Motion to Take Note
My Lords, at the start of this debate I would like to beg your indulgence if I break with tradition. Today is a sad day for the House because, during this debate, my noble and gallant friend Field Marshal Lord Bramall, with whom I had the privilege of serving in the Royal Green Jackets, having both originally joined the Rifle Brigade, although at different times, will make his final speech on its Floor. Few people have contributed more, in so many ways, to the life of the nation than my noble and gallant friend as Chief of the Defence Staff, Lord Lieutenant of London, President of the MCC and, for the past 26 years, an active Member of this House. He made his maiden speech on this subject and I look forward to hearing again the views that we share, and which he has long and consistently expressed with his customary vigour and clarity.
I hope I may also share a personal memory that I suspect he may have long forgotten. Almost 53 years ago, I first played cricket under his captaincy on our regimental ground at Winchester. Towards the end of the match, I hit the biggest six of my life, and, if I shut my eyes, I can still see the ball soaring over the trees at the edge of the ground. However, as I walked towards the pavilion, not out, I was taken aback not to be welcomed by my captain but rocketed for playing such an irresponsible shot when we were fighting for the draw that we had achieved. With such commitment to the cause, it is no wonder that he became Chief of the Defence Staff. I am sure that the whole House will join me in thanking him for his many contributions and wishing him and Averil every good fortune in the future.
In 1998, General Lee Butler, one time commander of the United States Strategic Command, said:
“I see with painful clarity that from the very beginnings of the nuclear era, the objective scrutiny and searching debate essential to adequate comprehension and responsible oversight of its vast enterprises were foreshortened or foregone”.
The reason why my noble friend Lord Hannay and I tabled this debate was precisely because,
“objective scrutiny and searching debate”,
on both the prospects for multilateral nuclear disarmament and the contribution that Britain could make have, for too long, been conspicuous by their absence from the agendas of successive Governments and both Houses of Parliament. This unwillingness to encourage both was exemplified by the Answer to the Written Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Lea of Crondall, on whether the Government,
“will publish their Trident review; and, if so, when”?
The Written Answer states:
“The Trident Alternatives Review will report to the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister in the first half of 2013. There are no plans to publish either the report itself or the information it draws upon due to its highly classified nature. It remains too early to speculate about what it might be possible to say publicly about the conclusions when the review has been completed”.—[Official Report, 19/12/12; col. WA 301.]
Yesterday, the chairman of the Cabinet Office Trident review committee, Douglas Alexander, in an interview in the Guardian, lifted the veil somewhat by confirming that the main factors being considered, far from being highly classified, were very much ones that deserved scrutiny and debate. Furthermore, if noble Lords read the debate on the nuclear deterrent held in the other place on 17 January, they will find not only open discussion of the factors for and against the need for, or possible alternatives to, Trident, to which I will return later, but mention, by a former soldier, Crispin Blunt MP, that:
“We owe it to ourselves to think rather more deeply about this matter than we have done in the past … to review the policy properly, and as openly as we can”.
He refers to the lack of an undertaking to publish meaning that,
“there will therefore be no opportunity for us to examine the costings”.—[Official Report, Commons, 17/1/13; col. 1118.]
Of course, some details of every weapon system must remain classified and there is more to replacing a so-called independent nuclear deterrent than cost alone. However, what concerns me and many others is the reluctance of successive Governments to examine the criteria that should guide the choice of any nuclear weapon system. Our original deterrent was procured during the Cold War and, given the capability of our then presumed opponent, Trident was a credible replacement for Polaris in the late 1970s, if we were to convince the Russian Politburo that a pre-emptive attack on the United Kingdom would risk a nuclear response involving unacceptable damage to the territory and people of the Soviet Union. However, we are not at war now, except in the eyes of those who accept the assertions of George W Bush and Tony Blair that we are involved in a “war on terror” and a “war on drugs”, whatever those two terms mean. No one in their right mind can think that Trident is a usable or appropriate weapon against the Taliban or al-Qaeda, so why the unwillingness to allow scrutiny and debate on an issue that affects us all?
These criteria, as with any weapon procurement, must begin with the operational requirement and include two questions of national self-interest. First, who is it that we are seeking to deter from doing what? Secondly, what level of capability is required to achieve that effect? Military choices alone cannot provide the answers to these because nuclear weapons with the destructive power of Trident are instruments for influencing the behaviour of political leaderships, not for achieving results on the battlefield.
We sit at nuclear disarmament tables not least because of our possession of nuclear weapons. However, as with France and China during the Cold War and other states that have acquired them later, we do so conscious that we are a bit player compared with the two nuclear giants, the United States and Russia. Like many others, I am absolutely at one with President Obama’s commitment in his famous Prague speech of April 2009,
“to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons”,
in other words, global zero. Like him, I do not pretend that that can happen overnight and accept that the road to that end is paved not only with good intentions but with the opposite as some states without nuclear weapons contemplate changing their status. Like him, too, I recognise that although global zero requires those with nuclear weapons to give them up, achievement requires nations without them to play their part by encouraging those contemplating acquiring them not to do so.
One reason why my noble friend Lord Hannay and I sought this debate now and not earlier was that we hoped that we would have some indication of the nuclear disarmament intentions of the recently elected President of the United States. Sadly, we will have to wait for his State of the Union address on 12 February to hear more than a speech about fiscal cliffs and gun law. However, because the prospects for multinational nuclear disarmament are so inextricably linked with the position of the United States, I propose to comment briefly on the current framework within which any chances of their being realised are debated, conscious that others, including my noble friend, who are more expert than I will expand on individual aspects in more detail. Here I thank and commend Ian Cruse for his excellent Library note, which I am confident noble Lords will find useful, not just in this debate but in what I hope will be subsequent debates.
Leaving out the efforts to achieve a weapons-of-mass-destruction-free zone in the Middle East, which is a separate although related subject, I echo the hopes that others have expressed that the president will move quickly to make progress on the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty without waiting for Russia to respond; that he will re-energise focus on the United States disarmaments commitment contained in the 2010 non-proliferation treaty action plan, conscious that the 2015 review conference is getting ever nearer; that he will take an active lead of the P5 plus one negotiations over Iran's intentions, conscious that opportunities for compromise are draining away and Israel's position remains crucial; that he will use a commitment to nuclear disarmament to unblock the stalemate over agreeing a programme for the current United Nations Conference on Disarmament, particularly over the Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty; and finally, that he will encourage the Senate to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, originally negotiated by the Conference on Disarmament in the 1990s. Inevitably the prospects for achieving multilateral nuclear disarmament, to which all these have important contributions to make, will depend on every nation, whether it possesses, is thinking of possessing or does not possess nuclear weapons, agreeing to that aim after careful assessment of national self-interest.
As far as Britain's contribution is concerned, the credibility of its position depends as much on our past record as on our perceived intentions. For example, I have no doubt that our role in banning cluster munitions had a decisive influence in encouraging other nations to refuse to ratify a United States attempt to modify that treaty for entirely the wrong reasons, or that that influence could also be applied to making progress with the Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty.
I suggest that it is on our decision on whether to replace Trident with a similar system capable of taking out Moscow that our real credibility in the eyes of the world will rest—a credibility that is bound to include appreciation of the thoroughness of our decision-taking. Although the 1970s decision to replace Polaris with Trident was based on careful examination of the criteria, the same was not true of either the Labour Government's 2006 White Paper, The Future of the United Kingdom's Nuclear Deterrent, or the coalition Government's 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review or, as far as we can determine, the current Trident alternatives review. The 2006 review resulted in the decision to retain the minimum deterrent capability necessary to provide effective deterrence and work multilaterally for nuclear disarmament, while acknowledging uncertainty about possible future threats that included a major direct nuclear threat to the United Kingdom, threats from states with more limited nuclear capabilities, or threats from nuclear terrorism. Proof that all the criteria had not been properly assessed was provided by the declarations that no distinction would be made,
“‘between the means by which a state might choose to deliver a nuclear warhead … whether by missile or sponsored terrorists’”,
“a state identified as the source of the material could expect a proportionate response”.—[Official Report, Commons, 17/1/13; col. 1106.]
However, there was no specification either of how that state would be identified or what was meant by “proportionate response”. The Strategic Defence and Security Review, endorsing that decision, added that use of nuclear weapons would only be considered,
“in extreme circumstances of self defence, including the defence of our NATO allies”.
What do I conclude from all this? In terms of the context in which multinational nuclear disarmament is being debated, there is no doubt that 9/11 changed the nature of warfare in a way that is likely to shape the demands on every national defence strategy for years to come. The task of a defence strategist includes determining whether military force should be used at all, and, if so, with what weapons. Nuclear weapons, with the potency of Trident, were appropriate weapons in Cold War strategy but are not appropriate in the post 9/11 world. Defence strategists also have to consider current circumstances that may affect the achievement of any national aim. In this case, I believe that insufficient attention is being paid to the ever-increasing threat of cyber warfare. Cyber weapons can not only disarm an adversary before he has even begun to fight, but render sophisticated armouries and even nuclear deterrence obsolete. Furthermore, as has been proved in Estonia and Georgia, cyber weapons threaten every aspect of a nation's existence, and therefore defence against such attack must be a major requirement of every Government. As an aside, just I regret that the cost of what is essentially a political weapon—the nuclear deterrent—is now laid on the defence budget, because of its inevitable impact on required military expenditure, I hope that the same mistake will not be made with cyber, which affects not only the governance but the economy of the country.
Therefore, if progress is to be made with the United Kingdom's published position with regard to multilateral nuclear disarmament, and if Britain is to make a credible contribution to achieving that aim, my plea to the Minister is that she will recognise the unease and suspicion created by the Government's apparent reluctance or refusal to examine all the criteria associated with continuing our possession of nuclear weapons and denial of objective scrutiny and searching debate, and undertake to enable a proper debate on the conclusions of the Trident alternatives review, in government time, when those are published. I beg to move.
My Lords, as, for various reasons, this is my last speech in your Lordships’ House—the last, I believe, of close on 200 personal contributions over the past 26 years—I hope that noble Lords will be indulgent over my being given dispensation to deliver most of this speech sitting down because of my difficulty in standing without full back support for more than a few moments.
I have selected this most timely debate—moved by my noble friend Lord Ramsbotham, whom I thank for his very kind and generous remarks—to make a final contribution for two reasons: first, because there can be no more important question facing this country than the vexed one of nuclear weapons, and in particular our country’s own nuclear deterrent; and secondly, because in my maiden speech, made in March 1987, I reminded noble Lords of the positive contribution that the possession of nuclear weapons had made to Europe in terms of its stability and an unusually long period of peace, for the simple reason that no prize that might have been gained by military means would have been worth the risk of possible nuclear retaliation.
