Global Security: Non-Proliferation - Foreign Affairs Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80-87)


19 NOVEMBER 2008

  Q80  Chairman: Does that also include assisting with the destruction of stocks? Do we put a lot of resources into that?

  Daniel Feakes: Yes. That is mainly under the Global Partnership programme—the G8 programme—routed mainly through the Ministry of Defence, which oversees that. It is mainly to do with the Russians, as far as I know.

  Q81 Chairman: We visited a civil nuclear facility in Moscow two years ago that was getting money from the Global Partnership.

  Daniel Feakes: I think the UK's main involvement in terms of chemical weapons is at Shchuch'ye, which is a chemical weapons destruction facility in the Urals, I think—a long way out anyway. The UK has put money there, along with the US and a few others.

  Chairman: I must apologise. I have to go to another meeting. I am going to hand over the Chair to Sir John Stanley, who will carry on for a little while longer.

  [SIR JOHN STANLEY in the Chair]

  Q82 Chairman: The question that I would like to ask you, which I thought that you might be referring to in answer to Mr. Heathcoat-Amory's previous question about the quantum, is whether the use made of chemical defoliants by the United States during the Vietnam war is possible under the present treaty arrangements. Certainly, the memories of those living in North Vietnam at the time are absolutely seared by the scale of the use of the extremely aggressive toxic chemicals, which today still make it absolutely impossible to grow crops on the areas that were subject to it and, allegedly, have led to the birth of children with congenital deformities. I am not a scientist, so I do not know whether or not the allegations are correct.

  Within the existing treaty arrangements, is it still possible to use those very aggressive toxic defoliants as, effectively, chemical weapons? [Interruption.] Have we stumped the witnesses? If you do not know the answer, which is fair enough, could you send us a note with your views on whether that use of chemicals is within the treaty and, if it is not, on whether it might be brought in and how?

  Daniel Feakes: There is a reference in the CWC to herbicides, in the preamble, so it is not in the substantive articles of the CWC itself. I think that it refers to the existing rules or prohibitions of the international law on herbicides, but I cannot remember.[6]

  Nicholas Sims: My impression, Sir John, is that it was sidelined during the CWC negotiations in order to get a CWC at all. The United States was understandably very sensitive on the subject of anything at all being said about herbicides or defoliants. My recollection of it being referred to only in the preamble is very much the same as Daniel's, but I will be very happy to send the Committee a note, as you suggest.[7]

  Q83 Chairman: Obviously, a policy point for the Committee will be whether that is indeed the case. If it is merely in the preamble, is it a policy development that the British Government should press for when we come to the next review? We will be very glad to hear anything further that you have to tell us on that.[8]

  I have one further question on chemical weapons, which arises from Mr. Feakes's memorandum. You say at the beginning of paragraph 17: "More important will be deciding on an appropriate response to the likely failure by both Russia and the USA to meet the 2012 deadline for the total destruction of their CW stockpiles. This eventuality could have extremely serious repercussions for the OPCW." Why will there be such a serious shortfall, as seems to be likely, in meeting the deadlines that the two major powers signed up to?

  Daniel Feakes: Again, I do not have technical expertise in destroying these weapons, but, from what I understand, in terms of Russia, a lot of it was to do with financial resources. I think that the Russian programme was quite poorly resourced from the beginning, but it is much better now and has quite a lot of money from foreign donations under the G8 Global Partnership. In the beginning, the Russian programme was poorly funded, so a lot of the problems in Russia concerned funding.

  As I understand it, in the US, this is partly to do with the technology, which applies to both countries. It is very difficult, because these weapons were never designed to be destroyed, other than through use. When they were being designed back during the cold war, they were military weapons. They were designed to be dropped from planes or fired from artillery guns. No one gave much thought to how to take them apart and demilitarise them. When the treaty was being negotiated, the 10-year deadline—extendable to 15 years—was agreed. That was politically acceptable, but I do not think that it was based on a full appreciation of how difficult it would be to destroy them, because that had not started to happen then.

  Technologically, this is a very difficult thing that they are doing. There are various different technologies. You have incineration technologies or neutralisation technologies and various others to do this. There is a choice to be made. Some technologies are more expensive than others. Others can be done faster, but less effectively. Various things have to be weighed up there. In the US, you also have the issue of very strong environmental regulations. If you are incinerating, there are strong environment regulations on emissions. I think that the same applies to Russia. You are not allowed to transport these weapons.

