rose to call attention to the United Kingdom’s commitment to participate in the United States missile defence system, and to the implications of recent negotiations between the United States and other states for the deployment of that system; and to move for Papers.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, the context for this debate is provided by the Government’s commitment to participate in the United States missile defence system, slipped out in a Written Statement one day before Parliament rose last July. Since then, the Government have offered no opportunity to debate this decision in either House, despite the promise that Tony Blair, as Prime Minister, made in the other place last February that:
“We will tell the House as soon as there is something to say. At the moment those discussions are at a very preliminary stage ... When we have a proposition to put, we will come back and put it”.
He was forced to say that only because the Economist had just published an article detailing negotiations under way between the UK and the US in Washington, based on Washington sources.
Mr Blair also promised that when a decision was made there would be a,
“discussion in the House and, indeed, outside the House”.—[Official Report, Commons, 28/2/07; cols. 919-20.]
No such discussion has yet taken place. We therefore offer the Lords the opportunity to consider Her Majesty's Government’s acceptance that the US will install new equipment at Menwith Hill, in addition to switching on the enhanced radar at RAF Fylingdales, in the hope that the Government will be sufficiently embarrassed to provide a fuller and more detailed justification of their decision, and to grant time for an appropriate debate also in the other place.
We are not, as a party, opposed in all circumstances to the concept of missile defence—no more than we are opposed in desperate circumstances to nuclear weapons, dreadful as they are. We are however committed to a multilateral approach to international security and to the development of a treaty-based framework for controlling and reducing the world’s dependence on armaments, most of all nuclear weapons. In the course of the 1970s and 1980s an extensive multilateral framework was constructed for limiting the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, including the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the treaty to ban weapons in outer space, and the 1972 bilateral US-Soviet Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. This framework has sadly been significantly weakened over the past seven years by the actions of the Bush Administration.
The case for a more determined effort to build a multilateral regime to control fissile materials and to reverse the proliferation of nuclear weapons was strongly argued in an article jointly signed by George Shultz, Bill Perry, Henry Kissinger and Sam Nunn in the Wall Street Journal on 4 January last year—not a group of lily-livered liberals but hard-headed and experienced American statesmen who recognise that a stronger global framework to end what they called “the nuclear madness” is essential. In that context, some precautionary research on the long-term possibilities of missile defence, in case efforts at multilateral regime-building fail, is justifiable—but not a rush to deployment.
That was, until 2001, the position of the Labour Government. When the Republican majority in Congress attempted to push President Clinton towards a programme of national missile defence in 1999-2000, Peter Hain, as a Foreign Office Minister, declared:
“I don’t like the idea of a Star Wars programme, limited or unlimited. Unilateral moves by Washington would be very damaging”;
while Geoff Hoon, as Secretary of State for Defence, expressed concern that such a development would breach the ABM treaty, telling the Commons,
“we continue to value the strategic stability that the treaty provides. We want to see it preserved”.—[Official Report, Commons, 4/5/00; col. 312.]
An alternative, unilateral approach to missile defence has been a core element of the ideology of the American Republicans for the past 30 years, supported vigorously by the companies that form America's military-industrial complex and which have benefited so well from the enormous expenditure on the Star Wars programme over the years. When President Reagan promoted the strategic defence initiative in the 1980s, Margaret Thatcher, to her great credit, used her personal relationship with him to insist that the SDI programme must remain compatible with existing arms control agreements, including the ABM treaty.
After the Cold War ended, the programme was scaled back, and scaled back further when the Democrats under Clinton recaptured the White House. But neo-conservatives and other believers in American exceptionalism kept the faith and declared their willingness to tear up arms control treaties to achieve it. This is, after all, an essential part of the Project for the New American Century: to establish global American hegemony behind a secure missile shield, unconstrained by treaties or by unreliable allies. The Rumsfeld Commission in 1998 encouraged the Republican Congress to push national missile defence forward; and the US Air Force Space Command, for which much of the additional funding was provided, developed proposals for the potential militarisation of outer space in response, which would break another pillar of the arms control regime.
It is astonishing how completely our Labour Government—a supposedly progressive Government committed in principle to international law, multilateral institutions and the limitation of armaments—have since caved in to the neo-conservative Bush agenda. In February 2001, Prime Minister Blair told Forbes magazine that the missile defence issue needed to be marked “handle with care” in Washington. By the autumn of 2002, the MoD, in a public discussion paper, cautiously indicated:
“The Government will agree to a US request for the use of UK facilities for missile defence only if we believe that doing so enhances the security of the UK and the NATO alliance”.
In January 2003, Mr Hoon announced that Her Majesty’s Government had agreed to upgrading the Fylingdales radar, telling the Commons that this,
“should be considered as a discrete proposition. It does not commit us in any way to any deeper involvement in missile defence”.—[Official Report, Commons, 15/1/03; col. 697.]
He did, however, admit to Sir Menzies Campbell that the Government had not discussed this decision with any of our major European partners—so much for ensuring that it would strengthen the NATO alliance. Over the past few months the German Government in particular have asked for much more multilateral discussion about the current proposed deployment of US missile defence across Europe, but the British Government have not responded to the German Government on that.
In January 2003, in recognising that there were some arguments for upgrading Fylingdales, the Commons Defence Committee said:
“Further steps down the path towards a UK missile defence capability, however, will require a more robust justification couched more directly in terms of our own national interest. Future upgrades will have to be judged on their merits at the time”.
Amid persistent rumours that the Government were negotiating with Washington for a major role in the US system, Des Browne assured the Commons as late as April last year that:
“The UK has received no request from the US to use RAF Menwith Hill for missile defence-related activities”.—[Official Report, Commons, 16/4/07; col. 162W.]
That must have been a misleading statement. Formal letters on the use of Menwith Hill were exchanged only two months later, although Parliament was not informed for several more weeks to avoid embarrassment to the Government.
Noble Lords may not be familiar with the exact status of Menwith Hill. I have a particular interest because this American base is sited on the ridge between Wharfedale and Nidderdale, and I see its multiple sensors and radars on the horizon—in their giant golfball cladding—every time I walk up from Saltaire on to Ilkley Moor. Unlike Fylingdales, which is operated by the RAF, Menwith Hill is under American control. It is a field station of the US National Security Agency. It has been described as the largest electronic monitoring station in the world. Between 1,500 and 2,000 US nationals from various agencies work at the base. Contacts in Harrogate council tell me that numbers rose by several hundred in the months after September 11 2001, although that was unreported to the British Parliament.
I hope that the Minister can enlighten us on the exact status of this base. As I understand it, it was granted to the United States under a bilateral exchange of letters in December 1951, and a 21-year lease was confirmed by a further exchange of letters in 1955. In 1976, when the first 21-year period was up, the Pentagon admitted that it had lost the original exchange of letters. Nevertheless, the MoD granted a further 21-year occupation until 1997. In February 1997, Nicholas Soames, as a Conservative Minister, stated:
“There is one security of tenure agreement applicable solely to RAF Menwith Hill. No leases have ever been granted to the US authorities”.
He went on to say that,
“there are no plans, nor is there any requirement, to renew the arrangements at RAF Menwith Hill”.—[Official Report, Commons, 24/2/97; cols. 118-19.]
Nevertheless, the base is still very much there, serving American interests on British soil. Noble Lords will remember the European Parliament inquiry several years ago which investigated the Echelon programme when it was said that Americans were being allowed to listen in on European communications and to feed back commercial as well as security information to the US authorities and the companies with which they had close relationships. The British Government at the time had no comment to make on these investigations. My good friend Norman Baker MP has tried without success through successive Parliamentary Questions to discover exactly what the terms are under which the US NSA now occupies and operates this base.
Over the coming months we will hear a great deal in both Houses and in the British press about the limitations to British sovereignty involved in ratifying the EU reform treaty. But the abandonment of British sovereignty involved in the operation of Menwith Hill—and of course in the more distant Diego Garcia—presents a far deeper incursion into British sovereignty than anything the EU has to offer. The Ministerial Statement of 25 July 2007 stated clearly that,
“at RAF Menwith Hill, equipment will be installed and operated by the US Government [to feed data] ... into the US ballistic missile ... system for use in their response to any missile attack on the US”.—[Official Report, Commons, 25/7/07; col. 71WS.]
This is Britain as “Airstrip One” for a hegemonic USA, not the basis for a co-operative partnership among allies. It seems appropriate that Menwith Hill should have appeared in a slide map presented by an official from the US Missile Defence Agency to the WEU Assembly in December last year in military newspeak as the “UK situational awareness node”. An even clearer indication of Labour’s subservience to the Rumsfeld-Cheney agenda was the Defence Secretary’s use of the term “rogue states” in his 25 July Statement in order to explain “the emerging threat” which this US system is intended to counter.
Do the Government really believe that there are states beyond the reach of international pressure or diplomacy that presently constitute existential threats—an axis of evil against which only a military response is possible? In January 2003 Mr Hoon justified the upgrading of Fylingdales in terms of the threat from Iraq, but the threat was then defeated and discovered to be rather insubstantial. Some Washington policy makers then were more focused on North Korea; but the United States has, sensibly, shifted towards a multilateral effort to contain North Korea through sanctions and negotiations. Libya used to be on the list; but successful British and American diplomacy has persuaded Libya to dismantle its nuclear programme. Now it is Iran which is called on to justify the project, assumed to remain an implacable enemy over the 10 to 20 years needed to get the system up and running and justify its cost.
Why has there been so little public concern about this in Britain so far? Well, the Conservatives have given their unconditional support to this neo-conservative project, so also giving the Government a free pass from proper parliamentary scrutiny. William Hague, the MP for a constituency that neighbours on Menwith Hill as well as Conservative foreign affairs spokesman, replied to one of his own constituents last October with the robust declaration:
“Conservatives are fully supportive of the principle of a Missile Defence system in Europe, which, as you say, includes the facility at Menwith Hill ... We encourage future cooperation with the United States on defence and security related issues”.
We might expect the Conservatives to support this essentially Republican project, even if it marks a sad retreat from the traditional Tory support for multilateralism and international institutions. What is extraordinary is that the Labour Party has been so silent on this betrayal by its own Government of traditional internationalist principles. In the American presidential campaign, it has been Rudy Giuliani and John McCain who have made missile defence a major theme in their campaigns. Both of them have made it clear that they see the system as aimed at containing Russia as well as emerging nuclear states, and that they do not care if further development worsens our already difficult relations with Putin’s Russia. But, as my noble friend Lady Williams will argue later, we need Russia as a partner in strengthening the global arms control regime, and in tightening controls over trade in fissile materials and nuclear components.
The Economist story last February reported, on good authority, that our then Prime Minister, with the support of our then Chancellor, was pressing the American Administration to station not only sensors, radars and communications networks in Britain, but also missile interceptors. In the event, Washington chose to place the interceptors in Poland rather than in Britain, with additional radar facilities in the Czech Republic. A change of government in Poland has since thrown this in doubt, with the robustly right-wing Polish Foreign Minister, Radek Sikorski, bluntly stating,
“this is an American, not a Polish project”,
which jeopardises Polish relations with Russia unnecessarily.
