Global Security: Non-Proliferation - Foreign Affairs Committee Contents

Letter to the Committee from the Head, Parliamentary Relations Team, Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Thank you for your letter of 9 February, which outlined a number of additional points on which the Committee would like further clarification.

Q1.  Mr Rammell indicated that he would "reflect on" the question (Q227 and 228) in which the Chairman asked whether the term "Weapons of Mass Destruction" was helpful because it does not distinguish between nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. The Committee would be grateful for further details of the way in which the Government uses this term and Mr Rammell's considered view on how helpful a term it is?

  The Government regards the term "weapons of mass destruction" as generally being understood now to mean nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. It recognises that there are of course distinctions between each of these types of weapon, both in terms of their nature and their effects. But the term "weapons of mass destruction" has long been used in common parlance to embrace all three types of weapon and to distinguish them from "conventional" weapons. It is the Government's view that it is therefore unlikely to be possible to avoid using the term, though it is certainly important to be aware at the same time of the differences between nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.

Q2.  What role does the Government foresee for the EU and NATO in the area of non-proliferation and disarmament, particularly in light of its stated long-term aim to pursue the abolition of all nuclear weapons and the fact that all NATO members are effectively covered by the extended deterrence of the US nuclear umbrella? How does the European Security Strategy relate to the UK's National Security Strategy in this regard?

  The UK National Security Strategy states that "providing security for the nation and for its citizens remains the most important responsibility of government"... "The Cold War threat has been replaced by a diverse but interconnected set of threats and risks, which affect the United Kingdom directly and also have the potential to undermine wider international stability. They include international terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, conflicts and failed states, pandemics, and trans-national crime." Non-proliferation and disarmament are two key objectives in tackling this threat and both NATO and the EU have a significant role to play in this context.

  The NATO summit of Heads of State and Government in Bucharest last year saw the approval of a paper on "Raising NATO's profile in the field of arms control, disarmament and non proliferation". NATO has several groups that meet regularly to discuss non-proliferation and disarmament issues and the Alliance continues to ensure that—as an important part of its broad approach to security—defence and arms control, disarmament, and non-proliferation objectives remain in harmony. There has been a 90% reduction in the nuclear forces attributed to NATO since the end of the Cold War and the Alliance seeks to enhance security and stability at the lowest possible level of forces consistent with the ability to provide for collective defence and to fulfil the full range of its missions.

  The EU's December 2008 report on the implementation of the European Security Strategy states that "Proliferation by both states and terrorists was identified... as potentially the greatest threat to EU security. That risk has increased in the last five years..." On the basis of the EU WMD Strategy, adopted in 2003, the EU has been active and at the forefront of international efforts to address proliferation concerns; is a key donor to multilateral initiatives, including the IAEA Nuclear Security Fund; and by working with third countries and regional organisations makes an important contribution to building national and regional capacities to prevent proliferation.

Q3.  What is the UK's policy with regards to the future of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention's Implementation Support Unit (ISU)? Does the Government support an expansion of the remit, budget and staffing of the ISU? Is there any prospect of creating an organisation in this field which resembles the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons?

  Since its inception (and most recently at the Meeting of States Parties in December 08), the ISU has been widely acclaimed by States Parties including the UK. The UK has worked with and supported the ISU through the offices of the FCO and the UK Disarmament Mission in Geneva. The UK has also contributed financially and technically to one-off events held by the ISU in the margins of BTWC meetings aimed at raising awareness of technical aspects of the Convention and its implementation.

  There has been an ongoing debate over the role of the ISU—some states initially expressed reservations about its creation but have since acclaimed its work. In preparation for the 2011 Biological Toxin and Weapons Convention Review Conference, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and other key stakeholders will review the UK's position. Expanding the ISU's mandate would require an increased budget; there would be implications for the UK's contribution.

  Under the BTWC an organisation similar to the OPCW could be created if States Parties were able to reach agreement on a verification protocol. As Mr Rammell said when giving evidence to the FAC "we are long-standing supporters of a verification regime| we would want both universality and effective verification regimes". In the absence of such an agreement or any expansion of its mandate, the ISU is likely to remain sufficient to manage the day to day administration of the BTWC.

Q4.  How does the Government intend to persuade sceptics that the Arms Trade Treaty should be based on the applicability of international human rights and international humanitarian law?

  The UK will continue to argue for an Arms Trade Treaty that includes provisions which relate to international human rights law and international humanitarian law. These laws enjoy wide acceptance and States have already undertaken obligations and commitments in this respect. We would make it clear that an ATT does not create new obligations in these areas, but that by signing and ratifying an ATT States would confirm that they would take into account these existing obligations when considering arms export controls.

  We hope that when this is clarified and understood by all States, they will feel able to agree to include these provisions within an ATT.

Q5.  Can the Open Ended Working Group be an effective mechanism for advancing negotiations on an Arms Trade Treaty? Will an overwhelming majority approach help or hinder negotiations and is the UK supportive of such an approach in general? If not, why is it in this specific case?

  The Open Ended Working Group model has a number of anticipated benefits:

    We want an ATT that enjoys broad and deep support so that there is shared ownership. The Open Ended Working Groups (OEWG) will broaden discussion from the 28-member Group of Government Experts which met in 2008 to include all members of the UN General Assembly. We think this will enrich the discussion to take account of the various aspects of arms export controls that different regions think should be addressed within an ATT to make it robust. It will also facilitate wider ownership and understanding of the benefits of an ATT, making it a treaty that we hope will be not only be widely ratified but also effectively enforced by individual States, who see that it is in their interests to do so.

    An OEWG will also provide a broader forum for all UN Member States to further consider those elements in the 2008 Group of Government Experts' report where consensus could be developed for their inclusion in an eventual legally-binding treaty. This includes ideas on how to strengthen existing export controls, for example through the provision of technical assistance, and information-sharing.

  Our general approach will be to seek wide support for UK positions, and to take account of the views of others in so doing. We cannot predict at this stage how each negotiation and discussion will develop but we are sure that achieving as close to universal support as possible is a goal worth pursuing. We are confident that the OEWGs provide further momentum towards our goal of achieving an effective ATT as soon as possible.

Q6.  Mr Rammell indicated that he would provide the Committee with further details of the contracts for de-mining in the Falkland Islands.

  I understand that this question has been answered already in separate correspondence.[407]

  I hope that the information provided above is useful and answers the Committee's questions fully. As always, our officials would be happy to provide any further details which could help the Committee in their inquiry.

24 February 2009

407   GS(NP)81-Letter from Bill Rammell, Minister of State. Back

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