Global Security: Non-Proliferation - Foreign Affairs Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 240-259)



  Q240  Andrew Mackinlay: I used Iran as an example, but are you comfortable that we have sufficient powers in statute law to be homing in on the three categories to which I referred? Those are terrorists, rogue states and other states. I am not arguing this thing. It shows a flaw in our powers does it not? We have boasted around the world—we bash people's heads around the world—saying it must comply with the United Nations, the Greenstock committee and so on, yet we have been found to be flawed.

  Bill Rammell: If you look at our track record compared with other states, we have a good record. Does that mean that it works in every circumstance? Arguably not, and we constantly need to keep under review whether we need to go further.

  Q241  Sandra Osborne: Minister, you suggested that the IAEA needs to be strengthened. Should the additional protocol be implemented on a more widespread basis? Given the likely increase of the use of civil nuclear power to secure energy supply and climate change obligations—an independent commission of experts suggested last year that they would need £80 million up front with £50 million increases in real terms on a yearly basis—what commitment are the British Government going to give to increasing the resources as part of their contribution to the IAEA's budget?

  Bill Rammell: Let us look at the track record. We are the fourth largest contributor to the IAEA at the moment—I think I am right in saying that we are the second largest contributor to the non-statutory funding stream. So, we are substantial contributors to areas such as the technical co-operation fund and the nuclear security fund. We contribute thousands of IAEA safeguard inspectors, we have been undertaking that process since 1981—the IAEA is certainly very appreciative of the support that we give.

  Across the board—as MPs around this table will know—we face a tight fiscal environment. We have a general policy of zero real growth towards the budget of international organisations—I think most of our constituents would say that that is the right approach. It is also the case that if you look at the 2020 report commissioned by Mohamed el-Baradei, it recommends that the IAEA should place more priority on those areas that it works in and that there was further scope for efficiency savings. We want the IAEA to be resourced to do the job, and we will help in any way we can, but to say that we will commit greater resources than we are at the moment is not realistic.

  Q242  Sandra Osborne: May I ask you about the al-Kibar facility in Syria? The IAEA was not aware of that—it did not pick up on it—and the US did not divulge the information that it had about it in advance of the attack on the facility. What do you think that says about the IAEA's role in effectively monitoring compliance with the NPT?

  Bill Rammell: The IAEI—I always have problems with that terminology—the International Atomic Energy Authority has argued that states should make available the intelligence information that they have about Syria, We have done that and other states have done that. If you look at the presentation that the US made in April last year, in our estimate that did provide compelling evidence to support the assessment that Syria was building a nuclear site with North Korea's co-operation. Undoubtedly we want positive interaction between states that are party to the NPT and the IAEA.

  Q243  Chairman: The Syrians vigorously denied the allegation that that was a nuclear site. Neither Syria nor Israel has been prepared to co-operate with the IAEA to answer how the uranium traces found at the site got there. Why do you think that is?

  Bill Rammell: I am not sure that I know the answer to that in detail. Certainly we have spoken directly to the Syrians—you will know that for the last 18 or 20 months we have been developing a dialogue with the Syrians—and we have strongly urged them to engage with Dr. el-Baradei. If you look at his report from last November, that concluded that the building that was destroyed and its related infrastructure was similar to that which may be found at a nuclear reactor site—although he could not rule out a non-nuclear use. He went on to call explicitly for Syria to agree to a further IAEA visit. That is what we have urged and asked Syria to comply with. Similarly, if Israel has information that can help Dr. el-Baradei get to the bottom of that problem, it should do that.

  Q244  Chairman: The Syrians are claiming that the uranium traces were introduced when the Israelis bombed the site. Presumably the Israelis could provide information that would make clear that that was not the case.

  Bill Rammell: And that is what we have said, publicly and privately, that we want the Israeli Government to do. Also, from Syria's point of view, I think that if there is genuinely nothing to hide, there is a way of reassuring, and that is to bring the IAEA in and allow them unfettered access to reach a conclusion.

  Q245  Mr. Horam: Do the Government have any dialogue with Israel on its assumed nuclear capacity?

  Bill Rammell: I said to you earlier that we have consistently made it clear that we want Israel to sign up as a non-nuclear weapon state.

  Q246  Mr. Horam: But it cannot, of course, if it has got nuclear weapons.

  Bill Rammell: Yes. Mariot, do you want to talk about dialogue on that front?

  Mariot Leslie: I think that the simple answer is no.

