This year marks the 25th anniversary of the non-proliferation treaty, which was established to halt the spread of nuclear weapons and to find a way foward to complete nuclear disarmament.
This summer also sees the 50th anniversary of the explosion of two atomic bombs on Japan. On 6 August 1945, an atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, killing more than 140,000 people. Some three days later, another atom bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, killing more than 70,000 people. As someone said, in the central square mile of each one of those cities, nine out of 10 people died; and 90 per cent. of the dead were not soldiers or politicians: they were children, mothers and grey-haired old men and women.
The message that came from a recent anniversary of that bombing was, "Step back and learn from us." Those world leaders who are participating in the nonproliferation treaty conference in New York, which is now drawing to a close, have the opportunity to do just that—to step back and learn not just from that tragedy but from many other tragedies that have afflicted our people over the years.
When the British ambassador commended the non-proliferation treaty to the United Nations General Assembly in 1968, he said:
I cannot prove the nuclear powers' sincerity. An act of faith rather than objective data is required. I accept that when they pledge themselves to pursue negotiations in good faith to end the nuclear arms race at an early date, they mean what they say.
The ambassador was summarising article VI of the non-proliferation treaty, which envisages a world free from the threat of nuclear weapons.
Some 27 years later, the United Nations Secretary-General, opening the non-proliferation treaty conference, said:
The most safe, sure and swift way to deal with the threat of nuclear arms is to do away with them in every regard. This should be our vision of the future. No more testing. No more production. No more sales or transfers. Reduction and destruction of all nuclear weapons and the means to make them should be humanity's common cause.
How does the Government's present proliferation policy stand up against those two comments? For instance, in the debate on the Royal Navy in February this year, the Minister of State for Defence Procurement said:
We all want to work for the reduction and the eventual abolition of nuclear weapons.
That filled me with some optimism, as it complied with article VI of the non-proliferation treaty. But that optimism was quickly dashed because, within seconds, the same Minister said:
One of the main tenets of our policy is that we should retain our nuclear deterrent while any other country in a position to threaten our security possesses a nuclear weapon or the ability to construct a nuclear weapon."—[Official Report, 16 February 1995; Vol. 254, c. 1146.]
That obviously breaks article VI of the non-proliferation treaty.
Some statements, even from those on the Opposition Front Bench, fill me with dismay. Writing about the world's stock of nuclear weapons, the shadow Secretary of State for Defence said:
Until the elimination of these stocks is achieved, Labour will retain Britain's nuclear capability.
Both the Government and the Opposition seem to be saying that Britain will be the last country to give up its nuclear weapons. That is in stark contrast to a decision taken at a recent Labour party conference that we, as a future Government, would, among other things, scrap Trident.
A month ago in Washington, the Prime Minister met President Clinton. The Prime Minister boasted about the continuing closeness of the Anglo-American relationship. He told one journalist:
If you were to spend a weekend on one of our nuclear submarines, you would find a Trident missile on it. I'm not sure you could travel on anyone else's submarine and find a Trident missile on it".
He emphasised that that was a
practical illustration of the extent of the closeness of the defence, security and other relationships between the United Kingdom and the United States".
That "practical illustration", however, is also a violation by both the UK and the United States of America of article I of the non-proliferation treaty, which states:
Each nuclear weapons state, party to the treaty undertakes not to transfer to any recipients whatsoever, nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices, or control over such weapons, or explosive devices, directly, or indirectly.
In a debate in December, my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Simpson) exposed the detailed way in which the British Trident programme was dependent on United States technical support and equipment. The purchase of Trident—those missiles that the Prime Minister referred to on British submarines—is certainly a transfer of a military weapon system.
The examples highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South and, indeed, the Prime Minister are both breaches of article I of the non-proliferation treaty. That is not just my opinion; it is the conclusion of countries such as Mexico, which has expressed that view at the conference that is going on in New York.
What is particularly disgraceful about the continued military co-operation between the United States and the UK is that those countries are two of the three depositary states for the non-proliferation treaty. In effect, the treaty is held in trust by them. How do they show that respect? By breaking the very first article of the treaty.
An argument exists that we should agree to an indefinite extension of the non-proliferation treaty. I am opposed to that, because it would remove any leverage by the non-nuclear powers to pressurise nuclear weapons powers to negotiate nuclear disarmament.
As if being put in the diplomatic dock over US-UK nuclear collaboration were not enough, the Government have colluded to ensure that this country has also violated the second part of article I of the non-proliferation treaty, which reads:
Each nuclear weapon state party to the treaty undertakes not in any way to assist, encourage, or induce, any non nuclear weapon state to manufacture, or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons, or other nuclear explosive devices, or control over such weapons or explosive devices".
Article II of the treaty goes on to establish a complementary commitment by the non-nuclear power states not to receive assistance in nuclear weapons manufacture, or otherwise to acquire nuclear weapons.
It is obviously true that Iraq violated its commitment under article II, as the UN special commission's investigation has made clear, but, according to David Kay, one of the team leaders, the role of British companies was vital to Iraq's efforts to enrich uranium for nuclear warheads. Dr. John Gordon, who was head of the nuclear energy department of the Foreign Office from 1986 to 1988—so one would expect him to know something about these matters—argued in a letter to The Independent on 21 November 1992 that the UK Government were complicit with Iraq in breaching article I.
For example, in February 1989, two years before the fighting in the gulf, the private secretary to the right hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Waldegrave), the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, who was then a junior Foreign Office Minister, wrote to then Foreign Secretary Geoffrey Howe's office, stating:
you may wish to show the Secretary of State the attached papers concerning a potentially politically-sensitive export to Iraq. The machinery in question has legitimate civil uses, but could also be employed in munitions manufacture"—
here is the important and nuclear connection—
or even in uranium enrichment. Mr. Waldegrave's inclination is to support the recommendation that applications are approved. He has commented that screwdrivers are also required to make hydrogen bombs.
Does my hon. Friend recall that, five months before the Gulf war, the then Foreign Secretary told me, in answer to a request to beef up inspections of the Iraqi nuclear programme, that Iraq was a signatory to the non-proliferation treaty? The Government told me that they had full confidence that Iraq would abide by its obligations and that it was not working to manufacture nuclear weapons. If the Gulf war had not taken place, Iraq would have had nuclear weapons by now.
I am following the hon. Gentleman's argument with interest, but does not the intervention of the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) reveal the flaw in that argument? People can sign the treaty, but it would be foolish for to us abandon our weapons in a one-sided manner while people sign the treaty in less than good faith. The Government have said,
We would like to, and will, abandon our weapons, but only when everyone else does so at the same time." That is a sensible position. The one-sided argument always goes against the protection of our nation, and is bizarre.