In those days of the Cold War I therefore fully supported the generally accepted philosophy—I might almost say theology—of the deterrent, and believed that because the prize was no less than the domination of Europe, it was—just—a credible faith. On this I disagreed with my more distinguished predecessor as Chief of the Defence Staff, the late Lord Carver, who I then thought was ahead of his time. I say this because, not having had any emotional antipathy to the useful possession of such weapons, it gives me, I hope, slightly greater credibility if now, a quarter of a century later when things have moved on, I want to deal with the practicalities of nuclear weapons and their future rather differently.
For now, with the Cold War over, the world has changed significantly, both politically and in terms of its conflicts, and is likely to continue to do so. I now feel that it is possible—indeed, I would say essential—to look at the whole question from an entirely different point of view. I shall therefore ask three different but closely related questions. Perhaps I might now be allowed to continue while sitting down.
The first question, from a military point of view, is whether we still need the successor to Trident which the Government presently seem to have in mind. Will it be able to go on doing the job it is supposed to do under any relevant circumstances? To this I believe the answer is unquestionably no. For all practical purposes it has not and, indeed, would not deter any of the threats and challenges—now more economic than military—likely to face this country in the foreseeable or even longer-term future. It has not stopped any terrorist outrage in this country nor, despite America’s omnipotent deterrent, did it prevent the very traumatic 9/11. It did not stop the Argentines trying to take over the Falklands, nor did any nuclear deterrent stop Saddam Hussein marching into Kuwait or firing missiles into Israel. Nor indeed, in a now intensely globalised and interlocked world, could our deterrent ever conceivably be used—not even after a serious hostile incident which it had presumably failed to deter—without making the whole situation in the world infinitely worse for ourselves as well as for everybody else.
For all practical purposes our deterrent has never been truly independent, and if this country had not had a national deterrent over the years dominated by the formidable balance of terror between the USA and the old Soviet Union, it would certainly not be seeking to acquire one now. I see no reason why these circumstances should change, because conflict is moving inexorably in an entirely different direction. Indeed, even that often-quoted justification for such a status symbol—a seat at the top table—has worn a bit thin, with prestige and influence more likely to be achieved by economic strength, wise counsel and peacemaking than by an ability to destroy en masse. Against that background, this country does not need and really cannot afford the very large extra expenditure needed to set up and maintain an ever ready, invulnerable successor to Trident, particularly when all the really usable and frequently needed forces and agencies, so vital for the real security of our country, are still deprived of the resources they require.
Secondly—and particularly as in the gracious Speech the first of only three small, rather opaque references to defence was a determination to reduce the threat of nuclear proliferation—I ask how we could possibly make any positive contribution to the current dialogue, and ultimately, one hopes, to a widespread reduction of nuclear weapons, if the only example we set is to be a wholly negative one, by going ahead with possessing for ourselves such an excessive capability for at least another 40 years, and at the same time claiming, however fallaciously, that for a country like ours it is the only way that we can guarantee our security in all circumstances. I imagine that that line of argument is not lost on those who may now wish to acquire such weapons for themselves.
Other countries may not necessarily follow our example if we were to start to run down our own white elephant and be seen to be stepping further down the nuclear ladder. However, to encourage them in the completely opposite direction, to follow our particular stance, seems to me to be very irresponsible for a country such as ours, which rightly has aspirations to be a leader in international affairs.
However, my third and final question is whether, in the real political world we live in, can this Government politically afford not to be seen to have the best nuclear weapon that money can buy? Even if they were mindful to take a rational step, could they really defy any populist feeling which could so easily, and certainly would be, whipped up by those ever keen on contriving a row on key issues—and there could be no issue more key than this—that somehow the Government, however inaccurately, were giving away Britain’s ultimate guarantee of homeland security, while at the same time, heaven forbid, the French may be—probably would be—holding on to theirs? It may therefore be politically easier to let a successor to Trident go ahead despite the many and considerable down sides.
Nevertheless, ever an optimist, I believe that there can be a sensible way of getting round this impasse and giving the Government the opportunity to get off the hook. For instance, they should give urgent consideration to adopting a more practical, realistic and, I hope, cheaper way of keeping at bay or warding off any likely threats to the integrity of our nation and the safety of our citizens, which at the same time would be seen to be giving a lead in the active non-proliferation dialogue. I believe that there are a number of convincing and capable ways of achieving this, some of which may be expanded on by other noble Lords.
To begin with, we should recognise that in today’s world we do not need to have a nuclear-firing submarine at all times to demonstrate an effective deterrent capability. Periodically one boat would have to be at sea for training purposes, and at others a submarine could be put to sea at short notice if the threat to us or our vital interest was perceived to have increased. This variable state of readiness would still maintain some useful sense of uncertainty and could even, at times of particular tension, actually appear to enhance our commitment and resolve. Some useful economies would arise from a system of reduced readiness which might even, by adding to the time span of the existing Trident, go some way to assuaging any lingering electoral doubters. Even more importantly, it would allow a breathing space in which to perfect—hand in hand with improved intelligence, both satellite and terrestrial—a more relevant, economical and useable system, and therefore to allow work on the replacement submarines exclusively for Trident’s successor to be cancelled or at least reviewed.
I would hope that this stepping down from the no-longer-credible immediate response nature of our current nuclear stance could be implemented in a way that persuaded people that it was both a sound and progressive step, designed not quixotically to re-prepare for the last war, but to present a better balanced, more relevant defence programme. Moreover, by making a further and significant contribution to the general dialogue for multinational nuclear disarmament, which everyone seems to approve of, it could even enhance the value of our counsel in international affairs and as a key member of the Security Council.
My Lords, I do not think that I can say anything more strongly than the speech we have just heard from the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall. It shows how great will be our loss in not having his company and advice on this most important of issues. We are all deeply in his debt for once again so frankly speaking truth to power, as he has done all his life, and for his illustrious and remarkable military career, starting with the Military Cross and going all the way up to becoming Commander-in-Chief of the British Land Forces and also—something which I want to mention on personal grounds—his distinguished action as Colonel of the 2nd Gurkha Rifles. I mention that because my son-in-law, who died earlier this year, was a junior officer in the 2nd Gurkha Rifles. He served in Hong Kong and in that neighbourhood, including Malaya. Over many years he told me that nobody was more admired by the Gurkhas than the Field Marshal, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, who did so much to help and assist them in their deep dependence on this country and their deep service to it.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, for whom I have immense respect, for initiating this debate. I hope that I will show not excessive trepidation in drawing attention to two things that he said with which, with the greatest respect, I cannot agree. First, he said that there had been no willingness to review or publish thoughts about, and details of the work being done on, the review of Trident. That is not true. I have in my hand the mid-term review of the coalition. It states:
“We will complete and publish the review of alternatives to Trident”.
That statement cost some members of the coalition quite a lot. It was quite a battle to get those words in—but they are in, they are part of the mid-term review and they will be respected.
My second point to the noble Lord is that the person who was the subject of a long interview in the Guardian on Monday was not the shadow Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, the distinguished Mr Douglas Alexander, but Mr Danny Alexander, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury. Few people in the Government could know more about the cost of Trident and, if I may say so, could have made as acute, perceptive and distinguished a contribution to the debate as he did. Anybody who reads it will know why I say that. It was an extraordinarily candid piece.
Thirdly, I refer to another contribution in the Guardian. It was made by a former Minister for the Armed Forces, my friend Nicholas Harvey. He was an excellent Minister and he wrote a very candid and frank article in which he cast as much doubt on whether it was wise to go ahead with Trident as a former Minister possibly could. He spoke in terms as eloquent and forceful as those of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham.
I will turn quickly to some of the issues. First, the structure of control and governance over nuclear weapons has essentially rested on treaties signed by the so-called P5—the recognised, official nuclear powers. One of the first treaties set up the IAEA, which is a major inspector of nuclear weapons developments. The second, which sadly has never been ratified by the United States, was the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty. The third was the attempt to get a fissile material treaty that would cut off fissile materials. That would mean in effect that it would become almost impossible to develop further nuclear weapons because no fissile materials would be fed into the process. The final one, which I mention in passing, was the attempt to bring about a tougher inspection system, of which the additional protocol is at the heart.
I believe very strongly that the President of the United States, in his re-elected second term, will be determined to proceed further, and as far as he possibly can, with these crucial treaties. Already there is evidence from members of the President’s staff that he is utterly determined to do that. There is also stronger evidence in his remarkable appointment of a new Secretary of State, Senator Kerry, to succeed the excellent Mrs Clinton; and, secondly and perhaps even more significantly, in his appointment of Senator Hagel as Defence Secretary. It was a most unexpected appointment. Senator Hagel has had the courage to speak out against any military action against Iran, and to say quite a few things that echo what the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, said about the destructive capacity of nuclear weapons, and the fact that therefore they should not be used except in the most extreme circumstances. The appointment of these two gentlemen, both of them highly controversial in American politics and not likely to be totally welcomed by all members of Congress, is clear evidence of what the President intends to do. I believe that he will take matters as far as he possibly can, with the support of his allies—that is important—in the next four years of his presidency.
I will go back for a moment to say something about each of the treaties. The CTBT has long been resisted by the United States, and equally by other countries including China. It is critical that we should try to pass it now. Secondly, the START agreement was passed by a very narrow majority in the US Congress. It opens up the prospect of major reductions in nuclear arsenals. The treaty has been passed but not yet implemented. If it were implemented, we would see a dramatic decline in the arsenals of nuclear weapons that—here I agree completely with the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham—serve no useful purpose at all and tend to decline in effectiveness over the years.
The Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty has been blocked for the past few years at the conference on disarmament in Geneva by one country: Pakistan. That is very serious and we need to think very hard about ways to get around that. Since Pakistan’s major fear is not Russia or China but India, I will say that the whole world owes a huge debt to the present Prime Minister of India, Mr Manmohan Singh, for flatly refusing to retaliate after the Mumbai and Delhi terror attacks. It is one of those moments in history when one has to be grateful, for the safety of the whole world, to just one brave politician. He was exactly that in refusing to retaliate against a major attack on Mumbai. Nobody knows who made it, but many people suspected a body in Pakistan. Thirdly in the list of treaties, there is a real chance that we may be able to move ahead also on the additional protocol now signed by a number of member states of the IAEA. This is absolutely critical if we are to have effective inspection.
If there were time, I would love to turn to a number of other, very serious issues: for example, China’s commitment to the no-first-use doctrine, which although helpful has acted as a block to much of the thinking about nuclear weapons and about the way in which we might develop an effective system of controlling them. However, I will echo the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, in saying that we live and move in a very different world from that of 30 years ago. As the noble and gallant Lord eloquently said, there is very little point in having nuclear weapons, and certainly in having nuclear weapons continuously at sea. Our main fears are of terrorism or possibly a serious accident—to both of which a nuclear deterrent is irrelevant.
