My Lords, of all the threats and challenges that face the international community at the beginning of the 21st century, none exceeds in risk and urgency the interlinked threats from nuclear weapons and from the fraying of the regime that prevents their further spread beyond the current eight or perhaps nine countries that possess them, and none has so far in the first decade of this century received a less effective reply.
The substantial reduction in nuclear arsenals that followed the end of the Cold War ground to a halt at the turn of the century, and was followed by a decade in which even existing arms control measures were dismantled. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which since the 1960s has been a pillar of international peace and security, is under challenge by North Korea and Iran. Some 23,000 nuclear warheads remain worldwide—enough to blow the world to pieces many times over, and far more than are needed to assure even the most extensive doctrines of deterrence.
To the risk of a nuclear exchange between states has now been added the nightmare scenario of a nuclear weapon, or nuclear material from which a dirty bomb could be manufactured, falling into the hands of terrorists for whom the whole concept of deterrence is alien and thus inoperable. That is the justification for our debate today, and I express my gratitude to my fellow Cross-Benchers for recognising it and for choosing to devote one of our two possible debates in the remainder of this Parliament to this subject.
The case for a debate is more powerful than that, however, because much has changed since we last held a debate on these issues a year ago. The momentum that began to build up with the Wall Street Journal article by Messrs Schultz, Perry, Kissinger and Nunn, and matched by similar statements by groups of statesmen here and in France, Germany and elsewhere, pressing for a resumption in multilateral disarmament negotiations, was given hugely added force when President Obama, in his Prague speech last spring, called for a world free of nuclear weapons and set out a detailed agenda for heading down that road. In September, the UN Security Council, under Obama’s presidency, endorsed that agenda, and the US and Russia are currently negotiating a START follow-on agreement that would reduce their holdings of strategic nuclear weapons and launchers.
In 2010, we face two major multilateral conferences: in April, the Washington conference on nuclear security; and, in May, the quinquennial Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference. These conferences have the potential to set the world on a completely new direction of travel and to begin to match words with action, so it is high time for us to debate what Britain can contribute to this process. The Government began this process last summer when they provided a White Paper, The Road to 2010, but, frankly, that White Paper was more of an atlas than a road map, and we now need greater precision on the objectives that are being pursued and greater top-level political will in pursuing them.
Britain has a great deal to contribute: as a nuclear-weapon state, as a founding member and depository of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, as one of the two nuclear-weapon states in the EU, and as a member of the board of governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency. However, we need to steer between two extremes. The first extreme is to argue that because our nuclear arsenal is the smallest of the five recognised weapon states, and because the US and Russia hold 95 per cent of those assets, we can take a pass on the whole process until it is at a far more advanced stage.
The second extreme is to overestimate our influence and argue that, by our own unilateral action, we can transform the global scene. That was always an illusion when it was widely held in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, and it is even more of an illusion now. Who can seriously believe that the nuclear policies of North Korea and Iran, of China, Russia and the US, of India and Pakistan, or of Israel will be crucially affected by the decisions we take on Trident renewal? What we can do—I hope that we will—is ensure that our policies are at all times consistent with the objective of moving towards zero and use all our influence in the many international forums to which we belong to press that agenda forward.
What needs to be done if the world is to move effectively towards zero is not much in doubt. Last month it was set out clearly and compellingly in the report of the International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament, entitled Eliminating Nuclear Threats: A Practical Agenda for Global Policymakers, of which the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby—unfortunately she is not able to be here today—was a distinguished member. I hope that that report will come to be regarded as a kind of global White Paper on which future action could be based. My first question to the Minister is whether the Government intend to treat it as such—as, in effect, our White Paper—to sketch out the objectives we intend to pursue at this year’s two major international conferences.
Of course, changing the direction of travel, vital though it is for future international peace and security, will not be easy. There is just too much ingrained distrust: for example, distrust between the two Cold War superpowers, which are now unbalanced in conventional weapons and in economic power, but still have matching numbers of nuclear weapons; distrust between disputing parties in south Asia and the Middle East; and distrust between developed and developing countries—the latter determined to secure their access to civil nuclear power, which is all the more so given its importance to achieving environmental targets. There are also too many technical complexities, and too many vital interests and national interests at stake, for that essential change of direction to be easily achieved.
The first test we face is under way in the ongoing US-Russian negotiations. The second will come in April with President Obama’s nuclear security conference summit, which will deal with an important part—but only a part—of the overall problem. The need for more effective nuclear security in a period of expanding new civil nuclear capacity, and with terrorists determined to lay their hands on weapons-grade material, is obvious but not straightforward. I hope that the Minister will say something about the Government’s objectives at this important conference, given that it was called only after the Government produced their White Paper, The Road to 2010.
The third test will come with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference in May. This will need to cover all three main objectives of that treaty in a balanced way if it is to get anywhere and to avoid repeating the fiasco of the last review conference in 2005. The first of those is the commitments by the nuclear weapon states to move towards disarmament. The second is the strengthening of machinery to prevent proliferation and the third is the right of all states which desire it and which fulfil their obligations under the treaty to have access to civil nuclear energy.
On the first objective, the 13 steps agreed to by the nuclear weapon states at the 2000 review conference, which remained thereafter a dead letter, will need extensive updating, revision and amplification if they are to regain credibility. Will the Government be ready to work on the basis of the Australia-Japanese commission’s report, to which I referred a few minutes ago? It put forward 20 proposals which are now in the public domain. Are they giving active consideration to updating and strengthening the negative security assurances by nuclear weapon states towards non-nuclear states, which was first endorsed by the Security Council in 1995? Are they also considering how to move towards a “no first use” commitment or at least to a statement that the sole purpose of our holding nuclear weapons is to deter others who have them?
The second objective—strengthening the non-proliferation machinery—will surely require significant action too. The additional protocol to the IAEA’s safeguards agreement, giving the agency much wider and more intrusive powers, clearly needs to become universal and may even need further strengthening in the light of recent experiences of evasion. How is this universality to be achieved? Is it by consensus and rapid implementation? We have been trying that for years and there are still a significant number of laggers. Is it by mandatory UN Security Council decision or by making it a condition for the supply of nuclear material by members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group? Also, surely it is high time that withdrawal from the non-proliferation treaty was made a costly and not a cost-free option. The International Atomic Energy Agency needs adequate resources, a matter where I fear that the recent cuts have left our record far from spotless.
Reducing the proliferation risk from the expansion of civil nuclear energy while ensuring its availability—the third objective—also needs some rethinking after the setback at the June meeting of the IAEA board of governors. A plethora of proposals is on the table for guaranteeing the supply of enriched uranium and reprocessing services. It is now urgent to begin implementing one or several of these in a way that will give confidence to developing countries that these multinational instruments are not devices designed to put them at a disadvantage or to deny them anything to which they have a right. How do the Government see the way ahead in this area?
Parallel to those two conferences, two other international instruments urgently need to be moved ahead. The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty will in due course go back to the US Senate for ratification, and US ratification could bring on board a significant number of other ratifiers. So I hope that we will give what advice we can, without interfering in US domestic politics, to explain why we regard this as an essential building block of the international nuclear architecture. The other instrument is a fissile material cut-off treaty, long languishing in the Conference on Disarmament, even though it enjoys broad support from the main nuclear weapons states. There was some hope this summer that that agenda was being freed up, but it seems to be fading. Should we not be moving towards agreement on at least a moratorium on producing fissile material until the treaty is negotiated and comes into force? This was an approach which worked quite well on the CTBT. May we not have eventually to contemplate a negotiation between five recognised nuclear weapons states if others continue to block negotiations in the Conference on Disarmament? The wider importance of these two instruments is that they offer scope for bringing within their ambit the three de facto nuclear states that are not recognised under the treaty. That could be an important objective since it is most unlikely that they will ever sign the treaty.
Some will ask whether this ambitious agenda makes any sense so long as North Korea and Iran are seeking to break out of their NPT disciplines and to obtain weapons capability. I would argue that it does. First, it will demonstrate clearly how those two countries are now swimming against the tide and thus risk intensifying their isolation. Secondly, however successful North Korea and Iran may prove to be, and it is clear that we must do all in our power to ensure that they are not, it will be many years, if ever, before they are in a position to match the extended deterrent capacity of the existing nuclear weapons states, even if the latter do decide to reduce substantially their nuclear arsenals.
I am only too well aware that many will greet the concept of a world free of nuclear weapons as a utopian pipe dream or with a cynical shrug, and some will argue that during the Cold War, nuclear weapons were a factor of stability. The second consideration may have some historical validity, but we are no longer living in a bipolar, Cold War framework, and what worked then could well not work in a wider, global and multi-polar framework. We only have to be wrong once for untold misery and destruction to be unleashed, perhaps inadvertently. As for the matter of moving towards zero, the important thing to remember is that the road towards achieving a balance of a much lower level of nuclear weapons than currently and the road towards zero are identical for a considerable part of the way and for a considerable period of time. There is no need, therefore, for the protagonists of these two different concepts to get at cross purposes in the immediate or near future.
In conclusion, I hope that this debate will play a small part in the emergence in this country of a cross-party or non-party consensus on the twin issues of multilateral nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, and that this will enable whoever forms the next Government to move ahead actively and imaginatively, and with broad support, to secure our national interests.
This is an important and urgent issue. I commend the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, for his initiative in persuading his fellow Cross-Benchers to devote some of their scarce time to a matter of such urgency. I came into politics demonstrating for unilateral nuclear disarmament at the Holy Loch when the American nuclear submarines arrived in 1961. When I told President Bush that in the Oval Office in the White House he was a bit aghast: he did not realise that the Secretary-General of NATO had had that kind of background. However, as we were the same age, born in 1946, he did a quick mental calculation and figured that he was, as he said, “raising hell” at that time and did not wish to be reminded of what he was doing, so we would put that aside.
