(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs to make a statement on the intermediate-range nuclear forces treaty.
As if to prove that lightning does sometimes strike twice, even in this unnatural world of politics, I am here to address this issue again, as I was on
When I last had the opportunity to respond on this issue in the House last October, President Trump had just announced that it was the intention of the United States to end the intermediate-range nuclear forces treaty unless Russia returned to full compliance. Let me once again set out the context. The INF treaty was a 1987 agreement between the United States and the Soviet Union that eliminated nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with a range of between 500 km and 5,500 km. For over three decades now, the INF treaty has played an important role in supporting Euro-Atlantic security, initially removing an entire class of US and Russian weapons, thus making a significant contribution to strategic stability.
While the UK is not a party to this bilateral treaty, we have always made it clear over the years that we ideally wish to see the treaty continue. However, for that to happen, the parties need to comply with its obligations. Sadly, this has not been the case. Despite numerous objections raised by a range of NATO allies going back over five years, Russia has developed new missiles, in direct contravention of the treaty. This includes the covert missile testing, producing and fielding of the 9M729 ground-launch cruise missile system. As NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has said:
“These…missiles are hard to detect. They are mobile. They are nuclear capable. They can reach European cities”.
The US, under both the Obama and Trump Administrations, has made extensive efforts to encourage Russia to return to full and verifiable compliance. It was indeed the Obama Administration who, in 2014, first strongly called out Russia’s non-compliance with this treaty. It is important to acknowledge that, while doing so, the US has continued to meet its obligations under the treaty. However, the US, with the full support of its NATO allies, has been very clear that a situation where the US fully abided by the treaty and Russia did not was not sustainable. On
This constituted an opportunity for Russia to address our shared concerns and to take steps to preserve the treaty. Allies took the opportunity to reiterate this point last month to the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister, Sergei Ryabkov, during the NATO-Russia Council meeting. I have to inform the House that Russia has not taken that opportunity. It has offered no credible response, only obfuscation and contradictions designed to mislead. This of course fits a wider pattern of behaviour from Russia aimed at undermining our collective security. We and all NATO allies therefore support the US decision to suspend its participation in the treaty and to trigger the formal withdrawal process. NATO is unified on this process.
It is Russia’s fault alone that we have arrived at this point. President Putin’s statements in the last few days announcing that Russia, too, will suspend its obligations was unsurprising given the fact that it has violated the treaty over the years. Nevertheless, even at this late stage, we urge Russia to change course. The treaty’s six-month withdrawal process offers Russia a final opportunity to return to compliance through the full and verifiable destruction of all its 9M729 systems. That is the best—indeed, the only—way to preserve the treaty.
We remain committed, as do the US and other NATO allies, to preserving effective arms control agreements, but we are also clear that for arms control to be effective, all signatories must respect their obligations. In the meantime, we are working closely with all our NATO allies on the implications for European security. We remain committed to ensuring that NATO has a robust defence posture to deter all threats. As NATO allies said on
“NATO continues to closely review the security implications of Russian intermediate-range missiles and will continue to take steps necessary to ensure the credibility and effectiveness of the Alliance’s overall deterrence and defence posture. We will continue to consult each other regularly with a view to ensuring our collective security.”
If this treaty falls, we and other NATO allies will hold Russia alone responsible. We urge Russia now to take a different course and to return to full and verifiable compliance.
During the weekend, one of the main pillars of nuclear weapons treaties was suspended when first the United States and then Russia withdrew from the intermediate-range nuclear forces treaty. As the Minister said, it was only in October last year that I stood here asking an urgent question on this matter. Back then, the United States was only expressing its initial intentions to withdraw from the INF treaty, citing Russian non-compliance. Regrettably, it has now fulfilled that action. Since then, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has decided to maintain its so-called doomsday clock at two minutes to midnight. In a statement after the US Administration’s decision, the Bulletin noted that we are living in
“a state as worrisome as the most dangerous times of the Cold War”— a sentiment with which I sadly agree.
What we see in these actions by the United States and Russia is the erosion of the system of multilateralism and the rules-based international order which underpins global peace and security. Leaving the INF treaty is a dangerous unravelling of part of the architecture of trust and understanding that has prevented nuclear conflict—an architecture that was begun 50 years ago with the signing of the non-proliferation treaty, which I strongly support. Indeed, this comes only weeks before the 2019 NPT preparatory committee meeting in New York at the end of April.
