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Ballistic Missiles

– in the House of Lords at 8:36 pm on 30th October 2001.

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Photo of Lord Grocott Lord Grocott Government Whip, Lord in Waiting (Whip) 8:36 pm, 30th October 2001

My Lords, as consideration of the Report stage of the Land Registration Bill is now complete, this evening's Unstarred Question on whether an assessment of the threat from ballistic missiles has been carried out is no longer restricted to the one hour available for such dinner-break business. Instead, a limit of one-and-a-half hours will apply. This change increases the maximum time available for all speakers to 12 minutes.

Photo of Lord Archer of Sandwell Lord Archer of Sandwell Labour

rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they have carried out an assessment of the threat from ballistic missiles and how best to counter it.

My Lords, I am most grateful to noble Lords who have set down their names to speak in this debate and who fasted so patiently while the business of the House pursued its course.

I set down this Question before the House rose for the Summer Recess. The concerns which then weighed on the minds of many of us are still present and are still relevant. But they have been emphasised and augmented by the tragic events which have intervened.

I am well aware that I may be accused of teaching my grandmother. I propose to say little or nothing which has not already been said by many Americans. But it is the privilege and the duty of friends to tender frank advice, and I want to invite the United Kingdom Government to consider how best we can discharge that function.

Traditionally, the concept of defence has focused on the threat to a nation state from another nation state. It came from large countries with substantial resources and advanced technologies. I am grateful to Dr Stephen Pullinger of ISIS for pointing out that in September 1999 the United States National Intelligence Council, in an assessment of threats from ballistic missiles, looked at Russia, China, North Korea, Iran and, rather more cursorily, Iraq.

Even at that time this Cold War mindset presented a distorted picture. Certainly the wars in which this country has been engaged since World War II have been Korea, the Congo, the Falklands, the Gulf and Kosovo. The threats were less from major wars between heavyweights than from regional disputes fought to contain local acts of aggression. Resources devoted to intercontinental missiles paid fewer dividends than battlefield weapons.

But eyes were usually on distant horizons, and the discussion was of clashes between great powers. It was in that context that Star Wars and Son of Star Wars were conceived. There were then those who suggested that 8.3 billion dollars could be better spent, even within a military budget.

But there was a still more worrying concern--the destabilising effect on international relations. I have never been sold on the argument that weapons of mass destruction help to maintain peace because everyone knows that, if they are used, they are likely to attract massive retaliation. That doctrine came to be called "mutual assured destruction", and it was known by its wholly appropriate acronym. It rests on a very doubtful premise; namely, that everyone will always behave rationally and that global affairs are in the safe hands of diplomats, such as those in our own dear FCO, and of Presidents and Prime Ministers, such as ours. Anyone who has lived through the past few years could quote a dozen counter-examples.

I am certainly not suggesting that stability is best ensured by mutual threats. However, as is so often the case, the perception was probably more important than the reality. While the major powers believed that the balance of power was important, they were content to maintain it. When the United States Government announced that their objective was to render themselves immune from attack by ballistic missiles, while their potential enemies had no such immunity, it was seen not as a defensive measure but as a threat to tilt the balance of power.

Even that was not the end of the matter. One essential pillar for maintaining peace is to establish trust between nations. Fundamental to that is the observance of treaty obligations. What has been proposed would be in clear breach of the ABM Treaty. President Bush declared at a press conference as late as 11th October that the treaty was, "outmoded and outdated". However that may be, the proper response cannot be to denounce it unilaterally or even to offer negotiations with a threat to denounce it in the absence of agreement.

The immediate reaction from Russia and China was predictable--a counter-threat to escalate an arms build-up. Many voices in America pointed out that if the purpose was to protect the American people from long-range missiles, there were better ways of achieving that than by provoking another arms race.

Yet another factor was pointed out by the more percipient. The technology is very much at the exploration stage. When I last inquired, there had been three tests of a ground-launched interceptor, two of which had missed their target. It is not easy to hit an object that is six feet by 18 inches and which is travelling at 15,000 miles an hour. So far as I am aware, tests on sea-based mid-course interceptors have not even begun.

To complicate the picture further, someone who really is bent on launching ballistic missiles at the United States is unlikely to launch just one. In addition to those carrying warheads, they could dispatch numerous decoys to confuse the defences. Surely the primary objective should be not to erect a somewhat leaky safety net against ballistic missiles but to ensure, so far as possible, that they are not launched.

All of that was in the minds of many of us when I tabled this Unstarred Question. Then came 11th September, and now we are in a different era. Some of the things that we were saying have been demonstrated so tragically that even those who are devoid of imagination can read the signs. Threats no longer come solely from large nation states. As Arthur Schlesinger, Jr, said in The Times on 15th September:

"If the national missile defence were technologically feasible, and if it were already in place, it would have done absolutely nothing to protect the nation against this horror".

There may well be rogue states and deranged terrorists, but they are unlikely to choose intercontinental missiles to deliver their evil burden because, as the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee recently pointed out, that method would clearly advertise their origin and perpetrators. The 8.3 billion dollars would be better spent on airport security.