I moved from demonstrating at the gates of Ardnadam Pier on the Holy Loch to being in charge of Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent because, along the line, I changed my mind about unilateralism. I did it slightly before my noble friend Lord Kinnock, whose Damascus conversion at a National Executive Committee meeting will remain in the memories of anybody who was at that meeting. The line was, “I have tried to preach unilateralism in the Kremlin, in the White House and in the Elysée and I have to tell you, comrades,”—that word was used quite commonly in those days—“it doesn’t work”. So the Labour Party moved away from its almost suicidal unilateralist policy. However, I believe that disarmament is important and relevant and that proliferation poses a huge threat to the world today. I am delighted, therefore, to be among a group of colleagues, in this House and the other one, who are committed, in the Top Level Group of UK Parliamentarians for Multilateral Nuclear Disarmament and Non-Proliferation, to be moving towards a position where we can at last welcome a world without nuclear weapons.
We have very limited time in this debate, so I just want to make three points. One is that we undervalue the progress that has already been made in nuclear disarmament and that some of the non-nuclear states, in undervaluing the progress that has been made, dismiss their own role and their own obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. It is worth reminding ourselves that the disarmament record of the P3 group of nuclear nations has been impressive. By 2012, the United States will have reduced its nuclear stockpiles by 75 per cent of the level of 1990. France has reduced the number of its warheads by 50 per cent since the height of the Cold War and has eliminated its land-based missiles. Our country has reduced the explosive power of its nuclear arsenal by 75 per cent since the end of the Cold War, reduced the number of its operationally available warheads to no more that 160 and done away with all the non-strategic nuclear weapons as well. Russia itself has sharply cut back on its strategic nuclear forces, reducing from approximately 15,000 to 3,900 since 1986, although it has to be said that it has deployed a large arsenal of non-strategic nuclear forces which I shall address in a moment.
The START negotiations that are taking place at the moment look likely to produce even further reductions in American and Russian nuclear arms. So it is important for the non-nuclear states in the run-up to the NPT review conference to bear in mind the fact that the nuclear nations have made improvements and that they have obligations as well in terms of creating the conditions necessary for implementation, for preventing further nuclear proliferation and for securing nuclear weapons and material as well as encouraging the peaceful use of nuclear energy. These are important matters that should be borne in mind before the NPT conference.
Finally, there is an opportunity in the lead-up to the review conference to look at theatre nuclear weapons, the preponderance of which, in Europe, are Russian. However, there is an opportunity here of trying to negotiate the levels of these short-range nuclear weapons to a point where they cease to be relevant and remain purely symbolic. But this must be done carefully and with imagination. It is a new opportunity for NATO to begin a dialogue and a negotiation with the Russians in order to relieve the European continent of some of these pretty redundant but symbolically very important weapons. There are opportunities involved in the process leading up to the review conference and I hope that we grab these opportunities quickly and wisely.
My Lords, I have to confess that I come to this scene with so many more cumulative recollections of the years when we were confronting the Cold War and all that went with it, and I find myself impressed beyond my own capability by the compact and skilled way in which the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, presented his summary of the present situation.
I glance back for a moment, as did the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, to an earlier stage in my career when, as I moved from the Treasury to the Foreign Office, I found myself absorbing all the case that could be made for the preservation and enhancement of our nuclear weapons, and the fact that my son had become the national press officer for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. That led to a certain amount of stress within the family, but I am happy to say that we have now, more or less, reconciled it.
What immediately strikes one when recalling that period now is the huge distance that we have been able to cover and the fact, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, pointed out, that a formidable gathering of American men of authority, including four secretaries of state and two senators, has come together to lead their campaign on a worldwide basis for the achievement of a world that will in the end be free of nuclear weapons of any kind. It is all the more encouraging that comparable movements have been started and are making headway virtually all round the world. Like the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, I regret the absence from today’s debate of the noble Baroness, Lady Shirley Williams. She, in her partnership with Gareth Evans in the Australian Parliament, has also made a very substantial contribution to what we need.
One other feature that influences me from the Cold War era is the extent to which success in these matters will require, and has always required, tenacity and determination on a very long and often frustrated basis. Happily, we no longer live, as we did in those days, in a world where everything is dominated by the confrontation between the two superpowers. For example, it was remarkable—miraculous—when my noble friend Lady Thatcher and I had our first meeting at Chequers with Mikhail Gorbachev as he first arrived on the world stage, and he immediately said that arms control was his principal preoccupation. He pointed out the scale of the agenda at that time, with the simple proposition that the weapons available to the superpowers exceeded by billions the total power of the weaponry used in World War 1. There one began to see the will which has taken us now so far along the road, with an impressive array of treaties already in force, the enhancement and reinforcement of which are of primary importance in the years ahead.
Our American friends, led by my former colleague George Shultz, have also underlined a very simple analysis. He has written a very helpful essay in a book, to which I wrote a foreword, edited by a former colleague in the other place, Robert Harvey. The book is entitled The World Crisis: The Way Forward after Iraq. The central dilemma as set out by George Shultz is that the prospect of building more nuclear power plants implies the wider distribution of potential bomb material. In those circumstances, it is our duty now to undertake—to quote from George Shultz’s analysis—
“the task of protecting the golden moment”.
We have reached the point where it is not unrealistic to expect the possibility of progress along the lines indicated by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay.
My central point is that if we are to achieve the completion of that agenda, then the will and determination to tackle the different tasks in each of the different quarters that the noble Lord identified will require as much tenacity as was needed to make the first steps in achieving headway on arms control between the major powers. We have rightly identified the value of the agreement between the two leaders of the superpowers and counted our blessings on the agenda that has to be tackled in the next two or three years. I hope and believe that we shall now be able, in this country with our limited influence, to play our part in a much larger concert of leadership on the road to sanity in achieving defence against the horrors of a world overwhelmed and cluttered by nuclear weapons, although tucked away. We may well be on the track that will take us possibly to the elimination of all nuclear weapons and certainly to the large-scale reduction of them. That, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, pointed out, is a direction to which we can all commit ourselves. I hope this Government, and the one who will shortly succeed them, will have no doubt in pressing ahead with that agenda.
My Lords, an appreciation that just one nuclear detonation could wreak even greater devastation than that we have seen so tragically in Haiti emphasises the crucial importance of this debate, and I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, and the Cross Benches on securing it.
It is a near miracle that the world has been spared nuclear conflict these past 60 years. The thawing of the Cold War—with the West and the Warsaw Pact coming so close to hostilities—has partially lifted a significant threat, but the risk of nuclear catastrophe is ever present. As the co-chairs of the report of the International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament, Gareth Evans and Yoriko Kawaguchi, point out in the preface to Eliminating Nuclear Threats:
“There remains no simpler or more compelling articulation of the case for action than that first put by the Canberra Commission over a decade ago: so long as any state has nuclear weapons, others will want them; so long as any such weapons remain, it defies credibility that they will not one day be used, by accident or miscalculation or design; and any such use would be catastrophic for our world as we know it”.
Sadly, many traditional attitudes and suspicions remain. During a recent visit to the naval port of Vladivostok, Vladimir Putin is quoted as saying:
“To preserve the balance, we must develop offensive weapon systems, not missile defence systems as the United States is doing”.
Somewhat more encouragingly, he went on:
“Let the Americans hand over all their information on missile defence and we are ready to hand over all the information on offensive weapons”.
In more recent years, the nuclear threat has unquestionably broadened. Not only have we seen a spread in nuclear technology—witness Iran—and a rising terrorist threat, but we are witnessing a substantial growth in UAVs, with weapon systems activated from thousands of miles away. In addition, the increasing vulnerability of command and control systems to cyberattack is rapidly being recognised—witness a recent Google experience in China. Indeed, in November 2008, the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission, which reports annually to Congress, declared that as many as 250 hacking groups were tolerated or encouraged by the Chinese Government. It said that the country’s sustained effort could give it,
“capability enabling it to prevail in the conflict with US forces”.
Earlier this week, there were reports of serious Chinese cyberactivity against Indian government offices.
While it remains a Herculean task to achieve a world totally free of nuclear weapons, we can most certainly bring about a significant reduction in nuclear stockpiles—a process which, thankfully, has already started towards zero, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said earlier. In the short term, we have two reviews under way or in prospect: the NATO nuclear posture review and the US nuclear posture review, helping to create an atmosphere which we hope will enable real progress to be made in May at the NPT review conference.
There are some encouraging omens. There have been significant reductions in nuclear stockpiles, as the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, said earlier. The UK, in conjunction with Norway, has made good progress in developing verification systems. An increasing number of nations are refusing to have tactical nuclear weapons based on their soil: Greece has banned them and Germany is pushing for their removal, although it must be said that Turkey takes the opposite view. And all US nuclear weapons have gone from the UK. Here, there is an increasing questioning of the replacing and upgrading of Trident, both on military and financial grounds.
I would like to put a number of questions to the Minister. What progress has been made on former Defence Secretary Des Browne’s suggestion of a meeting of sophisticated nuclear powers’ laboratories, which would have been seen as a trust builder? What plans do Her Majesty’s Government have to strengthen the NPT? As I think the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said, could we make it more expensive and unattractive for countries to exit the NPT? In other words, could future support, both for military and even civilian nuclear development, be withdrawn, as recommended by the International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament? I understand that the co-chairman, Gareth Evans, will be addressing the high-level group here next month. At this juncture, perhaps I may offer the sincere apologies of my right honourable colleague and friend, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, who deeply regrets not being with us today as she is attending a family wedding in India.
As clearly the IAEA needs much greater resource, are Her Majesty’s Government prepared to increase funding? Could we offer to take the lead in training future inspectors, given our experience in this area? Finally, am I correct in suggesting that on a Spanish base there is a substantial EU facility for satellite imagery? Could any spare capacity be offered to the IAEA by the EU, obviously with Spanish agreement?
In conclusion, there is clearly a relationship between nuclear and conventional forces when we talk about reductions and disarmament. Following the break-up of the Soviet Union and the splintering of the Warsaw Pact, Russia no longer has conventional superiority. Thus, it is not unreasonable for it to argue for a parallel reduction in conventional armouries alongside any reduction in nuclear capability.