On 8 October, the Daily Telegraph reported that the British Government were still pursuing negotiations for closer involvement; that—quoting a Foreign Office spokeswoman—
“missile defence would be one of Sir Nigel Sheinwald’s top priorities”,
when he took up his post as UK ambassador in Washington; and that the likeliest site for a UK missile interceptor base would be at RAF Lakenheath in Suffolk. Well, at least that makes a change from placing everything in Yorkshire. Can the Minister possibly assure us that in the event of the new Polish Government declining to accept these missiles, the Government will not leap into the gap to accept them instead?
Foreign Minister Sikorski raised another query about current US plans in his interview last week, reported in Monday’s International Herald Tribune. He said that,
“he was worried that the United States could abandon the project after the American presidential election in November”,
leaving Poland to carry the costs of a deterioration in relations with Russia without any gain in longer-term security. The same fate could of course meet our Labour Government, to find themselves—after years of subordinating their principles to Republican unilateralism—faced with a Democratic President who thankfully prefers a multilateral course. I, for one, hope that that indeed will be the outcome. But in the mean time, this House, and this Parliament, deserve a much fuller justification from the Government of the commitments on the use of British soil for US missile defence than they have given over the years. The British public deserve that explanation, too. I beg to move for Papers.
My Lords, since I am the first to respond I am happy to be the first to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, on having initiated this debate on what is manifestly a fundamentally important topic. To begin with, I should say that I have very considerable disquiet about how the Government have approached this issue and its wider implications. Many points can be made about this and I am sure that they will be made by other speakers. I will not discuss whether the thing will work because I find it impossible to conceive that a failsafe anti-missile system could be constructed. You would need a hell of a lot of trust in it to sit underneath it while someone launched a missile at you. I want to raise three points which to some extent overlap with those made by the noble Lord.
First, I turn to the manner in which the decision was taken by the Government on further involvement with the US missile system. As they say of marriage, it left a lot to be desired. The Defence Select Committee said:
“We deplore the manner in which the public debate on this issue has been handled”.
That is a strong statement. The Government responded to it by saying, “Oh well, we have had quite a bit of consultation with different interest groups”. But that is not the same as having a proper public debate on the issues, so I agree fairly strongly with what the noble Lord said about that.
The other countries involved in the missile shield are Poland and the Czech Republic, both of which at least were governed by far-right Administrations. It is quite significant that the new Polish Government have started to make different noises from those of the previous Administration about their involvement. A YouGov survey in this country showed that only 26 per cent of the population thought that our involvement with the missile shield might make either the UK or Europe safer, and the percentages against it in the Czech Republic and Poland are considerably higher, at around 70 per cent. Therefore maybe this should have been a more substantial debate given that, at least in those parts of the European Union affected by the shield and that have agreed to go along with it, the weight of public opinion is against it.
Secondly, the literature the Government have published on the missile shield seems consistently to downgrade its importance. They speak of an upgrade in our radar protection system. Of course, in a technical sense it is an upgrade because it is in large part a modification of what we already have, but in a wider sense it is very different from that. As the noble Lord also said, the initial introduction of the missile shield was made against the backdrop of one of the most significant shifts in international relations that we have seen for the past 30 to 40 years. Most noble Lords, and I am sure most noble Lords present, will have read President Bush’s address made at West Point in 2001, not long after the attack on New York, where he said that he would define the world primarily in terms of American power, that America would be the dominant state in world society, and that he did not intend to go along with the multilateral agreements which have existed so far. Even before that, the United States had withdrawn from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, so the existence of this project is quite interlocked with—I do not like the word “neoconservativism”, which is a sort of scare term—a fundamental shift in international relations in which, if I understand the position of Prime Minister Brown’s Government, to whom I now belong, there is a return to multilateral negotiations. There is a clear inconsistency here.
Thirdly, the Government say blandly that they will work on further co-operation with the EU and NATO, but the decision to take part in this endeavour is fraught with implications for the whole of Europe and beyond. When the Minister in the other place was asked about the effects of this, he said that it would make Britain a safer place. But if it creates a belligerent and hostile Russia on the edge of Europe, in what sense are we in a safer place? We all know that Russia’s response to the missile shield has been consistently hostile. The latest statement, made yesterday by the Russian Foreign Minister, reiterates the position taken previously, so you cannot pretend that this decision does not have very wide geopolitical implications.
I ask the Minister three questions. First, would she accept that the siting of installations here marks a distinct loss of UK sovereignty? I do not mean this question in the same way as the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, asked it, because I do not think that the issue here is who controls the base—whether you have an American commander or British control. I take it that this Government will have sovereignty over what goes on inside the base, but will we not lose sovereignty in terms of wider decision-making? If we get involved with an installation, we are involved necessarily in a wide project whose parameters will be sketched by the large-scale powers, not by the UK—by America, Russia and, it is my hope, anyway, the European Union and maybe China. I cannot see that the UK will have a significant impact on something that it has committed itself to. Therefore, it seems a loss of sovereignty in a rather broader and more significant sense than the noble Lord sketched in.
Secondly, how would the Minister counter the argument that the introduction of a missile shield, or a missile shield project, inevitably brings a strong possibility of further confrontation, and further escalation in the existence of missile systems and hostile arrangements of armaments in the world? Russia has already said that it is producing a missile system with multiple warheads, more sophisticated than those that have existed for some years previously, and which it says will outwit any possible missile shield. How can one prevent further escalation—if you like, a renewed arms race—in which Europe again might be the pawn, caught in the middle, if such an escalation should happen? I think that the Government at least owe us an explanation of why this would not be the outcome of the project in which they are involving us.
Thirdly and finally, if there is indeed to be a new missile system—and unlike the noble Lord, I am not a fundamentalist; I am not against the idea in principle, under certain conditions—it would manifestly be safer if Russia, the EU and the United States collaborated on it. Russia, of course, has set out a plan, which the American President has straightforwardly rejected. My final question is: does the Minister see a way in which Russia could be involved, and in which therefore there could be a missile shield that would indeed protect us all, because it would be based on a multilateral set of agreements, rather than the international relations regime that the Bush Government have perpetrated?
My Lords, we owe a debt of gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, for enabling us to debate an extremely important matter. I will not repeat the interesting points that he made about how this system evolved, nor will I address the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, save to express some surprise at his great concern over sovereignty in this matter. The issue of sovereignty in the matter of collaboration with the United States over defence has not been a real problem for the great majority of us for a very long while. I personally do not see any difference between what is now proposed in terms of sovereignty and what has been happening for a long while.
I believe that the debate about missile defence must be seen in the historical context of modern warfare. For this purpose, I define the start of modern warfare as the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima in August 1945. It must also be seen in the context of missile offence, and on this I suppose history goes back a year earlier, to September 1944, when Hitler launched his V2 rockets on London. Indeed, if one is talking about the essence of modern warfare technologically, one sees that the crucial development was that of radar, by Sir Robert Watson-Watt, which took place in Suffolk, near where I live, in 1938 and which arrived just in time to save Britain in the battle against the Luftwaffe.
There is still much criticism of the American atomic attack on Japan. One of my early schoolboy memories is hearing the Emperor of Japan, translated on the radio, denouncing the use of this “new and most cruel” weapon. Even as a juvenile, I thought it strange for the Japanese to be denouncing cruelty. The attack did of course end the war within days. Had the nuclear weapon not been used then, I believe that it would have been used later, probably between nuclear powers—in other words, it would not have been a one-sided matter—with far more devastating results. The point that I am making is that, once used, the reality of nuclear warfare has meant that it has never been used again. It had to be used to demonstrate the science fact. Otherwise, it would have remained science fiction, which would never have been as effective a deterrent.
The missile defence system entered the big league of international affairs in June 1983, when President Reagan announced the Strategic Defence Initiative, or Star Wars. In March 1985, Gorbachev took over as Soviet leader. Between then and October 1986, when at the Reykjavik summit Reagan offered a world free of nuclear weapons—an offer that in my view fortunately foundered on the Star Wars complications—the Soviets must at some time have come to the conclusion that they could not negate the American SDI without a level of expenditure that Gorbachev recognised as unacceptable to the Russian people. At any rate, within five years the Warsaw Pact was dissolved, in June 1991. By the end of that year, Yeltsin had succeeded Gorbachev and dissolved the Soviet Union, thus ending the Cold War.
Now we have had the Government’s Trident White Paper of December 2006, with a £15 billion to £20 billion plan for the replacement of that weapons system, which was approved by the House of Commons last March. Meanwhile, the issues that we are debating today concern collaboration with the USA for its National Missile Defence system.
We all know that the prospects of stability in the world are vanishing rapidly. It is not just that there is a frightening lack of world leadership. So many world leaders, including some leaders of the great powers, are either weak in their home bases, deeply flawed or on their way out. Furthermore, the influence of the great powers has declined. Tragically for the world, the United States seems to have used its military power to diminish its world influence.
There is also a growing number of failed states, where a combination of economic incompetence, corruption, internal conflicts, external attacks, political anarchy and repressive regimes has created intolerable conditions for local populations. The uncompromising threat of fundamentalist Islamicism, which has overtly transferred itself from a religion into a political ideology, is growing. In the Middle East, the price of peace seems to be higher than the cost of conflict, especially given the cash flow from the high oil prices, which contribute to that regional turbulence. Indeed, the price of oil is partly a function of the regional turbulence. In whose interest, therefore, is the regional turbulence?
The likelihood of nuclear proliferation is growing. It is probably safer to use military technology to counter it, if it happens, than military force to prevent it, because nuclear weapons remain unusable, as they have been since August 1945. I believe that we can be reasonably confident that no state that has even the semblance of a diversity of power will use them. None the less, we must have the best defence against them. For those reasons, I strongly support the principle of ballistic missile defence in Europe.
There are important obligations on the Government. First, they must keep Parliament properly and fully informed. Many of these issues are not state secrets. The decisions made must and should depend on the feedback from the people in a parliamentary democracy. Secondly, they must ensure that we have the financial resources to meet any commitments. I have said before that the Government have to choose between providing the resources to meet their military commitments and adjusting their military commitments to their resources. At present they are doing neither. Let us be aware that the economic prospects mean that the cash flow from taxation over the coming years will look pretty sick.
The fact remains that we are dependent on the United States for our key defence technologies. That is why I believe that we were silly to embark on competitive technologies such as the EU Galileo system, which duplicates the American navigational satellite system. Its design and development are costing the UK Government €142 million, with a further £2.3 billion for Europe as a whole for deployment and initial operation of the system up to 2013. That was ill considered indeed.
The Government must answer other questions, too. Are interceptor missiles, as well as the method of detecting missile attacks, to be stationed in the United Kingdom? I am very unclear about where we are on that and we must debate it. We will not necessarily all agree, but this must not be done surreptitiously. We have heard about the enormous scale of Menwith Hill from the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire. I had not realised what a huge operation it is. It is important that local people should be consulted on the implications for them. Then there are the potential benefits for British business in developing these new systems.
The world outlook is bleak. Never have we more needed a competent Government of integrity. Let us hope that we soon get one.