  The logical thing in some instances would be to have one destruction facility—or two—in the country and move all the weapons from the dispersed stockpiles to that one facility. I know for sure that there is legislation in the US that says that these weapons cannot cross state lines. So you are not allowed to move them from Alabama to Kentucky. That is just not allowed to happen. They have to build one destruction facility at each storage site, which in the case of the US means eight separate destruction facilities. So, technologically, it is difficult and that obviously costs money.

  Q84 Chairman: When you go on to say that this eventuality could have extremely serious repercussions for the OPCW, are you alluding simply to OPCW credibility, or are you alluding to something wider than that?

  Daniel Feakes: It is definitely to do with credibility. In some ways, the fundamental obligation under the CWC is destroying the chemical weapons that you possess. For two of the most important states parties to the CWC not to meet that obligation will affect the credibility of the OPCW. If the OPCW is seen not to do anything about it or to just let the issue go, that would affect its credibility. But it also plays with the internal politics of the OPCW itself. Other states that do not possess these weapons will say, "Well, if they're not destroying their weapons in time to the deadline, why should we meet a deadline on submitting information on our legislation?" Various arguments like that would go on within the OPCW, and they have already been raised at the second review conference earlier this year. Lots of states were saying that they cannot progress on this issue until those two states have progressed on destruction. Everything is being linked together, so it could slow down the whole agenda in The Hague.

  Nicholas Sims: Might I add to that, Sir John? I agree with everything that Daniel has said. I am struck by the contrast between the first and second review conferences. The first review conference was six years into the life of the CWC at the end of April 2003. The Russian delegate announced, "We are proud to announce that we have completed the destruction of the first 1% of our stockpile." Now six years into the life of the convention, they should have been a lot further on towards 100%, but there was little criticism then of either Russia or the US.

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

On resuming—

  Chairman: We will resume our questioning for a further 15 minutes. Mr. Sims, would you like to complete what you were saying when the Division bell rang?

  Nicholas Sims: Thank you. The first review conference seemed to me to be amazingly indulgent and tolerant towards Russia, which had only destroyed the first 1 % in the first six years. The second review conference was much more robust, having said that it welcomed the assurances by the states concerned that they would complete the process of destruction by 29 April 2012 at the latest. There were absolutely no weasel words on what to do if they do not reach that, and that is how it should be.

  The great majority of states that have either already destroyed their chemical weapons or had no such weapons anyway are entitled to expect the United States and the Russian Federation, which is far behind the United States on the percentage it has destroyed, to get a move on and devote far greater resources to it. As Daniel has explained, it is not just a question of throwing money at the problem, because there are real environmental problems and choices to be made between incineration and neutralisation.

  I think that the rest of the world and the other parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention, including the United Kingdom, are entitled to expect the Governments of both the United States and the Russian Federation to show great seriousness in approaching the 2012 deadline.

  Q85 Chairman: Thank you very much. In the last few minutes we will turn to the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention. As we know, this whole area has been beset by the issue of verification. I thought that the problems relating to that were very well encapsulated in a sentence from Dr. Brian Jones, who wrote in paragraph 49 of his paper: "Biological weapons, by virtue of their greater potency, low cost, ease of production, small size, ease of transport and difficulty of detection, are a much greater challenge to detection by intelligence and inspection."

  The key questions I would like to put to all of you are: given those indisputable and unavoidable facts about the nature of biological substances and weapons, do you believe that chasing after a comprehensive verification regime is effectively chasing after the end of a rainbow or that some form of verification regime can be negotiated and put in place? If so, what are the key elements of that verification system that you think the Government should be aiming at?

  Dr. Jones: Well, I have raised the challenges in the sentence you read. I became very aware of those issues when trying to assess capabilities, and it seems to me that when it comes to some sort of verification regime the reliance must be on close national capabilities to monitor the activities of the institutions that are within their realm. Quite how one ensures that it is in the interests of the individual nations establishing those regimes, I am not sure. I do not know what thoughts my colleagues have.

