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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 15, May 1997

New British Labour Government

Editor's note: The Labour Party was elected to power on 1 May, securing its largest ever majority - 179 seats.

Labour Manifesto

'Because Britain Deserves Better,' Labour Party General Election Manifesto, April 1997

"Strong defence through NATO

The post-Cold War world faces a range of security challenges - proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the growth of ethnic nationalism and extremism, international terrorism, and crime and trafficking. A new Labour government will build a strong defence against these threats. Our security will continue to be based on NATO.

Our armed forces are among the most effective in the world. The country takes pride in their professionalism and courage. We will ensure that they remain strong to defend Britain. But the security of Britain is best served in a secure world, so we should be willing to contribute to wider international peace and security both through the alliances to which we belong, in particular NATO and the Western European Union, and through other international organisations such as the UN and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

Labour will conduct a strategic defence and security review to reassess our essential security interests and defence needs. It will consider how the roles, missions and capabilities of our armed forces should be adjusted to meet the new strategic realities. The review we propose will be foreign policy led, first assessing our likely overseas commitments and interests and then establishing how our forces should be deployed to meet them.

Arms Control

A new Labour government will retain Trident. We will press for multilateral negotiations towards mutual, balanced and verifiable reductions in nuclear weapons. When satisfied with verified progress towards our goal of the global elimination of nuclear weapons, we will ensure that British nuclear weapons are included in multilateral negotiations.

Labour will work for the effective implementation of the Chemical Weapons Convention and for a strengthening of the Biological Weapons Convention. Labour will ban the import, export, transfer and manufacture of all forms of anti-personnel landmines. We will introduce an immediate moratorium on their use. Labour will not permit the sale of arms to regimes that might use them for internal repression or international aggression. We will increase the transparency and accountability of decisions on export licenses for arms. And we will support an EU code of conduct governing arms sales.

We support a strong UK defence industry, which is a strategic part of our industrial base as well as our defence effort. We believe that part of its expertise can be extended to civilian use through a defence diversification agency."

The Queen's Speech

State opening of Parliament, 14 May 1997


"... My Government will ensure a strong defence based on the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, and promote international peace and security. They will play a major role in decisions to shape NATO's future, including enlargement, and to include Russia in a wider security framework. To ensure that the United Kingdom's defence capabilities are matched to the changing strategic setting, my Government will reassess our essential security interests and defence needs.

My Government will retain strong armed forces, including the nuclear deterrent. Preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction will be a priority. ..."

Defence and Foreign Affairs
Secretaries and Ministers of State

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Secretary of State: The Rt Hon Robin Cook MP

Minister of State: Derek Fatchett MP

Minister of State (Europe): Doug Henderson MP

Minister of State: Tony Lloyd MP

Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State: Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

Editor's note: Tony Lloyd MP will have special responsible for security and non-proliferation policy.

Ministry of Defence

Secretary of State: The Rt Hon George Robertson MP

Minister for Defence Procurement: The Rt Hon Dr. John Gilbert

Minister for the Armed Forces: Dr John Reid MP

Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State: John Spellar MP

Editor's note: The Minister for Defence Procurement, John Gilbert, will shortly become a life peer and member of the House of Lords.

UK Foreign Office 'Mission Statement'

Foreign & Commonwealth Office Mission Statement, 12 May 1997

Full text

"The Mission of the Foreign & Commonwealth Office is to promote the national interests of the United Kingdom and to contribute to a strong world community.

We shall pursue that Mission to secure for Britain four benefits through our foreign policy:


We shall ensure the security of the United Kingdom and the Dependent Territories, and peace for our people by promoting international stability, fostering our defence alliances and promoting arms control actively;


We shall make maximum use of our overseas posts to promote trade abroad and boost jobs at home;

Quality of Life

We shall work with others to protect the World's environment and to counter the menace of drugs, terrorism and crime;

Mutual respect

We shall work through our international forums and bilateral relationships to spread the values of human rights, civil liberties and democracy which we demand for ourselves.

