Motion to Take Note
My Lords, I am glad that we have been able to reach the time for this debate but, like others, I am obviously sorry about the circumstances. I join them in wishing a speedy recovery to my very good friend the noble Lord, Lord Judd.
This report is presented to your Lordships for debate against a background of a fast deteriorating world arms control environment and rising nuclear risk. Some have now suggested that the risk of nuclear weapons being used is at its highest since the Second World War. I thank my colleagues on the committee, the excellent committee staff who worked on this report and our superb specialist adviser Dr Heather Williams. She was an immense support as well.
There used to be a time when it was assumed that the international containment of nuclear weapons was in good hands, so that we could all confidently leave these matters to experts and diplomats, while getting on with more exciting and seemingly urgent matters such as Brexit, climate change or whatever Donald Trump is going to do next—but not any longer. The safe world, if one can call it that, of balanced nuclear deterrence where two sides are in mutual understanding about the catastrophic outcome of nuclear deployment has crumbled away, almost unnoticed by the world or by media busy on other issues. What seemed balanced has now become highly precarious; where there seemed progress, there is now stalemate. Some of the reasons for this are obvious and some much more obscure and complex: they lie in the deepest reaches of very advanced technology, with which Governments have barely caught up.
In this report, we have tried to throw light on some of the main influences changing the situation, including in particular the exponential growth of digital technological power. Meanwhile at the forefront, anyone who wishes to can see that at the international level rising tensions, ill will in place of goodwill and distrust in place of trust have grown, duly souring and paralysing the arms control dialogue. US-Russian contacts on these matters are now said to be less than they were even at the height of the Cold War; those two countries are still by far the biggest holders of nuclear warheads, by a factor of at least 10. The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty has been dropped by both sides, starting with outright Russian violation and, incidentally, ensuring that all Europe is now moving back into the missiles’ line of fire. The START I treaty is about to run out and there is no sign at all of renewal. Other treaties concerning fissile materials and the comprehensive test ban are stuck and still await entry into force. Both Russia and America are developing new missile vehicles and inflammatory rhetoric is flying around on all sides. The scene is complicated compared with the past, in that a third nuclear great-power force is now on the scene, namely China—officially and, to my mind, foolishly declared by America to be its enemy. Wisely, we do not see it that way ourselves.
Outside the big players, Iran is, predictably, ignoring the 2015 nuclear deal or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as it is called, and speeding up uranium enrichment thanks to American rejection, while tensions now rise daily in the Arabian Gulf. We wait to see whether the European powers, including the UK, can rescue the Iran nuclear deal at this stage and whether the offered release of the Iranian oil tanker at Gibraltar will in any way ease the situation. Meanwhile Kim Jong-un carries on with his missile and nuclear programme, despite Mr Trump’s wooing efforts. Then there are the unofficial nuclear states, notably India and Pakistan, which carry on their bitter 70 year-old hostility.
However, the enormous technological impact on the nuclear scene is perhaps the newest and most unnerving danger. The committee was warned clearly about the vulnerabilities to nuclear command and control systems from cyberattacks. If cyberattacks can now knock out early warnings, simulate fake attacks or compromise delivery systems, the entire doctrine of nuclear deterrence is undermined. The Government’s response to our concerns on this was:
“We will work with Allies to review the implications”,
of “these new technologies”. Is that really enough? I am told that microchip processing speeds are now more than 240 million times—I repeat: 240 million—faster than they were in the Apollo 11 moon shot computer 50 years ago, which I think your Lordships will discuss later. We are now living in a completely different world from the one in which thinking on arms control was first developed.
At the core of the existing nuclear regime is the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, which is coming up to 50 years old and due for review next year. It has certainly done its work in containing the number of nuclear states, but it is not in good shape today. Some even fear that it is becoming obsolete. Trust is the key in keeping this treaty alive and effective: trust between the five nuclear powers it legitimises—the so-called P5—and trust between these five and all the non-nuclear signatories, in whose strong interest it is to stop further proliferation or, worse still, nuclear weapons getting to non-state and terrorist actors. The deal at the heart of the NPT is that the non-nuclear signatories will accept the disparity, provided that the five nuclear powers show a sustained path towards having fewer warheads, dismantling systems and having better verification methods to show that promises are being kept. Is this happening?
The non-nuclears think not, or not fast enough, and are getting impatient. As we report, many have banded together to agree to a straightforward ban or prohibition on all nuclear weapons—just like that. This so-called ban treaty has been endorsed by 122 countries but has not yet entered into force. It sounds splendid, of course, but the reasons why it will not work are equally obvious. Just wishing will not make it so. The tensions that keep nuclear weapons in place need to be wound down first; this can be done only step by patient step, and with the most advanced verification methods possible. The ban treaty will not help and may even hinder. On this latter point, our witnesses strongly disagreed with each other. The United Kingdom, along with the rest of the P5, definitely does not support a ban. We do not believe it is helpful.
In the meantime, we can do our best here in the UK by going for minimal critical deterrence, minimising warheads, keeping systems safe and, with the most modern controls, improving verification systems all the time and grinding away at the underlying antagonisms. This is broadly what the United Kingdom, for one, is doing. Our operational number of warheads is, I understand, now no more than 120.
This step-by-step approach necessitates unending attempts at engagement in dialogue, including with Russia despite its other hostile and unhelpful attitudes and actions. This also means having a lot of patience rather than just passing hopeful treaties that get us nowhere. Nevertheless, the ban treaty’s supporters have a point, or so the committee heard in evidence. We believe that exchange and discussion between the P5 and the non-nuclear signatories to the NPT should be intense, continuous and understanding. Meanwhile, the dangers remain and grow. In this report we have urged the Government, as they currently chair the nuclear powers’ P5, to put all possible energies into making a success of the NPT and consolidating the trust essential to hold it together.
If my noble friend will allow me, there is an important recommendation in view of the recent tension between India and Pakistan. The committee made a sensible recommendation to invite India and Pakistan to attend the next P5 meeting; they have been included in past discussions. I see that the Government’s response merely says:
“Such an invitation would require the explicit agreement of all members of the P5”.
Does my noble friend know whether the Government will propose that to the other members?
Like my noble friend, I am not enlightened by the Government’s reply. It would be a very good idea, but the P5 would have to do it. As the UK is its chair, it may have some additional influence in persuading that step to be taken. I very much hope so.
In conclusion, without the general determination between nations to co-operate closely, even with those who oppose and frustrate in other areas, the slide away from international rules towards international anarchy is certain, with nations putting their own narrow and short-term interests first, often driven by populist political appeal and force. From there, the step to nuclear deployment, accidental or intentional, unforeseen or sudden, at tactical or strategic level, is now perilously close. We can and must, at all costs, avoid and forestall. I beg to move.
My Lords, I draw the attention of the House to my entry in the register of interests, particularly my vice-chairmanship of the Nuclear Threat Initiative. I shall do my best to conclude my remarks within the newly imposed time limit. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, on his excellent introductory speech and an excellent report. I extend my congratulations to his committee, its excellent staff and special adviser. On my recent, varied travels many international colleagues who work in this space have been—deservedly—complimentary about this report.
I will use my time to highlight key priorities for the UK, looking ahead to the 2020 review conference on the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, which will also mark the 50th anniversary of the treaty itself. As the report highlights, the NPT regime is coming under increasing threat. There are several reasons for this, including: lack of progress on disarmament; increasing risk of nuclear weapons use, proliferation, and terrorism; and deepening divisions among the international community on the role of nuclear deterrence, the vision of nuclear disarmament, and the steps required to prevent nuclear weapons use. Two of the most significant drivers contributing to this negative political context are: the growing divide between the recognised nuclear weapon states under the NPT and the non-nuclear weapon states —as the noble Lord and the evidence heard by the committee made clear, the ban treaty is a direct result of these divisions—and the mounting frustration felt by many countries; and the deteriorated political relationship among the nuclear weapon states.