My Lords, it is a pleasure that this is a Cross-Bench debate and the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, deserves our congratulations on introducing it in such an erudite way.
Since I last discussed this issue, some important changes have taken place. I greatly welcome the American decision to put on hold the anti-missile defence system that was proposed for Poland and the Czech Republic. It has been an important step in making it much easier for the Russian Federation to enter into a serious dialogue with the United States. We should not forget that the reason underpinning that decision was to put anti-missile defences in the area with the biggest threat, as perceived by Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. We must reconsider quite a lot of views about anti-missile defence in a world in which we now see unstable countries developing medium-range to long-range weapons, cheating on the non-proliferation treaty and showing every sign of developing nuclear weapons.
It is also important to recognise that there is currently a quiet but serious debate in Israel as to whether it should take pre-emptive action against Iran, as it successfully did against Iraq and Syria. I hope that I have proven over many years that I remain a good friend of Israel. I know that it will not take much notice of outsiders taking this decision, but I believe that it would be deeply damaging to Israel if it were to risk a pre-emptive attack against Iran. We cannot say that clearly and loudly enough whenever we are in the presence of influential Israelis. Israel now has the possibility of serious anti-missile defence but, above all, we must be patient.
There is no doubt that we will not see any immediate change in Iran, but we are beginning to mobilise China. Sino-Iranian relations are extremely important. There are also some signs that Russia is taking a more critical stance on the Iranian nuclear weapons programme than it has done hitherto. It may or may not be a nuclear weapons programme but, to all intents and purposes, it appears to be. Iran’s strategy may be to carry on with its present programme under the valid argument that it is preparing a civil nuclear programme, but the world has now had enough experience, with both Pakistan and Korea, to seriously doubt any arguments that this is all about a civil nuclear programme.
The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty is becoming a real issue in Washington. It would be a massive improvement if we could have a commitment from China and the United States to ratify the treaty before the NPT review conference. We need to remember—this goes back a long time, to Harold Macmillan—that the difference between having the capacity for a nuclear explosion and actually making one is still one of the few real thresholds at which, if one possibly can, one should stop. That is important in terms of how Israel looks at the issue. It has held back from that threshold in clever ways. Iran may be persuaded to do the same; that would be a considerable achievement if it could be done. There is no doubt that the path towards that lies in China and America both ratifying the test ban treaty. I hope that that is given a high priority.
In the UK, the juxtaposition of a far graver economic crisis than this country has yet begun to face up to and the need for expenditure cuts across the board, even in defence—I deeply regret that, but we must face the reality—ought to be able to make us take decisions on continuing with the nuclear deterrent for the next few decades, albeit in a much more modest and less costly way than we have done in the past. The Prime Minister has said that he favours a three-boat SSBN fleet. That effectively means that you do not have continuous deployment, which is itself an important decision in terms of non-proliferation.
My own judgment is that it is extremely extravagant to spend that amount of money on a three-boat solution. I would far prefer what the Americans have been doing for the past 25 years: having the capacity to put nuclear warheads on their cruise missiles on their fleet submarines. I see the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, who knows about these matters, shaking his head. However, throughout his period as Secretary-General of NATO, the United States retained the option of deploying nuclear warheads on cruise missiles on their submarines. It is, therefore, a proven system. It is far less effective than the Trident submarine system that we have; I have never made any secret of my view on that. But if we are going to zero, we have to choose, on that path, a lesser nuclear weapons system. That is the key decision that will have to be taken some time this year, by whichever Government form the next Administration.
My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hannay of Chiswick, for enabling us to have this important debate. I will focus on some of the ethical aspects.
As your Lordships are aware, a major factor in the conduct of a just war is the principle of proportion, which is that,
“the harm done in the conduct of the war must never be greater than the harm done or the injustice caused by the aggression it is intended to restrain or remedy”.
It might be thought that the use of nuclear weapons could never meet this criterion. But what of the possession of nuclear weapons with the possible threat of using them, the so-called mutual assured destruction policy? The then Bishop, Graham Leonard, reflecting on this question, maintained that the principle of proportion does not rule out the choice of a great good achieved at the risk of a great evil when the alternative is almost wholly evil.
It is arguable that for the decades of the Cold War the possession of nuclear weapons in mutual assured destruction prevented a war between the great powers which would have been a catastrophe even if only conventional weapons had been used. However, the days of the Cold War are over. We might have got used to the possession of nuclear weapons and perhaps there are new generations that are not so aware of their destructive power. But we are not living in a world today where a massive Soviet army is threatening to roll into western Europe. That is not our “certain great evil”, to which Graham Leonard referred and which made the possession of nuclear weapons arguably moral. That threat has gone, in our infinitely more complicated world, where threats to our security come from unexpected directions. In this world, it is difficult to see what the circumstances would be in which a British nuclear weapon could ever be used. If such use is inconceivable, the moral argument for their possession loses its force.
An argument might well be that it is precisely because the world is unpredictable that a responsible Government must keep all options open and have a minimum number of nuclear weapons as part of their defence capability. First, however, nuclear weapons are not cheap and it might seem that £20 billion or more—the estimated cost of the renewal of Trident—might achieve greater national security if it were spent on conventional arms. Secondly, the world always will be unpredictable, so we must ask, “If the time is not right to phase out nuclear weapons now, when will it be right?”. If the answer for Britain is never, then it must be the same for every nation.
To follow that logic drives a coach and horses through the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. As your Lordships are well aware, that treaty was signed by UN nations in 1968 and is frequently reviewed. As we have heard, the next review meeting is in New York this coming May. It is basically an agreement between nations possessing nuclear weapons and those without them. In what is sometimes called the “grand bargain”, under Article 2 of the treaty non-nuclear nations undertake not to seek to develop nuclear weapons, while under Article 6 nuclear nations undertake to pursue nuclear disarmament and a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control. Article 6 does not, however, establish any timetable for nuclear disarmament, nor does it prohibit maintenance or updating of existing capabilities. Perhaps it should have done, but it does not.
The British Government have over the years reduced the scale and readiness of the Trident system and plan to reduce it further. The Government’s thinking of upgrading Trident while reducing the total number of its warheads might seem consistent with a strict legal interpretation of the NPT, but it is hardly in its spirit or the ethical principles underpinning that spirit. Indeed, if nuclear nations upgrade their nuclear weaponry or seek to develop a new generation of smart nuclear weapons, they are hardly in a strong moral position to argue that non-nuclear nations should not seek to develop them. Both elements in the NPT need to be honoured if the world is to become a safer place. The fact that in the past few years we have seen a clutch of new nuclear states, among them Pakistan, India, North Korea and possibly Israel, with Iran on the horizon, does not add to our confidence.
May 2010, when the next NPT review is to take place, will soon be here. Five years ago I attended the previous review on behalf of the World Council of Churches. I found it a most depressing experience, with day after day of debate being lost in procedural wrangling. However, the international political environment seems surprisingly more positive today than it was five years ago. The development of civil nuclear power in the face of climate change is certain to spread to many new countries in the coming years, extending knowledge and expertise in nuclear technology. It is not only Iran that will be a source of anxiety, so the need to deliver on the grand bargain of the NPT becomes ever more urgent, particularly as there is an increasing potential for fissile material to fall into the hands of those who would seek to use it for acts of terrorism.
I trust that the NPT conference next May will be a major step on the road to nuclear disarmament and that Her Majesty’s Government will give the conference every encouragement and support and be prepared to make bold initiatives to seek to unblock the nuclear logjam.
My Lords, I join most warmly those who thanked the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, for having secured this debate and for having introduced it so thoughtfully. I declare an interest as the trustee of Saferworld, the arms control and security sector reform NGO, and as somebody with an honorary doctorate from Bradford University who follows its specialised work on these issues with great interest.
I have always been a multilateralist, but just as I have always believed that the effective control of the arms trade is essential to defence policy, so I believe that disarmament should be an integrated part of that policy. In that context, I am as yet unconvinced that the case for the direct like-for-like replacement of Trident has been made. Unless it is, there are no grounds for it to be ring-fenced in any post-election defence review, as such a review would, I hope, analyse what really are the threats that face us and what we really need to meet them.
What used to be regarded as unconventional warfare has de facto become increasingly the normality in conflict. The relevance of a new generation of Trident to this reality has not been demonstrated. That is not to say that some of the old dangers may not still lurk in the shadows and could re-emerge. Non-proliferation remains vital. Anxieties about Pakistan, India, Israel and Iran all underline this, but to deal with such anxieties effectively other, more economic forms of deterrence than a new Trident are available.
Just how indispensable is it still to have a nuclear arms submarine at sea, ready to fire within days or even hours? How essential is it to keep our nuclear arsenal at its present level? How damaging would it really be to cut the nuclear warhead stockpile by 50 per cent to less than 100? The cost of the proposed Trident replacement is enormous. We simply must consider what could be done with those funds to strengthen the equipment and support for those who are operational in real front-line engagements or, indeed, to help to defray the costs of new aircraft carriers, which are probably essential if we are to have the flexibility to deploy land and air power to trouble spots across the world in support of the international community. With the limits on public funds so severely constrained, the importance of these considerations is heavily underlined.
The Government can with some justice claim that the UK has demonstrated a commitment to nuclear disarmament. They can point to the ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, ending production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons, publishing accounts of their holdings and history of fissile material production and reducing to a single nuclear system in Trident. All this is powerful, but a credibility gap still remains. As the right reverend Prelate said, how convincing is it for the existing nuclear powers to insist that others forgo nuclear capability unless they themselves are constantly producing evidence of a steady move towards nuclear disarmament? This was indeed the expectation inherent in the non-proliferation treaty.
Were the UK to increase the momentum by forgoing a new generation of Trident, cutting significantly our nuclear warhead stockpile and making a firm declaration that the use of our nuclear weapons would only ever be in response to a nuclear, and perhaps biological or chemical, attack, such action would immensely strengthen our negotiating power on non-proliferation across the world. A declaration would, after all, reflect only the sane reality of what is ever going to be the situation anyway. Similarly, a reduction in the stockpile would make a dramatic impact on world opinion and, again, would leave us well within the realm of real possible scenarios.