To secure these benefits for the United Kingdom we shall conduct a global foreign policy with the following strategic aims:

  • to make the United Kingdom a leading player in a Europe of independent nation States;
  • to strengthen the Commonwealth and to improve the prosperity of its members and cooperation between its members;
  • to use the status of the United Kingdom at the United Nations to secure more effective international action to keep the peace of the world and to combat poverty in the world;
  • to foster a people's diplomacy through services to British citizens abroad and by increasing respect and goodwill for Britain among the peoples of the world drawing on the assets of the British Council and the BBC World Service;
  • to strengthen our relationships in all regions of the world.

The Government will seek to secure these strategic aims over the five years of this Parliament.

In the next 12 months we shall focus on the following immediate priorities:

  • the success of the British Presidency of the European Union, by opening the doors to enlargement and completing the single market;
  • an enlarged NATO and strengthened security partnerships throughout Europe;
  • a successful transition in Hong Kong, which promotes its prosperity and preserves its freedoms;
  • an agreement on specific measures to protect the world's environment at the forthcoming UN Conferences;
  • a productive Commonwealth Summit which promotes trade, investment and good government for all its members;
  • a deeper dialogue with the countries of Asia through a successful Asia Europe Summit;
  • a vigorous effort to develop our relations with key and emerging partners.

The Government will use the professionalism, the expertise and the dedication of the staff of the FCO in Whitehall and abroad to achieve our Mission. I invite them to join us in working together to deliver these benefits for the British people."

Press Conference on Mission Statement

Remarks by Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, Press Conference, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, 12 May 1997


"The global reach of modern weapons creates a clear national interest in preventing proliferation and promoting international control of conventional weapons. The Labour Government will give a new momentum to arms control and disarmament. We have already made a start with our joint statement with France and Germany to work for a total ban on landmines..."

Editor's note: see last issue for text of joint statement, and News Review in this issue for reaction. See also Documents and Sources above, for 21 May announcement of a new UK landmines policy.

Strategic Defence Review

'Britain's Defence: Securing Our Future Together,' Statement by Defence Secretary George Robertson, Ministry of Defence Press Release 055/97, 28 May 1997


"The world has changed dramatically in less than ten years. Since the end of the Cold War, the security risks to the United Kingdom, and to our Allies, have changed fundamentally. We no longer face a threat of general war in Europe.

But new security challenges confront us, including the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, aggressive nationalism, and international terrorism. We must ensure that Britain is ready to face those challenges.

Unlike past elections, defence was not a major issue on 1 May. The reason is that, in the minds of most people in this country, there has been a remarkable convergence among the Parties in recent years on the big defence issues. In this, as in so many other things, perhaps the people were ahead of their political representatives.

A Strategic Defence Review was a critical part of our Election Manifesto. The Review was announced in...The Queen's Speech.

Its aim is clear cut; to build on the developing consensus on defence and to establish the widest possible shared vision about Britain's future security needs and the tasks of its Armed Forces.

The achievement of a national consensus on defence is not an impossible goal. It exists in many other countries.

In the United States, a periodic defence review is an established part of their planning machinery, not a political football. This Review gives us a unique opportunity to produce a non-partisan approach to Britain's defence in the next century. I do not want this to be a Labour Strategic Defence Review, I want it to be Britain's Defence Review.

The Government was elected on a commitment that the United Kingdom must be strong in defence. We will assuredly honour that commitment. We will ensure that our Armed Forces are as able to defend our country in the future as at any time in the past.

But my aim is to go further, and to provide Britain's Armed Forces with a new sense of clarity, coherence and consensus.

The Review will be foreign policy led. We will work jointly with the Foreign Office to establish a policy baseline that will build on our strengths, and on the best features of existing policies and capabilities.

Most of the ingredients for success are already there and were set out in our Manifesto. Cooperation with the United States, our European Allies and other like-minded nations will be essential. Our security will continue to be based on the collective defence provided through NATO. We will maintain strong conventional forces and our national nuclear deterrent.

Those are our bottom lines.

Most important of all is the high quality of our Armed Forces. They are the best in Europe, if not the world, and I make no apology for saying so.

