious and Current Threat?', Disarmament
Diplomacy 73, (October-November 2003).
22. Rt. Hon. Tony Blair, MP, Official Report,
July 14, 2004, Column 1444.
24. Rt. Hon. Tony Blair, MP, Official Report,
July 14, 2004, Column 1449.
25. Ibid. Column 1450.
26. Cabinet Office memoranda, e-mail from Jonathan
Powell to John Scarlett, evidence submitted to the Hutton Inquiry, September
27. Jonathan Powell e-mail to Alastair Campbell,
the Prime Minister's Director of Communications, and Sir David Manning,
the Prime Minister's foreign policy adviser, referring to the revised
foreword to the Dossier, September 17, 2002.
28. David Cameron, MP, Official Report,
July 20, 2004, Column 198.
29. Rt. Hon. Tony Blair, MP, Official Report,
July 20, 2004, Column 198.
30. Rt. Hon. Michael Howard, MP, Official Report,
July 20, 2004, Column 214.
31. Rt. Hon. Charles Kennedy, MP, Official Report,
July 20, 2004, Column 219.
32. Rt. Hon. Robin Cook, MP, Official Report,
July 20, 2004, Column 227.
33. Rt. Hon. Clare Short, MP, Official Report,
July 20, 2004, Column 198/99.
34. Rt. Hon. Charles Kennedy, MP, Official Report,
July 20, 2004, Column 218. The quote from David Kay was reported, for
example, by Beth Gardiner, 'David Kay: Bush, Blair should have known intelligence
didn't show Iraqi threat', Associated Press, July 18 2004.
35. John Baron, MP, Official Report, July
20, 2004, Column 274.
36. Rt. Hon. Tony Blair, Official Report,
July 20, 2004, Column 199.
37. Hans Blix, Disarming Iraq (London: Bloomsbury,
38. Rt. Hon. Tony Blair, Official Report,
July 20, 2004, Column 198/199.
39. Ibid. Column 200.
40. Ibid. Column 200.
41. Ibid. Column 202.
42. Ibid. Column 205.
43. Ibid. Column 206.
44. Ann Clwyd, MP, Official Report, July
20, 2004, Column 231.
45. Rt. Hon. Alan Beith, MP, Official Report,
July 20, 2004, Column 238.
46. Sir Patrick Cormack, MP, Official Report,
July 20, 2004, Column 258.
47. Rt. Hon. Michael Meacher, MP, Official Report,
July 20, 2004, Column 261.
48. Ibid. Column 263.
49. Crispin Blunt, MP, Official Report,
July 20, 2004, Column 264.
50. Tony Wright, MP, Official Report, July
20, 2004, Column 270.
51. Alex Salmond, MP, Official Report, July
20, 2004, Column 250.
52. Rt. Hon. Jack Straw, MP, Official Report,
July 20, 2004, Column 284.
53. Rt. Hon. Tony Blair, MP, Official Report,
July 20, 2004, Column 199.
54. Rt. Hon. Michael Ancram, MP, Official Report,
July 20, 2004, Column 276.
55. Rt. Hon. William Hague, MP, Official Report,
July 20, 2004, Column 224.
56. Rt. Hon. Robin Cook, MP, Official Report,
July 20, 2004, Column 225.
57. Rt. Hon. Sir John Stanley, MP, Official
Report, July 20, 2004, Column 236.
58. Tam Dalyell, MP, see reference 1.
59. Rt. Hon. Robin Cook, MP, Official Report,
July 20, 2004, Column 225.
60. Ibid. Column 228.
61. Rt. Hon. John Gummer, MP, Official Report,
July 20, 2004, Column 254.
62. John Baron, MP, Official Report, July
20, 2004, Column 274.
63. See reference 29.
64. Rt. Hon. Robin Cook, MP, Official Report,
July 20, 2004, Column 228.
Stephen Pullinger is a Research Associate of the Acronym
Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy and Senior Adviser to Saferworld on
Weapons of Mass Destruction.
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