Global Security: Non-Proliferation - Foreign Affairs Committee Contents

Examination of Witness (Questions 36-39)



  Q36 Chairman: Baroness Williams, welcome. We are pleased to have you come down from the other place to give us the benefit of your great experience. You heard many of the questions to our previous witnesses, and some of the issues we will discuss will cover the same areas. May I begin by asking you about your current role? You were appointed by the Prime Minister as adviser on nuclear proliferation in July 2007. What exactly do you do in that capacity for the Prime Minister, and do you also have a relationship with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office with regard to those issues?

  Baroness Williams: Thank you very much. Right away, I should say that to many people this appointment was an odd one. Some people probably thought that it was just a case of bringing in more people to form the big tent. The Prime Minister announced that he wished to broaden the big tent, and I suppose that I was one of a number of examples of that, but there was more to it than that. I spent 12 years as a professor at Harvard, and I was on the board of the Belfer Centre for Science and International Affairs, which has prime responsibility in the university for looking at issues of security, with particular emphasis on nuclear security.

  I was invited to join the board of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, which is directed by Sam Nunn, the former Senator for Georgia and chairman of the Senate Committee on Armed Services while he was in the Senate, which was a long period. He and the other board members invited me to serve on the board and I have been on it since 2001, which is a reasonably long period. In that capacity, I have been to almost all the board meetings and a number of the other projects that it undertakes. As you mentioned, those are primarily in the context of securing nuclear materials worldwide, with a particular emphasis on Russia.

  I next got invited, partly because of this, by Gareth Evans, President and CEO of the International Crisis Group, who has now become the co-chair of the new international nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament group (ICNND), along with the former Prime Minister of Japan to become a member of the Commission. In that context, I have been to many discussions about nuclear security throughout different parts of the world.

  What are my relationships within the Government? I primarily work with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. I was present at the recent meeting that the Foreign Secretary had on 18 July to discuss the way ahead on nuclear security issues and so forth. I see a great deal more of him than of the Prime Minister, particularly since the economic crisis started. I often correspond with the Prime Minister, but it would be fair to say that the economic crisis in the last few months has tended to mean that nuclear proliferation has moved more thoroughly under the aegis of the Foreign Secretary, the Prime Minister having rather limited time for it. It is interesting that throughout the parts of the world that I have been involved in, including the United States, the preoccupation with the economic crisis in the last couple of months has tended to push the nuclear issue on to the back burner to some extent. One may regret that, but it is pretty inevitable.

  Q37 Chairman: Thank you, that is helpful. We will have some other questions in a moment from John Horam. First, you have referred already to your role in the new International Commission on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament. Are you there as a UK Government representative or in a personal capacity?

  Baroness Williams: I am invited in a personal capacity, but I have the approval of the Prime Minister, although I did not ask for it. He wrote me a very nice letter saying he was pleased that I was on it. I think that I happen to be the only person from the UK on it, but that does not make me the Government's representative.

  Q38 Chairman: What impact do you expect this organisation to have, generally, given the renewed upsurge of interest that there has been in nuclear disarmament and related issues?

  Baroness Williams: I am not a believer in creating commissions for the sake of having them. I think that the key role of the new commission arises, at least in part, from what I would almost describe as the quite considerable anger, or certainly irritation, of the non-nuclear weapons powers. They have become a good deal more aggressive and frustrated by their sense that article VI of the NPT has not been adequately carried out. Part of that flows from the way in which some of the initiatives by the nuclear states, with regard to the NPT, are becoming more and more evident.

  I have not often heard such outspoken comments as I heard at the 2008 preparatory committee of the NPT in Geneva a few months ago, particularly from some rather surprising countries. Obviously Australia, with the change of government, has become quite outspoken about its sense of frustration about what is happening under the aegis of the NPT. Germany has a much stronger voice than it used to have on similar issues. Indonesia and Egypt are both finding their voices. In fact, it was clear at the meeting of the review conference that Lord Malloch-Brown and I attended in May, that there was a very powerful feeling that something had to be done by the nuclear weapon states. Partly, that was of course about the unilateralism of some elements of the Bush Government's policy, most notably with regard to such things as the move away from the anti-ballistic missile treaty (ABM) and the growing strain between the United States and Russia. But part of the purpose of the new commission is to try to create something of a pressure group on the part of the non-nuclear powers to, in their view, very much strengthen the NPT when the next review conference is held in 2010.

  Q39  Mr. Illsley: That is exactly what I was going to ask about. Do you see that as a force for encouraging the NPT? Do you see the role of the commission as complementary, or is there a danger that the new commission will get in the way of the NPT, duplicate some of the work and perhaps create some resentment?

  Baroness Williams: That is a very interesting question. My impression is that these are people who want a say in the NPT, to strengthen the regime, and they want to compel the nuclear powers to look again seriously at such issues as disarmament. They probably could be a very constructive force; a lot of very sensible Governments are involved. We should recognise that it is a real force, which has partly grown up—in my view at least—because the other leading Asian nuclear countries, namely India and Pakistan, have not really played a full part in the creation of this rules-based system. They have stayed outside of it, as we all know.

  That means that there is a sense that, as the global balance shifts towards Asia, from being largely western based, there is not a sufficient voice for that part of the world in the negotiations that are now going on. The case of Indonesia is very striking. It is usually a fairly quiet power in discussions of this kind, but there is now a strong sense that it ought to exercise a louder voice, because it chose not to be a nuclear power—the biggest international country to so desire. It feels, I think, that it should have a greater say in the review of the NPT.

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