Proliferation in Parliament
Foreign Affairs Committee Inquiry on Global Security: Non-Proliferation
The House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee is currently conducting an inquiry into Global Security: Non-Proliferation. There have been 3 oral evidence sessions so far with further sessions due to take place in Spring 2009.
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, co-President, Chatham House; member, Advisory Board to the International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament; former Secretary of State for Defence (1997-99); former NATO Secretary-General (1999-2003), and Sir Michael Quinlan, Consulting Senior Fellow, International Institute for Strategic Studies; Visiting Professor, Department of War Studies, King's College London; member, Advisory Board to the International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament; former Permanent Under-Secretary, MOD (1988-1992), gave evidence.
Q<89> <Chairman:> We will look out for that tomorrow.
Following on from what you have just said, Lord Robertson, there is obviously growing interest in issues related to nuclear disarmament and nuclear arms control. Why do you think that is?
<Lord Robertson:> We live in a very different world from that of previous generations who dealt with this issue. The existence of non-state actors, transnational terrorism and terrorist networks has brought more clearly into focus the potential dangers involved in the proliferation of nuclear weapons. There is also growing concern that that is in part to do with the existing non-proliferation regime, and that those commitments that we have signed up to over the years in the nuclear non-proliferation treaty in relation to abolishing nuclear weapons as a whole have been given insufficient weight. That may well have fuelled the desire and the ambition of other countries to join the nuclear club. So it has become a very current preoccupation that we should address.
Q<90> <Chairman:> You referred in your introductory remarks to the fact that you were one of the authors of the article in June, which was a British response, in a sense, to an American initiative by Henry Kissinger, Sam Nunn and others. Have you been involved since then in any concrete co-operation with the American authors of that original article, and is there a kind of international network now developing on this issue?
<Lord Robertson:> It is developing and building, but I cannot say that I have been as energetic as I could have been in following through on it. I have been preoccupied with the work of the commission that I am on and the work that it is doing. However, I think that a lot of its recommendations will feed through. I know that Margaret Beckett has also been involved in leading another initiative, and a few people are trying to put flesh on the bones of that. I think that we have to do that, because we have to think through a number of the practical issues that simply cannot be wished away.
Sir Michael will speak for himself, but at the beginning of next year he is going to publish a book that he has kindly shown to me in advance. He is the great guru of this issue. The book not only analyses all the background to the debate but puts forward a sensible and practical middle way between the total abolitionists and the absolute retainers. That is the territory into which those of us such as the American group and the British group have to fit.
I am sorry that I am the only one here to represent that rather remarkable group of people, which includes Malcolm Rifkind, Douglas Hurd and David Owen. I know that Douglas Hurd would have been here but for his wife's death at the weekend. I cannot necessarily speak on their behalf, and I think that Malcolm Rifkind has done a little more than others.
Q<91> <Chairman:> Is there a comparable group of similar status in other European countries that includes people with similar experience who are saying the same kind of thing?
<Lord Robertson:> I understand that there is, and that there are others involved in that. In a way, what picks us out is that we have been Cabinet Ministers-Foreign and Defence Ministers-in one of the P5 countries and current nuclear states. That has given us a certain degree of weight. Clearly, one would hope that the French will be involved in future as well.
What we said in the article, and what the Shultz-Kissinger group says as well, is that the lead needs to come from the bigger nations. The attention has been focused on the American and the Russian arsenals. It is very important that they are reduced, because they are quite significantly greater than would be necessitated by current deterrence theory.
<Chairman:> Sir Michael, do you want to add anything?
<Sir Michael Quinlan:> I do not think that there is a continental European gang of four in quite the same sense as the two groups that have been mentioned, but there is certainly a great deal of activity. The Norwegian Government are putting a lot of money into the study of the abolition aspiration on both sides of the Atlantic. I have attended meetings both at Stanford and on this side of the Atlantic. I am due to go to a conference in Oslo in which people like Hans Blix and Carl Bildt will be much involved. There is a pretty widespread impetus in favour of at least serious study of these things, which I personally believe is what is most needed now, rather than high speechifying. Some pretty hard study needs to be done.
I had some small part in prompting the publication, or the launch, of a study by the International Institute for Strategic Studies on the abolition question, which came out as a paper in its "Adelphi" series this past September.
Q<92> <Mr. Horam:> Sir Michael, you just said that what was necessary now was a rather more down-to-earth approach rather than high speechifying. I think Lord Robertson said something about the practical issues needing to be resolved. Will both of you comment on what are the most important practical issues to consider in the search for a third way, or whatever you like to call it?
<Sir Michael Quinlan:> To clarify, in the agenda immediately ahead of us or in studying the abolition question?
<Mr. Horam:> Yes.
<Sir Michael Quinlan:> On the abolition question, there are two large classes of issues. There are technical issues, such as how to verify, how to define what a non-nuclear world is, what must not exist, what must not be done, how to enforce and what to do about the nuclear energy problem. The IISS study got very much into that. There is also a quite different class of issues, and in many ways a much more intractable one: how do we make the Israelis want it, the Pakistanis want it, the Russia want it? What would we have to put in place in the whole world organisation to replace the role that nuclear weapons, to my mind, have played these past 60 years, in ensuring that all-out war is simply off the table? Both those classes of issues need a lot more work.
Q<93> <Mr. Horam:> Those are essentially political issues.
<Sir Michael Quinlan:> That last group is essentially that, yes. It seems to me that those issues are, in a sense, both more important-because they are about the will to do this-and more intractable.
Q<94> <Mr. Horam:> More intractable or more tractable?
<Sir Michael Quinlan:> More intractable.
Q<95> <Sir Menzies Campbell:> You described that group of people as remarkable, and I think that is a legitimate description. What is remarkable is that before, the debate was joined between unilateralists and what you might call retentionists. What we now have on both sides of the Atlantic are people who have always valued the utility of deterrents but who now as a group are ready to embrace the notion of multilateral disarmament, which has been more referred to in the abstract than given any kind of substance. That is the most remarkable feature, is it not?
<Lord Robertson:> I just want a more peaceful world. You have to start off on that basis. Being in favour of nuclear disarmament is the wrong end to start off with. If all you do is replace nuclear weapons and nuclear deterrents with fighting all-out wars again, you have not exactly advanced. You need to create the conditions in which people do not feel that they have to have nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction. I am much more worried about the use of chemical and biological weapons, which can be manufactured so easily and deployed so quickly, than I am about the use of nuclear weapons, but nuclear technology is not just a huge nuclear bomb or a ballistic missile. A dirty bomb would cause as much chaos.
As Sir Michael says, we really have to look towards creating conditions in the world in which people do not feel that they need that degree of deterrence. We can then move towards having the absolute minimum that is required to maintain what is useful at the moment, and move beyond that. That requires things, both political and mechanical, to be put in place to ensure that that really happens.
<Sir Menzies Campbell:> If it is any comfort to you, the Committee is taking evidence on both chemical and biological weapons.
Q<96> <Chairman:> We heard evidence two weeks ago, I believe, from Baroness Shirley Williams, who is on the International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament, which was set up by the Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd. I understand that both of you are on the advisory board of that body, but it has only had its first meeting. Do you think that it is likely to provide a separate focus, or will it very much follow the same lines, given that it includes people from the southern hemisphere and Japan as well as people from Europe and the United States?
<Sir Michael Quinlan:> It is useful precisely because it brings in a wider constituency. From what I know of its composition, it seems to be more balanced than, say, the Canberra commission of a dozen years ago, so I have high hopes for it.
I have not yet seen anything at all of the operation. In conversation with Gareth Evans, I agreed to join the advisory council, but I have not heard a squeak since then.