The argument goes further than that. Governments of powerful states do not usually need to practise terrorism. What gives rise to terrorism is an asymmetrical situation, in which one side cannot compete on the conventional battlefield. An arms race in which one side has a clear advantage is a perfect breeding ground for terrorism.

There is yet a further lesson. The United States is a great power. It was the lion that could stalk its prey and was immune to threats from other predators. The whole Star Wars saga was designed to complete that immunity. The lion walked by itself and felt little need for allies.

That situation has been transformed. The United States feels the need to gather an alliance and to hold it together. It is looking for friends. It is foremost in calling for a world that is united against terrorism. Isolationism is no longer an option. We all inhabit the same world and every day brings fresh evidence that that entails a world that recognises a legal order and in which all countries play their part in enforcing it.

The need is now obvious to all who have eyes to see. There could be no better time than now at which to initiate negotiations for a longer-term regime that could co-ordinate and legitimise a response to such outrages. It could even embrace the problems of ballistic missiles. This is an ideal time for proceeding by negotiation. I know that the United Kingdom Government have engaged in some commendable spadework on a wide front. This is the time when we might hope that America will lead the world in addressing what are clearly going to be the problems and opportunities of the present and future rather than of the past.

I have not made a point that was not made more succinctly but more clearly by an American Senator on 1st May. That Senator was Senator Thomas Daschle, who has since become the Leader of the Senate.

I am not so naive as to ask my noble friend what answer the British Government would give to a request by America for facilities in support of anti-missile defence. It is wise to wait until such a request is made, if indeed it is but I hope that it will not embarrass my noble friend or the Government to indicate how they assess the threat from ballistic missiles and how they view the possible responses. I am aware that, as with most political questions, there are not simply two stark possibilities: to be or not to be. There is room for discussion and negotiation, for proceeding a step or two and reviewing the position.

I hear that at a recent meeting President Bush and Mr Putin reached a provisional understanding that they might negotiate amendments to the ABM Treaty, which would permit some further tests, on the understanding that the United States would not then proceed to unilateral abrogation.

There might be systems of localised missile defence that would not be seen by Russia and China as a threat. This is not the moment at which to advocate confrontation. The British Government, precisely because they have proved to be a friend of the United States, may be able to exercise the privilege and the duty of a friend: to caution against actions that their allies see as being ill advised and which hold as many dangers for America as for the rest of the world.

Photo of The Bishop of Oxford The Bishop of Oxford Bishop 8:47 pm, 30th October 2001

My Lords, at the height of the Cold War, the most convinced defenders of a policy of nuclear deterrence were at the same time the most convinced opponents of a space defence initiative--Star Wars in particular, which was launched by President Reagan in 1983. There were several reasons for that. First, it was believed that nuclear deterrence was essentially stable--there was in effect a nuclear stalemate. For the first time in human history, it could not possibly have been in the interests of any one superpower to go to war with another superpower.

Secondly, and against that background, it was judged that SDI was essentially destabilising. It might tempt a side that had a missile shield to launch an attack on another side, and that other side, fearing that attack, might try to get in its retaliation first. The situation was destabilising--it set up a great deal of insecurity in what was previously believed to be a secure system of deterrence.

Thirdly, it was pointed out that no missile shield could be secure because even if two or three nuclear missiles got through, the effect would have been totally devastating. At that time, I shared those views. We live in a very different world now. There is only one superpower and there are rogue states. After 11th September, we are all much more vulnerable and need to consider carefully what makes for true security. We are all grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer, for this Unstarred Question because we need to think seriously about the possibility of defence against ballistic missiles.

Like the noble Lord, I have major doubts. The ABM treaty was a significant achievement and perhaps it could be renegotiated. Nevertheless, that was a confidence-building measure and we would need to think seriously before trying to renegotiate it.

What is the effect of missile defence on countries such as Russia and China? One expert has said that on any view, NMD--national missile defence--will darken relations with China.

The cost of NMD so far has been $60 billion and another $60 billion would have to be spent to deploy it. In a world in which 500 million people are still living below starvation level, that money could be put to much greater use.

There is much talk of rogue states--and perhaps this goes to the heart of the matter. What is meant by that phrase? Is a rogue state one with just an unpleasant government or one that does not care about the penalties that its activities draw? A rogue state in the second sense is what really matters. Sir Michael Quinlan, Permanent Under-Secretary of State for Defence from 1988 to 1992, has written:

"Given the enormous power and worldwide reach of the United States, the case for NMD needs to rest centrally on the second sense; but there is no real-life example. North Korea (at least until recently) and Iraq may amply qualify in the first sense; but what likelihood is there that they or anyone else qualifies in the second? Their most salient characteristic is the ruthless resolve of their leaderships to stay in power. Saddam Hussein and his like will know that a nuclear, biological or chemical-weapon attack on the homeland of the United States, by the unconcealable delivery route of inter-continental ballistic missiles rather than any other possible method, would prompt a response which they could not hope to survive".

