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Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty

Volume 795: debated on Tuesday 5 February 2019


My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall repeat in the form of a Statement the Answer given to an Urgent Question in the other place on the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. The Statement is as follows:

“When I had the opportunity to respond on this issue in the House last October, President Trump had just announced that it was the intention of the United States to end the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty unless Russia returned to full compliance. Let me once again set out the context. The INF treaty was the 1987 agreement between the United States and the Soviet Union that eliminated nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with a range of between 500 kilometres and 5,500 kilometres. For over three decades now, the INF treaty has played an important role in supporting Euro-Atlantic security, initially removing an entire class of US and Russian weapons, thus making a significant contribution to strategic stability.

While the UK is not a party to this bilateral treaty, we have always made it clear over the years that we ideally wish to see the treaty continue. However, for that to happen, the parties need to comply with their obligations. Sadly, this has not been the case. Despite numerous objections raised by a range of NATO allies going back more than five years, Russia has developed new missiles in direct contravention of the treaty. This includes the covert missile testing, producing and fielding of the 9M729 ground-launched cruise missile system. As NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has said:

‘These new missiles are hard to detect. They are mobile. They are nuclear capable. They can reach European cities’.

The US, under both the Obama and the Trump Administrations, has made extensive efforts to encourage Russia to return to full and verifiable compliance. It was indeed the Obama Administration who, in 2014, first strongly called out Russia’s non-compliance with this treaty. It is important to acknowledge that, while doing so, the US has continued to meet its obligations under the treaty. However, the US, with the full support of its NATO allies, has been very clear that a situation where the US fully abided by the treaty and Russia did not was not sustainable. On 4 December last year, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the US would suspend its participation in the INF treaty within 60 days—that is, by 2 February 2019—unless Russia returned to compliance.

This constituted an opportunity for Russia to address our shared concerns and to take steps to preserve the treaty. Allies took the opportunity to reiterate this point last month to the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister, Sergei Ryabkov, during the NATO-Russia Council meeting. I have to inform the House that Russia has not taken that opportunity. It has offered no credible response, only obfuscation and contradictions designed to mislead. This of course fits a wider pattern of behaviour from Russia aimed at undermining our collective security. We and all NATO allies therefore support the US decision to suspend its participation in the treaty and to trigger the formal withdrawal process. NATO is unified on this process.

It is Russia’s fault alone that we have arrived at this point. President Putin’s statements in the last few days announcing that Russia, too, will suspend its obligations was unsurprising given the fact that it has violated the treaty over the years. Nevertheless, even at this late stage, we urge Russia to change course. The treaty’s six-month withdrawal process offers Russia a final opportunity to return to compliance through the full and verifiable destruction of all its 9M729 systems. That is the best—indeed, the only—way to preserve the treaty.

We remain committed, as do the US and other NATO allies, to preserving effective arms control agreements, but we are also clear that for arms control to be effective, all signatories must respect their obligations. In the meantime, we are working closely with all our NATO allies on the implications for European security. We remain committed to ensuring that NATO has a robust defence posture to deter all threats. As NATO allies said on 2 February:

‘NATO continues to closely review the security implications of Russian intermediate-range missiles and will continue to take steps necessary to ensure the credibility and effectiveness of the Alliance’s overall deterrence and defence posture. We will continue to consult each other regularly with a view to ensuring our collective security’.

If this treaty falls, we and other NATO allies will hold Russia alone responsible. We urge Russia now to take a different course and to return to full and verifiable compliance”.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating that response to the Urgent Question. As he repeated, and as Mark Field said yesterday in the other place, the treaty’s six-month withdrawal process offers Russia a final opportunity to return to compliance.

Last October, we had a similar Answer repeated in this Chamber. I asked the Minister whether we were consulted over the initial announcement. He said that the UK Government,

“continue to work very closely with the United States and other NATO allies to ensure that our efforts over the past 30 years are not just sustained but strengthened”.—[Official Report, 24/10/18; col. 864.]

Will the Minister tell the House what steps the Government have taken to try to bring the US and Russian Governments back to the negotiations? Will he tell the House what discussions he or the Foreign Secretary have had with their US counterparts?

There is another issue here. I know this is a bilateral treaty, but what contact has the Foreign Secretary had with other countries, including China, which have developed INF-proscribed weapons, so that a future multilateral framework may be developed that could supersede and replace the INF treaty?

Taking the noble Lord’s last question first, he will know that the INF treaty is a bilateral treaty between the United States and the Soviet Union, as it then was, although he raised an important point about nuclear weapons more generally. I assure him that the United Kingdom continues to work, particularly through alliances such as NATO, against the continued proliferation of such weapons and to ensure that the limitation that can be applied to them is upheld. That is why we welcomed further agreements that have been signed between the United States and Russia, particularly in relation to the New START agreement, which seeks to address this issue.

