Page last updated at 18:39 GMT, Thursday, 17 March 2011

North Africa and Middle East debate part two

Ill-feeling caused by the US-led interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan means it is vital to secure full UN backing for action in Libya, former diplomat Rory Stewart has said.

The UK has led the charge for a no-fly zone in Libya. Earlier this week, Britain, France and Lebanon drafted a UN Security Council resolution calling for action.

The US has decided to support a no-fly zone after initial reluctance to give its backing to the plans.

As MPs debated the recent events in North Africa and the Middle East on 17 March 2011, Mr Stewart said the UK government's current position - to push strongly for a no-fly zone but only with strong international backing - was the right one.

"If we try to lurch into this thing without bringing with us what will probably be the majority of the countries of the world, it would be extremely unwise and very dangerous," he warned.

He told the Commons: "We fail to understand our own tendencies to be unable to do something with passionate moderation, our tendency to shift very, very quickly from dipping our toe in the water to being submerged up to our neck, to go from a no-fly zone into a troop deployment.

"And the final thing we misunderstand, and the reason we need to lift our eyes from Libya, is... the way that we are increasingly perceived in the Middle East after our interactions with Iraq and Afghanistan."

Former army officer Bob Stewart said: "We are in a race against time and we have got to move fast, but despite speed we still have to act morally and within a legal framework."

Shadow minister Stephen Twigg told the Commons there was no "one-size-fits-all" approach for the volatile region.

"These are very different countries with different histories, different political systems and different levels of development in their civil society," he said.

Winding up the debate, Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt said: "This country has persistently both publicly and privately, often quietly, made a case with many countries that although there maybe different roads to stability, the building blocks of democracy - freedom of expression, human rights, of some form of representative system to express opinion, of free trade, of peace with neighbours - all these are key factors.

"But equally, the strategy needs of the UK requires us to maintain relationships with many different types of government, not all of whom have recognised the fullest adherence to international obligations."

Mr Burt said the unfolding situations offered a chance to "reset relationships".

Watch part one of the debate here.


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