There is, meanwhile, grim evidence that every day between 1,000 and 2,000 people around the world die from armed conflict. Livelihoods and economic activity are ruined. Her Majesty’s Government must not weaken in their impressive drive for an effective and verifiable—“verifiable” cannot be overemphasised—arms trade treaty. They must insist on adequate preparatory arrangements and allocate sufficient human and administrative resources towards making a success of that. There must be senior ministerial engagement.
We have to recognise that a number of states are suspicious of so-called northern support for the ATT and suspect that it is a way of keeping less developed countries from gaining access to technology and of maintaining the north’s military and economic advantage. A number of states also link the ATT directly to nuclear disarmament. This is true of Middle Eastern states, with Egypt evidently believing that there can be no ATT until Israel’s nuclear status has been addressed. India and Pakistan are also among the sceptical critics, fearing that the ATT is another way of keeping nuclear upstarts under control.
Progress on nuclear and conventional disarmament is inextricably linked. Progress on nuclear disarmament is essential. For it to happen, it will surely be more persuasive to be able to say, “Take the same road as us”, rather than, “Take the road we are demanding of you even if we ourselves are not going the same way”.
My Lords, I join in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, on initiating this most important debate. I do not think it is a great secret that he, I and other senior parliamentarians are members of a top-level group committed to promoting multilateral nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. His initiative today is a most important step in giving the Government confidence that, as they pursue these most important matters, they have the widest possible support across the political spectrum, and from those of all parties and none, for making progress in this area.
Looking at the recent controversy that has broken out in the Ministry of Defence as regards the different armed services, I was very struck by its comment that there is a marked reluctance to recognise that the Cold War ended in 1989. If that is true as regards choice of weapons, it is certainly true in the nuclear field. It is sobering to think that, as we sit here today, between the United States and Russia there 2,000 nuclear weapons on high alert. Nothing seems less relevant to the world situation than that there should be such a nuclear capability on high alert at this time.
Members of the group to which I referred have picked up a baton handed on by the initiative in the United States of George Shultz, Henry Kissinger and Bill Perry. I was very struck by the opening sentences of an article they wrote two days ago in the Wall Street Journal. It states,
“The four of us have come together, now joined by many others, to support a global effort to reduce reliance on nuclear weapons, to prevent their spread into potentially dangerous hands, and ultimately to end them as a threat to the world. We do so in recognition of a clear and threatening development.
The accelerating spread of nuclear weapons, nuclear know-how, and nuclear material has brought us to a tipping point. We face a very real possibility that the deadliest weapons ever invented could fall into dangerous hands”.
Is it an exaggeration to say we are at such a tipping point? I do not believe that it is. I was Secretary of State for Defence at the end of the Cold War. I remember almost immediately one development that occurred. I was sitting in No. 10 with John Major, the Prime Minister, and President Yeltsin discussing how we were going to handle the issue of nuclear weapons in parts of the former Soviet Union which were no longer under what had then become Russian control. We offered them assistance in secure transport for conveying these weapons back within the security of Russia. I think Kazakhstan was one of the countries that had nuclear weapons at that time. It was an immediate warning that the end of the Cold War introduced new, more dangerous situations.
As I look at the world now, I am under no illusions that this is a much more dangerous time. We have already had the very real risk of a nuclear confrontation between India and Pakistan and there is concern about the security of weapons in Pakistan. I saw a comment in the newspapers—I have no idea if it is true—that the Americans are already preparing plans for special forces that might need to go in to secure the safety of those weapons if the situation deteriorates in Pakistan. It is a pretty obvious point about the danger and instability of that country at this time.
There are also issues that we never previously had to face; for example, the threat of suicide bombers—fundamentalist jihadis who do not care about the casualties that they might cause. The bigger the outrage the more success they might attribute to their cause. As well as those situations and the risks of accidental or deliberate use of nuclear weapons, or a miscalculation, there is the possibility of cyber threat and the use of cyber techniques. The noble Lord, Lord Owen, in a most impressive speech, referred to the Israeli situation and that it might deal with the Iranian nuclear threat by cyber attack.
New developments pose enormous dangers of one sort or another. They also coincide most awkwardly with the time when many people in the world want to see much greater use of nuclear power. That is a difficult combination to handle. It is against that background that I strongly support the efforts suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay—the importance of the review conference of the NPT and the initiatives that should be taken by the nuclear weapons states at this time for major reductions. There should be strong support for President Obama in the initiatives that the Pentagon is trying to frustrate. I hope he is successful in getting movement in that field.
This is a case where the House of Lords has taken an initiative through that of the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, and I hope that it will be reflected in another place. I hope that the message will then be heard that Britain is prepared to play its part in a most important challenge that the world faces at this time.
My Lords, like other noble Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Hannay on obtaining this debate and for the masterly way in which he introduced it. I will be brief because I want to focus entirely on our national position.
As the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said, we are faced with taking obvious but not straightforward moves towards zero along the 20 steps advocated by the Australian and Japanese commission towards a world free of nuclear weapons. However, we must not base those moves on either an underestimation or an overestimation of the relative importance of our nuclear capability.
As my noble and gallant friend Lord Bramall said during the Private Notice Question that immediately preceded this debate, it is important that national decisions must be synchronised with the Strategic Defence Review. We must acknowledge that although manned by the Royal Navy, our deterrent and its capability is not just a matter of defence. I have long felt that it should be taken out of the defence budget. I feel that even more as we move towards the very difficult Strategic Defence Review that is promised after the election, if that review is skewed by the fact that the cost of the deterrent is a given in the defence budget.
Our position in relation to multinational disarmament will be less credible if, with regard to Trident, we take the line that others must engage in it but not us. Not only can we not afford the financial cost, but we cannot afford the political cost of following that line. Therefore, showing our determination to acknowledge our responsibility and demonstrating a genuine commitment to the move towards zero, I entirely agree with my noble friend Lord Owen that we should go down the cruise missile route—possibly using dual-capable weaponry mounted in Astute submarines. This route was advocated by such as Admiral Eberle when Commander-in-Chief Fleet more than 20 years ago, since when the technical capability of supersonic cruise missiles has been considerably developed. Can the Minister assure the House that this route is being seriously considered?
This debate is taking place at a very important time, with the impending conferences set out by my noble friend Lord Hannay. It is extremely important that our delegates to those conferences are armed with a credible and affordable national line.
My Lords, I welcome this debate and the introduction of the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, about the need for the UK to work with other nations to reduce the world threat of nuclear weapons.
If the UK is to play such a role it is essential that the UK capability in science and technology remains very significant. The lack of really excellent collaboration between the EU and the US in these fields considerably reduces our capacity. Do the Government plan to improve this collaboration in future? My noble friend Lord Robertson referred to the Holy Loch. The Holy Loch was where Lewis Richardson lived in the 1940s and 1950s. He wrote an extraordinary letter to Nature in 1951. He said there had been three arms races in the 20th century and there had been two world wars. Was there any reason why there would not be a third world war? He argued that if one country really won the arms race, the other country might submit, which is one interpretation of recent history.
The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, made the point that conflict of countries with big armaments when you have only two big blocs is different from the multilateral situation we have now. We should go to a lower level of international armaments but we may still need some low-level international nuclear capacity to deal with rogue elements.
In some sense nuclear power has prevented world wars in the past 60 years. It is also worth while noting, in terms of the relative danger that some people feel about nuclear power and nuclear risks that every year, that according to the World Health Organisation, between 1 million and 1.5 million people die from the effects of the oil and coal industry—particularly in China, but 30,000 people die early in the UK every year from pollution, largely from vehicles. Clean nuclear energy would hugely reduce the number of deaths, despite the risks associated with nuclear power.
Policies about nuclear energy relate very strongly to problems of non-proliferation from nuclear energy. Non-proliferation considerations are having and have had a significant impact on the introduction of new nuclear technologies. Nuclear fission systems are being introduced rapidly in China, slowly in the UK and at a moderate pace elsewhere in Europe and in the United States. However, countries using conventional fission systems are very concerned about uranium running out. China currently depends upon Kazakhstan and Australia for its uranium. It believes, as does Russia, that we need new technologies. Those countries, including the United States, have a growing R&D programme to develop hybrid systems that combine fusion and fission.
I will make a couple of points about neutrons, which have not featured largely in the debate. Neutrons from fission systems can trigger chain reactions in the fission blankets around them, so that they act in an even safer way than conventional fission systems. The important point is that they can use a much lower level of fuel than you need for current fission systems. I had an e-mail yesterday from a senior official in the US Department of Energy, on whom I was testing the idea. He wrote:
“This has considerable advantages in non-proliferation”.
The reserves of thorium in the deserts of India and China are five times as great as those of uranium, so the Chinese are aiming to construct a prototype system by 2020. Other countries are following this. An important feature of this hybrid technology is that not only will heat from the fossil fuels lead to power, but the process also transforms the wastes so that they have a much shorter half-life than the 10,000-year half-life of waste from conventional nuclear fission systems.
The UK Government have been very concerned about this technology and have prevented people discussing it. There has been only very limited discussion at the IAEA. The fear was that this technology could be used to generate high-grade fissile material for weapons. However, this is no longer seen as a valid objection. The e-mail that I mentioned states:
“If thorium is used, it will be very difficult to transform that into uranium 235, and any attempt to do so will be easily detectable”.
That is why we need good science on detection.
I was pleased last week to receive a letter from the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, which stated that the UK would now include consideration of hybrids as part of its research into fusion and fission. Our programmes on both are excellent, particularly our fusion programme, for which the Chinese have great respect. This will be an important basis for us to develop future energy systems that will have lower proliferation potential and will use more widely used fuels, which will benefit the world. I welcome the point made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark that nuclear energy is an important part of how we are going to reduce carbon emissions for the world.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, may recall the advice of Adlai Stevenson that flattery is fine provided you do not inhale. I will join others in congratulating him warmly on instigating the debate. I will also join others in commending the report of the International Commission on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament, chaired by my former colleague at the International Crisis Group, Gareth Evans, and by Yoriko Kawaguchi. It can be fairly said that the report bears the imprint of Gareth Evans’s—how can I put this?—rigorous and no-nonsense intellect. It is a very good report.