The noble Lord asked about the relationship and the discussions which have been taking place. He is quite right that in October we had talks on this issue. After that statement by the US, the current US Administration has initiated a series of meetings with close allies, including NATO. We continue to exchange detailed information on Russian violations and how we may best achieve shared policy objectives.

The other thing that I would bring to the noble Lord’s notice is that the US first declared Russia to be in breach of its compliance with the INF treaty back in 2014. At no point during that time has Russia provided a credible response. Indeed, the first response from Russia was that it was compliant. It was only in 2017 that it acknowledged that the missiles in question exist.

On whether there was a specific notification from the US on this occasion, we had already had discussions with the US. The message about the exact timing of the President’s public announcement was not communicated directly, but the recent announcement came as no surprise, bearing in mind the October announcement.

Will the Minister join me in putting aside questions of blame and responsibility, and consider the nature of nuclear arms control? It can reasonably be said that its architecture is crumbling before our eyes. It is not just the INF treaty; it is the Iran nuclear treaty, the prospects for renewal of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty between the United States and Russia—which are generally now described as very unlikely—and the fact that the comprehensive test-ban treaty, first available in September 1996, is still not yet in force. We have in front of us, in 2020, the next review conference of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Would the Minister like to share with us precisely what position the United Kingdom is going to take in 2020 on the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, given that all around us it appears that nuclear arms control is disappearing before our eyes?

The noble Lord is right to raise concerns. The United Kingdom and Her Majesty’s Government have raised these concerns directly. When it came to the Iran nuclear deal, notwithstanding the United States’ decision, we were firm and strengthened our co-operation with our European allies to ensure that that treaty remains alive. We will continue to work with all allies—including, particularly, NATO—to ensure that proliferation can be addressed.

The noble Lord asked about the UK’s position across the piece on nuclear weapons. We have made it very clear through our actions that we are a responsible nuclear power. We have over the years reduced the number of our own nuclear weapons and we will continue to work with key partners, most prominently NATO, to ensure that any challenges and security risks are worked through to ensure that we can work towards the reduction of nuclear weapons. That said, the risks are real. Those countries which do not abide by their obligations put such issues at risk and therefore we implore Russia to take note. I hope that this six-month period provides a moment of reflection for Russia.

My Lords, my noble friend has pointed out that reservations about this treaty were expressed by the Obama presidency, long before President Trump was elected. Surely if one side breaks a treaty, it is time to abandon it altogether. On the point that the noble Lord, Lord Collins, made about bringing the two sides together, surely 60 days’ notice is quite long enough for the Russians to indicate that they are prepared to discuss this matter, and I believe that they have not done so.

My noble friend speaks with great insight on these matters and I agree with him. Since October, there has been some hope of notice being given. The United States has shown that it acted in line with its obligations—it continued to abide by the treaty—and it has to be made absolutely clear that it is because of Russian actions that we have reached this point. However, there remains a window of opportunity. In line with the details of that treaty, there remains a six-month window, during which there is an opportunity for Russia to step up to the mark and fulfil its obligations. However, I agree with my noble friend, bearing in mind that the first occasion on which its non-compliance was brought to light was in 2014 and it took another three years before there was even a basic acknowledgement by the Russians that these weapons existed. The challenge remains real and the UK supports the United States’ actions.

My Lords, Europe has been the greatest beneficiary of this treaty since 1987. With the suspension of compliance by both the United States and Russia, Europe is now much less secure, and it will continue to be while that compliance is suspended. On the date in December when the United States gave Russia notice of its intention, there was a NATO Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Brussels. The statement from that meeting included the following paragraph:

“Allies are firmly committed to the preservation of effective international arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation. Therefore, we will continue to uphold, support, and further strengthen arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation, as a key element of Euro-Atlantic security”.

How does suspending compliance with a treaty of this nature fit with that commitment, and what steps will our Government take to live up to it? What are we going to do now to “further strengthen arms control” in the light of the deterioration that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Pittenweem, has so clearly described? We are heading for strategic problems with the new START because it is an Obama treaty and anything with Obama’s name on it is detested by the current President of the United States.

The noble Lord raises an important point about NATO’s previous statement. I specifically draw his attention to NATO’s statement of 1 February 2019 on this very issue. It said:

“NATO continues to closely review the security implication of Russian intermediate-range missiles and will continue to take steps necessary to ensure the credibility and effectiveness of the Alliance’s overall deterrence and defence posture”.

The NATO alliance is important, and we and all NATO partners, including the United States, are committed to it. The noble Lord will know that in April this year the next meeting of NATO will be hosted by Secretary of State Pompeo of the United States. The implication is that non-compliance and compliance have to be a two-way process. However, if from 2014 there is a clearly identified situation in which one side does not abide by the rules and does not comply, it is a tall order to expect the other side to comply. As I said, there is an opportunity for Russia to step up to the mark, and I am sure we hope that it will. However, based on experience, it might be an opportunity that is not taken up.