  Q247  Mr. Horam: We do not have such dialogue. Moving on to India, how does the Government's support for the US-India civil nuclear co-operation initiative advance the aim of bringing India into the NPT?

  Bill Rammell: Ideally, I would like India to be in the NPT now as a non-nuclear weapon state. In the short term, that is unlikely to be achieved. One of the advantages of the US-India deal was that it brought India into the broader non-proliferation framework. The fact that, unilaterally and publicly, India declared that it would not test further was a positive step. The fact that it said that it was willing to engage in negotiations on a fissile material cut-off treaty was a positive indication. Short of getting India to do what we ideally want, it was a step to pull it in within the broader non-proliferation target.

  Q248  Mr. Horam: Do you think that we have got as far as we can?

  Bill Rammell: No. I would still like to get to the position where India signs up as a non-nuclear weapon state. In the short-term, however, this is better than where we were.

  Paul Arkwright: The Indians have now signed the safeguards agreement with the IAEA, which I think is a very important step following the separation of the civil and military nuclear facilities in India. We are pressing them hard to continue their negotiations on signing up to an Additional Protocol, which would be another further step of confidence that they can take. We would like them to pursue those negotiations energetically.

  Q249  Sir Menzies Campbell: If the policy is that Israel should sign up as a non-nuclear power, then that could only be effective if Israel was a non-nuclear power. Accepting for the moment, as most people do, that Israel is a nuclear power, it is very difficult to foresee circumstances, in the medium or even the long term, where that is likely to happen.

  Bill Rammell: That remains our position. However, realistically, short of a substantive agreement in terms of the Middle East peace process, that is unlikely to happen.

  Q250  Sir Menzies Campbell: If there is no dialogue, then how do you progress the policy? Is it raised? The Prime Minister told us—I think at Prime Minister's Questions today—that he had had a conversation with Mr. Olmert. When he has conversations with Mr. Olmert, do you understand that that issue may be raised?

  Bill Rammell: Certainly, the Israeli Government are aware of our position. In terms of discussions with the Israeli Government, I think you will understand that, over the recent periods, the 100% focus of that has been about trying to secure a ceasefire in Gaza. But the Israeli Government are certainly aware of our view and position.

  Q251  Sir Menzies Campbell: The truth is that, for the foreseeable future, Israel is going to retain its nuclear capability.

  Bill Rammell: There is an assumed capability.

  Sir Menzies Campbell: Mr. Mordechai Vanunu, I think, tells us a little bit about that when he is allowed to from time to time.

  Bill Rammell: I do not resile from the position at all. The Government and I would like to see a nuclear-free Middle East and we would like Israel to sign up as a non-nuclear weapon state. That is our position. However, if one is realistic, until there is much greater progress in terms of peace within the Middle East, the auguries for that are not optimistic.

  Q252  Sir Menzies Campbell: I wonder how realistic it is to have a policy which, on the face of it, is incapable of achievement.

  Mariot Leslie: You can perfectly well have a position that you are working to achieve through other means, notably the great effort the Government are putting into the Middle East peace process, into dealing with Iran, and into improving security in the region. Those are the conditions that would make it possible to have a Middle East that was free of nuclear weapons.

  Q253  Sir Menzies Campbell: Is this not more a hope and a prayer than a policy?

  Bill Rammell: No, I do not think it is. Our position is clear. As with a lot of these issues—and I find this a lot in terms of the foreign policy debate—it is not the case that we can just say something and make it happen.

  Q254  Sir Menzies Campbell: We all understand that. But there are questions of credibility about how realistic policies may be. Do you not feel any reservations about articulating that as being the Government's policy, when the prospects of achievement are as limited as I think you concede?

  Bill Rammell: Let us turn it on its head. The alternative to that would be to say that we are comfortable accepting states that are not parties to the NPT possessing nuclear weapons. That is emphatically not our position, which is why we hold the position that we do. However, does that mean that I think it is realistic that we will make progress on that in the short term? No—I am being straight with you—I do not think the prospects for that are good.

  Q255  Sir Menzies Campbell: I am personally comfortable with that last answer, but that would, in my mind, trigger the importance of seeking dialogue.

  Bill Rammell: I hear what you are saying, but there is a very great awareness of our position.