Even in relation to rogue states with extremely unpleasant governments, deterrence is still an operative factor.

We ought to rethink the whole issue. Those of us who were shaped by the thinking of the 1980s and 1990s need to look again at the world. The case for national missile defence has still not been made out. For the reasons I have suggested, there are serious arguments against it.

Photo of Lord Judd Lord Judd Labour 8:53 pm, 30th October 2001

My Lords, I should declare an interest as Senior Fellow of the independent charitable think tank on security issues, Safer World. I thank my noble and learned friend Lord Archer of Sandwell for introducing this important debate. He put the case so well that all the rest of us can do is emphasise some of his points and endorse some of his questions.

Any role for the United Kingdom in a US-led missile defence system could have immense public expenditure implications and far-reaching implications for other defence priorities established as a result of the last defence review. That is not necessarily a bad thing but a reality that must be honestly faced--not swept under the carpet or regarded as a marginal adjustment.

The relevance of a project of such significance has to be assessed against hard-headed, convincing analysis of the threats that confront us now and will do so in the foreseeable future. Not least when answering Oral Questions in another place on 24th October, the Prime Minister has made it increasingly clear that he is well-disposed to the American proposals. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will tell us more about the thinking that led the Prime Minister to that position.

Surely 11th September has brought home to us all the prospect of the asymmetric warfare to which my noble and learned friend Lord Archer referred. There are many ways in which to kill thousands of civilians without deploying ballistic missiles. Our opponents will not necessarily choose the weapons that we want or expect them to use. They will choose the weapons they want. In fairness, it must be acknowledged that most proponents of national missile defence argue that it is necessary to prepare against all possible threats. However, serious opportunity cost issues are at stake. By concentrating vast resources on meeting one particular potential threat, there is a danger that the essential defence budget will be distorted--paradoxically placing us at greater risk. I emphasise that that is not to say that existing expenditure patterns should be regarded as cast in stone. Certainly not. Those patterns should constantly be under review in light of changing circumstances--11th September tragically brought that home to us all.

How much is NMD a priority and why? If it is a priority, how much of a priority is it against other essentials? We need urgently to know far more about the detailed rationale before--as so often happens in defence matters--a self-generating momentum is allowed to develop. We need to be convinced also that NMD will work. Are the Government convinced? If so, what has convinced them? Many people with real professional authority argue that the system is not proven, is unlikely ever to be 100 per cent successful and is certainly fallible. Is it not possible that the resources devoted to NMD would be better deployed on other measures against the proliferation of hostile missile capability?

I suggest that 11th September should have left us in no doubt that the only effective ways of tackling global challenges are collective action and multilateral agreements. Were the US to insist on proceeding with missile defence, it should do so in a way that takes into account the genuine concerns of other major players--not least Russia and China. It is vital that Russia and China should be active, willing and co-operative participants in anti-proliferation action.

We need Russia and China to stop and prevent the sale of military materials and weaponry to unreliable customers. Were precipitate steps to be taken by the United States overriding Russian and Chinese concerns, the consequences might be a disinclination or a refusal on the part of those countries to co-operate in other critical areas. There are indications that as soon as their meeting in mid-November, President Bush and Mr. Putin may reach some agreement on amending the ABM treaty--which we know President Bush regards as an outdated hangover from the Cold War that prevents him preparing for the new threats which preoccupy him. But should they not reach agreement, the United States made plain that she will go it alone.

As the friends and allies that my noble and learned friend emphasised we are, and I take second place to no one in my commitment to that friendship and alliance, we have to say without equivocation, that that could have grave consequences for the whole future of collective security beyond the issue of missile defence alone. At the very time when we need to be building the international commitment which is indispensable for collective security to work, it would be setting a disastrous precedent whereby parties felt able to walk away from international treaties and obligations when they believed the arrangements no longer suited them. The prospects for nuclear, biological and chemical non-proliferation would become dire.

That is why I hope that my noble friend the Minister will today be able to reassure us that the United Kingdom is doing everything possible to encourage the United States to reach agreement with Russia and, indeed, China.

But all that is second order. The first order issue, which I hope my noble friend will today fully address, is why the Government believe a missile defence system to be an essential additional element in our anti-proliferation commitment, and one in which we must play our part whatever the cost. My noble friend the Minister will be aware that cynics have argued that the origins of this system have far more to do with US defence industry and corporate priorities than they have with an objective assessment of the real threats. My noble friend's comments on that assertion will be extremely important.

However, perhaps the most crucial questions of all are precisely what the Government see our role as being in any such system and whether we shall not anyway be involved should the United States decide unilaterally to go ahead because of the nature of the United State's facilities already situated in the United Kingdom.

Photo of Lord Chalfont Lord Chalfont Crossbench 9:02 pm, 30th October 2001

My Lords, I too thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer, for initiating this important debate, though he will not be surprised to hear that I shall not be following him in his line of argument about missile defence.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Judd, I too must declare an interest in that I am chairman of the Missile Proliferation Study Group, which has been looking at this problem for many years. The group recently published a report called Coming into Range, demonstrating the dangers to this country that can be posed by those in possession of ballistic missiles and the mass destruction that can be delivered by them.

