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North Korea

Volume 561: debated on Monday 15 April 2013

8. What assessment he has made of the ability of North Korea to deliver a ballistic nuclear warhead and the extent to which such technology is being shared with Iran. (150735)

It is clear that North Korea is undertaking programmes to develop nuclear weapons and a range of missile systems. It has successfully flight-tested ballistic missiles capable of reaching South Korea, Japan and US bases in the region. It has paraded a long-range missile with a claimed range of 12,000 km, which is highly likely to be intended to be nuclear-armed. Those developments are in breach of international law and threaten the stability of the region.

As for links with Iran, North Korea is known to have sold ballistic missile technology to Iran. Any sharing of nuclear technologies would be a matter of grave concern and would breach UN sanctions.

The attempted development of nuclear weapons by North Korea and Iran surely underlines the importance of maintaining our own independent nuclear deterrent, but does my right hon. Friend agree that perhaps the greatest risk to world peace is a miscalculation or mistake on behalf of either Iran or North Korea at this time when tensions are rising?

I completely agree that there are huge risks at a time of heightened tension and a huge potential for miscalculation, which is why I welcome the initiative in which the United States is engaged to try to calm tensions around the Korean peninsula. The developments in Korea, and indeed Iran, show us primarily that the world is a very dangerous and unpredictable place, and that a credible nuclear deterrent is the ultimate protection against the threat of nuclear aggression or blackmail.

What assessment has the Secretary of State made of the time frame in which the North Koreans will have the capability to strike mainland Europe with a nuclear missile?

It is impossible for us to make with any accuracy a prediction of the time scale involved. As I said, the North Koreans have tested shorter-range ballistic missiles and paraded a ballistic missile with sufficient range to reach Europe and the continental United States. We can only assume—I would be prepared to bet my bottom dollar on it—that they are seeking to integrate their nuclear technology with that ballistic missile technology.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s robust earlier reply, but does he agree that the links to which he and my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) referred—not only with Iran but, to a lesser extent, with other potentially extreme regimes—emphasise once more that, in a world with huge uncertainty, our nuclear deterrent is critical?

I agree with my hon. Friend, and I would go further and say this: the life expectancy of the replacement ballistic missile submarines will be about 35 to 40 years, and it would be a very brave man who would claim now that he could see, 40 years ahead from the 2020s, that there will be no need for that capability.

It is in all our interests that the situation in North Korea is resolved not only peacefully but meaningfully so as the US deploys military assets to the Korean peninsula, what discussions has the Secretary of State had with his US counterparts about the provision of any UK logistical support? Should the US move any military assets out of Afghanistan to that region, has he confirmed to the US that the UK would be willing to fill any of the gaps created by that redeployment?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his question. There have been no discussions with and no requests from the US, as far as I am aware—certainly at ministerial level—regarding any form of logistical support in relation to the tensions on the Korean peninsula. Again, as far as I am aware, there is no proposal by the US to move any assets from the Afghanistan theatre in response to this crisis.