  Q256  Chairman: May I take you back to India and Pakistan? The Americans have signed the deal with the Indians, which has run into difficulties. What is the British Government's assessment of the prospects of that deal actually coming to fruition? Also, what are the implications of that deal for Pakistan, given that the memorandum from the FCO says that co-operation with Pakistan on civil nuclear power is "not under consideration"?

  Bill Rammell: In terms of the prospects to get the deal through, I think that ultimately they are still good, but there are issues and challenges that need to be addressed; I believe that those can be. In respect of Pakistan, I think our position is more accurately described as "not now"—in that the conditions are not appropriate—"but not never".

  Q257  Chairman: So, it could be under consideration next month, or the month after?

  Bill Rammell: We are not talking about that time scale. I think you would need to see a number of other changes within Pakistan. But certainly—as an indicator of the efforts we are making in this regard—we are at the moment working with the IAEA in assisting Pakistan in implementing its nuclear security action plan. If, over an extended period of time, we made progress on that and on other fronts, we could envisage circumstances in the future where that may be possible, but, certainly, that is not the position at the moment. We would not contemplate that at the moment, but, as I said, it is not now, but it is not never.

  Q258  Chairman: May I put it to you that India and Pakistan nearly went to war five or six years ago and that would have been a nuclear conflict? It could happen at any time over Kashmir or other issues, including the very bad relations that there currently are as a result of the terrorism in Mumbai. Is this not one of the most urgent priorities—to deal with this potential nuclear conflict between two countries which still have very bad relations, closed borders and lots of potential sources of friction?

  Bill Rammell: The answer to that is yes. That is why we strongly support the composite dialogue between the two countries—

  Chairman: Which has been broken off.

  Bill Rammell: Yes, but I still think that that is the best route to make progress. It is very positive that, between the directors general of their respective militaries, there is a continuing channel of communication. In terms of our efforts, I agree with your assessment that there have historically been real concerns about the balance of power and the potential conflict between these two countries. We invest a lot of time and effort in working with both sides to ensure that we do not get to the position of ultimate conflict.

  Chairman: We will come back to this later in the year. I think we should move on.

  Q259  Mr. Hamilton: Successive British Governments have insisted on retaining an independent nuclear deterrent. Within the last two years, this Parliament has voted on the continuation and reconstruction of Trident submarines. The memorandum, which I think was submitted to the Committee by the FCO, accepted that there is a possible linkage between non-proliferation efforts and progress in wider nuclear disarmament. It says, "Counter-proliferation efforts risk being undermined if other states perceive, rightly or wrongly, that the Nuclear Weapon States are not delivering on their side of the bargain and actively pursuing nuclear disarmament".

  Last December, the Foreign Secretary said, "The UK is committed to working actively to create a world free from nuclear weapons", and that international action against proliferation needed to include "re-energised action on multilateral nuclear disarmament" in order to be fully effective.

  Do you accept, Minister, that the Government's decision to renew Trident—which Parliament endorsed—is problematic? Surely in terms of public perception, the fact that we continue to build submarines and have a nuclear deterrent, while telling other countries that they may not have them, is a little embarrassing?

  Bill Rammell: No, I do not think that is the case. However, I preface that by saying that it is a statement reflecting the reality that, in terms of our international posture, no subject has been more divisive, particularly in this country, for decades. People on either side of the argument hold very strong views.

  Part of our challenge politically is to get across our track record on disarmament and the fact that our explosive capability in nuclear terms has been reduced by 75% since the height of the cold war. Our missiles are not targeted and they require several days' notice to fire. Those are de-escalatory measures. We are among the strongest advocates for the universal ratification of the comprehensive test ban treaty, and we are energetically pursuing a fissile material cut-off treaty. All those measures indicate that we are not only strong advocates of nuclear disarmament, but that we practice what we preach. We are rightly seen by international partners and by non-governmental organisations as the most forward leaning of the nuclear weapon states in terms of disarmament.

  However, to come to the nub of your question, despite that track record, and even with the reductions that have taken place elsewhere, substantial arsenals still exist internationally. There are rogue states which, according to all available evidence, are clearly seeking a nuclear capability, and there are terrorist networks that would like to develop that capability into the bargain. Given all that, and given the projections about the time span over which the submarines and equipment would become dysfunctional, we faced a choice. Had we not taken the decision at that stage, we would have effectively been committing future Parliaments and generations to unilateral nuclear disarmament. Although I genuinely want to arrive at a world that is free from nuclear weapons, I do not think that it would have been the right decision to take at that stage.

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Prepared 14 June 2009