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The third step is a fissile material cut-off treaty, which means that we do not keep pouring more and more nuclear weapons into the system. The fourth step was interestingly debated only a few weeks ago at the fuel cycle conference in London, which, to his great credit, Gordon Brown initiated. It is to recognise the need to internationalise the fuel cycle from its beginning in fuel materials to its ending in waste materials from nuclear power and other nuclear installations. That is a huge step, as it involves confronting the immense pressures of national sovereignty. National sovereignty is the great enemy of building a new nuclear architecture. If we are honest with ourselves, we have to confront that.

The United Kingdom has already proposed bringing down the existing deterrent of Trident to the absolute bare minimum that would leave it as a deterrent, from 160 warheads to 120. There may come a time when we have to look again at Trident. That will be the point at which we move away from the idea of a minimum deterrent to the glittering idea of a nuclear-free world. It is an idea that the Prime Minister has adopted, as has President Obama in the United States, although, understandably, neither offers us a timetable at present.

How do we get to the first base? Most of us agree that the abolition of nuclear weapons cannot be done in one great leap. I think that it was the French historian Braudel who said that you cannot cross a chasm in two leaps. To cross this chasm, we must move from island to island. I have already mentioned the first island of CTBT, fissile material cut-off, reduction in arsenals and the gradual multilateralisation of the fuel cycle, which would mean that fuel banks were available to any country that obeyed the terms of the nuclear proliferation treaty. The United Kingdom has put forward a proposal for what is called nuclear assurance. In turn, this must be linked to a fuel bank. The first fuel bank already exists. I declare an interest as a member of the board of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, an American-led, non-governmental organisation that has so far raised $116 million, some of it from Sunni Arab powers, to create an international fuel bank, which would be available to any country that keeps to the rules.

The final step, as I have mentioned, is the abolition of nuclear weapons. That means taking one further step and introducing a treaty of fuel material stocks and international globalised inspection. The IAEA is central to this and we must build up its resources and inspectors to enable them to carry out this huge task.

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I conclude with a quotation from a speech that our Prime Minister made at the nuclear fuel cycle discussion on 17 March, when he said that,

Let me put it more succinctly, in the words of a great poet, Wystan Hugh Auden:

“We must love one another or die”.

1.23 pm

Lord Anderson of Swansea: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness on her initiative on this debate and on her speech, which showed a magisterial command of this vital subject. She has an expertise in this field that is second to none in the House. I am glad, as she is, that the United Kingdom has taken a lead in the build-up to the NPT review next year. I cite both the FCO document of 4 February and the Prime Minister’s speech to the IISS, to which the noble Baroness referred. I cannot claim nearly to match the expertise of the noble Baroness in this field, but I will make a number of rather random reflections on the broad subject.

First, non-proliferation is now increasingly recognised as a key problem of our age. Henry Kissinger said in his famous International Herald Tribune article:

“Proliferation of nuclear weapons has become an overarching strategic problem for the contemporary period”.

Until recently, the whole issue appeared to have slipped further down the agenda of concern from the alarming predictions of President Kennedy in the early 1960s that by this time perhaps 40 or 50 countries would have the know-how to produce the bomb. That prophecy has not yet been fulfilled. Of course, other threats have tended to take centre stage. One thinks of the strong lobbies for climate change and the environment generally; for action on world poverty; and, of course, the war on terrorism, as defined by the Bush Administration. Yet the threats of nuclear proliferation are more imminent and more fundamental to our survival.

It is also a problem where we have, perhaps, a greater chance of success than in certain of the other fields, as the noble Baroness has said. I recall reading an article recently by one US academic who argued that the problem in respect of Iran’s wish to obtain military nuclear capacity is so fundamental that one should strike a bargain with Russia on Iran, bringing Russia on board as a first priority, which could mean ditching the enlargement of NATO and the proposed missile sites in central Europe. It is so vital to have Russia on side in seeking to persuade Iran. Similarly, the message of the Prime Minister’s speech on St Patrick’s Day was for a global nuclear bargain that would encourage countries to go along the civil nuclear path, helping them in every possible way so as to avoid the military path. Much needs to be done to reduce the explosive power of the existing arsenals. In the same speech, the Prime Minister showed that Britain is prepared to contribute to further reductions.

In relation to nuclear weapons generally, the recipe is well-known. We cannot disinvent them. The FCO pamphlet quotes Einstein:

“If only I had known, I should have become a watchmaker”.

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The world, as the noble Baroness has said, needs a greater reliance on civilian nuclear energy to reduce carbon emissions. Essentially, the problem is how to harness nuclear potential for the good of mankind, while minimising the dangers. Some look back nostalgically to the Cold War period of mutually assured destruction, when both superpowers knew the rules of the game and there was a degree of stability in the nuclear stalemate. Now, of course, that stability is no longer there as nuclear capacity appears to move to less stable and less responsible states, and even, possibly later, to non-state actors. Yesterday’s government document, Pursue Prevent Protect Prepare, mentioned the danger of dirty bombs.