<Lord Robertson:> I thought that I had not agreed to going on to the commission, but the press release apparently makes me a member. Such is life after politics. However, it is good and worthy, and it includes a wider view and fairly high-powered people, who will look at the issues and practicalities and go beyond simple declarations. That is where we need to go. I hope the commission will assist with looking at the practicalities of how we get from here to where we want to be.
For example, a number of significant states have not ratified the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, yet we have jumped the fence and are starting to talk about other things. Getting India, Pakistan, Egypt, China, Indonesia, North Korea, Israel, Iran and the United States to ratify the treaty would be one very big step towards the objective of an overall regime that might encourage other countries not to go down the nuclear route.
Q<97> <Mr. Purchase:> I want to move to another subject, but just on that point, why would anyone any longer want to sign the treaty? If you develop a bomb outside of it, the President of the United States will make a special visit to your country and say, "Well done, chaps. Join the club." That did somewhat make a mockery of all the excellent work that has been done on the treaty over the years. That is just a comment.
Thinking again about the Times article written by you and your colleagues, Lord Robertson, you argued, if I have it right, that the more nuclear material there is in circulation, the greater the risk that it falls into the wrong hands. With such a flash of the blindingly obvious, who could argue that that is wrong? The direction of the article is towards greater stability by reduction. When we were at the UN six weeks ago we asked about the updating and modernisation of Britain's nuclear capability and whether that affects the perceptions of other nations, and we were told bluntly that it does. However, if we were to move down your track of choice, if I may term it so, and get to that wonderful, idealistic position where nuclear weapons were virtually out of the picture, would the world be more stable than it currently is?
<Lord Robertson:> In my view, not if you did it tomorrow without putting in place the proper verification and transparency regimes that are required. You have made the point that no penalty seems to be paid by countries that violate their own subscription to the non-proliferation treaty or do not behave in accordance with the International Atomic Energy Agency's rules on inspections. We have to move in lockstep with a series of other measures required to ensure that the same degree of security would be guaranteed. I will also say that statements of the blindingly obvious are not necessarily a bad thing: they are not always so obvious, and rarely blindingly so.
Q<98> <Mr. Purchase:> Yes, the truth of the matter is that on both sides of the argument there are some perfectly sound points to be made, and the question is how we argue and move forward on that one step at a time.
<Lord Robertson:> One of the worrying things that has stuck in my mind since my period at NATO was a meeting with President Putin, who said quite candidly that after the end of the Soviet Union a lot of things happened and a lot of things got lost, and he said that they did not know where they were. He said that that represents a danger not only to them, but to the world as a whole. They think that they order their affairs very well, but when we were signing the Ottawa treaty on land mines, if I remember correctly, I was asked by a senior Russian, "Do you want us to do away with all our land mines?" I said yes, and he said, "We use land mines to protect most of our nuclear stockpile sites, so do you think that would be a good idea?" I am not saying that that was a convincing argument, but they take that seriously. There was that gap between the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Putin era-a black hole that unfortunately still represents a danger to us.
Q<99> <Mr. Purchase:> May I press you a little further on the question of reduction? Do you think that the UK would gain from further reductions in nuclear stockpiles by the acknowledged nuclear weapons states? Would other states say, "Hip, hip, hooray. We should join you," or would they sit back, smile cynically and say, "Good-oh," or whatever other utterance came to their minds?
<Lord Robertson:> In dim and distant days I was a member of CND-it was very brief, and I lived beside the nuclear base on the Clyde. When I told President Bush that that was how I came into politics there was a degree of astonishment round the table, but I had mentioned people such as Robin Cook, Joschka Fischer, José Manuel Barroso and Mr. Piqué, who was then the Spanish Foreign Minister but who had spent five years in the Spanish Communist party, so President Bush probably thought, "Well, I was hell-raising at that time, so don't let's remind ourselves of what we did 30 years ago."
Those participating in the Ban the Bomb marches I went on had the great belief that giving up our nuclear deterrent would have a dramatic effect on the world because everyone else would say, "You are absolutely right and have done the right thing, so we will do away with our weapons as well." I grew disenchanted with that messianic sort of approach, but I think that the strategic defence review that I conducted in 1998 very considerably reduced our nuclear profile by doing away with free-fall bombs and nuclear depth charges and reducing the number of missiles on the submarines. There is still some scope for moving in that direction, especially if it is part of a graduated multilateral process that would encourage everybody to build down.
Q<100> <Mr. Purchase:> Is there any evidence that further nuclear disarmament by the acknowledged nuclear weapons states would strengthen the wider non-proliferation effort, and would any such effect operate on states such as Iran-a key point, obviously-which are believed to be pursuing the idea of nuclear weapons?
<Lord Robertson:> You yourself said that people use the modernisation of Trident as an excuse for what they might see as joining our club. If there was a movement, especially by the United States and Russia, who are massively over-armed at the moment, it would, in my view, encourage the process that we are talking about of putting regimes in place. Sir Michael might have a more objective view.
<Sir Michael Quinlan:> Could I distinguish between two things? First, as to whether what we do will affect the decisions made by other nuclear weapons states, I am pretty cynical. They will consult their own interests as they see it. I do not think that the Indians, the Pakistanis or, dare I say it, even the French, will be much influenced by parades of good behaviour by the UK. That said, provided that we do not run to a point where our capability is incredible or unstable, actions of that kind by us and by the others help to reinforce the non-proliferation regime as a whole, because it is seen as the nuclear weapons states fulfilling their side of one of the key bargains that underpin the treaty. To that extent it is helpful to the regime and it is fair to say that we, so far, have a better record of reduction and transparency than any of the other nuclear weapons states.
Q<101> <Chairman:> Sir Michael, you are referring specifically to article 6 of the non-proliferation treaty, are you not?
<Sir Michael Quinlan:> Yes. That is only one of the bargains in the treaty, but it is an important one.
Q<102> <Mr. Moss:> Following the White Paper in 2006 and the subsequent decision by the Government to renew the Trident nuclear capability, many commentators have said that the Government's declared disarmament and non-proliferation goals are not in fact compatible with that decision. Do you agree with those commentators?
<Sir Michael Quinlan:> I myself do not. We are still operating entirely within what we are entitled to do within our commitments under the treaty. Provided that we keep what we do to the minimum-I think the plans laid out in Command 6994 to the December 2006 White Paper do that-I do not think that need in any way diminish our credibility in the reinforcement of the non-proliferation regime as a whole, but it perhaps makes it all the more necessary that we do all we can to identify and forward what can be done to strengthen the regime. There are things that need to be done in that line.
<Lord Robertson:> I agree absolutely with that. We are continuing with the deterrent. On the question of a renewal or modernisation or whatever, we are going to build equivalent submarines to the ones that we currently have on patrol. There may be some technical changes to the warhead, but effectively we are continuing with what we have. If we again continue to look at what is the minimum that is required, I do not think that it breaches any of the lines that are there.
Q<103> <Mr. Moss:> May I come on to some of the things you were mentioning about the Russian example of items going missing and the dirty bombs? Is there a case for retaining a nuclear deterrent, even if states signed up for some verifiable decommissioning, given that there are rogue states out there that may or may not have these nuclear weapons?
<Sir Michael Quinlan:> It would depend on what was the totality of the political setting. Certainly, I would not be in favour of abolition unless we were sure of everybody else, including some of those we find less congenial than others, like Iran. I would not be in favour of anything like a unilateral or even a uni-multilateral disarmament. Perhaps I might add to my previous answer that those who say that we should not renew are saying that we have an obligation to abandon, which is plainly not what the treaty says, or suggests.
