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17 Oct 2002 : Column 531—continued

4.20 pm

Hugh Robertson (Faversham and Mid-Kent): As I drew my remarks together for today's debate, I realised with some horror that it was 21 years last month since I joined the services. A number of issues of huge strategic importance face the defence world today, including the reform and future structure of NATO and the whole question of defence procurement. However, I shall look at the immediate threat that we face, the way that it has evolved and the possible responses to meet it.

In 1981, when I joined the Army, and for much of the following 10 years, defence policy was governed by the threat of a Soviet onslaught on the central front. As adjutant of a tank regiment in 1989, I overflew the positions that our tanks would occupy during a Soviet invasion. Against this certain backdrop, other conflicts occurred, generally as a result of the decolonisation of European empires at the end of the second world war. Very occasionally, the two superpowers came close to collision. The Berlin blockade in 1948, the Korean war, the Cuban missile crisis and the Vietnam war are a few examples, but British defence policy remained governed largely by the certainties of the cold war.

The fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 changed all that. The hoped-for peace dividend failed to materialise and the new world order, stripped of the framework provided by the cold war, rapidly became a much more

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dangerous place. Sir Anthony Parsons, our ambassador at the UN, put it brilliantly when he described the transition as one

Great Britain and the west struggled to contain the fallout from the decolonisation of the Soviet Union, particularly in areas that the Russians refer to as the near abroad—those independent states that were formerly part of the Soviet Union, the former Yugoslavia and other parts of the world where nationalism took a hold. An analysis of this period reveals the origins of many of the problems that we face today. For the first time, the UN perceived the need to become more dominant, proactive and responsive. The United States, the one remaining superpower, began for the first time to examine whether it should go it alone, whether it should act as the world's policeman or whether it should react only when its own territorial integrity was threatened. We saw the first challenges to that previously most sacred of cows: the integrity of states within their existing frontiers. As a consequence of that and developments in the world of media and communications, a number of shadowy organisations looked beyond and across their own borders for the first time. We also saw the first signs of the doctrine of pre-emptive action, which was first trailed in the form we understand it today in the UN agenda for peace in 1993. Questions of command and control of forces in the field allied to other countries and of course money also began to rear their heads.

Although many of the defence issues that we face today had their origins then, the events of 11 September probably mark the start of a third post-war defence era in which shadowy terrorist movements and rogue states pose asymmetric threats to established democracies. If that were not complicated enough, it has also become clear that this new threat is itself changing and evolving. The horrific events in Bali this week have shown how the threat posed by al-Qaeda and its associates has itself evolved since 11 September and the war in Afghanistan.

How are we to combat this new threat? The first unpalatable truth must be that we have to increase defence spending. I was much taken by a quote from Major-General Fulton published in the October edition of the RUSI Journal, which said:

The United States has recognised this and increased defence spending by 14 per cent. However, before 11 September there were signs that the United States may eventually turn inwards and that will surely place a larger burden on Europe. As has already been said, the European rapid reaction force has identified 150 basic defence capabilities, but estimates are that 40 of those will be outstanding by the end of next year. Our own Prime Minister has very proper ambitions for Africa that will inevitably involve troops and more money. Increasingly we as a nation are starting to deploy troops not because our vital interests are threatened, but because we choose to do so, as we did in East Timor and Sierra Leone. There is also the question of credibility. We all agree that the threat from international terrorists and weapons of mass destruction is very real. If we are serious about confronting it, it will surely cost money.

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We need to face the fact that one of our most crucial weapons in the war against terrorism will be intelligence. We in Britain first learned that lesson in the 1950s and 1960s in places such as Malaysia and Kenya, but it is truer now than ever. In the age of modern communication, the means of gathering and collating intelligence have changed beyond recognition and it is vital that our security services are fully funded and properly integrated with those of our allies. The development of our armed forces to meet the new threat will also place a heavy burden on the equipment budget. I do not propose to list all the areas where we need new equipment, but just to name a few. They include the C4ISTAR, the new deep strike capabilities, strategic air transport and, crucially, an integrated land-based air defence system for the UK homeland.