We cannot continue to tell non-nuclear power states or non-nuclear weapons states that they should not have those weapons of war, if, at the same time, this country does not make any effort to negotiate away its own stock of nuclear weapons. That is an act of hypocrisy on our part. It would be an act of naivety on the part of the non-nuclear power states if they continued to accept such an argument.
Surely it would be naive of us to say, "Look. We will give up all our weapons. Now, of course, the rest of world will do so." As the hon. Member for Newport, West rightly said, if we had not gone to war in Iraq, by now it would have nuclear weapons. Does the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Smith) believe that Iraq would not use them?
We had nuclear weapons, but it did not seem to deter Iraq from going to war. I seem to remember one Mr. Gorbachev some years ago taking some important unilateral initiatives on nuclear disarmament, which had a positive effect throughout the world.
The whole point of my intervention was to stress that the naivety was that of the British Government in the 1980s not beefing up inspection under the treaty. There is nothing wrong with the treaty, and countries such as France and China have engaged in disarmament, but the problem is that we need a treaty that is transparent.
By sheer coincidence, inspection was my next point. The shadow Foreign Secretary, writing in New Statesman and Society, argued for a much tougher regime to enforce compliance with the non-proliferation treaty through inspection at short notice of any nuclear installations, whether or not the state had admitted to their existence. He said that Iraq had got away with its nuclear weapons programme because safeguards were applied only to its officially declared facilities.
That is true, but it is not the full truth. If the major supplier states such as the United States, Germany and Switzerland had not turned a collective blind eye to the export of that equipment to Iraq, sometimes through a third country, intrusive inspections of the assembled equipment would be less of a problem or requirement. As the Scott inquiry has shown, some British Ministers even encouraged support for Iraq's nuclear programme.
In relation to the problem of sensitive technology exports, last week I received a comprehensive report entitled "Proliferation and Export Controls" by Saferworld, a foreign affairs think tank that is based in London. The report highlights huge discrepancies between controls imposed on sensitive or dual-use technology. It shows, for instance, that, of the 73 countries designated as "sensitive" for exports by Germany, Japan, the United States and the UK, only 30 appeared on all four countries' restricted list. If the Minister has read that report, will he please comment on those findings?
In New York, the Foreign Secretary announced that the United Kingdom had ceased production of fissile materials for explosive purposes. That decision is full of loopholes, the first of which is that, for nearly 20 years, the main feedstock for new British warheads has been recycled plutonium from dismantled warheads.
Does the Minister agree that the thremal oxide reprocessing plant—THORP—will add tens of thousands of kilograms of plutonium to the stockpile, which at Sellafield already amounts to 80,000 kg? Is not THORP's significant reprocessing capacity bound to add to the safeguards problem? Does the hon. Gentleman agree with an editorial in the Financial Times, which said:
Efforts also need to be made to curb production of reactor grade plutonium, produced by plants such as THORP, since this can readily be converted into bombs, using modern technology"?
The second loophole in Britain's offer to halt military fissile material production results from the so-called tripartite agreement between Euratom and the International Atomic Energy Agency. For example, Parliament was told in 1983 that article XIV of the agreement allowed for the withdrawal of civil material from the safeguards for reasons of national security. In January 1994, I was told that the Government had activated that clause 571 times since May 1979, and that 70 of those withdrawals involved plutonium.
We also know, because of an admission by the American Government last June, that reactor grade plutonium has been tested in a nuclear weapon. Will the Minister block that loophole? Otherwise, THORP and Sellafield will remain a huge potential plutonium mine for the military.
The third loophole is provided by the recent extension for a further 10 years of the clauses of the 1958 mutual defence agreement on atomic energy, which allows the United States and the United Kingdom to barter explosive nuclear materials. That loophole allows each country to make up any perceived nuclear explosive material shortfall in the other, and unless it is closed it will undermine the non-proliferation goals of the cut-off convention.
An Indian defence expert said of the non-proliferation treaty:
Ultimately it comes to a single issue. In today's world do we still need weapons of mass destruction? Should terror be the only way to achieve stability? Do we still need to divide countries on whether they possess destructive weapons and assign separate duties and responsibilities? Would such a division in perpetuity be in the interest of the world?
Finally, I pay tribute to all the organisations, such as Greenpeace, the Acronym Consortium and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, that are still campaigning for a world free from the threat of nuclear weapons—especially CND, which is continuing the argument in connection with the present non-proliferation treaty conference.
Next week, on 10, 11 and 12 May, not many yards away from Parliament, Janet Bloomfield will fast for a nuclear-free world. I am sure that all hon. Friends and hon. Members will want to give Janet all the support possible, and then to join her and other members of CND in marching to the French embassy to protest against nuclear testing.
In my opinion, nuclear weapons constitute the most important issue that the House could consider. There is an obligation on each and every one of us to ensure that in the months and years ahead something positive comes out of the treaty, so that we can leave to our children a planet at least as beautiful and as safe as the one that we inherited.
The hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Smith) spoke with integrity and honesty, which one can respect. He has honestly told us that he has not changed his views over the years; they remain the same as they were 20 years ago. I agree with what he said about wishing to pass on a planet and a country as beautiful and as nice to live in as they are now—indeed, I hope that they may be better.
However, the hon. Gentleman has totally missed the point. I did not intend to speak in the debate, but I am spurred to do so by his comments. At no stage did he mention the possibility that the defence of the United Kingdom might be important to its inhabitants. He never said that the odd threat and the odd danger existed beyond the shores of the United Kingdom, and that those threats might not respond to the logic and charm of his speech.
The defence of the United Kingdom is possibly the most important role of any Government of whatever political hue. The defence of the realm has always been stated to be the first business of Government.
The hon. Gentleman implies that, by possessing nuclear weapons, the United Kingdom poses a threat to world peace. History reveals that that is not true. Since we have had nuclear weapons—we have had them for nearly 50 years now—we have neither deployed them nor threatened to use them. We have kept them in the background; we have spoken softly but carried a big stick, which we could use if we were ever threatened.
The hon. Gentleman talks about the possibility of using nuclear weapons. Would he be willing to press the button to start them off? If so, what would be the consequences, and what would be the possibility of leaving our children a safer world than the one that we inherited? Finally, at whom does he think those nuclear weapons would be pointed and fired?
