Previous SectionIndexHome Page


4.31 pm

Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West): I commend the speech made by the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir J. Stanley), in which he expressed very clearly many of the concerns that are shared by most Committee members about the current rationale for national missile defence.

One of the lessons that I took from the Committee's visit to Washington was the extreme importance of the current network of international arms control treaties, and the enormous results that those treaties have achieved. Not unnaturally, our Committee tended to concentrate on the failures of arms control. However, it is very important to start by acknowledging the immense achievements of those treaties. I believe that they have contributed to making the world much safer today than it was decades ago.

Those achievements include, of course, the START 2 treaty, which committed the United States and Russia to continue to reduce their nuclear arsenals, and the unilateral action that the French Government and our Government have taken to reduce our nuclear arsenals. Therefore, four of the five nuclear powers are actively unilaterally or bilaterally reducing their nuclear arsenals. As the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling said, one of the outcomes of the 2000 nuclear non-proliferation treaty review was that all five nuclear weapons states made a commitment to work towards the total elimination of nuclear weapons. Although, unfortunately, they did not set themselves a target date by which that was to be achieved, at least they all committed themselves to moving towards the total elimination of nuclear weapons.

15 Mar 2001 : Column 1249

It is still a concern that there are three unacknowledged nuclear states--India, Pakistan and Israel. It is difficult for the international community to find a way of bringing them into the international arms control framework. It would not be acceptable to acknowledge them as nuclear weapon states and add them to the existing five, because by so doing we would clearly be encouraging other states to move towards acquiring nuclear weapons. Conversely, as it is not even officially acknowledged--at least in the case of Israel--that they have nuclear weapons, we do not have to face up to the implications of their having nuclear weapons in regions where there is active and open conflict and therefore extreme danger that those nuclear weapons might be used.

It is precisely because the international framework of arms control treaties has achieved and delivered real gains for world peace that the threat posed to those treaties from the United States plans for national missile defence is so extremely concerning. As has been mentioned, the original push for national missile defence came from the Rumsfeld commission. I believe that, at that time, he was Senator Rumsfeld; now, however, he is of course the American Secretary of Defence.

The prime error in the commission's work was that it used a different method of threat assessment from that which had been used previously. The commission did not attempt to assess the intent of a missile-owning state to attack another state--to assess whether there was a rationale to attack--but simply examined the state's missile capability, drew a circle around the state and said, "Everything within that circle is at risk." If that approach had been followed when assessing American nuclear weapons, for example, one could say that the United Kingdom is "under threat" from American nuclear weapons. That exposes the fallacy in the Rumsfeld commission's argument.

Mr. Wilkinson: Surely a serious analyst would examine the international relations track record of the countries that have acquired a nuclear capability and conclude that they were politically unpredictable as they do not have societal control systems to make quite sure that their leadership does not become aberrant and a threat to neighbouring states and the world order. Surely it is because of such a judgment that Mr. Donald Rumsfeld and his commission reached the prudent conclusions that they did.

Dr. Starkey: There is no indication that the commission assessed intent at all.

Mr. Wilkinson: Surely it has to be a fact that one judges a state by its military capabilities, in the knowledge that its intentions may vary with alterations in political regime. That is the point: capabilities can be built up over time and maintained, whereas there can be very sudden, abrupt and fundamentally crucial changes in political leadership that no one can foresee.

Dr. Starkey: I think that the hon. Gentleman is making my argument for me. In a proper risk assessment, one considers both the possession of weapons and intent. I do not think that he and I are arguing. I am saying that there

15 Mar 2001 : Column 1250

is no evidence that the Rumsfeld commission considered intent at all. That is why the risk assessment that it made differed so markedly from any risk assessment made by any previous American Administration.

The commission did not consider intent and, additionally, simply extrapolated forwards. It considered current weapons possession, decided what it thought those states might do, and said that America itself might be under threat, when it is not.

The Rumsfeld commission also introduced the bizarre concept--the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) may not feel that it is bizarre--of a rogue state. As the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) said, at some point in the previous American presidency, the concept of a rogue state had changed to "a state of concern". Under the current presidency, however, the concept has changed back to that of a rogue state.

Rogue states are in the eye of the beholder. One could list many criteria for defining a rogue state that could be used by some states to label as rogue states others that we regard as allies. The criteria include being unpredictable, intending to take action outside national law, and believing that national self-interest justifies action regardless of the framework of international law.

The hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood will know that there are countries that believe that the NATO action in Kosovo, which we supported, was outside international law. Although I do not agree with that assessment, some states genuinely question whether our action in Kosovo complied with international law. Inasmuch as they believe that we contravened international law, they may reasonably feel that they could view us as a rogue state. Such definitions, therefore, are distinctly unhelpful. Indeed, they say much more about the people who decide on them than about the states that are labelled as rogue states. In any case, as many other right hon. and hon. Members have pointed out, rogue states are not believed to provide the same degree of threat by other countries as they are by the United States.

The right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling pointed out that North Korea is now behaving slightly more acceptably in engaging in dialogue with South Korea. North Korea has agreed a moratorium on further testing of its ballistic missiles. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office does not believe that there is any significant threat at present from North Korea, which is starting to behave slightly less like a rogue state. The trend in North Korea, in foreign policy terms, is taking a rather more benign direction than has been the case in the past.

We heard evidence during our investigations that Iran has a perfectly legitimate right to feel under threat. It is right next door to Iraq, with which it previously engaged in an extraordinary war, resulting in the death of thousands of Iranian and, indeed, Iraqi citizens. Iran is also already within range of the Jericho 2 missiles that the Israeli Government have deployed. Therefore, it is perfectly reasonable to expect that Iran may wish to take steps to defend itself. Iran's acquisition of defensive capacity, given the threats that it faces, should not be taken as evidence that it wishes to move into aggressive mode. The Shahab 3 missile that Iran is developing has Cyprus and Turkey within its range. However, neither of those states feels particularly threatened, because there is no evidence of any intent by Iran to attack them.

15 Mar 2001 : Column 1251

Iran certainly poses no threat whatever to the United States. The only way the United States has been able to suggest otherwise is by extrapolating the threat forward and saying that Iran intends, in the fulness of time, to acquire missiles that would reach American territory.

Libya is assessed as posing no particular threat in this regard. Iraq is clearly a threat, but experience has demonstrated that America and the other allies, including ourselves, are able to deal with Iraq if necessary. Again, there is no need to cite the development of national missile defence to provide defence against Iraq.

The threat of the so-called rogue states is simply not credible. That raises very disturbing questions for other nations about the USA's intent in moving forward with national missile defence. Given that there is no credible threat from rogue states--but even if there were, there are much simpler ways of dealing with it--what exactly is the USA's intention in developing national missile defence? The suspicion must be that this is merely a precursor for something much bigger and that it is not simply an entirely defensive system. Making America entirely invulnerable, as far as America and some of its allies are concerned, allows it to act in a way that is distinctly unhelpful to other states and might be aggressive. That perception of the real reason for national missile defence, given that the cited reason is not credible, worries other states, including Russia and China, and has caused enormous concern among many people in Britain and other European Union member states.

The perception in Russia and China is important, not just because it is not in our interests for them to feel insecure, as insecure states do foolish things, but because the effect on China would be to encourage it to increase its nuclear arsenal. That has a knock-on effect on other undeclared nuclear states, notably India and Pakistan. An upward movement in nuclear movements would be extremely unhelpful.

The fear is that America is moving towards an ability to impose its will on other countries, regardless of international law and international norms. That general feeling of insecurity is not in British interests because it makes us less secure.

Since the report was produced, there has been a change of presidency in the United States and a change in the apparent nature of its plans. The new Bush proposals are not yet, I understand, completely formulated. However, there are suggestions that instead of having land-based facilities, America might move to sea-based or air-based facilities. There are also suggestions that British participation, through use of the Fylingdales listening post, although desirable might not be essential, and that America might move to attacking missiles in the boost phase rather than as at present.

As has been pointed out, even the original Clinton proposals could not have been deployed until beyond 2007. The new proposals could not possibly be implemented until beyond 2011--and, in all probability, way beyond that--so we are not talking about deployment of this facility in the foreseeable future. However, the US commitment to the concept--its preparation for it and investment of huge resources in it--is itself destabilising. It causes a climate of fear among other nations, which believe that America will simply impose its will. It causes all the compensatory reactions in Russia, China and other nations that help to unravel the arms control treaties.