My Lords, recent developments in the field of missile defence systems, in particular the unilateral US decision to deploy anti-missile missiles and their back-up equipment to eastern Europe and the extraordinarily shrill Russian response to that decision, have reminded us of the basic fragility of the security environment in which we live in this post-Cold War era. Some statements, particularly those from the Russian side, have sounded eerily like echoes of the Cold War. While I do not believe that we are in fact slipping back towards that era, we surely need to learn lessons from some of the mistakes that have been made and to try to remedy some of the damage that has been done. Because this issue has wider implications for the whole future of mutually agreed multilateral measures of arms control and disarmament, we need, I argue, to look wider than the single matter of missile defence. We need to know a lot more than we have hitherto been told about the role that the British Government are playing in these developments and, for that, we look to the Minister replying to this debate. For all these reasons, I warmly welcome the initiative taken by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, and the Liberal Democrats in bringing this issue before the House.
I should say at the outset that I do not believe that either the United States or its allies can simply afford to ignore the potential future threat from weapons of mass destruction armed missile attacks, launched by one or more of the growing number of countries seeking to acquire such a capability. So I do not favour attempting to place a blanket ban on the development or deployment of any form of anti-missile defence. There I take the same view as, I think, the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, and certainly the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford. To do so, in my view, not only would be doomed to failure, but could leave the United States and its allies with no better form of deterrence against such attacks than the appalling prospect of massive retaliation. That form of deterrence may have worked in the special circumstances of the Cold War, with two equally armed nuclear superpowers, each with the capacity to destroy the world, squared off against each other, but would it work in the much more fragmented, fissiparous world in which we live? There must be some reasonable doubt about that. Will it work in the medium to long-term future, whose shape we never seem terribly good at predicting? Nor do I consider the Russian response to US policy to be other than disproportionate and excessively aggressive. The idea that a very small number of anti-missile missiles deployed in Poland will pose a serious threat to Russia’s security is not convincing.
The initial approach of the US to the handling of the perceived threat seems to me to have been deeply flawed and to bear all the marks of that unilateralist approach to policy making that has inflicted such damage on the US’s reputation and its alliance relationships over recent years. Was it really wise not to ensure firm support or at least clear understanding of the reasoning behind the policy in NATO before moving ahead? Was it sensible not to consult Russia at an early stage and at every level before firm decisions were announced, given the fraught negotiations that preceded the setting aside of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002? My answer to both questions is, “Clearly not”.
The need now, surely, is to proceed much more circumspectly and cautiously towards any future decisions, particularly those on the timing and practicalities of any actual deployment of missiles, seeking to meet concerns where they are legitimate and to find ways around problems rather than bulldozing one’s way through them. In all this, the element of timing is surely critical and, in the light of the recent US National Intelligence Estimate on Iran, there may be slightly more of that commodity available than was thought by some a short time ago. After all, a world in which the potential threats from North Korea and Iran have been met by peaceful negotiated responses will be a totally different world from one where the diplomatic approach has definitively failed, and we are not yet at a point where we can say one or the other of those two outcomes is the more likely. It would be good to hear from the Minister whether the Government are urging such a more circumspect and cautious approach on our US allies when it comes to deployment.
That brings us to the wider significance of this anti-missile defence issue to arms control and disarmament in general. Developments in this wider field since the turn of the century have almost all been negative. The major shift towards substantive measures of arms control and disarmament that marked the 1980s and 1990s ground to a halt and was then reversed. This was no random event, born simply of neglect or inadvertence. Any reader of Surrender is Not an Option, the recent memoir of the former US ambassador to the UN and Under Secretary for Arms Control, will see there the glee and enthusiasm with which the Bush Administration set about unilaterally dismantling existing agreements such as the ABM Treaty and destroying future ones on biological warfare verification and on a fissile material cut-off treaty, as well as blocking any prospect of bringing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty into force. This in my view misguided policy seems, fortunately, to have pretty well run its course, but it has not yet been reversed, as it surely needs to be.
That is what makes 2008 a crucial year for arms control and disarmament, one in which we can either stand aside helplessly as the world slides towards disorder and greater insecurity for all, or one in which we collectively begin to resume the process of multilateral arms control and disarmament and to strengthen the effort against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. We should be under no illusion that those two matters are closely connected. If the 2010 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference is to avoid being the fiasco that its predecessor was in 2005, if the now certain major expansion of civil nuclear energy in the years ahead is not to lead to major proliferation risks from the increasingly widespread existence of countries controlling the full fuel cycle, and if the cases of Iran and North Korea are to be handled satisfactorily, the existing legitimised nuclear weapon states will need to honour their commitment to move towards nuclear disarmament. That is the view of a number of extremely distinguished US statesmen known more for their realism than for any ideological commitment to disarmament, led by two former Secretaries of State, George Shultz and Henry Kissinger. It surely should be the view, too, of our own Government, but on that I wait to hear the noble Baroness when she winds up.
This year’s election in the US provides an opportunity and is, indeed, a necessary precondition for such a reversal of recent negative trends, as probably is the emergence of Russia from its cycle of parliamentary and presidential elections. But the debate needs to go wider than that and it would surely be wrong if the British Government—one of the legitimised nuclear weapon states—were to regard themselves simply as a spectator in this process. Is it not high time that the Foreign Secretary or the Prime Minister set out fully and publicly the British Government’s thinking on the whole range of issues covered in this debate? What are we ourselves prepared to contribute to the sorely needed renaissance of multilateral arms control and disarmament? What are we doing to bring about a concerted European view on these matters, particularly a view concerted with our fellow European nuclear power, France? What progress is being made at the International Atomic Energy Agency to take decisions and to implement the Government’s proposals for a uranium enrichment bank or drawing rights?
In conclusion, I return briefly to missile defence. It is surely clear that addressing this matter on its own, in complete isolation from these wider considerations, is not likely either to work or to produce good results. We need to address it in a wider framework of resumed international co-operation over arms control issues. By this I am not suggesting any crude trade-offs or some obscure “grand bargain”. The suggestion is rather that, unless we can bring about a reversal of recent negative trends and a spirit of greater mutual confidence and co-operation, dealing with each individual issue, of which this is one, will be a great deal more difficult and only too likely to lead to a further unravelling of the important international agreements that were put in place some time ago.
My Lords, when I put down my name to speak in this debate I was putting my toe into new waters. I did so because I have never really felt that the idea that you could knock out of the sky all the opposing missiles of any enemy—whether they be big or small—was one that stood up to any degree of scrutiny.
The noble Lord, Lord Giddens, pointed out that so far the answer to any of these defence systems has been simply more warheads. You fire more of them more frequently. They will come over but you will not be able to take them out with any of the proposed technologies. Thus the system may find a new justification as a rogue state may have the will and sufficient resources to equip itself with a sufficiently technologically advanced weapons system applicable to this form of defence—a defence system which has not received universal or national backing for its technological capability.
I have a report from the United States whose cover says it all:
“Defense Acquisitions, Missile Defense Acquisition Strategy General Results but Delivers Less at a Higher Cost”.
Another report states that the system tested has been successful so far but it was criticised for having one missile from a known target coming towards us and others that have failed.
Will it work? Does that really matter? If we do this at a very limited level—those who are doing it may not launch it anyway—and if the Americans, our allies, wish to pump vast amounts of money into this system—money which may well be better spent on accurate intelligence—does it really matter? Yes, because it might work; yes, because the technology that is being acquired here is a threat to any other major state. Once you have the delivery system you can expand any weapons system, once it has been developed and once it is in a prepared state.
A disastrous outcome of this logic can be that huge amounts of money are pumped into a system which is inadequately deployed to meet most of the threats and others are inspired to take countermeasures. The countermeasures would, quite obviously, take out the early-warning systems, thus creating a situation in which one has to strike back earlier. That is a very familiar scenario to anyone who grew up, as I did, under the reality of mutually assured destruction. One would strike back earlier, there would be cut-off points and people would, I hope, back away. That is how the system appears to me.
I cannot do justice to some of the ideas that came out of the Star Wars project because I would be bound to get some of the acronyms wrong, but there are lasers and chemical weapons systems and so on, which apparently are technically possible but have not yet been perfected. There are systems that can strike early in the boost phase of a missile coming towards you. That is probably where the systems will work but, once again, you will have to consider striking back at the delivery system. However, it totally fails to take into account an almost inevitable consequence: if a rogue state or a group within a state wishes to deliver a weapon of mass destruction—we are politely forgetting chemical weapons in this debate—you do not have to deliver it by missile; it could be delivered in dozens of ways. You could stick it into any conventional form of transport, give it a shipping document, send it where you want it to go and detonate it at the point of its interception by the civil authorities, so achieving your goal.
We are using vast amounts of resources to meet a threat that does not exist, but which will annoy Russia. Whatever goes on in the mind of Russia, it is a country that, throughout its history, has shown a degree of fear and nervousness about its neighbours, which probably should be drawn to the attention of the rest of the world. It is potentially a threat to China and to India. If it is likely that the current approach will not work, the easiest way of deterring the threat is to take away valuable resources from what is going on, so alienating your potential allies who, between them, might stand a much better chance of cracking down on the problem.
What are we buying into? It is something that might blight some form of diplomacy in international relations in the future; it could build up a victim culture in all those states—big and small—that see it potentially being directed against them; and ultimately it will not work. I suggest that we remove ourselves from it. We need to get enough distance to say that it is not the way forward. If we do not do that, we will commit ourselves to something that is ultimately counterproductive.
My Lords, I join those who have expressed their genuine appreciation to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, for giving the House an opportunity to discuss this issue. As a long-standing governor of the London School of Economics, I long ago came to admire the powerful, tough and sometimes relentless analysis—and the effectiveness with which it is usually deployed—of the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire.
Since the fall of the Berlin Wall there has been a total transformation of the context in which we approach defence. The nature of the threat has become much more complex and demanding than the relative predictability of the dynamism of the Cold War. Volatility and dispersed dangers, coupled with sinister nuclear, chemical and biological capabilities are the stark reality. The remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Addington, deserve careful attention. I sometimes reflect that what has been regarded in the past as unorthodox has indeed become the orthodox. It is impossible to eliminate the dangers—again, the remarks and observations of the noble Lord, Lord Addington, were very important in this respect—but they can be reduced to a minimum with irreconcilable extremism marginalised.
The battle for hearts and minds must therefore no longer be seen as a nice country weekend idea. It becomes a central, immediate, muscular priority in our strategy. A battle for hearts and minds requires vast resources for economic, social and educational policy and its implementation. This battle, together with the already existing huge demands across the world on limited military and intelligence resources, must mean that projects that pre-empt massive expenditure for years ahead—a missile defence system, like a renewed future for our own current form of nuclear deterrent, is exactly that—should be subject to the toughest possible scrutiny, analysis and evaluation to be sure that such projects are really the most effective and reliable and involve the best possible use of resources. My noble friend Lord Giddens drew attention to that important point.
Do they convincingly meet not only current challenges but challenges we may face in the future? Among the new preoccupations posed by terrorism, Iran, Israel, India, Pakistan, and the rest, what, if any, are the Russian and Chinese dimensions in all this? Will such developments contribute to locking us into a muscle-bound inflexible and inadequate posture? We have debated this issue before but I do not believe that we have really answered the question convincingly. We and our allies owe it to our hard-pressed—indeed overstretched—service personnel in the front line to be absolutely certain. It is to them and their needs that we should look first when considering defence expenditure.