The hon. Gentleman may know that I spent 15 years in the British Army. During that time, my view was that, when nuclear weapons were used it would be time to pack up and go home, because that would be the end of it. The question of first use is interesting, and the Government have been right never to say, "We shall never use nuclear weapons first," because, if one does that, one gives away the whole purpose of having the weapons. Instead, we say, "We have nuclear weapons; I trust that nobody will wish to use them against us."
Nuclear weapons are a deterrent only if the other side knows that one is willing to use them. The hon. Gentleman has just admitted that, if he were responsible, he would refuse to press the button, so nuclear weapons cannot be a deterrent. It is as simple as that.
The hon. Gentleman is wrong. I did not say that I would not use nuclear weapons if I were responsible. I said that, personally, I would not use them at the moment. However, the Government must maintain a bland face and say, "We have nuclear weapons. They are there to be used if necessary." Of course the Government must say that. Otherwise, we might just as well not have nuclear weapons.
The Government have never used nuclear weapons, nor have they threatened to use them. Over the past 50 years, although it may have escaped the hon. Gentleman's notice, we have not been invaded, and we have lived in peace—an advantage that our parents, grandparents and even our great grandparents never enjoyed. Surely that points to some flaw in the hon. Gentleman's argument that nuclear weapons cause war and are a threat to peace. We have enjoyed peace partly because of nuclear deterrence.
May I remind the hon. Gentleman that the debate is about the conference on the extension of the non-proliferation treaty, and the extent to which the world recognises that the proliferation of nuclear weapons is a threat to global stability? May I take him back to his experience in the armed forces, and ask him whether, in the multiplicity of civil and regional wars, of which he will have much closer knowledge than I, he can identify one context in which the United Kingdom's possession of nuclear weapons helped to deter or to end such wars?
I am well aware that we are discussing the nuclear non-proliferation treaty—that is the point: we already possess nuclear weapons. Nobody would wish to see the spread of nuclear weapons—I am sure that the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent would agree with that. I wish to see them reduced.
The hon. Gentleman asked whether the United Kingdom's possession of nuclear weapons had ever prevented war in regional conflicts. We have not been involved in a war which might have needed nuclear weapons, or called for them to be used, because we have possessed them. It is self-evident—we did not come to blows with the former Soviet Union, despite its evangelical creed of pushing revolution and communism around the world.
The former Soviet Union says so. Documents from the former Soviet Union reveal how generals were planning to invade the west. They may have been lunatic generals, but they were generals in the former Soviet Union. Those plans were never put into effect, because we stood firm and did not say, "Of course we will not defend ourselves."
We had to have nuclear weapons then against a tangible threat. What is the threat now? The hon. Gentleman mentioned proliferation. The threat lies with countries such as Iraq, which the hon. Gentleman mentioned and which has been working for nuclear weapons for many years. I think that it was in 1980 that Israel bombed a nuclear plant in Iraq for that very reason.
We all wish to get rid of nuclear weapons. The Minister of State for Defence Procurement said:
We all want to work for the reduction and the eventual abolition of nuclear weapons."—[Official Report, 16 February 1995; Vol. 254, c. 1146.]
I agree with that, and, as a soldier, I would certainly have wished to see that. It is not much fun being a soldier in a noddy suit quietly frying away in a nuclear holocaust, any more than it would be for a child in the street.
We talk about reducing our nuclear weapons, and it is right that we should not know the exact numbers we possess—in Britain they amount to a few hundred nuclear warheads. The states of the former Soviet Union and the United States of America have thousands of warheads. As they start to negotiate a reduction in their warheads, it is right and proper that we should look at our numbers. We do not form an entity with the United States of America; we are a separate country—I know that all Opposition Members would agree with that. We must take into account our own interests, which are to protect ourselves.
The hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent showed an astonishing naivety. His speech revealed that, over the past 20, 30, or 50 years, some people have learnt nothing. It is evident that CND has learnt nothing from the recent past. The hon. Gentleman's speech could have been made at any time in the past 30 years; it took no account of the collapse of the Soviet Union or the deployment of cruise missiles.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman and his friends in CND would and did argue against the deployment of cruise missiles, which, as has been revealed and as history will judge, was one of the factors that led to the breakdown of the Soviet Union as a major and threatening power.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would have opposed the Gulf war in 1991—he will correct me if I am wrong. His naivety is again revealed. What would Saddam Hussein have done if he had been allowed to continue invading, and controlled 40 per cent. of the world's oil reserves? He would have built nuclear weapons and used them against us. Contrary to what the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues may think, Saddam Hussein is not a charming, cuddly teddy hear, but an extremely unpleasant dictator.
I thank that hon. Gentleman for his comment—perhaps the Labour party's Front-Bench team will listen carefully to what he said.
Will the hon. Gentleman cast his mind back to 1987 and 1988, when a very small number of Labour Back Benchers, including myself, were actively arguing for an arms embargo against Iraq and were raising the issues of human rights and chemical warfare in Iraq, and the attack on Halabjah and the treatment of the Kurdish people by Iraq? The British Government said that trade came first, and they would not introduce a trade embargo or anything else against Iraq. 'The hon. Gentleman should think a little bit about the history before making facile comments about the current position.
I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for his integrity over the subject, for adopting an approach that is straight down the line, and for always holding that line. There are many countries with whom we might not have been trading. Perhaps we should never have traded with the Soviet Union as a whole, especially as we hear more awful tales coming out of the gulag. Would the hon. Gentleman say that we must not trade with China, which is employing fearsome and unpleasant tactics? We should not have been arming Iraq, and we did not.
The hon. Gentleman said that my comments were facile. I went to Iraq with the British Army in 1991, and I saw a vast array of weaponry in Iraq and Kuwait that was used by the Iraqi forces. But I saw no British weapons. I saw French Pumas, many MiGs, a vast array of eastern bloc, Soviet Union tanks, but no British weaponry. I know that the supergun was stopped here by the Government. We did not arm Iraq.
The hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) tries to throw dirt at his own country and say that it was our fault. I was injected against fearful things, such as anthrax, which Saddam Hussein might have used. The idea that anthrax could have been used in warfare is so horrific as to be almost unthinkable, but Saddam Hussein would have used it. It did not come from Britain. His chemical warfare potential came not from Britain, but from other countries. Instead of for ever running down his own country, the hon. Gentleman might consider the record of history, which will prove us right.
There is an endless litany of equipment that Britain supplied to Iraq, including tank tracks, the precursor chemicals for both chemical and biological weapons, radar equipment and sophisticated heat-seeking equipment. There is a range of equipment, that I could list until the end of the debate. The hon. Gentleman is entirely wrong to suggest that Britain did not supply Saddam Hussein with a range of weapons of war.