The fast-approaching 2020 RevCon is an important milestone and an opportunity to sustain, reaffirm and demonstrate the vital contribution of the NPT to reducing global dangers and advancing the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons. If there is a continuing perceived lack of progress to reach the disarmament goal set out in Article VI of the NPT, we may—not at this RevCon, perhaps—reach the point where that failure damages the future of the treaty itself. With 2020 just over a year away, the UK should be alert to that possibility and should do more—and encourage others to do more—to demonstrate concrete progress in meeting the NPT disarmament commitment and pledges, including, for a start, those set out in the 2010 NPT action plan.
The following are the priorities I would recommend in the short time I have. First, looking to 2020, we should all be aware that if the INF treaty collapses and the US and Russia allow the current political tension to undermine the possibility of extending the new START—which must be agreed before February 2021—and the negotiation of its successor, the US and Russia will return to an unregulated nuclear arms competition that has not been seen since the early days of the Cold War. This will have a serious impact on the NPT. Leaders should recall that, in the past, each time a new US-Soviet or US-Russia nuclear arms control agreement was signed, the parties immediately started negotiations for the next one. Today, nine years after the approval of the new START, there is no agreed process or agenda for next steps on nuclear disarmament and risk reduction between Russia and the United States, which, between them, still possess over 90% of the world’s nuclear weapons.
At the same time, we are witnessing a collapse of the arms control architecture that we have relied on for the past several decades. The INF treaty is under threat, the CFE is not being implemented, the CTBT has not entered into force, and there is no consensus to even commence negotiations on a fissile material cut-off treaty. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action is also in danger of collapse. I understand that, during the preparation of an EU statement at the NPT PrepCom, the UK unsuccessfully attempted to block a reference to the importance of agreement on the extension of the new START. I am sure that noble Lords would be horrified if the motivation for this was driven by a desire not to damage a post-Brexit UK-US relationship. Can the Minister reassure the House that that was not the case? If not, can she explain the Government’s reasoning for this resistance and confirm that the Government are encouraging the extension of a new START in all possible diplomatic forums? Without it, we have no strategic arms control at all.
Secondly, and related to the above, is the importance of risk reduction as an issue for discussion and action among the P5. While nuclear arms control is dormant, US-Russian relations are severely strained, raising concerns about nuclear risk. Dangerous military incidents have occurred and official statements emphasising nuclear capabilities have implied the possibility that nuclear weapons might be used, reviving fears of possible military conflict that could potentially lead to nuclear escalation between Russia and the US. Such a collapse would occur in the context of the recent US nuclear posture review, which expands, not restricts, the role of nuclear weapons in US national security policy; concerns about Russia’s nuclear doctrine and the new weapons it is developing, as well as its hybrid warfare activity; and worsening tensions between the West and Russia. Risk reduction has, therefore, gained traction among countries in the past year as an important means of demonstrating the responsibilities of nuclear armed states.
The P5, including the UK, should use the remaining time before the RevCon to agree upon actions that will be taken to reduce the risk of nuclear weapons use. These could include leaders of the nuclear armed states making a new declaration reconfirming their common view:
“A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought”.
Ideally, this should be led by the US and Russia and done in conjunction with other nuclear weapon states, but in the absence of such leadership the UK could act alone. Is it willing to do so? The UK should lead an effort to develop a Europe-wide—including Russia—understanding of the risks to stability inherent in the emergence of new technology. Pending improved US-Russia relations, European countries need to prepare and advocate practical proposals about how to include these new technologies and weapons systems into the existing arms control, confidence-building instruments or to develop new ones dedicated to these technologies and systems; they are terrifying. I note that the UK response to this report, which I welcome, admits for the first time that the Government recognise the possibility of cybersecurity threats to nuclear deterrence.
I have very real concerns on the cyber issue. As we construct the Dreadnought class, one needs to look down to the SMEs providing equipment. Proper attention is not being paid at the moment to the possibility of trojans and other things being placed within systems that are fitted in the submarine. More work needs to be done on this. Just as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, went out waving, he asked me to stress that he is worried that more nations than ever are thinking that nuclear weapons can be used for war fighting. This is a terrible thing to be occurring.
I thank my noble friend for those points. The last time this issue was raised in a debate, he asked the Minister to consider red teaming the Dreadnought programme. The US regularly red teams its resilient military systems and is candid about its vulnerability to this threat. We are investing a significant amount of money—and, most importantly, the security of the next 50 years—in a programme that has vulnerabilities. It needs to be red teamed and we need to admit that protecting that system from this threat will cost significantly more than the Government are currently investing in cybersecurity for the whole country for the next five years.
My Lords, I have only a fraction of the experience and knowledge of the noble Lord, whose contribution to this debate I agree with. He gave very clear evidence as part of our committee’s inquiry and should be commended for the work that he is doing.
The noble Lord concluded by referring to the combination of political and rhetorical instability and uncertainty. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, indicated that that was one of the report’s key conclusions, as was the fact that new technologies that have emerged in the past five to 10 years. It was striking that the Government’s response seemed to recognise that cyber and hybrid threats create greater uncertainty, but they have not indicated that that, combined with the political and rhetorical instability, is a greater threat to world peace—and the two are combined, as the noble Lord has indicated.
The Government said in their evidence to us:
“the UK’s strategic nuclear deterrent is a political, not a warfighting, tool”.
Reading that bold statement, I was struck by the question of when that became the case. As the noble Lord, Lord Howell, said, our excellent specialist adviser and Joseph Dobbs, our committee’s policy analyst, did excellent work in providing us with background material. In his interesting analysis, John Baylis showed that British nuclear strategy in the early Cold War period was based upon the concept of “counter-force deterrence”, meaning an ability to strike forces that were targeting directly the United Kingdom, given our own particular vulnerabilities. During the thermonuclear period, “deterrence in concert” with the United States involved targeting a mix of military and urban centres. “Unilateral deterrence” then targeted Soviet cities. With the Polaris force, deployed in the late 1960s, it was believed that we had the ability to target Moscow. The “Moscow criterion” in British nuclear doctrine was perceived by successive Governments as the central requirement of our deterrence.
Today, in our increasingly uncertain and unstable post-Cold War environment, our possession of these weapons is solely political, according to the Government. Our submarines on patrol are at several days’ notice to fire, and since 1994 we have not targeted our missiles on any state. The Government imply that we secure political leverage to our advantage with this £50 billion expenditure on renewal—equivalent to the entire Foreign and Commonwealth Office budget for 50 years, and representing less than 1% of all global nuclear capability. The Government state that they are still committed to a nuclear weapon-free world, and that the retention of those weapons gives us a political capability, but they do not state what political conditions they are seeking to achieve to bring this about, nor how they intend to secure them. The argument also follows that we secure a voice with this political tool by retaining our independent nuclear capability, but this has not always been the case either.
It was interesting to read the Cabinet papers from the period between the early 1960s and the signing of the NPT. Both the Macmillan and Wilson Governments argued for a NATO nuclear force. In 1963, Macmillan and Kennedy agreed in principle,
“to use their best endeavours to develop a NATO Nuclear Force … and a new component may be introduced in the shape of internationally-owned and internationally-manned surface ships or submarines armed with Polaris missiles”.
The Wilson Government continued with this and formally proposed the establishing of an “Atlantic Nuclear Force”, including a “mixed-manned element” which,
“would allow the non-nuclear countries to take part in a meaningful way”.
