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Wednesday, 19 September, 2001, 07:43 GMT 08:43 UK
Military action: Tory viewpoints
Sir Malcolm Rifkind and John Maples
Amid continuing speculation about the response to last week's terrorist attacks, BBC News Online asked two Conservative defence experts for their views on the government's handling of the situation so far and the options ahead.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind is a former foreign secretary and defence secretary while current Conservative MP John Maples spent time as both shadow foreign and shadow defence secretary in William Hague's team.


Sir Malcolm Rifkind

These are early days. The government has obviously given quite proper priority to the issue and that is to be welcomed.

As yet, we are not privy to the thinking as to what measures they might take and nor would I expect them to share that thinking with us at the moment.


If America and her allies take action it should be action that actually has impact on the terrorist threat and is not merely symbolic

Sir Malcolm Rifkind
I think the crucial requirement is that if America and her allies take action it should be action that actually has impact on the terrorist threat and is not merely symbolic.

If that means it takes longer then it is worth that extra time. We have seen some punitive action taken in the past where one is sometimes left wondering about what the actual impact has been.

I think what I am saying is not likely to be controversial in Washington.

There are two elements to any action: there are the terrorists themselves and those who give aid and comfort and sanctuary to the terrorists.

Factors behind action

I am not at liberty to sit here and say what the action should be. It will depend on the intelligence information, on how reliable that information is seen to be, on whether they get over-flying rights from other nations.

The nature of the world in which we live is such that some of the nations that have pledged support will start to introduce qualifications and caveats and concerns.

Osama Bin Laden
Bin Laden is prime suspect for the attacks
So I think the process of putting a coalition together is quite complicated as the US does not yet know what action exactly it is going to take.

The US is now convinced it cannot act unilaterally, although I suppose in Washington they would resist the argument that they had ever done otherwise.

It is good that the language and the policies which are being discussed imply they do not want to act unilaterally.

The Middle East peace process is strictly speaking a separate issue but one of the reasons we have seen terrorist attacks by Islamic fundamentalists in the Middle East is the very high emotional dimension the conflict there has produced.

Peace progress helps

It is in such circumstances that extreme behaviour becomes more likely and therefore if there is a prospect for any progress in the peace process it should be welcomed.

As for how the US attacks affect daily life in the UK, I would say that although everybody is using and understands the language that this is a war and has to be fought as a war, it is a very different kind of war to previous conflicts in the past.

I think the main implication domestically will be tighter security.


John Maples

I do think that Tony Blair is doing the right thing. There should be no daylight between the UK and US, and I think he is on the right lines.

Obviously the US is in the lead on this, but Tony Blair is involved in talking to President Bush on this, and this should give him some influence on this.


One of the consequences of this attack is we are going to have to be prepared to surrender some of our personal freedoms

John Maples
I just hope the government is taking all the precautions necessary to stop this happening here.

It's been proven in the US that Osama Bin Laden has sleeper cells all over the place, and it is highly likely that he has some in Britain and in France - as both countries fought in the Gulf War.

We don't know for certain if Bin Laden was behind this attack but he was clearly involved in the previous attack on the World Trade Center and the attacks on the American embassies in Africa.

Osama Bin Laden
Bin Laden is prime suspect for the attacks
I think he has a much wider network than is generally realised.

One of the consequences of this attack is we are going to have to be prepared to surrender some of our personal freedoms.

We may have to consider identity cards, increased surveillance and heightened security checks.

As far as dealing with the terrorists and those states that harbour them we can use a combination of economic and diplomatic pressure.

Libya, Iran and Syria have all been quick to express their regret at the bombings but it remains to be seen if they will be tough on terrorists.

If we can bring those responsible to book with only the threat of military force that is by far the best outcome, but I think military action will have to be taken.

Isolating some states

States that won't comply and who continue to shelter terrorists will have to be isolated.

That isolation could involve the World Bank and the IMF refusing to deal with that country, as could international airlines.

Such measures would have an affect on the ruling elite of those countries and would not affect the population as a whole.

There are a whole series of things that we can use to make life extremely difficult for these people.

American military power is one of them and I think it is likely that it will have to be used.

Debt to America

I think we owe our freedom to the US, particularly because of the stance they took in the cold war. We must also remember how important the health of the US economy is to our own.

We must also remember we are both morally and practically involved in this situation.

We are a terrorist target and we have been attacked as more than 100 of our civilians have been killed.

See also:

17 Sep 01 | UK Politics
Military action: Labour viewpoints
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