The other main point to make about the new developments, many of them in the laboratories of the United States armed forces, is that, as the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, said, they are moving towards cyberwarfare and increasingly precisely targeted weapons, including some of the conventional weapons that today terrify Russia. Russia is scared stiff that the United States is rapidly overtaking it in terms of conventional warfare. Therefore, it depends increasingly on nuclear deterrence, which in many ways is becoming irrelevant.
I will end my remarks by saying that for many years between the wars—this is relevant to the discussions we will have in the coming year about the First World War—there was a deep belief in France that the Maginot Line was an unassailable and invulnerable defence. Right up to the beginning of the Second World War, the French military continued to believe in the Maginot Line, which lasted a matter of days and was then gone. Like the Great Wall of China, it was a deterrent that did not work. I suggest strongly that we should look to the developments in cyberwarfare, which are terrifying, and at developments in robot warfare, of which we have the example of the drone, which is used increasingly in Pakistan and Afghanistan and is likely now to be used in west Africa, in countries such as Somalia and other out-of-control states, and ask whether Trident is relevant, and whether nuclear weapons are relevant.
I will conclude with a final thank you that deserves to be part of this debate. One of the listed speakers is the noble Lord, Lord Wood. For some time he was an adviser to the previous Prime Minister, Gordon Brown. Mr Brown gets a lot of criticism, but with the help of the noble Lord, Lord Wood, he probably took greater steps in reducing to its bare, effective minimum the British nuclear deterrent, in working on verification and in seeking to get wider agreements to reduce the power of nuclear weapons, as far as this could be done. It is appropriate and right that we should remember that we owe him something for that substantial contribution.
My Lords, I very much appreciate the initiative of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, in tabling this debate. It has attracted the attention of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, who is making his final speech, as, we find with some regret, he described it. I, too, would like to mention not only the noble and learned Lord’s distinguished record from the D-Day landings through to being Chief of the General Staff at the time of the Falklands, but the fact that he is a neighbour in Crondall. One day he said to me, “I don’t know. You’re called Lord Lea of Crondall. Why aren’t I Lord Bramall of Crondall?”. I think the answer is that no one else around the place has a name like “Bramall” but there are plenty of Leas around, and that makes me Lord Lea Crondall, so I am sorry about that.
The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, has been on a sort of odyssey, if I may call it that. I will not say that it was a conversion on the road to Damascus, because Odysseus had to deal with new changes in the climate on his way back to Troy or wherever he was trying to get to. It is interesting how someone can be a senior serviceman and Member of this House for 25 years and still be fresh for new analysis. We all know the relevant quote from John Maynard Keynes in the economic field: “When the facts change, I reconsider. What do you do?”.
In many ways the noble and gallant Lord’s odyssey was paralleled by someone who influenced me very much. I refer to Lord Garden, a former nuclear bomber pilot and the author of a book on nuclear strategy, who sadly died some years ago. He made an analysis in a publication by the Royal United Services Institute when he was Liberal Democrat defence spokesman in the Lords. He was arguing for leaving the decision on replacing Trident as late as possible. Incidentally, he attracted me to become involved in the group that he set up and chaired for some years, the All-Party Group on Global Security and Non-Proliferation, which is now chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, who we look forward to hearing from later in this debate.
I shall refer to three points made by Lord Garden. First, he noted rather ruefully that the UK retains some leverage in the process of non-proliferation while it has some weapons, so you have to have some weapons to be involved in non-proliferation. I say “ruefully” because he was more than hinting at the Alice in Wonderland quality of the logic that we are all trying to grapple with.
Secondly, he noted that the opportunity costs of other conventional capabilities are considerable and that the lack of knowledge about conventional needs and available resources so far in advance argues for decisions at the latest possible stage. In a week when we have seen what has happened in Algeria, I think that the truth of the trade-off of conventional, non-nuclear ways of dealing with threats could not be better put.
Thirdly, he noted:
“Nor is it clear that such systems could contribute to our security needs beyond deterring indeterminate future nuclear threats. The constraints of the NPT would cause further complications”.
I find it hard to disagree with that and I cannot think of anyone in this House who would disagree with that. That shows that we have come a long way in the thinking of two very distinguished former military people from the rationale that we bomb Moscow and kill 10 million people as long as they bomb London and can kill 10 million people here.
The Trident replacement study clearly has to be distinguished from the main gate study. Sometimes I wonder whether there is confusion in some minds over what the Trident replacement study is. It certainly does not mean, “Do we replace Trident?”. I think that people are confused about what it means, but it just means looking at what the alternative ways are of delivering nuclear missiles. I can put both the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, and the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, right. It is partly my fault that I did not draw this to the noble Lord’s attention. There is nothing wrong with what the noble Lord said about the Written Answer in December but it was only late last week that ordinary mortals saw the text of the coalition agreement, which refers to a decision to publish the report of the alternative review. It was not in the public domain before then. It was announced separately in the House of Commons, even later than the coalition mid-term review at the end of last week, that the review will be published in May this year.
We know that there is a double meaning of “alternatives to Trident”, but at some point we must turn to seeing how this relates not just to alternative ways of using a nuclear warhead but to alternatives to Trident itself. The question arises of how this fits in with multilateral disarmament or a multinational contribution to the non-proliferation process. Common sense would suggest that a contribution to a multilateral process would be along the lines of, “If we do this, will you do that?” That is what normally happens, from being at school onwards. That is what a trade-off is. However, I have not seen any sign of such a proposition, let alone a trade-off in practice. We are told that it is perfectly logical for there to be twin tracks: the track of the nuclear powers looking at their weapons systems and the track of non-proliferation. The trouble is that the non-proliferation industry has become exactly that—it is self-perpetuating and could quite happily go on without anything much being done.
The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, tried to make the case for saying that quite a lot was being done under the treaty and that it was not just a question of people flying around to conferences. The fact is that there is a great danger in letting the present position drift. I refer to the case of Brazil, which has forgone nuclear weapons on the grounds that it believed what it was being told—that we would respect our commitments under article 6 of the non-proliferation treaty. If it thinks that it has been duped and that its agreement was not worth the paper it was written on, that will be very bad for world relationships.
Then there is the argument that we cannot really do anything much of substance. That means that we independently put our nuclear weapons system on the table but the French will not do anything at the same time. This is tantamount to saying, “If the French have got one, we’ve got to have one too”. I can understand our friends across the Channel needing a Gallic symbol—I nearly said a phallic symbol, although it may be that as well. As with two tribes in the South Sea Islands some years ago, it is there to be worshipped. It is never to be used, of course, but it is nice to be seen dangling from the long room roof. However, that is not satisfactory in the present world as a rationale for having Trident.
The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, who is the chairman of the All-Party Group on Global Security and Non-Proliferation, is a great expert on this issue. He will no doubt tell us about the non-nuclear zone in the Middle East. In all of this, that is where I would put my finger on something being very urgent. Huge importance should be attached to the problem of inspection within the regime and the role of the IAEA. When some of us were in Vienna—I have got a long history of being involved with the IAEA for various reasons—and were discussing Iran, it seemed to me that the nuclear powers wanted to push the IAEA procedures to one side. However, we have to recognise the use of the proper procedures in the treaty obligations to which we have signed up and not make things up as we go along.
I look forward to consultation on the main gate decision. Can the Minister say what kind of timescale for consultation there will be on that decision? I do not think anyone in the Chamber would happily contemplate that decision being taken by default.
My Lords, as your Lordships will recognise, this topic has its periods of interests and enthusiasm, but there is an inevitable disconnect— perhaps not unintended—between being an advocate for multilateral disarmament while actively planning to remain in the nuclear club.
I have never doubted that the interests of this country are best served by remaining a member of that nuclear club and being a nuclear power of credibility. Many arguments have been put forward from the original decision immediately after World War II to become a nuclear power; to retain and, as required, update the credibility of that power. I also never doubt that the primary purpose is not for war fighting but for deterrence, although the worth of that deterrent posture and power have to be maintained and reinforced, particularly in times of stress.
Some may argue that when budgets are tight, and conventional defence means are underfunded, expenditure on the nuclear deterrent, both in capital and in running cost, could be of greater value to the national interest if devoted to conventional requirements. Nevertheless, legacy nuclear costs will still have to be met, and these will not be small. However, virtually all experience of the initial funding of the national deterrent is that it would be financed outside the defence budget, though for convenience and oversight it soon became a part of the overall defence vote.
Were a Government ever to undertake to match defence funding to some outside measure—for example, as a percentage of GDP—and to stick to that undertaking over a period of years, then perhaps the relative values of nuclear or conventional capabilities could be more fairly related to each other in financial terms. Lacking that commitment, the arguments for a deterrent posture have to be related not so much to the funding but to the widest possible interests of the country.
That is not merely to the deterrent threat which it might pose to putative opponents but to the influence it has in the field of friends and supporters. It is noteworthy that the arguments against our deterrent seem to rely on foreseen events, many of which have been mentioned today, rather than on the unforeseen, which all of us will recognise happen from time to time. Speeches and diplomacy—worthy and as important as they may be—lack the same punch that comes from a country with the ability, if required, to defend its interests vigorously or to mount expeditionary effort in the national interest.
If this analysis is accepted, or even only partially accepted, then what real credibility do a British Government have to take the lead in any renewed effort on multilateral nuclear disarmament? That is not to dismiss as worthless the efforts of many who try to gain momentum for this topic. It is important that the alternative view is heard and debated and tested against the current, shall I call it “wisdom”, of today’s leaders.
I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, on his initiative in launching this debate. I join him in congratulating the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, on his trenchant and well argued views on this and many other defence topics. The noble and gallant Lord has not been averse, after deep thought and consideration, to coming out of the nuclear closet into the conventional cauldron. It is a penchant for some Field Marshals and I, for one, think no less of them for their revisionist stance. However, I remain a nuclear champion for this country.
My Lords, I remind the House of my entry in the register of Lords’ interests. I am honoured to follow the cogent and well argued speech of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley. Much what he said I agree with, but in a qualified way. I pay tribute to the noble Lords, Lord Ramsbotham and Lord Hannay of Chiswick, for securing the debate and congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, on introducing it with such an interesting and comprehensive speech. I associate myself fully with the tributes to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall. As I was listening to him, it reminded me of my time as the Secretary of State for Defence, when I was not nearly as happy sometimes to hear him speak in your Lordships’ House as I have been today.