The Cabinet conclusion of 26 March 1965 went further, proposing a single European vote on doctrine and deployment,
“if the major nations of Europe achieve full political unity, in such a way as to enable the European vote to be cast as one. The European unit exercising a single European vote would have the same veto rights as individual Governments taking part in the Force”.
Therefore, pre-NPT, there was a vibrant debate in government and in Parliament, including in this House, about the Government’s ability to have both a combined deterrent approach and a combined doctrine with our European partners.
Therefore, if the Government’s position today is markedly different from that, which it clearly is—that our ownership of nuclear weapons is purely political, that it is imperative that it is independent, and that it is not concerned with warfighting—we are justified in asking how active their commitment is to disarmament. We will discover this in the periodic review, but there was little optimism among our witnesses that it will contain radical proposals. As the noble Lord, Lord Browne, indicated, the impetus proposed by the 2010 review will need to be restored. Even that seems unlikely.
Given the committee’s assessment that the security environment is now more uncertain and unstable, it is imperative that the Government put their full weight behind pillar 1 of the three pillars of the 2010 NPT review conference action plan on disarmament. Action 3 refers to,
“implementing the unequivocal undertaking by the nuclear-weapon States to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals … through unilateral, bilateral, regional and multilateral measures”.
Dr Christopher Ford, assistant secretary of the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, told the committee in a pre-released text that the United States does not agree that that pillar is a co-equal partner with other aspects of the NPT. He said that it was an “artefact” and denied that disarmament was co-equal with other elements of the NPT. This is particularly disturbing, especially as he then sought to outline what he termed the “conditions” for disarmament. Interestingly, he told us that the “conditions” for disarmament are now termed the “environment” for disarmament. He said at Wilton Park that it,
“might be possible to ameliorate conditions in the global security environment so as to make that environment more conducive to further progress toward—and indeed, ultimately to achieve—nuclear disarmament”.
However, France, Russia and the US, among others, argue that competition among the great powers has to be overcome first, and that seems unlikely.
The United States Government also fail to recognise that they are reneging on the JCPOA and to recognise concerns about the pause of the new START, and that moving away from the INF treaty is itself creating more instability. When the US national security adviser John Bolton was asked on 18 June about the extension of START, he said that there is,
“no decision, but I think it’s unlikely”.
It is no surprise, therefore, that Russia is seeking an opportunity to make America seem as if it is reneging on its commitments and thereby not moving towards a Russian approach.
What does this mean for the UK Government? In a debate last year, the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, used very strong words about the ban treaty. If there is a vacuum of inactivity, it is no surprise that countries are frustrated. That frustration means that they are looking for alternatives through the ban treaty and other processes. Although the committee does not endorse them, it understands them, and that is why the UK needs to be proactive in this period.
My Lords, the report we are debating today is complex and often a bit on the technical side. All the more credit, therefore, goes to the committee’s chair, the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, for guiding us towards a range of clear recommendations and for having introduced the report today in such persuasive terms. Credit also goes to our clerks and to Heather Williams, our specialist adviser, for their invaluable assistance.
Complex this report is, perhaps, but I suggest that three clear political conclusions do stand out. First, that state of grace—that golden era from roughly the end of the Cold War in the late 1980s until roughly 2015, when the threat and risk of a nuclear war virtually disappeared and the nuclear arsenals of the possessor states were sharply reduced—has come to an end. The concomitant, that we need now to give a much higher priority to nuclear diplomacy, strategic stability and arms control than we have done for the last 30 years, is surely perfectly obvious. It is, however, far from clear that the Governments of the two main possessor states, the US and Russia—or indeed our own Government—have reached that conclusion, and, more importantly still, that they are prepared to act upon it.
If I may be allowed a brief digression, it is not even clear that the basic facts on nuclear diplomacy are appreciated at the higher levels of our own Government. Yesterday in Brussels, the Foreign Secretary told the press:
“We are totally committed to keeping the Middle East denuclearised”.
However, even if Israel does not admit to its undoubted possession of nuclear weapons, the hard fact is that the Middle East has not been “denuclearised” for many decades. Finding some way of moving towards a Middle East zone free of weapons of mass destruction is going to be a key issue at next year’s NPT review conference, at which the UK, as one of the three NPT depositary states, needs to use as imaginative and constructive an approach as possible. I wonder whether either of the two aspirants to be Prime Minister know any better than the right honourable Jeremy Hunt revealed yesterday: I rather doubt it.
The second conclusion is that it is arguably clear that the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, for all its imperfections and incompleteness, has made a massive contribution to international peace and security, by limiting the spread of these weapons, with the number of possessor states still in single figures, and with the avoidance of regional nuclear arms races in several unstable regions which would inevitably have followed proliferation. But that NPT regime is under great stress from the breakout of North Korea and from the US decision to renege, unilaterally, from the JCPOA agreement with Iran.
A third very clear and very political conclusion we reached was that discussing strategic stability and arms control with Russia could not properly be described as “business as usual”, since it continued throughout the Cold War and still now needs to be a part of NATO’s and a part of our bilateral diplomacy. It is welcome that the Government share that view. Perhaps the Minister could tell the House whether those issues of strategic stability and arms control were raised during the Prime Minister’s recent bilateral meeting with President Putin in Osaka.
To other conclusions of our report the Government’s response seems less satisfactory. The insistence—several times repeated, I may say—that the UK has gone as far as it could on nuclear disarmament is rather odd, because the report at no point suggested that we should do so. Defensive reactions like that will not be a very useful guide to policy in the newly risky period we are living through. If we really are a responsible possessor state, as the Government proclaim us to be, and I recognise that that is a reasonable aspiration, then we will have to have some imaginative diplomacy. Both parts of the Government’s response—simply dismissing out of hand any consideration of no first use or of clearer negative security assurances to non-nuclear weapon states—seem to me to be distinctly unimaginative. The Government’s attachment to what they call “constructive ambiguity” over the circumstances in which we might use nuclear weapons is deeply unconvincing, in my view.
It was good to hear that the Government have heeded our advice about treating the supporters of the ban treaty, in the margins of the recent NPT2 preparatory committee meeting, less aggressively and less dismissively than they have done. It is one thing to regard the ban treaty as something of a blind alley, unlikely to lead anywhere—which was, in fact, broadly the view of your Lordships’ committee—and quite another to ignore the legitimate frustrations of the non-nuclear weapon states at the lack of progress towards nuclear disarmament. If an incremental approach to further arms control measures, which is the one your Lordships’ committee recommends and which the Government say they are following, is to win out over the great leap forward suggested in the ban treaty, then there have to be some increments that people can actually see. At the moment, those increments are invisible.
It would be foolish to assert that the auguries for next year’s review conference are particularly promising. They are not, and there are going to be limits to what one country, such as the UK, can do to improve those prospects, but the case for attendance by the Foreign Secretary at that conference seems compelling. I would like to hear what the Minister thinks. It seems to me that there is a case for using our current chairmanship of the P5 to good effect. I would like to hear a response to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater, who said, ”Okay, it needs the P5 to agree to invite India and Pakistan for dialogue, but are we going to try?” We should surely do everything we can to ensure that the review conference reaches some useful agreed conclusions, however difficult that may prove. Another failure to agree any conclusions at all, which would follow the failure at the last review conference in 2015, would send precisely the wrong signals around the world at a time when the risks from nuclear weapons are increasing and have become a serious warning to us all.
My Lords, I add my congratulations to my noble friend Lord Howell for his excellent introduction to this debate. I thank the clerks and our researcher for this technical, detailed report.