I will focus on one simple point made by the co-chairs of the international commission and which has been touched on by several noble Lords. Nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation are plainly joined at the hip. In a world where the number of nuclear power reactors is likely to double in the next 20 years, and where we all wish to diminish the chances of terrorist organisations buying or stealing nuclear weapons, it is imperative to tighten the safeguards and the verification, compliance and enforcement provisions of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. That will be a major issue on the agenda at the review conference of the treaty in May.
As Mohamed ElBaradei and others have argued, we cannot expect the non-nuclear weapon states to accept tougher surveillance if the nuclear states do not do more to reduce their own nuclear arsenals. The two issues are closely related. For example, the downsizing of nuclear arsenals before 1995 helped to secure in that year the extension of the NPT. We welcome the fact that President Obama is committed to making real progress on nuclear disarmament, unlike his predecessor. That is not an issue, but it may be problematic how much support he will get in the Senate for that position.
What about the other permanent members of the Security Council? What is their commitment to non-proliferation? Let us consider the two most serious threats to non-proliferation, starting with North Korea. The key actor in the six-party talks, apart from the United States, is China. China is obviously and understandably worried about the possibility of an economic and political collapse in North Korea, which would almost certainly result in an exodus of North Koreans into China's neighbouring rust-belt provinces. However, is China prepared to take a more forceful line with its unruly and awkward former ideological dependant?
More worrying is the case of Iran. I will follow very closely what the noble Lord, Lord Owen, said. I welcome the fact that President Obama has been wisely enthusiastic about engaging Iran. The international community put a serious offer to Iran in October, which would have helped it out of the corner into which it had painted itself without it losing face. Unfortunately, Iran rejected dialogue. Doubtless the issue at the time was entangled with the turmoil in the country after the rigged elections. I have always been in favour of trying to negotiate a settlement with Iran, recognising the country's ambitions to develop a civil nuclear capacity, properly monitored, while drawing red lines to prevent weaponisation. However, if such a policy is not getting anywhere, and if we agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Owen, said about how devastating a military strike would be to the region and to the world, the only alternative to negotiating with Iran is tougher sanctions.
Sanctions are already in place; but what if next month in the Security Council the United States, with British and French support, comes back with much tougher sanctions? I hope that Russia would accept a tough arms embargo on Iran, even though it provides 85 per cent of Iran’s arms imports. What of China? It has a significant energy relationship with Iran. China buys oil from Iran and sells petroleum back to Iran. China has a $100 billion natural gas deal with Iran. Will China accept a ban on petrol and diesel sales to Iran as part of an effective embargo policy? The way that China handles this issue will be one of the determining factors in its relationship with the rest of the world, alongside climate change and the value of the renminbi in the years ahead. I hope that we can expect the European Union—Iran's biggest trade partner—to give a forceful lead, though I recognise that that may be an oxymoron.
My Lords, having lived for much of my professional life under and, indeed, intellectually fully accepted what I might even describe as the theology of Britain’s nuclear deterrent, with all its political overtones; commanded a division in the field in West Germany at the height of the Cold War, the tactical performance of which depended to a great extent on the back-up and background threat of NATO’s nuclear weapons; been Chief of the Defence Staff when our own nuclear deterrent was, 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year, capable of a 15-minute response; and shared with many others a comforting feeling that the balance of nuclear terror was indeed contributing to stability and the absence of aggression in Europe, I feel that I may be more qualified to offer some views on my noble friend Lord Hannay’s timely Motion than some who may be excessively influenced by political or emotional factors which, valid as they are to them and to others, must be somewhat extraneous to the core issue of an effective defence of this country against any realistic threat.
The first point I feel I must put forward, not for the first time, is that if this country and our allies are really serious about wanting not only to curb nuclear proliferation but to bring about a nuclear-free world as soon as that is practical, and not just pay it lip service, it cannot be anything but the worst possible example if we, in our key international position, make firm plans and spend vast amounts of money that we cannot afford to give ourselves a continued national strategic deterrent capability for the next 50 years, based on an age-old but now fallacious argument—which others might, not unnaturally, feel encouraged to follow—that even in a manifestly changing world no self-respecting nation can afford to be without such a weapon if it is to be properly defended. I say this particularly because there are a number of alternative options to which we could subscribe that would make a positive contribution to the nuclear proliferation negotiations, instead of the extremely negative one.
Having thought deeply since the end of the Cold War about possible future threat scenarios, however bizarre and including nuclear blackmail, in which our own nuclear deterrent, let alone its usage, might just have any relevance at all, I now take the view—very simplistically, and no doubt many will say over-simplistically—that we really no longer need an all-singing, all-dancing successor to Trident. This is for four simple reasons: it does not deter any threat likely to face us in the future; in a globalised world, it cannot really be used under any relevant circumstances; it is not independent in any useful sense, and we certainly cannot afford it.
However, I do accept that if we were, as my noble friend pointed out in his masterly introduction, to make the logical conclusion from these perfectly valid points it is improbable that others would necessarily follow our example. But even if our Government were not, for political reasons, prepared to go the whole hog for fear that the country might—in a still dangerous world, with the possibility of nuclear weapons getting into the wrong hands—take fright and imagine that we were giving away something fundamental, while the French retained theirs, there is still much that we could do positively which could be looked at most carefully in the context of the long-awaited defence and security review. Particularly, we could delay as long as is humanly possible any firm decisions on replacing the existing Trident SSBN fleet to give us more flexibility in negotiations. That would be made easier by being prepared to accept a gradually reduced fleet of three, or even two, submarines with some theoretical loss of effectiveness over a period and far more reliance on intelligence. But do we really need round-the-clock alertness? That assumption should be seriously challenged.
Putting Tomahawk cruise missiles on submarines with a nuclear and/or conventional capability to take out pinpoint targets, and improving utility and credibility without abandoning any uncertainty altogether, are other ways to make a significant and positive nuclear disarmament point. Those points have been made most strongly and effectively by my noble friends Lord Owen and Lord Ramsbotham. Nor should we despair of trying to come to some agreement with the French about a joint move to such disarmament; for once that unilateral straitjacket was removed or loosened I believe that the whole country would soon be in favour of stepping down the nuclear ladder—as a useful research paper recently described it—and of doing so comparatively quickly; and the whole country would be absolutely right.
My Lords, I, too, wish to express my gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Hannay of Chiswick, whose expertise in these matters is known well beyond this House. He has provided us with another welcome opportunity to debate these important issues.
After the disappointment of the 2005 review conference, the backdrop to the current conference is much more hopeful, not least because the United States has adopted a more multilateralist posture. However welcome those US moves are, there is still ambiguity for the rest of the world in our not knowing to what extent the US would initiate a retaliatory nuclear strike if attacked by biological, radiological or chemical weapons. How welcome it would be if we could get clarity from the United States before the review conference.
Closer to home, I welcome the Government’s paper, Lifting the Nuclear Shadow, and the suggestions it contains. However, in my view the Government fall into the trap of overstating the case in terms of threats. The paper asserts that,
“foremost amongst the new security threats are the risks of nuclear weapons spreading to more states or falling into the hands of terrorists”.
Unfortunately, the paper does not provide much evidence for these claims. I say that because I am secure in our belief that moves towards zero must remain our ultimate objective. However, a desire to do away with nuclear weapons should not cloud our judgment in terms of realistic assessments of where we are today and the threats that we face.
A sober assessment of nuclear proliferation requires that we jettison some popular fears and exaggerations, one of which is that terrorists are about to acquire nuclear weapons. The uncovering of the Abdul Qadeer Khan network should indeed lead us to more coherent policies to reduce the risk of non-state actors using nuclear weapons, and much is being done in this area. To suggest, however, as some do, that rogue states such as Iran would have an interest in providing weapons and delivery systems to terrorist groups does not stand up. A greater danger may well be that of unstable states that have nuclear weapons and allow them to fall into the wrong hands. If we take Pakistan, its own internal crisis with Islamists might result in their gaining power and then having access to nuclear weapons which, according to our logic, are better held in the hands of the military than the mullahs. Our efforts should therefore be to work with both the Pakistani and Indian Governments better to secure their weapons, and to bring peace to the region overall so that the countries find that they ultimately do not need their nuclear weapons.
A further element of the Government’s paper is its attempt to advance the view that the Middle East should be a WMD-free zone—a laudable aim, which I endorse wholeheartedly. But to achieve that aim there would have to be an acknowledgement that the Middle East also comprises Israel, so the achievement of a WMD-free zone would require that all states in the region give up their nuclear weapons programmes. In the interests of clarity, the Government would do well to say so. In both the Middle East and India-Pakistan, success in disarmament will come through the hard slog of conventional moves towards confidence and peace-building among neighbours. The five permanent members of the Security Council bear special responsibility to advance negotiations towards that end.
I turn to the supposed new threat of nuclear proliferation. While I would argue that we must do all we can to curb proliferation, we should equally be committed to reducing the existing arsenals and stockpiles among old nuclear weapons states. It rings hollow for us to berate those with nuclear ambitions while the US and Russia still hold arsenals big enough to destroy all of us, several times over. It is also disingenuous to suggest that the greater danger comes from rogue states. If rogue states are those whose leaders are not rational, which flout international norms, violate the human rights of their own populations and pose a threat to their neighbours, it can be argued that several of the current members of the nuclear arms club were themselves rogue states.
One can take the case of China, which tested in 1964. At the time, Mao’s domestic policies had killed tens of millions of its own citizens, there was an aggressive foreign policy with attacks on India, fighting the US in North Korea, and supporting what would now qualify as a terrorist organisation, the Vietcong, who were a non-state actor. Yet within five years of the People’s Republic’s nuclear test, the US and China initiated a covert dialogue and they were in alliance against the Soviet Union within a decade. I say this to illustrate that nuclear weapons did not make China more hostile—its foreign policies became more restrained and responsible, although in these areas there is still some way to go, as the noble Lord, Lord Patten, pointed out.
