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Sir John Stanley (Tonbridge and Malling): Like other right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken, I shall speak mainly about national missile defence--but before doing so, I shall make some observations about the wider international arms control scene, which is an essential backcloth to responsible decisions on NMD.

At the outset of the Committee's inquiry, I asked the experts a question that I have asked over many years: did they judge that the international community was winning or losing the battle to establish an effective system of verifiable and enforceable arms control worldwide that covers weapons of mass destruction? The answers that we received were, as always, mixed.

There were the relative optimists, who could point to the fact that in recent years we have managed to conclude the comprehensive test ban treaty; that since the end of the cold war we have brought about a major reduction in the nuclear arsenals of the two big nuclear powers, Russia and the United States; that we have concluded the chemical weapons convention; that the various non- proliferation regimes have been strengthened; and that we have made some progress, at least procedurally, and albeit at a snail's pace, towards the critically important verification regime under the biological weapons convention, which is so urgently needed, as the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) rightly said.

If those are the plus points on the more optimistic side of the scale, there are equally formidable points on the pessimistic side. Some countries have signed and ratified the important arms control conventions, but some potentially dangerous countries have not done so. Some potentially dangerous countries have signed up to certain treaties, but there are reasonable and possibly strong grounds for doubting whether they will comply with their provisions.

Moreover, proliferation of nuclear materials, of components for nuclear weapons, and of guidance systems and delivery systems, is widely reported, and supported evidentially. Scientists and technicians are lured away, often for understandable financial reasons, to work in countries where they are well paid for their skills and expertise in weapons of mass destruction.

The number of nuclear weapons states has continued to expand slowly but remorselessly--most conspicuously, more recently, in the Indian sub-continent.

Finally, I suppose, there is the age-old truth about arms control--that arms are not dangerous, only the people who possess them. Today, there is a small minority of people--as there has been through the ages, and will always be--who act outside the normal boundaries of morality, compassion and humanity. Such people are prepared to cause loss of life, possibly on a prodigious scale.

When I weigh the optimistic factors against the pessimistic ones, I regret to say that I conclude that we are losing the battle to create a worldwide system of enforceable arms control for weapons of mass destruction. That is the sobering background to the question of national missile defence.

I have no problem with the concept of NMD. It is a purely defensive system, and any country is entitled to safeguard its national integrity with defensive weapons. The system represents no offensive threat to other states.

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I will have no difficulty, either, if the United States Government decide to spend what will no doubt be billions of dollars of American taxpayers' money on the research and development stage of NMD. I am deeply relieved that the taxpayers of this country, and of my constituency, will not have to spend that money, but if the elected American Government decide to spend their taxpayers' money in that way, that is a matter for them.

Beyond the research and development phase, however, lies the question of deployment, which involves the wider international community. It certainly involves Britain, given the existence of the Fylingdales radar facility, and our membership of the UN Security Council. If a US Government wished to deploy land-based interceptors in locations other than those allowed under the anti-ballistic missile treaty--that is, around their national capital, or existing domestic intercontinental ballistic missile fixed-silo sites--either they would have to achieve an agreed renegotiation of that treaty, or they would have to abrogate it unilaterally.

I agree with the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife that an agreed renegotiation of the ABM treaty between the US and Russia is well within the bounds of possibility. The Russian Government would no doubt exact a legitimate price, but an agreed renegotiation is certainly possible. The US and Russia are the only parties to the ABM treaty; if they could achieve an agreed renegotiation, the integrity of the treaty and of international arms control agreements would be safeguarded.

However, the story would be very different if a US Administration went down the path of unilateral abrogation. I earnestly hope that no future US Administration will feel obliged to go down that route. The fragility of the international arms control environment means that if countries around the world saw that the most powerful country in the world, with the largest defence capability, was willing unilaterally to abrogate international arms control agreements that it had signed, they would inevitably wonder why they should not do likewise if such agreements became inconvenient for them. There would then be a serious risk that the already all too fragile structure of existing international arms control agreements would unravel.

I hope that during the research and development period, the US will take all possible steps to explain the defence and security rationale behind the NMD programme much more fully than has so far been the case. There are fundamental questions to which I have seen no very credible answer, and three in particular are in the forefront of my mind. I hope that the US Administration will answer them.

First, which are the so-called rogue states that the US Administration regard as a threat sufficient to oblige them to erect the NMD shield? It is not enough to answer that question by trotting out the quartet of rogues gallery states that have been presented to Congress and the wider world--North Korea, Iraq, Iran and Libya. The postulation that one of those countries might launch an ICBM attack on the continental United States raises the question of why it would do so when the US Administration has a wholly invulnerable and massive retaliatory nuclear capability.

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The people responsible for launching an ICBM strike against one or more American cities could not but be aware that in doing so, they would be sentencing themselves to literal nuclear incineration, probably within a matter of minutes. Would the heads of the four states that have been trotted out as rogues be willing to sentence themselves to nuclear incineration? I am wholly unpersuaded that they would.

We read that North Korea's leader, Chairman Kim Jong Il, enjoys a very comfortable and possibly slightly hedonistic life style, which is in marked contrast to the abject misery to which he has sentenced virtually all the rest of his people. He is currently engaged in a welcome thawing of relations between the two Koreas, as a result of which rail communications across the Korean peninsula and the 38th parallel are being opened up. Nothing that I know of him suggests that he would be remotely interested in sentencing himself and his regime to instantaneous nuclear obliteration.