Some may say that the proposed missile defence system is in any case a US initiative and that all we are doing is facilitating the priority of a friend and ally. That is naïve. The political implications and knock-on effects on our own priorities of our involvement are immense, and we need to be convinced that they are beyond question necessary in pursuit of what we believe are our own security interests, let alone those of Europe and the wider world. Surely, as the noble Lords, Lord Wallace of Saltaire and Lord Hannay, with his vast experience, argued, a multilateral approach is indispensable, as is the imperative of a regenerated commitment to global disarmament.
Against that background of the imperative for intellectual rigour we shall make an unforgivable mistake if, because of whatever misplaced emotions, we allow ourselves to be seduced—as arguably we were in the saga of the Iraq war—into an increasingly irreversible momentum. We have never honestly resolved whether the route of travel was a wise, rational and justified one. There is a debate about this in the United States. Fundamental re-evaluation of strategy in both the Democratic and Republican Parties is taking place. This would be a disastrous time to add to a momentum that risks thwarting the potential of all that exciting new thinking across the Atlantic. The Government would deserve the widespread support of us all in deciding to pause, to think extremely hard and deep, and to help our American friends to do the same before proceeding—if they decide to do so.
The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, raised the crucial issue of the status of the base. Defence is about defending a society that is qualitatively worth defending. One part of that reality in the United Kingdom that I passionately believe in—I make no apology for finishing on this theme—is the national parks. I declare an interest as a very active vice-president of the Council for National Parks—indeed, I live in one.
In previous debates on US defence infrastructure in the United Kingdom the Government have provided assurances that any new missile defence system would not result in additional built development at Fylingdales, which is of course in the North York Moors National Park. A similar reassurance from my noble friend today would be good. I hope that she will give it. However, the fear must be that the major infrastructure needed will amount to a vast intrusion. I am thinking of the new and extra roads, buildings—the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire has already spelt out graphically what that means—fences and additional security, not to speak of the further loss of public access.
Unavoidably, there will be substantial public interest in any plan that would prolong the military use of Fylingdales and could lead to a major new development in a national park. It is important, therefore, that due process is followed. This means a full environmental impact assessment, which the Government require for new, renewed or intensified military use of national parks. They require that any proposals be tested against the guidance on planning policy. This guidance includes a presumption against major developments in national parks. A public consultation should therefore take place on the future use of the site, including on whether it should remain in the national park at all, should the Government wish to sanction its use for any missile defence system. It would be helpful to have the observations of my noble friend on all this when she comes to reply.
What the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, said is something that none of us can escape. Is this part of the sovereign territory of the United Kingdom? Does the law and practice of the Untied Kingdom apply? If not, why the hell not? We need clear answers on that.
I hope the House will forgive me I seize this opportunity to say that there has been, of late, increasing use of the national parks for military training. As a former commissioned serviceman and a former defence Minister, I obviously believe that military training is a vital part of any defence policy, but its use in national parks should be only what is absolutely essential. The national parks should, in a sense, be the last resort. We have to face the fact that the purpose of the parks is to provide psychological and physical breathing space for a stressed nation. We allow that to be removed at our peril, in terms of the quality of our society as a whole. These are not light matters, but an illustration of the very specific implications for our own national social priorities of a scheme of this kind—quite apart from the defence implications. We have not begun to look at all that. As the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, said, the need for a major debate is absolutely imperative.
My Lords, to avoid any possible doubt, I draw attention to my declaration in the Register of Lords’ Interests, though I do not believe that any of them are directly involved. I join other noble Lords in complimenting the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, on securing this debate; the subject is extremely important. It is absolutely right that Parliament should discuss it regularly and keep it under review, and that the Government should keep Parliament informed. I am not going to follow the noble Lord, Lord Judd, into the national parks; I very much doubt that I could keep up with him once we got there.
The essence of successful defence is to identify threats in advance and make proper provision to deter or counter them. There may be no immediate or current threat to Britain or Europe from nuclear or other weapons delivered by missiles from the Middle East area, including Iran, but it would be short-sighted not to foresee a fair probability of such a threat in the future. I do not take much comfort from the recent US national intelligence estimate on Iran. Even if Iran has suspended its nuclear weapons programme as such, it continues to produce the fissile material needed for it, and resumption of work on warheads would be a comparatively easy step. Its work on longer-range missiles certainly continues. If Iran develops such weapons, other regimes in the area will follow suit and we cannot ignore the threat that could arise.
Ideally, diplomatic pressure and non-proliferation measures would be the best defence against this threat, but they are patently not working in the case of Iran, any more than they did for Pakistan. Equally, no Government want nuclear retaliation to be the only option for defending against a future threat, so a modest second line of defence, in the form of ballistic missile defence, makes a great deal of sense. Of course, BMD cannot stop nuclear weapons hand-delivered by terrorists, but it is the only possible defence against missiles, if not a foolproof one. It is a useful deterrent because it reduces the chance of such missiles reaching their target, and it forces a country which might consider using them to accept that the chances of success are much reduced, while the likelihood of retaliation is just as great. Bear in mind that all countries that have so far acquired nuclear weapons have also acquired the missiles to deliver them. It is a worthwhile investment.
The idea that the sort of ballistic missile defence system currently proposed for Europe presents any sort of threat to Russia’s vast arsenal of nuclear-armed missiles is frankly nonsensical and the Russians know it. It is, no doubt, the political signal of further western intrusion into what was once Warsaw Pact territory that they dislike. Sacrificing ballistic missile defence is not the way to re-establish relations with Russia. Such a cave-in would simply encourage hard-line tactics on their part in the future. The sensible course is the one on which the Americans are embarked—to discuss with the Russians how they can be included in BMD architecture, without conceding them a veto over where defensive missiles should be sited.
Those defensive missiles have to be based where they can be effective. Since current technology means that they cannot catch up with an attacking missile from behind, they have to be in such a missile’s path in order to intercept it. Poland and the Czech Republic fulfil that criterion. Obviously, those countries will want to negotiate with the US about the terms and conditions of deployment there. They will certainly, sensibly, want reassurance that an incoming American Administration next year will not simply drop the proposal altogether, leaving them to suffer damage to their relations with Russia for no ultimate advantage. That is likely to mean that it will be some time before deployment can take place, which is time for further negotiations with the Iranians and to come to a sensible arrangement with the Russians.
By far the best place to station such interceptors is the United Kingdom. It is a great pity that the Government are not doing more to secure their stationing here. Hosting them would secure the maximum influence over the circumstances in which they are used, while minimising our financial contribution. It is about as close to a free lunch as one gets in international security. Ballistic missile defence will be the strategic system of the 21st century. I suspect that, 10 years or so from now, we shall end up buying our own missile defence system at much greater cost. I understand that the Government originally considered an offer to host the system, but were reluctant to take on simultaneously the political challenges of replacing Trident and hosting a ballistic missile defence system. They made the right decision about the Trident system. I hope it is not too late to revisit the decision on stationing BMD missiles here and come to an arrangement that is beneficial to the defence of Britain and the rest of Europe, and a system that threatens no one: not the Iranians, not the Russians—no one.
My Lords, I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire for bringing this excellent debate before us today, for his introduction of it and for keeping this matter, through his questions, constantly before Parliament. He is one of very few people to have done so.
Should we have our own missile defence capability? Should that be within NATO or Europe, or should we simply be an outstation for the US missile defence system? I am simply not qualified to comment on the military aspects of this question. For me, yet again, the loss of Lord Garden, who died last year, is deeply felt in this debate. He not only contributed to debates on this matter, but was very active in getting speakers to inform parliamentarians, of whom I was lucky enough to be one, and encouraged a proper and informed debate among those of us who are interested in these matters. His own view, on record in many places, among them BBC Radio’s “File on Four”, was:
“Taking part in US missile defence plans would put the UK at greater risk of attack … Enemies intent on using weapons of mass destruction would see the need to take on our infrastructure, of which the ballistic missile warning radars would be a very important and perhaps the most vulnerable part”.
The noble Lord, Lord Powell of Bayswater, said that it was a free lunch, but there is an expression: “There is no such thing as a free lunch”. I would bear that in mind when comparing his comments with the quote I have just given.
Issues of whether the programme makes us more vulnerable or safer, although critical considerations, are not what have brought me to speak today. I have been encouraged to speak by the abuse of Parliament—the lack of parliamentary involvement in these important decisions. A theme runs through the Government’s approach to this. It is a litany of after-the-event announcements, as enunciated by other noble Lords today. The Government say that they cannot talk about it while negotiations are going on, then that they cannot reveal exactly what is being negotiated as it is of course still confidential. Then, when negotiations are finished, they just issue a Written Statement saying what is going to happen.
My first experience of this was in 2003 when I tabled a Written Question. The reply of the noble Lord, Lord Bach, to Question HL3913 was:
“Details of the separate bilateral agreement regarding the roles and responsibilities of each government in respect of the upgrade remain confidential while negotiations are in progress”.—[Official Report, 16/7/03; col. WA 126.]
On 15 January 2003, Mr Hoon outlined the Government’s initial reactions to the US request. In 2003, the MoD relented a bit and published a missile defence discussion paper which asked some important questions. Of course, the Government then answered the questions themselves because, in October 2004, they signed an agreement with the US Administration, and merely informed the House through a Written Statement. This prompted the first outrage of the Defence Select Committee:
“Despite the Secretary of State's unequivocal statement that he wanted the decision to be informed by public and parliamentary discussion, he has acted in a way that has effectively curtailed such discussions”.
History then repeated itself last year when the Government again made a decision, to give permission to the US Administration to use Menwith Hill. My honourable friend Norman Baker asked what formal agreement and Memorandum of Understanding was produced. The answer was most unsatisfactory because the agreement was simply given in an exchange of classified letters, and no comment at all was made on the Memorandum of Understanding. I could go on, but other noble Lords have spelt it out. A theme of absolute failure to involve Parliament runs through this.
Again, the Select Committee voiced its concern in absolutely unequivocal terms:
“We regret the manner and timing of the announcement. And there's a resulting lack of parliamentary debate on the issue”.
The Select Committee went on to recommend that there should be full parliamentary debate on these proposals, but it has been left to the Liberal Democrats to bring any debate at all, which we are pleased to do. But the Government really must give the other place the chance to debate this in full. At none of these stages before the fait accompli, therefore, has Parliament been give the chance to debate and, I suggest, vote on so critical and important a principle.
My noble friend Lord Wallace suggested that this was an extremely important part of international agreements. I thoroughly agree. Perhaps I am more of what the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, described as a fundamentalist. Probably the only place where I would part company with my noble friend Lord Wallace is that I am unilateralist, and I do not believe in nuclear weapons under any circumstances. It would take something to persuade me about missile defence. However, these questions need to be debated extremely widely.