As we await the State of the Union address it is relevant to remind ourselves that some progress has been made since President Obama’s speech in Prague in 2009. Arguably the new START treaty and the nuclear security summits are the high points of this progress. However, it is undoubtedly the case that the steam has gone out of this agenda, which we all espoused and cheered to the echo at the time of Prague, and we watch US/Russia relationships sour, for a number of reasons, with some worry.
Although global stockpiles of nuclear weapons are down dramatically since the end of the Cold War, today there are more nuclear-armed states and some of the weapons are in the hands of the most unstable regimes and regions in the world. Today Iran appears to be on track for a nuclear weapon, and it was announced yesterday that North Korea is planning a nuclear test. Pakistan is increasing the size of its nuclear arsenal and its plutonium production and appears to be pursuing smaller warheads for missiles aimed at India. Despite Fukushima, plans for expanded civil use of nuclear power remain. Widespread dispersal of enrichment technologies will make it more, not less, difficult to secure and control nuclear materials in the future.
Some say the dangers of the current environment and their uncertainties strengthen the case for our continued reliance on nuclear weapons. In the short term, I agree with them. I was partly responsible for the decision to renew the UK nuclear deterrent in 2006 and I still do not support the unilateral abandonment of an independent UK deterrent. However, this is not 2006 and relevant factors have changed even since then, as has their significance. It is becoming clear that deterrence as a cornerstone of our defence strategy is decreasingly effective and increasingly risky. As nuclear technologies spread, it will be more difficult, not easier, to prevent acts of nuclear terrorism. In 2006 I believed that our deterrent could play a role in deterring nuclear terrorism by threatening any state known to support it, but as the sources of material used for terrorism multiply, it will be more difficult to pinpoint the state responsible. If one cannot do that, one has no target for a credible threat of retaliation.
Cyber attacks are more commonplace today and they will grow both in number and in intensity. Attribution of the source is difficult, if not impossible. Where one cannot attribute an attack to a source, again one cannot deter with a threat of massive retaliation. That is not to say that nuclear weapons are irrelevant to all 21st century challenges, but it is to say that they offer less of an insurance policy against the challenges we will face in the future.
Further, I invite noble Lords to reflect on recent research into the climate change impacts of even a small nuclear exchange, let alone the effects of one between superpowers. Since 2006, new scientific research has revisited the nuclear winter theme. The research, employing more sophisticated climate models, stresses the devastating climate effects that would follow the use of nuclear weapons. A major use would be suicidal. It would so alter the climate and, as a consequence, our agriculture that the attacker’s population would starve to death, even without any nuclear retaliation. Even a smaller nuclear exchange, for example, between India and Pakistan, would produce global temperatures colder than any experienced in the last millennium, with massive impacts on agriculture affecting up to 1 billion people, particularly in China and the United States, causing economic damage and huge political instability around the world.
If we want to be secure against nuclear and other threats, we have to think more creatively than our current reliance on deterrence implies. We have to shift the emphasis away from the threat of massive retaliation to prevention of nuclear catastrophe and resilience in the face of any attacks. On the nuclear side, we must plan for the unthinkable, but prevention is our main route to safety. Fewer nuclear weapons and materials in the world must be better than more of both. Those who argue the opposite are dangerously overconfident about our ability to keep control of nuclear weapons and materials, particularly in the face of terrorists’ ambitions. Prevention means a number of things. First, we have to get and keep better control of the world’s nuclear weapons and materials. It is essential that the nuclear security summit in the Netherlands is ambitious. This is an issue for continued leadership attention. It is important that world leaders reaffirm their commitment to continue this process, and talk of the meeting in the Netherlands being the last of the series is foolish.
Secondly, we have to cap the problem by making progress towards a fissile material cut-off treaty. The issue of such a treaty cannot be allowed to languish in the conference on disarmament any longer; it has been there for far too long. Thirdly, it is essential that President Obama and President Putin meet and pursue a follow-on deal to the new START treaty as soon as possible. The US needs to show flexibility on missile defence, agreeing to share more details because that is the key to unlocking the door to further nuclear reductions and a deal in which the US could agree to reduce the warheads it holds in reserve and Russia could agree to cuts and more transparency about its non-strategic nuclear weapons. Fourthly, we must never miss an opportunity to tell both the US and China that they have a solemn international responsibility to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty.
Fifthly, we have to work harder to strengthen the grand bargain at the heart of the non-proliferation treaty or risk losing it. We are becoming dangerously complacent about it. All states have a responsibility here, but the nuclear weapons states bear a special responsibility. Successive Governments have reduced the number of warheads in the UK arsenal, but we need to do more. Formally, we are committed to the like-for-like renewal of Trident and the operational posture of continuous at-sea deterrence. The Government and all Members of this House need to reflect further on this position. Are we telling the countries of the rest of the world that we cannot feel secure without nuclear weapons on continuous at-sea deployment while at the same time telling the vast majority of them that they must forgo indefinitely any nuclear option for their own security? Is that really our policy? If so, do we expect the double standard that it implies and indeed contains, to stick in a world of rising powers?
The non-nuclear weapon states signatories to the NPT committed themselves to non-nuclear status only in the face of a commitment by the nuclear weapon states to pursue disarmament. Some of that disarmament must come through multilateral negotiation and agreement, but some of it can come through independent action, as in the case of several rounds of announced reductions in the size of the UK nuclear warhead stockpile, none of which we negotiated with anyone else. The time is now right, in my view, to change our posture and to step down from continuous at-sea deterrence. This would demonstrate that nuclear weapons are playing less and less of a role in our national security strategy, and along with the reductions in stockpile numbers we have made, it would strengthen our ability to argue internationally for the kinds of measures I have outlined in this speech.
There are those, I know, who will argue that we have already done enough, that it is time for others to act and that, in any case, such measures will have no impact on the actions of the Irans and North Koreas of this world. They may well be right. Certainly, some states must be confronted with firm international action and other states must also step up and take their responsibilities more seriously if we are to avoid the worst. If a disastrous nuclear incident does occur, it will not be all or even partially the fault of this country, but what consolation will there be in the blame game the morning after London has been devastated by a terrorist nuclear attack? What consolation will there be when we cannot secure incontrovertible evidence of the source of the attack and therefore cannot use the nuclear weapons we have on continuous deployment, even should we wish to? What will the value of our insurance policy be then? Where will the consolation be if even a small nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan has the kind of climatic effect I described earlier? The choice is not between one risky and one risk-free future. There are no risk-free futures on offer.
The primary purpose of our policy must be to ensure that we never suffer the consequences of a nuclear attack. At this stage in our history, nuclear deterrence still has a residual role to play in achieving this objective, but the character of 21st-century threats means that its shelf life is eroding. To achieve our objective, we now need to shift the emphasis to the kinds of measures I have talked about—on to reducing the chances of any nuclear weapon ever being used anywhere. That means the relentless pursuit of nuclear weapons reductions, a relentless strengthening of nuclear security and non-proliferation regimes, and a decreased reliance on nuclear weapons for national security by all, including ourselves.
My Lords, earlier this week I asked myself why a debate of this importance has attracted relatively few noble Lords to speak in it. Is it because the debate is seen as one really for the big boys with military, defence or diplomatic experience, who can easily examine these complex issues and get their minds around the treaties? Having heard the quality of the speeches in the debate, I would have to say yes, and I am sure that the speeches to follow my own will doubly prove the point. However, I am afraid that it is also because many of your Lordships are stuck in a time from before that at which the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, has arrived. I explored this view anecdotally at the Long Table on Tuesday, when I asked many of my neighbours why they were not going to speak today. The answer volunteered was that nuclear weapons have kept the peace since World War Two and there is nothing more to say on the subject. I am glad that the noble and gallant Lord has again made such a powerful speech today and I hope that Members of the House will read it. In a way, I wish he could have done a warm-up to encourage more debate. I am sure that the Trident debate will help as it progresses, because it will force people to engage with the issue.
I want to spend a little time talking about why parliamentarians really must get more involved in the debate. In this House we have tended to put nuclear matters rather in a silo. We have had debates on the strategic defence and security review, but there is no real place for these issues to be discussed in those. We barely mention them in debates on European defence matters because, of course, they are not a European competence. However, today is the day and I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, on securing the debate. It is one in which, as parliamentarians, we all need to engage because traditional nuclear deterrence means targeting major centres and aiming to destroy cities and civilian populations. That is one of the reasons why the organisation Mayors for Peace has such a vibrant and growing world-wide membership.
The legality of the nuclear deterrent is now highly questionable and is exactly the sort of issue that the legal minds in your Lordships’ House should start to examine. In the rest of the world, the non-nuclear states are becoming more convinced that nuclear weapons are contrary to international law. The International Court of Justice ruling in 1996 said that,
“the threat or use of nuclear weapons would generally be contrary to the rules of international law applicable in armed conflict, and in particular the principles and rules of humanitarian law”.
Since 1996, that argument has been gaining ground. Already whole regions of the world are declaring themselves nuclear-free zones—regions that are likely to be future forces in development and growth and therefore much more powerful, such as Latin America. The noble Lord, Lord Lea of Crondall, mentioned Brazil in particular. He is right. Countries in these nuclear-free zones are going to start questioning why the P5+1 are not taking seriously their obligations under the NPT. Other nuclear-free zones include south-east Asia, central Asia and Africa.
I meet many parliamentarians from these regions through the international organisation Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament—PNND—which exists to facilitate dialogue on these issues. It has just published a handbook. The handbook is not a route map or a document espousing one particular policy or solution any more than a recipe book is a definitive guide to what you must eat, but it is a toolkit of what parliamentarians can do within the scope of international treaties and in their own domestic situations to make a nuclear world safer step by step. If those steps lead to a nuclear convention and nuclear zero that will be terrific, but there are many steps we can—and should—take before that.
The handbook aims to enable us as legislators and scrutinisers of our Governments to do a better job with regard to the nuclear weapons debate. I welcome it because it is quite intimidating to speak in a debate where everyone else is such an expert, but I feel that we have an obligation to get more involved. As the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon says in his introduction to the PNND handbook:
“The rule of law is coming to nuclear disarmament, and parliamentarians have important contributions to make in advancing this historic process … Yet disarmament and non-proliferation can also appear to legislators as remote from daily concerns”.
I hope that as the debate advances on whether to renew Trident—and whether nuclear weapon possession is even legal under international law—the next debate of this sort in your Lordships’ House will attract speakers to the point where it is a two-day debate.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, on bringing this debate to the House today and the way in which he introduced it, not least because he gave us the opportunity to hear the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, as well—I am appalled if it is to be the last time; I certainly hope it is not—in what I think impressed the whole House as a deeply felt and most impressive contribution to the debate.
Having said that, and while some have some background in this area, I hope that my noble friend Lady Miller will not feel the least bit inhibited. She is absolutely right that a lot more Members should take part in this very important debate. As the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, said, the whole issue should be examined more deeply.