Q<104> <Mr. Moss:> How do you view, or assess, the UK's work on nuclear disarmament? In your view, what would be the most effective measures that the UK could take to advance its multilateral disarmament agenda?
<Lord Robertson:> The evidence that the Government have given you itemises clearly that this is a nation that takes that very seriously. The last Defence Secretary made that one of the key priorities and made a number of positive suggestions. In our commission's report tomorrow we will go slightly further than that and make a number of other suggestions: that we must use the instruments at our disposal-and the change of power in the United States-to further encourage rapid reductions in the strategic arsenals of both the United States and Russia; work for strengthening the non-proliferation treaty; increase the financial contribution that this country makes to the IAEA; and provide further practical help for states who are not fully able to deal with UN Security Council resolution 1540, which is a very important-and undervalued-part of the non-proliferation regime at the moment. The resolution places an obligation on states to prevent the movement of weapons of mass destruction. A lot of British expertise is being fed into that area, which we believe should be given greater attention.
We think that we should provide a financial contribution to the IAEA nuclear threat initiative nuclear fuel bank fund that has been set up. A number of other areas where commendable work has been done can be increased and intensified if we are going to be serious about getting a good outcome from the review conference.
Q<105> <Mr. Moss:> Do you wish to add to that, Sir Michael?
<Sir Michael Quinlan:> No; I am in accordance with all that.
Q<106><Mr. Hamilton:> Sir Michael, you said earlier that existing nuclear states will not be influenced by what the UK does in terms of its own disarmament or reduction of warheads. But of course we must fulfil the bargain that we agreed to under article 6, and others, of the non-proliferation treaty. However, put yourself in the shoes of countries like Iran for a minute. One of the arguments they put forward is, "We accept that under the NPT there are states which already have nuclear weapons and warheads and a capability, and they will try-or continue-to reduce those over the lifetime of the treaty. But you are saying to us that we cannot have these weapons-okay, we signed up to this in the NPT-yet you are continuing to renew them." It is the renewal that I would like your opinions on.
I know that we have explored this already, but it seems to me that if we were able to turn around to countries such as Iran and say, "We really are reducing our capabilities and warheads. We are not going to renew all the submarines and we are going to make sure that we gradually phase our weapons out," would we not be on the moral high ground? Would that not influence countries like Iran, who wish to develop these weapons, and other countries, of course who want to develop them if Iran produces its nuclear warheads? I am thinking of Saudi Arabia and maybe Egypt and others in the Middle East. Would Great Britain, by considerably reducing its stockpile of nuclear warheads and its ability to have an independent nuclear deterrent, not have a moral effect on those other countries?
<Sir Michael Quinlan:> I have to say that I doubt it. I would love to believe that it was so, but I just do not think it is a part of the Iranian calculation. I do not think that they would be in the least impressed by our getting out of the business, or by our halving our capability. I am all in favour, for reasons which I implied earlier, of our squeezing down as tightly as we can, and it may be that we can go further. I would hope, for example, that we will finish off with three submarines, not four, although I know that there are complicated operational questions there. Perhaps 12 missile troops, rather than 16-things of that kind. That would help us in the wider context, as I described, but I find it very hard to believe that those would influence whatever calculations are being made in that rather opaque regime. It seems pretty improbable.
<Lord Robertson:> They say that they are not looking for nuclear weapons anyway.
Q<107> <Mr. Hamilton:> Twelve months ago when we were there, they told us clearly that it is an un-Islamic thing to do, and that it is in their own self-interest not to have them, as they could be destroyed pretty much completely.
<Lord Robertson:> But if somebody says that, they will not be influenced by you saying, "Well, here's a good thing." They probably do not believe you, either.
Q<108> <Mr. Hamilton:> Possibly not, but unlike them, we would be open to verification from outside bodies.
<Lord Robertson:> I know. However, when I moved with your Chairman from one side of an argument to another, I asked at the time how we could ever persuade the Russians that we would do something such as giving up nuclear weapons, which to them seems so completely counter-productive. How would we ever persuade them that the weapons were not actually buried under Ben Nevis or Snowdon?
<Sir Michael Quinlan:> Or even in England.
<Lord Robertson:> Or anywhere high or low enough for them to go. If Iran is seeking nuclear weapons, it is doing so for its own purposes. It needs to know that a price is going to be paid, and that is why the present diplomacy in relation to Iran is so important. Everybody except some people inside Iran agrees that Iran should not have nuclear weapons. We must push that diplomatic area. I strongly believe that we need more diplomacy in the world, and that follows on from the analysis that we put forward. We need more back channels and informal contacts. Iran is not a monolithic country run by a Saddam Hussein-type dictator. It is multi-layered, multi-faceted and has elections.
We must engage with the Iranians, and one of the great tragedies of the last few years of the Bush Administration was our unwillingness even to talk to them. As NATO Secretary-General I did the groundwork for putting our troops into Afghanistan. We spoke to the Chinese, who said, "Yes, we are all in favour." I spoke to Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, I spoke to President Putin and President Musharraf of Pakistan. However, I was not allowed to lift the phone to talk to anybody in Tehran, despite signals which indicated that they wanted to talk. They were as worried about Afghanistan as most of its other neighbours. Instead of always talking about the mechanics of disarmament, more investment in diplomacy-both informal and informal-could be more productive than a lot of sabre rattling.
Q<109> <Mr. Hamilton:> And it is clear that the Iranians are still resentful about the way in which we would not communicate with them at the time-they mentioned it to us when we were there last year. I want to return to the issue of disarmament. Call me old-fashioned, but I still stick to some of the old principles of CND. What other opportunities and ways are there for us to rid the world of nuclear weapons, or can we never do it? If we can never do it, we must always have them. Is that not the logical conclusion? If we must always have them, other states will want them too, whether they have signed up to a treaty or not. What is your solution for ridding the world of these terrible weapons? They are the most destructive weapons known to man.
<Lord Robertson:> You may have been out of the room when Sir Michael gave a very eloquent answer to that question. Perhaps he will give it to Mr. Hamilton again.
<Sir Michael Quinlan:> Essentially, we have to work with other people on a difficult and long-term political agenda, to change the desires of states regarding what they think they need for their security. We cannot do any of that significantly on our own.
<Chairman:> Let us move on.
Q<110> <Sandra Osborne:> Sir Michael, you said that those who felt that Trident should not be renewed were tantamount to suggesting that there was an obligation to abandon nuclear weapons under the NPT, which I agree is not the case. However, I wondered about the timing of the decision to renew Trident. Did the Government have to take that decision when they did, or could they have waited until further down the line when there might have been progress on disarmament?
<Sir Michael Quinlan:> That turns very much on technical questions on which I have no particular expertise nowadays. Certainly, taking a cautious view on how long our submarines will last-we have only one system, and not much of it, so one has to take such a view-the lead times were such that, in the Government's opinion, we had to start moving. We have not ordered the boats; we have merely gone into substantial design work. We had to start moving then. There may also have been a consideration-a legitimate one, I think-that if we did not get some work going, the technical and industrial capability would have atrophied. You cannot switch these things on and off suddenly. So, although I am not in any way master of the detail, I find that a plausible story.
<Lord Robertson:> That is absolutely right. Certainly when I was at the MOD, the thinking about it was starting. When you have only one system and you have kept it to the very minimum, you have got to make sure that it is absolutely right-totally safe, utterly reliable-because what you are talking about is something pretty big and pretty grave as it stands. Therefore, saying that you can extend the service life of a submarine implies different risks in the system that you might not want to have. There are other countries in the world which clearly have been taking short cuts. We have seen examples of what that leads to.