Then there is Saddam Hussein. We would all agree that, of all the leaders with significant military power at their disposal, he is one of the nastiest pieces of work around, if not the nastiest. However, like other very nasty pieces of work, he combines a capacity for extreme nastiness with an almost paranoid concern for self-preservation. Thousands of people have died as a consequence of Saddam Hussein's determination to preserve himself. That determination is hardly the characteristic of a man who would sentence himself and his Administration to nuclear incineration at the hands of a retaliatory US strike.

At the moment, I do not find it remotely credible that the regimes in Iran or Libya would contemplate for a moment subjecting themselves to the certainty of an American retaliatory second strike. Therefore, we need a much clearer, more credible explanation: which are the countries with an ICBM capability against which NMD is seen to be a key and necessary defence?

The second question that I hope that our American friends will explain much more fully to us is why they believe that, of the three options that a possessor of weapons of mass destruction has to inflict many millions of casualties on the United States, an intercontinental ballistic missile would be the one chosen. That option is far and away the most expensive. Perhaps the most critical point of all is that it is easier to determine the source of an ICBM strike than the source of other strikes, so it is easier to target retaliatory action after an ICBM strike than after an attack with either a chemical or a biological weapon.

The only thesis on which NMD can be based is that there could be a rogue state leader who had taken it upon himself to try to kill millions of Americans--but even if that were true, it seems to me that he would use not an intercontinental ballistic missile, but possibly a chemical weapon. As has already been mentioned, we had an ugly real-life example of that in 1995: the sarin attack in the Japanese underground system, which resulted in 12 people losing their lives and approximately 5,000 people being made ill, with various degrees of severity. A chemical weapon attack is a possible option, but chemical weapons used on any scale are bulky. Far and away the most likely means of assaulting the continental United States with a weapon of mass destruction is a biological weapon.

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As has been said, in our report we specifically drew attention to the Foreign Office paper that was placed in the Library on 4 February 1998, in which the Foreign Office, rightly, declassified information that had been held, classified, within Government circles for years. It announced in non-classified form its assessment that

It is the danger from biological weapons that should be exercising the minds of the defence and presidential leadership in the United States, and indeed around the world, given the devastating consequences of small quantities of those materials and the serious risk that the perpetrators of such an appalling crime might go undetected. They would almost certainly be extraordinarily difficult to trace. That is my second question to the United States. The whole foundation of national missile defence is the supposition that some rogue state seeking to destroy millions of Americans will use ballistic missiles, rather than a chemical or biological weapon.

That brings me to my final question to our American friends. Let us take the scenario on which the whole of NMD is based: out there, a rogue state leadership is willing to initiate an assault with a weapon of mass destruction on the American continent. Let us take the second assumption: it has decided, for whatever reason, to do that with an intercontinental ballistic missile. Why do our American friends believe that in such circumstances the President of the United States will not take action well before any ICBM is launched? Putting it the other way round, why do they believe that the President of the day will wait in the Oval Office until an ICBM from a rogue state, which they will clearly be aware of--they will have seen it under construction and during flight testing, and they will have seen the launch pads--is launched, hopefully to be intercepted by NMD?

There is no possibility of a President of the United States and the commander of the United States armed forces in such circumstances waiting for the launch of any ICBM attack. Even now the American President has at his disposal a means of destroying the ICBM on the launch site, or well before it even gets to the point where it is ready to be launched. Like the British Prime Minister, the President has the capacity to use conventionally armed cruise missiles, whose pinpoint accuracy has been strikingly demonstrated in the Kosovo war.

Those of us who have been to the Republic of Yugoslavia recently have seen for ourselves how American cruise missiles could be targeted successfully at the slim bridges over the Danube in Novi Sad, dropping those bridges into the river. I will always carry with me one of the most striking images of the extraordinary accuracy of the American cruise missile technology. In Belgrade, the main secret intelligence building, which, accidentally or possibly by design, was sited cheek by jowl with a maternity hospital--that is, within 50 m of it--was taken out by a cruise missile, which left the hospital untouched.

An American President with the capability to put a cruise missile right on to the launch pad of any installation that he believed might result in an ICBM attack on the United States would use that pre-emptive strike capability. The Americans have used pre-emptive strikes before. As the House will recall, they did so in the mid-1980s. F111s with conventional weapons attacked Tripoli and Benghazi

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to make a pre-emptive strike against Colonel Gaddafi and to stop his state terrorism, which we had seen throughout Europe: the TWA airline attack and the Achille Lauro liner hijack.

The F111 attack was intended to stop Libyan state terrorism in its tracks. Indeed, there was no repetition of such actions. For that reason, the United States President would use the weapon of a pre-emptive strike. He would be entirely justified in doing so, rather than allow an ICBM to be launched against the continent of the United States.

Those are my three questions about national missile defence. I hope that, if the current American Administration--who, I am sure, wish to carry with them as far as they possibly can both the NATO alliance and the wider world community--move strongly into the research and development phase of national missile defence, they will come forward with much more coherent and much more credible answers to the type of questions that I have asked, and that I know other hon. Members will be asking in the course of this debate.

In my view, there is no greater policy priority for the world's international leadership than to reverse what I believe is a worrying downward trend in adherence to international arms control measures concerning weapons of mass destruction. There is no greater priority than to halt that downward trend and to reverse it. The long-term future of millions of people on this planet depends on putting in place in relation to those weapons, which can destroy millions of people, an effective worldwide system of international agreements that can be monitored and policed.

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