Clearly, to meet this new threat, the scope of defence policy needs to widen. Responses will no longer be exclusively military, but also political, diplomatic, humanitarian, economic, financial and legal. Legality is crucial. Everyone in the Chamber would surely agree that the UK Government must always operate within the remit of international law, despite the fact that our enemies almost certainly never will do. That clearly points to an even greater role for the UN. Its resolutions confer international legitimacy. The UN may not be perfect, but in this new era it is all that we have got.

We also need to develop our home defence plans. The threat from asymmetric attack is clear and we need to develop effective responses that integrate local government, health authorities, emergency services and the Territorial Army. However, throughout all this we must not forget the importance of conventional warfare. It remains the case that forces trained for high-intensity conflict can always adapt to low intensity, but never vice versa. Conventional warfare also arises very rapidly as we have seen recently in the Gulf and may possibly see in Iraq.

It would be wrong not to touch briefly on Iraq and I wholly support the Government's stance. They were right to support the US Administration at this early stage, not only to influence policy, but to create a believable threat of force in order to apply the maximum strategic coercion on the regime in Baghdad. I certainly agree that the correct channel is the UN, as it will confer international legitimacy on the operation. The resolutions on Iraq must be robust and enforceable, but if the UN handles the issue correctly, it will do its reputation a power of good and, in this new uncertain era, send a powerful message about the standards expected of organisations and states in the modern world.

I said earlier that I entirely supported the Government's stance on international terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, but they must make clear the linkage between the two issues. I fully appreciate the need to protect scarce intelligence resources. Of course, none of us has access to that information. The Government must believe that if Saddam Hussein is allowed to develop weapons of mass destruction he will either use them himself or give them to terrorist organisations to use against us and that link needs to be made clearer.

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I conclude with a few words about our service men and women. I have highlighted the enormous changes in the defence world in the 21 years since I joined and something of the threat that we currently face. One thing that has certainly not changed is the quality and commitment of the young men and women who serve in our armed forces. Our thoughts should always be with them and their families who give them so much support. After all, we will look to them first in the difficult and uncertain days ahead.

4.30 pm

Llew Smith (Blaenau Gwent): A recent Ministry of Defence report revealed that the countries of the world now spend $772 billion on their so-called defences—or, more accurately, on preparing for war. The United States spends $400 billion of that on its war machine, and the United Kingdom spends #24 billion, the equivalent of $36 billion, for the same purpose.

One would have thought that, now that there are enough weapons to destroy the world many times over, the nations of the world would call a halt to such expenditure, but they have not done so. Indeed, the United States has announced that it will spend a further $30 billion a year. Do the people of that country, or its Government, feel that they are any safer in the knowledge that they can inflict even more destruction on this beautiful planet of ours?

Not to be outsmarted—if not outgunned—the United Kingdom has also decided to increase its so-called defence expenditure, by #3.5 billion by 2005–06. Not so long ago, the Prime Minister rightly reminded us that Africa is a

It will continue to be a scar as long as we continue to prioritise investment in weapons of war rather than investment in people.

Is it not ironic, or indeed obscene, that the Government can find money to increase the war machine massively, but cannot find money—or are unwilling to provide it—to compensate the victims of atomic tests in the Pacific in the 1950s? A letter sent to MPs by Ian Anderson, an American attorney at law acting on behalf of the American atomic veterans, said

That cannot be right.

The New Zealand and Fiji Governments have now recognised that compensation and, indeed, proper pensions are necessary for those who suffered radiation exposure during the tests. The US Government's department of veterans' affairs has announced that it will recognise five more cancers as attributable to exposures to atmospheric radiation for pension payment purposes. That brings the number of cancers recognised by the US Government as attributable to nuclear test radiation to 21. Why, on this occasion, are we not standing shoulder to shoulder with the United States in responding positively to what was a great tragedy?

I believe that we should do that, and I assumed that we would, because back in 1990 the present Prime Minister supported a private Member's Bill demanding

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compensation for the victims of the atomic tests. We now know from evidence produced in the past few weeks that the people affected—destroyed—by those tests were not just the soldiers involved but their children and grandchildren. Obviously they need compensation, as do those suffering from Gulf war syndrome.

I was brought up to believe that socialism was the language of priorities, but in this instance it seems that the Government are working on the basis of a different definition. They prioritise expenditure on developing weapons of mass destruction or war, yet cannot find a tiny proportion of that money to compensate victims of the creation of those weapons, or indeed victims of participation in wars.

