[Hywel Williams in the Chair] — Global Security (Non-Proliferation)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:30 pm on 4th March 2010.

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Photo of Mike Gapes Mike Gapes Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee, Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee 2:30 pm, 4th March 2010

I am delighted to introduce the fourth report of the Foreign Affairs Committee, which will, I guess, be the last report to be debated in this Parliament. The report, entitled "Global Security: Non-Proliferation", was published on 14 June 2009, and the Government response was published in August 2009. Inevitably, a lot of things have happened since then. Even in the interim between our report's publication and the Government's response, the Cabinet Office published "The Road to 2010: Addressing the Nuclear Question in the 21st Century", a position paper on the approach that the Government have taken in the run-up to the important non-proliferation treaty review conference, which is due to start in May.

Given the importance of that conference, it is essential that we have a detailed debate now in Parliament on what is happening. The previous review conference, in 2005, was a failure and there are real threats to the non-proliferation regime, including from North Korea and Iran and from the potential development of a nuclear arms race throughout the middle east from Arab neighbours of Iran, responding to that. There is also a change in the political relations between the United States and Russia and the tentative commencement of dialogue between India and Pakistan. Not everything is negative. There is no progress in the middle east in respect of Israel and the Palestinians and potential areas of conflict, but there are some positive political developments as we approach the review conference.

I should like to highlight the essence of the concerns and conclusions of our report. I am afraid that I shall quote an extensive passage from the report- paragraph 114, which is also quoted in paragraph 14 of the Government response. I want to place it on the record, as it is important. It states:

"We conclude that the five recognised nuclear weapons states have widely varying records as regards nuclear disarmament and arms control over the last decade. We welcome the fact that of the five the record of the UK has been the best. However, we also conclude that, owing to the way in which the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty...enshrines a distinction between nuclear and non-nuclear weapons States Parties, the five recognised nuclear powers are often perceived as a group by the non-nuclear weapons states, and that, as such, the group is seen collectively to have failed to live up to the nuclear disarmament commitments made at the 1995 and 2000 NPT Review Conferences."

The important point that we are making is that the vast majority of the nuclear arsenals in the world are held by the two nuclear superpowers: the United States and Russia. The UK, France and China, the other three nuclear weapons states that are signatory to the non-proliferation treaty, have much smaller arsenals.

Owing to the lack of progress under the Bush Administration on these issues, and their lack of interest in all things to do with negotiated multilateral or bilateral disarmament, we are in a situation today where the non-proliferation review conference can be put at risk unless there is a significant move on these matters, collectively, by the nuclear weapons states-that means, in essence, a move this year by the United States and Russia. I will say more about that in a moment. Paragraph 114 concludes:

"without decisive movement by the five recognised nuclear weapons states as a whole on nuclear disarmament measures, there is a risk that the 2010 Review Conference will fail, like its 2005 predecessor-during a critical period for dealing with North Korea and attempting to constrain Iran's nuclear programme."

We called for the Government to do more on these matters. I should like formally to take this opportunity to thank the Government for "The Road to 2010" document, which was published by the Cabinet Office. There was a certain procedural problem, in that our Committee was not given a copy quickly, although it was put into the public domain while the Prime Minister was answering questions at the Liaison Committee. I received the press release-but not the document-at that point, so it was rather difficult for us. That, however, is a process problem between the Cabinet Office, which sponsored the document, and the other Departments. We hope that in future the Cabinet Office will bear in mind that Select Committees have an interest and that our Committee had an explicitly stated interest in these matters. We should have had that document directly in advance, before it appeared on the websites and in the national daily newspapers.

Paragraph 115 of our report highlighted relatively well defined international agenda on nuclear disarmament steps in respect of which there is international consensus on a lot of matters, such as:

"entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, the start of negotiations on a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty, and measures to scale down, de-alert and make more transparent existing nuclear arsenals. We recommend that the Government should aim to come away from the 2010 NPT Review Conference with agreement on a concrete plan to take the multilateral nuclear disarmament process forward, with target dates for" all those areas and commitments from both

"nuclear and non-nuclear weapons States Parties to ensure implementation."

I should be grateful if the Minister updated us on the progress that has already been made, as well as on what progress he expects will be made in future.

There are problems. A number of countries are not party to the non-proliferation treaty. India regards it as an unequal treaty and therefore has not signed. Pakistan is also a nuclear weapons state, yet it has not signed. I understand that the Pakistanis are the main reason why we are not making progress on the fissile missile cut-off treaty; they have made objections in the United Nations negotiations process.