There were cracks in the old certainties immediately after the fall of the Berlin Wall. I recall the concern in the 1990s about Russian nuclear scientists, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, being lured to Iran and less stable regions; and the lack of security in Russian military installations, photographs of which I saw at the Rand Corporation in California. The United States in particular, and the European Union to a lesser extent, are to be commended on what they have done to assist Russia in this field.

On Pakistan, when we learnt of the activities of AQ Khan, we gained some indication of the difficulty of enforcing global controls. It is difficult to accept that his activities were unknown to high officials in the Pakistan Administration. That is why, realistically, the situation in Pakistan is probably a greater threat to world peace than the Middle East, given the instability of the Government. One thinks of the recent deal with the Taliban in the Swat valley and also of the nuclear device that was exploded in 2002. How do we remedy this? Obviously, we need to assist Pakistan with the security of its installations and seek generally to reduce tensions in the area, particularly in their bilateral relations with India. The US new strategy in relation to the Taliban is particularly important.

Realistically, Iran is in many ways less of a risk; there is a Government in control of the country. Israel views the nuclear pretensions and aspirations of Iran as an existential threat and, given the precedent of the Osirak strike against Iraq in 1981, would probably consider a surgical strike at some stage. However, that would need the agreement of the United States which, given the current mood of the US in its talks with Iran, is highly unlikely and would be counterproductive for Israel.

A group in Israel accepts that Iran, perhaps for reasons of self-respect and deterrence, would need to have only an initial nuclear capacity. It is obviously worth dissuading Iran from going further along that road by using big sticks and big carrots to avoid the danger of instability and the temptation of other states in the region to go along that same path. Yet much of the evidence is that Iran is now buying time and is unlikely to accept the sticks and carrots that are and are likely to be on offer. Historians may well say that little can be done if Iran obtains that capacity. President Obama’s Iran initiative is encouraging; the response of the Supreme Leader is particularly discouraging.

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North Korea is an unknown quantity, even to the South Koreans. The six-power talks trundle on, but North Korea is highly unreliable and has shown itself in the past to be an arch proliferator. As we saw yesterday, the United States Secretary of State expressed concern about the proposed North Korean rocket launch into space. To produce a bomb, one needs highly technical know-how and the financial resources, which would rule out many states. There is, however, always the danger of leakage and another AQ Khan, who might still sell the capacity for a nuclear bomb to terrorist groups.

I have one final reflection. Some talk about a world without nuclear weapons. Perhaps I am being too cynical when I recall the aspirational visionary initiatives of the period between the wars, such as the Kellogg-Briand accord of 1928 to outlaw war, and later debates on no first use and nuclear-free zones.

Theologians are about to take part in this debate. I always enjoy Reinhold Niebuhr’s phrase about the relevance of an impossible ethical ideal. He used it in a theological sense, but I apply it here. It is clearly highly relevant to proceeding along the path of seeking maximum reductions. It may be impossible to have absolute certainty, but it is still worth striving energetically in the direction of the best attainable controls, as can be seen in the letter of the noble Lord, Lord Owen, which was published in the Times last June. The noble Lord is here today and I look forward to hearing his contribution later in the debate.

As a start, we know that 95 per cent of nuclear arms in the world lie with the US and Russia, so when START expires later this year and needs to be renegotiated, we wish them well with that. However, the danger is in the 5 per cent and those who aspire to having a nuclear capacity. We should work for the success of the NPT and should seek confidence-building measures step by step to deal with volatile and vulnerable countries. I welcome the Prime Minister’s initiative in offering to reduce our own stockpile. As the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, has said, the whole debate on the UK’s nuclear capacity needs to be revisited as the facts on the ground evolve. With all the dangers, it is imperative that we seek agreement to prevent the proliferation and reduce the dangers of leakage. All should recognise the mutuality of our interest in this area, and I am heartened by the changed attitude of the US Administration and by the initiatives taken by our own Government.

1.34 pm

Lord King of Bridgwater: My Lords, I join the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, in expressing my warmest congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, on the absolutely outstanding speech that she made when she introduced this debate. This is quite a complicated subject, but as her initiative today has shown—many others have already been taken—it is of increasing interest and concern. To the people who ask what it is all about, I shall simply say, “Get a copy of Lady Williams’ introductory speech in Hansard. That is your best beginning to understanding the background to these issues”.