Along with climate change, nuclear conflict and the devastating environmental impact that it could unleash are two of the most pressing threats to our lives and the future of every living creature on this planet. The suspension of the INF treaty is a sure sign of a dangerous breakdown of trust between the two nations with the vast majority of the world’s nuclear warheads. This has serious implications for future negotiations, including those on extending the new strategic arms reduction treaty, or New START, which is due to expire in 2021. What we see may be the beginning of a new arms race, even more dangerous and unpredictable than the one we saw during the cold war. We now live in a multipolar world in which the US and Russia no longer have a monopoly on the weapons proscribed in the INF treaty, even if they have the majority of warheads.
What assurances has the Minister received from our American allies that suspension of the INF treaty will not begin a new arms race between the United States and Russia involving weapons once again being based on European soil? What contact has he made with other countries that have developed INF-proscribed weapons, including China, so that a future multilateral framework may be developed that could supersede and replace the INF treaty?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. I will touch on two aspects of what he said. The first is what losing the INF treaty means for extending New START, which is a bilateral treaty between the US and Russia that expires in 2021. We were pleased to see both sides meet the New START limits by the deadlines, by the end of last year. We believe that that treaty contributes to international stability. All allies support continued implementation and early and active dialogue on ways to improve strategic stability. It is, of course, for the US and Russia to take forward discussions about extending that treaty.
The hon. Gentleman also raised perfectly legitimate concerns, which I think we all share, about the broader range of challenges for the multilateral system. We will continue to work closely with the US across a wide range of multilateral organisations and issues. He touched on climate change, for which I have Foreign Office responsibility and on which we work closely—if not necessarily as closely as we would like with the federal Administration—with a number of important state governors and others.
May I just say that we, like the US, believe that a number of multinational institutions are in need of reform? On the matter at hand, a situation in which the US is respecting the INF treaty and Russia persistently and consistently is not is simply not sustainable. The UK and all other NATO allies have made clear our support for the US position.
In his memoirs, Mr Gorbachev makes it absolutely clear that the reason he signed the treaty was that NATO deployed cruise and, especially, Pershing II missiles, which he greatly feared. Given that this was the most successful example in history of multinational disarmament, as opposed to one-sided gestures, it would be a shame to lose the treaty if there were any chance of saving it. Will the Minister use his best endeavours to persuade the Americans to take to an international forum, such as the United Nations, the evidence they have for Russian non-compliance so that the world as a whole can be convinced, if the treaty is being broken, that the Russians are responsible for doing it?
I thank my right hon. Friend, who has great knowledge of and great interest in these matters. He is absolutely right that there needs to be an evidence-based approach. I have to say that we are confident, and I think all NATO allies have been confident in the discussions that have taken place with our American allies, on this matter. I should also point out, as I did in my initial comments, that the announcement on Saturday
Ultimately, to return to the point I made earlier, I would say to my right hon. Friend—as I say, he has a great passion for denuclearisation and for such treaties—that these treaties can only work if they are complied with on all sides. There has been a persistent and consistent sense from Russia, going back many years, that it has not been willing to do so, and that makes such a treaty unsustainable.
Nuclear weapons are a dangerous and expensive folly. As well as taking away valuable resources from public services, they are not fit for purpose in meeting the security challenges of the 21st century. That is something SNP Members believe, and I know that there are even some Labour party Members who still believe that.
There is a need for full compliance, but there could also be dangerous repercussions for a security treaty that has guaranteed European security, so does the Minister agree that any US withdrawal could do more harm than good? How can we work towards getting rid of these weapons for good and—the Chair of the Defence Committee, Dr Lewis, made a very good point here—will the Minister inform the House what work he is doing with international agencies? We want to see the back of nuclear weapons forever.
I think there is little doubt that all of us feel it would have been better had nuclear weapons never been invented, but the fact that the capability is there does make it difficult in such a world simply to disinvent them.
