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2.47 pm

Mr. David Atkinson (Bournemouth, East): I shall confine my remarks to the missile defence of Europe. My qualification for doing so is as the rapporteur on transatlantic co-operation on ballistic missile defence for the Western European Union Assembly, which unanimously adopted my second report on the subject during its December 1997 part-session. Both my reports warned that Europe was defenceless against ballistic missile attacks. That remains true.

Since then, we have had the outcome of the Government's strategic defence review. To echo the Secretary of State, it concluded that the risk to Britain from ballistic missiles of nations of concern was many years off, that we should continue to monitor the position and that we should remain in close touch with our allies. I find that complacent and alarming. As I shall explain, it contradicts the policy now adopted by the American Congress through its Missile Defence Act, which President Clinton is expected to sign into law soon.

We in western Europe have every reason to be sensitive to the need for missile defence. There has been a missile threat to Europe ever since the first cruise missile, the V1, and the first ballistic missile, the V2, were developed more than 50 years ago. In all, more than 4,300 V2s were fired and they had a disproportionate political, economic and psychological effect because of the helplessness of our air defences.

Today, such missile technology is more easily obtained than ever and has been used many times in recent years. We in Britain will never forget that two of our ships were sunk by Exocets during the Falklands war. In 1986, Italy was shaken by a Libyan missile that struck the island of Lampedusa. Beyond Europe, during one phase of the Iran-Iraq war, Iraq rained missiles on Teheran and other cities. During the Gulf war, Saddam Hussein used his strongest card to attack Israeli towns and an American base in Saudi Arabia with Scud missiles.

In March 1997, China fired four ballistic missiles into the sea near Taiwan during its presidential elections. That did not intimidate the voters, but it caused Lloyd's of

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London to refuse to insure any ship going to Taiwan, which damaged its economy and that of Japan. Last year, a North Korean Taepo-Dong 1 missile overflew Japan. Today, India and Pakistan are proliferating their missile capabilities, with warheads to match.

Those are recent events which we should not ignore. Missiles have been used to destroy, to threaten and to intimidate. They can affect whole economies and impact on foreign policies. Today, a growing number of third world Governments are buying or developing missiles. Such missiles are easier to man and cheaper to acquire than squadrons of fighter aircraft.

According to Lancaster university, 35 non-NATO countries have ballistic missiles, 18 of which are capable of installing nuclear, biological, chemical or radiological warheads on them. Lancaster university also estimates that 67 non-NATO countries possess cruise missiles. So any future western rapid reaction force in an out-of-area operation now needs far greater protection than was provided during Desert Storm.

Two years ago, as the new Labour Government embarked upon their defence review, it had long been appreciated that the greatest potential menace were the five rogue regimes, some of which have helped each other's missile programmes--Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria and North Korea. Fired from Libya, North Korean No-Dong missiles with a range of 700 miles would threaten southern Europe, while its Taepo-Dong two-stage rockets, which it is developing, would threaten all the capitals of Europe. Despite all this, the Government's strategic defence review concluded that the risks to Britain from ballistic missiles were many years off.

Since that conclusion was reached, the American Congress has responded to three reports. The Rumsfield commission report last year said that the USA and Europe could be facing a substantial threat by 2010, an assessment which some believe has already been overtaken by recent missile developments in the third world. This year's national intelligence estimate of the CIA concludes that any country, regardless of its missile development experience, could field an intercontinental ballistic missile by 2015. Two weeks ago, the bipartisan committee chaired by Congressman Cox reported that China had spent the past 40 years stealing from the United States nuclear technology which it has spread to unstable regimes around the world, including those close enough to attack Britain and Europe with ballistic missiles.

It was in anticipation of the Cox report that the Clinton Administration withdrew its opposition to a Bill to build a missile defence shield against nuclear attack. It received an overwhelming 67:3 majority in the Senate, and a 3:1 vote in the House of Representatives. So, if the United States now plans to defend itself in this way, why not Europe, and why not the United Kingdom?