The hon. Gentleman says that there is a list, I cannot comment on the exact details of the equipment, as I cannot extract them from my memory, but the hon. Gentleman's list in terms of quantity and worth is nonsense. We did not supply Saddam Hussein with the bulk of his weaponry, which was from the eastern bloc. I wish that we could hear the hon. Gentleman condemn the eastern bloc and those countries that supplied Saddam Hussein.
We were discussing nuclear proliferation. I am glad to see that no Opposition Member has denied that Saddam Hussein is keen on having nuclear weapons, that he is difficult to pin down and untrustworthy. That is why I say that the fact that they would have opposed the Gulf war shows great naivety. They would have let Saddam Hussein build up his nuclear arsenal, and would have seen him use it.
I shall go back further than the Gulf war and the second world war, to disarmament in the 1930s. Most people would say that disarmament in Britain in the 1930s acted as a signal to the powers of the Axis that perhaps Britain was not interested in fighting. The House will recall the famous Oxford union debate, where it was said that disarmament acted as a great signal to Hitler that this House would not fight for king and country.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the left in this country, including Michael Foot, were actively engaged in calling for collective security against fascism, and that the Conservative Government appeased Nazism at that time—just as Conservative Governments are inclined to appease brutal regimes such as the Chinese regime today?
I would not accept that. I would say that the hon. Gentleman's reading of history is slightly flawed—very flawed, in fact. I have a history degree, and I can assure him that that is not the way that I read it. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman has a history degree. However, let us not get bogged down.
Just as in the 1930s those who argued for disarmament were wrong, so in the 1990s those who say that we should one-sidedly, unilaterally, disarm are wrong. Yes, we would all like to see a world without war, particularly nuclear war, but the world is not like that.
How pleasant it would be if, for once, Opposition Members put the defence of the United Kingdom at the top of their list, instead of for ever knocking the Government and suggesting that there must be something wrong because the Government retain weapons that can defend the United Kingdom. I too would like to see nuclear proliferation stopped. I would like our nuclear weapons to be reduced as they are reduced around the world, and if it were possible to abolish them completely, that would be welcome.
Today, we have again seen the true face of the Labour party. I am grateful to Opposition Members for revealing that what we have read about Labour party policy is not the same as that which really dwells on the Back Benches of the Labour party.
I am glad to be able to make a brief contribution to the debate. I will be brief because other hon. Members wish to speak. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Smith) on obtaining the debate, and on his speech opening it.
I shall make my position clear at the beginning. I have been a member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament for many years, and I am a member of its national council. I support Labour party policy, as expressed at our most recent conference, on scrapping Trident.
The debate is supposed to be about the non-proliferation treaty, but not very much of the last speech was about it. It seems that the indefinite extension of the treaty is likely to be presented to us as a success. We need to ask whether the indefinite extension of the treaty, without any changes in the policies that have been adopted through the past 25 years of its existence, represents success, and whether we should not instead say that, positive though the treaty has been, we should move forward, to change and develop those policies.
The fundamental problem, as my hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent pointed out, is the contradiction in the policies of the major nuclear powers, including the UK. We tell other countries who are potential proliferators that they must not have nuclear weapons, that they are not legitimate and unnecessary for their security. Yet at the same time, we pursue policies that say that we cannot have security without nuclear weapons. That is a fundamental contradiction.
As has been pointed out already, in the past few years, we have not merely retained the nuclear weapons we had. Trident itself was proliferation, because it has more warheads and more targets can be hit. Of course the yield of nuclear weapons was higher in the 1970s, but Trident can hit six times as many targets as Polaris. The recent announcements that we will scrap the free-fall bomb and that we will not produce new fissile materials seem to be designed more to persuade some people at the NPT conference to accept indefinite extension rather than as a real change of policy.
What about security guarantees? Why is it that we are not prepared to give unconditional guarantees of no first use against non-nuclear states? The statement on 5 April by the UK and other nuclear powers still contains a long, long list of exceptions. It may be argued that, by guaranteeing security for countries potentially threatened by nuclear-armed enemies, we are persuading them that they do not need to develop their own nuclear weapons. I believe that the only context in which that argument might possibly have been valid was in the situation that existed during the cold war.
Over the past few years, did close relationships with the US or the existence of the non-proliferation treaty prevent Israel or Pakistan from developing nuclear weapons? Why will those states not admit that they are nuclear powers? Why do such states seek nuclear capability? Israel still refuses to admit to such a capability, even though Mordecai Vanunu has spent years in solitary confinement for exposing Israel's nuclear programme. It wanted to acquire nuclear weapons because of its regional and local conflicts.
Consider what the Foreign Secretary said recently about the need to resist aggression having taken this country to war four times this century:
looking at the world as it is now … I am driven to the conclusion that most of the difficult choices facing us will in future arise not from acts of aggression, hut from disasters within a nation state."— [Official Report, 23 February 1993; Vol. 219, c. 773.]
I would suggest that it is not only disasters within nation states but regional conflicts that present the greatest problems.
We can imagine the dangers of proliferation to countries where the potential proliferators are neighbours with long histories of conflict. Iraq has already been mentioned. Iraq was crushed, but, as has been pointed out, if it had not invaded Kuwait, Iraq would have had nuclear weapons by now.
What would be the potential for conflict in Israel or Pakistan if their neighbours had nuclear weapons? That is precisely the sort of situation we may well be faced with if proliferation is not stopped. Mass proliferation has not happened yet, but I do not believe that that should give us confidence that it will not happen in future.
We are dealing with what is now an old technology. There are massive stocks of plutonium and evidence of illegal trading in it. One of the basic flaws in the existing non-proliferation treaty is that its emphasis leads to the export of nuclear technologies for power generation. It is one of the trade-offs of the NPT that countries such as North Korea are told not to develop nuclear weapons, but that we will help them acquire nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.
That ignores the very thin dividing lines, if such dividing lines exist at all, between so-called civil and military plutonium. Such dividing lines exist more on paper and in facile arguments than in reality. As my hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent pointed out, the US Department of Energy has now admitted that a nuclear test was carried out in 1962 using so-called civil plutonium.
The major weakness of the present approach is the failure clearly to link an extension of the non-proliferation treaty with disarmament. I believe, with my hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent, that we need a limited extension but to attach other targets to it, such as a global treaty to ban nuclear weapons, treaties to halt production of fissile materials, tighter control of existing stocks, better inspections, and the deployment of the nuclear weapons that exist only in the territories of the states that own them.