Let me just say that we, along with allies, have monitored Russia’s programmes very carefully. The hon. Gentleman will understand that I cannot go into great detail about matters of intelligence, but we do agree with the US that Russia has been in violation for some considerable time. That is a judgment on which other allies have come to a similar conclusion, and it is therefore our collective position on this issue.
The hon. Gentleman touched on the broader implications for UK-European security of not having such a treaty. I take the view that a situation in which Russia is illegally developing new missiles that could target Europe simply is not acceptable. I think that is part of Russia’s broader pattern of behaviour, which is intended to weaken the overall Euro-Atlantic security architecture. It does undermine Russia’s claim that it is a responsible international partner upholding the rules-based system.
We will obviously have to take whatever action is necessary, but one thing about which I would reassure the House and the hon. Gentleman is that there is absolute unanimity among NATO members on the steps that have been taken. As I said earlier, it is not simply an issue of the Trump Administration; this was brought to the fore back in 2014 under former President Obama.
On the subject of disarmament, I am reminded of Belloc, who wrote:
“Pale Ebenezer thought it wrong to fight,
But Roaring Bill, who killed him, thought it right.”
I just wonder whether, when we look at the treaty, which was signed in 1987, we remember that President Reagan managed to convince Gorbachev to sign it by matching him with a worthy strategic deterrent and capability. What would the Minister offer today in terms of persuasion to stop Mr Putin from similarly breaching the agreement and using these nuclear weapons at least to threaten, as he is doing today?
I think I speak for everyone in the House when I say that no one wants to see a return to an arms race. It is also worth pointing out that broader Russian interests extend well beyond the nuclear; they go into cyber-attacks, disinformation and influence peddling more generally. I think that is the bigger concern that many have in mind—I am slightly quoting the formidable Edward Lucas, who had an interesting article this morning in The Times on that issue and who knows Russian affairs to a great extent.
In terms of the bigger concern, yes, it is not in anyone’s interest to see an escalation of an arms race on European or other soil. Equally, it is very undesirable to see the moves that have been made by Russia consistently, as I say, over half a decade or more. The allies had very little choice other than to trigger this withdrawal, as we have done today. As I say, there is still time for Russia to come back to the table, and I very much hope it will do so.
Russia is in violation of the INF treaty, it seems, but when someone breaks the law, the answer is not to repeal the law and, in the case of the UK Government, to support another country in walking away from that process, but to look at the well-established methods for bringing an offending nation back into compliance—in this case, through the Special Verification Commission mechanisms. Will the UK Government be doing that, and will they make it clear to the US that if it is now suspending its obligations under the INF treaty, it should not assume that it is going to start putting cruise missiles back in the UK?
It does not “seem” that Russia has breached its commitments; there is absolutely no doubt, and there is absolute evidence, of that—evidence that is understood and supported by each and every NATO member. We will continue to work with partners across the international community to try to prevent the proliferation that, understandably, the hon. Lady is very concerned about and to continue to make significant progress, as we have, in the UN and elsewhere on multilateral nuclear disarmament. However, that can happen only when we are in a position to build confidence and trust between nuclear and non-nuclear weapons states and to take tangible steps towards a safer and more stable world. That trust, I am afraid, is at a very low ebb with the Russians, not just for this reason, but, as she will be aware, in other areas. However, we are determined to try to discuss these matters, and we will continue to do so in whatever forum we can.
I served in the British Army during the cold war, and I was present in this House at the time of the deployment of the INF weapons and the subsequent treaties, so I know the value of them. I entirely support our American allies on this issue, as well as the statement of the Secretary-General of NATO. If we are to move into an era of a lack of arms control agreements, thus leading to a continuing and most dangerous erosion of trust, would the Minister consider encouraging NATO to really press on with its fundamental review of nuclear deterrence—as I suggested, incidentally, to the Secretary of State for Defence only a week ago—to diminish the risk of misunderstanding and misinterpretation and to avoid returning to the worst days of the cold war?
