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Westminster Hall

Thursday 4 March 2010

[Hywel Williams in the Chair]

Global Security (Non-Proliferation)

[Relevant documents: Fourth Report from the Foreign AffairsCommittee, Session 2008-09, on Global Security: Non-proliferation, HC 222, and the Government response, Cm 7692.]

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.-[Mr. Ivan Lewis.]

2.30 pm

Mike Gapes (Ilford, South) (Lab/Co-op): I am delighted to introduce the fourth report of the Foreign Affairs Committee, which will, I guess, be the last report to be debated in this Parliament. The report, entitled "Global Security: Non-Proliferation", was published on 14 June 2009, and the Government response was published in August 2009. Inevitably, a lot of things have happened since then. Even in the interim between our report's publication and the Government's response, the Cabinet Office published "The Road to 2010: Addressing the Nuclear Question in the 21st Century", a position paper on the approach that the Government have taken in the run-up to the important non-proliferation treaty review conference, which is due to start in May.

Given the importance of that conference, it is essential that we have a detailed debate now in Parliament on what is happening. The previous review conference, in 2005, was a failure and there are real threats to the non-proliferation regime, including from North Korea and Iran and from the potential development of a nuclear arms race throughout the middle east from Arab neighbours of Iran, responding to that. There is also a change in the political relations between the United States and Russia and the tentative commencement of dialogue between India and Pakistan. Not everything is negative. There is no progress in the middle east in respect of Israel and the Palestinians and potential areas of conflict, but there are some positive political developments as we approach the review conference.

I should like to highlight the essence of the concerns and conclusions of our report. I am afraid that I shall quote an extensive passage from the report- paragraph 114, which is also quoted in paragraph 14 of the Government response. I want to place it on the record, as it is important. It states:

The important point that we are making is that the vast majority of the nuclear arsenals in the world are held by the two nuclear superpowers: the United States
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and Russia. The UK, France and China, the other three nuclear weapons states that are signatory to the non-proliferation treaty, have much smaller arsenals.

Owing to the lack of progress under the Bush Administration on these issues, and their lack of interest in all things to do with negotiated multilateral or bilateral disarmament, we are in a situation today where the non-proliferation review conference can be put at risk unless there is a significant move on these matters, collectively, by the nuclear weapons states-that means, in essence, a move this year by the United States and Russia. I will say more about that in a moment. Paragraph 114 concludes:

We called for the Government to do more on these matters. I should like formally to take this opportunity to thank the Government for "The Road to 2010" document, which was published by the Cabinet Office. There was a certain procedural problem, in that our Committee was not given a copy quickly, although it was put into the public domain while the Prime Minister was answering questions at the Liaison Committee. I received the press release-but not the document-at that point, so it was rather difficult for us. That, however, is a process problem between the Cabinet Office, which sponsored the document, and the other Departments. We hope that in future the Cabinet Office will bear in mind that Select Committees have an interest and that our Committee had an explicitly stated interest in these matters. We should have had that document directly in advance, before it appeared on the websites and in the national daily newspapers.

Paragraph 115 of our report highlighted relatively well defined international agenda on nuclear disarmament steps in respect of which there is international consensus on a lot of matters, such as

all those areas and commitments from both

I should be grateful if the Minister updated us on the progress that has already been made, as well as on what progress he expects will be made in future.

There are problems. A number of countries are not party to the non-proliferation treaty. India regards it as an unequal treaty and therefore has not signed. Pakistan is also a nuclear weapons state, yet it has not signed. I understand that the Pakistanis are the main reason why we are not making progress on the fissile missile cut-off treaty; they have made objections in the United Nations negotiations process.

North Korea is a signatory to the non-proliferation treaty but has carried out nuclear weapons tests, although whether they were successful or not is debatable. Nevertheless, the North Koreans claim that they have a nuclear weapon-and their neighbours believe that they
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do-and they are in open defiance of the treaty and have said that they have withdrawn from it. One of our report's conclusions was that strong measures, including sanctions, should be taken against countries that withdraw from such a treaty.

Iran has not withdrawn from the non-proliferation treaty review, but it is in breach of its obligations under that treaty, particularly with regard to the additional protocol and successive UN Security Council resolutions. The American Administration have extended the hand of friendship, to use President Obama's words, but that has been rebuffed. The Iranians seem to be taking on a position that will inevitably lead to strengthened sanctions from the international community.