Before I close, I also want to pay tribute to the Campaign for the Accountability of American Bases. It operates in Yorkshire near Menwith Hill. It has been the eyes and ears of the public for what is happening there; it first revealed in 1997 that Menwith Hill was to be designated as the European ground relay station. It has continued to raise this issue ever since. Its members have suffered an awful lot of personal aggravation, and I ask the Minister to look into some of the history of this. They have been arrested but not charged, and charged but the charges have been dropped; they would have welcomed those charges being pursued so that they could have had their day in court. In one case, violence was used against a member, and no satisfactory explanation has ever been given for that. However, it has been incredibly important that people on the ground have been there to see what is happening with planning permissions and some of the issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Judd.
I wish them well in their campaign. They regularly campaign on Tuesdays outside Menwith Hill to draw attention to the unaccountability of this American base on British soil. Whether the Government ultimately come to the conclusion that we need the missile defence system or not, it must still be on British soil and accountable to the UK.
My Lords, I am pleased to be able to make this contribution, which addresses one of the most important defence issues facing our world, and I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, on securing the debate. It is important that all aspects of these issues are explored in great depth.
I am fully supportive of the principle of a missile defence system in Europe. The threat that we are confronted with through nuclear proliferation underlies the important need to look at such a system very seriously. We must be able to defend ourselves, and while few would wish to see a growth in the number and sophistication of weapons around the globe, it is essential that we have the capacity to defend those values that constitute our national culture against the ever growing threats and dangers. Ignoring the risks is no safe way to reduce the number of weapons or the dangers that we face.
The Government's decision to co-operate closely with the United States, particularly alongside our allies in the Czech Republic and Poland, adds to the protection of the United Kingdom and to the broader region as a whole. Co-operation with the United States on defence issues has proved to be of great value to this country for a long time, and I want to see that continue. That is not to imply that we should become slaves to American foreign policy. We should be able to have a distinctive voice of our own, and evaluate our own contribution to global defence. The important role that NATO has played in our national defence should not be forgotten, and we must ensure that the proposals in the treaty of Lisbon, soon to be debated in your Lordships’ House, are not allowed to undermine the importance of NATO and our relationship with the United States. A common European defence policy must not be allowed to interfere with the effectiveness of NATO, as our participation and support of NATO is vital for our safety and involvement overseas.
The United States nationwide missile defence system programme was started in October 1999, and resulted in its withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in June 2002. American interest in developing this form of defence system has been extensive and long-standing. Their perception of the danger faced is severe; the possible threat of attacks from other states through ballistic missiles armed with conventional, nuclear, biological or chemical warheads is considered real. The consequence for international security is grave—if we get this wrong, we are included in those at risk.
There has been some negative impact on relations with China and Russia as a consequence of the handling of the missile defence system programme. It is important that ways are found to ensure that no permanent damage is done, and that good channels of communication are kept open. Yet the Government have failed to be as open to the House as would be beneficial on the development of a missile defence system in Europe. Parliament has a right to be treated better, and it does the Government no credit that they have not decided to be more open in their communication on the project. I could cite the example of dozens of parliamentary questions which demonstrate the evasive approach that the Government have adopted in communicating with Parliament. This may seem to be a constant critique on the conduct of this Government, and it is a real shame. With that in mind, it is also a shame that this debate is not being held in government time. Will the Minister update us on the discussions that have been held with her counterparts from the United States, and give a commitment to returning to the House in government time for a further debate in due course?
An example of this is demonstrated by the Government’s indecision. As recently as 2001, the Government were proclaiming that there was,
“no significant ballistic missile threat to the UK”.—[Official Report, Commons, 6/11/01; col. 129W.]
At the same time, the Government were expressing support for the development of the American programme, and were proactive in co-operation. What is the current position with the radar system at RAF Fylingdales? The site in north Yorkshire has been a part of the United States ballistic missile early warning system since 1963. Can the Minister provide us with further details on the use of RAF Menwith Hill? The Government need to demonstrate greater clarity on the use, by United States forces, of United Kingdom facilities.
The suitability of our defence research capacity is important. We spend significantly less than our allies in the United States on defence research. What is the contribution of research conducted in this country, and by our allies, to the development of a missile defence system? Are we able to deliver our own defence?
To conclude, of course we all appreciate that the defence of our nation is the primary function of government and we need to be vigilant at all times. Yet I kindly ask the Government to be more open. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s reply.
My Lords, I, too, pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire for securing this debate. It is a sad reflection on parliamentary accountability that the Opposition have to use their time on debates of this matter of national and international significance, which should in any event be discussed in Parliament, on the back of a serious and meaningful dialogue within the whole country. I am not a defence expert so will not go into the scientific arguments of ballistic missile defence, or the merits of these new hit-to-kill systems. My concern is with why the UK has nailed its colours to yet another American mast, of something that I regret is again sailing in the wrong direction, and what this means for international peace and security.
I am of a privileged generation which, had I grown up in the West, would have seen and taken for granted peace throughout my life. In fact, I lived in a part of the world, south Asia, where my father actively served in two of three wars in a space of just over 15 years. I witnessed on television the speech by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto at the United Nations, stating that Pakistan’s citizens—of whom I was one—would eat grass in order to secure their safety from India. This was in the context of developing nuclear weapons. Oddly enough, he had massive support for this and Pakistan’s development was compromised in order for its military-industrial complex to be able to boast of its ranking as a nuclear power. I subsequently lived in the Middle East and experienced the Israeli invasion of Lebanon first-hand. Conflict, at all levels, has been part of the calculation of international relations in my experience.
My noble friend Lord Wallace spoke at some length about the damage this US project has done and will continue to do to the international system. The window of opportunity we saw in the early 1990s, when it appeared that the permanent members of the Security Council could work together, has passed. What we have seen since the late 1990s has been a slow, steady decline of multilateralism in all fields, whether you are talking about trade, good governance and democracy, conflict prevention or security. The danger of this decline is evident. Those of us who take an interest in the Middle East have long despaired of Israel’s unilateralism, usually accompanied with silence from the US, and increasingly from the United Kingdom, too—most recently witnessed in the execution of the air war against Lebanon in 2006. In a region which has seen wars in 1948, 1956, 1967, 1973, 1982 and 2006—I may have forgotten one or two—the heightened sense of insecurity on all sides calls for powerful nations to be even more careful about nuclear proliferation.
At minimum, some restraint on one’s own capabilities is required, if one is a superpower. Yet there are consequences of unilateralism in a wider context, too. To take the case of Pakistan, of which we have heard a lot in the last few weeks, the strategic long-term question about US and UK support for the military there is founded on the view that the military being in control of the nukes is preferable to the mullahs being in control of them. We also understand from press reports that, should the military be driven from power, contingency plans are in place for the US to guarantee surgical strikes against Pakistan's capabilities, to eliminate the threat. The informed view in Pakistan is that these operations will be undertaken by India by proxy, if the US does not move first. The death, destruction and future conflict that either of these scenarios would unleash bears some reflection.
Given these contexts, it does not seem entirely surprising that states which feel threatened, and which have seen the lessons of unilateralism go unpunished, are prepared to go their own way. We have seen the US move away from the diplomatic track to one of identification of states that are allies and dangerous rogue states—those that are not allies but must be tolerated and factored into the equation, such as China and Russia. This was set out in the 2001 National Intelligence Council’s report on missile threats in 1999, and formed the background to the current strategy. It was supposedly on this basis that President Bush set out his strategy on the new need for a more ambitious National Missile Defence system, which would address all potential threat scenarios.
I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Powell of Bayswater, is not in his place at the moment. He defended US developments vis-à-vis Russia and Russia’s capabilities. Yet the House of Commons Library briefing Ballistic Missile Defence: Recent Developments talks about that estimate from the National Intelligence Council. About Russia, it states:
“Unless Moscow significantly increases funding for its strategic forces, the Russian arsenal will decline to less than 2000 warheads by 2015—with or without arms control ... Although Russia still maintains the most comprehensive ballistic missile force capable of reaching the United States, structure decisions resulting from resource problems, program development failures, weapon system aging, the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and arms control treaties have resulted in a steep decline in Russian strategic nuclear forces over the last 10 years”.
That is the Americans saying so, let alone anyone else.
In that report, the threats that were initially identified were expected to be from a group of rogue states—North Korea, Libya, Iraq and Iran, as my noble friend Lord Wallace said. We know that diplomacy has been successful in the case of the first two: nuclear weapons have been negotiated away. The third, Iraq, to the extent that it was a threat at all, has been bombed away, which leaves Iran, and we know that the national intelligence estimate of a few weeks ago has cast serious doubt about Iran’s capability—in the near future at least.
With Iran as the sole so-called rogue state which might at some future point be able to target other Middle Eastern states, one cannot see the case for a US defence system to be based on the European mainland, in Poland, the Czech Republic or the UK, as current scenario planning envisages. That leads one to suspect, as Russia does, that the National Missile Defence system is of broader strategic value with other aims than those publicly stated.
The stoking-up of fear of Iran has other consequences too, where other countries in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia and Egypt—the former with historical antagonism towards Iran—calculate that unilateralism pays. They calculate that sanctions against US allies that indulge in proliferation will go unpunished, as we have seen in the cases of Israel, India and Pakistan. Hence those two states may well assume that the United States, in proceeding with missile defence, is prepared to sanction the development of nuclear weapons in their case too. Several nuclear armed states in the Middle East will not further the cause of peace and security in the region.
I turn to our Government’s enthusiasm for this project. As many noble Lords have pointed out, we are told that the missile shield is meant to offer wider protection across Europe. That assumption disregards the slightly more immediate and realistic scenario: that if WMD are to be used, they will be used by non-state actors through international terrorism. The shield will not protect against that.
Apart from the evident loss of sovereignty and the danger of increased nuclear proliferation, there is a further symbolic aspect: our role as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. We are still seen—less so after the Iraq war—as a moderating and balancing power which, due to its historic connections in most parts of the world, can sometimes play a restraining hand. What appears to be our uncritical engagement with this project will diminish that role. That will have a cost beyond the tenure of this Government to the security of future generations.
I conclude with some thoughts from the Guardian leader of 24 February 2007. It states:
“The idea that Britain should offer to house the new anti-ballistic missiles which the United States wants to base in Europe is on the far side of folly ... if you are thinking of a legacy to the nation, should it be to dig holes in the ground for weapons that will not work and whose successors are also unlikely to work? ... If there were a real threat it would be a different matter, but the proposed European anti-ballistic-missile shield is not a response to a threat but the product of twisted thinking in Washington”.
The leader concludes:
“Washington is ignoring the reality that if a real threat did arise from the Middle East, it would be best dealt with by cooperative military arrangements between the West and Russia, and possibly China as well, working together to operate a joint missile shield”.
I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure the House that the Government for whom she speaks will reflect on this debate.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, for giving us the opportunity to debate this vital issue. Listening to the contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, I am reminded that these debates always take place against the backdrop of whether you are coming from a unilateralist or a multilateralist position. My attitude towards nuclear weapons has gone through the full spectrum, from a totally unilateralist position to one where I recognise that, although I do not like nuclear weapons—I abhor them—they are there. As the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, reminded us, they are an unfortunate reality with which we must deal. That is why I have moved towards a multilateralist position.
