Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I am not sure that the noble Lord understood the point I was trying to make. It was that if the rogue states had the sophistication to build missiles capable of reaching the United States, they would also have the sophistication to produce the kind of countermeasures that would be very difficult to deal with.

Lord Chalfont: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness. That leads me on to my point about rogue states and the rhetoric about them. Let us not be infants about this. The United States national missile defence system does not concern itself solely with rogue states or with the possibility of attack from religious fanatics. Let us not lose sight of the fact that by the year 2002 the People's Republic of China will have its new missile system, called the DF41, in full deployment.

The noble Baroness said that if the United States went ahead with its national missile defence system, the People's Republic of China would feel constrained to increase its number of warheads. It is already so doing. It has nothing to do with what the United States is doing; at this moment, China is developing its ballistic missile system with nuclear warheads and will continue so to do. Noble Lords will note that the new DF41 missile system is a very sophisticated system. It can carry either a very large yield single nuclear warhead or it can carry three smaller warheads, independently targeted. It is also mobile, which is an extremely significant element in considering the efficacy of a nuclear striking force.

The Chinese are not developing a weapons system of this kind to point vaguely into space. Its computer and guidance systems will be targeted, as nuclear target systems always are. Where do noble Lords think the targets will be? I do not think any great leap of imagination is needed to decide the answer to that.

I conclude by saying that there is one aspect of this issue on which I totally agree with the noble Baroness. I am sorry that I cannot agree with much more of what she said. I agree that there is need now for a serious

20 Oct 2000 : Column 1325

debate in this country about the whole issue. There has been no debate so far of any great significance. As the noble Baroness said, a few Questions have been asked in this House and in the other place. For perfectly good reasons, the Government have had to give non-committal answers. But nowhere is there a serious debate going on about an issue which will mean, as I said at the beginning of my remarks, a threat to our national security if it is not handled properly and possibly a threat even to our national survival.

I think--I say this with great respect to the noble Baroness--that we must not be diverted in this debate by out-dated Cold War concepts. I regard the ABM Treaty as an out-dated relic of the Cold War. I make my personal view extremely clear, as I have done in the past. I believe that the arguments for missile defence are overwhelming. Furthermore, I believe that missile defence of one kind or another will be deployed whether we like it or not. So far as concerns the people of this country, of much more importance than national missile defence is theatre missile defence, especially the ability to protect our expeditionary forces against attack, not only from rogue states but from anywhere in the world that they might be deployed.

I know, agree and accept that there are powerful and rational arguments against a national missile defence system and against missile defence altogether. Those are strong arguments. That debate must be engaged. Those arguments must be listened to. But I seriously suggest that one of those arguments is not the ABM Treaty.

12.37 p.m.

Lord Addington: My Lords, I must apologise for not having managed to get through the systems of the House and put down my name on the Speakers' List. I was inspired to speak in the debate because this subject reminds me of my late teenage years when the "Star Wars" idea was current. We heard the rhetoric about how we could defend ourselves--we could not--and fear and confusion were engendered among the general public. No one knew what was going on. But it was said that everything would be dealt with at the touch of a button, that a computer would solve all the problems and that we would all be perfectly safe. It never happened. All that happened was that fear and tension were generated in society.

I was one of the only people during my sixth-form and university days who did not wear a CND badge, even if only for fashion purposes. The reason for that was because I assumed that if one had two superstates, displaying what at the time I thought was paranoia, and one started to let them think they could survive a nuclear exchange, that was the best way of ensuring that they would start an exchange. The horribly blunt weapon of mutually assured destruction has guaranteed us a degree of safety.

As my noble friend pointed out, the idea that one is able to stop a terrorist attack with weapons of mass destruction by having a missile, no matter how sophisticated, is one that is hideously out of date, if

20 Oct 2000 : Column 1326

it was ever relevant. If a suitcase, car or ship contains a bomb and is brought into the right area and detonated, or if there are suicide bombers or people who are regarded as expendable by those who direct them, one will probably be unable to prevent an attack.

Thus we may have a defence system which probably will not work and which will be dependent on America's allies for the siting of the missile bases. That will raise tension with other states. Many of them have, shall we say, fragile new regimes in place. Their extreme nationalists might well be upset. There are other states which are starting to enter into normalised diplomacy with us, diplomacy which is not backed up by military force. This new deployment may not help in that regard.