  Q86 Chairman: I think we all agree that it will not be able to be done in any distant technical way. Is there any form of inspection regime—obviously by virtue of a treaty arrangement—that could be negotiable that countries such as the United States will not view simply as a means of getting access to the key commercial secrets of their biotech industry?

  Nicholas Sims: Whether there are or not, I do not think that the USA is likely to be persuaded that its industry or its national security is safe with an inspection regime. Therefore, I do not think that a verification regime for the BWC involving inspection is a politically realistic goal for the foreseeable future. I know the EU has to hold it as a distant goal that it cannot retreat from, but realistically, it makes much more sense to go for other compliance measures.

  I am very attracted by the Canadian proposal for an accountability framework. The idea at its simplest is that the states parties should show that they are accountable one to another in respect of demonstrating compliance, much more positively than they have done hitherto. The compliance reports that have been sent in up to now, additional to the confidence building measures, have been few and haphazard. If they were made much more systematic and searching, there could be regular accountability sessions, as the Canadians proposed at the sixth review conference.

  There could be regular accountability sessions where questions of doubtful activities could be raised and where there would be reassurance, if there can be reassurance, but also a working out of real compliance ambiguities and calls for clarification and all the rest of it. I know that it is not the same as a proper on-site inspection verification regime, but I think that is more likely to be politically feasible and acceptable even to the United States. It already has support from quite a few countries in addition to Canada.

  When preparing for the seventh review conference in 2011 I should like the UK to give priority to adopting a developed accountability framework. Anything else on compliance measures, such as sorting out the confidence-building measures, is all to the good and we also need a comprehensive programme of action which combines national implementation measures and the international co-operation in the prevention of disease and other peaceful applications of microbiology under article 10 of the BWC. That particular balance between article 4 and article 10 was attempted by the president of the sixth review conference, but too late in the day to be successful. I think it stands a very much better chance if it is carefully prepared for 2011 and the seventh review conference.

  Q87 Chairman: I will just come to Mr. Feakes for his contribution to this question. Do you think that your accountability regime can stand alone as an agreement between states, or do you think that in order to have teeth and credibility it would require the setting up of an international body that would act as the monitor or policeman for it? In other words, it would be a biological convention equivalent body to the OPCW.

  Nicholas Sims: I see it as the nearest that one can come in the short and medium term towards an equivalent to OPCW. I see it being serviced by a small secretariat based on the present implementation support unit, but somewhat expanded by agreement at the next review conference. I see it as essentially an agreement among those states parties to the BWC that are willing to take that further step. In the absence of any better compliance regime, I think that there is a good chance that they will take that further step in 2011.

  Daniel Feakes: I fear that Nicholas is right about the political feasibility of a verification regime. He said that the EU position is a kind of distant ambition, but I still hold out a hope. So much work went into the whole concept of verification, into the protocol during the 1990s. The UK in particular put in a lot of work—the Foreign Office, the Ministry of Defence, the DTI, Porton Down. People put a lot of work into this; they spent weeks in Geneva over the course of years. Lots of other countries did the same. To see all of that go to waste would be a shame.

  It is a question of how you would take verification further. Obviously the protocol approach was not right for the time, and I have my doubts that it would be right now, with the massive diffusion of biotechnology that we will see in the 21st century. I think that there still is a role for verification there. A few years back, research institutes in the US did various reports, and worked with the biotech industry to see what the industry thought would be an effective verification mechanism for the BWC. I think that something can be done; whether it would be politically feasible for everyone I do not know, but I would hope that it is worth exploring.

  Perhaps with the new Administration in the US there is an opportunity to start mentioning what for years was just the V-word. In Geneva, verification could not be mentioned after the collapse of the protocol in any official documents from the BWC. It was off-territory, it was nowhere near the agenda. Hopefully, it might start to come back onto the agenda. At the end of the day, you need something with boots on the ground and people on site. As Brian said, a lot of that will be national responsibilities and regimes, which could perhaps be overseen by some kind of international body.

  Chairman: Dr. Jones, Mr. Feakes and Mr. Sims, I am afraid that we have delayed you because of the Divisions. Thank you very much for your evidence today. There are a few questions that we did not reach. We will put those to you in writing, if we may, and we would be very grateful for any replies that you can send us.

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