Our committee’s report makes it very clear that we are living through a time of worldwide disruption and change. The global balance of power is shifting and fragmenting. The nuclear non-proliferation regime is under pressure, and the evidence we took showed that the risk of the use of nuclear weapons is a factor in international relations in a way not seen since the end of the Cold War. Arms control agreements are collapsing. Clear proof of that is given by the highly regrettable announcement by the US of its unilateral withdrawal from the JCPOA, which after all was multilaterally negotiated with Iran and unanimously adopted through United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231. Consequent developments in the Straits of Hormuz should be enough to make all of us deeply concerned about security, not only in the region but more widely.
I welcome the E3 statement on the JCPOA, published on Sunday and updated today, which reaffirms the commitments of the UK, France and Germany to the agreement. What is the Government’s current assessment of, and response to, the escalating tensions between the US and Iran? What efforts has the UK made to discourage Iran from continuing to exceed the JCPOA agreed limit on its stockpile of enriched uranium and from restarting its nuclear programme? The landmark nuclear deal between Iran and world powers is facing one of its toughest tests since it came into effect in 2015.
My generation grew up during the Cold War. We were keenly aware of the risk of the use of nuclear weapons. I still remember clearly the development of the Cuban missile crisis in October 1962 and its impact on the view of civil society, and on our view, as schoolchildren, about the risk of nuclear war. The confrontation between the US and Soviet Russia followed the US discovery of Soviet deployment of nuclear-capable ballistic missiles in Cuba with a range that could hit most of continental USA.
The minimal attention paid by the media and civil society to the risk of nuclear conflagration over the past few decades could be considered proof of the success of the negotiation of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, which entered into force in 1970. That treaty approaches its 50th anniversary next year. More countries have adhered to the NPT than to any other arms limitation or disarmament agreement —a testament to the treaty’s significance. It has its successes: it has near-universal membership; it has established an international norm against new states acquiring nuclear weapons; and there has been a considerable reduction in nuclear stockpiles since the 1980s.
Significantly, however, we were given evidence that the programmes of many nuclear possessor states go well beyond what can properly be described as modernisation to introducing new capabilities and potentially increasing nuclear risk. We were particularly concerned about new developments in the field of tactical nuclear weapons. We note, at paragraph 197 of our report, that the UK’s nuclear modernisation programme, though not without its critics, focuses on the renewal of its existing capabilities for a minimum credible deterrent. We recommend that the Government encourage other nuclear-armed states to exercise restraint in their modernisation programmes and avoid expanding their nuclear capabilities. How do the Government propose to respond to our recommendation in practical terms in their dealings with nuclear possessor states?
Despite our concerns about the misuse of modernisation programmes, the treaty remains a critical part of international security. As has been mentioned, it is often seen to be based on a central bargain of three pillars: that non-nuclear weapon states agree never to acquire nuclear weapons but that, in exchange, the NPT nuclear weapon states agree to share the benefits of peaceful nuclear technology and to pursue nuclear disarmament aimed at the ultimate elimination of their nuclear arsenals. I therefore welcome the Government’s response to paragraph 96 of our report, where they now clarify that they remain,
“committed to implementing all three pillars”.
We conclude in our report that there is a danger that misunderstanding, miscalculation or mistakes could lead to the use of nuclear weapons, and that steps to manage and reduce this risk should be of the highest priority for the Government. Dr Rebecca Johnson, one of our inquiry’s witnesses, has subsequently written that the 2019 PrepCom for the 2020 RevCon seemed to proceed better than expected. She said:
“By comparison with 2018, British positions were more open and constructive, probably influenced by the report from the House of Lords International Relations Committee”.
The PrepCom seemed to show some slow forward movement in its discussions on nuclear risk, de-alerting, and the gendered underpinnings of nuclear weapons policies and practices. It adopted the necessary procedural requirements, including the nomination of Argentina’s Rafael Grossi as president of next year’s RevCon. It was a privilege to hear him give evidence to our committee.
However, the PrepCom still failed to agree substantive recommendations on the major issues of heightened nuclear risks and proliferation it had been discussing for two weeks. What is the Minister’s assessment of the reasons for that failure? How do the Government plan to resolve those issues before next year’s RevCon? Will they use their chairing of the P5 process to that end? What will be their priorities for seeking an agreement? The noble Lord, Lord Browne, should be congratulated not only on his speech tonight but on being the progenitor of the P5 process.
Preparations for a successful 2020 RevCon are vital for our future security. It is not just our diplomatic reputation that is at stake but our global security. It is important that there should be greater public awareness of the significance of those issues. I hope that our committee’s report has made some contribution to that. Complacency about nuclear risk is the greatest risk to our global safety. There is an old saying: “a watched pot never boils”. It is time for everyone internationally, parliaments, Governments, media and civil society to watch the nuclear pot with increased care. It cannot be allowed to boil.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a vice-president of the London Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. I too congratulate the International Relations Committee and its chair the noble Lord, Lord Howell, on its excellent report.
When I am given a report like this, I turn immediately to the summary in the hope that it means I do not have to read the rest of the document. Quite honestly, the first paragraph was so distressing—I had such an emotional response to it—that I read other parts of the report. The first paragraph says:
“The level of nuclear risk has increased … There is a danger that misunderstanding, miscalculation or mistakes could lead to the use of nuclear weapons”.
How utterly depressing. It seems that, as others have said, the world is now almost out of control. We are not taking into account just how powerful these weapons are; they are weapons of terror, and their use is the greatest crime against humanity.
The supposed justification for nuclear weapons is the doctrine of mutually assured destruction. One day, I hope, foreign policy based on mass murder and the inevitable extinction of humanity will be viewed as the most barbaric and depraved idea ever conceived. It would be wonderful today to hear from the Minister the unequivocal statement, which can be found of page 27 of this report, that
“a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought”.
Anything less than that is dangerous and delusional.
As others have said, we live in dangerous times globally. We have a President in the White House on Twitter, engaged in toilet diplomacy of a kind which can escalate tensions and move global markets in an instant. All the while, his military attaché is just a few metres away with nuclear codes that could be used by mistake or by miscalculation. We have also heard candidates for elections start to brag about how they would be the first to push the nuclear button and start a nuclear war by launching a first strike.
There is also the unequal way in which the West treats emerging nuclear powers, casting a blind eye to the nuclear weapons of Israel, India and Pakistan while taking a hard-line stance against Iran and North Korea. All the while, the non-nuclear countries which signed up to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty must feel cheated that the nuclear countries are not holding up their end of the bargain to progressively disband their nuclear arsenals. Instead, we are renewing Trident and expanding nuclear arsenals.
The UK Government must deploy their full diplomatic force in this area, treating nuclear disarmament as one of our top priorities on the international stage. The Select Committee’s report sets out a credible road map by which the Government could take forward this idea. They should adopt it in full. In particular, the Foreign Secretary should take a leadership role in this area and represent the UK in international negotiations on nuclear disarmament.
As a nuclear power, we should be clearer about our doctrine, ending the strategic ambiguity in favour of a no-first-strike policy and encouraging that as the global norm. No serious contender for public office, let alone the Prime Minister, should try to make a political point out of their willingness to initiate a nuclear war and murder millions of innocent civilians. We must strive towards a nuclear-free world where the capability to kill every human being on earth in a matter of moments is consigned to the dystopian nightmares where it belongs.
I thank the committee for its truly excellent report, which rightly draws attention to the serious dangers faced by the world today with its rising nuclear risk but does so in a sober and balanced way.
I am going to focus only on the rising risk of nuclear conflict in Europe and the consequent need, despite present tensions with Russia, to keep all channels of communication open. In Georgia, for example, Russia has been in effective control of the regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia since they declared independence in 1992. As a result of the ill-fated war of August 2008, Russian troops remain on Georgian soil only 20 miles from Tbilisi, the capital—hardly the distance of Windsor from London. Little or no progress has been made in getting Russian troops to withdraw from the line of control. Not surprisingly, Georgia, with its European aspirations, experiences Russia as a continuing influence in its internal affairs. Only last Thursday, President Putin made a long speech totally distorting Georgian history and its relationship with Russia, with a view to reinforcing its claims over Georgian territory.