Doubt has been expressed, especially by the noble Lord, Lord Judd, about the reality of the threat. All one can say--I take into account what the right reverend Prelate said about rogue states--is that there are now 13,000 ballistic missiles in existence. They do not belong to the few countries mentioned by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer; they are in the possession of 37 different states throughout the world. That in itself is a potential threat.

One of the most obvious examples of the threat is not this wild talk about attacks on the United Kingdom or the United States. Above all, we have to fear attacks upon our Armed Forces when they are engaged in operations outside the United Kingdom; in other words, expeditionary forces. Most of the defence policy in this country is based upon the expeditionary force concept. The whole question of the European Security and Defence Initiative is based upon an expeditionary force concept.

Noble Lords should ask themselves whether they would be happy to send British forces to confront a country armed with ballistic missiles without any defence against them except the possibility of deterrence. The right reverend Prelate mentioned the possibility that no country delivering ballistic missiles could feel safe from retaliation. I cannot imagine anyone developing an argument on the premise that if Saddam Hussein attacked or threatened to attack the West with ballistic missiles, the United States or anyone in the western world would threaten to retaliate with nuclear weapons. There would be no massive retaliation, and no country could possibly believe that there could be. It is upon that fact that the argument for ballistic missile defence rests.

The whole concept of deterrence, as the right reverend Prelate said, has gone. Deterrence was a useful concept when there were two major powers facing each other, each with nuclear arsenals capable of devastating each other. It is from that that was developed the idea which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer, mentioned of mutual assured destruction: that neither side would attack the other because they knew that retaliation would be instant and massive and therefore not worth it.

But we must get out of that Cold War time warp. We are no longer living in the world of balance of power between two great nuclear states. We are living in a totally different world in which the threat is different. This is no longer the threat from another superpower; it is a threat from what have sometimes been called "rogue states", but they are not necessarily "rogue" states. Any country which believes, for example, that the United States and everything about it should be destroyed--we now know that many countries believe that--is possibly one of the threats to the security of the West, and incidentally to this country.

Opponents of missile defence home in on the ABM Treaty as a cornerstone of international security. It is nothing of the kind. The ABM Treaty was a treaty between two superpowers. It was designed to ensure that Russia and America--which incidentally were the only signatories to the treaty--were each vulnerable to the nuclear power of the other. That is what mutual assured destruction was and what the ABM Treaty is for. It is not for any other purpose. That is why President Bush says that it is a relic of the Cold War, which it is. It serves no other purpose. For those who are against nuclear missiles to talk about it as the cornerstone of international stability beggars belief.

A point needs to be borne in mind. I believe it was the noble Lord, Lord Judd--forgive me if I am wrong--who said that the Americans could not unilaterally abrogate the ABM Treaty. That is not true. The treaty provides that either side can withdraw unilaterally giving six months' notice.

Photo of Lord Judd Lord Judd Labour

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way. I said that it would set a dangerous precedent whereby when such arrangements existed, if one party became unhappy with them, it would feel able to walk away rather than negotiate a new situation.

Photo of Lord Chalfont Lord Chalfont Crossbench

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. However, that does not alter the argument. As he will know, President Bush has recently negotiated with President Putin about this matter. They have gone a long way towards agreeing amendments to the treaty which would allow development and testing of a missile system. However, it is worth bearing in mind that if agreement cannot be arrived at, both sides are perfectly entitled, giving six months' notice, to withdraw unilaterally from the treaty. Let us be in no doubt. That is what the Americans will do. We may have all sorts of idealistic thoughts about what they should do, but they will do what is in their interests. If it is in their interests not to arrive at a treaty agreement with the Russians, it is in their interests to withdraw unilaterally, and they will do so.

One other argument has arisen today which always arises when this subject is being discussed. It is what I call the "suitcase bomb argument"; in other words, the theory that because there are other ways of delivering nuclear weapons or weapons of mass destruction, we should not defend ourselves against ballistic missiles, which is one way of delivering them. I hope that noble Lords will realise that what happened on 11th September is not an argument against ballistic missile defence but a strong argument in favour of it. It shows that people who want to do damage to the United States or to the West will use any means at their disposal.

On 11th September civilian aircraft were used as cruise missiles. That is one way of doing it; ballistic missiles are another. We should have learnt from 11th September that those who want to cause damage to our interests in the United States and in this country will use any method at their disposal. If they think that ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads, biological warheads or Anthrax are the right way to do it, that is what they will use. It is my contention that we should be prepared to defend ourselves against that kind of threat as well as any other.

As the right reverend Prelate stated, there is a need for the matter to be thought through again. We must take this whole subject seriously. We must not dismiss the project of missile defence, as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, has rather unjustly done, as being motivated by the famous old military-industrial complex. I have been involved in missile defence since 1983. I was first introduced to it in the White House by President Reagan when he was developing his Strategic Defence Initiative.

