Queen’s Speech — Debate (5th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:27 pm on 15th May 2013.

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Photo of Lord Browne of Ladyton Lord Browne of Ladyton Labour 7:27 pm, 15th May 2013

My Lords, I am pleased once again to follow the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, in a debate in your Lordships’ House because it gives me an opportunity to commend his well-argued and characteristically clearly delivered speech. I sense from the response of noble Lords that the Minister would be well advised to heed the words of the noble and gallant Lord, as indeed I did every day that I was the Secretary of State for Defence when we served together in the MoD. I am also pleased because it gives me an opportunity, which I have not had so far, to congratulate the noble and gallant Lord on his elevation to Knight Companion of the Most Noble Order of the Garter. I remind noble Lords of my entry in the Register ofLords’ Interests, particularly my involvement in organisations associated with non-proliferation, arms control and disarmament issues.

On 6 and 7 May, the two days before the gracious Speech, I attended the ninth annual NATO Conference on Weapons of Mass Destruction, Arms Control, Disarmament and Non-proliferation in Split at the invitation of NATO and representing the European Leadership Network. There were over 100 participants in this conference, which has a very extensive agenda. Some 20 NATO countries were represented, as were four countries from the Middle East along with Japan, China, India and other nations across the world.

Chatham House rules apply to those discussions so I will not—even if I could in the short time available to me—share with noble Lords all of what was said. However, it was an extensive agenda, covering nuclear, biological, chemical and cyber threats. There was a significant discussion about the defeated ambition to have a conference on a weapons of mass destruction-free zone in the Middle East, and all aspects of proliferation were discussed. Many of the national delegations present had been at the preparatory committee of the NPT review in Geneva and had come from there. It was good to see that the Egyptians were at the conference in Split despite their leaving the NPT review disappointed that no date was fixed for a rearranged conference on weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East. The House will also be aware that the fourth P5 meeting to discuss the P5 obligations under Point 5 of the 64-point plan that came from the NPT review in 2010 and the

P5 obligations under Article 5 of the NPT took place on the margins of the Geneva discussion, hosted by Russia.

I think there will be agreement on all sides of the House that these are important issues. In almost any hierarchy of threats, these issues would be high in anybody’s priorities and on the list of issues being discussed. As I have said before in your Lordships’ House, when representing a European organisation in that environment, when both the United States and Russia are represented, and if China is also in the room, you have to have pretty sharp elbows as a European to get into the discussion. The scale of their weapons capabilities is such that Europeans, even when aggregated, appear rather small. It was slightly disappointing and worrying that there was no Russian voice in these discussions and at the conference, for the first time to my knowledge.

What was even more disappointing from my perspective was that there was no official United Kingdom voice either. At the NATO discussion on weapons of mass destruction, we appeared to have no point to make. This is not the only recent example of our country not being represented at important discussions relating to the threats and challenges that the world faces. Recently, the Norwegians convened a meeting to discuss the humanitarian effects of weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear weapons, and we did not turn up. On that occasion, I think, it was out of solidarity with our P5 partners, none of which turned up to take part in that discussion, to my disappointment and that of many other countries of the world, and which I am sure your Lordships will share. Although it was no surprise to me, I share the disappointment of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, that these issues did not deserve one line in the gracious Speech.

As will be clear to every noble Lord in this debate in your Lordships’ House today, the range of this debate shows the extensive competition there is for that priority. Almost every noble Lord who has spoken has bemoaned the fact that something was not in the Queen’s Speech. Of course, not everything can be in it, and the range of challenges for priority are very obvious from the nature of this debate. However, it is also obvious that if Europe is to seize the opportunities of the future, it has to deal with the legacies of its past. That has been a significant part of the debate this afternoon and it will be into the evening.

Nowhere is that more evident than in defence and security issues. The blunt truth is that the security policies of the Euro-Atlantic region remain largely on Cold War autopilot, 20 years or more after the end of the Cold War. The Euro-Atlantic region is home to nine of the 14 states in the world that have nuclear weapons on their soil and 95% of the nuclear weapons that exist in the world. However, we seem always to want to talk about the “other”, instead of what is in our own neighbourhood. We are home to large strategic nuclear forces, many—indeed, thousands—of which are ready to be launched in minutes. Thankfully, that does not include the United Kingdom’s forces, but it does include Russian and American forces. Thousands of tactical weapons remain in Europe and a decades-old missile defence debate remains stuck in neutral. New security challenges associated with prompt-strike forces, cybersecurity and space remain contentious and inadequately addressed.

This legacy contributes to tensions and mistrust across the Euro-Atlantic region and needlessly drives up the risks and costs of national defence at a time of unprecedented austerity and tight national budgets. We must ask ourselves why, two decades after the Cold War ended, the United States, Russia, France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom and other European nations spend hundreds of billions of dollars, roubles, euros and pounds in response to these tensions while both local and national leaders face a growing list of fiscal demands and unmet needs. This is not just about guns versus butter, although that is a very attractive argument in the current environment. The likelihood of a major war in Europe may have radically reduced since the end of the Cold War but this legacy undermines any effort to build a true Euro-Atlantic partnership to meet the common threats and challenges of the 21st century, which we can all list and which we all know will have to be addressed in a collective and multilateral fashion across the world. The status quo divides our continent and will set Europe and Russia up for a future of failure and irrelevance in the emerging international system if it is not addressed.

Many across the world believe that we need a new approach to defence and security issues in the Euro-Atlantic region. In response to that growing demand, the European Leadership Network, under my chairmanship, the Nuclear Threat Initiative under the chairmanship of Senator Sam Nunn, the Russian International Affairs Council under the chairmanship of Igor Ivanov, the former Russian Defence Minister, and the Munich Security Conference, under the chairmanship of Wolfgang Ischinger, brought together a Track II dialogue to discuss some of these challenges with experts. I was pleased to be able to invite my noble friend Lord West of Spithead, who accepted, and General Sir John McColl, the former DSACEUR, who recently retired and is now the Lieutenant Governor of Jersey, to join that significant group of people, including very senior former soldiers from Russia and the United States, to address some of these issues.

I do not have time now to go into the detail, but I have a copy of the report from that dialogue and I commend it to both the House and the Government. It is a comprehensive document that sets out the principles that ought to instruct such a dialogue and a step-by-step approach to take us, over 15 years, away from this difficult set of circumstances that we have got ourselves into by not addressing these challenges. We need political leadership but we will not have it if we do not even recognise this challenge when we set the course for a year’s debates.