As the Minister said, the Russians are in clear breach of the INF treaty. The development of the 9M729 missile is a clear breach, and there is evidence for it. In addition, the Russians are developing things such as the Kalibr sea-based cruise missile and other technologies. Russia is clearly taking an aggressive stance. Taking up the point that Dr Lewis made, would sharing this information and intelligence in an international setting—I accept that some of it is highly classified—help to persuade those who somehow want to give the Russians the benefit of the doubt?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his thoughts on this matter. He will be aware that we have to deal with security and intelligence-rated issues carefully, but I am confident that discussions have been taking place within NATO for many months, if not years. We will do all we can. I do not think anyone wishes to see the treaty ripped up. We would like Russia to come back to the negotiating table. We clearly need the sort of international-level discussions he refers to and to which my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East referred earlier. That is certainly the message we will put to our representative at the UK mission in New York.
I represent Greenham Common. I saw in the 1980s how Russia responds to strength and how it will not respond to weakness. Even in the darkest hour of the cold war, the finest minds across the alliance and particularly among our American allies, were devoted to strategic arms limitation efforts. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that that is still the case now? We really need to understand that we can be strong with Russia, but we also need to reassure and negotiate with it to try to get a safer world and a safer future.
My right hon. Friend puts it very well. I should perhaps say that decisions on US nuclear weapons policy are obviously fundamentally a matter for the US Government. However, the US “Nuclear Posture Review” published last year represents a continuation of previous years’ nuclear policy and indicates a measured and proportionate approach to nuclear deterrence, which I think the whole House would welcome.
It is alarming to see how, piece by piece, the security architecture that was assembled to keep us all safe after the cold war is being dismantled. Looking ahead to the NPT—treaty on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons—review conference next year, how can the UK help to foster a shared understanding among all major powers in the new world order that rules and restrictions on nuclear weapons are of mutual benefit?
I think we all recognise that these are dangerous times. The questioning of the rules-based international system from all sorts of quarters should give rise to very grave concerns. Specifically on nuclear proliferation, I have spoken at the UN Security Council on a couple of occasions. Not least with what is happening in North Korea, this issue is of great importance. I think we all recognise that any further proliferation in nuclear weapons is incredibly undesirable, particularly in this relatively uncertain world. We will continue to make strong representations, working within the international community. I would try to reassure the hon. Lady that many members of the UN Security Council, both permanent and non-permanent, feel very similarly. I suspect that this issue will be quite high profile in the months to come.
My father was a leading expert in nuclear non-proliferation in the 1960s. It is depressing to see a lot of his work, which led to Gorbachev’s decision to work with Thatcher and Reagan, being reversed by Putin. We are one of the closest partners of the US and the leading military European country in NATO. Can the Minister reassure the House that the Government will do everything they can to ensure that the USA is not dragged into a dangerous arms race again?
The hon. Lady’s father was clearly an extremely clever bloke.
I think it is hereditary, Mr Speaker. Others can perhaps judge that. I thank my hon. Friend for her comments. I hope she does not feel that her father’s work was in vain. My late father was also in the armed services. In many ways these problems and issues do not entirely go away, but the patient use of diplomacy, even within the military, can make a real difference over a period of time.
My hon. Friend asked about the issue of an arms race and the concern about whether the United States would be held back by allies and, in particular, the UK. It is worth stating again that any situation where the US is respecting its treaty obligations and Russia is not is simply not sustainable. NATO has been, and will continue to be, consistent in calling out Russia and making clear the importance of this issue for broader European security. In many ways, other nations closer to the Russian border feel that more acutely than we do, but the US has made clear its continued commitment to effective and enforceable arms control.
The essence of successful arms control is trust and verification. Will the Minister confirm that there has been no trust of the Russians because, as the Obama Administration were saying for several years, there was no effective way of verifying that, and Putin has lied and cheated on the obligations that the Soviet Union and then Russia signed up to under the intermediate-range nuclear forces treaty?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question—I know he takes these matters very seriously. Yes, trust has clearly broken down. It is difficult to try to restore trust. It is worth remembering, as he mentions, that the Obama Administration had a clear goal from the moment it came into office at the beginning of 2009 to re-cast their relationship with Russia. Even within that context, they concluded, during the course of their time, that Russia could not be trusted on these matters because simply, as the hon. Gentleman rightly said, there was no evidence of verification. I am afraid that that situation has not improved over the past two and a half years.
