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Blair confronts war critics: I was right, and I still am

By Paul Waugh, Deputy Political Editor

06 March 2004

Tony Blair confronted his critics over the war on Iraq yesterday with a warning that he was prepared to launch similar pre-emptive strikes against rogue states and terrorists that threatened Britain and the world.

Revealing a new British doctrine that echoes the "total war" of President George Bush, the Prime Minister said he would never put the country at risk by not acting, even if that meant operating outside the UN.

Mr Blair called for reform of international law to allow states to intervene against brutal dictatorships and vowed to "wage war relentlessly" against those who sought to exploit religious hatreds to attack the West.

He conceded that the Government could not "move on" from the controversy over the war and that he should instead explain the new approach. Echoing Winston Churchill after the Battle of Britain, he said: "The war is not ended. It may only be at the beginning of the end of the first phase."

Speaking in his Sedgefield constituency, Mr Blair said that when confronted with terrorists it was clear that containment would not work. "Emphatically I am not saying that every situation leads to military action. But we surely have a duty and a right to prevent the threat materialising; and we surely have a responsibility to act when a nation's people are subjected to a regime such as Saddam's. Otherwise, we are powerless to fight the aggression and injustice which over time puts at risk our security and way of life."

Mr Blair accepted that a "sensible core" of his critics had legitimate concerns that Saddam posed no imminent threat. But he warned: "Here is where I feel so passionately that we are in mortal danger of mistaking the nature of the new world in which we live. This is not a time to err on the side of caution, not a time to weigh the risks to an infinite balance. It is monstrously premature to think the risk has passed."

Mr Blair described the 11 September attacks as a "revelation" that had proved to him the scale of the terrorist threat and the danger of rogue states such as Iraq developing weapons of mass destruction.

In a scathing assessment of the United Nations' failure to act against atrocities in Kosovo and elsewhere, he said that it was "strange that the UN is so reluctant to enforce" its own declaration on human rights. He was worried that the threat of terrorists bent on "Armageddon" would go unchallenged if the UN Security Council was paralysed by political disagreement.

Mr Blair said the future would see "a new type of war", in which leaders relied on intelligence to a far greater degree. Addressing critics of the government dossier on Iraqi WMD, he asked: "Would you prefer us to act, even if it turns out to be wrong? Or not to act and hope it's okay? And suppose we don't act and the intelligence turns out to be right, how forgiving do you think people will be?"

Mr Blair stressed that it would take more than military means to thwart the terrorists, saying that the "spread of our values" of freedom and tolerance was the only way to ensure lasting global peace.

The Prime Minister was accused by the Liberal Democrat leader, Charles Kennedy, of mixing the issues of global terrorism and Iraq to construct a justification for the war. Mr Kennedy said that "many people in this country would be very concerned" if the Prime Minister adopted President Bush's doctrine of pre-emptive attack.


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