What is right and proper when you are continuing a system? That is the issue here. We are not building a completely new system. This will be using the D5 missile. It may have to have an updated warhead, but it is basically the same design of submarine. Remember that that was one of the few Ministry of Defence procurement projects to come in on time and under budget. You cannot say that about pretty well anything else that has been produced by the Ministry of Defence, before or since my time in office. The reliability and the safety are absolutely paramount concerns, so moving early with what is a continuation of the existing system was the wise thing to do.
<Sir Michael Quinlan:> Perhaps I could add, since I have a long memory in these matters, that we had experience of twice being scared by things going wrong technically. We once had to retire an entire V-bomber type almost overnight, when we found a major fatigue problem in it. In the late 1980s, I think, we had a serious fault develop in the Polaris submarines, which nearly caused us to lose contiguous patrol. So one has to take a cautious, conservative-with a small "c"-view of these matters.
<Lord Robertson:> Has the Committee been on one of the Trident submarines? It is a pretty impressive regime in place there, to guarantee that mistakes are not made. That is a good principle, which should apply not just to the training and the quality of the crew but to the equipment.
Q<111> <Ms Stuart:> Still on Trident, but now on the cost of it-given the pre-Budget report, and the fact that we have started talking not about billions, but about trillions of pounds going into the economy, do you anticipate that there may come a point when we will say that this may be something that a UK Government now or a few years down the road simply cannot afford?
<Lord Robertson:> I do not think so. I cannot imagine a British Government taking that viewpoint, although it would be important for the Government to make sure that they minimise, so far as is practicable and safe, the price that would be paid. I held a very strong view about procurement projects, and I was not, sadly, at the Ministry of Defence long enough to embed the principles that I thought should apply there. I have done a foreword to a book that the Royal United Services Institute is publishing today about the procurement process, saying that we need to do it. I would not take the figures at face value. I think that we need to press down on them. However, we should remember that the Trident system and the existing submarines did come in on time and under budget, which is significant. I would hope that the same could take place, and that the cost will be minimised for the taxpayer.
Q<112> <Mr. Purchase:> May I push on a little further with the point that my colleague makes? When Robin Cook was Foreign Secretary, he visited the rusting, rotting Russian nuclear fleet. Considering the picture that you have just painted, Lord Robertson, of the immense technical problems that emerge in maintaining a fleet of this nature, allied to Gisela's point about the future, with billions, if not trillions, of liabilities that we might have in all kinds of directions, would it not be better to do without these things, given that no one can imagine the circumstances in which we would use them?
<Lord Robertson:> You have to imagine the circumstances in order to make sure that they never happen. That is the calculation made by the nuclear states. It has produced a remarkable period of stability in the world since 1945. These weapons have not been used since Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
We are coming to a point now where, first, there are far too many nuclear weapons, secondly, the technology and the materials appear to be spreading, and thirdly, we have a new breed of terrorists and non-state actors who might well use them. That is the point. You cannot undervalue or underestimate what nuclear deterrence did after the second world war by stopping people thinking that they could win a conventional war. We need to move to a different mindset. Of course, it is costly. All forms of defence and security will have a cost. Everyone will have to make a measurement about it. Making us less safe is not a good bargain with public money. Sir Michael also has a view on stability terms.
<Sir Michael Quinlan:> If somebody came to me in five years' time and said, "I am very sorry. We got the figures wrong. It is not 15 to 20 billion, it is 100 to 150 billion", I would suck my teeth and think again. That is a far-out speculation. Meanwhile, though we cannot describe credible detailed scenarios, this is our long-term insurance against the world going seriously wrong in ways that we cannot at present pin down. I do not think the world is yet a sufficiently stable and predictable place that we should now abandon this last resort insurance. That is the nature of the calculation and the judgment that has to be made.
Q<113><Mr. Purchase:> MAD rules? Mutually assured destruction?
<Sir Michael Quinlan:> No, it does not have to be that. That is a slightly different question about what we should be capable of doing. I do not believe it should be vaporising the other man's cities. That is another wider question.
<Chairman:> The acronyms from about 20 years ago include MAD and NUTS, which was "nuclear utilisation targeting strategies". We can get into some interesting ones.
<Lord Robertson:> No way here are we thinking about mutual annihilation.
<Chairman:> Let us move on to something related, but different.
Q<114><Sir John Stanley:> Lord Robertson, at the beginning you rightly drew attention to the huge scale of the Russian and American nuclear arsenals and how imperative it was to try to get them reduced. Because of the possibility-probability, perhaps-of ballistic missile defence deployment in Europe by the United States, the Russians have so far repudiated the conventional forces in Europe treaty and threatened to withdraw from the intermediate nuclear forces treaty. We have no conceivable prospect in the present climate of making any further progress on START, which is so imperative.
Against that background, I would like to ask you both this question. Given the minimal degree of extra security, in my judgment, provided by the 10 interceptors proposed to be deployed in eastern Europe, is it worth while in our own security terms to continue to support American ballistic missile defence deployment in eastern Europe, when the nuclear downside in terms of reducing nuclear arsenals-putting a stop on that-is patently clear as long as BMD stays an American policy?
<Lord Robertson:> That assumes that the Russians would stick with all the other agreements if the interceptors and radars were taken out of the equation, which is by no means certain. It is important to grasp the fact that the Russians are not opposed to ballistic missile defence. After all, they are closer to what President Putin once described to me as the "rogue states" than to mainland USA. Their excitement, worry and concern at the moment is about the location of the interceptors and the radars, which they see as being configured more against Russia than against the rogue states to the south.
Indeed, President Yeltsin's repudiation of President Clinton's offer about missile defence was succeeded, under President Putin, by an offer, which was made to me as NATO Secretary-General, of non-strategic European missile defence. It was a very thin document given to me by Marshal Sergeyev, the then Minister of Defence for the Russian Federation, which was essentially about a grand extra-theatre missile defence system based somewhere towards the south of Russia that would give protection against ballistic missiles.
There is common ground that there is a military threat, that there is a military solution and that the kind of deterrence that we have grown used to in the post-second world war period is not sufficient to deal with some of the new actors, which are unlikely to respond to conventional deterrence theory. I think we have to see what happens under the new American Administration and whether they take up President Putin's offer, which he made last year, of utilising a sovereign Russian base in Azerbaijan for an additional radar point, or even interceptor point, which, in many ways, would remove Russia's concern that the deployment was not actually about ballistic missile defence, but about relations with Russia. There is common ground that has to be explored. We should not necessarily assume that simply removing what has been proposed for ballistic missile defence resolves anything in itself.
Q<115> <Sir John Stanley:> Sir Michael, on my original question, do you think that in nuclear disarmament terms it is worth the Americans' while, and worth our supporting it, to pursue the existing proposal for the deployment of the interceptors in the Czech Republic?
<Sir Michael Quinlan:> I think that it is a bad idea. I am more deeply sceptical than Lord Robertson about the value of these things. I have seen an awful lot of military-industrial complex around in the BMD territory. I note that the Russians have, of course, their own BMD, some of which, we believe, is still nuclear-tipped, if you like. It may be that the fuss that they are making about this small deployment is overblown, if not manufactured. That said, I do not believe that the deployment has any value commensurate with the trouble that it is currently causing. I very much hope that, perhaps in a wider negotiation for a post-START or post-SORT treaty, the Obama Administration will be ready either to trade it away entirely, which would not grieve me greatly, or to make considerable concessions about its form and operation.
