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22 Jan 2003 : Column 329—continued

Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate): I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way, and I hope that he will put me right if I have failed to grasp the argument. He has said that an anti-ballistic missile system would act as a deterrent to rogue states, as they would not put money into developing their own weapons. How does that chime with mutually assured destruction, the policy adopted by the west and the Soviet Union in the cold war? Has not the defeat of the Soviet Union meant that there is a massive atomic arsenal that cannot be decommissioned with any safety? Is not that where rogue states will obtain weapons of mass destruction?

Mr. Hoon: My hon. Friend at least recognises that the debate has moved on from MAD. In the past, many colleagues—at least on the Labour Benches—consistently criticised that policy. The potential availability of missile defence to the US has encouraged that country to reduce significantly its offensive missile systems, and that reduction is something for which many Labour Members, including my hon. Friend, have worked consistently. That seems to me to be an enormous success, arising out of the efforts of the US. I am slightly surprised that my hon. Friend has not congratulated the US.

Mike Gapes (Ilford, South) rose—

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) rose—

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) rose—

Mr. Hoon: I give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden).

Richard Burden: If missile defence is about increasing security, should not that protection be available to all countries? If so, should it not be under international control—in other words, the UN? What on earth is the justification for its being under the control of just two states, the US and possibly Great Britain?

Mr. Hoon: The US President's statement last year indicated his willingness to extend missile defence to allies in NATO. That is certainly an extension from the original proposals, which were described as "national missile defence". The only other factual point that I would make is that a ballistic missile defence system already exists. It is located in and around the city of Moscow, and has been part of the defensive mechanisms of the former Soviet Union and Russia for many years.

Mr. Chaytor: Will my right hon. Friend clarify the argument in relation to deterrence? He has said that the debate has moved on from MAD, but also that our nuclear weapons provide an effective deterrent. However, he has also said that there are some states against which our nuclear weapons do not provide an effective deterrence. Does nuclear deterrence work, or not?

Mr. Hoon: I do not think that there is any inconsistency in the arguments that I have set out.

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I recognise that the UK's possession of nuclear weapons is a powerful deterrent to any country foolish enough to challenge us. On the other hand, it is equally true that there are a few states—I make no apologies for mentioning North Korea and Iraq in this connection—that have no particular regard for their own people. Such states might risk the threat of nuclear or other retaliation, regardless of the interests of their own people. It is logical to say that MAD might deter those states rational enough to recognise the risk of significant retaliation. Equally, however, there are regimes—and I have mentioned two of them—that are capable of ignoring that risk because they have no regard whatsoever for the safety and security of their people.

Mike Gapes rose—

Jeremy Corbyn rose—

Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South) rose—

Mr. Hoon: I shall give way once more at this stage, to my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South (Mr. Cunningham). I shall come back to other hon. Friends later.

Mr. Cunningham: My right hon. Friend mentioned by name two states that pose a threat. What other states pose a threat?

Mr. Hoon: There are others, but the states that I named best demonstrate my point.

I was dealing with the terrorist threat to our military installations, and I emphasise that they are well guarded against such a threat. I want to dismiss the rather far-fetched idea that state-sponsored terrorists could blind the missile defence system a few minutes before a ballistic missile attack. The Fylingdales radar was designed during the cold war, when we faced the threat of military assault from the Soviet Union. It is well within the capabilities of the system to withstand a lesser threat. If we were only a few minutes away from a ballistic missile attack, I find it impossible to believe that anyone would prefer that we had done nothing to help protect us, our people or our allies.

Hon. Members have also raised the technological challenges. No one doubts that they are considerable. That is why the US has invested considerable sums in its wide-ranging research and development programme. We have worked closely with the US in that area for many years. A new technical memorandum of understanding will give us full insight into the developing missile defence programme, and allow the close involvement of British industry.

The UK benefits greatly from the role that RAF Fylingdales has played, and will continue to play, in the ballistic missile early warning system.

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot): What the Secretary of State has just said recognises that there are two components to missile defence—upgraded radar, and the interceptor that would bring down any attacking missile. The right hon. Gentleman has been somewhat opaque about Britain's participation in the interceptor programme. Will he confirm that he has not ruled out

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the possibility that interceptors could be based on British soil? Will he say a little more about the opportunities for British industry arising from participation in this very important US programme?

Mr. Hoon: I indicated the possibilities for British industry once the new memorandum of understanding is resolved. I shall come to the other matters raised by the hon. Gentleman in due course.

Jeremy Corbyn: I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way to me a second time. He has not convinced me of the arguments in favour of national missile defence. When he reads his speech on another day, will he reflect that many of those who wanted a Labour Government in 1997 and 2001 wanted a Government who were committed to global disarmament of nuclear weapons? My right hon. Friend has said nothing about global disarmament, but a great deal about accelerating and exacerbating a very dangerous arms race around the world.

Mr. Hoon: I am sorry that my hon. Friend feels like that. I regret that I have been unable to persuade him, although I live in hope. However, I have mentioned global disarmament. I answered an earlier question, from my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Glenda Jackson), by setting out the importance that I attach to the Moscow treaty and the significant reduction in offensive systems agreed by the US and Russia. That seems to me to be something that should be applauded. Given my hon. Friend's record of campaigning on these matters over many years, I am slightly surprised that he has not mentioned that treaty, and congratulated the US on it.

Mr. Harold Best (Leeds, North-West): I have been listening to my right hon. Friend, and am reminded of the film "Dr. Strangelove", which dealt with the insanity of the MAD approach. I regret that, in arguing for missile defence, my right hon. Friend seems to adopt that approach. Does he agree that the logical consequence of his argument is that more weapons systems will be evolved to overcome missile defences? Indeed, would not that be a cheaper way to develop those weapons systems?

Mr. Hoon: I rather thought that I was arguing precisely the opposite. The availability of missile defence might avoid the nightmare scenario in the Stanley Kubrick film to which my hon. Friend refers. However, it may be that we require more opportunities to debate the issue at greater length than today affords.

Mike Gapes : Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Savidge: Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Hoon: I have given way once to my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Savidge), but I have not given way to my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes).

Mike Gapes: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the debate about these issues has moved on from the 1980s?

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The Reagan Administration's star wars was superseded by Clinton's talk of national missile defence; now the debate is about some form—as yet undefined—of co-operative missile defence system. In those circumstances, would it not be helpful for my right honourable Friend's Department to produce a briefing dealing with these theoretical and theological aspects of the debate because, unfortunately, a lot of the language and terminology, whether it is Dr. Strangelove or Dr. Kissinger—

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