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We Are All United in Shock and Grief

We Are All United in Shock and Grief

Statement by British Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, to the House of Commons, Friday 14 September 2001. Source: FCO, London.

Mr Speaker, we are all united in shock and grief at the events in the United States on Tuesday morning.

By their very scale and inhumanity, they have touched every one of us – in Britain, America, Europe, the Commonwealth, the United Nations, across the whole of the civilised world.

Today, as so many times before in our shared history, we find ourselves in complete solidarity with our friends and allies in the United States. Our peoples are inextricably bound together by close ties of family, friendship, language, culture and, above all, values.

And we all remember that this country’s freedom, and Europe’s freedom, which so often we take for granted, would not exist today without the direct support which the United States gave us twice in the space of 25 years. And the close interconnection between our two societies has been tragically underscored by the large number of British casualties.

Many Rt Hon and Hon members present will know of homes in their constituencies where families wait, with fading hope, for news of their loved ones. I am sure I speak for the whole House when I pay tribute to the work of the emergency services in New York and Washington, who are, even now, trying to save lives and lost theirs. And we honour the memory of those who have already given their lives in doing so.

British Casualties

We have no certainty at this stage about the exact identity or total number of British casualties. But, as I have already said, it is likely to run to hundreds. However, with a catastrophe on this scale, it is crucial not to diminish individual tragedies behind the awful figures.

I have tried to imagine the intense agony of the thousands of people who still wait to hear the fate of their loved ones. We too are frustrated that, as yet, there is so little information to give.

We all understand the reasons why this is so.

But I can assure the House that the government is doing everything possible to get information to families as soon as we can.

Our crisis unit in London, run from New Scotland Yard, being staffed 24 hours a day, has dealt with thousands of calls reporting people missing or safe. And our diplomatic posts in the United States have also had response units working day and night.

A crisis centre set up at our consulate-general in New York is taking calls and contacting companies with offices in the World Trade Center, and is passing on all information on British nationals to our staff in London.

There is one other matter which I shall touch on briefly. There may be some injured UK citizens in the United States with no medical insurance to pay for treatment for their injuries. Given the exceptional nature of the circumstances, the Secretary of State for Health and I have agreed that the government will bear their hospital costs. We are already working on arrangements for the repatriation of bodies and for flights for relatives to go to the US.

Attacks that have changed the World

Mr Speaker, these attacks have shocked the world. They have also changed the world.

This massive tragedy is an event of huge and almost unparalleled historical significance. Comparisons have been made with the attack on Pearl Harbour.

But unlike Pearl Harbour, Tuesday’s attacks were directed against thousands of unarmed, innocent civilians, and against the very heart of the United States. And they were launched by an enemy who remains unseen.

It is plainly too soon to come to firm conclusions about the consequences of these acts for the global order.

But I want to say this: history has presented us with such decisive moments before. Over the last two centuries, each time a conflict has ended, people have come together to try to ensure that the last war really would be the last war.

After the First World War, the US President Woodrow Wilson worked for a new world order to try to establish a lasting peace. Yet within a generation, the world was again at war.

The structure set in place after 1945 has in every respect been more successful in preventing global conflict for half a century. But these structures – political, military and legal – were laid down to deal with the last threat, of war between states. Our challenge now is to make sure they are equal to this and the next threat.

And in considering the approach we now take, we would do well this week to draw lessons from the experience of the 1930s. Our predecessors then were so desperate to avoid further military action that they made a huge, if understandable, mistake. They thought they were dealing with adversaries who shared with them the same values, basic rules and assumptions about how humans, even in conflict and war, should behave towards one another.

It was not until too late that our predecessors realised that the aggressors were in the grip of a sort of collective political psychosis: that these people did not accept norms and decencies which the rest of us took for granted. We all know the consequences of what followed.

We have to acknowledge that the people who plotted, organised and carried out these attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania on Tuesday were not people who accept any of the rules or values that we in the rest of the world would recognise.

