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Mr. James Arbuthnot (North-East Hampshire) (Con): I entirely accept what the Secretary of State says about great strides having been made in Afghanistan to introduce democratic processes and the rule of law. In that context, does he agree that it would be helpful if the United States could announce the end of the regime in Guantanamo Bay, which tends to undermine our support for the democratic process and the rule of law elsewhere in the world?
John Reid: We continually discuss such matters with our colleagues in the United States and the right hon. Gentleman will not be surprised to know that that particular subject features from time to time in those discussions. I am not sure that it is helpful, though he invites me, to start giving public advice to our enemies on these matters. I believe that there is an awareness in the US that, in the immediate aftermath of the terrible and tragic events of 9/11, measures had to be taken, but as time goes on, they have to be continually reviewed. I am sure that the US will do that.
Moving on from Afghanistan, I want briefly to remember members of our forces serving in Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Kosovo, Cyprus, the Falkland Islands, Sierra Leone and elsewhere. By concentrating on only one or two major areas, we tend to forget that a great many servicemen and women face hardships and threats in their service abroad elsewhere. We should remember that their duties that are vital and demand considerable sacrifices. I can assure the House that, although those people may not be in the headlines at present, their contribution to defending our country and our security has not been forgotten.
Let me say a few words about our nuclear deterrent, which I am sure will remain a matter of continual discussion. Irrespective of the controversies about the tactics of those wanting unilateral nuclear disarmament 10 or 15 years ago, the deterrent has stood us in good stead over these years.
Of course we have done what we could over the past decade or so, particularly under this Government, to reduce our capability, and the House will know how we did so. We are the only nuclear power to have given up one whole systemthe WE177 free-fall nuclear bombsfor the delivery of a nuclear deterrent. We publicly announced something that had, in fact, been undertaken by the previous Conservative Government: the detargeting of the missiles, which had happened as the cold war thawed. We felt that announcing that publicly and making the information public helped the process. We reduced the number of boats that were necessarily at sea at any given stage, so that there was one. So it takes days, not minutes, to retarget our nuclear deterrent.
All that has been done because the strategic defence review was committed to making reductions to what we called a minimum nuclear deterrent. Equally, we have
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made it clear, as recently as two months ago, that we are committed to retaining that independent nuclear deterrent. Before I give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice), who asked to intervene earlierlest he wish to do so nowI wish to say that we have made no decision in detail or in principle about what comes next, by which I mean in 10 or 15 years' time, when the present system needs to be amended, reduced, enhanced or replaced by an entirely different system. We have not taken a decision on that, and when people ask me whether we will have the chance to debate and discuss that, I merely point to the past three Question Times and debates in the House, when hon. Members have already started to raise it, although I have not even started to consider the position on it. If my hon. Friend wishes, I will now give way to him.
Mr. Gordon Prentice: On that pointnot on the issue that I wanted to raise earlier, because we have moved away from that, have we not?does the Secretary of State agree with William Perry, the former Defence Secretary in the Clinton Administration, that there is a better than 50 per cent. chance of a nuclear explosion on US soil because terrorists have managed to get their hands on fissile material? What are we doing to safeguard and protect the fissile material that is scattered around all over the place in the former Soviet Union?
John Reid: I have not seen what was said on that occasion. I do not like to say whether I agree or disagree with something that I have not read. I hope that my hon. Friend will understand that; but certainly, what he identifiesthe potential for nuclear or fissile materials falling into the hands of terrorists, for instanceis a very important subject and a very real danger. Through our non-proliferation activities and in many other ways, we constantly try to ensureindeed, we have assisted the Russians in trying to ensurethat the dismantling of their warheads, many of which have been dismantled, and the storage of that material, and so on, is as secure as it can be. I cannot give any guarantee, as my hon. Friend knows, about other countries. I can assure him that we do our best in that respect.
On the safety of, for instance, nuclear warheads, I can assure my hon. Friend that, although we have not taken decisions about the replacement of the present Trident system, we have saidI have said so publicly in the House and outsidethat we do, and will, spend money to maintain the existing system and, in particular, in a state of safety. An obligation of maintaining the nuclear deterrent in the first place is that we maintain it as both effective and safe.
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab):
I apologise for not being here for the other part of the Secretary of State's speech because of travel problems, obviously. He will have observed the results of the non-proliferation treaty review conference in New York, and he will also be aware that the non-proliferation treaty commits us and other countriesthe other four permanent nuclear powersto eventual disarmament. Will he give us some hint of what plans he has not to replace Trident but to ensure that we achieve nuclear disarmament?
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John Reid: I fully understand the circumstances that delayed my hon. Friend today; had they been different, I would simply have told him that I answered that questionin partwhen he was not here. In doing so, I pointed out that we have tried to de-escalate the number of warheads to less than 200, for example, so we have been playing our part. Yes, I am disappointed that we did not get an agreement on the non-proliferation treaty. The United Kingdom played a reasonably important part in those discussionsin fact, in some conference sessions we acted as European Union representativeand we tried to secure agreement on certain elements. I am sorry that we did not do so, but that does not mean that there are no other ways of making progress. I can assure my hon. Friend that in considering the various costs, the associated politics and the military aspects of a possible replacement for the Trident system, we will do nothing that is at odds with our obligations to the international community.
I want to turn briefly to an issue that has already been raised: the nature of our relationship with Europe and the United States. We continue to believe that a strong Euro-Atlantic partnership, with NATO at its heart, underpins our security policy. NATO is an enduring alliance and it has been hugely successful in adapting to a changing strategic environment. On the other hand, we do not believe that our commitment to NATO is in any way incompatible with developing a European security and defence policy and related activity. We try, wherever possible, to ensure that the two institutions act in concert and in partnershipnot in competitionand that they do not duplicate resources in, for instance, Darfur or Sudan. After assuming the EU presidency on 1 July, we will continue to try to develop the ESDP, and to lead the EU in a fashion that dovetails with our belief in NATO as a successful military alliance.
In a sense, the current strategic environment, the complex nature of the necessary security responseas opposed to simply a defence responseto many of the problems that we face nowadays, and the obligation to accompany defence with political initiatives and financial, diplomatic and humanitarian assistance, plays into the character of the European Union. It allows us to accompany NATO alliance capabilities with a degree of civil-military partnership through the EU. That, in turn, enables us to grow both institutions effectively in terms of cohesion, activity and capability, and to make them complementary rather than competitive.
Those three wordscohesion, activity and capabilitywill mark anything that I do as pro tem president of Europe's Defence Ministers. We need to increase our capability, but it has to be usable capability. There is no good in having shop-window forces or great numbers on paper if none of them can be used, if they are not fit for purpose, or if they are not the flexible, deployable, expeditionary-type outreach forces that are necessary in the world today. Secondly, we need to ensure cohesion. We need to bring together the necessary political, diplomatic, financial, humanitarian and military responses, to use what we need when it is needed, and to make the right judgments on the right occasions.
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