Chris Patten in Chennai

(Excerpts from Chris Patten's talk in the Madras University on Conflict Prevention and Peace Building on November 27, 2003)

Let me conclude with a few words about Sri Lanka and my meeting with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) yesterday. I spent a lot of my career in British politics, as was said earlier, dealing with the problems of Northern Ireland and Irish terrorism. I've had to deal and negotiate during those years with people who had tried quite hard to kill me and had killed my friends. Two of my great political friends were murdered by the Irish Republican Army. I do think that therefore it is imperative that one should never ever fudge the distinction between the pursuit of political ends through the ballot box and the pursuit of political ends through semtex and kalashnikovs. There is an absolutely clear and unbridgeable divide. At the same time, as we know, most problems of conflict around the world are only dealt with successfully by addressing the political quarters, by trying to involve the parties to the conflict in serious negotiation, and in the beginnings of the comprehension of the importance of compromise. I made four points yesterday, in my discussions with the LTTE.

First of all, that the international community will have nothing but hostility and contempt for the LTTE unless it makes it abundantly plain that it has turned its back forever on terrorism and violence as a political tool. We don't want to engage in debates about the past. What we want to see is a happier and more stable future.

Secondly, I said that I hoped that they had not gone back on their commitments in Oslo and that any negotiated political settlement to the future of Sri Lanka had to be within a commitment to the territorial integrity of Sri Lanka. It has in other words to be a federal solution, not a divisive attack on Sri Lanka's sovereignty.

Thirdly, I insisted that the LTTE should stand by the commitments they had made as part of the ceasefire agreement - commitments on issues like child soldier, commitments on armaments, commitments on not assassinating political opponents and so on.

Finally, I underlined the importance of involving the Muslim community directly in the talks about the future of Sri Lanka.

I recognise that for everyone involved in the peace process in Colombo, it will take political courage to see things through to a successful completion. In any peace process there are always some difficult times, some difficult passages to negotiate and to get through, but I very much hope that those who have started the process in Sri Lanka will be prepared to see it through to the end. We want to help them. We've made considerable resources available for the reconstruction of the country and I only hope that I am called upon in the next few months to start writing the cheques. It is in some respect the easiest part of conflict prevention, but its not unimportant.

Q1. The peace process in Sri Lanka is only for the Tamils and the Sinhalese. Involving the Muslim community is only a delay tactics. Due you agree on that? What is your reaction on that?

I think the Muslim community has every right to be involved in the peace process and the peace talks. The Chairman of the Sri Lankan Muslim Council, with whom I had a good discussion was extremely convincing on that point. To have any hope in democracy every community has the right to be heard. Successful communities, as Indians are familiar with, ensure that no body feels like a minority.

Q2. What is the role of UN? In recent times, all UN resolutions on peace are in a way diluted or overlooked by the Super Powers. What is your position?

I think that Kofi Annan raised a fundamental question in his address in the General Assembly in September. He said that we must find a way of legitimising interventions. And the only way we can do it, in his view and in mine, is through ensuring that the UN and its rules, conventions and institutions are at the heart of the legitimisation process. So in my view, the reform of the United Nations Security Council, for which Kofi Annan has appointed a panel to advise him on, and the strengthening of the UN as an institution is absolutely crucial for tackling some of the problems which are going to dominate the first some years of the coming century. And I hope that in the European Union we will be able to develop a common approach to this challenge. Its not perhaps easy, because foreign security policy goes right to the heart of what it means to a nation state and there are two nation-states in the European Union which both have permanent seats in the Security Council. My own view is that the UN is imperfect, but it is imperfect because of us. It's the only UN we've got and we should do more to ensure that it can be effective.

Q3. Looking back, retrospectively, do you think in your opinion, the action taken by the Super Power in Iraq and the support given to it by the European Union was correct?