Tension over nuclear forces is clearly highly dangerous. NATO experts argue that the Russian Federation seeks overmatch in four areas: political warfare, conventional forces over its neighbours, European theatre conventional missiles and European theatre intermediate nuclear missiles. What is being done to reassess the balance of power in eastern Europe and the level of forces needed to deter Russia? Will the Minister endeavour to keep the House informed? I get the sensation that not enough is being done or talked about on this extremely dangerous issue.
I reassure my hon. Friend that Ministers will keep the House up to date, not just on this issue—and obviously, it affects other Departments, including particularly the Ministry of Defence. My last overseas visit, only 10 days ago, was to Warsaw. I spent two days in Poland and we discussed some of these issues, which are clearly far closer to the hearts of our Polish counterparts, as well as those within Baltic and Nordic states, who are very concerned about the proliferation and potential threat of Russia in this regard. My hon. Friend also rightly made the point that in many ways, as I mentioned earlier, Russia’s nefarious work extends well beyond the nuclear sphere. The campaigns of disinformation and the use of cyber-attacks in a very aggressive way are all very modern ways—well beyond the nuclear—in which there are major threats. Obviously, those are issues that the whole of Government have responsibility for, and we shall do our best to keep the House informed about them.
That probably put the hon. Gentleman off for life.
We have both changed our views since then.
Is there not a responsibility on everyone in the House not to hand Putin another PR coup by suggesting that the breakdown of this treaty is in some way the fault of America and the west, or even that there is some sort of false sense of equivalence between the two parties? Must we not put the blame firmly on Russia and do whatever is necessary to re-strengthen NATO to ensure that we can get to non-proliferation, and ultimately disarmament, through the strength of our allies, not their weakness, which Putin will exploit?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his brave words, and I agree entirely, but that makes it all the more important that we continue to work with the international community. The UN is the obvious vehicle for doing that, but we recognise that the Russians would veto a Security Council resolution, so we are working to build a coalition of interests among many UN members, both those directly impacted and others who, if we do not deal with this now, could be impacted in the decades to come.
What assessment have the Government made of the impact of this breakdown on other nuclear powers, such as Pakistan, India, China and North Korea, and what can the Government do to get international diplomacy back on track in relation to the importance of the framework of inspections, which, without a treaty, could get lost?
The hon. Lady will be aware that this is a specific treaty within Europe between the US and Russia signed some 32 years ago, but she makes a valid point that these issues are not entirely isolated, and obviously therefore rogue states—for want of a better phrase—such as North Korea and states such as Pakistan that have nuclear capability will be watching from afar and making their own decisions. That is one reason I support the idea, before we rush headlong into lifting sanctions on North Korea, that we see verifiable evidence of denuclearisation, which, I am afraid, we have not had to date. That said, we are working closely with our partners in the region, and clearly the US is doing its best to make progress in that regard.
The Minister is right that the world would be better without nuclear weapons—they kill innocent people indiscriminately; they are weapons of mass destruction. If he is sincere about not wanting to return to an arms race, is it not time that the UK stopped building new ones, cancelled the Trident programme, saved a couple of hundred billion pounds the UK cannot afford and set the lead internationally?
The issue is about deterrence. As I said, if these weapons had never been invented, or if they could be mysteriously or mystically dis-invented, we would all be grateful, but that is not the case. In the practical reality of the world in which we live, we need that deterrence, so I absolutely support the Government’s policy, which has been the policy of all British Governments since 1945.
The Russian economy is doing very poorly, partly as a result of falling oil prices and partly as a result of crushing economic sanctions, and one wonders why they want to engage in another arms race in such a state. Could it not be a sign of weakness on the part of Russia—the dying gasp of a bankrupt regime?
I thank my hon. Friend for his arguably slightly optimistic view on these matters. I will not speculate about the state of the Russian regime, but I am not convinced that this will necessarily lead to an arms race. For the reasons I have pointed out, my concern is with what one might call the 21st-century aspects—the disinformation war, cyber-attacks and the like—on which the Russians’ main efforts will be focused in the future. As he rightly points out, however, the state of Russia’s economy is grisly—to put it mildly—and it might well be, as he says, that it is behaving in this way out of weakness rather than strength.