North Korea is a signatory to the non-proliferation treaty but has carried out nuclear weapons tests, although whether they were successful or not is debatable. Nevertheless, the North Koreans claim that they have a nuclear weapon-and their neighbours believe that they do-and they are in open defiance of the treaty and have said that they have withdrawn from it. One of our report's conclusions was that strong measures, including sanctions, should be taken against countries that withdraw from such a treaty.

Iran has not withdrawn from the non-proliferation treaty review, but it is in breach of its obligations under that treaty, particularly with regard to the additional protocol and successive UN Security Council resolutions. The American Administration have extended the hand of friendship, to use President Obama's words, but that has been rebuffed. The Iranians seem to be taking on a position that will inevitably lead to strengthened sanctions from the international community.

Interestingly, the Russian Government, who until a few weeks ago had been cautious about having tightened sanctions on Iran, now seem to have moved their position to support a tighter regime. The problem now in the Security Council is China, and its relationship with Iran. Gas imports are probably a major determinant in that, but China's attitude to bilateral issues with the United States over arms sales to Taiwan and so on may also be involved. I shall be interested in the Minister's assessment of that.

Professor Ali Ansari, the renowned academic, wrote recently with reference to the Iranian regime:

"The meaning of it all, of course, is that foreign policy has always been subservient to domestic needs and that the deliberate raising of the nuclear spectre is intended to divert attention at home and abroad. At home the government believes that the spirit of confrontation can help rebuild a badly damaged legitimacy, while the heightened preoccupation with the nuclear crisis can be used to convince Iranians that the west has no real interest in their human rights and democratic aspirations. Like all good demagogues, Ahmadinejad knows how to peddle fear and exploit paranoia, whether it resides in the east or the west."

That is a good summary of how the Iranian regime is trying to use the heightened tensions about the nuclear issue to reduce support for the Opposition following the rigged elections last year.

I do not want to take up too much time, and I am conscious that we may have a series of votes that will disrupt our proceedings, but it is important that I should highlight some of the most important aspects in our report. It went much wider than just nuclear weapons. It deals with a range of issues and includes references to chemical and biological weapons, cluster munitions, the arms trade treaty and the prospects for conventional disarmament. I do not have time to go into all the conclusions or the Government's response, so I want to focus on the non-proliferation treaty review conference.

One reason for the conference's failure in 2005 was the perennial difficulties in the middle east, and there has been no progress on the negotiation of a comprehensive settlement of the middle east dispute. As a result, it is highly likely that Israel's nuclear weapons programme will feature in the debates on the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Israel's internal politics cannot be easily influenced from outside. Members of our Committee recently visited Israel. There is a clear concentration on security concerns in Israel, as in Iran, and such matters have a relationship.

At the same time, there was the mysterious episode of the Israeli bombing of the facility in Syria, which the Syrians had not made public. No one is quite sure whether it was a nuclear weapons-related facility, but I understand that it was more likely that it was. It was suggested that the North Koreans had assisted the Syrians to develop that facility, which the Israelis, perhaps with intelligence gained from elsewhere, promptly bombed.

In our report, we drew attention to the interesting question of why the International Atomic Energy Agency was not made aware of the existence of that facility by the Syrians or, pertinently, by the United States and other countries that clearly had the intelligence to give some idea of what was going on. We commented on that in our report. In paragraph 94, we drew attention to the long-standing aspiration for a weapons of mass destruction-free zone in the middle east, and pointed out that the Government should try to do more under the European Union's Mediterranean process to work for such an objective. In their helpful response, the Government used an interesting phrase. They called on all states in the region to take practical steps in appropriate forums aimed at

"making progress towards the establishment of an effectively verifiable Middle East zone free from weapons of mass destruction."

Clearly, the phrase "effectively verifiable" is the essence of the problem.

Given that most countries in the region do not recognise the existence of Israel, that there is no peace agreement with Syria and that there is a cold peace with Jordan and Egypt, there is clearly a long way to go before achieving effectively verifiable zones free from anything. I hope that the Minister will touch on the significance and importance of that. I argue strongly that we should not allow the non-proliferation treaty to be put in hock to regional disputes-whether the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the dispute between India and Pakistan over Kashmir or any other. Those are wider issues, and we must try to make progress so that the review conference comes up with a positive agenda, a timetable and-I was about to say "road map", but in the context of the middle east I will not-a plan for the future.