The European Union was completely split on the arguments for military intervention in Iraq and I don't find that surprising because so was public opinion in European Union. Overall, public opinion in Europe was hostile to intervention. In the last few years the notion of international law based on the Treaty of Westphalia and the integrity and sovereignty of nation states has been challenged, it has been challenged by the point that Kofi Annan made. We argue today, it is not just sovereign states that have rights but human beings and citizens of sovereign states who have rights. Secondly, it is argued that intervention should be possible where a state is threatening to manufacture in a dangerous way or proliferate or use weapons of mass destruction. And thirdly, it is argued that a state should be able to intervene in the affairs of another state, where that state is using non-state actors such as terrorist organizations to threaten other states. All those issues in a sense came together in the case of Iraq. And if you add to that another factor namely the relationship which all of us have with the world's only super power, it easily explains the complexity and the drama of the problems surrounding Iraq. And I think it is difficult to look back on the justification for intervention and argue that we were all told the unvarnished truth. I am choosing my words with huge diplomatic care. I think a lot of mistakes have been made. We all have to face up to the consequences and the decision that we've taken in the European Union. The fact that had united us is that it is in all our interest to try and ensure that in Iraq we establish an open, prosperous, and stable, democratic society. If Iraq in a year or two's time is still a magnet for terrorists, if it is a focus for instability in the region, if it results in substantial clashes between Sunnis and Shias and Kurds, we will all suffer and suffer very substantially. It is a matter of particular interest to us. Turkey is attempting to become a member of the European Union, and if Turkey is a member of the European Union, Iraq would be our next door neighbour. So we all, whatever we think about the arguments for the war, we all have an interest in trying to ensure that the peace produces a stable Iraq.

Q4. What did you say to the Sri Lankan government on peace talks because we are used to the things about what you said to the LTTE? We want to know the other side? And the second question is, in the Iraq issue European Union was divided. Italy and Spain, run by right wing governments supported the Americans. France and Germany did not support. Is it ever possible for the European Union to portray itself as a cohesive single entity in terms of defence or foreign affairs or economic issues?

My main discussion with the Sri Lankan government was the importance of having cross party support in the peace process. One of the things which eventually helped us to complete the Belfast agreement, the peace process in northern Ireland, was that both parties by and large over the years gave their whole hearted support despite the ups and downs, despite the problems, despite some of the extremely difficult political choices that had to be made. I think it is very important that when there is a matter which is so fundamental to the national interest, the parties should agree to it at the same time rather than as it were in sequence, because when in power or out of power, their views some times change. So I very much hope that there will be cross party consensus support for the peace process in Sri Lanka.

In my view, foreign policy and security policy are much more a reflection of national sovereignty and national interest than currencies. However important they may be people aren't on the whole prepared to risk their lives for adjustments in interest rates. They are prepared to die and will fight for fundamental issues of foreign and security policy. By and large, we have actually managed to develop more coherence in foreign policy in the last four or five years than ever before. I mentioned the success we've seen in the Balkans. In the 1990s Europe was completely divided over the Balkans. Some countries thought that we should try to prevent the dismemberment of Yugoslavia; some countries thought that we should try to manage the dismemberment of Yugoslavia; some other countries thought that we shouldn't bother ourselves with the subject at all. And the result was calamitous. So we've learnt from that experience. We've been much better at keeping our coherence in the Middle East and our other relationships but Iraq has shown our limits, the limits of sovereignty sharing in foreign policy.

Q5. For conflict prevention there should be a vision and a strategy. You mentioned the number of pieces of the jigsaw puzzle but did not put the pieces together, in my judgement. To my mind a coherent strategy for conflict prevention should consist of the following four important elements. 1. Accepting the primacy and supremacy of the United Nations as the arbiter with regard to any contentious issue that arise. There should be no compromise on this. 2. For instance, regarding the ban on arms sale, you mentioned about African countries. You would readily agree that many of the situations that have arisen in developing countries especially in Africa, is because of the unscrupulous, unprincipled trade in arms. So a ban on arms sale could be a very important element of this strategy. 3. Ostracizing persons who do not play pals with regard to these matters. I am not going to mention Pakistan as part of an India-Pakistan hostile environment, but we put blinkers on situations such as in Pakistan where a government is deliberately bypassing decisions by encouraging local terrorist groups and we are putting on blinkers. Same thing with regard to the LTTE. By your visit, if I may say so we have legitimised people who have created conflict. So the third element may be ostracizing without any mercy of people who deal in these matters. And finally, this dangerous proposition that sovereignty has become stale and obsolete, I think we must respect sovereignty. I would even go so far as to say that if we have no right to pass judgement on whether a country is behaving or not behaving, whether human rights are being respected or not being respected, I think in the matter of sovereignty the ancient principle, to me, still holds good, and there must be universal respect for sovereignty.

