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[casi] Cook: "Iraq probably has no weapons of mass destruction"

A noteworthy excerpt from Robin Cook's resignation speech: "Iraq probably has no
weapons of mass destruction in the commonly understood sense of the term ---
namely a credible device capable of being delivered against a strategic city
target." Cook goes on to say that Iraq "probably still has biological toxins and
battlefield chemical munitions, but it has had them since the 1980s ..."

As leader of Parliament and a former Foreign Secretary, Cook's conclusion is
grounded in years of exposure to sensitive intelligence.  His pragmatic parsing
of WMD echoes Scott Ritter's position, that evidence to date shows Iraq was
qualitatively disarmed.

Drew Hamre
Golden Valley, MN USA

17 Mar 2003 : Column 726

Personal Statement

9.44 pm

Mr. Robin Cook (Livingston): This is the first time for 20 years that I have
addressed the House from the Back Benches. I must confess that I had forgotten
how much better the view is from here. None of those 20 years were more
enjoyable or more rewarding than the past two, in which I have had the immense
privilege of serving this House as Leader of the House, which were made all the
more enjoyable, Mr. Speaker, by the opportunity of working closely with you.

It was frequently the necessity for me as Leader of the House to talk my way out
of accusations that a statement had been preceded by a press interview. On this
occasion I can say with complete confidence that no press interview has been
given before this statement. I have chosen to address the House first on why I
cannot support a war without international agreement or domestic support.

The present Prime Minister is the most successful leader of the Labour party in
my lifetime. I hope that he will continue to be the leader of our party, and I
hope that he will continue to be successful. I have no sympathy with, and I will
give no comfort to, those who want to use this crisis to displace him.

I applaud the heroic efforts that the Prime Minister has made in trying to
secure a second resolution. I do not think that anybody could have done better
than the Foreign Secretary in working to get support for a second resolution
within the Security Council. But the very intensity of those attempts underlines
how important it was to succeed. Now that those attempts have failed, we cannot
pretend that getting a second resolution was of no importance.

France has been at the receiving end of bucketloads of commentary in recent
days. It is not France alone that wants more time for inspections. Germany wants
more time for inspections; Russia wants more time for inspections; indeed, at no
time have we signed up even the minimum necessary to carry a second resolution.
We delude ourselves if we think that the degree of international hostility is
all the result of President Chirac. The reality is that Britain is being asked
to embark on a war without agreement in any of the international bodies of which
we are a leading partnerónot NATO, not the European Union and, now, not the
Security Council.

To end up in such diplomatic weakness is a serious reverse. Only a year ago, we
and the United States were part of a coalition against terrorism that was wider
and more diverse than I would ever have imagined possible. History will be
astonished at the diplomatic miscalculations that led so quickly to the
disintegration of that powerful coalition. The US can afford to go it alone, but
Britain is not a superpower. Our interests are best protected not by unilateral
action but by multilateral agreement and a world order governed by rules. Yet
tonight the international partnerships most important to us are weakened: the
European Union is divided; the Security Council is in stalemate. Those are heavy
casualties of a war in which a shot has yet to be fired.

I have heard some parallels between military action in these circumstances and
the military action that we took in Kosovo. There was no doubt about the

17 Mar 2003 : Column 727

support that we had for the action that we took in Kosovo. It was supported by
NATO; it was supported by the European Union; it was supported by every single
one of the seven neighbours in the region. France and Germany were our active
allies. It is precisely because we have none of that support in this case that
it was all the more important to get agreement in the Security Council as the
last hope of demonstrating international agreement.
The legal basis for our action in Kosovo was the need to respond to an urgent
and compelling humanitarian crisis. Our difficulty in getting support this time
is that neither the international community nor the British public is persuaded
that there is an urgent and compelling reason for this military action in Iraq.