Then of course we should not forget the annexation of Crimea in 2014, which, whatever the historic ties of Crimea with Russia, was a flagrant breach of international law, as was the incursion into eastern Ukraine, with thousands killed and the civil strife which this stirred up still continuing. More than 80,000 Russian troops are stationed in and around its borders. In the light of this, it is not surprising that the Baltic states, with their Russian-speaking minorities, have felt uneasy. About 28% of Estonians and about 25% of Latvians are ethnic Russians. They may indeed be loyal citizens of their state, but the presence of ethnic Russians in other states has given Russia a pretext for interference elsewhere. In the light of clear evidence of a Russian determination to spread their sphere of influence, by force if necessary, it was only sensible for NATO to establish an enhanced forward presence in the Baltic states. This is not large—just four multinational battalion-size battle groups—but their presence acts as a clear signal of NATO’s solidarity with the Baltic states. This in turn highlights the continuing need for the existence of NATO—a NATO with clear policies and firm resolve. Anything which weakens this, such as a breach with the United States over NATO, is to be deeply regretted.
That small EFP is of course not strong enough to resist a major military advance, but it takes its place within an overall system of deterrence. According to estimates, the Russians possess some 2,000 tactical nuclear weapons—and we need to remind ourselves that each one of these would create devastation on the scale of Hiroshima or Nagasaki. In 1994, the UK got rid of its last tactical nuclear weapons but it is reliably reported that the United States has 150 non-strategic gravity warheads stationed in Europe, with six nuclear weapons facilities in five NATO countries. I was slightly surprised to read in paragraph 44 of the report:
“Tactical nuclear weapons differ from strategic nuclear weapons in that they are envisaged to be used in fighting and winning a war, as opposed to strategic nuclear weapons, which are used to deter conflict”.
Contrary to this, and following the late, highly revered Sir Michael Quinlan, at whose feet I had the privilege to sit for many years, I have always understood that tactical nuclear weapons, although their use has to be credible, are not strictly speaking war-fighting weapons in the way that conventional weapons are, but are in place to make deterrence as a whole more credible. The calculation that their use would be more likely than that of a strategic weapon, plus the fear of escalation to strategic level, makes the system of deterrence stronger.
In relation to that, I note particularly what the report says about the danger of dual-capable systems in paragraphs 49, 50 and 65. Such systems open up the possibility in a conflict of a misreading and miscalculation, blurring the threshold between conventional and nuclear weapons, one which it is important to keep. An enemy might not be able to judge what kind of weapon was being used against them, conventional or nuclear, and therefore might misread the situation, miscalculate and make a disproportionate response.
I also very much agree with what the report says about developments in cyberwarfare at paragraphs 51 to 65. This has two aspects. I have long believed that we have been too sanguine about the invulnerability of our nuclear-armed nuclear submarines. That was indeed the case a decade ago but, although we keep on being reassured, not least in this House, that they operate on different systems, technological developments are so rapid these days that we should never be complacent. I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Browne, is reported at paragraph 58 as saying, that,
“it was unwise to think that because the UK’s nuclear weapons system is submarine-based it is ‘air gapped’ (the term for operating systems that are not connected to the public internet). He noted that there had been examples of ‘jumping the air-gap’, for example in Iran”.
Secondly, arising from this, what would be the use of our submarines if the whole NATO command-and-control system was brought down, or the whole country’s power supply? This means, as the noble Lord, Lord Howell, has rightly emphasised, that the cyber threat must now be a major priority. We cannot rest content with thinking that because we possess a nuclear deterrent we are safe. New developments should make us always question past nostrums.
In the light of these very serious dangers in Europe, I believe we should seek special talks with Russia about increasing confidence, minimising risk and arms reduction in this area. I strongly agree with paragraphs 35 to 37 of the report that, despite present tensions with Russia, we should keep every channel open to discuss these security issues. Sadly, there is still a real threat of incursions and pressure from Russia in Europe, with the rising nuclear risk involved. The government response to the paper lists all the fora available where dialogue takes place—the NATO-Russia Council among others—and using those should be a continuing priority, in order that there is maximum understanding on all sides and the minimum possibility of a miscalculation or accident. I very much hope, with the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, that the Minister will be able to say more about this.
My Lords, it is inevitable that debates of this sort will be pretty sombre in tone, because this is an extremely sombre—if not deadly serious—subject. But the timing of our report and indeed of this debate comes on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the non-proliferation treaty, which in itself is some relief from the entirely sombre atmosphere that has inevitably characterised this debate. Even if it is not a cause for celebration, my word, in its 50 years this treaty has given us a great deal to be quietly satisfied about. It has been ratified, nearly universally, by 191 states. It has held in unlikely combination the nuclear and non-nuclear states. There have been successes in all its three so-called pillars: non-proliferation, disarmament, and the peaceful use of nuclear technology.
There has also been a growth in the number of nuclear-free zones. I commend to the House the map of the world on page 51—it was my idea, which makes it spring to mind—which shows the areas where non-proliferation treaties are in operation, covering the whole of the southern hemisphere, including Latin America and Africa. There are seven separate treaties, in many cases with unpronounceable names, establishing nuclear-free zones over large swathes of the planet. And, of course, there have been dramatic reductions in the number of nuclear warheads during this period—although I do not claim that that is all down to the NPT.
We should be quite proud also in a number of respects of Britain’s role as a nuclear state that is a signatory to the NPT. We have been a nuclear state and have demonstrated our commitment to nuclear disarmament. In the late 1970s we had over 400 warheads, but by the mid-2020s we will be looking at 180. There are fewer warheads and fewer operational missiles on each submarine. We are the only nuclear state to have reduced our deterrent capability to a single system. At a technical level, the committee visited Aldermaston and saw the extremely important work that was being done on nuclear disarmament verification. With that work we have also demonstrated how nuclear and non-nuclear states—in this case, Norway—can work together, to their collective advantage. But that picture, which to a degree balances the argument and the 50th anniversary, should be set aside; I am certainly not pretending that there are not substantial difficulties, a couple of which I will mention.
First, to state the opposite, there has not been a complete absence of nuclear proliferation. The number of nuclear states has almost doubled, from five to nine, during the time of the treaty. The four nuclear states who are outside the NPT have a fraction of the number of warheads held by NPT nuclear states, but they are significant none the less. We list them in our report. It is estimated that Pakistan has 140 to 150 nuclear warheads; India has 130 to 140; Israel has 80; and North Korea 10 to 20. Of course, North Korea is a special case for all sorts of reasons that I cannot possibly go into, but are the other nuclear states outside the ambit of the NPT now in the “impossible to resolve” category—“We can’t do anything about it, so let’s not even try”—or is there a medium or longer than medium-term strategy to try to bring all the states of the United Nations within the ambit of the treaty?
Then there is the question of the proposed Middle East nuclear-free zone. It was as long ago as 1995 that the review conference of that year stated that the development of nuclear-free zones, of which I have mentioned a number, should be encouraged as a matter of priority, and specifically mentioned the importance of establishing one in the Middle East. Since then, progress has been glacial. Last year, however, a UN resolution called for a conference on a weapons of mass destruction-free zone in the Middle East to be held in 2019. In our report, we state that the UK should continue to support work towards such a conference and should encourage Israel to participate. I am afraid that the Government in their reply say that the UK remains committed to the 1995 NPT resolution—of which, incidentally, we were co-sponsors —but they remain undecided about whether to participate in the forthcoming UN conference, giving a long list of difficulties.