Well I think if I may say so there is an inherent and rather substantial contradiction in what you are saying. I don't see how you can on the one hand say that one must accept the primacy of the UN and of UN authority and on the other hand say that you should never question national sovereignty. I actually think, and think very strongly, that sovereignty defined in a nineteenth century way as though it was a sort of great monument, which international lawyers crept up to and vandalized at night stealing a bit here and bit there. I think that's a very out of day way of looking at it. The notion is, if I may make the point in a biological way, I don't accept either that sovereignty is like virginity. Its there for one moment and gone for all time the next. I think very often you extend your sovereignty by agreeing to share it. And I know of no way in which we can promote greater cooperation in dealing with global problems other than by sharing sovereignty and other than by recognising that sometimes the national interest is best pursued by sharing responsibility with others, which is what I meant about a post-modern state.

How can you have a ban on small arms without disrupting a country's sovereign right to make what it wants and to sell what it wants. When we actually tried to ban or reach agreement on an international covenant on small arms, which is important, making the sale of them transparent and preventing the sale of them to anyone but a legitimate sovereign government. When we tried to do that, the American negotiator, Mr. John Bolton, withdrew from the talks on the grounds that the agreement would undermine an American's constitutional right to bear arms. So we respected American sovereignty and we did'nt have an agreement.

On ostracism, I am certainly very attracted by the idea that we should make things like visa bans really effective sometimes. We have visa bans on officials in Myanmar, we have visa bans on officials in Zimbabwe. But there is a general agreement that where those officials are travelling for international conferences they should still be able to have their visas to do so. But total ostracism, I have to say it if we had total ostracism of Jerry Adams and Martin McGuinness in Northern Ireland we'd never had our peace process, and we'd still have bombs going off in Belfast and Birmingham. So while I am totally ever opposed for fudging the distinction between the use of the ballot box and using violence for political purposes, I think you sometimes have to talk to people who use violence.

Q6. Even if the LTTE comes forward for a peaceful resolution in a federal set up will the government in Sri Lanka, any government, will they be able to contain the Sinhalese groups which are equally militant. I am drawing your attention to the Janata Vimukthi Perumana (JVP). What will be the position of the government in Sri Lanka if JVP doesn't come out of their underground tactics and violence? What is your opinion?

It was a point I made to the LTTE. At the end of the day any settlement that is negotiated has to be acceptable to the people of the rest of Sri Lanka and the government in Colombo has to be able to carry public opinion. At the moment most of the polls suggest that the overwhelming majority are in favour of a negotiated settlement. But the contents of that settlement will have to be those that can be sold successfully to the public opinion and there may well be extremists on both sides who will resist any sort of settlement. But if there isn't a settlement, if we see a return to violence, the main sufferers will be the innocents of Sri Lanka and not just directly because of the loss of lives but indirectly because of the lack of opportunity.

Q7. In the light of not using violence to achieve one's ends does the European Union have a single policy on human rights, human rights violations particularly, and more particularly about what is happening in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba?

We have a single policy on human rights and have a human rights clause in our agreements. Do we have a single policy on Guantanamo Bay? No. There are different countries in Europe which have their own citizens locked up in Guantanamo Bay. I very much hope that the Supreme Court will come to the conclusion that if you have responsibility for a part of the world, then the jurisdiction of your own country should apply to it as well. And the so called Pratt Amendment, I am going to the beginning of the last century, seems to me to create an extraordinary situation in Guantanamo Bay in which people are held out with that law. A simple answer to your question is yes in the first place. But no in the second. It doesn't mean that we don't actually raise the issue. We do raise, slightly to their surprise sometimes, human rights issues with our American friends. And we regularly raise the use of capital punishments in the US in our bilateral meetings.

Q8. Are you aware that the Sri Lankan constitution has got a kink in its apex, to the extent that of the two parties which you are trying to negotiate between, one of them doesn't have a chance at any time to become the President or Prime Minister. In such a case do you think a lasting peace can be achieved by one of the contracting parties or is it going to be only a temporary affair?

Well. I tried more or less successfully not to get drawn into the details of the discussion which will have to take place, if there is to be a constitutional settlement. And I also tried to avoid getting sucked into a role which in my view the Norwegians have played extremely well as facilitators of the peace process. But if there is a settlement it'll have to be a settlement in which both of the parties to this bitter dispute feel that their fundamental interests have been fairly treated. And it will have to be a settlement which at the end of the day will result in everybody being able to vote for their elected representatives. And they should be able to vote for representatives even if they are different from those who have helped to produce the settlement.