But although our ships, tanks and jet fighters may appear impressive, it is the men and women who operate, maintain and support them who really make the difference. This Government will give its full support to Service personnel, their families, and our civilian staff.

But we will not take the quality and success of the Armed Forces for granted. There are equipment shortfalls and manpower shortages. More fundamentally, our forces need a longer term sense of direction in defence policy and defence planning.

The world continues to change, with new security challenges and the impact of scientific and technological developments. Our thinking must be matched to future challenges and opportunities.

The Government will not take ad hoc or short-term approaches. We cannot shape the future simply by responding to the present. The Review will give the Armed Forces a coherent and stable planning basis for the year 2000 and beyond.

To do this we must look first at our commitments and interests as a country, in Europe and more widely. We must be clear about our objectives. Those will then be used to reassess our essential security interests and defence needs; and, finally, to decide how the Armed Forces should be structured, equipped and deployed to meet them.

Within the broad guidelines that I set out earlier, the Review will look afresh at all aspects of our policy and programmes.

It will also consider how we should get the best possible output from defence resources, and the contribution that our defence effort makes to the wider economy. I would expect work to be completed around the turn of the year.

...I want this Review to secure our future together on the basis of consensus across the British political spectrum. To achieve this consensus, I intend to make the Review process as open to outside views and ideas as possible.

The Services and our civilian staff will of course be fully involved. And we will keep our Allies and partners informed, and consult them where necessary. But I want our conclusions to have been formed and tested in a wider forum, and to be accepted as the right defence policy for Britain.

The Foreign Secretary and I will, therefore, hold two major seminars with a wide range of outside experts in the coming weeks to address the policy baseline for the Review. In parallel, I will set up a panel of experts, which I will convene to feed views into the process and act as a sounding board for our emerging conclusions.

I will also make arrangements to involve the Opposition Parties and the Parliamentary defence committees. I should like all those with ideas on policy and the best use of resources to put them forward.

No-one should be able to claim at the end of the Review that they were not given the opportunity to have their say.

This Government places the highest importance on maintaining strong defence and the ability effectively to pursue our wider security interests. The Strategic Defence Review will ensure that we have the right forces doing the right job for the United Kingdom.

It will give us clarity in our objectives, coherence in our planning and, I hope, consensus on our policy into the 21st century. We can and will secure our future together."

Editor's note: the press release was appended with the following note:

"Submissions for the Strategic Defence Review should be addressed to Jon Day, Director of Defence Policy, Room 7361, Ministry of Defence, Main Building, Whitehall, London SW1A 2HB, to reach him by the end of June."

Review of UK arms export policy

'Foreign Secretary announces review of criteria for assessing conventional arms export licences,' Foreign & Commonwealth Office statement, 22 May 1997

Full text

"In answering a written PQ [Parliamentary Question] today, the Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, announced that the Government is carrying out an urgent review of the detailed criteria used in considering licence applications for the export of conventional arms. Officials from a number of Whitehall Departments have been tasked to draw up a paper for Ministers to consider.

WPQ [Written Parliamentary Question]: Export Licences for Defence Equipment

Mr. Michael Jack: 'To ask the Foreign Secretary what changes he plans to make to the criteria governing the granting of export licences to British companies selling defence equipment overseas; and which countries would be precluded from receiving United Kingdom defence equipment by these criteria.'

Mr. Robin Cook: 'We have made a firm commitment not to permit the sale of arms to regimes that might use them for internal repression or international aggression. To give effect to that commitment, we have initiated an urgent review of the detailed criteria used in considering licence applications for the export of conventional arms. We support a strong UK defence industry but must ensure that exports are properly regulated. We are aware of concerns that some defence equipment exported from the UK in the past has been used for internal repression. The review will ensure that the risk of such misuse is fully taken into account, alongside all other relevant factors, in the assessment of all licence applications for the export of conventional arms. The new criteria will be made available to the House when the Review is complete. In the meantime, I have instructed my officials to consult Ministers whenever there are export licence applications which may raise concerns about human rights or international stability.'"

© 1998 The Acronym Institute.

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