By virtue of the office I once held, I was faced with what seemed at the time to be a pretty unrealistic situation, as I was shown a target map of the Soviet cities that were to be taken out in total annihilation. It never seemed very credible at the time. We are discussing something that there has been no occasion to use in the past 65 years, since it was invented. As my noble friend Lady Williams said, one should not underestimate the significance of the end of the Cold War.
I remember a meeting in No. 10 when John Major was Prime Minister, when President Yeltsin came over and we talked about how we could help the Russians recover their nuclear weapons that were scattered around different parts of the Soviet Union, which they did not have any adequate way of recovering. We made various secure containers available to help them in that.
At the same time I received some very interesting advice in my brief about the work that was being done to enable nuclear material suitable for warheads to be turned into fuel for nuclear power stations. I am delighted to see, in the excellent brief that was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, the very real US-Russian co-operation that is going on. The US is spending $1 billion on helping the Russians to combat the spread of nuclear materials from the former Soviet Union. In their joint Megatons to Megawatts programme, they are turning highly enriched uranium into lightly enriched uranium for use in power stations. They have already converted nearly 20,000 warheads’ worth of nuclear material into fuel, making it unavailable for use in warheads. I understand that there is a bit of a freeze and some tension in the US-Russian relationship at the moment, and in the interests of the whole world I hope that that is not too long-lasting.
It is against that background that one looks at the future as vividly described by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall. It is of course an extraordinarily dangerous world, and we can only be reminded of that by the upheavals that have happened, all so rapidly, barely in the past couple of years. The whole of the Middle East has gone into spasm: Libya; the appalling carnage in Syria at present; the issue of whether Iran is developing a nuclear weapon; Israel, with the CIA assessment that it has 300 to 400 warheads, and the question, after its election, of whether it may or may not decide to make any use of them; and obviously the situation in Yemen, Somalia and, now, Mali. The issues that we face include terrorism, Islamic fundamentalism, piracy and cyber threats. However, against none of those do nuclear weapons look like God’s gift to solving the problem. It is against that background that I look on the present situation. It is certainly not obvious to me that there is any longer a need for a major nuclear system based on 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week availability. None the less, it is an unstable world and my judgment is that we would be wise not to abandon totally some nuclear capability, not least because one looks at Iran, North Korea and the development by Russia, and I think by Pakistan as well, of non-strategic nuclear weapons, which is obviously a very dangerous development.
As the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, said, the blockage to this has really been the political judgment. Can any political party in this country go to the electors and say, “We have dismantled the basic, fundamental, ultimate defence of our country”? That is the challenge that we face and that has to be addressed. As to whether it ultimately gives us top-table credibility, in the current world we live in, top-table credibility comes from being available to help with peacekeeping and conflict resolution, and in having Armed Forces that are able to exist, co-ordinate and co-operate with the new high-technology and highly sophisticated systems. We know that, in any co-operation with the United States, there are very few countries now that can do that.
Against that background, the cash pressures are very much an issue here. I think that our place at the top table would be more threatened by committing ourselves to a system for 40 years or more that may mean, in what are likely to be pretty stringent economic times for the foreseeable future, that we are less able to contribute in the United Nations and under United Nations leadership in some of those other roles than by whether we can say that we have these very substantial weapons, which we have never had occasion to use. Our position and the need to play our part in the world means we must now review this very carefully as it comes forward—I am glad it is Danny Alexander and not Douglas Alexander who is leading this particular exercise—to see whether we can find an alternative way forward that preserves our defences adequately but not at quite such an appalling expense.
My Lords, first, I declare an interest as a trustee of Saferworld. Along with others, I am deeply grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, for having made this debate possible. It is always particularly telling when people with such a strong military background speak out in the way that he has spoken out today. I also want to say how moved I was by the speech of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall. Ever since coming into this House, over 20 years ago, I have admired his contribution almost without limit. He speaks with the firm authority of a former Chief of the General Staff but he also speaks with great enlightenment. I shall never forget his speeches before we went into Afghanistan and before the Iraq war, and I wish they had been taken more seriously. The House will miss his wisdom and experience.
Disarmament and arms control are essential elements in an effective defence policy. So-called irregular, and indeed terrorist, activities underline this, and Afghanistan, Mali and Algeria are all recent examples. The easy availability of dangerous and lethal arms makes arms control all the more imperative. Light arms, vehicles, spare parts and, more sinisterly, the biological, chemical and crude nuclear possibilities are all part of this. Nuclear waste from civil industry is highly relevant. The international arms trade must be under constant scrutiny. Sadly, the prevailing culture seems still too often to be that arms exports are an important part of our export drive and should be debarred only when there is some overriding reason for doing so. Surely, the culture should be that, in our highly turbulent and unstable world, arms and ancillary equipment are highly dangerous and lethal exports which should be permitted only to the closest firm allies in whom we have total confidence or for very specific controllable reasons of international security and defence. Confidence about end-use and potential end-use is essential.
Because of the introduction of the nuclear, biological and chemical dimension of all this, I hope that noble Lords will permit me to say a word on the arms trade treaty negotiations. The final conference, after failure to agree in July 2012, will be in less than two months’ time. If that conference again fails to deliver a treaty, the issue will return to the UN General Assembly in its current session, where the assembly as a whole will take over, with the possibility of voting a treaty through. The methodology in negotiations has been to proceed by consensus. However, this must not be allowed to become a treaty at any cost. That would not be a success—quite the reverse. It must be effective and curb irresponsible transfers. In other words, it must uphold the original purpose of the ATT; it has to cover a comprehensive range of arms and ancillary equipment; and it has to include ammunition. Upholding human rights must be a key part of it all. The Government, like their predecessor, have played a dynamic lead role in emphasising all this and in taking the conference forward. It would be tragic if they were to weaken and fall at the last fence. A treaty must of course meet the challenges of Syria.
Specifically on multilateral nuclear disarmament, the need is urgent. There is growing evidence of pressure for still more proliferation. There are the issues of Iran and Israel. The non-proliferation treaty has as a cornerstone the firm commitment of existing nuclear powers to pursue nuclear disarmament themselves. Our nuclear policy must at all times be, and be seen to be, consistent with that. How do we influence constructively if we are perceived to be moving in the opposite direction? To argue that our own nuclear weapons are essential to the defence of the realm can be provocative and positively encourage others to use exactly the same argument. It has been powerfully argued that nothing would better promote nuclear disarmament than for us to announce the intention not to replace the Trident system, to abandon continuous at-sea deterrence, to mothball our submarines and to put them on the negotiating table as a challenge for all to abandon nuclear weapons. I strongly believe that the case and need for, and relevance of, a new Trident have never been established.
There are other practical steps that we can take. We can reduce patrols, thereby lengthening the life expectancy of submarines and pushing off the need for replacement. We can further reduce warheads, demonstrating that numbers can be very small but still effective. We can step up our proactive diplomacy and technical co-operation around the P5 process. It is going slowly at present. The Chinese are blamed, but more could be done to find out from them what they require in order to have confidence in the process. We could take Russian concern and apparent paranoia more seriously. This paranoia harms our own security as well as the prospects for arms control. We have to address more convincingly their concerns. We could open up Britain to inspections that mirror the US-Russian transparency in the new START process. Why do we have to be more secretive than the US and the Russians? Indeed, we could have our own bilateral arrangements with Russia. Central to the current considerations by the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister on all this is which systems will provide more flexibility to move further forward on disarmament and which will not.
It is essential to remember that the UK has said it believes that a nuclear abolition treaty will one day be necessary and is desirable. Surely now is the time to go beyond William Hague’s May 2010 declaratory posture; for example, by adopting a policy of no first use—that is, negative assurances—Trident is then for use only in deterring a nuclear strike. We could then recommend to the P5, alongside China, that they agree a no-first-use treaty. No first use would be an important confidence-building measure for the wider community of non-nuclear armed states. It would enhance the spirit of the NPT and be an important and concrete step along the long road to nuclear disarmament.
We could also build on the UK-Norway warhead dismantlement initiative by commissioning studies on how the UK could in practice move from being a nuclear weapons state to a non-nuclear weapons state. We could then share these studies with others in the P5 and encourage similar studies by them. The transition to being a non-nuclear weapons state would of course require extraordinary legal, political and practical measures. The international community would need high levels of evidence and confidence to be convinced not only that the UK had disarmed but that the change was genuine and absolute and that it would not reconfigure its nuclear arsenal in future.
Long ago, when I was Minister of State for the Foreign Office, I had some responsibilities in the sphere of disarmament. One of the issues that always concerned me—and I do not think that it concerns me any less now than it did then—was that, because of the complexity of the issues, there was a great temptation to get involved in an intellectualised process in which good minds, as it were, played chess with each other. I am a crude politician when it comes down to the point. The issue is: do we believe that a disarmed world would be safer or more dangerous? Do we believe that a nuclear disarmed world would be safer or more dangerous? Clearly, a nuclear disarmed world would be a much safer place in which to live. Our job is to think about how we do it, not to prevaricate and look at all the difficulties.
My Lords, the topicality of the subject we are debating today can surely not be doubted. The re-election for a second term of President Obama, who so electrified a global audience with the vision he set out in his Prague speech of a world eventually free of nuclear weapons, together with the changes in the top leadership of three of the other four officially recognised nuclear weapons states—China, France and Russia—present an opportunity as well as a challenge to those who wish for progress along the road towards multilateral nuclear disarmament.
However, we need to recognise that the landscape of 2012 was pretty bleak. There, I entirely share the analysis of the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton. The euphoria provoked by the Prague speech and the new START agreement between Russia and the US faded. Neither NATO nor Russia made any meaningful progress towards reducing and eventually removing tactical nuclear weapons from the front line in Europe. The failure at the end of the year to implement the agreement to convoke a conference on a weapons-of-mass-destruction-free zone in the Middle East has merely stored up problems for the future. We are entering a new and extremely dangerous phase in the efforts to handle the attempts by North Korea and Iran to break out from their obligations under the non-proliferation regime.
There are lots more causes for alarm and concern than there are for complacency, which makes the initiative of my noble friend Lord Ramsbotham in obtaining this debate—I shared a little in the effort to get that agreed by our fellow Cross-Benchers— the more laudable. I also take this opportunity to thank the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, for his contribution to this debate and to so many other debates in this House.
As has invariably been the case so far, any further moves towards multilateral nuclear disarmament have to begin with the United States and Russia, whose arsenals still far exceed those of all other nuclear weapons states—both recognised and unrecognised—put together, and which also still far exceed any conceivable requirements to ensure their security.