I give the China example because there are often lessons in history. We might reflect on these lessons when contemplating our stance towards Iran. Iran, and indeed South Korea’s covert programmes, began during the Cold War itself—a little acknowledged fact. Iran’s desire for a programme comes from being attacked by its neighbours with chemical weapons, the existence of hostile neighbours and nuclear armed states on its borders.
We hear increasingly belligerent voices speculating whether air strikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities will work. I think we can safely assume they will not. So we will be left with the option of ratcheting up sanctions and raising the cost of non-compliance. That is all very well, but in my view we need to work harder through the P5 and the US might also reflect on its 1960s China experience and consider direct talks. Both share overlapping interests in defeating the Taliban in Afghanistan and seeing a secure and stable Iraq.
The many different steps contemplated in the lead-up to the review conference—diplomacy, negotiations and sanctions—may well restart the moves towards zero this year. We wish it well.
My Lords, this House benefits enormously from the wisdom and experience of the noble Lord, Lord Hannay—as we have done today. I shall make three brief points.
First, we may be at what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, called the golden moment. There is a happy conjunction of the favourable factors for disarmament, based on the recognition by Russia and the United States of their common interest in co-operation in this field and the several conferences on the subject at which that co-operation can be taken further.
The new spirit was heralded by President Obama’s speech in Prague in April in which he described:
“America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons”.
That was underlined by his speech on 17 September revising the missile defence policy, which had a response from Russia in terms of the removal of its threat of stationing short-range missiles on Kaliningrad and also of allowing the transit through Russian airspace of military materiel for Afghanistan.
Thus there is an excellent basis for progress this year on the crowded agenda for arms control. This includes, first, a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which could involve subsequent negotiations on battlefield tactical nuclear weapons; secondly, the US nuclear posture review which is shortly to be published and could give further momentum to the no-first-use debate; thirdly, the fact that the US will host the nuclear summit in April; and most importantly, after the disappointing review of the NPT five years ago, the new review to be held at the United Nations in May, with a number of very helpful preparatory conferences. For example, at the last conference, in May 2009, the US delegation signalled the new Administration’s determination to engage in negotiations for the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty—FMCT—and to seek to persuade the Senate to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the CTBT. So, in this spirit of co-operation, there is all to play for this year.
Secondly, to avoid a new era of global proliferation and preserve the nuclear moratorium, there have been a number of useful reports, which have already been mentioned. These include the Global Zero initiative launched in December 2008 and the IISS paper Abolishing Nuclear Weapons; but of course the most significant of all is the road map in the International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament report subtitled A Practical Agenda for Global Policymakers. I join the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, in asking my noble friend whether the Government adopt that report. It was launched in Tokyo on 15 December 2009, and the membership of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, shows the respect in which she is held internationally. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, aptly summarised the two phases of the recommendations in the commission report as going along in the same direction but one stopping earlier than the other.
The commission report prompts two speedy observations. The first is the relevance for the UK independent nuclear deterrent. Clearly the Government have played a leading role in the debate, evidenced by the publication of The Road To 2010 last July and the Prime Minister’s speech to the UN. This has been taken further by the speeches today of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, and the noble Lords, Lord Owen and Lord Ramsbotham. Secondly, the commission report is so comprehensive it is difficult to dissent from its conclusions.
My final point is that these carefully researched and balanced proposals could, alas, stumble at the first hurdle because of regional problems. The fragile peace between India and Pakistan has already been mentioned, and there is also concern over the new Indian military doctrine. North Korea has enough plutonium for six to eight bombs yet its conduct is unpredictable. It is traditionally the arch-proliferator in the world and its conduct unpredictable. Most problematic of all is Iran, which the noble Lord, Lord Owen, spoke about well. Secretary Gates said:
“There are no good options in Iran”.
All non-military options have been tried. Iran is well aware that had Iraq possessed nuclear weapons, it would not have been invaded. Mr Larajani told our then ambassador in 2005 that Iran had three options: surrender, nobly defy or manoeuvre. It has by zig-zag, one step back, two steps forwards, proceeded on its path. Sanctions are likely to fail; after all, China sells its petrol to Iran and Russia accounts for 85 per cent of Iranian arms imports.
If Iran is truly on the path to a nuclear capability—we may be deluding ourselves to think otherwise—we should consider the “what if” option. How should we react if it were to obtain such a capability? The clear danger is that other leading states in the region will be under pressure to produce their own capability. How do we persuade them otherwise and perhaps mitigate the consequences for them? Can we provide bankable assurances of protection? Is it enough to assist them to build their nuclear facilities?
So, overall, this is a very important year. There can be significant progress. It is favourable that Russia and the US appear to be co-operating. The prospects are indeed hopeful, but they could be undermined by the regional hot spots, particularly Iran.
My Lords, the enormity and complexity of non-proliferation almost defies comprehension, ranking alongside challenges on climate for the need to leave the world in better shape for future generations. The global nuclear warhead capacity on high alert speaks for itself, a fraction of which could cause global mayhem. Rogue nations openly challenge the non-proliferation regime with waters further muddied by al-Qaeda, and others, attempting to acquire nuclear material. An additional complicating factor is of internet-based information now leading to a wider understanding of dual-user technology.
Progress on the reduction has seemingly hitherto been governed by bureaucrats exercising their minds on treaty finesse without real political engagement and reduction implementation benchmarks. The upcoming US nuclear security summit must become a milestone, with many hoping that nuclear security will be added as a fourth pillar. If there be any doubt about the need for seriousness, the participants’ minds will be focused by a film, based on fact, entitled “Last Best Chance”, described by the 9/11 Commission chairman as,
“a wake-up call for America and the world”.
We trifle with global public security by any absence of vigilance, or by relegation of the matter to a few military agencies.
Countries will renounce their nuclear capability when they see it in their political and security interests to do so, and not before. For non-proliferation to be successful, security and protection must be left in its wake. Although nuclear weapons are the most potent form of WMD, we should be equally concerned about biological and chemical weapons. Although significant progress has been made in recent years, more needs to be done. The 2012 timetable for chemical weapon destruction by either the US or Russia is running behind schedule. In addition, misuse of biological sciences to create disease remains. It is crucial that specialist scientists be found gainful employment. Western funds have been provided for scientists—for example, at the Stepnogorsk facility in Kazakhstan, along with others inherited from the Soviet era as part of their biological weapons programme. Again, more needs to be done.
I have previously engaged with the Government of Jordan on their civil nuclear programme. The world would certainly be a more tolerant place if others adopted a similarly responsible approach. One point arises, however, which has been touched on. World-class assets of uranium, a first component, are in abundance in such countries as Oman, Saudi Arabia and Syria in the Middle East, and the Central African Republic, Chad, Mali, Namibia, Niger and Sudan in Africa. At some stage, those countries may wish to avail themselves of those assets. Could we face a plethora of future—admittedly, far distant—Iran-style negotiations? I believe that it would be useful, given that Britain seemingly lags behind the French, for example, on identifying and negotiating nuclear co-operation agreements, to consider the implications.
Following on from that, and recognising that Central Asia is of strategic importance to Western interests, Kazakhstan holds the 2010 OSCE chairmanship. Early progress is being made to shape its time. For example, to cite its 14 January Vienna communiqué,
“based on its experience of nuclear disarmament, Kazakhstan is well placed to address issues of proliferation of dual-purpose technologies and weapons of mass destruction”.
That country has all its experience of nuclear testing at Semipalatinsk and commendable policy decisions of nuclear disarmament by President Nazarbayev.
An untested thought could be for Kazakhstan to propose a mechanism for OSCE members to state willingness voluntarily to renounce the intention or right to develop indigenous enrichment capabilities, relying instead on Angarsk or similar international centres to meet future nuclear fuel needs. Kazakhstan could propose making that policy commitment into a binding legal obligation by means of an appropriate instrument—a multilateral treaty negotiated within the OSCE with technical assistance from the IAEA. OSCE members that do not currently have enrichment capability could commit themselves never to develop it in exchange for a commitment by OSCE members with that capability to satisfy their nuclear fuel needs. Such a treaty could be designed such that non-OSCE members could accede as well. The UAE, for example, recently signed a binding agreement with the US renouncing its right to enrich. Such an initiative from Kazakhstan would become a centrepiece of international non-proliferation deliberations at the review conference and elsewhere.
In conclusion, opportunities present to recognise the benefits of nuclear energy, yet accelerate progress towards nuclear weapon abolition. Perhaps today's leaders could finally move forward with the sense of urgency that this now demands and, in doing so, reflect on these two questions. First, what will be the criteria for allowing some treaty non-signatory countries to own WMD and others not? Secondly, what are the red lines for countries to develop nuclear energy and then be controlled satisfactorily in a manner not seen as undue interference?
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, on having initiated this debate. Despite what the noble Lord, Lord Patten, said, I will try a little bit of flattery. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, like President Clinton, will promise not to inhale, but I appreciate his distinguished contributions to the work of this House.
I want to discuss the relationship between climate change policy and nuclear proliferation. They are, arguably, the two greatest sets of risks that humanity faces in this century. When the first atomic weapon was exploded in Trinity, New Mexico, many years ago, Robert J Oppenheimer famously cited an Indian scriptural text, the Bhagawad Gita, and said:
“Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds”.
The scientist James Lovelock, in his book, The Revenge of Gaia, states that, unchecked, climate change could leave upwards of 40 per cent of the Earth's land mass uninhabitable by the end of the century.
The connecting point between those two is nuclear power, because of its role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Lovelock is a forceful advocate of a widespread renaissance of nuclear power around the world. Nuclear power produces virtually no greenhouse gas emissions. Its energy output is constant; it is not intermittent, as in the case of wind or solar power. It is tried and tested—unlike, for example, carbon capture and storage, on which many people place a great deal of emphasis, but we just do not know whether it will work or whether it will be commercially viable.