Throughout the whole of that period my impression has been that the American insistence upon missile defence was not only defence oriented but based on what I believe to be a strong argument. It is better to spend millions of dollars and years of development and research, if that is what is needed, if, instead of threatening to wipe out your opponent with massive retaliation and to incinerate his civilian population, a way can be found of defending yourself against him. I have always been strongly moved by that argument. I was moved by it when it was first put by President Reagan in 1983. Those who want to stick to the old idea of massive retaliation and mutual assured destruction are living in a Cold War time warp from which we should all try to extricate ourselves.

I have come to the end of the extended period allowed for speeches. I conclude by saying one thing which needs stating. Whatever we in this House may say, there will be an American missile defence system. Their programme of tests is going reasonably well. The last test out of three was successful, although it is true to say that the other two were not. The Americans will continue with this, however much it costs and for as long as it takes. We should bear that in mind when we are considering what we want to do about it.

I believe that at present the Government are taking a wise and prudent line. There is no need for us to answer questions, about Fylingdales for example, until they are asked. But as the right reverend Prelate said, we must think very deeply about the whole issue. First, we must recognise that the threat exists. It cannot be talked away. I do not think that we should pay too much attention to stories about the failure of the American test programme. It has been successful. However much it costs the Americans, they will go ahead with it. We should take that as one of our assumptions in deciding what we in this country need to do.

Photo of Lord Hunt of Chesterton Lord Hunt of Chesterton Labour 9:15 pm, 30th October 2001

My Lords, I am grateful for this opportunity to speak in the gap. I want to follow up the contributions of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford and the noble Lord, Lord Judd.

It is relevant to this important debate on the response to the threat of ballistic missiles that we consider whether these issues should be discussed nationally and internationally in a different way, using an open international framework and quantitative and more objective methods such as are now common for describing and predicting natural and social phenomena as varied as climate change, spread of disease and fluctuation in economies. Various methods of mathematical modelling based on appropriate data have been and are being used by most advanced defence agencies. Some approaches are based on the statistics and psychology of game theory; others are based on analogies to biological and physical complex systems. There have been some interesting insights from previous modelling about the arms race and how wars began.

Those methods and data are published and discussed openly to only a limited extent. I have organised open academic meetings with the Ministry of Defence and the Institute of Mathematics. But in general there is insufficient international discussion about these studies. Without some open discussion government defence policy in the UK and US will not have the wide support it needs.

I strongly urge the UK Government, MoD and UN disarmament agencies to work much harder, at least as hard as the United States, to help formulate a common framework which all the major armed countries of the world can agree--we have just heard about the 37 or more with missiles--for example, about detection, accuracy and disarmament methods; and then to begin to find solutions in a more common language. The cultural and political language of diplomacy, such as "rogue states" is a vivid form of communication but, I suggest, is not likely to lead to a great deal of international understanding. We have seen that more objective methods apply in some of the other areas of social and natural phenomena so why not to disarmament and ballistic missiles as well?

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Liberal Democrat 9:18 pm, 30th October 2001

My Lords, the Unstarred Question asks Her Majesty's Government whether they have carried out an assessment of the threat from ballistic missiles and how best to counter it. The Question is not whether we think that the Americans are going ahead anyway and, if so, what we should do, or a number of other questions which have been introduced into the debate. I agree with half of the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, and disagree quite strongly with the other half.

The ABM treaty is a relic of the Cold War. So is NATO. We do not want to get rid of NATO. There are those who think that there are relics of the Cold War that can still turn out to be useful. I find that argument extremely weak. Much that was achieved in arms control in the course of the 1960s and 1970s remains valid, including the exclusion of weapons from space. Part of the ideological rise in the United States is an argument that they want to bust all those arms control treaties, including the introduction of weapons into space. That seems very dangerous and the British Government should be standing up against it.

The Question asks Her Majesty's Government whether they have made an assessment of the threat. There is a potential threat. I hope that the Government are assessing it and conducting some research. However, I hope that the Government also recognise that it is one of a large number of potential threats that we face rather than the dominant threat. There are other forms of weapons delivery. NATO has suffered missile attacks. Many noble Lords will remember that on one occasion the Libyans fired a missile at Lampedusa. It was not a ballistic missile. It was a short-range missile.

If our forces were in theatre on the ground, inter-continental ballistic missiles would not be needed to have a go at them; Cruise missiles would do just as well. I trust that the Government are considering the range of threats that we face, a range both of means of delivery--including non-conventional means of delivery such as we have just seen in the case of the towers of the World Trade Centre--and of forms of weapon.

The range of responses to new potential threats is wide, and the military response is only one. During the past 30 to 40 years, we have done well by negotiating away some potential threats, such as use of weapons in space. We have also had the chemical and biological weapons conventions, the anti-ballistic missile treaty itself and the various arms control treaties, which have reduced the number of ballistic missiles in the US and Soviet inventories. Those are all diplomatic and legal means of containing potential new threats. We must continue diplomatic approaches, including those to encourage regimes to change--either by sanctions or by forms of engagement.