I must say that I was somewhat surprised by the Minister’s statement that the United Kingdom seems to be unequivocally supporting the United States rather than trying to pursue more legal and trade measures first. Russia’s actions are of course very worrying, and they must be to blame in large part—[Hon. Members: “But.”] Wait a second. But Russia has pledged that it will not place INF material in Europe unless the United States does so first. Will the Minister reassure me that we will not permit the US to place such armaments in the UK and will discourage it from placing them in Asia, which could spark, inadvertently, an arms race with China?
I am not going to become involved in speculation about arms races in other parts of the world, and, as the hon. Gentleman will appreciate, issues concerning the location of weapons are a matter for the Ministry of Defence. However, an escalation of these matters would be in none of our interests. I think that, in one sense, the treaty has worked well for 30 years—at least it has led to some peace on European soil—but trust and verification are required, and I am afraid that those have been lacking for some years. In many ways it is the Trump Administration who have grasped the nettle, with the support of all NATO allies.
I clearly remember the treaty being signed when I was 11 years old. That pretty much inspired me to take this career course, and it is with great honour and pride that I am now a member of the NATO parliamentary assembly and international vice-chairman of the Conservative party.
International relationships are very important, and today it is with a real sense of tragedy that we see where the treaty has ended up. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this shows the absolute importance of counterbalances? May I remind people who say that Russia promised that it would not put anything into Europe that it is a country which, less than 12 months ago, launched a chemical weapon attack on this country, and showed what its means were and what it was willing to do? Tragic as today is, does my right hon. Friend agree that we must continue our full support for NATO, our full support for our allies, and our engagement on the international stage with all countries to ensure our safer future?
I thank my hon. Friend for his youthful engagement in these matters. I am not sure that even at 23—which was my age in 1987—I realised quite what was going on when the INF treaty was signed. Levity aside, however, my hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that we need to work on this continuously. We should remind ourselves, as he has reminded the House, of events in Salisbury during the past year following the use of chemical weapons by a Russian state source on UK citizens, with fatal results.
I think that all Members who have expressed concern will agree that we need to keep lines of engagement open as far as possible. While trust has broken down and while we want to see verification, we need to talk. One of the criticisms made of international diplomacy is that it is notionally a talking shop. [Interruption.] As several of my right hon. Friends are saying from a sedentary position, we need to talk from strength, but, equally, we need to keep those lines of engagement as open as possible when it comes to these very important matters.
If, ultimately, there is a request from the United States Administration to relocate US nuclear weapons on UK soil, what will be the response of the British Government?
As the hon. Gentleman will recognise, I am not going to speculate on too many hypotheticals for the future. This issue will obviously be discussed at very senior levels, and I think that it would be wrong for me to say any more at this stage.
The Minister’s response to the urgent question today has been clearer and more assertive than his response to the same urgent question in October, and I welcome that. There is no point in being a signatory to an international arms treaty if the other side is not going to stick to the rules. The problem seems to be what I think the Minister described as the 9M729 missiles that the Russians have been developing. Can he tell the House how long they have been developing that capability, how many weapons we think they have, and what their capability is?
I fear that I will disappoint my hon. Friend by not going into great detail on these matters, as they are issues of secure intelligence. I confess that when I was at the Dispatch Box 102 days ago I was pretty robust. Perhaps he is getting harder in his old age, or perhaps it is the other way round. These are important issues, and we are full square behind our US allies on this matter. I am glad to say that, overwhelmingly, as far as I can see, although the House thinks it is regrettable that the treaty has been suspended, it recognises where blame rightly lies.
Perhaps parliamentary pressure has produced a force field. I call Dr David Drew.
We are, and remain, a very active member of the United Nations in the Security Council. We are a committed member of NATO, and will continue to be such a member. Our role is important, but this is a bilateral agreement between Russia and the US that was signed three decades and more ago. Obviously, we have interests as a fully engaged NATO member, and will continue to do so.
The idea that we have no say on this matter could not be further from the truth. This issue has been festering, as I pointed out, for five or six years, right from the early stages of the Obama Administration, and it has finally come to a head. As I say, there is one message that will trickle out loud and clear to the Russian authorities. They have a chance to come back to the negotiating table. The US Administration have triggered a withdrawal, but that takes effect over a six-month period. I hope that before