For those who wish to phase out nuclear power, its level of contribution in holding down greenhouse gas emissions is sobering. Today, 30 countries have one or more nuclear plants. The volume of greenhouse gas emissions globally would be fully 9 per cent higher if equivalent energy were produced by coal-fired power stations. France produces almost 80 per cent of its electricity from nuclear power, and has very interesting schemes to deploy what is in fact a surplus of electricity to fuel, for example, electric cars or desalination plants in the Mediterranean. French companies join Lovelock in arguing for a worldwide renaissance of nuclear power.
The key question, which is extensively discussed in the large body of academic literature, is: can a widespread turn to nuclear power be decoupled from the risks of nuclear proliferation? For me, the prime risk of nuclear power is not safety or security but its connection to nuclear proliferation. I want to make four quick points about that. First, I do not think that we should support Lovelock or the other advocates of an extensive process of nuclear renaissance. Of the scholars in the world who are knowledgeable about both climate change and nuclear power, Robert Socolow of Princeton is probably the most distinguished. He concludes that the risks of unconstrained proliferation of nuclear power are too great; and I agree with him. Of course, technological innovation, such as was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Hunt, might alter that situation.
Secondly, it follows that we should distinguish nuclear renewal from the spread of nuclear power; the two are not the same. Nuclear renewal is a prime means whereby the industrial countries, the OECD countries, can hope to meet their targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. They must be in the lead on a global level in order to do so. If we look at those countries, such as this country, Germany, Sweden or Finland, it is virtually impossible to see how they can be in the lead in radically reducing their emissions without substantial reliance on nuclear power.
Thirdly, it is not possible to confine nuclear power to OECD countries only. Although we must seek to limit the spread of nuclear power, I feel that any such spread must be connected to the worldwide attempt to reduce the proliferation of nuclear weapons. I fully support the arguments made by noble Lords following the famous article by the gang of four—not our gang of four, but George Shultz’s—following President Obama’s celebrated Prague speech.
Fourthly, and finally, we should not actively obstruct the building of nuclear power stations in developing countries. Rather, we should try to offer a positive bargain to such countries. I would like to hear any comments the Minister may offer on this. For example, many developing countries are in areas that can easily profit from large-scale solar power, and hydro-electric power has only a 9 per cent take-up in Africa compared to about a 55 per cent take-up in Europe. You do not have to have big dams to have hydro-electric power. You then come full circle because if the Copenhagen accord is substantiated, there is $100 billion on offer from the industrial countries, part of which could be put precisely to such a purpose.
My Lords, in trying to sum up for these Benches on this subject, I acutely feel the lack of my noble friend Lady Williams—I feel that even more than the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, felt it in his initial remarks—because the complexity of the process is mind-boggling. The people who state that they are working as bodies towards non-proliferation and removing nuclear weapons work as a huge spider’s web pulling in roughly the same direction some of the time. Why have we got to this situation? It is because we have realised that nuclear weapons pose a great threat to our existence and we want to get rid of them. We have managed to get ourselves into a situation where we have lots of them on a hair-trigger response.
The noble Lord, Lord Robertson, reminded me of the world in which I grew up. The idea that we could all die tomorrow was there throughout my childhood and my early adult life. It could always happen. It was a constant of the popular literature and culture of the time. We now have gloom and disaster about climate change, we even invented things about meteorites, but in my childhood, we did not have to invent anything. Two squabbling politicians provided a drama where the world ended. We have moved on considerably. That type of pressure may have produced Tom Lehrer being beautifully black in “We Will All Go Together When We Go”, but getting rid of it is something we must work towards.
What can Great Britain do? I forget who said that our place within the nuclear pantheon is as a small player, although we still possess enough nuclear weapons effectively to obliterate life as we know it on this planet. We are probably the smallest of the established five powers, but we are still there. As has been said by virtually all speakers, we can lead by example in showing that we want to reduce our capacity because we do not want to use it. This means that we have to try to encourage others to become involved in that process in a fairly aggressive way. By that, I mean not simply shrugging our shoulders but having a stake in the process of removing this threat.
Every second noble Lord who spoke mentioned the complication of the link with civil nuclear power. If the theoretical knowledge that is the basic prerequisite for acquiring nuclear weapons is there, how do we marry these two threats—effectively one threat and one benefit to society? We have to make sure that when we are talking about this and making pronouncements, we know what everybody is saying: we must enhance the verification process. Great Britain has the capacity to make considerable investments in the laboratories, institutions and groups that need expertise. As we cannot get rid of the knowledge of nuclear weapons and power, we need a commitment from the Government, whoever sits on the Treasury Bench, to make sure that we invest in those institutions in terms of personnel, training and awareness to make sure that they function in the short, medium and long-term future and that we have enough people who are reliably trained to make sure that when we say we are doing something, we are doing it, and others can rely on that.
The idea of nuclear weapons and mutually assured destruction was based on the fact that we do not know what the other person is doing—in other words, fear—so let us have another missile. I was very relieved when everyone seemed to pull back from the recent idea of missile defence and the idea of being able to deter somebody from striking back against you. Russia felt that, justifiably, as it no longer has an overwhelming mass of land-based forces.
If we can get the knowledge to get away from positions where that fear can come out, we can make a real contribution. Britain has sufficient resources to do that. We also have sufficient status to take a lead in this. When she sums up, will the Minister give us some idea of our status on the training and support of those institutions?
My Lords, this debate, which was opened so ably by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, is superbly appropriate, not merely because this is globally a time of great danger, as my noble friend Lord King reminded us, but because civil nuclear power is about to expand enormously. There is to be a renaissance, as the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, reminded us, as part of the huge energy transition that lies a few years ahead. We are not there yet, but it is coming. As we know, there is a clear thread, which several noble Lords have observed, between the expansion of civil nuclear power and weaponised nuclear power developments.
I shall deal first with the immediate nuclear issues before coming to longer-term prospects and challenges. The prime issue raised in this debate is the Iran problem and its clear implications for Middle East nuclear proliferation and global instability. Time has run out on the Tehran research reactor deal, with the Iranians proposing their own package instead, the International Atomic Energy Agency saying that it is unable to verify the situation any longer and the US Congress getting extremely restive and proposing a new round of tougher and much more targeted sanctions against Iran.
Where will this lead? The key is in Russia and China, as the noble Lord, Lord Owen, and my noble friend Lord Patten observed in their extremely acute and penetrating remarks. Until those two countries are willing to join in, Iranian sanctions will always be undermined, as they have been in the past, so the permanent membership of the UN Security Council will be unable to act effectively. Will there be a change on that front? Will they help?
As the noble Lord, Lord Owen, observed, Russia is clearly worried by the revelation of an additional enrichment plant over and above the Natanz plant and showed some signs of coming on board, as it were, but China has shown very little sign of halting its sanctions-busting trade and supplies, as my noble friend Lord Patten reminded us. I hope that it does not sound too cynical to say that it could be in the interests of China and Russia—and I have heard this suggested by Russians—to see western concern prolonged, so that Iran looks eastward and north and its huge potential oil and gas supplies go in those directions rather than westwards, thus not undermining Gazprom’s long-term aims for maintaining domination of the European gas supply. We may have a very steep hill to climb in bringing the Russians and Chinese round.
Nevertheless, if more targeted and smarter sanctions can be agreed, especially in the finance and energy sectors, where the mullahs are most vulnerable, I ask the Minister when she thinks that they may be forthcoming. I hope that she will be able to tell us. Will they restrict investment in Iranian oil and gas by outside investors more tightly than they have so far? Will they be Europe-wide, or are we waiting for the Americans? It would be helpful to have some views on that.
As your Lordships have observed, on American nuclear policy generally President Obama is on an encouragingly positive course, with an ambitious disarmament strategy. He has cancelled, or rather relocated, the eastern Europe-based missile defence plan, he is seeking to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and he says that he wants to replace and update START—indeed, the negotiations with the Russians are now going on, as the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, reminded us. He also wants to push ahead with the Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty. All that is very good and I hope that the Minister will make it clear that we are supporting those efforts strongly.
As for the other rogue proliferator, North Korea, we had assumed that the negotiations were once again at a dead end, but I believe that very recently there have been signs that North Korea might want to return to the six-party talks. It is not much to hope for, but can the Minister tell us whether that is correct?
As some of your Lordships said, we remain extremely uneasy and concerned about the India-Pakistan interface. With al-Qaeda increasingly threatening Pakistan, the stability of that country and its good governance become absolutely prime concerns for our own safety. I hope that this is a message that the Government have fully taken on board. Also, we would like more nuclear frankness and openness from Israel, despite the existential threat that it faces in blood-curdling remarks from Iran.
Several of your Lordships raised the question of our own nuclear deterrent programme. I believe that the National Security Committee has been asked to report back on whether we need the three or four submarines that the Prime Minister mentioned. Has it yet reported back? Has there been any examination of the alternative and cheaper ways of keeping a fully credible and independent nuclear capability, which we support, such as one based on Astute class submarines, which are already being built, and the use of Cruise missiles, as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall? The Government’s view on that is very important.
I come to the central issue of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference next May, which the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, rightly concentrated on. I gather that it runs from 3 to 28 May. If a certain election takes place in the middle, there could be a change of personnel at that event, at least at the political level. I make no predictions, but it could happen—we would have shades of Potsdam, but in reverse. It means that on this side of the House we need to prepare an agenda; this is not something that we can walk into overnight.
I make it clear to your Lordships that, should the lot fall to my party to be active in government at that time, we shall seek international agreement on the following points: first, mounting a strategic dialogue between Britain, the United States, France, Russia and China on how to achieve further reductions in nuclear stockpiles and reduce further the risk of nuclear confrontation or accidental nuclear war; secondly, an agreement to take steps to close the loopholes in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty itself, including a new Security Council resolution so that any country in breach of the treaty would be referred to the Security Council; and, thirdly, a mechanism to bring the nuclear fuel cycle under international control, whether through international partnerships of the producer states of nuclear fuel at present, or through a network of fuel banks—this idea has been developed and is a very interesting and important prospect.