I listened with interest to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Wallace. Although I share some of his analysis, I feel that his description of Menwith Hill as somewhere that totally serves American interests, or hegemonic American interests, causing us to become Airstrip One—I hope that I am not paraphrasing too wildly—was a little over the top. I was reading the Statement on Menwith Hill. We may not all like it, but I thought that it would be useful to quote from it. It states:
“Also, at RAF Menwith Hill, equipment will be installed and operated by the US Government to allow receipt of satellite warnings of potentially hostile missile launches and will pass this warning data to both UK and US authorities. The data will also be fed into the US ballistic missile defence system for use in its response to any missile attack on the US. This will guarantee the UK’s continued access to essential missile attack warning data, as well as enhancing the ability of the US to deal with any attack aimed at that country”.—[Official Report, Commons, 25/7/07; col. 77WS.]
I do not want to go on, because I am conscious of time. I accept that there may be other uses, which may well be worth a debate, but I thought that it was useful to cite that.
I share the view of my noble friend Lord Giddens. I, too, do not like the use of the term “neocon”, because it introduces into the debate an emotional description that does not take us forward. The attitudes of American Governments are varied and tend to change over time.
A number of contributors attacked the system on the basis of whether it would work. Of course, the whole concept of nuclear deterrence was that no one wanted these weapons to work in operation but hoped that they would work as a deterrent. Over a period, I would say that those who argued that it would be an effective deterrent were proved right. All of us in this Chamber remember that we came through a period when we had the wonderful acronym MAD, which meant mutually assured destruction. What a dreadful thought. The unilateralists said that the end of the world would occur if we continued on that course; the multilateralists said that the system would not and that it would prove to be an effective deterrent. Your analysis of history depends on your perspective, but I tend to believe that the multilateralists have been proved right over a period.
There are those who have argued that any support for this system has made Russia more belligerent and hostile. I do not think that we can have any debate on the attitude of Russia today without recognising, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, reminded us, that we are in a period when Russia as a nation state is seeking to assert itself on the world stage. It is going through its own electoral cycle, which causes President Putin to make various statements that are, I would say, somewhat over the top but that serve his political purpose. There are those who also allege that this system would mean a loss of UK sovereignty. I do not see that. Like the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, I do not believe that our sovereignty is threatened. We are, after all, still NATO partners, a fact that some seem to have almost forgotten.
I was interested when the noble Lord, Lord Addington, said that going down this road would blight any form of diplomacy—I think that that was the phrase that he used. I have concerns about that issue and I thought that it would be useful to look at the Select Committee report. Paragraph 270 from its 25 November report says:
“At the G8 Summit … President Putin appeared to surprise President Bush by suggesting co-operation on BMD via joint US and Russian use of existing radar facility”.
It does not seem to have blighted diplomacy there. Paragraph 271 says:
“In October 2007, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defence Secretary Robert Gates went to Moscow for talks with their Russian counterparts”.
The talks have not led to a resolution of the problem, but it is wrong to say that this has blighted any form of diplomacy. I do not think that that is the case. Moreover, situations change. Those who characterise or caricature the American approach as being one that is based only on the military analysis seem to me to ignore the approach that has been taken towards North Korea. We see that as progress that has been achieved through diplomacy. We should not take absolute positions or describe the US as having only one strategy. As a number of people have said, if we are talking about electoral cycles, the US position could change.
I share some of the concerns that have been expressed to the Government. I think that the critics who said that there has not been enough transparency and accountability have a point, which it is essential for the Minister to answer in her response. This is going to be a continuing and important debate. In their Statement on 25 July, the Government said:
“We have no plans to site missile interceptors in the UK but will keep this under review as the threat evolves”.—[Official Report, Commons, 25/7/07; col. 77WS.]
I do not mind them keeping it under review but I would like an assurance that there will be a debate before a decision is taken. That is vital.
I must declare an interest, which I should have declared at the outset. I am a member of the Armed Forces Pay Review Body. If decisions were taken in relation to the siting of missiles et cetera, I would be worried whether that would have an impact on defence expenditure and on our ability to ensure that the Armed Forces are suitably rewarded for their contribution.
I think that I have covered the key issues that I wanted to raise. Once again, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Wallace. I reiterate the three key points that concern me: the question of transparency and accountability; the ability to debate whether we should participate further on the siting of interception missiles; and the question of financial resources.
My Lords, I am grateful that so many Peers have come to take part in this extremely important debate. The debate has had two specific purposes. The first—and I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Young, said what he did in the last few minutes—relates to what I can only describe in quite strong language as virtually a contemptuous treatment of Parliament. Over several years now, we have consistently had responses from Ministers to the effect that we are not entitled to comment on anything to do with this bilateral system—and it is a bilateral system, not, as the noble Lord, Lord Young, suggested, a NATO system. I will give two recent examples. On 14 June 2007, Mr Hoon said:
“President Putin’s offer to include the radar at Qabala in Azerbaijan in the US ballistic missile system is a policy issue for the United States government”.—[Official Report, Commons, 14/6/07; col. 1215W.]
It was not an issue for anybody else. In a debate in this House on 22 November, when my noble friend Lord Wallace raised a question on this matter, the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor—I know that we all regret that she is indisposed at the present time and not able to take part in this debate—replied:
“The bilateral discussions between Russia and the United States over co-operation on ballistic missile defence are not for the UK to comment on”.—[Official Report, 22/11/07; col. 924.]
Yet we find ourselves faced with a proposal for a substantial increase in the facilities at Menwith Hill. We even face the possibility of the United Kingdom becoming the next area for a ballistic missile interceptor system. However, Parliament has been entitled to talk about this hardly at all over the past few years. As my noble friend Lady Falkner said, it is extraordinary that it should have been left to one opposition party to bring this matter to the attention of the House. That is the first point and I think that we should make it very seriously. If Parliament is to be treated as a significant part of the decision-making processes of a democracy, the Government have to be more open, more frank and more informative about this crucial aspect of our defence policy.
The second, wider issue was raised by the noble Lords, Lord Giddens and Lord Hannay, and by many others: how do we deal with the extremely disturbing situation that we face in the world at present? Let me refer back, as did the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, in an interesting historical speech, to the fact that the period in which there was the greatest advance in not only controlling the dissemination of arms but in creating far less opportunity for terrorists was immediately after the end of the Cold War.
Last month, I attended a conference in the United States at which Mr Gorbachev pointed out repeatedly the extraordinary advances that were made at that time: a reduction of some 6,000 nuclear missiles, destroyed between the United States and Russia; a huge advance in securing nuclear materials; and a huge advance in establishing a whole set of safeguards for the whole world with regard to the Cold War legacy of a huge number of nuclear materials and weapons strewn across a vast range of the world. It was in that period immediately after the Cold War that Ukraine, Kazakhstan and other countries completely gave up any ambitions that they might have had for developing a nuclear weapon. At the conference, Mr Gorbachev repeatedly said that there had to be a return to multilateral controls because, without them, it is impossible to see how we can control the dissemination and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. It is simply an illusion to suppose that some form of missile defence in eastern Europe or, for that matter, in the United Kingdom can deal with an issue so great as this. It is a tragedy that we have seen a gradual erosion—as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said in his eloquent speech, and as the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, pointed out—of the whole system of arms control and disarmament that has protected the world for the past 40 years from the possibility of a major nuclear exchange.
Let me say one more thing about that period. Gradually a large part of the world became committed to looking at some of the dangers of terrorism. It is vital to point out to those who believe, as the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, did, that the proposal called MAD—mutually assured destruction—still holds good that many of the most serious situations involve not state actors but non-state actors. We have to address that problem.
The noble Lord, Lord Powell of Bayswater, made somewhat light of Russia’s reaction to the attempt to place missile defences in central and eastern Europe. I do not believe that we should treat it so lightly. Russia may be exaggerating; she may be going over the top. But anyone in this House or elsewhere who has studied the history of Russia will know that a consistent theme runs through it: the fear of encirclement, which was mentioned only in the past two weeks by such players as the Russian Foreign Secretary and the Russian Prime Minister. Russia’s reactions may be emotional and not wholly rational, but that does not mean that they are not real and do not need to be taken into account.
We already know what Russia’s response has been. Just in the past few days, she has withdrawn from the crucial conventional forces in Europe treaty, which has limited the number of troops and conventional weapons based in Europe to the great advantage of peace in the world. We know that Russia is now talking about the possibility of a nuclear response to the use of missiles or the return of missiles as an anti-missile defence in central and eastern Europe. It is true that General Baluyevsky, head of the central command of the Russia armed forces, may be going over the top in what he says. But when he says that Russian missiles are automatically trained to respond immediately to any missile attack and that there is the possibility therefore of a grave mistake that would lead to nuclear-tipped weapons landing in Europe, we would be very foolish not to take that threat at least fairly seriously.
As others have said in this debate, on top of that the Russians are now talking about moving towards a more sophisticated system of missiles that would be capable of withstanding anti-missile defences. I do not know whether that is true, but it is a significant question that needs to be addressed and about which Parliament should hear the concerns that many people have.
In the short run, more disturbingly to me, Russia is showing signs of ceasing to co-operate with the western world, and with the United States in particular, in the very area where its co-operation with the United States has been most successful: the securing of nuclear materials, control over the supply of fissile materials and all the things with which we should be profoundly concerned, given the massive increase in civil nuclear power that now lies before us. Scores of countries will now have access to uranium and other forms of nuclear fuel. We will have to depend on their trustworthiness in deciding that they do not become nuclear powers. The anti-missile defences in no way address this issue, yet the issue is one of the most important to confront us today.
There are those who believe that one of the reasons why the United States pursued the proposal bilaterally with Poland and the Czech Republic was Donald Rumsfeld’s attempt to divide old and new Europe. Certainly, there was no attempt to discuss the proposal with the rest of the NATO countries of Europe, although there should have been. We now know that Poland and the Czech Republic are beginning to reconsider their position. In Poland, on this very day, the Polish Foreign Minister is meeting his opposite number in the Czech Republic to see what their combined reaction should be to the American proposal. Today, the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister is in Warsaw to discuss the implications of the proposal for Polish-Russian relations.
A few days ago in the Czech Republic, 1,000 people demonstrated against Czech involvement in missile defence. In Poland, there has been a marked swing of opinion, with Mr Sikorski, the Foreign Secretary, specifically saying that, although the missile defence is in the interests of the United States, it is not clear whether it is in the interests of Poland. Changes of government in Poland and the Czech Republic have put this whole project at risk, yet so far the United Kingdom has not been consulted or, as far as I know, informed about the way in which these relationships are going.
The most important issue in this debate was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, in an impressive speech, and in the eloquent speeches made by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, and others. I believe that the United Kingdom Government, our Foreign Office and our Ministry of Defence are increasingly out of touch with a significant movement in American opinion. The noble Lords, Lord Hannay and Lord Giddens, referred to the proposal—the so-called Wall Street Journal letter of last year—signed by Mr Kissinger, Mr Shultz, Mr Perry and Senator Nunn, calling on a redirection of nuclear weapons disarmament policy gradually towards the destruction of all such weapons.
Congress has already decided that it will not go ahead with appropriations for the ballistic missile defence system unless there is full agreement from Poland and the Czech Republic. I have already mentioned the doubts raised on that issue. Congress has decided specifically that it wants to make sure that the missile systems work. My noble friend Lord Addington spoke powerfully on whether or not they do. It is perhaps worth quoting an extremely impressive and, I believe, important editorial in the New York Times on 30 December. It states:
“Paying a huge monetary and diplomatic price to respond to a threat that does not yet exist with a system that does not yet work has always seemed foolish and counterproductive”.
