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Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty

Volume 650: debated on Monday 26 November 2018

4. What representations he has made to his US counterpart on remaining in the intermediate-range nuclear forces treaty. (907801)

We have a close dialogue with the United States at all levels on foreign and security policy, including the intermediate-range nuclear forces treaty. We share US concerns about certain new Russian missiles. The treaty has played a valuable role in supporting Euro-Atlantic security. We want to see it continue to stand, but that requires all parties to comply.

The Trump Administration’s withdrawal from the intermediate-range nuclear forces treaty has prompted Putin to say that it

“wouldn’t be left without an answer from our side.”

Many are now concerned that this may have recklessly opened the door to a chilling new nuclear arms race. Does the Secretary of State share this concern over such hardball diplomacy?

There is one nation that is in breach of the treaty, and it is Russia. It needs to start complying with that treaty, and it needs to comply immediately. It is a treaty between those two nations, and currently there is one nation that is not complying with it.

The intermediate-range nuclear forces treaty of 1987 was based on the zero-option offer, which was a great two-sided deal between the Soviet Union and the west. Does the Secretary of State think that there are any lessons to be drawn from the negotiations which led to that successful deal, in that the west faced down the Soviet Union, walked out—or, at least, allowed the Soviet Union to walk out—without a deal when the Russians refused to accept the zero-option offer, and waited for them to come back and do a genuine deal that benefited both sides? Does he think that that successful two-sided deal has any lessons to teach us for the purpose of certain other negotiations that have so far worked out a lot less happily?

I cannot imagine what my right hon. Friend is referring to, but I think that when it comes to the issue of Russia’s lack of compliance with its treaty obligations, we need to keep hammering home the message, with all our NATO allies, that it cannot ignore its treaty obligations and must start complying with them.

Will the Secretary of State make clear that there could be dangers here, with threats not only to the INF treaty but to the strategic arms reduction treaty—START—talks on strategic nuclear weapons? Will he also, along with his colleagues in NATO, present a united front on NATO’s assessment, and that of the United States, that Russia is in serious breach of the INF treaty? Will he urge the Americans—who have not, as far as I am aware, announced that they have withdrawn, but have announced an intention to withdraw—not to do so, but also make clear that this is not a reaction from Russia, but a reaction from the west to actions by Russia?

The right hon. Gentleman’s assessment is absolutely accurate. This is a US reaction to Russia’s lack of compliance with its treaty obligations. It is important for the whole of NATO to speak with one voice and make clear to Russia that it must start complying with its treaty obligations.

On 25 October, the Minister for Asia and the Pacific said, in response to an urgent question that I had tabled on US withdrawal from the INF treaty,

“clearly we are in discussions with all our allies to avoid that outcome”.—[Official Report, 25 October 2018; Vol. 648, c. 442.]

At the same time, however, the Defence Secretary appeared to be supportive of the United States’ decision. Will he clarify exactly what the Government’s position really is? Does he not agree that, while Russia has undoubtedly breached its obligations under the treaty, it would be far better for the United States to remain within the auspices of the treaty and work to improve Russia’s compliance?

A treaty that involves only two people and is not being complied with by one of the parties does not end up as the most successful of treaties. That is why we will continue to work with our NATO allies, and with partners around the world, to put pressure on Russia to start complying with its international treaty responsibilities. The United States is quite right to highlight the fact that Russia is in breach of its obligations.