Interestingly, the Russian Government, who until a few weeks ago had been cautious about having tightened sanctions on Iran, now seem to have moved their position to support a tighter regime. The problem now in the Security Council is China, and its relationship with Iran. Gas imports are probably a major determinant in that, but China's attitude to bilateral issues with the United States over arms sales to Taiwan and so on may also be involved. I shall be interested in the Minister's assessment of that.

Professor Ali Ansari, the renowned academic, wrote recently with reference to the Iranian regime:

That is a good summary of how the Iranian regime is trying to use the heightened tensions about the nuclear issue to reduce support for the opposition following the rigged elections last year.

I do not want to take up too much time, and I am conscious that we may have a series of votes that will disrupt our proceedings, but it is important that I should highlight some of the most important aspects in our report. It went much wider than just nuclear weapons. It deals with a range of issues and includes references to chemical and biological weapons, cluster munitions, the arms trade treaty and the prospects for conventional disarmament. I do not have time to go into all the conclusions or the Government's response, so I want to focus on the non-proliferation treaty review conference.

One reason for the conference's failure in 2005 was the perennial difficulties in the middle east, and there has been no progress on the negotiation of a comprehensive settlement of the middle east dispute. As a result, it is highly likely that Israel's nuclear weapons programme will feature in the debates on the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Israel's internal politics cannot be easily influenced from outside. Members of our Committee recently visited Israel. There is a clear concentration on security concerns in Israel, as in Iran, and such matters have a relationship.

At the same time, there was the mysterious episode of the Israeli bombing of the facility in Syria, which the Syrians had not made public. No one is quite sure
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whether it was a nuclear weapons-related facility, but I understand that it was more likely that it was. It was suggested that the North Koreans had assisted the Syrians to develop that facility, which the Israelis, perhaps with intelligence gained from elsewhere, promptly bombed.

In our report, we drew attention to the interesting question of why the International Atomic Energy Agency was not made aware of the existence of that facility by the Syrians or, pertinently, by the United States and other countries that clearly had the intelligence to give some idea of what was going on. We commented on that in our report. In paragraph 94, we drew attention to the long-standing aspiration for a weapons of mass destruction-free zone in the middle east, and pointed out that the Government should try to do more under the European Union's Mediterranean process to work for such an objective. In their helpful response, the Government used an interesting phrase. They called on all states in the region to take practical steps in appropriate forums aimed at

Clearly, the phrase "effectively verifiable" is the essence of the problem.

Given that most countries in the region do not recognise the existence of Israel, that there is no peace agreement with Syria and that there is a cold peace with Jordan and Egypt, there is clearly a long way to go before achieving effectively verifiable zones free from anything. I hope that the Minister will touch on the significance and importance of that. I argue strongly that we should not allow the non-proliferation treaty to be put in hock to regional disputes-whether the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the dispute between India and Pakistan over Kashmir or any other. Those are wider issues, and we must try to make progress so that the review conference comes up with a positive agenda, a timetable and-I was about to say "road map", but in the context of the middle east I will not-a plan for the future.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): I apologise for missing the first 10 minutes of my hon. Friend's speech. His Committee delivered a commendably detailed report. Does he believe that a useful outcome of the non-proliferation treaty review might be the establishment of a nuclear weapons convention, which obviously could include all countries, irrespective of whether they were signatories to the NPT? Clearly, NPT membership is restricted to the haves and the have-nots, but those who have just obtained nuclear weapons cannot be included in the system.

Mike Gapes: I am not sure whether another negotiating forum would help us; I would need to be convinced of that. We said in our report that there are loads of disarmament forums around the world-too many. In their response, the Government did not agree, but setting up another talking shop is not what we need. We need concrete action to ensure that existing conventions and treaties are complied with.

Most importantly, under article 6 of the non-proliferation treaty, the declared nuclear weapons states agree to act in good faith to secure real measures of nuclear disarmament with an aspiration for total global nuclear disarmament. That should be upheld, and in that context I was encouraged by President Obama's speech in Prague
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last year. I was also encouraged by the report in the International Herald Tribune on 2 March, two days ago, about Obama's commitment to move towards significant reductions in the US nuclear arsenal. There were earlier reports in February of tentative moves towards a possible agreement between the Americans and the Russians on strategic arms reduction.