That theme has run through a great deal of the American debate. Does this system work? Has it been presented as working when it has essentially been manipulated to produce a successful result? My noble friend Lord Addington referred to recent tests in which it was known where the missile was coming from and what its route would be; even then, many of the tests failed.
Perhaps most important are the Russian offers of co-operation made last summer. Russia did not initially respond by marching out of one multilateral agreement after the other. Incidentally, more frightening still, Russia is now threatening to march out of the intermediate nuclear force treaty and even START, which has reduced the arsenals of nuclear missiles held throughout the world by large proportions and which dies out in 2009. Have Her Majesty’s Government embarked on any serious study of the extension of that crucial treaty in order to allow for a new verification system, given that the present one will die in 2009 and it is all that we have?
On the American reaction, there has been little debate—almost none, as many have said—in our Parliament. In the United States, during the presidential primaries, the Republican and Democrat candidates have put forward their suggestions and ideas. As my noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire pointed out, in the case of the Republicans the discussion has largely been about whether this is directed at Russia or someone else. It is important that two of the leading contenders think that it is directed at Russia, which goes some way towards explaining why Russia is so profoundly worried about the whole development. The Democrat candidates have been discussing to a much greater extent how we can deal with the whole issue of proliferation. They have been attracted to the ideas put forward in that Wall Street Journal letter and, subsequently, in the Congress and by the body to which I belong, the Nuclear Threat Initiative. American opinion is moving towards a new approach to this huge issue.
I am deeply worried by the extent to which Her Majesty’s Government appear to be still talking the language of an Administration who are shortly to leave office, as the language of an exchange of deterrents is increasingly made foolish by the existence of non-state actors and terrorist groups. I would plead that the Government reconsider their attitude towards anti-missile defence in the light of recent developments. I am not saying not that it should not exist; I am arguing that the Government should take much more seriously the possibility of co-operation between Russia, the United States and others in mounting an effective international system of defence.
I will conclude with a quotation from the significant New York Times editorial, which has had deep influence on the primary elections in the United States, about the offer that Putin made last summer of sharing a Russian early warning radar system in Azerbaijan. The Americans dismissed the offer at the time, but the editorial said:
“American officers who have checked out the site have come away impressed with its capabilities. A joint United States-Russian military operation on Iran’s borders could do a lot to get Tehran to rethink its nuclear plans”.
It is crucial to make sure that Iran does not move to get a nuclear bomb. It is crucial that Iran should be reassured that she will not herself be the victim of a nuclear attack; that is a crucial part of the outcome. I believe that we should look at the New York Times approach carefully and see whether we could not now get an international agreement and abandon what has been much too unilateralist, much too exclusive and much too destructive an approach.
My Lords, I should like to start by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, for securing the debate, which at the very least has shown how many different and strongly held opinions there are on this important subject. I am very aware that it is not an easy task to debate this question. It brings with it some uncomfortable truths. The international community is not a safe place and sadly it has not become safer since the end of the Cold War. With each new horrific terrorist attack, it becomes more grotesquely clear that there are rogue states and organisations that will stop at nothing in the pursuit of territorial, political and, sadly, religious expansionism. The need for this House even to consider such a thing as a missile defence system is its stark manifestation. We on these Benches are in favour of preserving human life and therefore ensuring global peace. Therefore, if the missile system enables this, then we are in support of it.
However, we will not support Her Majesty’s Government entering into any particular missile system without sufficient parliamentary discussion or gauging popular consent. In July last year when Her Majesty’s Government said that they would take part in the next stage of the proposed US Ballistic Missile Defence initiative, at RAF Menwith Hill, they came close to such circumvention. The decision to upgrade the existing radar technology to allow the US to collect it for its own BMD system was indeed a major decision, but it was announced just before the Recess.
I wonder whether the Minister can adequately defend Her Majesty’s Government against the claim of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee that they “buried” the statement. We stand foursquare behind Her Majesty’s Government’s diplomatic friendship with America and of course the special relationship. While the MoD believes that currently there is no significant ballistic missile threat to the UK we cannot and must not ever ignore the increasing number of states that are seeking to acquire weapons of mass destruction and missile capabilities.
In March 2007 General Obering’s conclusions from testing the interceptors went some way to silencing critics who believe that the Star Wars technology is incapable of working and showed that a missile could be successfully intercepted before arriving at its target. However, like your Lordships, I am aware that one of the system’s most dangerous, important and powerful critics, Russia’s President Putin, sees this not as a defence system at all, but as thinly veiled aggressive American expansionism. He is most concerned by the negotiations for the placement of land interceptor sites in Poland and radar installations in the Czech Republic. He has phrased comments about the US missile defence system in June last year in language that sounded ominously close to the language of the Cold War and past arms races.
Any threat to Russia from the defence system is nonsensical. As the noble Lord, Lord Young, said, Russia could one day come into the system. Will the Minister comment on the recent sale by Ofcom of the radio spectrum band used by Fylingdales? Is she confident that a commercial user of the band, having bought it, will not be adversely affected by any subsequent US military installation at Fylingdales? It is lunacy if our effort to safeguard our nation provokes hostility and fear from other nations. I feel Her Majesty’s Government must be committed to showing the world that the missile defence system is not seen as an alternative to diplomacy, not even as a back-up, but as a last resort only.
Will the Minister give an assurance that the UK’s future negotiations with the US regarding this defence mechanism will be proceeded with through open negotiations? I am anxious that Her Majesty’s Government should avoid stoking any further the fires of Russia's increasing—and unnecessary—suspicion over US defence measures by seeming to act covertly. Does the Minister agree that we must avoid any situation arising again like that of February 2007 when there was so much media speculation that the Government might have offered to base the third missile interceptor site on UK soil instead of in Poland?
My noble friend Lord Marlesford rightly pointed out that there is no difference between the issue of sovereignty now as it has been since the first American bases were placed in this country. He also most interestingly drew some historical analogies as to how the use of nuclear weapons in 1945 has stopped further use. However, there is always a threat, particularly if a rogue power, if there are such things, or possibly even an organisation, gets hold of a nuclear weapon.
I look forward to hearing and participating in further debates on this contentious issue. With Poland’s new governmental administration it is now far from certain that America will be able to build any interceptor sites at all on Polish land. Dissenting from the previous Government’s policy, as the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, pointed out, the new foreign minister Radek Sikorski said last weekend, conjuring up memories of our incredibly brave allies from Poland in World War Two:
“This is an American, not a Polish project”.
I do not know what that means. It does not say that Poland is not going to have it. It simply distances Poland from it and perhaps negotiations will change the situation. Furthermore, I ask whether we can even be certain of America’s commitment to the cause, for in November of this year there will be a new president, who will not necessarily be a patron of the missile defence system. Indeed, how confident is the noble Baroness that an anti-missile shield will ever be completed at all?
I congratulate the noble Lords, Lord Hannay and Lord Powell, on their excellent short speeches; they were both most eloquent.
To conclude, I reiterate that we on these Benches support the concept behind missile defence. That being said, any further addition to US military assets or expansion of military facilities in this country should go through a proper review and debate both in this House and the other place.
My Lords, this robust and extremely well informed debate has given us all an opportunity to air our views on the issue of ballistic missile defence, in particular the UK’s participation in the planned US missile defence architecture. I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, who for many years has been keeping his experienced eye on this area of policy, for initiating the debate. I reiterate that my noble friend Lady Taylor is sorry that she cannot be present to respond today because of illness.
The Government have never been afraid of debating the issue of ballistic missile defence. Indeed, a Commons debate on this issue took place in early 2003 after the Government received a US request to upgrade the missile tracking radar system at RAF Fylingdales, and after the Ministry of Defence had published a discussion document on missile defence in November 2002. The principles underlying missile defence have not changed in the intervening time. The noble Baronesses, Lady Williams of Crosby, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer and Lady Falkner, my noble friend Lord Judd, the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, and my noble friend Lord Giddens, who said that he is a critic of the Government’s position, have all raised the issue of a lack of opportunity for a proper debate on the issue as they see it. I would say that both Houses have had an opportunity to question Defence Ministers on missile defence, both in writing and orally, and rightly so. As the then Prime Minister said on 28 February last year, if the Government need to re-examine their position on missile defence and take further steps on participation, we will present those propositions to the House and have the necessary discussions, but we would seek to do this only when there are proposals or propositions to be made. At present, there are none.
It is the prime responsibility of any Government to ensure as far as possible the safety and security of their people, and it is this responsibility that is at the core of government policy. Co-operation with the United States is part of that responsibility, as the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, pointed out, and as we have said on many occasions, the UK Government have no plans independently to acquire ballistic missile defence assets for this country. We were asked by the noble Lords, Lord Luke, Lord Wallace, Lord Marlesford, my noble friend Lord Judd and several other noble Lords whether we have plans to host UK ballistic missile interceptor sites in the UK. I can say that we have no plans to do so. As of today, we do not believe that any state with ballistic missiles currently has the intention to target them against the UK mainland. However, we would be foolish not to keep a vigilant eye on the world and on any changes in the strategic threat.
The noble Lords, Lord Hannay and Lord Marlesford, put the strategic threat into an historical context; it is a threat that we have faced over many decades. Missiles and weapons of mass destruction are proliferating among states of concern. The pace of that proliferation, as well as the intentions of the states developing those capabilities, is hard to gauge, and that has come through in the debate. Indeed, a NATO feasibility study into missile defence reported in 2006 and recognised a growing threat from long-range missiles that could reach the territory of NATO members. Although work on ballistic missile defence in the NATO context is reaching maturity, no decision has yet been taken by NATO on the acquisition of a ballistic missile defence capability to protect NATO homelands. Rather than alienating our allies, as the noble Lord, Lord Addington, suggested in his forceful and effective contribution, we are working closely with our NATO allies on this.
There have also been claims that the deployment of US missile defence systems in Europe will provoke a new arms race with Russia. In response to this, I would simply point out that the US development of its missile defence system is a response to, and not the cause of, the emerging threat from a number of countries of concern which are developing or seeking to obtain long-range missiles. But Russia has raised a number of concerns about the US plans. Although we do not believe, along with the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, that we are slipping back into a Cold War era, we have to take those concerns seriously. Russia has asserted that the missile defence system could be used in an offensive way against it. In response, Russia threatens to target unspecified locations in Europe with nuclear weapons. The deployment of 10 missile defence interceptors is demonstrably irrelevant to a Russian strategic nuclear arsenal still numbering thousands of warheads, as the noble Lord, Lord Powell, has said. Poland, as the proposed site for the interceptor missiles, is a good option for responding to a threat from the Middle East, and not Russia. The Russians are fully aware of the capabilities and limitations of the proposed US system and are aware that their security should not and could not be threatened by it, a point suggested by my noble friend Lord Young.