Fourthly, we want to take steps to strengthen the IAEA itself and the international system of safeguards and inspections. Fifthly, we want to take steps to improve urgently the ability to track and block the trade in nuclear weapons technology and the financing of international terrorism. We also want to strengthen the Proliferation Security Initiative, which we think is weakly organised at present. Sixthly, we join others in wanting to negotiate the Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty and push for stronger enforcement of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which President Obama has said that he, too, wants. That will need the support of others as well, and we could—
I thank the noble Lord for his apology.
As I was saying, seventhly, we will push for stronger enforcement of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Mr Obama is already committed to this, but we may be in a better position than the Americans to secure the support of others.
The Minister can relax, because I am coming to my last sentence. I do not think that the approach that I have described will be very different from the current Government’s approach to these matters, as set out in their The Road to 2010 documentation. However, we shall certainly approach these objectives with the unity and vigour that sometimes seem to elude the present Administration.
My Lords, I know the whole House is grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, for initiating this very timely debate. I thank all noble Lords who have participated for their contributions, and for emphasising the need to make further progress with nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. The noble Lord, Lord Addington, made a very poignant point about how it felt in the past. I remember reading Bertrand Russell’s Has Man a Future? when I was still in school and being terrified by his account of how he saw things.
A number of critical issues have been raised by noble Lords, including the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea; the possible proliferation risks generated by the wider development of civil nuclear energy; the inadequate security of fissile material around the world; fears over regional security, particularly in the Middle East; and the perception that the nuclear weapons states are slow to implement their existing disarmament obligations. That is a great list of very difficult and challenging issues. I will answer some of the points raised in the debate, and later make some of the points which I will not have covered.
Each of the concerns that have been raised is justified; together they are compelling. Therefore, I reaffirm to the House that the Government recognise the importance of these challenges to world peace and security, and fully agree that nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation are among the most important and pressing issues of our time. As the noble Lord, Lord King, has said, the risks of inaction are enormous. As the House will know, the UK is fully committed to the ultimate goal of a world without nuclear weapons. It is strongly committed to securing multilateral action to that end, and I confirm that to the number of noble Lords who raised the issue. This debate very usefully addresses the prospects for multilateral nuclear disarmament and for strengthening nuclear non-proliferation. As others have said, those prospects are now more promising than they have been for years, not least because the advances of 2009 and the opportunities of 2010 give cause for realistic hope and spur us on to work further and harder.
Last year, as several noble Lords have observed, the UK Government were active in influencing others and pushing non-proliferation up the international agenda. We published Lifting the Nuclear Shadow, to which the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, referred, which set out the conditions for abolishing nuclear weapons, and in the summer the Prime Minister launched The Road to 2010, which set out the UK’s position ahead of the NPT Review Conference.
In addition to the words and directions, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said, the Government hosted the International Nuclear Fuel Cycle Conference and an historic P5 conference on confidence-building measures towards nuclear disarmament; worked to establish the UK Nuclear Centre of Excellence; and continued pioneering work with Norway and the NGO, VERTIC, on the science of warhead dismantlement verification—an important aspect of what has been discussed today.
The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, and other noble Lords have been right to draw attention to the fact that this year brings significant opportunities to secure further advances in nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament. In the setting of 2010 and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference, we hope for an announcement soon on a successor to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty between the US and Russia, and we await the outcome of the US Nuclear Posture Review, which will establish US nuclear deterrence policy, strategy and force posture for the next five to 10 years.
Several noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark, talked about the NPT review conference and what the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, has called a “renaissance of multilateral … disarmament”. That requires the strengthening and reinvigorating of the NPT. We want a balanced action plan across the three pillars to give us a road map for nuclear weapons build-down and increased global security. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, that we will seek a political commitment by NPT partners at the review conference to make progress towards universal adherence to the additional protocol.
Working with partners from across the international community, I confirm to the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, and others our commitment to a multilateral approach. We will consequently seek a mandate to make the existing non-proliferation regime more effective through improvements in safeguards, in verification and in compliance measures. I should also say to the noble Lords, Lord Hannay and Lord Lee, that we fully agree that countries should not cut and run from the NPT. We will also continue our work to establish viable mechanisms to ensure safe and secure access for all NPT parties to the benefits of civil nuclear energy, provided that they fully comply with their non-proliferation obligations. The IAEA board of governors recently gave wide support for that approach, and noted the importance of developing a range of options for assurances of supply.
Several noble Lords asked about the US. I confirm that it will host a nuclear security summit in April that will help to promote common understanding of the threat of nuclear terrorism and seek to build international support for effective means of countering that threat. I assure noble Lords that the Government hope to contribute to the success of that conference, which we accept is basic to security.
Let me turn to some of the other points that have been made in the debate which I have not covered. We welcome the ICNND report, which the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, mentioned. We have no plans to adapt it as a White Paper, but we will carefully consider how we can best make use of its proposals.
On IAEA funding, there will be a donors’ meeting later this year to discuss the financial resources that the agency needs to meet the challenges that it faces.
The noble Lord, Lord Lee of Trafford, talked about strengthening the NPT. We see the NPT as the cornerstone of our non-proliferation and disarmament policy. It has never been more relevant to take this option very seriously. The Road to 2010 sets out detailed proposals for a balanced and pragmatic strengthening of the NPT.
The question of a disarmament laboratory was discussed. As I said, the UK hosted a P5 confidence-building meeting in September 2000. I alluded earlier to our ground-breaking work with Norway on that important work of verifying warhead dismantlement on the road to zero.
A number of noble Lords raised the issue of future sanctions. It is clear that sanctions have had some impact, but not enough to change the course of Iran’s nuclear activities. We now need multilateral sanctions that will affect decision-makers in the region, with the aim of bringing Iran to productive and sensible dialogue. We are in regular dialogue with the E3+3 to achieve this, but cannot, I regret, put a timetable on it at this time. We will therefore consider tightening and extending to other sectors sanctions that target the regime.
The noble Lords, Lord Patten of Barnes, Lord Anderson and Lord Howell, also touched on Iran and sanctions. The EU has implemented UN sanctions and has gone beyond them by freezing the assets of more entities in Iran, including Bank Melli, by banning more officials from travelling from Iran and by imposing further requirements on Iranian banks. That is a significant addition to what we have.
My noble friend Lord Judd, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, and others talked about Trident. The decision taken by Parliament on the 2006 White Paper is consistent with the NPT and with the long-term goal of achieving a world free from nuclear weapons. It does not mean that we are irrevocably committed to retaining nuclear weapons for the next 50 years. I reassure my noble friend Lord Judd that, when it is useful to do so, we will willingly include the UK’s nuclear weapons in a future multilateral disarmament negotiation.
On the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Owen, the 2006 White Paper considered a range of options and concluded that retaining submarine-based systems is the most effective way of proceeding at this time. We found that no alternative could match the capability or the cost that we were considering.
Continuous at-sea deterrence, to which the noble Lord, Lord Howell, referred, is currently provided by four submarines. On 24 September, the Prime Minister announced his intention that from the mid-2020s we will meet our minimum requirement for three next-generation submarines, provided that this is consistent with credible and continuous deterrence. Work is in progress on this and other issues.
The noble Lord, Lord Patten of Barnes, and others referred to China. We understand that the Chinese Government recently put legislation before their National People’s Congress on this, and we need to encourage China to move towards ratification as quickly as possible.
I should say to the noble Lord, Lord King, the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, and others that we communicate regularly on issues of nuclear safety and security in Pakistan, and we help to fund work to ensure nuclear security through the International Atomic Energy Agency’s nuclear security fund, to which we are one of the largest contributors.
The noble Lords, Lord Hannay, Lord Hunt of Chesterton, Lord Giddens and Lord Addington, the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, and others talked about the global expansion of nuclear energy. It is the Government’s conviction that we will not overcome the twin challenges of climate change and the security of the energy supply, which is necessary for sustainable development, without wider use of nuclear energy. However, there is a need to ensure that the long-term development of civil nuclear power takes place in a culture of openness, transparency and confidence. This can be achieved by strengthening the IAEA safeguards regime, and by encouraging multilateral and regional approaches to the nuclear fuel cycle. To that end, we remain fully committed to the multilateral approach agenda and we are working on steps within our UK-led nuclear fuel assurance proposal.
We regret North Korea’s withdrawal from the six-party talks and hope that it will re-engage. We are seriously concerned about its claim that it has restarted plutonium production to develop its highly enriched uranium programme. In our contacts with the North Korean Government, we have urged them to re-engage with the international community and to comply with their NPT obligations. In my effort to address as many points as possible, I am sure that there are a number I have not. We will go through Hansard to make sure that noble Lords who have not had an adequate response will receive a letter from me.
To conclude, the road to zero is long. The 2010 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference and other events this year are milestones. They are not the destination. While our attention is rightly focused on making them a success and on reassuring our citizens that we take our obligations seriously, we also have to look beyond this horizon. It is our common responsibility to ensure that the proliferation of nuclear weapons does not set back the cause of nuclear disarmament, nor imperil the role that international nuclear co-operation should play in combating climate change, ensuring sustainable development and the development of nuclear energy for non-power purposes. The multilateral aspect of these efforts is crucial. As my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has said, we must find common cause and move from a decade of deadlock to a decade of decision.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to this valuable and timely debate. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Patten, that as an almost-lifetime non-smoker I do not intend to start inhaling. This debate, in which two former Secretaries of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, two former Secretaries of State for Defence, a former European Commissioner, two very distinguished military figures and many others have contributed, is a signal of how well this House is equipped to carry out thoughtful and fairly in-depth discussion of these highly technical, but also highly political, issues.
One of my objectives, which I hoped to achieve—to demonstrate that we have a broad national consensus on a very large amount of the area covered by this debate—has been amply fulfilled by the contributions, including those from the Front Benches, which gave me great encouragement. I think that we can say that if there is a change of Government in the middle of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference, whoever represents this country will be able to feel that they have solid support from all parties in a very important but challenging agenda. My final thought that I would leave is that I suspect we will discuss these matters again before too long. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.