<Lord Robertson:> I would go along with a lot of that. I am not yet convinced that they have got it technically correct and, again, diplomacy is being overwhelmed by something that may not have been thought through. Going back to the previous questions about what is affordable in defence terms, President-elect Obama is going to have some very tough choices to make. It may well be that this issue will be one of those seen as being less important. Ultimately, it brings us back to the central point: if the conventional view of deterrence that we have had up to now cannot be seen to be effective against rogue states and non-state actors, what do we put in its place? Ballistic missile defence was one possibility. The other is building a world that is much more united, coherent and committed than the one we have now.
Q<116><Chairman:> Sir Michael, to take up your point, is there not far more politics in this than military utility? The symbolism for the Russians in the United States putting systems in former Warsaw Pact countries is more about a sense of the Russians' weakness. Therefore, they have become extremely agitated, because they want to show that they still matter in the world and that the Americans cannot position weapons in Poland.
<Sir Michael Quinlan:> I think that that is very likely the case. The Russians, I am sure, view with gut resentment the advance of NATO systems, even "defensive" systems, into what was once their own protective glass ceiling. That is probably driving along the steam. But, as I implied, I hope that we can turn that round in a bargain on a new treaty, which will not be easy with the Russians, because I would hope that a new treaty between the US and Russia would get into Russian non-strategic systems, about which they are very secretive and of which they probably have by now several times as many as the Americans. So there will be quite difficult bargaining to do, and we shall need chips to play.
Q<117> <Mr. Horam:> Would you therefore support President Sarkozy's call, along with President Medvedev, for a European security pact or summit to discuss those things, under the auspices of the OSCE?
<Sir Michael Quinlan:> Lord Robertson will have a more solid view than I do. I am a little uneasy about things of that kind, which look like the Gorbachev attempts to talk about the common European home and let the Americans-
Q<118> <Mr. Horam:> Why are you suspicious of those things?
<Sir Michael Quinlan:> Because it might be an attempt of the kind that France has been known to attempt before, in a different era, to arrange matters without the Americans or with the Americans in a less prominent role.
Q<119> <Mr. Horam:> Will this not depend on American participation? Would it be best to have a US-Europe-Russian security summit? I think that that is part of the idea.
<Sir Michael Quinlan:> If so, that is fine. I am still interested to know what deal is being sought.
Q<120> <Mr. Horam:> Involving Russia in all these decisions, both at a meeting and a practical level, would carry the idea forward.
<Lord Robertson:> But the idea is a Russian one. It has some, but not huge, support from President Sarkozy, and I am not sure whether he has followed that through. Any forum that involves discussion that is genuinely designed-
Q<121> <Mr. Horam:> You want diplomacy, and this is diplomacy in action.
<Lord Robertson:> Well, yes, and I also am in favour of modernised and new institutions in the world today that actually fit both the threats and the promises of globalisation. But one has to look very carefully at what this is actually going to do, at whether it is a plan to separate the United States from Europe, to undermine the integrity of NATO. Remember that we have a relationship between NATO and Russia, which I think was abandoned too quickly after the Georgian conflict this year and should be rebuilt. There are already some institutions there, but if you have a broader forum for discussion, it may well be that you should try to test it. After all, we moved from the G8 to a brand new G20 a few weeks ago, to try to deal with the emergency in the financial world, but the plan needs to be a lot more thought through or it could be seen as something that would separate America from Europe. That would be very bad news for Europe, and very bad news for Russia as well.
Q<122> <Mr. Horam:> But, Lord Robertson, you said in your article in The Times: "It is indisputable that if serious progress is to be made" on nuclear disarmament "it must begin with these two countries"-Russia and the United States. They have both reduced their stockpiles under the START treaty to the extent that they have fulfilled their obligations in practice. Do you think that they can make further progress? Should that further progress be between those two countries, without involving anyone else, or should we multilateralise the process and make it wider?
<Lord Robertson:> It would be very useful if those two countries would do it and found that mutually convenient. I think that the Americans went beyond START with their strategic missiles.
<Sir Michael Quinlan:> There was the Moscow treaty, which is post-START. They refer to it as SORT. That 2002 treaty runs the figures down below START levels, though without verification. They operate at a single moment in time at the end of 2012 and express very oddly, as a bracket, a limit of 1,700 to 2,200. A good treaty would need to move beyond that, both numerically and in measures such as verification, but I would be uneasy about trying to get the other nuclear powers into it. If it is to be a negotiation about nuclear matters, it has to be US-Russia. Bringing the British and the French into it would do nothing other than complicate matters.
Q<123> <Mr. Horam:> So you would carry on with what has happened historically under the strategic arms reduction treaty between the US and Russia?
<Sir Michael Quinlan:> Yes.
Q<124> <Mr. Horam:> That treaty ends next year.
<Sir Michael Quinlan:> The verification. The SALT treaty still has time to run, but without verification.
Q<125> <Mr. Horam:> Do you think that this part of the jigsaw can play an important part in nuclear disarmament or non-proliferation?
<Sir Michael Quinlan:> I think that a new and frankly better, more solid US-Russian treaty is perhaps the most crucial single part of the nuclear powers being seen to do their stuff in accordance with article 6.
<Lord Robertson:> There are signs that the initial response by President Medvedev to the election of President Obama was peculiar: the threat to put in, as yet untested, missiles into Kaliningrad. Since the speech was made, there has been a much more cordial atmosphere, and it has been elaborated. The day before yesterday, President Medvedev said that he was looking forward to discussions. It may well be that the chemistry of the moment can produce something.
I think that President Bush originally wanted to be quite bold in his relationship with President Putin. I had a conversation with him at one point after they had a meeting at what is called the southern White House, I think.
<Sir Michael Quinlan:> Crawford.
<Lord Robertson:> Yes, at the ranch, dressed in cowboy boots. President Bush said that he proposed to reduce strategic missiles. The President of Russia said that he thought that ballistic missile defence was a mistake and, if that was to happen, that he would move more of the Russian stockpile. President Bush said that he just told him, "You can do that if you want. It will just waste money. I am going to do what I am going to do, because I don't see you as the enemy any more. But we have lots of other enemies out there, and we have too many nuclear missiles." That was the initial bonhomie feeling. If President Obama and those projected as his advisers on the defence and foreign policy side live up to expectations, now is the time for a bold initiative.
Q<126> <Mr. Horam:> One of the other bits of the jigsaw is the comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty, which has not been ratified by the US Senate. One of our previous witnesses suggested that an early indicator of the new President's attitude to nuclear disarmament might be an attempt by him to get the Senate to ratify the treaty. Is that a sensible thing for him to do?
<Sir Michael Quinlan:> I hope so. I admit to believing that the CTBT is not, in cold strategic logic, as important as people have talked it up to be for the past 30 years. As an established political fact, it is seen as a major symbol of seriousness. I hope that President Obama will indeed revive the ratification attempts. With a Democratic Senate, perhaps he will have a better chance of bringing it off than before. That might crucially break the logjam, because the treaty, as you will know, sir, requires about 44 states to ratify before it can come into force. A lot of people are hiding behind the United States. If the United States ratifies, I do not think that the likes of India and Pakistan, for example, will want to be last holdouts. That would be a useful gesture, even if it were not as strategically important as people sometimes claim it to be.
<Lord Robertson:> That is why I think that our initiative, especially the one in America, is so important at this time, as it will become one of the early initiatives taken by the new Administration. I have had experience, as have others, of the separation of powers that the British donated to the United States of America and the sometimes helplessness of Presidents in the face of opposition from Congress. President-elect Obama has the remarkable coincidence of a huge majority in the Senate and in the House, along with huge good will in the country. If he has five minutes to take out of rescuing the economy, we want to make sure that he has a number of key objectives that he can do quickly to show that America is back in the world. That would be very important symbolically.