We should not continue the present double standards and the stance of saying that Trident is not open to negotiation, or is only negotiable when the numbers of weapons held by the US and Russia are down to hundreds. That is saying that we will never negotiate, because by the time that that happens, Trident will probably be obsolete.
At the moment, we do not have from the Government a commitment to negotiate. They are back-tracking from any serious suggestion of disarmament. A tremendous opportunity is being missed in the period in which we are considering the extension of the non-proliferation treaty.
That is good of you.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Smith) on securing a debate on the non-proliferation treaty. There is a remarkable sense of honesty in the debate. I had heard many of his final remarks before: although he did not express any new ideas, his views were are at least honestly outlined. I have been aware for some time, too, of the concerns expressed by the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard).
I have believed for a long time that the non-proliferation treaty has been passed by. Discussing it is rather like watching the horse when it has already bolted. I read an article a year ago which said that we must face the fact that proliferation has taken place and is taking place. There is no possibility that we can somehow restrict the possession of nuclear weapons to a small club. In the next five or seven years, that will be shown to be manifestly impossible.
I am fully aware that there is a chain of proliferation, and at its apex are North Korea and China. There is no question but that they have been busily pushing technology out and taking money in. North Korea has been developing nuclear weapons for a considerable time and, to all intents and purposes, it is highly probable that it has at least five nuclear devices capable of being used—not just computer models but laboratory nuclear devices. One definitely exists.
My concern is not simply that such devices stay in North Korea; I am worried about the links with the middle east, Iraq and Iran have been busy funding North Korea's nuclear programme. Iran itself has a nuclear technology programme worth some £500 million a year and has been funding the North Koreans to use that technology.
Another aspect of the problem, which has not been mentioned but which is equally dangerous, is the capability to launch nuclear weapons. North Korea has been engaged in a phenomenal ballistic missile-building programme. It is busy producing a missile called the NoDong II, which will have a range of more than 2,000 km and will probably be capable of being used in the next five years. Iran has a very serious interest in that missile, because it has funded it. I believe that Iran and possibly Iraq have been used as a testing range for some launches, because North Korea does not have a suitable land mass on which to carry out tests.
Coupled with that link is the fact that the old Soviet Union is very unstable. We are not quite sure whether only nuclear weapons have changed hands. Even more devastating is the fact that some of the former Soviet Union's scientists are short of money and underfunded, and are capable of transferring their technology.
There is absolutely no question but that proliferation has taken place. Last year, the ex-Premier of Pakistan admitted that Pakistan had a nuclear device. It was hotly denied, but I believe that it has at least a laboratory device.
The big question is, what is to be done? The hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent and his colleagues will no doubt say, quite honestly and reasonably, that we should aim for a complete abolition of nuclear weapons. It is a laudable view, which I should support if I believed for one moment we could achieve it. I should be the first to say that that would be the perfect scenario, but it is not feasible.
How are we to safeguard our future? The situation will become more dangerous in the next seven or eight years, as very unstable regimes obtain a nuclear capability and—even more dangerous for western Europe—the capability to launch nuclear weapons. We need to face the fact that unstable regimes will possess nuclear weapons—it is not a question of if or even how, but when. The ladder of escalation needs to be considered. We might accept that the non-proliferation treaty is a laudable and serious attempt to restrict and slow down that process, but it will not stop it.
I have yet to hear any spokesman deal with the problem of what a country should do when it knows that an unstable regime is about to possess nuclear capability or is capable of making a threat. If a country in those circumstances has nuclear weapons, should it make some form of pre-emptive strike? Could it make a non-nuclear pre-emptive strike? Is the possession of nuclear weapons necessary for a pre-emptive strike?
We must consider whether we would go all the way and use nuclear weapons. The Opposition have yet to answer such questions. That is the debate in which we should engage, not a wishy-washy, "Should we or shouldn't we?" but, "When it happens, will we be prepared to use nuclear weapons?" The possession of such weapons is of no use unless we have the will to use them. If we possess nuclear weapons, we must make it clear that we are prepared to use them; otherwise, we might as well not possess them.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent for providing the opportunity to debate this subject.
I was interested to hear what the hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Duncan Smith) said, and I shall respond to just two of the points he raised.
First, the hon. Gentleman asked whether we should be prepared to use nuclear weapons in a pre-emptive move against states that are in breach of the non-proliferation treaty or which threaten to breach it. The answer has to be an unequivocal no. I have never heard anyone, in the House or elsewhere, suggest that the way to deal, for instenace, with Israel's breach of the NPT in acquiring its own nuclear weapons would be to nuke it.
Secondly, we need to deal with the international community's failure to have an interventionist, monitoring regime which acts to halt the supply of information and technology related to the building, development and testing of nuclear materials. We must set the debate in that context.
I wish clearly to outline my position. I unequivocally support a limited extension of the NPT, and I speak unapologetically as a member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. It is important at least to put on record some of what is being said in the current conference on extension, but which is not being admitted in the House by Ministers.
I am grateful to Greenpeace in particular for its monitoring of the conference. It is worth reading into the record the opening of its latest brief about the state of the negotiations:
The Nuclear Weapons States, particularly the UK and France, have come in for some heavy criticism at the NPT talks in New York. As delegates debate review language in closed committees, there is growing concern about the high-handed attitudes of the United Kingdom and France, and the fact that they see no need to agree stronger measures for the implementation of their own obligations, particularly under Article VI of the Treaty. These criticisms are not just coming from the non-aligned countries, but also from a number of Western and EU countries.
That is the context in which the real debates in the extension conference are taking place.
The Foreign Secretary did not tell us that a series of other demands were being made, often by European colleagues as well as non-aligned states. For instance, Sweden and Switzerland have been demanding that there should be a timetable for nuclear disarmament. Germany, in the form of comments by Klaus Kinkel, its Foreign Minister, has demanded that something be done about the inclusion of existing stockpiles of civil nuclear materials in the negotiation and treaty framework. He said:
hundreds of tonnes of spare plutonium must be reliably monitored. I repeat in this context my proposal for an international plutonium regime. Let us seize the chance which will not come again to ban the bomb".
The non-aligned countries are putting a different slant on things. At their recent meeting in Indonesia, from 25 to 27 April, the ministerial group of the non-aligned countries expressed its deep concern about the failure of nuclear weapons states to adhere fully to their obligations under the current treaty. The vast majority of non-aligned states are pushing for an alternative to indefinite extension.
