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All in the House could endorse that statement. The transfer of nuclear weapons or material to other nations or non-state actors should be viewed as a threat to the security of this country, our allies and our wider global interests. North Korea is notoriously unpredictable, and at the moment its motives and the likely next steps are extremely unclear. The North Korean regime has sold missile technology to Iran, Iraq, Pakistan and Syria. Consequently, it is not irrational to believe that future sales by North Korea might include nuclear technology and know-how.

That nuclear threat is being mirrored in the middle east by Iran, in another clear breach of international law. I have heard voices on both sides of the House say that we should learn to accommodate Iran as a nuclear weapons state. I believe that there are three reasons why we must not. The first is the nature of the regime itself,
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and the second the willingness of Iran to destabilise its neighbours via Hezbollah and Hamas. We have seen their involvement in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Lebanon and Israel. Do we want fissile material added to that mix?

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, if Iran gets a nuclear weapon, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Egypt are all likely to want to follow suit. Our failure to deal with Iran’s nuclear ambitions will inevitably lead to the potential for a nuclear arms race, with all the costs, dangers and futility that that would bring. Surely we want to leave something better to the next generation than a nuclear arms race in the world’s most unstable region.

I first raised the issue of Arctic security in last year’s debate on defence in the world, and I remember hearing laughter from Labour Members, including some who now speak on defence matters from the Front Bench. Since then the topic of Arctic security has become well reported in the press and has been the subject of countless articles in military journals. Two of our close NATO allies have explicitly said that the Arctic region remains their greatest security challenge. According to the Canadians, Arctic security is listed as No. 1 of Canada’s six core military missions. The security of what the Norwegians call their high north is the top policy concern for our allies in Norway, too.

We will all face many challenges in the Arctic as the ice melts and the scramble for resources heats up. With ice melting there, and increased piracy in shipping lanes in warmer climates, the shorter shipping routes in the high north will become more appealing. Already more than 11 million tonnes of oil per year pass through the Barents sea alone. As a leader in NATO, and because 95 per cent. of British international trade in goods travels by sea, we are forced to take an active interest in Arctic security matters.

Many agree that NATO, as Europe’s No. 1 guarantor of security, has an important role in the Arctic, and of course we must agree, as four of the five Arctic powers are members of NATO. Another reason why NATO must take the Arctic seriously is that Russia takes it seriously. It is a not very widely commented on fact that back in March this year Moscow released a strategy paper outlining Russia’s plans to create a new military force to protect its interests in the disputed Arctic. The paper said that the Arctic must become Russia’s “top strategic resource base” by 2020.

Russian military involvement in the Arctic, including ground, air and maritime capabilities, is already quite prevalent. It has been reported that Russia has two fully equipped brigades, considered by some to be the best equipped brigades in the Russian army, stationed along the 120-mile border with Norway. Russian air patrols have increased in recent years and are now at peak cold war levels. When Russian bombers fly down the Norwegian coast and reach the city of Bodø, where Norwegian F-16s are based for NATO air patrols, they can be tracked practising bombing runs out at sea before continuing with their patrols.

Russia’s northern fleet is considered the largest and most powerful of Russia’s four naval fleets. About two thirds of all the Russian navy’s nuclear force is based within the northern fleet. It also has Russia’s only operating aircraft carrier. To add to the capabilities of the northern fleet, there are plans to increase the number of nuclear-powered ice breakers, including the
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world’s largest, at a time when our only ice breaker, HMS Endurance, is being towed back to the United Kingdom with an uncertain future.

To put matters in perspective, although a direct military confrontation between western forces and Russia in the Arctic is highly unlikely, there is certainly scope for misunderstanding, which could escalate tensions, and that is what we must try to avoid. We need to find ways of minimising friction and improving dialogue. Perhaps NATO could be used as a way to increase awareness and co-operation with Russia in the Arctic region—especially in areas of mutual concern such as search and rescue. Unlike in the rest of Russia, in the Barents region of Russia the view of NATO is very positive, with up to 70 per cent. of those polled supporting NATO having a role in the Arctic. The outlook is not entirely bleak, but both sides will have to show a willingness to co-operate.