We have heard that we might be entering an age when the capacity for overall missile defence becomes the norm. The technical ability to put something in place is rather different from deploying the system. Furthermore, if we cannot be sure that it will be 100 per cent successful, there is no guarantee that it will do any good. All I ask from the Minister when she replies is that she gives us some idea of what is going on. We are in danger of stepping back in time so that fear and uncertainty once again dominate the relationships between certain of the most powerful nations on the planet, as opposed to what happens now, when there is at least a degree of trust, even if it is one where fingers are crossed.

12.41 p.m.

Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, I should like briefly to intervene in the gap. I had not expected to speak but I feel that I should remind the House that when we are talking about the possible states that might carry out such attacks we must remember that there are a number of client states, such as Iraq and Libya, which are very happily taking as much advice and help as they can from the Russians on nuclear attack, and that we do not need to think only about China.

Turning to Russia, I want strongly to endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, said about the Russian capacity for signing treaties and not observing them. In particular, I think of the case of the cryogenic rocket motors which the Russians insisted on selling to the Indians in 1991 despite the very strong pleas of both the British and the Americans. It was known that those motors were the last element the Indians needed to have a capacity for nuclear attack. The Russians agreed not to sell them and were rewarded in various ways, particularly by the Americans, who bought, as far as I remember, a good deal of nuclear material from them in order to compensate them for their loss. But then, mysteriously, in the following year the Ministry for Atomic Energy absent-mindedly sold the Indians the cryogenic rocket motors. From then on we had another nuclear power. We ought not to forget that.

20 Oct 2000 : Column 1327

12.42 p.m.

Lord Burnham: My Lords, I am sad to hear the arguments of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, for she seems to reflect the normal Liberal argument that if there is a threat put your head in the sand.

Defence against ballistic missiles is one of the most important subjects that the world has to face and it is a grave pity that this debate has not attracted more speakers. However, with respect to the noble Baroness, it is ill-timed. It comes within a fortnight of the American presidential election, at a time when we cannot know what the policy of the United States will be for the next four years and beyond. I cannot see how the noble Baroness can expect a meaningful answer from Her Majesty's Government.

The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, summarised the position of the presidential candidates. She left out Mr Nader, whose views might be very interesting. It is clear that Vice-President Gore will go less hard than Governor Bush. He believes that any missile defence system should be limited in scope and argues that a global Star Wars system would be unworkable. Governor Bush, rightly, I am sure, will favour postponing the decision on NMD until he is well and truly in the chair and will then,

    "build effective missile defences at the earliest possible date".

He would be prepared to withdraw from the ABM Treaty unilaterally, having given due notice, if Russia does not agree to changes allowing a defence system that would,

    "protect all 50 states--and US friends and allies and deployed forces overseas--from missile attacks by rogue nations, or accidental launches".

The approaches of the two candidates are fundamentally different and it is, I would suggest, impossible for Her Majesty's Government to produce a logical policy for this country until they have a reasonable knowledge of the policy of the United States.

Even for that rich country the cost of a BDM system is staggering. It is estimated to cost 60 billion dollars for 100 anti-ballistic missile launchers in Alaska plus an upgrade of US radar and early warning systems. The thought of that has certainly frightened the Germans whose view, of course, is substantially different from that of the French.

Both American policies centre round the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. I agree with everything said by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, with regard to that treaty. I would further underline that it was signed in 1972 on the principle that the only way to encourage reductions in strategic arms was to restrict ways to counter them. However, 1972 was a very different year from 2000. Twenty-eight years ago, realistically the only possible country against which ballistic missile defence was required was the Soviet Union. Today there are a number of so-called rogue states. Syria has tested a North Korean Scud missile with a range of 600 kilometres; Libya has North Korean ballistic missiles capable of reaching Israel and southern Europe; Iran has the Shahab-3D solid-liquid fuel missile with a

20 Oct 2000 : Column 1328

range of 800 miles and Pakistan is set to test fire the intermediate range Shaheen II with a range of 2,500 kilometres. Life is very different.