Of course there are difficulties. This is the most dangerous region in the world, with current or recent wars in Iraq, Syria and Yemen, not to mention Iran and the JCPOA. But to say that we may well not attend a UN conference to try to reduce the risk of weapons of mass destruction being deployed in this most dangerous of regions seems inexplicable, and I would really like a response on that from the Minister.
Another challenge to the NPT mentioned by previous speakers that is always simmering is the relationship between the nuclear and the non-nuclear states. This is particularly relevant at the moment because the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons—the so-called ban treaty—has been adopted by no fewer than 122 states. The signatory states range from Austria to Brazil, from South Africa to New Zealand—but, crucially, they include none of the nuclear weapon states who are signatories to the NPT.
The Government have been critical of the ban treaty, saying that it would compete with the NPT and would not deliver as good an outcome, and our committee agreed with that. But surely, as other speakers have said, the significance of the ban treaty is not so much its precise wording as what it represents, which is at least in part a concern by the non-nuclear signatories to the NPT that the nuclear states need to be more active in moving towards nuclear disarmament—a wake-up call, if you like. That is why I particularly welcome our committee’s recommendation 263:
“We therefore recommend that the Government should adopt a less aggressive tone about this treaty and seek opportunities to work with its supporters towards the aims of … the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which concerns disarmament”.
The Government’s response recognises the crucial importance of keeping the nuclear states and the non-nuclear states together. However, given the U.K.’s role in nuclear weapons reduction, to which I referred earlier, we are surely well placed among the nuclear powers to continue our engagement with the non-nuclear states on how to make progress on multilateral disarmament. I would welcome any assurance from the Minister that, although we cannot sign the ban treaty, we are absolutely committed to the motivation behind the ban and will work closely with non-nuclear states to meet the concerns that the ban treaty reflects.
Fifty years old next year, the NPT remains essentially a good news story, with most of its essentials remaining intact. But for it to continue being a good news story, there can be no room for any complacency. It needs good housekeeping and constant vigilance.
My Lords, like my fellow committee member, the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, I start by mentioning that the NPT is almost 50 years old, so we are looking at an anniversary. The committee’s report made clear that we felt that in many ways the NPT has been successful. The report even said that we laud it for the three pillars and the success it has achieved on stopping proliferation, on peaceful use and on disarmament.
This report originated when the committee was looking for future business. We initially thought of doing a short report ahead of the PrepCom and then the RevCon of 2020. We did not necessarily intend to say, “Let’s look at the 50 years of proliferation and non-proliferation”; it was initially to be a short report. However, it quickly became a much longer report—one that has a great deal in it and on which there is, surprisingly, a great deal of agreement, not only among members of the committee but across the Chamber this evening.
Who would have expected the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, to sing from the same hymn sheet? Yet at one point, they did. That is very much in line with the committee’s point about the importance of the principle that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought. That has not diminished. That was our starting point and seems something on which we can all agree. Beyond that, there are of course areas of profound disagreement and areas where, if we were looking at a wider range of nuclear issues, there would be less agreement.
As the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, pointed out, this has been a sombre debate. Although we might feel that the NPT has been successful in many ways, there are now so many dangers, and the world since 2014-15 has so fundamentally changed, that it begins to feel, as the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, said, more like the Cold War than the post-Cold War period. For many years, we began to assume that Russia was, if not an ally, at least a country we could do business with. Since Salisbury and Crimea, that no longer seems the case. As the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, made very clear, Russia is a serious issue.
One area where the Government’s timely response to the report perhaps does not go far enough is in explaining their view about working and talking with Russia on nuclear issues. The inference from the Government’s response so far appears to be that the only way that the United Kingdom is willing to talk to Russia is through the NATO-Russia Council. Are Her Majesty’s Government willing to think about further talks with Russia on nuclear issues, because they clearly affect us all?
In many ways, Russia is the obvious country to look at and say that we no longer have a great deal of confidence in it, and perhaps no longer trust it, but, as the noble Lord, Lord Howell, mentioned, we are in a period where we may be moving from good will to ill will and from trust to distrust more generally. It is no longer just Russia about which we may have concerns, but also our closest ally, the United States.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, in particular, discussed, the situation with Iran is not solely of Iran’s making. The move away from the JCPOA was led by the United States. If the international rules-based order is to have any validity, signatory states have to believe that what they have signed up to will be adhered to. They have to believe that fellow signatories will abide by what they have signed up to. If the United States walks away from the JCPOA, is it any surprise that a country such as North Korea says, “What’s the point in signing any sort of treaty? Do we trust the signatories?” We have to be able to trust our fellow signatories. What are Her Majesty’s Government doing to persuade the Government of the United States, in particular the President, of the need to come back to the table? It is extremely encouraging that the Foreign Secretary is working with the other E3 countries to carry on negotiating with Iran, but we need the US back at the table as well.
That is not the only area. The US and Russia have walked away from other treaties. In Europe, just as during the Cold War, the danger is that the United Kingdom, like other European states, is caught between nuclear powers. If the intermediate-range nuclear forces treaty is no longer relevant, where does that leave us? How much more vulnerable will we become? Where do we think we need to go in terms of our own deterrent and ensuring that we remain protected? After all, a nuclear deterrent was intended precisely to ensure that it would never be used, at least not by being fired. This is an area where perhaps some of those who call for unilateral disarmament say, “But we don’t use nuclear weapons and we never must”. However, their very existence and their deterrent effect are of course vital.
This is one area where perhaps some of us would disagree with the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, because during the Cold War mutually assured destruction was something that mattered. Yes, firing a nuclear weapon might be totally abhorrent, but its existence and its potential to create a deterrent effect worked incredibly well. Arguably, it works for India and Pakistan in the current period. What it cannot do, however, as our report makes clear, is deal with some of the new areas of risk and proliferation. This is one of the greatest changes in the post-Cold War era. We face the risk of terrorists potentially getting nuclear capability but, from our evidence, that risk appears relatively minor. What are much more serious, as we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Browne, and the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, are the dangers of hybridity and cyber, and the vulnerability of our own nuclear deterrent.
The Government’s response begins to suggest that there may be a danger from cyber. Can the Minister go a little further in saying whether the Government are willing, as the US Government are, to acknowledge issues about cyber and the deterrent? We are in a dangerous situation, where the demise of the rules-based international order is a real threat. The NPT has been a success so far, but for it to continue to be successful full engagement by all state parties is required, in particular the P5 states, which in many ways have the greatest responsibility.
Perhaps the one advantage of the early general election in 2017 is that for the first time in many years we can assume that the 2020 RevCon will not coincide with one. Perhaps the Fixed-term Parliaments Act means that, unlike those of 2005, 2010 and 2015, the 2020 RevCon will not coincide with a British general election. We hope that means that Her Majesty’s Government will be able to give the meeting their full attention. I hope that the Minister might confirm that whoever becomes Prime Minister next week will give the matter his full attention and ensure that whoever is the new Foreign Secretary—if indeed that position changes—will also be fully committed to the NPT and to the UK’s responsibility in that regard.
My Lords, I shall begin with a little bit of good news. My noble friend Lord Judd is sitting up, cheerful and eager to get back to the House as soon as possible. He will be sorely missed in this debate.
I too welcome this excellent report and certainly the introduction by the noble Lord, Lord Howell. The fact is that we are now living in a world dangerously close to an era without arms control. The report’s key recommendation is to encourage greater dialogue between all the nuclear possessor states on the nuclear risk to reduce global tensions. I like the analogy of a watched pot boiling over, which I think is what this debate is fundamentally about.