Over the weekend, I had the privilege of addressing a national demonstration in Plymouth by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament against Trident and the refitting of that weapon at Devonport. We know that Trident has cost successive Governments some #15 billion. We also know that its annual operating costs are now some #280 million a year. We handed a petition to the Ministry of Defence protesting against Trident and its refit, and as we did so we thought of the many better ways of spending the money. It could be spent on health, education, better homes or responding to the tragedy of countries such as Africa.

The real cost, however, is not just financial; it also relates to all the skills, talents and creativity of the work force employed to produce Trident. My thoughts drifted from the financial cost to the cost in terms of the loss of skills that could be better used in the production of socially useful goods and services if we are to begin to plan for a world at peace rather than a world preparing for war—a world in which we really do begin to turn swords into ploughshares.

Yet the ultimate cost of weapons of mass destruction such as Trident consists not merely of the money spent and the skills wasted, but of the death and destruction that will follow its use. Is it not ironic that if Trident were ever used it would destroy not just the skills but the lives of the people who produced that weapon of war? I do not think that that is the reward that they would expect for their labours.

We are led to believe that President Bush and our Prime Minister are so opposed to weapons of mass destruction that they are willing to go to war with Iraq on the issue. Can the Minister explain this to me? If those Governments are so opposed to weapons of mass destruction, how can the United States maintain thousands upon thousands of nuclear warheads? Perhaps the Minister will also explain how the United Kingdom can maintain its vast nuclear arsenal. The Government should justify the number of nuclear warheads that they deploy and clarify the circumstances in which they might be used, because they have said that they are willing to use them.

Is it not an act of hypocrisy for us to oppose the possession by others of weapons of mass destruction, while justifying our possession of such weapons? Perhaps we do so because our weapons of mass destruction are nice, while those supposedly used by Saddam Hussein are nasty. Is it also true that the weapons that the west has sold to countries such as Iraq, Iran, Israel, Pakistan and India, to name but a few, are

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friendly weapons of mass destruction? If so, how is it that they are friendly weapons when the west sells them to such countries as Iraq, but become so nasty that we are willing to go to war over them when those countries threaten us with them or use them against us—or even when we believe that they possess the weapons?

While we are on the subject of Iraq, the House should not forget that this country is legally committed to nuclear disarmament under article 6 of the 1970 treaty on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, most recently re-endorsed two years ago. If we expect Iraq to submit to its international obligations to get rid of its weapons of mass destruction, we should also respect our obligations to do so. As for the United States, it still refuses to ratify the chemical weapons convention or the comprehensive test ban treaty, to approve the creation of the International Criminal Court or to abide by the non-proliferation treaty. When it makes a gesture to abide by that treaty and reduce its nuclear arsenal, it invariably relates to weapons that are redundant. It then proceeds to replace those weapons with weapons that are more deadly and sophisticated.

It is acceptable for the west to sell weapons to other countries, no matter how evil their regimes. Those countries can then use them to gas their own people, as Saddam Hussein gassed the Kurds, without the smallest of protests from the west. No matter how great the suffering, the Government tell us that arms sales are good for our economy. I invite the Minister to read the recent publication by the Campaign Against the Arms Trade called, XThe Employment Consequences of a Ban on Arms Exports". It demonstrates that at present only 0.3 per cent. of total United Kingdom employment is dependent on military equipment exports. Military equipment investment is capital, not labour, intensive. As always, the only people who gain are the arms manufacturers and dealers, and that has been true throughout our history.

Sadly, arms sales are also a corruption of democracy. That is clearly shown in a recent written reply by the Under-Secretary of State for Defence to the hon. Member for Angus (Mr. Weir) published last month, in which he stated:

Can the Minister justify this secrecy?

I shall conclude with something that, with a little help from Ministers, may have a positive outcome. We all know that 16 years ago Mordechai Vanunu was put in an Israeli jail. He has been rotting there and for 11 of those years in solitary confinement. On 29 October he comes up for parole. I want the Government to make all efforts to back this application from a brave man. It will not cost as much as two aircraft carriers or 150 state-of-the-art strike aircraft, but it would be worth so much more.

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