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Profile: Margaret Beckett
Margaret Beckett was a participant or observer in the following events:
Robin Cook. [Source: BBC]House of Commons leader and former Foreign Secretary Robin Cook resigns from British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s cabinet, in protest over the imminent invasion of Iraq. Cook announces his decision as the cabinet holds an emergency meeting at Downing Street. Cook says after his resignation is announced: “It is with regret I have today resigned from the cabinet. I can’t accept collective responsibility for the decision to commit Britain now to military action in Iraq without international agreement or domestic support.” Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett says she respects Cook’s decision to resign, and that everyone in the cabinet, including Blair himself, has anxieties about the upcoming invasion. However, Beckett says, “[N]one of the rest of us feel that they are enough to make us judge that the government is doing the wrong thing.” [BBC, 3/17/2003]
Resignation Speech - Cook retains his seat in the House of Commons. In his resignation speech to the House, Cook says in part, “I cannot support a war without international agreement or domestic support.” France, Russia, and Germany, who are battling to give UN inspectors more time to operate inside Iraq, cannot be blamed for stirring up what Cook calls “the degree of international hostility” towards the invasion. “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 partner—not NATO, not the European Union and, now, not the [UN] Security Council. To end up in such diplomatic weakness is a serious reverse.” Unlike the US, Britain cannot “afford to go it alone” in the international community. “Our interests are best protected not by unilateral action but by multilateral agreement and a world order governed by rules,” he says. “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.”
Containment Worked - For himself, Cook says: “For four years as foreign secretary I was partly responsible for the western strategy of containment [of Saddam Hussein and Iraq]. Over the past decade that strategy destroyed more weapons than in the Gulf war, dismantled Iraq’s nuclear weapons program and halted Saddam’s medium and long-range missiles programs. 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.”
If Iraq Is a Danger, Why Would an Invasion Be So Easy? - It would be a mistake to assume that an invasion will be an easy and relatively bloodless affair: “Some advocates of conflict claim that Saddam’s forces are so weak, so demoralized 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.”
No Weapons of Mass Destruction - “Iraq probably has no weapons of mass destruction in the commonly understood sense of the term,” Cook says, “namely 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 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 program is blocked by the presence of UN inspectors?”
Comparing Iraq to Israel - Some have said Iraq has had 12 years to comply with UN resolutions demanding disarmament, Cook notes, but goes on to say that Israel has had over 30 years to comply with UN resolutions demanding its withdrawal from Palestinian territories, and has not yet done so. “We do not express the same impatience with the persistent refusal of Israel to comply,” he says. “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 war.”
Different Outcome under President Gore - Cook says, “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 [2000 US presidential candidate] Al Gore had been elected, we would not now be about to commit British troops.”
Conclusion - “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,” Cook says. “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.” Cook is troubled that the House of Commons has never voted on whether or not to commit troops to Iraq, and he calls on Parliament to “stop the commitment of troops in a war that has neither international agreement nor domestic support.” [BBC, 3/18/2003]
The British high court in London decides in favor of the Chagos islanders, ruling that the British government’s 2004 decision (see June 2004) to block the return of the islanders to their homes was unlawful. Lord Justice Hooper and Justice Cresswell write in their ruling: “The suggestion that a minister can, through the means of an order in council, exile a whole population from a British overseas territory and claim that he is doing so for the ‘peace, order and good government’ of the territory is, to us, repugnant.” The ruling—which is the fourth time in the past five years that the courts have deplored the government’s treatment of the islanders—paves the way for the islanders’ return. [Guardian, 5/12/2006] But on June 30, Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett will file an appeal. [Guardian, 7/1/2006]
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