Zimbabwe in many ways expressed the view that is held as a common-sense understanding in the non-aligned and non-nuclear states when it said:
we should not hurry to immortalise a clearly imperfect treaty … we should seriously consider extension options only after the NPT has been adequately transformed into an action-orientated instrument that will guide us progressively towards total nuclear disarmament.
Those are the views being expressed in the conference which our Government are not reporting, and certainly not supporting.
The sadness in all this is that we are also adopting a position in the negotiations in which we seek to deny or dismiss the criticisms specifically levelled at the United Kingdom. In the non-nuclear world, it is readily understood that the acquisition of Trident is an act of proliferation; that reprocessing, whether of the WE177 warheads or of civil plutonium, is proliferation by stealth; and that the 1977 treaty on nuclear safeguards, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Smith) referred, has specifically identified 70 occasions on which the UK has raided its civil plutonium stocks for military purposes.
It is clear that the Anglo-American mutual defence agreement, on which I managed to get a Consolidated Fund debate, has been used by us as a means to disregard the commitments that we entered into under the original non-proliferation treaty. The 10-year extension for the barter arrangements between us and America is specifically for
special nuclear material for all development of, or use in atomic weapons.
All these are ways in which we, as part of a privileged club, are totally disregarding the obligations we solemnly entered into.
Yesterday, a paper was presented by the chairman of main committee 1 in the NPT negotiations. He said:
The conference notes that among States Parties there are variations in the interpretation of certain aspects of Articles I and II which need clarification, especially regarding the obligations of nuclear-weapon States Parties among themselves, and when acting in co-operation with groups of non-nuclear-weapon States Parties under regional arrangements which may have resulted in transfer of nuclear weapons in violation of the spirit of the objective of Article I.
Under the mutual defence agreement, there has been a new development, in which we are actively involved in simulation nuclear testing. The weight of opinion among non-nuclear weapon states is that this is not a standstill or status quo. For nuclear weapon states to shift the basis of their testing to sophisticated, computerised simulation models is regarded as an act of proliferation in breach of the existing treaty.
We need to send the Foreign Secretary back into the NPT negotiations, and to get the United Kingdom to set out four key positions, for which we should argue and to which we should adhere. The first is for a limited extension of the treaty. The second is a commitment to no use of recyclable nuclear materials or current stocks for nuclear weapons purposes.
The third is a timetable for reverse proliferation. That is not a utopian waving of wands, saying that all nuclear weapons would go, but a timetable for reverse proliferation which would head towards such a global ban on nuclear weapons. In that sense, we would all welcome the Labour party policy of banning Trident.
Fourthly, we would have to have a commitment to a broader international regime to assist the movement of states away from dependence on nuclear power. That is the comprehensive framework in which the NPT extension treaty should now be considered.
I shall speak in defence of the non-proliferation treaty and for its indefinite extension. It is important that those who, like me, are critical of the inadequacies of the NPT do not throw the baby out with the bath water. The Select Committee on Foreign Affairs took extensive evidence in its inquiry into the non-proliferation treaty from a number of organisations including not only the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, but the Atlantic Council.
The people from the Atlantic Council believe that this country needs to keep nuclear weapons for ever, yet they argued the same line, from a completely different perspective, as that of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. They argued not for an indefinite extension, but for a limited extension, because they saw an indefinite extension of the NPT as a measure against the continuation of nuclear weapons rather than as a measure that would facilitate that continuation.
If we have only a limited extension of the NPT, there will be a serious temptation towards proliferation over the next 10 to 15 years. The number of countries that have acquired nuclear weapons over the past few years has been lower than was predicted in the 1960s or 1970s. I believe that the NPT has contributed to that restraint. That does not mean that the NPT is a perfect treaty—far from it.
The obligations under article VI, which have already been mentioned, are not being fulfilled by the nuclear weapons states. Some nuclear weapons states, principally the former Soviet Union and the United States, have made steps towards the disarmament of nuclear weapons. Other nuclear weapon states have got rid of obsolete systems, as our Government have, and have shown no real desire to make a commitment to the process.
Within the NPT negotiations, the British Government's position would be more comfortable if they had shifted their stance on a comprehensive test ban treaty, and if the Foreign Secretary, when giving evidence to our Select Committee a few weeks ago, had not ruled out a complete, indefinite ban on the testing of British nuclear weapons.
It seems that the British Government have stopped nuclear testing only because the Americans have stopped theirs, and because they no longer allow the Nevada test facility to be available. If someone else made a facility available, or if the Americans changed their position, our Government would presumably be prepared to start testing again. Perhaps the Minister will refer to this point. It is important that we get a clear, unambiguous statement that Britain will no longer test nuclear weapons, and that we support an early comprehensive test ban treaty.
My hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) mentioned security assurances. It appears that, as a result of some international and domestic criticism, our Government have shifted their position slightly over recent weeks. They have similarly shifted their position on the hydro-testing of nuclear weapons. It could be that they are feeling the heat internationally. Good.
Our existing position of saying, "Don't do as we do, do as we say," is untenable and immoral. If, as a signatory of the non-proliferation treaty, we believe in steps towards the complete elimination of nuclear weapons, it ill becomes us to be so grudging about including our nuclear capabilities in disarmament negotiations. We should move towards giving guarantees and assurances to non-nuclear weapon states following the end of the cold war.
Other hon. Members have referred to the cold war. If we are honest, we should admit that we all got it wrong. No one, including the advocates of massive arms build-ups, the advocates of unilateralism and the advocates of other points of view, could have predicted in 1986 or 1987 what would happen three years later.
None of us could predict what was going to happen, so it is ridiculous to try to score points off each other based on hindsight. No one predicted the fall of the Berlin wall or the end of the cold war. In such circumstances, it is important that we use a little humility, and acknowledge that the international situation is complex. We therefore need to work together to try to create a safer and more peaceful world.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Smith) on obtaining this important debate covering a number of issues. Let me make it clear at the beginning of my speech that the Labour party is very much committed to the non-proliferation treaty and to an indefinite extension of it. That should be placed on record, because it is a matter of practical fact that the world in which we live is still an extremely dangerous place.
We may have seen an end to the arms race between the super-powers, but it is recognised throughout the international community that there is still danger from existing stocks of nuclear weapons and weapons grade material, from proliferation in new states, to which hon. Members of all parties have referred, and from proliferation in terrorist groups and maverick bodies.
