Examination of Witnesses (Questions 213-219)|
MP, PAUL ARKWRIGHT
4 FEBRUARY 2009
Q213 Chairman: Good afternoon. Before
we begin, can I ask members of the public to switch off their
mobile phones or put them on silent?
Minister, it is good to see you again. You have
been before our Committee in several guises on several different
subjects, and we are pleased to see you once again. Your colleague,
Mrs Leslie, has been before us on previous occasions, but I do
not know whether this is Mr. Arkwright's first appearance.
Paul Arkwright: No. I gave evidence
to the Iran inquiry.
Q214 Chairman: Of course. So you
will know the procedures and how we are all very friendly.
Can we begin by referring directly to the context
of the document that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has just
published"Lifting the Nuclear Shadow: creating the
conditions for abolishing nuclear weapons"? Is this a change
of approach by the Government or is it just a reaffirmation of
our existing national security strategy policy?
Bill Rammell: I think it is a
reinforcement of our existing strategy. In terms of nuclear weapons,
we have a very good track record. We are the most forward-leaning
of the existing nuclear weapons states. We have reduced the explosive
capability of our own arsenal by 75% since the height of the cold
war. But we also want greater momentum internationally, and we
want concerted action on the part of the P5. We want to tackle
proliferationin many senses, this is the most serious threat
that we face internationally. We are coming to a critical period
in the run-up to the review conference next year, and we want,
bluntly, to engage the public in the most critical challenge that
It is probably fair to say that there is nothing
new in the document. We have probably set out in greater detail
what we are doing in the document. I think it is right that we
use it as a tool, one, to engage with people, but two, to generate
increased momentum internationally.
Q215 Chairman: So this is written
for a public audience, not a specialist audience? In defence White
Papers over the years, you had a series of essays, and Michael
Quinlan, who came before us a few months ago, was one of the authors.
Is this the popular version of what used to be an essay?
Bill Rammell: It is certainly
not a populist version.
Chairman: I did not say populist.
Bill Rammell: It is an attempt
to do a number of things. One is to genuinely engage the public.
Two, it has, as I say, a level of detail in it that we have not
committed to before, and I think for the specialist audience that
would be important. It is also a tool in international diplomacy,
registering and underlining our commitment, which can, in some
way, increase the momentum towards disarmament.
Q216 Chairman: Our existing approach,
set out in the national security strategy, is referred to as a
rules-based approach to international affairs. How successful
has that been?
Bill Rammell: It has had some
considerable success, but the scale of the threat and the challenge
is enormous. Just a few years before the establishment of the
nuclear non-proliferation treaty in 1968, President Kennedy had
said that by the 1970s we would have in excess of 20 nuclear weapon
statesthat was not the reality. In that sense, the NPT
has worked. We need stronger verification mechanisms and greater
universality, but it has worked. If you look at the chemical weapons
convention, you will see that we are making progress towards the
eradication of stockpiles, and there are similar moves under the
biological and toxins weapons convention.
Given where we started, again going back to
the NPT, our track record, and that of the US50% down on
its arsenals from the height of the cold warprogress has
been made. But bluntly, given the scale and the seriousness of
the challenge, we must do more, and that is why we want a re-invigorated
NPT to come out next year, a comprehensive test ban treaty and
an urgent start to negotiations on fissile material cut-off.
Q217 Chairman: But even if you have
a treaty and people sign up to it, there has always been a problem
about whether they comply with it. We have the debate at the moment
about Iran; we had the issue with the North Koreans in the past;
andit will be controversial to say this, in some quartersthe
Iraq question, including its clear attempts to develop nuclear
weapons in at least one period. How do we ensure compliance with
Bill Rammell: Are you talking
specifically about the NPT?
Chairman: You referred to the NPT.
Bill Rammell: Specifically on
the NPT, in the review conference next year, we must generate
political commitment to re-invigorate the bargain that is at the
heart of the NPTso, while the nuclear weapons states continue
to make real progress on multilateral disarmament, we rein in
rogue states that are seeking to get around the treaty. We need
a stronger International Atomic Energy Agency and a number of
different initiatives to try to get greater adherence.
But the blunt reality is, yes, you can establish
an international treaty, have sanctionswhich is part of
the debate that we are looking atand have activity at the
level of the UN Security Council to focus on states of concern,
but you still run the risk that some people will try to get around
it, and that is what we have to ward against.
Q218 Chairman: We will have some
more detailed questions on the NPT later, and I will just keep
in the general area for now. Is there a case for saying that we
should not categorise weapons into specific boxes, and that there
should instead be a more holistic view on disarmament and arms
control? Otherwise, you end up in a place where you deal with
certain areas, but some systems fall between the gaps, or there
are people who are interested in one category of controls when
the real threat to them is something that only a few states have
Bill Rammell: That point has not
been put to me in that way before. You do need separate regimes
to focus on each of the threats, and there must be a dialogue
on an international level to ensure that there is no means of
slipping between the categories. But if you want real focus on
the issues, you have to look at them in their own right.
Although there are ongoing, significant challenges,
the track record of the NPT is relatively good. If you look at
chemical weapons, leading up to the 2012 deadline, you see that
real progress is being made there. So I think that merit of a
rules-based approach, but one that focuses specifically on the
different types of disarmament that is needed, is the right one.
Q219 Ms Stuart: Forgive me, but I
have not had the time to actually read this document. Given your
opening comments about trying to take the debate further, and
given that the people with whom we have to do that are the Chinese,
the Russians and the Indians, who, in a sense, do not publish,
it just struck me, flicking through the document, that it mentions
Albert Einstein, two former American Presidents, one former American
vice-president and a former Secretary-General of the UN. If I
was Chinese, or from any of those countries, and saw this document,
I would feel pretty much left out of the debate, other than being
told what to do.
Bill Rammell: That is certainly
not the intention. If you reflect on the whole of the document,
you see that that is certainly not what we are arguing. If you
look, for example, at the strategic arms reduction treaty, you
will see that there have been significant reductions in nuclear
capability by both the United States and the Russians, which should
be very welcome. We will come to talk about the comprehensive
test ban treaty, and I think that it is very welcome that President
Obama has committed to ratifying that. I had some interesting
discussions in Beijing two weeks ago, and you may find that there
is a similar response from the Chinese. So it is certainly not
that we are on our own and we know best. Bluntly, to make the
desperately needed further progress, it is going to take agreement
right across the board.