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I am delighted by the timeliness of this debate. I associate it with my late great friend and colleague Sir Michael Quinlan, who spent a lifetime being interested in these subjects. I had the privilege of working with him for five years. He was my Permanent Under-Secretary in two different departments, and we greatly mourn his recent loss. This is a timely debate because, as the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, has just said, we are catching the tide. This is the moment, with President Obama and the new American Administration coming in and on the back of a move that was promoted, ironically I thought, by two quartets that included gentlemen whom some of us have had the pleasure of working with over the years: George Shultz, Henry Kissinger, Sam Nunn and Bill Perry—two Republicans and two Democrats; and, from our own country, my noble friend Lord Hurd, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the noble Lord, Lord Owen, who is in his place, and the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, who similarly echoed concerns about this issue, and absolutely rightly so.

Still on the question of the timeliness of the debate, I was pleased to see the interview in today’s Financial Times with Sergei Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, who welcomed the American initiative and said he thought that the improved climate creates hope of progress on nuclear arms controls. This is a moment when we need to catch the tide and move forward. I am participating in this debate to add my own modest voice to those that have already supported this cause.

My first point is not about the major issue of nuclear weapons, about which I will say a word in a minute, but about my enormous concerns about the very dangerous world in which we now live and the risks presented particularly by the permanence of fissile material. The noble Baroness referred to the importance of that.

When we first experienced the problems of 9/11 and Afghanistan, a failed state, it seemed a rather isolated item on the world stage. When one looks at the situation now, one sees Somalia and the extremely daunting situation in Pakistan—a nuclear weapon state—and, amazingly for the Americans, the present challenges in Mexico. We thought that the world order was reasonably stable, but it now looks much more uncertain. Into this dangerous mix have come non-state actors and terrorist groups, whose ambition is to cause as many casualties and as much destruction as they possibly can. The existence of nuclear or radioactive material is a major challenge, and we go into this situation against a background of the considerable failure to control nuclear and other materials of this nature. I was interested to see the reference to the evidence of smuggling in the Caucasus in eastern Europe; Mohamed El Baradei has talked of 1,500 incidents of trafficking of nuclear and radioactive materials.

It is also assessed that there is enough uranium and plutonium in the ex-Soviet Union for another 40,000 weapons. When I was thinking about what I might say today, I recalled a meeting in Downing Street, at which John Major, President Yeltsin, Marshal Shaposhnikov, who was then the commander-in-chief of the CIS, the successor to the Soviet Union, and I were present. We were discussing then what we in Britain could do to help recover some of the nuclear

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weapons, and providing transport and other containers to help. At that time, some may remember, Boris Yeltsin was going around with great satchels stuffed with roubles to try to ensure that the security guards on the nuclear sites were still being paid at the time of that complete collapse of the Soviet Union. It had to withdraw nuclear weapons from some of the countries for which Russia no longer had responsibility and wanted to recover its nuclear weapons. That brought home to me very clearly how dangerous the situation could be.

In that situation, of course it will not be made any easier by what is clearly going to be a long-lived and very serious economic recession, which is going to have, I think, an extremely damaging impact in a number of countries least able to resist it. The other element, which I have not included, but which the noble Baroness rightly mentioned, is the terrifying new element that has crept into this of cyber power. She is right to emphasise the dangers that that poses.

At this time, it is vital to keep control of nuclear material. That coincides with the fairly general agreement around the world that we need a lot more nuclear power. Therefore, the challenges we now have in this particularly dangerous new situation could not be a more appropriate time to try to tackle these problems. I briefly support the statement made by Mohamed El Baradei of the urgent steps he sees as now essential—multinational control of the production of fissile material; significantly improved physical security of nuclear materials throughout the world; and to strengthen the IAEA, its authority, its capability and its resources. That is an essential step.

Then, of course, as the noble Baroness said, we move on to the other side of the bargain. That has to be active measures by the nuclear weapons state to reduce their own stockpiles. Ninety-five per cent of the nuclear warheads are now held between Russia and the United States; 25,000 is a number that I have never been able to comprehend. It cannot possibly be justified. It is capable of massive reduction while in no way endangering the security of the United States or Russia or seriously risking their national sovereignty and situation.

The noble Baroness also referred to the UK position. We have made significant reductions. We made some reductions in my time as Secretary of State and some have been made since. There is no perfect answer and I am perfectly prepared to accept that there would be scope in a multilateral context for further reduction to be made without endangering our security and without actually undermining the ultimate credibility of our retaining a nuclear deterrent.