A limited BMD programme can proceed without destroying the ABM treaty. The system deployed would not threaten Russia's deterrent. The ABM treaty allows a limited ballistic missile defence system and Russia has maintained an ABM system round Moscow. Significantly, as the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, pointed out, Britain is not a signatory to the ABM Treaty. I am sure that that accounts for Her Majesty's Government's answers, to which he referred, which have not been very meaningful.

The real threat to the viability of the treaty comes not from efforts to change it to reflect current reality but from a refusal to modify it to permit countries, including the United States and Russia, to build effective defence systems against those threats. The treaty must reflect contemporary reality. And so it should, for even when modified to permit development of a limited defence system it will remain fully viable and a key element in the US broad strategy to reduce further the nuclear threat.

Today the threat comes not only from nuclear attack but from the threatened use of chemical and biological weapons. An ABM system would add an extra level of deterrence with an aggressor having to consider both the strong probability that his weapon would not get through and the likelihood of retaliation. Had Milosevic possessed ballistic weapons in Kosovo the reaction of the NATO nations would have been very different. Rogue states such as Iraq, which is on the verge of possessing such weapons, see the possession of weapons of mass destruction as an important lever in establishing a new relationship with the West.

So therefore I must ask the Minister whether Her Majesty's Government consider that there is a threat and what is their policy to counter it. The most recent formal statement is that,

    "there is no significant ballistic missile threat to the UK at present".--[Official Report, Commons, 12/7/00; col. 543W.]

In answer to a Question in July in another place Mr. Vaz stated that the,

    "current assessment is that there is no significant threat".

But what is "current" and what is "significant"? The Foreign Office Minister and CND member, Mr Peter Hain, has said,

    "I don't like the idea of a Star Wars programme, limited or unlimited. Unilateral moves by Washington would be very damaging".

Mr Vaz further said that,

    "it is not up to us to make assessments".

I will not comment on the sense of that statement by a member of the Government, but it is exactly what we should be doing via NATO. It would be most helpful if the noble Baroness could say what NATO is doing. It is a vital question.

What therefore is the considered policy of Her Majesty's Government? The position of the Foreign Office seems to be that we should take up a pro-Europe, anti-American position. But this would not

20 Oct 2000 : Column 1329

seem to be the position of the Ministry of Defence. The Secretary of State has pointed out that the ABM treaty is irrelevant and that Britain is not a signatory to it. He further said on Channel 4 News, in reply to a request for the use of RAF Fylingdales as an early warning radar station, that,

    "the history of our close friendship with the US is that we are sympathetic to such requests".

Clearly we shall see the CND argument re-ignited.

I should say to the noble Baroness that I fully appreciate that it will be impossible for her to say anything meaningful, but it would be interesting for the House to be given a hint of whether the Foreign Office or the Ministry of Defence is in charge of the defence of this country. Do Her Majesty's Government support NATO or are they following the St. Malo line, which would lead inevitably to a European army? Monsieur Chirac has said,

    "how are those who could agree to forgo acquiring new arms to be persuaded when the most powerful deem it necessary to develop technologies which call the hard won strategic balances into question?".

The setting up of the European security and defence policy and the view that Europe needs to counterbalance the USA have placed the issue at the heart of the European debate. Those who wish to see NATO sidelined are using this to drive a wedge between the USA and the nations of Europe.

Given the nature of the strong and growing threats to western security, in particular from so-called "rogue states", it is clear that the best means to confront and defend against them is through NATO. A strong NATO is as vital now as it was during the Cold War.

The Conservative view is that we should take a lead in building support in Europe for co-operating with the United States on the development of ballistic missile defences, to counter rogue states--which might perhaps better and slightly more politely be described as "states of concern"--and terrorists equipped with weapons of mass destruction. Britain should reassert its traditional role and lead the debate in Europe over ballistic missile defence, working to establish a NATO programme which can counter the growing threat from states in possession of missiles capable of mass destruction.

As a part of this, I recommend the consideration of a domestic preparedness programme, based on the American model. Too many people use the terrorist threat as an argument against the threat of ballistic missiles. This argument does not stand up. The extra threat does not disprove the existence of the other threat. All of them need to be contained.

I repeat that I am sorry that this debate should have taken place at this particular moment. I feel, to some extent, that at present we are wasting our time. This is a question for the future. It is an immensely important question and we should be discussing it at a time when we might reasonably expect to get some answers.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page