The threshold for war should always be high. None of us can predict the death
toll of civilians from the forthcoming bombardment of Iraq, but the US warning
of a bombing campaign that will "shock and awe" makes it likely that casualties
will be numbered at least in the thousands. I am confident that British
servicemen and women will acquit themselves with professionalism and with
courage. I hope that they all come back. I hope that Saddam, even now, will quit
Baghdad and avert war, but it is false to argue that only those who support war
support our troops. It is entirely legitimate to support our troops while
seeking an alternative to the conflict that will put those troops at risk.

Nor is it fair to accuse those of us who want longer for inspections of not
having an alternative strategy. For four years as Foreign Secretary I was partly
responsible for the western strategy of containment. Over the past decade that
strategy destroyed more weapons than in the Gulf war, dismantled Iraq's nuclear
weapons programme and halted Saddam's medium and long-range missiles programmes.
Iraq's military strength is now less than half its size than at the time of the
last Gulf war.

Ironically, it is only because Iraq's military forces are so weak that we can
even contemplate its invasion. Some advocates of conflict claim that Saddam's
forces are so weak, so demoralised and so badly equipped that the war will be
over in a few days. We cannot base our military strategy on the assumption that
Saddam is weak and at the same time justify pre-emptive action on the claim that
he is a threat.

Iraq probably has no weapons of mass destruction in the commonly understood
sense of the termónamely a credible device capable of being delivered against a
strategic city target. It probably still has biological toxins and battlefield
chemical munitions, but it has had them since the 1980s when US companies sold
Saddam anthrax agents and the then British Government approved chemical and
munitions factories. Why is it now so urgent that we should take military action
to disarm a military capacity that has been there for 20

17 Mar 2003 : Column 728

years, and which we helped to create? Why is it necessary to resort to war this
week, while Saddam's ambition to complete his weapons programme is blocked by
the presence of UN inspectors?
Only a couple of weeks ago, Hans Blix told the Security Council that the key
remaining disarmament tasks could be completed within months. I have heard it
said that Iraq has had not months but 12 years in which to complete disarmament,
and that our patience is exhausted. Yet it is more than 30 years since
resolution 242 called on Israel to withdraw from the occupied territories. We do
not express the same impatience with the persistent refusal of Israel to comply.
I welcome the strong personal commitment that the Prime Minister has given to
middle east peace, but Britain's positive role in the middle east does not
redress the strong sense of injustice throughout the Muslim world at what it
sees as one rule for the allies of the US and another rule for the rest.

Nor is our credibility helped by the appearance that our partners in Washington
are less interested in disarmament than they are in regime change in Iraq. That
explains why any evidence that inspections may be showing progress is greeted in
Washington not with satisfaction but with consternation: it reduces the case for

What has come to trouble me most over past weeks is the suspicion that if the
hanging chads in Florida had gone the other way and Al Gore had been elected, we
would not now be about to commit British troops.

The longer that I have served in this place, the greater the respect I have for
the good sense and collective wisdom of the British people. On Iraq, I believe
that the prevailing mood of the British people is sound. They do not doubt that
Saddam is a brutal dictator, but they are not persuaded that he is a clear and
present danger to Britain. They want inspections to be given a chance, and they
suspect that they are being pushed too quickly into conflict by a US
Administration with an agenda of its own. Above all, they are uneasy at Britain
going out on a limb on a military adventure without a broader international
coalition and against the hostility of many of our traditional allies.

>From the start of the present crisis, I have insisted, as Leader of the House,
on the right of this place to vote on whether Britain should go to war. It has
been a favourite theme of commentators that this House no longer occupies a
central role in British politics. Nothing could better demonstrate that they are
wrong than for this House to stop the commitment of troops in a war that has
neither international agreement nor domestic support. I intend to join those
tomorrow night who will vote against military action now. It is for that reason,
and for that reason alone, and with a heavy heart, that I resign from the
Government. [Applause.]

See also:
The Cook Report: An Eloquent Protest Against the War
By Joseph Cirincione

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