The initial auguries are not good. The Russians, in particular, show little appetite for further reductions. Much, I feel, will depend on the first meetings—let us say, the next meetings—between Presidents Obama and Putin and whether they can find a way out of the impasse on ballistic missile defence, where the Russian position has often appeared to be as intransigent as it is unconvincing; but where President Obama was rather hamstrung on handling this matter in the period leading up to his re-election.
If those US-Russian difficulties can be overcome, the stage will have been set for a widening of the multilateral effort to include the other weapons states, including us. It is surely, therefore, high time now to prepare for that stage. In that context, the now regular series of meetings between the five recognised weapons states will surely need to assume a more operational significance and scope. I hope that the Minister can say something about the Government’s plans and aspirations in respect of the next P5 meeting. Surely the P5 offers the ideal forum in which to discuss the content of a fissile material cut-off treaty, which all five of those present have publicly supported. The P5 could also seek ways to get around the deadlock in the conference on disarmament over even starting negotiations on such a treaty, for which Pakistan alone is responsible.
The postponement of the Middle East conference on a weapons-of-mass-destruction-free zone may have been understandable, but simply to drift towards the next Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference in 2015 without holding such a Middle East conference is surely a thoroughly bad option, likely to please only those who covertly wish to see collapse of the NPT regime. Since such a collapse is very much contrary to our own national security interests, I hope that the Minister will be able to say how we, as one of the joint conveners of that middle eastern conference, are planning to proceed from now onwards.
The greatest immediate challenges in the nuclear field lie, of course, in the handling of the cases of Iran and North Korea. Neither presents any particular cause for optimism. The negative consequences of taking pre-emptive military action against either country still seem far to outweigh any conceivable benefits, whatever one’s view of the morality or international legitimacy of so doing. That points to major efforts being required to revive the search for diplomatic solutions, which will also require some willingness to compromise on both sides of the very tense relationships over those two countries. In the case of North Korea, the search for compromise would seem to require some meeting of minds between China and the United States. In the case of Iran, it seems that what is lacking is some direct channel of communication between the Iranian leadership and the US Administration. Do the Government share that analysis and, if they do, are they conveying those thoughts to those most directly concerned?
I wish I felt that the handling of these vital issues of nuclear policy came a little higher up the Government’s foreign policy agenda than they seem to do. When, for example, did the Prime Minister last address them in a major speech? I think the answer is that he has not ever done so. When did the Foreign Secretary last address them in a major speech? I think the answer is: when the Government published their Nuclear Posture Review in the summer of 2010. It surely is high time that that gap was filled.
It is of course quite correct to underline the fact that Britain has the smallest arsenal among the nuclear weapons states, but that is not an excuse for inertia. What thought are we giving not just to the size and configuration of our nuclear deterrent, but to its alert posture in the very different international circumstances from those for which it was originally designed? Here I join with all those in this debate who have questioned the validity of the “continuous at sea deterrence” doctrine, which so far has governed our nuclear policy. I, too, was dismayed when I saw the Government’s reply to the Written Question from the noble Lord, Lord Lea of Crondall, about the Trident review that is being undertaken and their intention not to publish any part of it. I was therefore delighted to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, drawing my attention to the fact that in the coalition’s mid-term agreement it seems to have moved on from that. I hope that the Minister will be able to make that very clear in her reply.
I have to say that for people like myself who support a continuing British nuclear deterrent, although not necessarily of the same nature and scope as the existing one, it is very disheartening if we are told that we are not grown-up enough to have a serious debate about this and to see what underpins the Government’s decision-making on it. Of course I understand that aspects of that will not be suitable for publication, but that is not to say that the broad strategic considerations cannot be set out on the table and debated among us without words such as “unilateralist” being flung around.
Finally, because this has been mentioned by several other noble Lords, I would like to say a word about the false argument that Britain’s permanent membership of the Security Council of the UN somehow depends crucially on our possession of nuclear weapons. That is simply not the case; it is totally unhistorical to suggest that it is. When the five permanent members of the Security Council were established under the UN charter, only one had nuclear weapons. China, the last of them to join, did not have them for another three decades. The link is really not there. The noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater, put his finger on it when he said that the sustaining of our permanent membership depends infinitely more on the role that we play in peacemaking, peacekeeping and conflict prevention, and matters such as that, than it does on making this false linkage with nuclear weapons. As I have said, I am not a unilateral disarmer. I am not suggesting that we should give up our nuclear weapons, but is important that we keep them for the right reasons and not for the wrong ones.
My Lords, like other noble Lords I regard it as a privilege to be present at the last speech of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall. His presence here, like that of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, reminds us of the contribution that Chiefs of Staff and other soldiers, or people of military training, make to this House. For that reason a chamber like this is not easily found in any other legislature.
In this debate I speak as a dinosaur. I became interested in the question of disarmament and nuclear weapons in 1954, when I was briefly the secretary of the British delegation to the sub-committee of the Disarmament Commission. How optimistic we were in those days. We were led brilliantly by a lost leader, Sir Anthony Nutting. We had with us M Jules Moch, one of the most brilliant and eloquent French socialists. We also had Governor Harold Stassen, who had been a presidential candidate in the previous United States election. We also had the spiky and bureaucratic presence of Mr Gromyko and Mr Malik for the Soviet Union, but they were not as bad as they are sometimes cracked up to be—or, rather, cracked down to be. On one occasion, in May 1955, when I was there, the Soviet Union accepted the British and western disarmament proposals. This was an alarming moment for us. We had to reconsider everything about which we had been talking for a long time.
The Soviet Union also made the interesting observation that there were circumstances beyond international control that could not be guaranteed by any imaginable inspection agency. We had suspected this since an article on the subject had been written in the Spectator the previous autumn by the distinguished physicist Sir George Thomson. No one took much notice of it and we continued our deliberations.
I remember those occasions in the mid-1950s for several other reasons. There was a preoccupation with interweaving the question of nuclear disarmament with that of conventional disarmament. We put forward the idea that before we took any nuclear disarmament steps of our own, we would insist on a one-third cut in Soviet conventional forces. That was one important element. Another was that we talked a great deal about a control and inspection agency, which, even if it was not perfect, would be a great deal better than anything that we had at the time. If there were ever to be the kind of nuclear catastrophe that the noble Lord, Lord Browne, mentioned, our minds would come round immediately to the idea of something similar.
The United States began the Cold War with a proposal for the complete international ownership and management of nuclear activities. There was to be no distinction between peaceful and military uses. Both would be organised and owned by an international control agency that would have the unique capacity to deal with nuclear possibilities. That seems a very idealistic and improbable concept now, but I think that if there were to be a catastrophe, we would probably find ourselves going back to all sorts of interesting ideas that were rejected because they were considered impractical in the past.
What happened—I make no bones about citing something that happened over 60 years ago—was that at the end of the world war, there was a great deal of pressure among United States scientists to devise some method of putting the genie that they had unleashed back in the bottle. First, Dr Oppenheimer devised a scheme that was made political by two distinguished United States politicians, Mr Dean Acheson and the head of the Tennessee Valley Authority, Mr David Lilienthal. The scheme was for complete international ownership of nuclear weapons. It was thought that the controllers would remain happy because they would have something to do. They would not just be checking that people were not making mistakes but helping to develop the nuclear industry of the world. That was put forward as a United States proposal by Mr Truman in May 1946, and the spokesman was the improbable figure of a businessman called Bernard Baruch, who was a great friend of Winston Churchill, as was Mr Truman. This scheme was considered to be the best way of scientists making up for what they had done by creating such a dangerous world with nuclear weapons.
It is not certain, fortunately, that there will be any kind of breakdown that would justify such extreme reconsideration. After all, gas was not used in the Second World War, although when people talked about war in the 1930s, it was thought likely that it would be used. Indeed, the self-control of states in not using nuclear weapons has been one of the striking elements of international politics since 1945. Nevertheless, it may happen. There may be a catastrophe and, if so, we should be prepared to take extreme measures afterwards to organise a method of survival.
My Lords, I start by thanking the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, for a provocative and quite brilliant contribution today. It makes me wish I had heard all his contributions over the previous 25 years or so. I offer him my best wishes for the future.
There was a time when the ambition to make progress in disarmament was considered a sign of naivety in international affairs. I am pleased to say, as this excellent debate initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, has demonstrated, that this is no longer true and that the commitment to multilateral disarmament is shared by those of all parties and no party.
This is as true internationally as it is of the debate in Britain. To quote President Obama, the ambition,
“to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons”,
has in the past few years come to enjoy support from American Administrations, both Republican and Democrat, Presidents of the Soviet Union and of Russia and the Global Zero campaign’s advocates, who include a roll call of distinguished figures from dozens of countries.
It is worth reminding ourselves why multilateral disarmament is so vital to the world’s safety and security. First, the end of the Cold War marked the expiry of Cold War security doctrines that relied so heavily on nuclear weapons, in particular the American-Soviet deterrence doctrines. Deterrence of course remains crucial, but relying excessively on nuclear weapons to do the deterring is not only more hazardous, but less effective in a world where the threats we face are changing in character, where states still threaten but, increasingly, not only states threaten.
Secondly, the international community’s commitment to multilateral disarmament is the corollary of its determination to prevent nuclear proliferation. Maintaining minimally sufficient arsenals, inside an international legal framework that has verified constraints on nuclear weapons, is the only way to combine national security needs with a minimisation of the risks of proliferation. Reversing our reliance on nuclear weapons globally is integral to preventing their proliferation into dangerous hands. However, there is a moral pressure point here, too. If we demand that states without nuclear weapons commit to never having them, possessor states have a duty and self-interest to take the necessary steps towards co-ordinated disarmament. It is the bargain at the heart of the non-proliferation treaty, and as concerns about North Korea, Iran and nuclear terrorism increase, its logic becomes more, not less, compelling.
Over the past 25 years, I am proud to say that Britain has been a leader both in its own unilateral actions and internationally. We have eliminated two complete weapons systems. We are the only possessor country to have a deterrent based on just one system. We have reduced the number of warheads by 75% since the end of the Cold War, so that we now have less than 1% of the global stockpile. We have led the way on nuclear security through our global threat reduction programme, which has helped nearly 20 beneficiary countries so far. We are world leaders in innovation in the development of proliferation-resistant nuclear fuel cycles and in proposals such as a generalisable nuclear fuel guarantee. I pay tribute to this Government for continuing our leadership on reducing dependence on nuclear weapons with their decision to reduce the number of operational warheads and reducing our overall stockpile.
