Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. David Chidgey (Eastleigh): I intervene at this point only because, as the right hon. Gentleman said, he is going beyond the debates that we had in the Select Committee. On threat assessment, does he agree that one of the major problems that we discovered in our discussions with American representatives is that although they have an extremely effective means of assessing the capability of rogue states to launch a pre-emptive strike on America, they have very little ability to evaluate their intent to do so? In that regard, does he agree that it is essential for us to have a rational, sane analysis of the threat, not the capability?

Mr. Anderson: I fully agree with the hon. Gentleman, who made a distinguished contribution to the Committee.

15 Mar 2001 : Column 1232

Such a distinction is of the utmost importance and might assist in the joint technical assessment by ourselves and the US that I suggested.

The questions that I hope will provide a platform for the debate concern the uncertainties surrounding the form of national missile defence envisaged by the Bush Administration. Will it be on the same lines as that of the Clinton Administration? Will President Clinton's four criteria still apply? The Bush Administration have already dropped the word "national" and are emphasising, perhaps for marketing reasons, that the dangers posed by an unintended missile launch will have to be considered.

The Bush Administration's review began in mid-February. The outcome is not yet known, but from early indications it may confidently be said that the President would prefer a more robust defence system than the one outlined by his predecessor, which could include sea and space-based components. If so, we need to examine those matters very carefully. Certainly a sea-based system would not be cheap; nor would it be quick. According to the Pentagon's most recent judgment, if the process were accelerated, an initial deployment could be made in the financial year 2011, but otherwise not before 2014, with possible full deployment in 2020. During those 19 or 20 years the international landscape could change dramatically. A sea-based system would be technologically very challenging.

It has been suggested that there might be concentration on the boost phase. The desire for multiple opportunities to intercept attacking missiles is understandable, but defence experts have highlighted a key concern about the boost phase--the shortage of time available to make an informed decision. Such a system would depend on an instantaneous automatic reaction. The decision would, in effect, be made by computers rather than humans, and there would be the potential for serious accidents and misunderstandings to arise, with terrifying consequences.

What should now be the UK's response? I recommend the International Security Information Service briefing published this month, called "National Missile Defence: The Role of RAF Fylingdales and Menwith Hill" by Dr. David Wright. The Committee emphasised some of the dilemmas that we in the UK would face in making a decision on NMD and Fylingdales as well as our traditional role as a perceived bridge between the United States and our partners in Europe. Of course, European countries have shown greater scepticism about the whole concept than have our Government. It would be unwise to make a firm decision about NMD until we have a clear outline of the new Administration's plans, so we should await the outcome of their review.

What exactly would be expected of Fylingdales? It is likely that it would still have a key role unless the United States decided to rely entirely on a boost phase interception. Would Europe definitely be under the umbrella? Would Russia be included? There is, of course, still no proof that such a system would work. We remind ourselves that even the more limited Clinton project largely failed each of the tests, with only one test being a partial success. At the end of the day, the UK will have to weigh up the options and decide what is in our best interests. Will NMD increase our security or put us at greater risk?

I also pose the basic question of what would be the impact of NMD on strategic stability, particularly if the new Bush Administration included extensive land and/or

15 Mar 2001 : Column 1233

sea-based systems and if they were deployed without Russian or Chinese agreement, which would abrogate the ABM treaty. That has to be given the highest priority because it has potentially disastrous consequences. The Select Committee outlined its fears. Last week, China announced an 18 per cent. increase in defence spending in response to drastic changes in the world security situation, focusing particularly on Taiwan. I noticed that today's Financial Times contained a suggestion that even the Chinese Government may be moderating their position.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): The right hon. Gentleman is making a most important point. The People's Republic of China is augmenting its defence spending at a time when there is no perceptible threat to it whatever. Will he speculate why China should be making that potentially aggressive increase in weapons of mass destruction? As China has not participated in the non-proliferation treaty or other treaties to limit the spread of such weapons, is that not a grave development, especially in view of the potential conflict over Taiwan?

Mr. Anderson: It is a grave development partly because of a potential spill-over into theatre missile defence and the perceived effects on Taiwan and partly because of the Chinese criticism of the hegemony of the United States in what is now a single-superpower world. I refer the hon. Gentleman to the article in the Financial Times, which makes it clear that China may conceivably be moderating its position in the light of the forthcoming visit to the United States of a senior Chinese official.

