Nuclear Disarmament — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:51 pm on 24th January 2013.

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Photo of Lord Craig of Radley Lord Craig of Radley Crossbench 2:51 pm, 24th January 2013

My Lords, as your Lordships will recognise, this topic has its periods of interests and enthusiasm, but there is an inevitable disconnect- perhaps not unintended-between being an advocate for multilateral disarmament while actively planning to remain in the nuclear club.

I have never doubted that the interests of this country are best served by remaining a member of that nuclear club and being a nuclear power of credibility. Many arguments have been put forward from the original decision immediately after World War II to become a nuclear power; to retain and, as required, update the credibility of that power. I also never doubt that the primary purpose is not for war fighting but for deterrence, although the worth of that deterrent posture and power have to be maintained and reinforced, particularly in times of stress.

Some may argue that when budgets are tight, and conventional defence means are underfunded, expenditure on the nuclear deterrent, both in capital and in running cost, could be of greater value to the national interest if devoted to conventional requirements. Nevertheless, legacy nuclear costs will still have to be met, and these will not be small. However, virtually all experience of the initial funding of the national deterrent is that it would be financed outside the defence budget, though for convenience and oversight it soon became a part of the overall defence vote.

Were a Government ever to undertake to match defence funding to some outside measure-for example, as a percentage of GDP-and to stick to that undertaking over a period of years, then perhaps the relative values of nuclear or conventional capabilities could be more fairly related to each other in financial terms. Lacking that commitment, the arguments for a deterrent posture have to be related not so much to the funding but to the widest possible interests of the country.

That is not merely to the deterrent threat which it might pose to putative opponents but to the influence it has in the field of friends and supporters. It is noteworthy that the arguments against our deterrent seem to rely on foreseen events, many of which have been mentioned today, rather than on the unforeseen, which all of us will recognise happen from time to time. Speeches and diplomacy-worthy and as important as they may be-lack the same punch that comes from a country with the ability, if required, to defend its interests vigorously or to mount expeditionary effort in the national interest.

If this analysis is accepted, or even only partially accepted, then what real credibility do a British Government have to take the lead in any renewed effort on multilateral nuclear disarmament? That is not to dismiss as worthless the efforts of many who try to gain momentum for this topic. It is important that the alternative view is heard and debated and tested against the current, shall I call it "wisdom", of today's leaders.

I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, on his initiative in launching this debate. I join him in congratulating the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, on his trenchant and well argued views on this and many other defence topics. The noble and gallant Lord has not been averse, after deep thought and consideration, to coming out of the nuclear closet into the conventional cauldron. It is a penchant for some Field Marshals and I, for one, think no less of them for their revisionist stance. However, I remain a nuclear champion for this country.