That is a strong moral lead, and it puts the UK in a position to be a demandeur with our allies and beyond, and to make real and continuing progress in multilateral disarmament. As Malcolm Rifkind said last year at the Munich Security Conference, momentum is everything. 2009-10 was, as many speakers have said, in many respects a period of optimism. There was the innovation of the nuclear security summit cycle; a new START treaty and the NPT Review Conference in 2010. However, that momentum has now stalled. Optimism about further progress in US-Russia disarmament discussions is hard to find. Progress on the outcomes of the 2010 NPT conference has been limited at best. The attention of the possessor states is rightly focused on the dangers posed by Iran, North Korea and others, but the price has been a further detachment between the twin goals of non-proliferation and multilateral disarmament. Meanwhile, there is the continuing backdrop of China, India and Pakistan focusing more on expanding and modernising their nuclear weapons capacity than seeking to limit it.
It is not our responsibility alone to prioritise regaining this momentum, but it is our responsibility. With the start of the second term of President Obama’s Administration, we have a chance to try to restore American focus on this issue, too.
What needs to be done? I think the challenges lie in four different areas, and I ask for the Minister’s view on the Government’s plans in each. First, we need to restore energy to building the architecture of treaties and regimes that breed confidence, and that attempt to bring as many states as possible into the net of international legal obligations around nuclear weapons, nuclear material and nuclear security.
Specifically, we have slightly less than two years to show concrete progress on the range of commitments under the NPT Treaty before the 2014 PrepCom meeting. What are the UK’s priorities? The Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty still awaits the signatures of eight countries that hold nuclear technology. Key to this is the United States. President Obama has said that he will pursue ratification with the Senate. Can the Minister reassure us that we are using our relationship with the White House and State Department to ensure that he lives up to this commitment?
I also ask the Minister for her assessment of the prospects of two other initiatives. As the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, mentioned, the postponement of the Helsinki conference for a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons suggests bleak prospects, but I hope that she can provide some silver lining. What are the prospects for the elusive fissile material cut-off treaty? They should have improved since President Obama reversed the Americans’ long-standing problem with verification methods. As the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, pointed out, Pakistan is a stumbling block here. Will the Minister say what pressure is being brought to bear on the Pakistani Government?
Secondly, we need to continue momentum in measures to increase nuclear security. This is crucial to confidence-building, perhaps more than anything else, and is key to unlocking progress on both the non-proliferation and the disarmament fronts. The nuclear security summits cycle has been one of the best developments in recent years. The summits have led to important first steps in areas such as safe disposal of highly enriched uranium. Britain has led the way in this area—in research work, in international assistance to other states, and in transparency by opening up to review missions from the IAEA. Will the Minister confirm that the UK is on course to meet its commitments for the next nuclear security summit in Holland and outline its agenda for that summit?
Thirdly, we need to build on the real achievements of the START treaty signed in 2010 by Russia and the USA in significantly reducing the numbers of deployed strategic warheads and missile launchers, and in achieving some progress on monitoring and inspections. That treaty looked for a while as though it would be the prelude to further milestones on US-Russia co-operation on disarmament. As many speakers have said, sadly, that has not materialised. What does the Minister think is a realistic ambition for phase 2 of the START process? How can the UK play a supporting role in helping to bring that about?
There is one area in particular where I believe there exists widespread support for a major breakthrough; namely, the goal of NATO and Russia removing all tactical nuclear weapons from combat bases on the European continent. Attachments to legacies of the Cold War with little or no credible deterrence capability drains valuable resources from an alliance facing up to new kinds of threats, such as those potentially in north Africa. The Global Zero Commission, which the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, along with Malcolm Rifkind, David Miliband and others, has supported so vigorously, has called for the withdrawal of tactical nuclear weapons from Europe to be the next disarmament priority. Do the Government share that view?
I am listening very closely to the noble Lord’s setting out of the policy of the Opposition. Given that the British nuclear deterrent, as has already been pointed out, is about the smallest of any of the nuclear powers, does he believe that the next step for this country would be to look again at continuous-at-sea?
The noble Baroness has interrupted just as I was about to come to that issue. There are also issues around Britain’s own deterrent which have been widely discussed today. We must ensure that disarmament activity is conducted in a transparent and verifiable manner. That is why the previous Government initiated their work with Norway on verifiable warhead dismantlement, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Judd, and hosted the first P5 consultations on disarmament in London in September 2009. The dangers of nuclear proliferation, nuclear terrorism and insecurity around nuclear materials should make us more determined than ever to achieve co-ordinated disarmament but they also continue to justify our retention of the minimum capacity needed to achieve our deterrence objectives. Coming to the noble Baroness’s point, we in this party have said that we are open to examining any new evidence since our review of Britain’s nuclear weapons arsenal in 2006 and we will consider its findings alongside other studies, such as the cross-party BASIC Trident Commission, which is chaired by my noble friend Lord Browne, to see if there are credible alternatives.
In our view, that examination should have two priorities—capability and cost. With that in mind, we look forward to the publication of the Trident Alternatives Review, which Danny Alexander tantalisingly said this week,
“will set out a clear, credible, compelling, set of arguments for alternatives”.
He flagged up that there may be seven or eight alternatives in the mix. Will the Minister clarify how open her part of the Government is to the alternatives that might arise from that?
Lastly, there is a group of more conceptual although equally crucial issues around the doctrines that make up our security concepts. I appreciate that there are limits to what the Minister can say on UK thinking on these issues but perhaps she will say whether the Government are alive to making progress on defence concepts that are less dependent on nuclear weapons and whether NATO is planning to address this issue in any way.
John F Kennedy remarked:
“The world was not meant to be a prison in which man awaits his execution”.
He also said:
“Every man, woman and child lives under a nuclear sword of Damocles, hanging by the slenderest of threads, capable of being cut at any moment … The weapons of war must be abolished before they abolish us”.
That was more than 50 years ago at a time in history that now seems a world away. But it was a time that was, if anything, more ordered in terms of nuclear security than the one we live in now. The nuclear era in the wake of the Cold War is much more hazardous and more economically burdensome. The goal of a world free of nuclear weapons may seem a dim prospect at the moment. But just as the difficulty of preventing nuclear proliferation should inspire us to redouble our efforts to contain the spread of nuclear technology, so the difficulty of maintaining momentum on multilateral disarmament should inspire us to be leaders among nuclear weapons states in the future.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, on securing this debate on a hugely important issue. We have benefited greatly from the noble Lord’s expertise and, indeed, from that of all those who have spoken today, and none more so than the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall. I take this opportunity to express my sadness at his announcement that today is the last time he will speak in the Chamber. However, I hope we will continue to see him. I am privileged to respond to him in his final debate.
I must admit that I feel very much like my noble friend Lady Miller in responding to a debate surrounded by many speakers with so much expertise, some of whom have been involved in negotiating many of the treaties about which we have spoken and in preparing many of the documents that have been referred to today, and who have great expertise on the battlefield. My own lack of expertise in this area made me question my ability to respond to noble Lords today, but I will try to do so. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Wood, for the work that he has done in government in moving down this path and for acknowledging the role played by this Government in that area.
The UK has long been committed to the goal of a world without nuclear weapons. Successive Governments have played, and continue to play, an active role in helping to build an international environment in which no state feels the need to possess nuclear weapons, but, sadly, we are not there yet. While there continue to be significant risks of further proliferation and other states retain much larger nuclear weapons arsenals, successive Governments have been clear that the UK will retain a minimum credible nuclear deterrent as the ultimate guarantee of our security. I thank the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, for his supportive words, and my noble friend Lord King for his wise words.
In 2007, Parliament debated, and approved by a clear majority, the decision to continue with the programme to renew the UK’s nuclear deterrent. We set out in the 2010 strategic defence and security review that the Government will,
“maintain a continuous submarine-based deterrent and begin the work of replacing its existing submarines”,
which are due to leave service in the 2020s. This remains the Government’s policy. The Trident Alternatives Study referred to by my right honourable friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury is intended to help the Liberal Democrats to make the case for alternatives to this system, as agreed in the coalition programme for government. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, asked whether we needed a successor to Trident. It is too early to speculate about the conclusions of The Trident Alternatives Study. The study is ongoing and is due to report to the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister in the first half of this year. As we announced in the Government’s mid-term review, an unclassified document will be published in due course.
The current international environment raises—
I am sorry to have to ask the Minister to clarify a point, but the interchange with the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, was not based on the supposition that the review was a review of alternatives to having Trident at all but was, rather, a review of alternative ways of delivering a nuclear warhead. The noble Baroness has just implied to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, that it is also open to looking at alternatives to having a nuclear capability. I do not think that that is quite right. Perhaps she will consider that part of a later consultation on the main-gate decision as to whether we will go ahead at this point with a total replacement of Trident.
I think those considerations will probably take place after the next election.
The current international environment raises significant challenges for global disarmament. The greatest barriers remain insecurity and uncertainty, both of which, sadly, there is no shortage of in many parts of the world today. The risk of proliferation, in particular—in North Korea and Iran, of course, but there are also the implications of the technological and information advances that make the spread of knowledge and materials easier—has been a growing concern.
We have heard during this debate some grounds for pessimism but also, I hope, some grounds for optimism. We have moved from living in a world of tens of thousands of nuclear warheads, standing to fire at a moment’s notice during the Cold War, to a world in which the major nuclear weapons states have significantly reduced their arsenals, have stopped targeting them at anyone and have reduced their operational readiness. More recently, in 2010 we saw the signing of the new START agreement between the United States and Russia, holders of the largest nuclear stockpiles by far. Under that treaty, both countries agreed to reduce the number of strategic nuclear missile launchers by half and to limit the number of deployed strategic nuclear warheads to a figure nearly two-thirds lower than that agreed in 1991.
In the same year we saw the agreement of the first ever Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty action plan, in which all 189 signatories reaffirmed their commitment to the treaty and committed to making tangible progress towards our shared goal of a world without nuclear weapons. Under that plan, nuclear weapons states all committed to making concrete progress on the steps leading to nuclear disarmament, including reducing the overall global stockpile and reducing further the role and significance of nuclear weapons in our military doctrines. Next year we will set out publicly how we have made progress on this action plan.
The UK continues to lead from the front. We take this issue extremely seriously. First, having led by example through our own actions, we are working to help build the trust and mutual confidence between states needed to achieve multilateral disarmament. We play a leading role across efforts to put in place the practical building blocks that will support that disarmament. Secondly, we are working with the international community to make it as hard as possible for others to develop, produce or acquire nuclear weapons. The UK’s own record on nuclear disarmament is strong.
The noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, is right to say that fewer nuclear weapons must surely be better for all. We have greatly reduced the number of our nuclear weapons since the end of the Cold War. For almost 20 years now, our nuclear weapons have been de-targeted and placed on several days’ notice to fire. We have built on that strong record, announcing in our 2010 strategic defence and security review that we are reducing our requirements for operationally available warheads from fewer than 160 to no more than 120, reducing our overall stockpile to no more than 180 and reducing the number of warheads on board our submarines from 48 to 40 and the number of operational missiles to no more than eight. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Judd, that our policy is to have the minimum credible deterrent and that the UK would consider using nuclear weapons only in extreme circumstances of self-defence, including the defence of our NATO allies.