15 Mar 2001 : Column 1252

I believe it is absolutely right that the Prime Minister has attempted to communicate to President Bush the deep concerns that are felt throughout the world about the American proposals. My right hon. Friend is trying to get across the importance of the Americans discussing their proposals with Russia, their allies and China, as well as the extreme importance of the Americans not unilaterally breaching the anti-ballistic missile treaty.

I am concerned about the wider implications of the American Administration's commitment to national missile defence and the way in which that commitment betrays a certain approach to foreign policy objectives. In the first instance, it betrays a unilateral approach. Of course every country must be concerned about its own security. All Governments have a duty to ensure the security of their citizens. However, we are all interdependent. Frankly, it is not within the power even of the American Government to protect their citizens at home and abroad by themselves. America is dependent--to a greater or lesser extent, depending on the circumstances--on other Governments helping them to protect their citizens, particularly when their citizens are abroad.

Every Government must take account of the effect of their actions on other Governments--especially their allies--and of the effect that their actions may have on the behaviour of other Governments, which may contribute to the greater insecurity of the citizens of the countries concerned. The current approach of the United States Government, particularly in regard to national missile defence, demonstrates the worrying view that they and they alone can secure the safety of their citizens--that they need not bother about the concerns their allies may express, and indeed that they need not bother about the concerns of Russia or China.

When we were in the United States, we heard advisers to Republican senators waxing lyrical about NMD. They demonstrated a disturbing mindset, seeming to be entirely unaware of the perceptions, fears and views of those outside the United States and, indeed, seeming to regard them as unimportant and irrelevant. The only thing that mattered was the safety of American citizens and the view of the American Government; everyone else would just have to put up with it. That is a worrying approach.

Another worrying factor is the almost exclusive reliance on technical solutions. The world is a worrying place, containing many regimes that are deeply unpleasant, but I do not think that many regimes are irrational. They may do things that we do not like, but there is a certain rationality behind most of them. Some regimes are certainly amoral, but that is not the same as being irrational.

As I have said, the world is a worrying place, but I do not believe that the problems can be solved simply by that reliance on technical solutions--and NMD is essentially a technical fix. It constitutes a refusal to face up to the complexity of foreign relations, and to the fact that conflicts generally have a cause rather than coming from out of the ether. It does not accept that the best way to start making the world a safer place is to concentrate on existing conflicts, and--through a combination of diplomacy and other pressures--to try to resolve them by removing the reasons for them.

The middle east provides an example. The United States is deeply concerned about Iraq and Iran, as we are. That concern is based largely on the extraordinarily poor

15 Mar 2001 : Column 1253

relations between Iran and America that have existed in the past, and, obviously, on the hostage-taking episode in the United States embassy in Tehran. Those relations are becoming more positive, but the United States is nevertheless concerned about the two nations.

The policy that the United States is currently pursuing in the middle east, however, makes a threat to the United States more likely. The bombing of Iraq, and the United States' unconditional support for Israel, help to stoke up conflict in the area and make it more likely that the US will be at risk from threats from this country and its population.

I was disturbed to hear on television just before this debate that the United States was about to vote, in the United Nations, against sending UN observers to the west bank in an attempt to protect Palestinian civilians from the excessive violence that is being visited on them by Israeli armed forces. We are talking of unconditional support for a state that is the only nuclear weapons state in the middle east, a state that is much more heavily armed than any other in the middle east, a state that is illegally occupying territory--as it has done for 30 years--and a state that is pursuing a policy of assassination of individuals within that occupied territory, as has been admitted by the Israeli armed forces.

That unconditional support by the Americans, and the failure to try to defuse conflict in an even-handed fashion, simply stokes up the problem in the middle east, and increases the threat that has prompted the Americans to propose NMD to protect themselves. Their reliance on a technological fix, and their ignorance of the need to pursue a diplomatic solution, worry me greatly, and I think we should not associate ourselves closely with such an approach. We should also bear in mind the fact that the general conflict in the middle east increases Iran's insecurity, and makes it even more likely that it will step up its programme of missile defence.

NMD is a dangerous diversion from dealing with those conflicts and it threatens to derail the treaties to control weapons of mass destruction. We need to make sure that the United States Government are well aware of the serious concerns in this country about the line that they are taking, and that they start to move away from their proposals for NMD and back towards serious measures, in concert with their allies, to reduce conflict across the world and to get the reduction of weapons of mass destruction and the treaties that govern it back on track. That will contribute most to the security of British and American citizens.


Next Section

IndexHome Page