Since our last debate, one of the trends has been the growing awareness of maritime threats. Somali pirates are currently causing chaos off the coast of Africa in the gulf of Aden—one of the world’s busiest shipping routes. We need to realise that the long-term problems associated with piracy need to be dealt with on land and not at sea, as my right hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hampshire (Mr. Arbuthnot) has said. The present conditions in Somalia promote piracy, lawlessness, instability, unchecked crime and poverty. The international community needs to do a better job of co-ordinating the military response to piracy in the gulf of Aden. Rules of engagement and better command and control need to be established as well as the operational situation will allow.

Currently off the horn of Africa are two combined maritime forces headquartered in Bahrain, CTF 150 and CTF 151, the European-led Operation Atalanta, assets from the standing NATO maritime group 1, and individual ships from India, Russia, Malaysia, China and Iran. All are conducting anti-piracy operations, security escorts and counter-terrorism operations in the region, and each operates under a different set of rules of engagement. To make matters more complicated, there are no formal command relationship agreements to co-ordinate their missions.

Having multiple maritime security operations all aiming to accomplish the same missions and all operating in the same area without formal co-operation is duplicative and dangerous, and could lead to failure. Also, attention to counter-terrorism operations in the region cannot be jeopardised by the current concern about piracy. Bad as the situation seems to us now, it could easily become much worse. Most piracy off the horn of Africa is criminally motivated: it is a quick way to make money. However, there is the larger threat of an organised global terrorist network, such as al-Qaeda, becoming directly involved with the piracy. As things stand, most piracy is driven by criminal factions that benefit from the lawless nature of a failed state. Just imagine what the outcome would be of a piracy campaign sponsored, planned, and executed by al-Qaeda.

On 19 May the European Union decided to extend the area of operations of its anti-piracy mission by almost a third. Can Ministers tell us whether there are plans to provide more resources for the mission, or whether the EU will simply ask its member states to do more with less?

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Piracy is just one piece of a very complicated maritime security jigsaw, which includes counter-terrorism, keeping shipping lanes and oil platforms secured in the Gulf, and deterring the Iranian navy. Piracy will never be completely eradicated from the seas, as history tends to suggest, but we must do all we can to minimise the threat.

Other, newer threats to our security are emerging, in cyberspace and space in particular. The recent speech by Secretary Gates was particularly interesting in its reorientation of American policy on those threats. We need to debate these issues in the House in detail, and I hope that a specific time will be found for us to do so, but today the list that I have given—mirroring what was said by the Secretary of State—will suffice. International terrorism, fundamentalist extremism, rogue states, piracy and nuclear proliferation are enough for us to be getting on with.

We must constantly pay tribute to the bravery of our armed forces and their families, our intelligence services, and the numerous civilian organisations that support them and us with the security that we too often take for granted. Let me issue a plea to the Government: perhaps next time our debate on their contribution will not be timetabled for the parliamentary relegation zone, but will be given the time appropriate to their importance and their sacrifice.

2.52 pm

Mrs. Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): I listened with great interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox), but I cannot agree with his statement about the inappropriateness of today for the debate. I think it highly appropriate that we are here in the House on the day of the European elections, discussing defence in the world, because it is thanks to the European Union—its emphasis on consensus, co-operation, discussion, debate and working together while simultaneously cherishing the unique and independent nature of member states—that we, citizens of Europe, have experienced the longest period of peace in our history.

Dr. Fox: The hon. Lady speaks of the appropriateness of the timing of the debate. Just for the Hansard record, would she care to tell us how many Labour Back Benchers are currently present?

Mrs. Moon: The hon. Gentleman clearly has poor eyesight if he needs my help in ascertaining that.