Q<127> <Mr. Horam:> If you had a five-minute window, as it were, this is something that you would choose to put in?
<Lord Robertson:> You could focus on the elevator speech. That starts you in a good process.
Q<128> <Ms Stuart:> May I take you to a different part of the world-India, and the US-Indian nuclear agreement? There has been criticism about why we are allowing this deal without India signing the non-proliferation treaty. The Committee concluded that we welcome the Indo-US nuclear deal, but added: "However, the political significance of the US offering civilian nuclear cooperation to a non-signatory of the NPT has seriously undermined the NPT. We recommend that the Government work to ensure the NPT is updated to take account of the reality of India and Pakistan's possession of nuclear weapons." The Foreign Secretary still hails this agreement as a great success. What would your view be? Are the British Government right to take that position, and what do you think the impact of the deal will be on the international community?
<Lord Robertson:> It has not yet happened. It still has to go through that famous US Congress. There is no guarantee that-
<Sir Michael Quinlan:> It has now.
<Lord Robertson:> Well, it highlights some of the things that we have already been saying. In the report that comes out tomorrow, we recommend that the British Government fund and contribute to a second, less formal track of diplomatic activity, involving former senior officials and policy experts from the P5, plus India, Pakistan and Israel, if possible, to start to talk about some of these aspects. We acknowledge that that is not easy. It is a bit of an aspiration, but unless you try these things they will not be successful. That is the important process that we now have to embark on.
Q<129> <Ms Stuart:> Just to be clear, you would not say that it is a question of looking at the NPT itself, but a question of setting up a forum between those who say that the NPT is dead after this deal-a possible third way?
<Lord Robertson:> It is not dead. There is a review conference to come up.
<Sir Michael Quinlan:> I am among those who regret the US-India deal. I wish the United States had found some other way of fulfilling its excellent goal of trying to reinforce the relationship with India. But that is over the dam now. What I would hope is that ways could be found-Lord Robertson has referred to suggestions to this end-of involving India, along with Pakistan and others, in the general process of strengthening the non-proliferation regime, discussing things like strengthening the nuclear energy and the withdrawal question.
I do not think that one can revise the treaty. That is a can of worms. It would simply be unfeasible or at least very perilous to try to do that. There is no way of bringing India, Pakistan and Israel into the treaties. They will not come in as non-nuclear weapons states, and they cannot be added to the list of nuclear weapons states. But I am sure that there are ways of involving them in a positive way in the future operation and strengthening of the regime.
<Lord Robertson:> One of the interesting features of the declaration by India and Pakistan that they were nuclear weapons states has been the sobriety that this has brought into the relationship between India and Pakistan. If someone says the bomb comes from under the table to on top of the table, you suddenly realise what is at stake. I learned at Sir Michael's knee how nuclear deterrence, certainly in the early stages, puts conventional war beyond question. Nobody could imagine that they would win a conventional war if nuclear weapons were there in the chain. So India and Pakistan are now talking in a way that they rarely talked before. Kashmir is much less of a flashpoint. There is much less sabre rattling. Building them into some new, informal arrangement might be the way to do it. Again, it comes back to whether we are willing to make an investment in diplomacy at this dangerous time.
Q<130> <Chairman:> We have mentioned a number of the international agreements or treaties that have an impact on proliferation. You referred, Lord Robertson, to the UN's committee on resolution 1540. We have also touched on other issues. How effective are the other aspects-not only of the non-proliferation treaty, but of the overall nuclear weapons proliferation control regime-and what could we do to strengthen the system, in addition to trying to move towards the reductions we have discussed?
<Lord Robertson:> We need to take more seriously what we have actually taken on. UN Security Council resolutions are important. Resolution 1540 is a remarkably comprehensive, voluntary agreement by all UN member states to do something about the problem. We have to continue to take that seriously, reinforcing it as one of the P5 wherever we can. The UN has a committee on the subject, and a group of experts, including one from the UK, but there is a perpetual threat-occasioned partly by financial concerns and by the usual weariness of the subject-that it will be suggested that it is time to wind up the expert group and have the committee meet less frequently. People have a tendency to move on to the next big issue, such as climate change or organised crime, but we have to be serious about what we take on, and if there are treaty commitments, we need to pursue them.
Resolution 1540 is one of the ways in which you can get individual states, small and large, to accept that they took on an absolute obligation when that resolution was formed. Policing, pushing and invigilating the implementation of that resolution, believing in it and resourcing are some things that the British Government can do. That applies also to the other elements in the archipelago of the regime, but I use the resolution as an example of something that I detect might well wither on the vine, simply because people think, "Well, we have done as much as we can." In fact, we have done nowhere near what we could do on that.
<Sir Michael Quinlan:> As Lord Robertson has implied, many instruments, not only the treaty, collectively form the regime as a whole. They include the missile technology control regime, the Nuclear Suppliers Group, the Hague code of conduct and the proliferation security initiative. None of them is perfect, but in the round they amount to a pretty good apparatus, and the record over the years is not to be sneezed at. However, some of them could certainly be improved.
I suspect that more could be done with the proliferation security initiative, although I am not a master of the detail of that; and there is certainly scope for improving verification, with more people-preferably everyone-signing up to the additional protocol to improve verification, although I am afraid that that would mean that the IAEA would require more resources. More could be done to tackle the problem of withdrawal from the treaty, which can be done too cheaply and easily. There could also be further, positive and more generous measures to cope with the nuclear energy problem. There is an agenda out there that the UK Government can help in and, I think, are minded to help in.
<Lord Robertson:> Yes, there is, and that was one of the objectives of the NATO-Russia Council when it was set up in 2002. It seemed at that point to be a unique forum, with the countries round the table agreeing, moving and incrementally progressing an agenda that everyone, on the face of it, says is good. To build it on a military organisation is no bad thing. The Russian military, for example, is obviously an important component in Russian society, and the military talking to the military brought about a bond of trust that I found remarkable, despite the cold war and its legacy. They speak roughly the same language and use the same acronyms and the same basic systems; and, after 9/11, they also had a very real common enemy, so NATO was ideally suited to do a lot of the sort of discussion that could have taken place.
Unfortunately, in the last few years, that body got a bit stuck in this process, partly because of the United States-the Department of Defence in particular-and partly because some of the other states which have never, or have not in recent years, traditionally liked Russia as a whole. The NATO-Russia Council was put into abeyance after Georgia, which seemed to me to be utterly perverse. I cannot understand the logic of having a forum in which Russia could, and should, have been engaged about what it did in Georgia. The council was never designed to be just for the good times; it was also designed to be a forum for debating and discussing some of the bad times and some of the differences of opinion, as well. The sooner it is resurrected, the better. The sooner it starts to look at that agenda, which included missile defence and non-proliferation, the better it will be and the more contribution it can make.
Q<132> <Mr. Horam:> The non-proliferation treaty comes up for review in 2010 and work is already going on towards the conference which will then take place. If you were still in your previous position, Sir Michael, advising the Government on their approach, what would you say should be their top priority in the build-up to the review conference? What should the main objective be, from the UK policy point of view?
<Sir Michael Quinlan:> Leaving aside the particular problems of Iran and North Korea, there are three general weaknesses in the regime, which the review conference ought to tackle. One is verification, which I have referred to. In 1991, when Iraq's books were forcibly opened, as it were, we made the uncomfortable discovery that the verification regime had not been working. That needs to be tackled by universalising the additional protocol.