When the WEU Assembly debated my report on 3 December 1997, we expressed concern at the rate at which the threat to Europe appears to be accelerating and the length of time that it would take to develop an effective ballistic missile defence shield. We noted that there had been no progress whatever in developing European early warning and anti-missile defence systems. We passed unanimously recommendation 621, which urged our Council of Ministers to pursue with far greater urgency the development of a common anti-ballistic missile defence system, and European Governments to

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provide the budget necessary; to carry out a specifically European study of the architecture of anti-missile defence systems foreseeable in the short, medium and long term for the coverage of the continent; and to examine the possibility of co-operation with Russia over anti-missile defence.

In its reply, the Council noted that European nations were participating actively in NATO studies on extended air defence and to develop plans for theatre ballistic missile defence. That was presumably a reference to the new NATO air command and central systems which, in principle, will give Europe an initial capability to defend itself against ballistic missile attack. However, in practice, according to Jane's Defence Weekly of 28 April this year, there are no cohesive efforts under way to develop anti-missile defence for Europe.

In Europe today--unlike in the American Congress--there is no sense of urgency to respond to an accelerating threat, and about the time that it would take to respond to that threat. That complacency is now contrary to the new approach adopted by the United States. In the light of that, I urge the Government to review their review on missile defence. I hope that the Minister of State will respond to those concerns in his reply, and assure the House that the ballistic missile defence of Europe will be in place before new threats emerge.

2.56 pm

Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead): The Select Committee on Defence, of which I am a member, recently published its report on the future of NATO. There is an important case for reform of NATO. It has been somewhat overshadowed by the situation in Kosovo, but we must come back to it, especially in relation to nuclear weapons, and this debate is a good opportunity to do so.

I successfully pressed for a number of amendments to the report, which I shall run through briefly for the House. One of them called for an improvement in NATO's links with humanitarian aid agencies and for them to work together in peace support operations. Following events in Kosovo, that is now very relevant. My amendments also called for NATO member states properly to respect human rights in their own countries, and to maintain stable democracies and civilian control over their militaries.

The amended report urged restraint on NATO's out-of-area operations where there was no direct threat to NATO's interests; called on NATO to respect United Nations philosophy and ensure that any operation that it undertook was legitimate under international law; called for a strengthening of the role of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe to allow it to play a fuller part in crisis prevention and management as well as post-conflict reconciliation; contained a welcome for the French formally to re-enter NATO's integrated military system whenever they felt prepared to do so; and called for a strengthening of security co-operation between Russia and NATO, including the European countries of NATO, so that Russia was co-opted into collective security rather than adopting a narrow nationalism. The report made many recommendations in relation to Russia, such as that Russia should help its former military officers to set up small businesses. It expressed concern about anti-semitism in Russia.

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I also successfully made amendments to the report concerning nuclear weapons--an issue on which I wish to concentrate most of my speech. The report called for early unconditional ratification by Russia of the START 2 nuclear disarmament treaty and rapid commencement of negotiations on a START 3 treaty between Russia, the United States and other NATO countries with nuclear weapons.

We pay tribute to Ukraine for abandoning its nuclear weapons and call for support for it in dealing with the problems of Chernobyl. We call for a new mission even-handedly to promote non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and counter-proliferation objectives. We call for restraint to avoid a new path of nuclearisation. We warn that that could happen if the United States decided to contravene the anti-ballistic missile treaty. That warning relates directly to what the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson) has just said. We would be on a most dangerous path to nuclear proliferation if we went for a so-called ballistic defence approach, which would only increase the pace of a new nuclear arms race. We must, therefore, restrain ourselves--as, it is to be hoped, will the United States--from breaking the existing treaty.

I also ensured that the report gave a proper explanation of the rationale for a policy of no first use of nuclear weapons. Ambassador Thomas Graham, the leader of the US delegation to the non-proliferation treaty talks four years ago, put that rationale to the Committee. He said that the world urgently needs to lower the political importance of nuclear weapons and that only the nuclear powers could do that. A first-use policy increases the perceived political importance of nuclear weapons and encourages nuclear proliferation.

Such a political approach is important in states other than those which already hold nuclear weapons, because they might develop nuclear weapons for the same reasons that we developed them. For example, India and Pakistan already give the same reasons as us for having adopted those weapons. That logic could apply to other countries.

In his evidence to the Committee, the Secretary of State referred to the new definition of deterrence when he said that uncertainty equals stability. That seems to be the new creed. However, it encourages proliferation in other states not only of nuclear weapons but of other weapons of mass destruction. Those states could claim that such weapons create uncertainty and, therefore, stability. That is not a good creed.