Russia has linked missile defence with a threatened withdrawal from, and the suspension of, its obligations to legally binding treaties. Russia has also questioned the perceived threat from Iran. The recently published US National Intelligence Estimate, referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, assesses that Iran is likely to have ceased its nuclear weapons programme in 2003 and is unlikely to have restarted it. The US assessment does not change the fundamental problem that we face—Iran is pursuing a uranium-enrichment programme that has, as far as we can see, no civilian application despite the unanimous demand from the UN Security Council and the IAEA that it stop. Instead, the IAEA has said that its knowledge of Iran’s programme is diminishing. We must address this concern and do so now.
The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, and my noble friend Lord Giddens both suggested that US/Russian collaboration is much needed on missile defence, and I am pleased to say that both nations have taken a positive and constructive approach to addressing the concerns that have been aired. At recent discussions in Moscow, the US suggested a number of practical and realistic measures to resolve the impasse, and encouraged discussion and information-sharing on the level of threat that the ballistic missile defence system could offer protection against.
My Lords, I hope the Minister will forgive me for interrupting, but what she has just said is extremely important. Can Her Majesty’s Government make known to this House what proposals are being put forward by the United States in the light of the earlier rejection of the Russian proposals with regard to Azerbaijan?
My Lords, I am not certain that I can answer the question on Azerbaijan, so I will write to the noble Baroness, but I think that my next paragraph will answer the first part of her question.
In November, the US formally presented its proposals. These included federating Russian radar sensors into a joint missile defence architecture; creating joint missile defence data exchange centres in Russia and Europe; and the phased activation of the European architecture. That was an important point—that it can be activated in response to any increase in the ballistic missile threat from countries of concern. These discussions have been encouraging, and although a solution is still some way off—again, some noble Lords in the debate were sceptical that a solution would be found—we believe that good progress is being made.
In considering the way ahead, we are conscious of the importance of NATO allies sending clear messages to Russia, and of our own commitment to upholding the principles that have served European security so well since the end of the Cold War: openness, consensus, transparency, engagement, honouring politically binding and legally binding obligations, and host state consent for the presence of foreign military forces. We will continue to work through NATO to promote these principles and we urge Russia to work with us to do the same.
US discussions continue with the Polish and the Czech Governments on the basing of the additional missile defence assets in Europe. These discussions are taking place in a demanding diplomatic environment, and the sensitivity and importance of this issue requires that detailed negotiations be conducted at all levels. It is not our policy to comment on diplomatic negotiations between foreign countries. As they are bilateral, the UK plays no part in them, but we are kept apprised of the outcomes as part of a wider discussion with the US on the progress of the ballistic missile defence programme. If these negotiations have implications for the UK, we will report them to Parliament.
There have been reports in the international media that UK and US Governments are also discussing the basing of interceptors here in the UK. I say now that that is simply not true—there are no plans to base interceptors here. If in the future we decide that the acquisition of such technology becomes essential to the security of the United Kingdom, we will re-examine this position. This re-examination would come not from a desire to follow blindly the defence policy of other nations—as we have been accused of in the debate—but from a recognition of our need to ensure our national security against emerging threats.
The Government have also made clear the role we believe that an effective missile defence system could play. We already contribute to the US system through the early warning information provided by RAF Fylingdales, and the information routed through RAF Menwith Hill, and we co-operate closely with the US on technology programmes.
The Government have been criticised over the way that they announced the decision to allow US Governments to use the satellite relay station at RAF Menwith Hill to route early warning data to the missile defence system. The original decision to allow the US to use RAF Menwith Hill as a relay station for satellite data was taken in March 1997. The purpose of the relay station was then—and remains—to warn the UK and the US of any missile attack on our countries. What the Government agreed to recently was that the US could use this same satellite data in their missile defence system. The fact that satellite early warning information flows through RAF Menwith Hill has not changed. All that is different is that the US Government are now able to use this early warning information to inform their missile defence systems of possible missile launches from states of concern, and to assist in the interception of these missiles.
The Written Statement that was given in another place on 25 July—it was quoted by my noble friend Lord Young in his excellent speech—was not “sneaked out” or “slipped out”, as the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire observed, or “buried”, as the noble Lord, Lord Luke, stated. The Government’s agreement to this arrangement was given in an exchange of classified letters between the US Defense Secretary, who wrote on 29 June 2007, and the Secretary of State for Defence, who replied on 16 July 2007. The timing of the announcement to the House on 25 July, just prior to the Summer Recess, was therefore entirely appropriate. The Ministry of Defence also produced a press release on the Written Statement on 26 July.
Ballistic missile defence is not a weapon of first strike. It is not a sword, but a shield that could protect against the emerging threat of the long-range missiles that are being developed, or acquired, by states of concern—states that one day may wish to use them to harm NATO countries. The prospect of a nuclear, biological or chemical warhead detonating in Paris, Washington, Rome or London is horrendous, and I am sure that you will agree that we should strive to prevent this eventuality at all costs. If there is anything that we as a Government can do to reduce this threat, we have a responsibility to do it.
I was asked a number of questions by noble Lords. I will rattle through them as quickly as I can in the time I have, and I assure those noble Lords whose questions I do not answer that I will of course write to them.
The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, asked about the Prime Minister’s Statement of February 2007, referring to the article in the Economist that suggested that the UK was negotiating with the US over the siting of MD interceptor missiles here. It was these proposals to which the Prime Minister was referring.
The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, also asked me about Germany’s request for more multilateral discussions on missile defence, and stated that the UK had not responded. The UK provides regular updates on missile defence activities through NATO. This includes statements on UK policy and on missile defence, and updates on co-operation with the US on its BMD system.
The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, said that my right honourable friend Des Browne, the Secretary of State for Defence, had misled the House on the issue of Menwith Hill. I strongly reject any suggestion that the Secretary of State for Defence misled Parliament over the request from the US for the use of Menwith Hill for missile defence proposals. In April last year, the UK Government had received no request from the US. A formal request was received in a letter from the US Defense Secretary, dated 29 June.
The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, and other noble Lords, made strong points about the issue of sovereignty in relation to Menwith Hill. The Government take the issue of sovereignty extremely seriously. Menwith Hill is United Kingdom territory. The base is under the command of an RAF officer—there is no question of UK sovereignty being compromised.
My Lords, we have had a good, in-depth debate on missile defence. Many issues were raised, and many interesting and informed questions asked, and I hope that I have provided satisfactory answers to as many of those questions as I could in the time. I will write to noble Lords whose questions I was unable to answer today. I will not go into detail about the operations at Menwith Hill, which are highly classified. However, I undertake to write to noble Lords on the matter in more detail.
The noble Lords, Lord Wallace and Lord Marlesford, asked whether the UK will accept US interceptors if negotiations with Poland fail. There are no plans to offer the UK as a potential site for interceptor missiles should negotiations with the Polish Government fail. However, as the Secretary of State for Defence said in his Written Statement on 25 July, the UK,
“will keep this under review as the threat evolves”.—[Official Report, Commons, 25/7/07; col. 72WS.]
My noble friend Lord Giddens asked about the threat to the UK from hosting missile defence assets. The 2003 report by the House of Commons Defence Committee agreed that the upgrade to Fylingdales would not increase the threat to the UK. Even with the US now able to use Menwith Hill to route early warning satellite data through its missile defence system, the Government feel that the situation has not changed. The US missile defence system is designed to counter a limited threat from a state of concern and these missiles would be limited in terms of numbers and their ability to accurately strike their target. It is felt unlikely that a state with limited opportunities to strike against the US and her allies would wish to target a relatively small target such as a radar station, which it may not hit, when a large population centre offers a more attractive and potentially devastating target.
The noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, asked about the economic benefits to the UK from BMD. The UK signed a Memorandum of Understanding in 2003 that allows bilateral information exchanges and co-operative work that prepares the way for fair opportunities to be given to UK industry in participation in US systems.
The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, asked about the uranium enrichment bank. The UK accepts concerns about climate change, and the longer term availability and affordability of fossil fuels will lead to increased interest in the generation of nuclear power. We support the right of countries to undertake to develop nuclear technologies for safe, secure and peaceful uses. We are working on the creation of a viable, attractive and internationally agreed regime of nuclear fuel assurances under the auspices of the IAEA, which will make it unnecessary for nations to develop technically complex and expensive in-country enrichment and reprocessing facilities.
I see that I am out of time. I still have a good bunch of questions to answer, and I will answer them in writing. I thank noble Lords for a rigorous, well-informed and robust debate.
My Lords, this has appropriately been a very sober debate, and I thank all noble Lords who have contributed, in particular the noble Lords, Lord Hannay and Lord Giddens, for their particularly useful and expert speeches. It is always a pleasure to be able to thank my former boss for the quality of his contribution to the debate.
We on these Benches do not withdraw our criticism of the Government that we have had in effect contempt of Parliament on this issue. This is the first substantive debate on missile defence in either House for five years. To say that there has been the opportunity to table Written Questions in the interim does not provide an alternative, as the Government are well aware.
The agreement to allow additional equipment at Menwith Hill was such a proposition, and to slip it out on the last day but one of Parliament sitting last July was, in our opinion, improper. The idea that the letter from the United States of 29 June came as a surprise out of the blue and that there had been no previous correspondence or discussions is a little hard to take. My suggestion about the Defence Secretary’s Statement in late April was that of course discussions must have been under way then. The fact that that correspondence was completed on 16 July, after which there were seven sitting days of Parliament still remaining, allowed plenty of time for an earlier Statement, preferably an Oral Statement. It was not provided, and that was not adequate.
We are not reassured by the use of that familiar phrase, “The UK has no plans”. It has been used on many previous occasions while negotiations were under way, after which we are told, “Agreement has just been reached”. I see that in the letter of 17 October from Des Browne to Sir Menzies Campbell, he wrote:
“I can assure you that the Government has not made any decision about hosting interceptors in the UK, nor are there any plans for us to do so”.
That gives some substance to the suggestion by the Daily Telegraph that negotiations were indeed under way.
We on these Benches have made some play of the sovereignty issue, and we will continue to do so, because the suggestion by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, that we have little controversy in Britain about the effective subordination of sovereignty and security to the United States relates to the question of how far we share sovereignty with our partners in the European Union. We will come back to that. As to how much Menwith Hill remains subject to British control, I have had discussions with local MPs and county councillors in north Yorkshire about the degree of access that it is possible for anyone to have inside the wire at Menwith Hill and about the role of the MoD police, operating under US control, at Menwith Hill, which leave me extremely unhappy about the extent to which it remains effectively under British sovereignty.
Several noble Lords have set out very powerfully our commitment to a multilateral approach, first within NATO and, secondly, within a broader context. The question of Iran has come up. Clearly, we need to address on another occasion—perhaps during a debate in this House—the question of how the West handled its relations with Iran.
This House deserves a full debate on relations between the West—both NATO and the European Union—and Russia. I found the Foreign Affairs Committee report from the other place of last November on relations between Russia and the West extremely helpful in preparing my speech. I am conscious that currently there is an inquiry by our EU Committee under way on relations between Russia and the EU. When that report is complete, the Government should allow time in this House for a substantial debate not just on relations between Russia and the EU but on relations between Russia and NATO, so that we can address the many overlapping issues between the missile defence debate and the involvement of Russia in global security issues, about which we have concerns. Having made those points, I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to the debate. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.
Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.