Dr. Fox: One!

Mrs. Moon: The hon. Gentleman shouts “one” from a sedentary position—but, on the other hand, it is me.

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con): It is I!

Mrs. Moon: I do apologise; I am a product of a comprehensive education.

It is said that freedom is never free, but that it comes at a price—a price exemplified by what we are willing to pay to defend our freedom. Why am I here today, rather than knocking on doors and getting out the vote? I am here because I recognise that a debate on defence in the world is one of the most critical debates that we as a
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country must engage in. Defence is where we stand tall and are clear about our priorities, our values, and those things that we will defend to the last—those things that we will ask our young to fight to defend.

On Saturday, I will be in Porthcawl to commemorate D-day—a day when so many died, and whose sacrifice we continue to remember and honour. In Porthcawl, a sleepy seaside town in Wales, D-day affected every family; throughout the town, people knew members of the armed forces who were stationed there practising both landings on to our beaches and getting from them into our sand dunes. Families also remembered going down to the railway station a few years earlier to collect sick, wounded and exhausted soldiers returning from Dunkirk and taking them home to feed and care for. In the years since D-day, much has changed in terms of defence, but much has remained the same, too. However, such immediate and direct connection between us as citizens and our armed forces and our personal understanding of the need for security and defence have, I fear, been weakened. A deepening disengagement has arisen between the public and our armed forces, but I know that, as Members, we take seriously the responsibility to help re-establish that engagement.

Nowadays, the enemy we need to defend ourselves against is less clear. The nation-to-nation battlefront has been replaced by the insidious fear of an enemy that is unpredictable, unseen and global. We face pandemics such as swine fever and bird flu, which is carried by fellow citizens who are free to travel the world, but also, potentially, carried deliberately by terrorists. We have tsunamis, heat waves and hurricanes as our climate change brings with it threats of food, water and energy shortages. Pirate DVDs are sold, sometimes to law-abiding citizens, and people traffickers and drug dealers sell their goods, all of which can fund terrorism and crime. New technology brings new threats—cyber attacks, asymmetrical warfare—and the internet has grown into a powerful voice, where small mistakes can have huge consequences.

Our defence against those threats is a broad security toolkit, which includes not only our armed forces, but our politicians, diplomats and security services, and our law enforcement, ambulance and coastguard agencies and other emergency services, as well as our economists, non-governmental organisations and citizens. Together, they exemplify the fact that security is the prime function of the state, for without the state there is no rule of law, no peace, no stability and no security.

Defence is no longer the remit only of the Ministry of Defence; every Department of State has a defence role to play. That includes supporting education around the world, establishing individual freedoms, protecting human rights wherever they are attacked, creating fair-trade agreements to allow countries to develop, and the promotion of democracy and the rule of law both nationally and internationally.

Defence in a global world requires working with regional partners in institutions such as the European Union and NATO, and with countries with whom we have memorandums of understanding, treaties, defence obligations and where agreements have been signed, and also with global bodies such as the G20, the United
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Nations, the World Trade Organisation and the International Monetary Fund, to build consensus and co-operation.

Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): Does the hon. Lady agree that in relation to defence and the European Union there is a great deal to be said for our ensuring that our bottom line is defending ourselves, because our first duty is to our constituents and the country at large?

Mrs. Moon: I fail to see what the hon. Gentleman is trying to achieve by that question. [ Interruption. ] May I complete the point? Obviously we have an individual responsibility to our constituents and our nation state has a responsibility to its citizens, but as I said at the beginning, it is thanks to our European consensus and our European involvement that we have maintained peace across Europe for longer than at any time in our history.

Mr. Cash: Absolute rubbish.

Mrs. Moon: I apologise if the hon. Gentleman thinks I am talking rubbish—I obviously spoke the same rubbish when I taught history.