I am doubtful about the concept of rogue states. This summer I was reading a book about the Rumsfeld programme for military reform in the United States that says bluntly that the concept of rogue states was invented by Colin Powell in 1990-91, when US chief of general staff, as a means to justify continuing spending a substantial amount on the American military. One needed a new threat. I would love to have chapter and verse on that; it sounds horribly plausible.

The label "rogue state" was then stuck on several states that could be said to be threats to the continental United States--none of which so far have missiles capable of hitting the continental United States. North Korea, on a good day, can manage to reach Japan, but certainly not yet all the way across the Pacific. We saw that the Iraqis could manage a pretty bad shot at Israel, but not much beyond that, as far as we are aware. Iraq and Korea fit the category of states that live outside international society, in a sense, and are intent on opposing the concepts of that society. In my opinion, Iran no longer fits that category; Libya is in some ways moving out of it. So the label of rogue states is an easy one. It covers a range of peculiar countries, not all of which are similar.

During the past few years, we have suffered from the over-dependence of American foreign policy on military responses to threats and problems, as opposed to the alternative of broader, multilateral diplomatic or economic engagement.

Massive investment in an anti-ballistic missile system is not justified by the current state of development of ballistic missiles by potentially hostile states--certainly not in the time scale suggested by the Republican Right and think tanks in Washington. There is no prospect that within the next five years any hostile state will be able to hit the continental United States, or, for that matter, that any hostile state will be able directly to hit Britain. Research and assessment are justified, not massive investment.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Judd, and others, that a strong military lobby in the United States, allied with a Pentagon that is obsessed with hardware and technical fixes, is locked into missile defence as the next great new project. On Monday, I listened to General Wesley Clark talking about the obsession of the United States Air Force with hardware, as opposed to occupying the ground or using conflict resolution. That American general spoke with tremendous passion against his own armed forces. I share all those views.

One talks about whether the Americans intend to go ahead with the project, but it is not in their interests to do so. It is an ideological commitment of a particular group within the United States and of a number of companies, but I doubt whether there will be an American system. The United States is heading into recession and the Democrats may well have control of both Houses of Congress after the next mid-term elections. At that point, the whole commitment to Star Wars may begin to change.

Her Majesty's Government should be conducting an assessment--I hope that the Minister will tell us that--but major departures by the United States or its allies are not currently justified; nor is major expenditure. I invite the Government to consider whether they want to report to Parliament in written form on how they see the potential threats.

Photo of Lord Vivian Lord Vivian Conservative 9:26 pm, 30th October 2001

My Lords, this has been an interesting and thought-provoking debate. I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer of Sandwell, for introducing it today.

The main threat from ballistic missiles will probably arise from what are known as rogue states. A deliberate attack from Russia is no longer regarded as likely even though it holds a large arsenal of these weapons. An attack from China is also unlikely. Now about 37 countries either possess or are in the process of acquiring and developing ballistic missiles armed with weapons of mass destruction and nine hold nuclear weapons. The most significant of the so-called rogue states are North Korea, Libya, Iraq, Iran and Syria. It has been reported that during the next 15 years cities of the United States of America may well face ballistic missile attacks from North Korea, probably Iran and possibly Iraq.

From about five years all of Europe may well come into ballistic missile range from the Middle East. All these countries are developing their existing missile delivery systems by increasing their range and have stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons.

There should be no mystery about the reasons for the growth of missiles and weapons of mass destruction. Such weapons provide the most effective and reliable means of coercion and intimidation and thus constitute the most ideal weapons of terror. Some commentators have attempted to play down the problems arising form missiles claiming that Third World dictators and terrorist groups are far more likely to pursue their objectives by using human agents to deliver their deadly cargoes than to use missiles.

Indeed, "The man with the bomb in his suitcase is the real problem", has become one of the standard mantras of those opposing the development of ballistic missile defences. But to point to the existence of one problem is not to deny the existence of another similar problem. Both may exist simultaneously and ways for dealing with both will have to be found.

Nevertheless, the billions of dollars invested in such weaponry by relatively small nations strongly suggests that for many the ballistic missile is the weapon of choice, as do the elaborate schemes of deception to cover up the international traffic in missile and weapons of mass destruction components.

It is also clear that the ballistic missile has significant advantages over other delivery systems: it is cheaper than the fixed-wing aircraft, as well as easier to conceal; and it offers assured penetration, and political control over its use is more certain. The ballistic missile is also highly flexible in that it may be fired from a range of different platforms, including small sea-going vessels and submarines.

Finally, there is no doubt that in the eyes of Third World leaders, especially those who head volatile and despotic regimes, possession of these weapons confers status. It is clear that rogue states, from which may come the most likely threat, see the possession of weapons of mass destruction as an important lever in establishing a new relationship with the West. They believe that possession of these weapons will force the West to behave differently towards them, forcing it to accommodate rather than confront them.