The noble Baroness took us on to the next stage, which is to achieve the ultimate objective of total disarmament and a nuclear-free world. I find it difficult to believe that that is achievable at the present time. The problem about this is that it is the elimination of fear. It is a noble objective but in the present uncertain world and against the background of our failure in so many areas to solve the grievances, the problems and the hatreds of the world, I do not see an early outcome to that. I turn in my approach to, I thought, a rather apt analogy by Sam Nunn, which is that it is like

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climbing a mountain when the top is covered in clouds. You do not know what the obstacles may be, you do not know what the crevices may be on the way up the mountain, but if that is your objective, you have to start and as you climb and maybe climb above the cloud level then you may see the peak and see how it may be achieved. So I lend my fullest possible support to the initiative of the noble Baroness in introducing the debate—the way she has done it and what she has had to say—and I strongly support the need for this now to be the opportunity for the world to take this matter again seriously and make real progress on these issues.

1.44 pm

Lord Owen: My Lords, I apologise to the House for having a rather bad throat. I may have to abandon my attempt to speak, but I want to speak because of the way in which the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, has set out the debate and its immense importance.

The decision of the new American Administration under President Obama to “press the reset button” on relations with the Russian Federation is of immense importance. There is a very real possibility now that we will see, even before the non-proliferation treaty starts next year, two important agreements made between the United States and the Russian Federation. The first relates to the agreement which George W Bush and Vladimir Putin made in Moscow in 2002 to reduce their deployed nuclear warheads by 2012 to 1,700 to 2,200 each.

In my view, when one Administration make a positive move on nuclear disarmament, it is extremely important for the next Administration to consolidate them. In 1977, when President Carter came in with very good intentions, he asked for a dramatic reduction in nuclear missiles and warheads from the then Soviet Union, going beyond the Vladivostok agreement which had been negotiated by Henry Kissinger. Unfortunately, the then Soviet leaders, Gromyko and Brezhnev, mistook this genuine effort, which I believe it was, from President Carter and blocked all future discussion, even when the Americans went back to the Vladivostok agreement. I see tremendous advantages in President Obama doing what President George W Bush was not prepared to do—to put this agreement in treaty form very quickly, and he should be able to easily get ratification. That would be a very significant gesture and an important decision, and it could be done before the NPT starts.

I think that there are quite good prospects now of getting the American Congress to ratify a comprehensive test ban. A treaty has been signed up to, but Congress has not ratified it. If one reads carefully Senator McCain’s speeches, particularly during the presidential election campaign, he is ready to look again at this issue, and there are enough Republicans to be able to get ratification of a comprehensive test ban treaty. Of course, if China would do the same it would be doubly significant. That would make it much easier to hold the non-proliferation conference in a genuine spirit. Agreement on non-fissile material is an interesting measure. I do not think we should exaggerate its importance, but that might be possible too.

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We all know that haunting a non-proliferation treaty will be the outcome of discussions and negotiations—call it what one will—between the United States and Iran. Here I think we have to recognise a few basic things. There is little doubt—experience of our failure to stop Pakistan getting nuclear weapons shows this—that we always underestimate the extent to which a country has gone in its objective of achieving sufficient nuclear-enriched material to make a bomb. There is little doubt that Iran has passed that threshold. One cannot realistically discuss this without recognising that reality.

There is an air of unreality about the current negotiating position. I will not go into it in depth while negotiations are at a delicate stage; that would not help. However, the idea that countries have to stop enrichment before serious talks start is not realistic. The nature of enrichment is an important question. There cannot be any escape from far more stringent on-ground IAEA inspections, without warning. That is essential; but putting all your weight behind stopping enrichment prior to getting into detailed dialogue is a mistake.

The other questions relate to the business of ultimately giving up nuclear weapons. The idea is not new. The non-proliferation treaty countries would say, with justification, that it is already in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The difference is that people in nuclear weapon states who have a long record of believing that they had to have nuclear weapons are now ready to talk about “disinventing” the nuclear weapon—giving it up. They are realistic people—certainly those in the United States—and they have given credence to this initiative.

I come to the Government’s position. We all know that nothing will be done about nuclear weapons this side of a general election. However, this country has been spending far beyond its means. If you look at the decision in the White Paper of 2006 on Trident replacement, and the subsequent papers that have come out of Select Committees and the National Audit Office, it is abundantly clear, taking into account a 25 per cent trade-weighting reduction in the value of sterling, that the bill will be far higher than first thought. Also, we see day by day our defence budget so obviously squeezed that it is causing actual deaths among our servicemen. No Government who come in after the next election will be able to avoid looking again at the question of Trident replacement; that is not credible.

I pray in aid, first, that the decision announced to Parliament in 2007 in another place is more tentative than many people have understood. It says that there must be a review by 2014, and explains the decision-making framework of 2009—the first phase of submarine replacement—then 2011 and 2013. I was struck by a recent book by Michael Quinlan, the high priest of nuclear theory and a remarkably able man. Even he was not dismissive of the need to reconsider the 2007 choice by Parliament. He wrote that it should take place,

He went on to write:

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