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Nuclear Weapons

Volume 703: debated on Tuesday 22 July 2008

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Whether they will propose a new treaty, under which, pending full nuclear disarmament, states possessing nuclear weapons would undertake not to use them to attack states without nuclear weapons.

My Lords, the most appropriate way to provide treaty-based security assurances is through the relevant protocols to nuclear weapons-free zones. These provide credible, regional, internationally binding legal instruments. The UK remains fully committed to the negative security assurance we gave to the non-nuclear weapons states parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in our 1995 letter to the UN Secretary-General, subsequently noted in Security Council Resolution 984.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Can I persuade him and your Lordships, first, that a treaty of the kind suggested would draw attention to the need to eliminate completely all nuclear weapons? Secondly, would it not dissuade those powers which do not have such weapons from acquiring them? Finally, would it not make it easier for the smaller states that possess nuclear weapons to destroy them? Would that not improve the situation quite a lot?

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord’s sentiment, and we want to do everything that we can to push forward the case that nuclear weapons are not a safe and sensible form of armament in today’s world. But we believe that through both the assurances given to NPT signatory states that they would not face nuclear attack unless they attacked in alliance with other nuclear weapon states, and through the regional agreements which have allowed us to give 100 countries further such assurances, we will achieve the purpose he wants. The actions of others, such as a number of noble Lords and Baronesses in this House who have signed up to different initiatives leading towards a nuclear-free zone like their counterparts in the US, provide the goal that the noble Lord wants to see of attention being given to the objective of a nuclear-free world.

My Lords, has any progress been made on the idea of the International Atomic Energy Agency being a resource for enriched uranium on which countries can draw for the civil aspects of nuclear development while, at the same time, guarding against diversification into nuclear weapons?

My Lords, my noble friend will be aware that there are a number of initiatives in this area, including the one to which she refers at the IAEA. The UK Government have been supporting the development of these options because we believe that both within the forthcoming review of the NPT and more generally in our disposition of arrangements for a nuclear-free world it is vital to provide safe sources of nuclear power to those who wish to pursue that option.

My Lords, as we are about to break for 10 weeks and as there are disturbing reports about those within the Government of Israel who are considering at some stage in the next three months a conventional attack on Iranian nuclear facilities as a means of delaying—although not entirely abolishing—the Iranian nuclear programme, can the Government assure the House that they have made it quite clear to the Government of Israel and to their supporters in Washington that we would not under any circumstances support or condone that kind of unilateral attack?

My Lords, I certainly want to ensure that the noble Lord enjoys his summer holiday in peace. The Government have repeatedly made it clear that they view the negotiations of the E3+3 as the vehicle at this time for achieving a solution to the Iranian nuclear programme. We do not believe that a military option is appropriate.

My Lords, on the immediate dangers ahead, to which the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, has referred, does the Minister accept that while the idea of the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, has good sentiments behind it, it would be quite tricky when it came to implementation? Does he further accept that we on this side support the long-term vision of a world free of nuclear weapons if that can be achieved? We realise that there are considerable difficulties—it would take time and would require the fully verifiable destruction of every nuclear weapon—but we believe that this is the right guiding light for policy makers in the years ahead and will support all endeavours in that direction.

My Lords, I take the noble Lord’s assurances and I congratulate him on them. I refer again to the article by that extraordinary group of American leaders, including Secretary Shultz and Secretary Kissinger, and more recently the article in the Times by Sir Malcolm Rifkind and the noble Lords, Lord Hurd, Lord Robertson and Lord Owen, which laid out a similar vision of the objective of a nuclear-free world while recognising the complex, extended negotiations that it will take to get us there. That objective should drive all of us in our nuclear policy even though it must be larded with a high degree of caution that we do not at any point leave ourselves unprotected.

My Lords, as nuclear weapons are no longer an adequate deterrent against others acquiring them, what ways do the Government have in mind to reduce the worldwide stock of nuclear weapons?

My Lords, proposals have been made in recent months by the United States, the United States presidential candidates and President Sarkozy of France, all of which are driving towards the prospect of major reductions in existing nuclear arsenals. We are supporting that process having ourselves already taken significant steps in that regard. We will certainly continue to reduce wherever possible.

My Lords, the Minister spoke of the benefit of nuclear-free zones, and he will know that there are proposals for a nuclear-free Arctic. What is the UK Government’s attitude to those proposals?

My Lords, at the moment there are three existing treaties that create these nuclear-free zones, covering Latin America, the south Pacific and Africa. There are two more treaties, covering south-east Asia and central Asia, that need further work for us to be able to support them fully. The same principles apply to the Arctic. We are in favour of as many of these regional agreements as possible, so long as they are sensibly drafted to ensure that all countries are bound by them and that they apply in an equal way the principle of non-nuclear use.