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5.14 pm

Mr. Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen, North): I congratulate the Committee on an outstanding report with whose conclusions I fully identify myself. I also congratulate it on reaching all-party unanimity, on its objectivity and on finding a consensual and rational

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process of discussion and dialogue on these vital issues. That is the proper approach, which is why we established the all-party parliamentary group on global security and non-proliferation. I thank the Committee for its favourable mention of two meetings that we organised.

There is one underlying message of the report on which people of different attitudes in all countries could agree. At the end of the cold war, it was agreed by common consent that the threat posed by weapons of mass destruction had disappeared. It is now widely acknowledged that we have not grasped the opportunities of the past decade; as a result, it is recognised across the political spectrum, from the far right of the Republican party to the far left of the European parties, that there is a threat. Part of the great challenge in future decades will be to see whether we can reduce that threat in time.

The report compliments Britain on its unilateral reduction of nuclear weapons and on its major contribution to multilateral moves--in particular its positive role in the nuclear non-proliferation review treaty 2000, on which the UN also complimented us. I fully concur with those comments.

We should take seriously all perceived threats, including the threat from rogue states--however they are defined. In doing so, we need to consider the extent of the threat, what is the correct response to it and whether a wrong response could increase other threats that might be more dangerous.

The report records a weight of expert evidence suggesting that the size and time scale of the threat has been hyped in the United States. The Committee believes that political and military industrial complex interests played a greater role than rational strategic analysis in pushing the conclusions that were reached in the US. It is interesting that the Ministry of Defence White Paper "The Future Strategic Context for Defence" seems to reflect, in paragraph 89, a similar estimate of the threat from rogue states. My right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) referred in his outstanding speech to the fact that, during the Committee's investigation, diplomatic developments, especially in North Korea, led the United States, at least temporarily, to talk instead about "states of concern".

The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) and the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir J. Stanley) also made outstanding contributions. As they said, the report explains that the United States should never underestimate the deterrent effect of its devastating retaliatory power.

Like other hon. Members, I shall concentrate on missile defence, which is known variously as national missile defence, ballistic missile defence or missile defence. We must consider whether NMD is the wise response, because it threatens the anti-ballistic missile treaty. Some people say that that was only a bilateral treaty and that now, following the memorandum of understanding, it is a pluri-lateral treaty between the United States and some of the Soviet Union's successor countries. However, the Government's response to the report correctly says--as the Prime Minister has said since--that they value the stability afforded by the ABMT.

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The ABMT has a multilateral aspect because one thing that was agreed by all parties, including the United States, at the NNPT 2000 review conference was that the ABMT should be preserved and strengthened as

If the treaty were to be abrogated, it would, as the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling said, be a devastating blow to arms control. Russia has said that it sees a connection between ABM and the SALT and START treaties. As NMD threatens limited nuclear arsenals, it might prove to be a deterrent not to rogue states but to multilateral disarmament. Indeed, it has been suggested by a prominent United States diplomat that NMD should perhaps stand for "no more disarmament".

There would be tremendous pressure on Russia to increase or update its nuclear forces, and for China, which is already expanding its nuclear forces, there would undoubtedly be an impetus to expand further, with the danger of a knock-on effect on India, Pakistan and other countries. Russia and China might not be able to afford vast expansion, but there is a danger in destabilising major nuclear powers, partly because of the risk of increasing the export of nuclear and missile technology at a state or criminal level. Such exports might be not only to rogue states but to that far more dangerous group--terrorists--whose members cannot be deterred because they are more difficult to identify and locate and can convey weapons of mass destruction using a case or a lorry, rather than a ballistic missile.

Missile defence could also encourage a gung-ho adventurism, in the belief that the United States or its allies were protected. That could be extremely dangerous in dealing with existing or potential nuclear weapons states. Missile defence could also increase the risk of catastrophic accident, in three ways in particular. The boost phase interceptor system will have particular dangers. The more invulnerable the United States believes it is, the greater the danger that countries that fear that they may be its rivals will feel vulnerable, and the greater the danger of hair-trigger alerts. The weaponisation of space will be extremely dangerous.

It has been said that sea-based boost phase interceptors may be the form of missile defence that will be favoured by the Bush Administration. It is certainly easier to hit a target during boost phase: it is larger and slower, it is hot and it has no decoys. Dangerous debris may be returned to sender. However, if we have interceptor missiles around the world, close to nuclear weapons states, and with a boost phase that lasts less than five minutes, at what point after a suspected detection of a missile launch would a decision have to be taken to fire if another missile were to intercept it? We are talking about a matter of seconds, and the decision would be taken either by very junior officers--or possibly, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East suggested, by computers.

What would happen if a missile was launched at a nuclear weapons state and the situation was misinterpreted? We must remember that some advocates of the system, such as Richard Perle, are talking about having vessels patrolling not only off so-called rogue states but off major nuclear weapons states, in case of an unintentional launch, as they put it. What would happen if a missile was accidentally fired and misinterpretation of that act led to an uncontrolled situation?

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I strongly support the Select Committee's conclusion that it is not convinced that NMD is the appropriate response to proliferation, and back it in urging the Government to encourage the US to find other ways of reducing perceived threats.

I disagree with the official Opposition's unconditional acceptance of missile defence without even knowing the terms on which it would proceed. I am disappointed by the way in which the Leader of the Opposition and certain other people who share his point of view have discussed this issue. They talk about whether people have or have not been, or are or are not, members of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, and to conjure up the 1980s. I am sorry, but the issue is far too serious for us to get involved in the cheap party political knockabout in which we engage on other topics in the run-up to elections.

Dr. Julian Lewis: The hon. Gentleman is always courteous in giving way. However, surely he recognises that the issues debated in the 1980s were, if anything, more important than those on NMD that we are debating now? The outcome of the cold war depended on them. It is a matter of concern when people who were on the wrong side of the debate on 1980s issues try to falsify the record and do not show the slightest acknowledgement of the fact that, if their judgment was wrong in the past, it may be a little susceptible to error now.

Mr. Savidge: That is typical of the Opposition, and underlines my point. This is not about debating personalities and history; it is about debating issues and the future. What matters is the strength of people's arguments, not whether one believes in the organisations to which individuals have or have not belonged. I could go in for guilt by association with various organisations on the political right or left. I am not interested in that; I am interested in debating the issues and arguments. We should concentrate on that and on arguing about the future. I may have different interpretations from others about who was right and who was wrong on certain issues in the past, but we should concentrate on genuine debate.

Mr. Spring: Nobody thus far has introduced any party political points--apart from the hon. Gentleman himself.

The whole basis of the cold war was massive retaliation. However, we are talking about defence. Henry Kissinger, the architect of the anti-ballistic missile treaty, now thinks that it lacks relevance. What he is now saying is pertinent and I hope that it helps the hon. Gentleman to understand our position. He says:

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