It is clear that there is an increased risk of war between regional powers, but what chiefly distinguishes the new strategic environment is an increase in the number of states that possess nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction with the means of delivering them. Those who oppose the plans for ballistic missile defence on the grounds that it will lead to an arms race overlook the fact that it is already occurring in the Middle East, the Indian subcontinent and the Far East. Conversely, the acquisition of defences against missile attack may well have an important role in diminishing the drive to obtain ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction by reducing their military usefulness and, therefore, their values of coercion.

The USA has announced its intention to proceed with a limited missile defence capability, and without any doubt it is the only country in the West that has the technology to do so. It has been argued that the construction of a US national defence system would increase European anxieties that rogue states would consequently target America's allies, including the UK, rather than America itself. By contrast, the construction of a ballistic missile defence system which was global in scope--I emphasise those words--would protect the security interests of America's allies and thus enhance the cohesion of NATO, while contributing to international stability.

I turn to the current situation. Spain, Italy, Poland and Hungary have all made supportive statements on ballistic missile defence. At the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation Forum in Shanghai during the weekend of 20th-21st October President Putin seemed to soften his opposition to the amendment or scrapping of the 1972 ABM treaty. He indicated that agreement might be possible.

In conclusion, the attacks of 11th September underscore the realisation that terrorists and terrorist states are not easily deterred from their horrific missions. We on these Benches believe that the Government should take a lead in building support in Europe for co-operating with the USA on the development of ballistic missile defences to counter the new threat from rogue states and terrorists equipped with weapons of mass destruction. A firmer and clearer statement of government support for the principle of missile defence than that made by the Prime Minister in the other place on 24th October would be helpful. As the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, has repeatedly pointed out, without missile defence it will be impossible to make a success of the Joint Rapid Reaction Force if faced by an enemy with ballistic missiles. Further, it will not provide protection for our own expeditionary forces, thus weakening the war-fighting and deterrence capabilities of our conventional forces.

It is for the United Kingdom to decide whether ballistic missile defence can enhance its security. It is irresponsible in the extreme to go on ignoring the opportunity to help shape and influence a debate, and ultimately a programme, on which British lives may come to depend.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement) 9:34 pm, 30th October 2001

My Lords, in turn I thank my noble and learned friend Lord Archer of Sandwell for raising this important issue tonight. I also thank all noble Lords who have spoken from great expertise on the subject.

As the House would expect, Her Majesty's Government carry out continuous and rigorous assessments of the full range of potential threats to the United Kingdom homeland, including the threat from ballistic missiles. Our current assessment is that there is no significant threat to the UK from ballistic missiles. But I can assure the House that we continue to monitor developments closely.

I should make it clear at the outset that when we say that there is no existing threat to the UK homeland from ballistic missiles, that is not the same as saying there is no threat to UK interests. We are conscious in particular that we often deploy our Armed Forces to areas of the world where ballistic missiles are available to our potential adversaries, and where such weapons have been used before.

So far as concerns the threat to the United States, that is first and foremost a matter for its administration. We have made clear that we share its concerns about the threat from ballistic missiles. We also recognise that in certain parts of the world--for example, the Korean Peninsular--it has security commitments that we do not. We also recognise that the threat to other NATO allies, closer to the states of concern and of course its deployed forces, might be more immediate than the threat to the United Kingdom. I can assure the House that we regularly discuss the threats both bilaterally with the United States and others and collectively at NATO.

A number of noble Lords have referred to 11th September and the events that so much changed our world. Those noble Lords made the quite obvious but true observation that those atrocities were carried out not using ballistic missiles. That does not mean that we should relax our vigilance to the dangers of ballistic missile proliferation. What the events of that day demonstrate is that there are those who will seek to threaten the United States, its friends and allies with whatever means are available. We accept that in the future that might include ballistic missiles.

We believe that it is important to tackle all of these potential threats with a comprehensive strategy encompassing diplomacy, arms control, export control, counter-proliferation, conflict prevention, deterrence and defensive measures. We are already working hard with our allies and partners in all of those areas. But we must look to where we can do more and we must consider new elements for inclusion in what I have described as our comprehensive strategy.

Diplomacy, for example, forms a vital strand of the response to any security issue. By continuing to work closely with allies in areas of concern, by promoting international stability and by acting as a force for good, we believe that we shall be able significantly to reduce the risk from ballistic missiles not only to the United Kingdom and our deployed forces, but globally.

We are working specifically to combat missile proliferation through a range of actions. They include active engagement in preventing the supply of missile technology to programmes of concern through the missile technology control regime (the MTCR); greater counter-proliferation efforts against problem states; bilateral and multilateral efforts to urge restraint and to encourage roll-back of missile programmes; as well as wider international efforts such as the multilateral negotiation of an international code of conduct on ballistic missiles. As noble Lords will know, the MTCR is an informal non-treaty suppliers' regime made up of countries with significant missile-related technologies that have agreed to restrain the proliferation of missile systems, their components and related technology by controlling their transfer.

However, tackling missile proliferation goes much wider than technology control. But there are no international treaties dealing with the problem of missile proliferation. Over the past two years, therefore, the MTCR has been studying steps that the international community could take to address concerns about unconstrained ballistic missile proliferation. To that end, and based on an original text prepared by the United Kingdom, a draft international code of conduct, or ICOC, has now been developed. That draft will now be negotiated through an open multilateral process with a view to eventual signature during 2002. We hope that it will form the basis of a new international consensus against the destabilising spread of ballistic missiles.