They have no respect, however minimal, for human life – not even for their own lives.

Responding to events

Mr Speaker, there has to be a response to this. My RHF the Prime Minister in his statement made clear that, rightly, the US is proceeding with deliberation and care. Equally, to turn the other cheek would not appease the terrorists, but would lead to a still greater danger.

We need to acknowledge this overwhelming, if dismal, truth, if we are to prepare ourselves and our societies in the months and years ahead for the possibility, unpalatable as it may be, of further attacks.

This is not a conflict where nation state is pitted against nation state. This is a deliberate act of war, by calculating groups who are outside states, against the rest of the civilised world. Indeed, the rise of the warlord, and the terrorist funded by conflict, drugs and other criminal activity, is one of the growing threats which have faced the world, particularly since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

NATO has recognised the unprecedented nature of this threat. For the first time in the history of the Alliance, it has invoked Article 5 of the Washington Treaty, which states that an armed attack against one or more of the allies in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all.

There is no clearer signal we could send to the perpetrators of these attacks than that they face a determined and united response by the international community.

But in many ways the unanimous decision on Wednesday by the United Nations Security Council was more important still. The Council resolved that those not only directly responsible for what happened at the World Trade Centre but also those indirectly responsible – ‘aiding, supporting or harbouring the perpetrators, organisers or sponsors of these acts’ – will be held accountable. And the Council expressed its readiness to take ‘all necessary steps’ to respond to the terrorist acts and to combat all forms of terrorism. The whole of the international community is united.

Developing our defences

Of course, Mr Speaker, we have to develop our defences against a repeat or copycat attack. It would be deeply irresponsible not to do so.

But we also need to focus our attention on where the next threat to our collective security will come from.

It should by now be obvious to everyone that people who have the fanaticism and the capability to fly an airliner laden with passengers into a skyscraper will not be deterred by human decency from deploying chemical or biological weapons, missiles, nuclear weapons or other forms of mass destruction if these are available to them.

We have to redouble our efforts to stop the proliferation of such weapons.

And at the same time we have to intensify our traditional methods of diplomacy to bring some good out of this evil. We must not be deflected from our attempts to resolve conflicts, defuse tensions and work for peace in the troubled regions of the world, whether this be the Balkans, Middle East or elsewhere. The terrorists want all these efforts to fail.

But it is no longer tolerable that any states should harbour or give succour to terrorists. The international community must unite as never before to take determined, collective action against the threat that failing and failed states pose to global security.

Nor can we any longer allow the borders between democratic nations, and the gaps between our respective jurisdictions, to be exploited so ruthlessly in courts of law by those who reject the rule of law.

With my European Union colleagues I have this week agreed the first steps towards a common policy on terrorism. We need to consider what further action we can take collectively on issues like extradition, proscribing terrorist organisations as we have in the UK, and thwarting the planning and funding of terrorist operations.

Terrorists operate without regard for borders. The fight against terrorism therefore needs to be a global one. Only a true coalition of the civilised world offers a real chance of cutting out this cancer.

As we construct this coalition, we will include the Islamic world. No one should be in any doubt: these acts of mass murder have nothing to do with the Islamic faith. As the Muslim Council of Britain said in its strong condemnation of the atrocities, ‘These are senseless and evil acts that appal all people of conscience’.


Mr Speaker, we admire the calm determination and dignity with which America’s leaders and the American people have reacted to this calamity. And we have offered them our full backing for their efforts to hunt down and hold to account the terrorists and those who harbour them.

There must be no refuge.

These were not just attacks on the United States. They were attacks on humanity, on civilisation, on us all.

The terrorists who struck on Tuesday have exploited what they see as the great weakness of democratic societies - freedom. But, in truth, freedom is our greatest strength.

Terrorism is ultimately self-defeating. We must channel the rage and revulsion which we feel today to make intelligent decisions in order to ensure the triumph of the civilised values on which this House is founded. From this catastrophe, the United States and the free world will emerge stronger.


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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).