Ambassador Graham made a further point in relation to the argument about the political importance of nuclear weapons. He said that, at present, Russia puts a heavy emphasis on the first use of nuclear weapons, especially as its conventional forces have withered. We need to move the Russians away from that policy, but they will not even begin to move while we maintain the first-use approach. Ambassador Graham pointed out that nuclear weapons do not offer a proportional response to a non-nuclear attack--for example, one using biological or chemical weapons. Those are weapons of mass destruction, but such destruction would be significantly less than if nuclear weapons were used. The ambassador noted that, under international law, there is a doctrine of belligerent response and that international commitments are waived once there have been such attacks. His view was that a first-use policy is unnecessary and counter-productive.

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At the Select Committee meeting on 17 February, I put that view to the Secretary of State, who responded with two arguments. First, he said that nuclear weapons

Secondly, he said that a no-first-use policy could lead the other side

    "to take actions in a conventional sense or in an asymmetric sense, (in a chemical or biological context), which would allow them to take risks knowing that there was to be no penalty for doing that."

Those are crucial arguments.

I have already pointed out that such approaches apply to other countries as well and are a driver for proliferation. First use cannot be regarded as a last resort, nor is it a matter of national survival. As Ambassador Graham said, it is not a proportional response--even to chemical or biological weapons. However deadly those weapons may be, they do not threaten national survival. In any case, they are covered by the belligerent-response provision in the international arrangements. If we take the approach of getting in first, that is immensely dangerous; it is the attitude of a Dr. Strangelove.

There seems to be a fear of a massive first strike, but that would be phenomenally risky, whoever undertook it--whether or not there was a first-use policy. Theoretically, it could happen in either case. Getting in first is more likely if there are huge arsenals of nuclear weapons, mistrust and first-use policies on both sides. A no-first-use policy would make that less likely, because it would put pressure on other countries, such as Russia, to agree to the same policy.

In relation to the Secretary of State's point that countries could use asymmetrical weapons--chemical and biological weapons--without penalty, there is indeed a penalty. We have only to consider Iraq to see that there is an enormous penalty for that country's flirtation with chemical weapons. Iraq is suffering a phenomenally heavy penalty and that fact will not be lost on other countries. The belligerent-response doctrine also applies in that case. A no-first-use policy would help to ensure that everyone signed up to internationally agreed treaties on chemical and biological weapons, with proper inspection. As Ambassador Graham pointed out, first-use policies make that much harder to achieve. We need to lessen the political importance of nuclear weapons, but the UK Government and other NATO Governments appear to have no strategy for doing so.

In its response to the strategic defence review report, the Select Committee noted:

The Government's response to the Select Committee on 19 May was the same, word for word, as that given by NATO in its press communique, "The Alliance's Strategic Concept", NAC-S(99)65; clearly, it must have been written by British civil servants at the Ministry of Defence. The communique stated:

    "The fundamental purpose of the nuclear forces of the Allies is political: to preserve peace and prevent coercion and any kind of war."

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    It continued:

    "They demonstrate that aggression of any kind is not a rational option."

That was said at the Washington summit--presumably thanks to those British civil servants. Well, tell that to the Serbs; nuclear weapons certainly did not put them off aggression. That shows how poorly thought-out is our whole current approach to nuclear weapons.

We received an assurance from the Secretary of State that he would consider the meaning of that sub-strategic role. It means lowering the threshold--that nuclear weapons might be used. However, the Secretary of State came up with an answer:

What a strategy that is--one in which there can somehow be light use of nuclear weapons. That seems to be a contradiction. That strategy--the sub-strategic use of nuclear weapons--is to be used against another nuclear weapons state. Let us turn it around: if someone dropped light sub-strategic nuclear weapons for us for the same reason--to deter us from aggression--what would our response be? Would we accept it, or would a nuclear exchange be likely? That shows how ill-thought-out the policy is. Even if the circumstances are truly extreme, why not have a no-first-use policy? We cannot use nuclear weapons sub-strategically as the Government pretend. For example, can India and Pakistan use nuclear weapons sub-strategically?

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