As well as tackling the proliferation of missile delivery systems such as ballistic missiles, we need to target the spread of weapons of mass destruction that they could carry. Noble Lords will know that we have signed and ratified the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention and the Chemical Weapons Convention.

We also seek to minimise the threat through work in conflict prevention and resolution. By reducing tensions and increasing stability, we can remove the conditions in which proliferation thrives and in which the use of ballistic missiles becomes more likely. We are proud of the positive and leading role we have adopted with respect to supporting United Nations operations around the world. UK forces have been deployed to considerable effect in East Timor, Kosovo and Sierra Leone.

But, on its own, implementing non-proliferation and arms control agreements and seeking to enforce them is not enough. They continue to play a vital role in slowing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery, but even with those agreements in place, such proliferation has continued.

As I have said, we assess that there is currently no evidence that any state with ballistic missiles has the intention specifically of targeting the UK. We also assess that the threat from ballistic missile attack has diminished considerably since the end of the Cold War. Nevertheless, it is a cause for concern that some states are making considerable efforts to develop or to acquire ballistic missile capabilities of increasing range.

It is a matter of public record and has been referred to in our debate that North Korea and a number of states in the Middle East and North Africa have ballistic missile development and/or production programmes, and have the potential to develop or to obtain inventories of longer-range ballistic missiles. A particular cause for concern is the fact that North Korea is willing to sell its missiles to any country prepared to pay for them. For that reason, some states could achieve a capability to target the UK accurately with ballistic missiles within the next few years. But threat, of course, consists not only of capability, but also of intent. I repeat, there is no evidence that any state with ballistic missiles has the intention specifically to target this country.

However, the possibility that such capabilities might emerge, and the fact that our deployed forces in the theatre of operations can already face a ballistic missile threat, show that we need, in addition to the measures I have already set out, to be able to deter and defend against such a threat. We made clear in the Strategic Defence Review that all of Britain's military capabilities have a role to play in preventing war. The possession of robust military forces, in conjunction with those of our allies, presents potential adversaries with the prospect of losses outweighing any gains they might hope to make from aggression. This applies to the use of ballistic missiles no less than any other form of aggression.

Furthermore, there is a variety of forms of defence. I have referred to the potential ballistic missile threat to deployed forces. Let me assure the House that we have considerable capabilities for passive force protection against chemical and biological warfare delivery by such means, and we are developing more--detection, identification, warning and reporting of possible attacks, physical protection, medical counter-measures and hazard management. Those are all key elements.

And, of course, there is missile defence. It remains the case that we believe that it is premature to decide on acquiring a specific ballistic missile defence capability, either for deployed forces or homeland defence. But for some years we have been monitoring developments both in the potential threat and in the technologies available to counter it, in the context of needing to tackle the threat with a broad range of measures. The programme on this, set in train by the Strategic Defence Review, has recently been completed. In due course we shall announce a summary of its findings to the House. We will continue our national work and rule nothing out for the future. We will continue to support NATO in this area, and our bilateral dialogue with the United States, which has been ongoing for more than 15 years.

It follows from what I have said that Her Majesty's Government fully understand the potential role that missile defence could play as a part of this comprehensive strategy. A number of noble Lords have raised US missile defence proposals and asked whether they represent an appropriate response to the threat. Let me make clear that the United States shares our belief that missile defence can only be considered as part of a comprehensive strategy to deal with a wide range of threats. It has made it clear that it is not, and cannot form, a substitute for the other measures I have set out. The Prime Minister and President Bush agreed, following their meeting at Camp David in February of this year, that:

"We need to obstruct and deter these threats with a strategy that encompasses offensive and defensive systems, continues nuclear arms reductions where possible, and strengthens WMD and missile proliferation controls and counter-proliferation measures".

The United States continues to consult widely and fully. We have a regular and on-going dialogue with the United States on the subject, and President Bush has made it clear that missile defence is only one defensive strand of a comprehensive strategy that continues to include multilateral measures such as diplomacy and non-proliferation.

Russia and the United States are no longer enemies. It is right for them to look at a new strategic framework based on openness and mutual trust rather than enmity. Both have made it clear that they are approaching their on-going discussions positively and constructively. Both President Bush and President Putin have stressed their desire for a co-operative relationship, which, in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, we want to encourage. We welcome this and very much hope that a positive way ahead will result. We value such a stable strategic relationship between those two countries. We see no reason at all why the process of nuclear arms reduction should not continue.

Let me conclude my remarks by saying, in answer to the question posed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer of Sandwell, that while we currently assess that there is no significant threat to the United Kingdom from ballistic missiles, the Government believe strongly that our policy of pursuing a comprehensive range of measures to tackle proliferation and the potential threat from ballistic missiles is the responsible course of action.

House adjourned at twelve minutes before ten o'clock.