I have also mentioned the second issue, which is the need to do something about the right of withdrawal. I do not think that it is politically feasible to amend the treaty and to remove the right to withdraw, but it would be good if international agreement could be reached on a package of rather disagreeable consequences, well displayed in advance, which any country seeking to withdraw without a very compelling reason must expect to undergo.
Q<133> <Mr. Horam:> In other words, to be a disincentive to withdrawal?
<Sir Michael Quinlan:> Yes, a disincentive.
The third priority would be to devise better, more generous arrangements to deal with the nuclear energy problem, which seems to me to be bound to become-or will in all likelihood become-more salient. At present, there is no solid arrangement for giving help with nuclear energy, without creating the threshold problem that Iran is currently exploiting. Those are my three priorities for the conference.
Q<134> <Mr. Horam:> You said earlier on that you thought that there was no prospect of Israel, India and Pakistan being brought into the NPT. Why do you think that is the case?
<Sir Michael Quinlan:> They either come in as non-nuclear weapons states, or nuclear weapons states. They would not come in as non-nuclear weapons states and the rest, to a man-or to a country-would not let them in as nuclear weapons states. There is no likelihood that people would want to open that particular breach, so one must, therefore, live with the fact that they are outside it. But the more one can recruit into the purposes and the operations of the treaty, the better.
<Lord Robertson:> It is not an unknown phenomenon in international arrangements for people to go along with. Indeed, the Americans have done that with the comprehensive test ban treaty.
<Sir Michael Quinlan:> The French were outside the NPT until 1992-for 24 years.
<Lord Robertson:> So you obey the rules but you are not part of the club. You go along with that-it apparently gives you the freedom to do it. But, given the constraints that Sir Michael has stated, that would be a way in which they could come in. They are probably much more sober now, in terms of their responsibilities, than they were before.
Q<135> <Ms Stuart:> How are the Government doing, in terms of their overall strategy on non-proliferation, given our view that it is very much a rules-based approach? It would also be interesting to see whether you think that we do not differentiate sufficiently between the nuclear and the biological threats? What about our internal institutional arrangements-within the Foreign Office and the funding or that, and the Prime Minister's special adviser? What is your assessment of the overall UK approach to non-proliferation?
<Lord Robertson:> I am not the most objective person. Since I am supposed to be here representing Malcolm Rifkind, Douglas Hurd and David Owen, I am even less capable of being objective. Sir Michael is in a much better position to answer.
<Sir Michael Quinlan:> It is a long time since I was directly in the trade, you understand, Chairman. My impression is that we do better than almost any other country in getting our act together. That is an observation that runs right across the defence field, in my recollection and experience. It would be impossible to say it could not be improved, but the Foreign Office operates coherently within itself and it talks to the Ministry of Defence pretty well. I doubt that there are huge imperfections obstructing our optimising the way we work in this territory.
Q<136><Ms Stuart:> Can I pursue one particular aspect? We have had witnesses who suggested that we ought to differentiate to a far greater extent between the various types of weapons of mass destruction. Some one wants to get rid of completely, whereas others one seeks to control. Is that an area where you think we could do better, by making greater differentiation, or do you think the present approach is sufficient?
<Sir Michael Quinlan:> I am not sure how much better we can do in practice. I deplore the term "weapons of mass destruction", even though it has a UN history going back to 1948, because it lumps together, under a rather loose title, three things which are very different. We have a decent chance of getting biological and chemical weapons right out of the picture. As I think we have brought out, the prospect of doing the same with nuclear weapons is a much more distant one. I do not know how much effort is now going from HMG into the BW and CW territory, but as Lord Robertson implied earlier, that is something we should not forget about. There are things that can be done.
<Lord Robertson:> I firmly believe we should distinguish between them. What we have talked about, by and large, is nuclear weapons. It is very different. There is a non-proliferation treaty, the P5-there are all these arrangements, whereas with chemical and biological warfare, in the kind of world we now live in, with non-state actors and rogue states, there are real perils involved. We can focus on them and there can be some remedies, but there is almost a "nobody would dare do it" feeling around that paralyses people, even though the weapons are so easy to manufacture, easily available and easily deployable, In this increasingly globalised world, they can cause such trouble.
In research for our commission, it was interesting to see the estimate that if there were a flu epidemic now, as there was in 1918, 147 million people would die. Of those who caught SARS in the epidemic four years ago, 50% died, and the disease travelled to four continents in 24 hours. The capability for an epidemic-which might not be hostile-created-is huge and sometimes much more real than the threat from nuclear weapons, which people in all the countries that have them are very careful about.
These other things are happening in a world where ordered society is disappearing and new threats are coming up all the time. The World Health Organisation says a new disease emerges every year. There has been a large number of new diseases in the last decade. Suddenly two weeks ago, following an unprecedented financial meltdown, we have piracy on the high seas, with huge tankers taken over. So the range of problems, difficulties and threats is enormous. What might happen if we had that flu epidemic is beyond thinking for many people, and yet we should be thinking about it.
<Chairman:> On that optimistic note, I conclude today's evidence session. Lord Robertson and Sir Michael Quinlan, thank you very much for coming.
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Professor Malcolm Chalmers, Professor of International
To begin by going back to the history, those of us who were around in the 1960s, '70s and '80s are well aware of all the various books about nuclear deterrence and the argument that in certain circumstances war was prevented by the existence of nuclear weapons. Are the Government right in those circumstances to have a policy of opposing all nuclear weapons proliferation, or could there be circumstances in which potential adversaries possessing weapons of mass destruction deter each other from the use of such weapons?
I think that there is a recognition that nuclear weapons present one of the greatest dangers to mankind, and even though nuclear weapons have played an important role in the past 60 days in helping to prevent a conflict between the major powers, the existence of the weapons themselves means that the potential for misuse, miscalculation and mistakes remains high. There are instances, as you with your reference to history will know well. In the Cuban missile crisis and the India-Pakistan standoffs of 1998 and 2002, the world came perilously close to seeing nuclear exchanges. As a goal, disarmament remains vital.
What we should worry about, and this is why there is so much focus on
The other trend that is worrisome is that
My final point is that there can be tension between, on the one hand, having nuclear weapons systems for use in very extreme circumstances which are designed to prevent the possibility of their not being able to be used when required, and on the other hand, the requirement to ensure that they are never used inadvertently. There is a trade-off there, and there always will be.
My final point is that it is entirely possible that the Iranians will continue moving down a route of approaching such a capability, going as far as they can within the constraints of the NPT, but not actually going over that final stage, unless there is some immediate reason for doing so, and that is perhaps rather more likely than complete weaponisation. As politics with Iran play out over the next two or three years, one of the things that I worry about is avoiding a situation in which Iran pulls out of the NPT in the way North Korea did, because that could radically accelerate the nature of the crisis in a way that we would all lose out from.
My judgment is that we are in a situation, as we have been for some
time, where there is a close interaction between discussions about the
political future of
The CIA's track record in past instances did not have anywhere near the degree of hard evidence that it had in this case. It had photographs on the ground that matched the overhead imagery. It had somebody inside the reactor with photographs. If somebody did not believe that, they would not believe anything.
Opportunities were missed after the cold war by not proceeding more
rapidly in some of those areas, when
There are now real prospects in relation to the comprehensive test ban
treaty; we may now be in a situation where the
Similarly-perhaps not now, but at some stage in the coming years-it
is possible that India and Pakistan may come to the view that they have
enough fissile material that they are prepared to sign on to a fissile
material cut-off treaty. I do not think that is yet the case. As Mark
was explaining in relation to
The second way that I would compliment
I think that that characterises a number of the relationships in today's
world, so arms control can play a role in increasing trust, but if you
put too much weight on it and do not address some of the fundamental underlying
political issues, there is a severe limit to how far you can go.