The United Nations agreed the universal declaration of human rights as far back as 1948, and many individuals from across the political spectrum have argued that we have a moral duty to ensure that human rights are protected no matter where the abuses occur. Anyone who watched Kate Adie’s programme on Tiananmen Square last night and saw the ongoing effect of those events on those who were present will understand how far we still have to travel for all members of the Security Council to understand the central tenet of human rights. A discussion on the future role of the United Nations is long overdue. Should the Security Council be expanded to give wider credibility to its voice and decisions? Would the inclusion of India and Brazil, as emerging economically powerful nations, widen the legitimacy of UN decisions and heighten the interdependency of our world?

Despite this criticism, it was only the UN, in 2000, that could unanimously pass resolution 1325, which addressed the impact of war on women and called for their involvement in peace and resolution discussions and at all levels of decision making in conflict-resolution talks. Why women? The answer is that the most vulnerable person in the front line of any conflict is not in the military—it is the female civilian. It remains the men with the guns who get to the peace table; women are for the non-governmental organisations and the male leaders to sort out. I earnestly believe that resolution 1325 must become a central tenet of our capacity building, if for no other reason than that we know that the wider engagement of women in their communities and in their countries through education and employment can increase a country’s gross domestic product by 3 per cent.

I am a new member of the Select Committee on Defence. Unlike its other members, I have no background in defence, although my father served in the Merchant Navy and for many years was active in the Sea Cadet Corps. As a child of the ’60s, I marched against war and joined CND. Before I entered the House, my background was in health and social care, child and adult protection,
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women’s rights and the environment, so what am I doing on the Defence Committee and, indeed, in this debate? [ Laughter. ] There is laughter from the gentlemen on the Conservative Benches, who clearly do not feel that women have a right to a voice in defence matters, and that perhaps shows the problem that women face in entering the world of defence; it remains the macho world of the virile male who has failed to protect women for generations.

Ann Winterton (Congleton) (Con) rose—

Mrs. Moon: I shall certainly give way to the courteous hon. Lady, as opposed to the giggling people on the Conservative Front Bench.

Ann Winterton: As someone who has been interested in defence for some time and has built up a slight expertise in one particular area, may I say that my male colleagues have been very helpful and supportive? It is a very good thing that the hon. Lady is on the Defence Committee and I hope that she enjoys her work. She will learn a lot about the defence world and will be able to contribute greatly.

Mrs. Moon: I thank the hon. Lady for those remarks. I can confirm to her that my colleagues on the Defence Committee have been highly supportive, most helpful and extremely courteous. My comments were not aimed at the members of the Defence Committee.

Mr. Arbuthnot: May I put on the record that I confirm precisely what my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Ann Winterton) said?

Mrs. Moon: I can confirm that the right hon. Gentleman, the Chairman of the Defence Committee, has been one of the most courteous.

I am a member of the Committee because I recognise that defending our way of life, with all its failings and faults, is imperative. The people who died on D-day and in the days before and after that enabled us to enjoy the freedoms that we sadly take for granted—to have the quality of life and to have the expansion of health, education and opportunities across the sexes and classes that we enjoy in Britain today. As citizens of this country we have a balance of rights, interests and responsibilities. So too, as a citizen of the world, our nation has rights to defend and responsibilities to discharge. Sometimes, as in the past, the maintenance of those rights and the discharge of those responsibilities in the wider world require the applications of force.

At present, we are actively involved in conflict in Afghanistan, in a crucial battle against the Taliban that must be won in order to ensure any modicum of security in an unsettled region and across the world. It is in our national interest to be in Afghanistan. We do not want that country once again to be a base for international terrorism that threatens us all.

Since joining the Defence Committee, I have also joined the armed forces parliamentary scheme so that I can flesh out my hinterland of understanding of the recruitment, selection, training, skills, equipment and pressures on our military. I am spending a year with the RAF and have been deeply impressed by the dedication, focus and skills of everyone I have met.

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