The non-proliferation treaty has been a success—but not an absolute success. President Kennedy envisaged in 1962 that, within a few years, there would be 20 or 30 new nuclear states. The treaty and the spirit which underlies it may have prevented the world from realising that view. For example, Brazil and Argentina have concluded a mutual pact, and Argentina has subscribed to the NPT; South Africa has taken the step to dismantle its nuclear programme; and, with the break-up of the former Soviet Union, Kazakhstan and Ukraine have acceded to the treaty. Those moves can be counted as real successes of the treaty.
Of course there have also been failures. We have seen the growth of nuclear activity in the middle east. Certainly, the state of Israel possesses nuclear weapons, and Iraq and—arguably—Iran were seeking to go down the same path. There is little doubt, too, that, in the Indian sub-continent, India and Pakistan are nuclear-capable. In those respects, the success of the treaty has been limited. Nevertheless, we should count it as a success. We should recognise the nature of the bargain that underlies the treaty, which is always pointed out; whereby those states without nuclear weapons, which accept that they will not move to nuclear weapons capacity, accept in turn that the nuclear weapon states will take active steps under article IV to begin to dismantle their own capabilities.
Britain could have gone to the 20th anniversary conference of the treaty offering political and moral leadership to the world. Instead, at every stage, Britain has been dragged grudgingly to that conference, and has been forced at a very late stage to make concessions. While we welcome those concessions, they are not signs of a nation in the lead in the debate. Sadly, they are signs of a country lagging behind world opinion.
When the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs recently asked the Foreign Secretary whether he foresaw an era in which Britain may not possess nuclear weapons, he said:
I do not actually see any particular motive on our part to change that situation and I do not feel any particular pressure from others, either other nuclear weapon states or non-nuclear weapon states, to change it either.
Contrast those words with the many comments made at the conference in New York. For example, the Australians said:
We must press ahead toward the goal of elimination of nuclear weapons",
and the South Africans commented:
The time may also be right for considering whether the arsenals of the other Nuclear Weapon States"—
they are Britain, France and China—
should not be included in this process.
The world expects de-escalation and Britain to play a stronger role than we have previously played.
The world welcomes some steps taken by the Government. We welcome the fact that, at the moment, there is a moratorium on nuclear testing. My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Gapes) asked a question to which I hope the Minister will respond forcibly: what is the Government's exact position on testing of nuclear weapons?
We know that, as recently as January, the Foreign Secretary was not prepared to give a commitment to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee. Let us put the position unequivocally on the record, as of today. Will Britain play a leading and constructive role in the pursuit of a test ban treaty, rather than, as it has done in the recent past, frustrate progress?
Of course we welcome a cessation of the production of fissile material. That is an important step, for which the Opposition have been calling for some time. I do not want to sound negative, but, for the indefinite future, Britain's stocks of nuclear grade material will allow us to provide all the warheads needed for any programme—real or foreseen—introduced by the present or, indeed, any future Government.
We also welcome the decommissioning of the WE177 free-fall bombs, but it must be said that those weapons systems were obsolete, and that, once Trident is fully deployed, the simple truth is that we shall have more warheads at our disposal, and certainly more capacity to target different sites, than we had at the end of the cold war.
Progress has been very limited. Indeed, when it was proposed that the European Union communiqué to be put to the conference in New York should include the words
The conference welcomed also the significant reductions by France and the UK in their nuclear programmes",
even our close allies—the Swedes, the Irish and the Austrians—were not prepared to accept them. They felt that the progress made by our Government was grudging and not enough.
In the time remaining, I shall describe where the threats to the world lie, what the Labour party wants from this Government, and what a Labour Government will put into practice.
We know that the threat of proliferation is still real. We saw in the case of Iraq, to which my hon. Friends have referred, that the British Government were extremely complacent in the way in which they allowed the development of nuclear systems by the Iraqi regime. It is no good Ministers saying in moments of high hypocrisy that they somehow dealt with that situation. The world was complacent in the extreme, because it was not prepared to fund the International Atomic Energy Agency and give it the capacity by which to ensure that the inspection system needed was provided. We must learn from those lessons.
When the Foreign Affairs Select Committee asked the Foreign Secretary about funding of the IAEA, he said:
As you know, our general policy towards funding of UN agencies is one of seeking to maintain zero real growth and that remains our objective.
Despite the fact that he went on to say that he recognised that, in the context of the agency's work, it would be necessary to review the situation, we need a guarantee that the agency will be given the funding it needs to do the work that the world demands.
We also need guarantees on the challenge inspection system, which worked in the context of North Korea, to which the hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Duncan-Smith) referred. In fact, the lessons of Iraq and the challenge system provoked the crisis which led to a change in the situation with respect to North Korea. We have to recognise—
If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I shall not give way.
We must recognise the need for that tough challenge inspection system and a properly funded IAEA.
We must also recognise another threat. We know that there have been three major interceptions of weapons grade material coming out of the former Soviet Union, so we need to work with our international partners and Russia to ensure that that threat diminishes. We need a regime to begin to control stocks of weapons grade material in Russia, the former Soviet Union and, more generally, throughout the world because the accessibility and availability of such material threatens the world through proliferation to states and maverick organisations.
Let me say clearly what a Labour Government would do. A Labour Government would want to limit the number of warheads on Trident to those on the present Polaris system. We would want to ensure that the world was aware of the situation with respect to warheads. The kind of secrecy that the Government have displayed, which allows the Russians to respond with equivalent secrecy, has no place in the role played by article IV and general nuclear de-escalation. That is a message which the Government should take on board. We want proper security assurances. The Government's waffle words at the New York conference are inadequate. They do not lead to the confidence building which the non-aligned states and the non-nuclear weapon states demand.
A Labour Government would make it clear that there would be no first use of nuclear weapons. Nor would nuclear weapons be used against non-nuclear weapon states. The Minister would do well to contemplate that, and respond with the Government's position.
A Labour Government would ensure that we supported efforts to secure proper international obligations and control over stocks of weapons grade material. We need such international mechanisms, and Britain would play its part by being clear about its stocks. A Labour Government would ensure that we had an International Atomic Energy Agency capable, and properly funded, to do the job that the world demands.
In addition, let me make it clear that a Labour Government would work very closely with countries like South Africa in pushing for a standing consultative committee to ensure that the problems that arise from time to time are brought before that committee on an on-going basis, instead of having to wait for the regular five-yearly review. The Minister would do well to explain the Government's position in that regard, but not in terms of the waffle words of recent parliamentary answers.
In the brief moments that I have had to comment on behalf of the Labour party, I wanted to contrast the incompetence of this Government, who have signally failed in their duty to the country and to the world, and who have failed to give any political or moral leadership at the conference in New York, with what a Labour Government would have done and what Labour says could have been done. I assure the House that, with a Labour Government, the non-proliferation treaty would be in much safer hands than it has been under this Government.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Smith) on obtaining the debate. He maintains an honourable tradition for his constituency in doing so. I also welcome the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd), who made his first speech as spokesman on this subject. I thought that it was a good outing.