What are the mechanisms to do this? As the report and the Government’s response to it acknowledge, the non-proliferation treaty has been hugely successful over the past 50 years. Of the 189 countries that have signed up to it since 1970, only one non-nuclear signatory, North Korea, has developed a deliverable nuclear weapon. The treaty remains critical to UK security and to the rules-based international order as a whole. It was of course a Labour Government who signed it in 1968 and, since 1970, as we have heard, review conferences have been held every five years to pursue an incremental approach to nuclear disarmament through article 6 of the treaty. The latest preparatory committee for the 2020 review took place in April, and there we saw 191 parties to the treaty setting out their assessments of how it has been implemented and what we should do collectively to strengthen it further over the next five years. In the excellent briefing provided by the Library, I read the blog by Aidan Liddle, the ambassador and permanent representative to the Conference on Disarmament. His clear message is that many countries want to see more progress on disarmament, and another thing he referred to was the establishment of a zone free of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East, mandated by the 1995 conference.
The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, highlighted that the Government said in their response that they remain committed to the establishment in the Middle East of a zone free of nuclear and all other weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems. What are the Government doing about that? What is their strategy? We need to know more about it. The committee argued that the UK should use its chairmanship of the P5 to encourage a more constructive tone and approach from nuclear weapon states as we move towards the 2020 review conference. It called on the Government to set out a clear vision for this. What are the Government working on in preparing for this? Will they hold consultations and will they publish a strategy ahead of the conference so that parliamentarians can engage in the dialogue and the debate? Who will attend the conference and what level of representation will there be? As we heard, new technologies are being developed that may not come within the scope of existing arms control treaties. The Government’s response suggests that we will work with our allies to consider how they might be brought within the scope of existing and new arms control agreements, and that the review conference provides another opportunity to do so. Will the Government add, for example, lethal autonomous weapons to the agenda for the 2020 review conference? The report calls on the Government to review the resilience of the UK’s nuclear deterrent against the threat of cyberattacks and new technologies, as highlighted by my noble friend. Will cybersecurity receive an increase in funding in this year’s spending review? We must surely make it a priority when we have understood the threats.
In the past the UK has been seen as one of the more progressive nuclear states, leading the way in advocating diplomatic, technological and financial policies to pursue nuclear disarmament. The P5 process set up in 2008 under Labour was the first forum between the P5 to specifically discuss matters surrounding nuclear disarmament. But where are the initiatives by this Government to maintain the commitments and pathways set out in the nuclear non-proliferation treaty? The key to this process, as reflected in noble Lords’ report, has to be a much stronger level of communication and dialogue.
I hope we will hear in the Minister’s response tonight exactly how the Government will engage, particularly with the US President’s reviews of new START and the European nuclear weapons treaties. How will we engage and communicate across the P5? How do we reinvigorate the process to avoid the threats we have heard identified in your Lordships’ report? How do we reduce tensions and the threat that nuclear weapons pose?
The Government’s response said that,
“the best way to achieve our long-term goal of a world without nuclear weapons is through gradual multilateral disarmament, negotiated using a step-by-step approach within existing frameworks and taking into account current and future security risks”.
Who can disagree? But do we not want a bit more evidence about how we are making progress and what steps we are taking to move things along? The evidence in your Lordships’ committee is the complete opposite: the situation is deteriorating. We are moving to a world in which we will not have agreements containing the growth of nuclear weapons.
Finally, on Iran, it is right that noble Lords have highlighted this as another threat to non-proliferation in a region where we hope we can remove all weapons of mass destruction. The government response says the Government,
“regrets the US decision to withdraw from the JCPoA and re-impose sanctions on Iran”,
despite no serious suggestion of non-compliance, as the noble Baroness highlighted. If we do this on one agreement, what impact will it have on the others? Of course, only last week Iran broke the limit on uranium enrichment in the nuclear deal, and there is a real threat of nuclear proliferation in the Middle East. What recent conversations have the Government had with our European partners and the Iranian Government on this recent breach and the maintenance of the agreement? Does the Minister believe that President Trump has killed the Iran deal, or will we take further steps to ensure that it is properly protected?
My Lords, I first apologise for being slightly late into the Chamber; I was caught unawares by the preceding Statement ending a little early. I thank my noble friend Lord Howell for tabling this Motion and all noble Lords for their perceptive and helpful contributions. I particularly pay tribute to him and his committee colleagues for a thorough and comprehensive report. To me, it is a significant contribution to a subject of vital importance. I know my noble friend Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon is very sorry not to be responding to this Motion. He has important duties this week in Washington at the 2019 Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, hosted by the State Department. I also say to the noble Lord, Lord Collins, that we are all very glad to hear the positive news about his colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Judd.
This debate comes at a time when the international security environment is increasingly complex—at times fraught—and arms control frameworks are coming under increasing challenge. In this context, we should not underestimate the positive impact of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, and its enduring value as a central pillar of the rules-based international system that the United Kingdom has done so much to build and uphold. I welcome the chance to reflect on the achievements of the treaty, outline some of the challenges we face and set out what we are doing to overcome them.
The NPT was built on consensus and has been at the heart of global efforts to prevent nuclear proliferation and encourage nuclear disarmament efforts for nearly 50 years. It has overwhelmingly delivered on its objectives and we should celebrate its success. To quote the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, it has made “a massive contribution”. I realise that this is a difficult debate for the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb; I may not support her view on unilateral disarmament, but I respect and see the passion with which she holds it. Let me try to reassure her by now turning to the NPT and considering it in a little more detail.
First, the NPT has limited the proliferation of nuclear weapons. At the time of its inception, the world feared a widespread arms race that could have resulted in dozens of nuclear-armed states within decades. The NPT helped to persuade some countries to abandon their pursuit of nuclear weapons and to ensure that many more did not seek to acquire them. Secondly, it has provided the framework and confidence for a significant reduction in nuclear weapons following the end of the Cold War. The UK has provided a good exemplar, significantly reducing its nuclear weapon stockpile since the Cold War peak. Finally, the treaty extended the benefits of the peaceful uses of nuclear energy around the globe. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, for his recognition of these virtues. His map in the report is encouraging, and I commend him on his imagination in suggesting its inclusion.
The non-proliferation treaty continues to offer a framework that is central to our goal of achieving a world free from nuclear weapons. The value of this treaty is widely recognised by nuclear weapon states and non-nuclear weapon states alike, which is why it has received near-universal acceptance. As we approach the 50th anniversary of the treaty next year, noble Lords should be in no doubt that this Government remain committed to its step-by-step approach to multilateral disarmament. The noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, raised that point. This approach includes the universal application of the NPT, the prompt entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty and the start and successful conclusion of negotiations for a fissile material cut-off treaty in the Conference on Disarmament.
However, I must be candid: significant further disarmament is difficult to foresee in the current security environment. Some countries are expanding their nuclear arsenals and pursuing a reckless path of breaching arms control and disarmament treaties, as well as developing destabilising new delivery systems for nuclear weapons. We must remain resolute in working to deter such threats and in facing down those who seek to undermine decades of progress. Against this complex security backdrop, the UK’s independent nuclear deterrent remains essential to both our security and that of our NATO allies, for as long as the global security situation demands.
But even in this challenging context and environment, we are making progress towards verifiable, treaty-based future disarmament. Part of this requires us to understand and overcome the challenges in verifying nuclear disarmament, so that all states can have confidence in the process. The UK continues to play a leading role in developing verification tools and techniques working alongside nuclear and non-nuclear weapon states. We hosted the first-ever verification exercise for nuclear disarmament in 2017, as part of our quad partnership with Norway, Sweden and the United States. We are active participants in the International Partnership for Nuclear Disarmament Verification. We also took part in the recent UN Group of Governmental Experts on verification.