According to my information, there are still large arsenals of such weapons, and both the Americans and the Russians could make very deep cuts in their strategic arsenals without moving away from a nuclear deterrent policy. Russia could retire some old and dangerous systems that are probably unusable. We therefore have the prospect of deep reductions, which would go a considerable way towards strengthening the argument against those who believe that this is an unequal treaty and that the nuclear weapons states have failed to comply with their aspirations.

However, there are complications to the US-Russia relationship. First, the Russians have adopted a new posture that defines NATO as the main enemy. Members of the Committee were in Brussels last Monday and Tuesday, and we heard about that in some detail during discussions. Russia says that its main enemy is not terrorism, Islamist fundamentalism or climate change-although one would not expect that from the Russians-but NATO. That sits oddly in the context of the new opening up of dialogue and potential agreement with the Americans.

Secondly, there is the question of missile defence. At what point does missile defence become an obstacle to further nuclear weapons reduction? President Obama and Vice-President Biden have changed the American position from that of the Bush Administration and taken a new approach. Instead of having anti-ballistic missiles in Poland to shoot down nuclear missiles, and radar in the Czech Republic, that completely different approach will now focus on southern Europe-Bulgaria and Romania-and on putting missiles in the Arab Gulf states to defend against a potential Iranian nuclear weapons programme.

At one level that is worrying because it almost implicitly states that the route of disarmament and sanctions will not necessarily stop the Iranians getting a nuclear weapon. It also means, however, that it cannot be argued that such measures are in any way directed against the Russian strategic nuclear arsenal. Russia's nuclear arsenal is not based anywhere near the Caspian sea, and it is likely that the Russians will take a different approach to such matters.

If the ballistic missile defence model grows during the next phase-rounds two, three and four-it could potentially become global. In those circumstances, the American offer to the Russians of a co-operative relationship with NATO on such matters is vital. The last thing we want is an anti-missile arms race alongside a nuclear arms race, or for measures that stop further nuclear arms reduction to come about through the ongoing negotiations.

I will conclude with two or three other points. The Committee made a number of recommendations, many of which the Government agreed to. However, some recommendations were not agreed to, and I want to touch on a few of those points and press the Minister
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on them. It is important that we get the opportunity to reply to the Government response to the Committee's report.

I have already mentioned the first point, which is the sheer number of organisations and initiatives and the need to simplify, rather than complicate, the disarmament process and non-proliferation architecture. Secondly, the Committee was critical of the India-US civil nuclear co-operation deal because we thought that it could undermine the non-proliferation regime by implicitly accepting India as a nuclear weapons state outside the treaty. The Government did not agree with that, but I am not convinced by their response.

Thirdly, we concluded that there should be changes and reductions to the operational readiness of nuclear weapons, in order to enhance international security. We also raised questions about the Trident programme, the possible delay in moving towards the initial gate decision and the contribution that holding back on the renewal of Trident might make to the prospects of a move towards negotiation on multilateral disarmament involving Britain's existing nuclear weapons. I would be interested to hear the ministerial thinking on that as we approach the non-proliferation review conference, and in the light of budgetary pressures within the Ministry of Defence. What time scale is envisaged for the renewal of Trident and what will be the implications of that on the number of warheads that we have in the UK?

"The Road to 2010" document touches on that issue, and the written response to our recommendations referred to the Prime Minister's statement about a potential move towards having three submarines rather than four, or to having submarines with fewer missiles. The current Trident submarine has 16 missiles, and that number could be reduced to 12. Although I accept that we have made moves over the past decade, I would be grateful if the Minister told us whether the Government have any thoughts about what additional moves Britain could make to further progress towards international nuclear disarmament.

Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton) (LD): As we approach the May conference, would it be helpful if the Government went on the record to say that they would be prepared to delay the currently envisaged timetable for the renewal of Trident as a sign that they want to engage and that, if there were positive movements at New York, they would not go ahead with that renewal?

Mike Gapes: I can quote the exact words stated by the Committee last year:

That is from paragraph 138 of the report.

Jeremy Corbyn: I welcome the points that have been made in the report. Does my hon. Friend have any idea about how much money has thus far been committed either to the replacement of the submarines or to the development of a missile system? Would it be useful if the Government were more open about that issue, particularly in advance of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty conference in May?

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