Russia is of course deeply concerned about some of the apparent attitudes in the United States Administration to the acutely sensitive issue of the anti-ballistic missile treaty of 1972. There are two points to make about that. First, officials in the United States Administration have claimed that the ABM is ancient history. That is certainly not true. Although some claim that because the Soviet Union is no more, its treaty obligations no longer exist, the Russian Federation has, in international law, stepped into the shoes of and assumed the obligations of the old USSR. Secondly, last month, the American Secretary of Defence, Donald Rumsfeld, said that he believed that Russian objections to NMD were "not really serious". That is a highly dangerous suggestion. The big question is whether the Russians are adopting an absolutist rejection of NMD or whether they are in a negotiating position. We must ask whether they are trying to gain access to American technology, which the US would be unwilling to give. What Colonel General Ivashov said on 12 March in relation to national missile defence is highly worrying.

There is real danger of an escalating arms response, as we have seen with the Chinese response of a potential increase in intercontinental ballistic missiles. There is also danger to the whole system of arms control, which would unravel. The Financial Times stated last week:

The litmus test is surely whether the end result will be enhanced or increased instability.

In my judgment, there is no topic in foreign policy of greater importance than weapons of mass destruction. I hope that our report will be seen as an important

15 Mar 2001 : Column 1234

contribution to the public debate; it certainly received extensive and largely positive press coverage. The role of the Foreign Affairs Committee is to monitor the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Where appropriate, we have been highly critical of it. In this area, however, the United Kingdom has a record of which to be proud. Mr. Dhanapala, the Under-Secretary General for disarmament affairs at the United Nations, said:

Mr. Dhanapala commended the United Kingdom on leading by example.

In this highly dangerous world, there is still no room for complacency, however. In 1962, at the height of the Cuban missile crisis, the then Secretary of State, Dean Rusk, said:

That is how close we were; we hope that we never get that close again. Whether we can avoid that will depend to a large extent on the decisions that we make now about how to control those deadly weapons of mass destruction. That is our responsibility at the start of the 21st century. The stakes are high. On behalf of the Committee, I look forward to hearing colleagues' views on this most vital of subjects.

3.22 pm

Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife): The report is extremely good and comprehensive. There is little in it with which I disagree, save perhaps in relation to the assertion of the Foreign Affairs Committee that any question of the relaxation of sanctions against Iraq must be conditional on Saddam Hussein allowing the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission to have access to sites where weapons of mass destruction may be being manufactured. I shall come back to that in due course.

I have two initial reservations about the report, the first of which relates to the opening paragraph of the elegant memorandum submitted to the Select Committee by Sir Michael Quinlan, a most sagacious and experienced commentator in these areas. He said that the use of the expression "weapons of mass destruction"

My second reservation, which has been freely acknowledged by the right hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson), is the fact that, since 25 July 2000, a great deal has changed. One may be critical of the fact that it has taken nine months to secure an opportunity to debate the report, but that may reflect the fact that the risk to the United Kingdom from weapons of mass destruction is probably rather lower than it has been at any time during the last 25 or 30 years, or even going back to 1945.

The national missile defence debate has moved on, not least because of the change of Administration in Washington. I still believe that the current proposal is unwise and proceeds on a flawed assessment of threat, as my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Mr. Chidgey) said a moment ago. The traditional definition of threat involves analysing capability and intention. It is reasonable to assume that there is a risk that capability will be acquired by certain states. However, even if it were, would those states use weapons of mass destruction in the certain knowledge that the likely response would be overwhelming and catastrophic?

15 Mar 2001 : Column 1235

I observe that the "states of concern" under the Clinton Administration have become "rogue states" again. There is some importance in language of that kind. I freely confess that my view is half-developed, but it bears further examination. If one treats a state like a rogue state, it is more likely to behave like one. It is true that some regimes are intransigent, some cheat and some enter into agreements with no real intention of keeping them. However, we must recognise that improved intelligence gathering makes deception, at least in the nuclear arena, more difficult. Weapons tests and missile launches are now easily detected.

I am concerned that describing states as rogue states and treating them as such means that political change is unlikely to be encouraged. Of the four so-called rogue states that bulk substantially in the minds of policy makers in the United States, with the exception of Iraq, the other three--North Korea, Iran and Libya--are all states in which there has been, or is, contemplation of political change. If they are lumped together in a single category and described in a deprecatory way, we may inhibit the very political change that would make safer our lives and those of people in those countries.

Many people hoped that the election of a new Administration in the United States would create an opportunity to reinvigorate the multilateral processes that control the means and opportunities for the development, use and testing of weapons of mass destruction. To use a colloquialism, the jury is out on that. However, there are signs that the new American Administration and Congress favour a unilateral approach to strategic issues. We all remember the Senate's failure to ratify the comprehensive test ban treaty. Taking that decision together with the apparent determination to press ahead with a system of ballistic missile defence, it is not too difficult to identify a trend.

Next Section

IndexHome Page