Next year’s NPT review conference falls 75 years after nuclear weapons were released on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, 50 years after the NPT entered into force, and 25 years after it was indefinitely extended. It is clear to us that the NPT remains as relevant and important now as it has ever been. That is not just the United Kingdom’s view: it is widely shared around the world. However, we also know that even a treaty as important as this requires constant nurturing to ensure that it remains effective.
My noble friend Lord Howell mentioned that trust—I think that is the word that he used—is key and he is absolutely correct. The UK is doing everything we can to encourage trust and confidence, which is also important. That is why we are working with international partners to ensure that the review conference reinforces our shared interests and seeks to advance its goals.
My noble friend Lady Anelay of St Johns asked how we were preparing for this review conference and whether we can resolve differences. The noble Lord, Lord Collins, also raised that point. We recognise that achieving consensus at the review conference will be challenging, but we will invest all our energies in striving for a positive outcome. As part of our preparation between now and the conference, we will chair the P5 dialogue, which was established a decade ago by the United Kingdom to build mutual trust and confidence between the nuclear weapon states.
The noble Lords, Lord Browne of Ladyton, Lord Hannay and Lord Collins, the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, and my noble friend Lord King raised some apprehensions about the backdrop to this conference. The noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, particularly raised the issue of new START. That is a bilateral treaty between the US and Russia. It is a decision for the US and Russia to take forward discussions about extending the treaty and we of course support effective arms control. There is no doubt that new START contributes to international stability. All allies support continued implementation, early and active dialogue and ways to improve strategic stability, and we will use our best efforts to encourage an extension of it. But at the end of the day it is a decision for the United States and Russia.
In an intervention, my noble friend Lord King raised the position of India and Pakistan. Having made his intervention, he now seems to have disappeared, but I will share with the rest of the Chamber that he wondered if they would be parties to the next P5 dialogue. It is correct that that would require the agreement of all P5 members because the P5 process is primarily for NPT issues, but we encourage discussion among all these countries in a variety of fora, so we have noted those important concerns. In addition, we plan to engage in discussions on transparency and risk reduction with all state parties.
Noble Lords raised a number of points that I would like to try to deal with, if I may. The question of cyber capability and cyber risks arose, and that is no surprise. It was raised by my noble friend Lord Howell and the noble Lords, Lord Browne of Ladyton, Lord Purvis of Tweed, Lord West and Lord Collins, the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Newnham. It is an important issue to raise in the context of the report and of this debate. The Government take their responsibilities for maintaining a credible independent nuclear deterrent extremely seriously. We have robust measures in place to keep that nuclear deterrent safe and secure. We invest significant resources in ensuring protection against cyber and other threats. However, as noble Lords will understand, it is not government policy to comment on specific security measures relating to the nuclear deterrent, for the purposes of safeguarding national security. I reassure noble Lords that, more broadly, the Government doubled investment in cybersecurity to £1.9 billion in the last strategic defence and security review in 2015. No one is indifferent to or casual about the immensity of that threat. It is the threat of the modern age and the Government are acutely aware of it.
On the Government’s commitment to cybersecurity, every single time this issue is raised in whatever context in this House the government spokesperson raises this point about £1.9 billion—without explanation. The £1.9 billion announced in 2015 and again in 2016 is to cover five years of all the work that the Government do on cybersecurity in every aspect of public policy. But the National Audit Office reported on that in March this year. My reading of that report suggests that the true figure is £1.3 billion and that, in the first two years, the Treasury transferred 37% of the funding to other matters that were priorities for the Government that were not originally intended to be included. Can we please in future have specific information on the issue that is before the House about how much is being spent by the MoD on the Dreadnought programme and on cybersecurity? That is the question, not what the Government may or may not be spending on cybersecurity writ large.
I hear the noble Lord, but he will understand as well as anyone, with his distinguished experience in these matters, that we cannot comment on specific security measures and I do not think he would expect the Government to do that. But I hear his detailed questioning about the funding. I have no specific information available this evening, but I undertake to make further investigation and write to him.
The noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, raised a couple of issues about policy and strategy—essentially, why the UK maintains a nuclear deterrent and what our commitment to disarmament is. I suggest that actually the two are not mutually exclusive. It is clear from the evidence that the committee received that the Government have a strong record on nuclear disarmament. We have significantly reduced the size of our own nuclear forces since the Cold War peak and we have about 1% of the total global stockpile. But it is absolutely clear that the independent nuclear deterrent remains essential to our security today and will do for as long as the global security situation demands. It has existed for more than 60 years to deter the most extreme threats to our national security and way of life and I submit that it is helping to guarantee our security and that of our allies. But the commitment that we have to the NPT is manifest. Noble Lords will understand my suggestion that the two positions are far from mutually exclusive.
The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, raised the matter of Russia and the strategic approach. His specific question was about whether at the recent meeting between the Prime Minister and President Putin any discussion had taken place. Apparently, a wide range of issues was discussed, including global security issues, but I have no more specific information than that.
My noble friend Lady Anelay raised paragraph 197 of the report and how the Government proposed to respond in practical terms in their dealings with nuclear possessor states. We have regular and frank exchanges on such issues through the P5 and bilaterally and we encourage all possessor states to recognise their responsibilities and to refrain from destabilising rhetoric and destabilising technology.
A number of noble Lords raised Iran, including my noble friend Lady Anelay and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Newnham. The UK expressed deep concern that Iran is pursuing activities inconsistent with its commitments under the JCPOA. We did that in a statement with France and Germany earlier this month. The UK remains committed to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. We think it is important for our security and for neutralising the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran. We and remaining parties are working hard to ensure that it is upheld for as long as Iran meets its commitments, including full IAEA access. I say to the noble Baronesses that the Government regret the United States’ decision to withdraw from the JCPOA and reimpose sanctions, but we continue to work with our European partners and Iran to try to find solutions to support economic relations.
I think my noble friend Lady Anelay also raised the Gulf of Oman and the Straits of Hormuz. We are concerned at tensions in that area and we are doing everything we can to de-escalate them by diplomatic means. However, international maritime law must be respected and upheld. We shall protect British shipping in the region. The recent escort of a British tanker by HMS “Montrose” demonstrated our resolve to offer that protection.
The noble Lord, Lord Grocott, raised the issue of a zone free of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East. We remain fully committed to the 1995 resolution on the Middle East and to the establishment of a zone free of all weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems in the Middle East. We believe that realistically that is going to be possible only when political solutions are found to the tensions in the region. We believe that the convening of a conference has potential but we think it will be worth while, valid and achievable only if it is on the basis of arrangements freely arrived at by all states in the region, as set out in the 2010 NPT review conference plan.
It is clear that the NPT has made a substantial contribution to international security and prosperity. It succeeded in all three of its pillars and has earned its place as the central pillar of the arms control architecture. This Government remain committed to multilateral disarmament. We will continue to work tirelessly to uphold the NPT and to explore practical ways to achieve a world without nuclear weapons.
This has been an extremely helpful and interesting debate. I once again commend my noble friend Lord Howell and his committee for their hard work in producing this report. It is a very useful report. I realise that this was difficult for the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, but the report and what we have debated this evening indicate what is possible when people are bonded by the same objective and motivated by the same desire. Perhaps perversely, she and I have the same objective; we just have different ways of arriving at it.
I conclude with the words of my noble friend Lady Anelay still ringing in my mind: a watched pot never boils. I think we all agree that this is a situation and a subject where we do not want the pot ever to boil.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken with enormous knowledge and understanding about this issue and who said kind things about the report. We know that in a world of reason and calm these revolting weapons should never be used. Unfortunately, we live in a world full of unreason and emotion, and the only answer is constant and continuous dialogue, engagement and involvement. I hope this report will have made some small contribution in that respect.