However, from listening to the hon. Member for Stretford after listening to Labour Back Benchers, it became clear that, between them, they revealed the tortured soul of the Labour party on nuclear deterrent issues—[Interruption.] Unless, of course, the hon. Member for Stretford thinks that the Labour party has no soul.
I am afraid that I cannot, as I have only nine minutes to cover many points. I apologise for that.
The hon. Member for Stretford concluded by trying to contrast the Government with the Labour party. He more effectively contrasted the pretences on the Labour Front Bench with the realities on the Back Benches.
This morning's debate clearly showed that nearly all hon. Members consider the non-proliferation treaty to be crucial. Several hon. Members, particularly the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Gapes), made honest speeches on that. I want to set out the Government's position at this point, just over halfway through the non-proliferation treaty review and extension conference in New York. In doing so, I hope that I can answer as many as possible of the questions that have been raised.
By the time the conference ends on 12 May, we hope that we will have achieved our objective of indefinite extension to the treaty, either by consensus or with a substantial majority. The number of states that favour indefinite extension is growing all the time. All states belonging to the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe—formerly the CSCE—favour indefinite extension, as now do a growing number of non-aligned countries.
Why is indefinite extension so important? Twenty-five years ago, when the treaty came into being, it was widely expected that 20 or 30 states would acquire nuclear weapons. The hon. Member for Stretford raised that point. Clearly, that has not happened. The hon. Members for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) and for Ilford, South stressed the value of the NPT in that process.
In a world of ever greater risk, the treaty provides a framework of stability and predictability essential to the continued control of proliferation, as well as to further efforts towards disarmament and peaceful uses of nuclear energy. The hon. Member for Stretford itemised some of the gains, so I will not repeat them, as he made those points very well.
Anything less than indefinite extension could imply termination of the treaty in 25, 15, or even 10 years' time. We have to consider what message that that would convey to a potential proliferator, or indeed—given that they were mentioned so many times by Opposition Members—to Israel, India and Pakistan, whose accession to the treaty we all fervently desire.
It would be much more difficult to consider further steps towards disarmament or to encourage investment in the nuclear industries of developing countries if there was a risk that the constraints imposed by the treaty would disappear within a decade or two.
If my hon. Friend will forgive me, I will not, as I do not have enough time.
Of course the treaty is not a perfect instrument. It is a major concern, which has been stated by hon. Members on both sides of the House, that Iraq—a treaty party—came close to acquiring nuclear weaponry, and that North Korea, another party, has tried to shrug aside its obligations under the treaty. My hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Duncan Smith) made a powerful and expert contribution on that matter. My hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) also made some very good points on that issue.
I highlight how dangerous it is for Opposition Members to pretend enormous foresight on this issue. The hon. Member for Stretford, the present Labour spokesman on these matters, signed an early-day motion back in 1986 which praised the international liaison committee for peaceful and independent reunification of Korea—a North Korean front organisation—for organising a conference
for the declaration of the Korean Peninsula as a nuclear free peace zone".
That rather makes the point better than anything else I could say.
The treaty provides the legal basis that enables us to summon such states before the bar of international opinion. Work is under way to make good deficiencies in the safeguards regime of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Originally, that regime focused only on declared nuclear activity—hence the agency's apparent failure to alert the world to what Saddam Hussein was up to.
Following the experience with Saddam Hussein, there was tightening up, and the agency sounded the warning bell about North Korea, as has been pointed out. The director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency has now made further proposals which, when implemented, will give the agency a greater ability to identify undeclared nuclear activity.
Those proposals include enhanced inspections and more access to suspected nuclear facilities; a requirement on states to provide more detailed information than hitherto; and environmental monitoring, such as soil sampling around suspected sites. We strongly support those proposals, and will work for their early implementation.
Many hon. Members have referred to the bargain which they assert the treaty represents between nuclear weapon states and non-nuclear weapon states. That is a bargain by the nuclear weapon states, undertaken in article VI of the treaty, to pursue negotiations on nuclear disarmament in return for the non-nuclear states agreeing never to acquire nuclear weapons and to accept safeguards on their nuclear activities. However, article VI does not set a timetable for disarmament negotiations. We do not believe that setting an arbitrary timetable would make disarmament negotiations any more likely to succeed.
All that said, let us consider what the nuclear weapon states have done. Some have claimed that they have not kept the bargain. That charge was echoed by Opposition Members, including the hon. Members for Nottingham, South (Mr. Simpson) and for Stretford. Those charges betray an extraordinary reluctance to recognise the enormity of the changes that have taken place over the past decade.
Article VI calls for an end to the nuclear arms race. Thanks in part to the NPT, but of course also to the great changes in east-west relations, it is obvious that there is now no nuclear arms race. Indeed, there is almost a race to reduce nuclear weapons. Missile warheads and launchers are being dismantled, bombers are being destroyed and silos emptied.
If we had followed the CND nostrums which I hear shouted across the Chamber, we would never have imagined, let alone managed, that enormous achievement.
Under the INF and START agreements between the United States and Russia, thousands of intermediate and other tactical nuclear weapons are being put out of commission and more than 17,000 strategic weapons and bombers eliminated. The US Administration have said that they are dismantling some 2,000 nuclear weapons a year, and the Russians are deactivating their systems ahead of schedule.
Britain has played a full part in that disarmament process. Although we have always maintained our deterrent at the minimum level commensurate with the strategic environment, we have eliminated our land and surface maritime tactical nuclear capability; reduced by more than 50 per cent. the number of WE177 nuclear bombs carried by our aircraft, and announced that all remaining WE177 bombs will be withdrawn by the end of 1998— I noted the grudging comment of the hon. Member for Stretford—when they will not be replaced by other systems, which is the key point.
The net effect of those changes is that, by the end of the decade, the UK will have only one nuclear weapons system, one fifth fewer warheads, and three fifths less explosive power than during the 1970s. That is a major reduction. Even when START II is implemented, British nuclear forces will be considerably less than 10 per cent. of the total nuclear forces available to the Americans or to Russia.
Our deterrence is truly minimal. If the rest of the world had seen cuts of that magnitude in other types of weaponry, the world might be much safer and its peoples less vulnerable to regional strife. It is no good the Opposition harping on about the replacement of Polaris by Trident. What matters is total capability.