We have shown considerable leadership in reducing our nuclear weapon holdings and in increasing the transparency around them. We have demonstrated what is possible. This is a key part of our contribution towards building the right environment for multilateral disarmament. But of course unilateral actions will not produce the results that the world expects and demands. It is only through moving forward together, through balanced and reciprocal disarmament, that we will achieve a world without nuclear weapons. We can achieve this only by building trust between states that will convince all of them that they can safely disarm.
That is why the UK instigated a dialogue among the P5 states in London in 2009, when we reaffirmed our unconditional support for the non-proliferation treaty and engaged in meaningful dialogue—as mentioned by the noble Lord opposite—aimed at building the mutual understanding needed to help us take forward our shared disarmament commitments. Since then, we have held further dialogues, in Paris in 2011 and Washington last year, and met in between to discuss disarmament issues.
The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, asked what future plans we have. The P5 will hold a fourth conference, hosted by Russia, in April this year. In the NPT preparatory committee, discussions as to its format are ongoing. In order to maximise the value of this ongoing dialogue, it will be important to maintain momentum at that next conference. We will need to be able to demonstrate progress across a range of issues, especially on our plans to report on the commitments we all made in the 2010 NPT action plan. It is an issue on which the international community is looking to the P5 to provide a lead, and the UK will be at the heart of the efforts to achieve this.
The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, also asked what Her Majesty’s Government were doing to help achieve the Middle East weapons of mass destruction free zone. The Foreign Office Minister, Alistair Burt, made a statement on this issue on 24 November last year, in which he said:
“The British Government supports the objective of a Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone in the Middle East. We regret that it will not be possible to convene a successful conference to be attended by all states of the region as planned in 2012. More preparation and direct engagement between states of the region will be necessary to secure arrangements that are satisfactory to all”.
“We support the convening of a conference as soon as possible. We endorse fully the work of the Conference Facilitator … to build consensus on next steps ... We will continue to work with our fellow convenors (the US, Russia, and the UN), with the Facilitator, and with countries of the region, to meet our undertakings to convene a conference on this important issue, as soon as possible”.
Building confidence between nuclear weapons states and non-nuclear weapon states is equally important if we are to find a realistic route towards global disarmament. To that end, we have been conducting groundbreaking work with Norway on the verification of warhead dismantlement, which will be a crucial aspect of any future global disarmament regime. This initiative has been the first time that a nuclear weapons state has engaged in such an open way with a non-nuclear weapons state on such a sensitive issue.
Both we and Norway have learnt a huge amount through this initiative about how nuclear and non-nuclear weapons states can work together effectively in pursuit of our shared goal. We have shared what we have learnt so far with the P5, and with a range of non-nuclear weapons states, and we will continue to share developments as we move forward. Building on this first, we are also working with Brazil to develop a disarmament-focused dialogue. The UK is unique among the P5 in launching such initiatives with non-nuclear weapon states. It is a crucial part of our contribution towards building the right environment for multilateral disarmament.
As well as improving collective trust and understanding, we need to continue our efforts to make it as difficult as possible to develop and produce nuclear weapons, particularly by those who pose a threat to global security. On this the UK is making a strong contribution. We have signed and ratified the comprehensive test ban treaty. Indeed, we were, along with France, the first to do so. We are vocal campaigners for the entry into force of the treaty, and we will continue to take every opportunity to urge all those who have not yet signed and ratified it to do so. We continue to actively support the need to negotiate an international fissile material cut-off treaty, which would put an end to the future production of the material needed to make nuclear weapons. We are firm supporters, too, of nuclear weapons free zones, which literally shrink the geographical space within which nuclear weapons can exist.
The UK has signed and ratified the protocols to three nuclear weapons free zones, in South America and the Caribbean, in Africa and in the South Pacific. We support the objective of a weapons of mass destruction free zone in the Middle East, as I have already mentioned, and we continue to push for the convening of that conference. The UK is also active in seeking to reduce the risk of proliferation from the civil nuclear sector, and strongly supports a universal safeguards system to uphold the NPT’s non-proliferation regime. The IAEA’s comprehensive safeguards agreement and additional protocol should be the universal verification standard for all NPT state parties. We continue to urge all those who have not yet done so to sign and ratify it.
The risks of proliferation are all too real. The international community was reminded of this following North Korea’s most recent satellite launch on 13 December, which enabled it to test ballistic missile technology and violated two UN Security Council Resolutions. Its continuing efforts to sell dangerous proliferation-sensitive technology to other countries must also be a focus for our efforts. We, with our E3+3 partners, continue to pursue negotiations with Iran. We remain fully committed to the ongoing diplomatic process and to finding a peaceful, negotiated solution that leads to full compliance by Iran with UN Security Council and International Atomic Energy Agency Board of Governors’ resolutions. Urgent, concrete steps need to be taken by Iran to allow progress. In 2012, the E3+3 met Iran four times to discuss its nuclear programme. Despite frank and lengthy discussions, significant differences remain and the Iranian position remains intransigent. We hope that Iran comes to the next round of talks ready and willing to take the steps needed to address the international community’s serious concerns.
The risk of new states acquiring nuclear weapons is grave—but so, too, is the risk of sensitive knowledge and materials falling into the hands of non-state actors. The UK played a key role at last year’s Seoul nuclear security summit and remains committed to shaping the direction of global nuclear security. Our G8 presidency will see us chair the Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction. This 25-country partnership channels around $2 billion per year to programmes to counter proliferation risks. In 2012, UK contributions helped secure 775 bombs’ worth of fissile material in Kazakhstan; create new jobs for 3,000 former Soviet Union weapon scientists; and, through collaboration with the IAEA, deliver physical protection upgrades and nuclear and biological security training around the world.
The noble Lord, Lord Wood, referred to the CTBT and asked about our campaign for the entry into force of the treaty. We will continue to take every opportunity to urge all those who have not yet signed and ratified it to do so. We continue actively to support the need to negotiate an international fissile material cut-off treaty that would put an end to the future production of the material needed to make nuclear weapons.
The noble Lord, and my noble friend Lady Williams, referred to Pakistan. I assure them both that we continue to press Pakistan to end its block on the start of negotiations in the conference on disarmament, and will continue to work with partners in the conference to find a solution that will allow us to take forward our commitments under the 2010 action plan. The UK remains committed to shaping the direction of global security. We fully recognise the importance of the nuclear security summit process and are working closely with local partners in laying the groundwork for what we want: an ambitious 2014 summit.
The noble Lord, Lord Wood, also asked about CASD. The Prime Minister made it clear that CASD remains the backbone of our deterrence posture. It ensures a constant, credible and capable deterrent against threats to the UK’s vital interests and to our NATO allies. As my honourable friend Philip Dunne stated in the Commons last week, by being continuously at sea the deterrent maximises our political freedom of manoeuvre in a crisis.
The noble Lord, Lord Lea, asked about the main-gate decision. I note his point, but a decision on this has not been made. I will write to him if we have any further information.
The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, asked about the relevance of a post-Cold War nuclear deterrent. There are still substantial nuclear arsenals, the number of nuclear-armed states has increased rather than decreased, and there is a significant risk of new nuclear-armed states emerging. Several countries that either have nuclear weapons or are trying to acquire them are in regions that suffer from serious instability or are subject to significant regional tensions, so there is still the potential for a new nuclear threat to emerge despite the end of the Cold War.
We have never claimed that our nuclear capability is an all-purpose deterrent. The UK has a wide range of policies and capabilities to deter the range of potential threats that it might face, including terrorism and cyberattacks. Not all capabilities are relevant to all threats.
The UK strongly supports the goal of a world without nuclear weapons and is active in helping to build the international environment that we hope will deliver this. We have shown considerable leadership in reducing our own nuclear weapons capabilities and in offering reassurances about the very limited and discrete circumstances in which we may contemplate their use. We have been instrumental in efforts to build the trust needed between nuclear weapons states to make progress multilaterally; we have led the way among nuclear weapons states in engaging with non-nuclear weapons states to try to take positive, concrete steps forward; and we are firmly committed to putting in place the practical building blocks that will support multilateral disarmament by making it as difficult as possible to develop and produce nuclear weapons. The CTBT, a fissile material cut-off treaty and the strengthening of non-proliferation and nuclear security regimes are all areas in which we work. Our contribution towards the goal of multilateral disarmament is and will continue to be strong. We will take every opportunity to pursue our resolute commitment to a world without nuclear weapons.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply and I thank most warmly all those who have taken part in the debate. Anyone coming here and listening would have realised that this House gives the lie to the suggestion that we are not grown-up enough to be able to take part in this debate. The quality, content and understanding in what has been said show me conclusively why it is so important that the expertise in this House is deployed during this consideration of one of the most important questions that we face. It is clear that everyone in this House is committed to the cause of multilateral nuclear disarmament. I did not hear anyone suggest that the first thing to do was just to wipe all nuclear weapons off the map and take a unilateralist line. That is not practical politics and it is not sensible.
However, I was glad that a number of issues were raised during the course of the debate, which covered many points that are concerned with the review of alternatives to Trident as well as with the current position. For example, I am glad that the issue of continuous at-sea deployment was questioned, which is not just a question of practicality but also must be included in any question of the cost and development of the future weapon, quite apart from its efficacy. I am glad that the possibility of more precision weapons was represented. I am also glad that the question of cost came up, because in this connection I have always been a follower of the advice given to me by my late master, Field Marshal Lord Carver, that there are two definitions of affordability. One is, “Can you afford it?”, and the other is, “Can you afford to give up what you’ve got to give up to afford it?”. That has extreme relevance in this situation when we are considering what we need to conduct ourselves in today’s world rather than the Cold War world, compared with what we have to spend on the Trident replacement.
I was particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord King, for reminding us of why we have our seat at the table and what is actually needed to have a seat at the top table tomorrow. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, for correcting me. I have to admit that I have not read the coalition mid-term agreement, and I am very sorry that I got the wrong Alexander. I will apologise personally. I shall remember the connection with the Maginot line with considerable interest.
I think that I will be reflecting the mood of the House if I conclude by paying tribute to my noble and gallant friend Lord Bramall, whose last speech was memorable for the verve and clarity to which I referred at the start. We are going to miss him, and his contribution was tremendous. I know that his influence will live on.
As I say, I am grateful for what I have found an enormously interesting, instructive and, as I hope the Minister will agree, very valuable debate. I hope that she will follow this up by allowing us to have a further debate, particularly when the alternative review is published.