Nick Clegg’s Blog


Statement: Afghanistan
13 July, 2009, 4:03 pm
Filed under: Inside Westminster, Statements

Government Strategy in Afghanistan Over-Ambitious and Under-Resourced
13th July 2009

Nick Clegg, Leader of the Liberal Democrats today responded to Gordon Brown’s Parliamentary Statement on the war in Afghanistan and last week’s G8 Summit. Describing the Government’s strategy in Afghanistan as ‘over-ambitious and under-resourced’, Nick Clegg called for extra helicopters to be sent to support the troops on the ground.

Nick Clegg said: “I believe the British people are resilient and understand the sacrifices that are inevitable in conflict – so long as the purpose of that conflict is clearly explained and understood.

But how can people understand the true nature of this war when the Government has refused to explain what the achievable aims of this mission really are?

For the last eight years, the Government has been sending mixed messages about the nature and purpose of this deployment. In the last week, we have had the Prime Minister and the Defence Secretary giving different justifications for this war.

We on these benches support the Afghan mission in order to stabilise Afghanistan and reduce the threat of terrorism to British citizens. But we need to be very clear about the limits of what we can achieve: military action may be able to contain problems, but not resolve them.

We have learnt some difficult lessons in the last eight years. We have learnt that our forces were not in a position to secure Helmand alone, given the chronic shortages of equipment and manpower.

And we have learnt that, because of the nature of Afghan tribal society, we must not overreach ourselves by trying to import overnight a western-style liberal democracy in a country that’s never had a functioning central government.

Does the Prime Minister now accept that, at best, what we can do is stabilise Afghanistan, to provide a space for the state to grow?

And so does he see that, since our troops first stepped into Afghanistan, the Government strategy has been over-ambitious in aim and under-resourced in practice?

Isn’t it time to commit the necessary resources, and set a reasonable goal? When exactly will the Prime Minister find a way to send the desperately-needed helicopters to our troops on the ground? And when will he seek full co-ordination of the international political strategy in Afghanistan?

Does he recognise that, as military commanders themselves argue, military intervention can only ever be part of the solution?

It must, to be effective, take place in the context of a much more forcefully coordinated political strategy.

We know that President Karzai vetoed the appointment of a single, strong political figure to coordinate the international strategy in Afghanistan. So will the Prime Minister now prevail upon President Karzai or his successor to reverse this decision and accept the appointment of a single senior figure to bring together the piecemeal strategies of the international community?

Finally, Mr Speaker, I’d like to turn to the G8 Summit conclusions on nuclear non-proliferation. It is clear that conflicts like Afghanistan are likely to dominate in the coming years, rather than the old state-to-state conflicts of the Cold War era.

So I welcome the position taken at the G8 on nuclear non-proliferation and the strong line taken regarding the 2010 talks. But does the Prime Minister not agree that rushing to commit Britain to like-for-like replacement of the Cold War-era Trident system hardly puts Britain at the forefront of such efforts?

Isn’t it time to admit we do not need, nor can we afford, Trident, and start to look properly at the alternatives, so we can commit the resources needed for modern, asymmetric warfare like in Afghanistan?”

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