Q9. It is very interesting to listen to your proactive measures to prevent conflicts. May I know the European Union stand on terrorism encouraged against India?

I am against terrorism when it is used against anyone. When I was last in Pakistan, and when I more recently met the Foreign Minister of Pakistan, I raised our concerns about infiltration over the Line of Control. I raised our concerns when I was in Pakistan last year about training camps in Pakistan. These are issues that we have raised consistently and more vigorously. I also raised them with Gen. Musharraf.

Q10. I have three observations. 1. I for one would seriously hope that there is some kind of firm redefining of a consistent and cohesive European Union foreign policy with regard to giving asylum to those who have networks or connections with insurgent or terrorist groups in their homeland. We have Khalistani terrorists and LTTE bigwigs in different countries of the European Union, sitting there for years, developing their own networks there and creating a convenient environment for raising funds and sending it abroad to these groups. And this has been done with the full knowledge of the respective governments of those countries. 2. We had Stephen Cohen here last month. We said that every reason that you are all citing, we don't agree with the invasion of Iraq at all. Every reason that you have cited with regard to Iraq, is a clumsy case for Pakistan, a clumsy case but Stephen Cohen told us you cannot deal with Pakistan the way we dealt with Iraq, because Pakistan is a nuclear state. Now if you are going to give that as a reason, tell me one good reason why any country would not go in for weaponising. And if this is going to be stated openly, every country is going to attempt to nuclearise its military. 3. I have no more faith in United Nations as it is now than I have in American good intentions when it wants to intervene on humanitarian grounds. The United Nations, if it is going to intervene now, is still extending the white man's burden, until the Security Council is reformed, because much more than the invasion it was the United Nations which was criminally responsible for the humanitarian tragedy in Iraq. 12 years of sanctions which didn't affect Saddam Hussein one bit but which destroyed the nation. If this is the track record of the United Nations I have no more faith in United Nations than I have in American good intentions.

Let me deal with those points briefly. The first concerns asylum. There is an international covenant on asylum which European countries seek to apply. There is the rule of law in each of our countries. And we have, in my own country for instance, put a number of organizations on black list including the LTTE. We found ourselves again and again challenged in our own courts about these decisions and taken to the European courts about these decisions. Now is this always convenient? Is it always comfortable for our national government? No, it isn't. Is it the rule of law? Yes, it is. And is it what that distinguishes between a plural open society and an authoritarian society? Yes, it is. Would I prefer to live in an authoritarian society? No, I wouldn't. And while I may agree with you about a more discriminating attitude to asylum, I certainly wouldn't agree with you that we should ignore international rules or national laws in doing that. Secondly, it would be as unwise as it would be provocative throughout south Asia for me to get drawn into a debate about India and Pakistan. We are regularly told and I understand this, that India does not want the involvement of the international community. But we hope that the recent confidence building measures by the Prime Minister will help to build the confidence and will help to ensure a peaceful resolution, not least in Jammu and Kashmir. I have absolutely no time for the covert support of terrorism. I have no time, as I said earlier, for the use of terrorist groups by a state for its own purposes. And I can't be more explicit than that. On the UN's role in Iraq, I wish that there hadn't been twelve years of sanctions on Iraq. There were twelve years of sanctions on Iraq, because Saddam Hussein refused to comply with the agreements that he reached after he was expelled from Kuwait. Was it the UN that marched into Kuwait? Was it the UN that involved itself in the most spectacular breach of sovereignty in Kuwait? Should we have allowed Iraq to stay there? Should we have allowed Iraq when it was expelled and to then break the agreements it had reached in order to end the war? Would that have been sensible and wise? Would it have been sensible and wise for us not to have tried through UN inspection to prevent the manufacture the weapons of mass destruction? If there are no weapons of mass destruction found in Iraq, I happen to think myself, that is partly because of the UN and UN weapons inspectors. So if you want to live in a world in which there are no attempts to create international rules and to implement those rules, if you want to live in a world in which it's a question of dog-eat- dog in a Hobbesian state of nature, then good luck, it is not a world I want to inhabit.

Compiled by R. Venkataramanujam