We are now in a phase in which relationships with
In the case of the
That is what the UK Government did, to their credit, in the White Paper. One can argue whether they could have done more, but that was basically what they did. Much more so than other nuclear weapon states, the UK went out of its way to explain to non-nuclear weapon states and others why it was going down that route and why, if it becomes possible-if nuclear disarmament makes progress over the next 20 years-it might not be necessary to continue the programme, but we are not there yet.
Iranians look to the
I do not think that
There are various technical ways that one can think about doing that. One could certainly take the vast majority of systems off that sort of alert. In that respect, I think that submarines are more stabilising, because even if there is, for example, intelligence that your own country has been attacked by nuclear weapons, you can take the time to find out whether that is actually, clearly, the case before a retaliatory strike is authorised. However, you need to have the procedures in place for your submarine or missile field commanders or for your bombers to ensure that time is available.
The other point I would make is about a world in which countries, including the US and Russia, say that they want to move forward on nuclear disarmament, but have so little confidence in the process that they maintain such a large number on very high levels of alert. There is a certain contradiction there, which suggests that they have little faith in the process. However, you can make a lot of progress relatively quickly in the process of de-alerting, whereas the process of disarmament, in terms of verifiably destroying warheads, will inevitably take much longer. One of the things that Sam Nunn, people at the Hoover Institute and others have talked about is that this is a first step towards that longer-term goal.
Whether it is wise to take all forces off some degree of alert is debatable.
Some de-alerting proposals can increase vulnerabilities. That is a live
debate in the case of the
I turn to the non-proliferation treaty. This Committee is here, above all, to examine the policy of the British Government. I ask you both to say, first, what realistic objectives might be achievable for the British Government from the non-proliferation treaty; and, beyond that, what objectives would you like to see achieved, but might not be so easily achievable? It is important to separate out what is within the realm of realistic possibilities, as opposed to hopes for the future.
Secondly, there is potential for real progress in US-Russia discussions.
There are lots of different formulae out there. There is now a recognition
The third area in relation to disarmament where some progress could
be made, although perhaps on a longer time scale, is finding ways in which
to develop transparency and verification measures between the five recognised
nuclear weapons states. It is something that the
The caveat to that relates particularly to
All of this is important, but there is also a real risk in relation
I think there are some ways that the non-proliferation steps can be
improved. One of these would be strengthening the withdrawal clause, so
that we do not have another situation like
In a way we are crying over spilt milk-the deal is done. The Nuclear
Suppliers Group ratified it and it is going forward. The question is how
can we make butter out of the spilt milk? The best outcome would be if
Examination of Witness
Witness: Baroness Williams of
I was invited to join the board of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, which
is directed by Sam Nunn, the former Senator for Georgia and chairman of
the Senate Committee on Armed Services while he was in the Senate, which
was a long period. He and the other board members invited me to serve
on the board and I have been on it since 2001, which is a reasonably long
period. In that capacity, I have been to almost all the board meetings
and a number of the other projects that it undertakes. As you mentioned,
those are primarily in the context of securing nuclear materials worldwide,
with a particular emphasis on
I next got invited, partly because of this, by Gareth Evans, President
and CEO of the
What are my relationships within the Government? I primarily work with
the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. I was present at the recent meeting
that the Foreign Secretary had on 18 July to discuss the way ahead on
nuclear security issues and so forth. I see a great deal more of him than
of the Prime Minister, particularly since the economic crisis started.
I often correspond with the Prime Minister, but it would be fair to say
that the economic crisis in the last few months has tended to mean that
nuclear proliferation has moved more thoroughly under the aegis of the
Foreign Secretary, the Prime Minister having rather limited time for it.
It is interesting that throughout the parts of the world that I have been
involved in, including the
I have not often heard such outspoken comments as I heard at the 2008
preparatory committee of the NPT in
That means that there is a sense that, as the global balance shifts
It is interesting that Mr. James Dobbins, whom I know quite well, and
is a director at the RAND Institute, which many of you will know has a
highly sophisticated and very capable military intelligence centre, takes
the same view. I thought that you might ask a question of that kind, so
I brought a document from him for you to see. He says that he believes
that the fear in
When I want to
In that context-and now I will make a remark that may or may not appeal-I regret the fact that the Government did not welcome Dr. Larijani's approach, when he asked for a select parliamentary group to meet with the Iranian Majlis to discuss issues between the west and Iran. I say that because of my impression that the Iranian Administration is not only layered, but divided, and that there are voices such as that of Larijani-who of course is the speaker of the Majlis and was so elected-who very much want a peaceful outcome to the divisions. This is only an impression and I do not want to put too much credence on it. There are others, such as Ahmadinejad, whose popular base is based upon making frightening and extreme statements. One has to make a difficult judgment about those two, but it is not in our interest not to welcome statements by, what one might call, the deliberately moderate-minded and internationalist element in the Iranian Government more than we do. Beyond that, it is hard to discover people who you can talk to there who will not revert to obscure and, in many cases, theological comments, which were rather hard to follow at the seminar that I recently attended.
There have also been back-channel discussions between individuals with a lot of knowledge of nuclear issues. They are, of course, not able to be publicly acknowledged, but they are known about by the American Administration without any doubt. Some of them are serious middle east and Iranian experts who are, in a sense, acting individually, apparently on their own. They are acknowledged in the American Administration but there is not any official acknowledgement.
I am hopeful of that. It is terribly important-and your Committee recognised
it when you visited-that there has been no official diplomatic relationship
I have only one other thing to add about that, which is that cultural
exchanges, and for that matter, inter-faith exchanges with
At that time the
America was offering such a good deal on access to nuclear materials
in almost every circumstance, so I would have thought that the US Administration
could have exacted a heavier price-if not membership of the NPT, then
at the very least full adherence to the NPT requirements of inspection.
However, they did not do that. Among other things, of course, that has
So far, the most serious breaches that we know of among those 18-those that are on a substantial scale-are quite astonishing because they had nothing to do with terrorists. One involved the deputy chairman in charge of security at nuclear sites who was himself a Russian citizen. He was sacked from his job for attempting to smuggle and steal nuclear materials and sell them abroad. The second one, which is almost as troubling and is also mentioned in the report, was an attempt by certain senior figures in the Pakistani military to get hold of nuclear materials to sell them to al-Qaeda. The breaches were discovered, and in both cases the people concerned were sacked, but because we have concentrated so much on terrorism-I am not saying that that is wrong, but you see my point-there have been in some ways much more organised and much more serious internal betrayals involving nuclear materials and nuclear knowledge and understanding than any terrorist has so far succeeded in bringing about. It does not mean that they could not do so, but one has to look inside as well as outside-possibly even more inside than outside.
Very quickly on the broader issue, at the Nuclear Threat Initiative we think that about 55% of the Russian nuclear installations have been raised to what are called high security standards. That means that 45% are not there yet-they have not got that high. In the case of research materials using highly enriched uranium, there is very little proper security. The amounts are small, but even so, there is very little security.
One of the things that NTI is anxious to do wherever possible is to exchange, free of charge, lowly enriched uranium and a pledge to continue the supply for the highly enriched uranium that is being used in the many-literally, hundreds-of small research reactors, mostly in universities in the rest of the world but often in countries with no knowledge at all of the dangers of nuclear weaponry.
The first thing is that in order to get the strengthening of the NPT
on track before 2010, we really have to encourage an initiative by the
Let me say quickly that I heard the earlier interchange with Malcolm
Chalmers and Mark Fitzpatrick. I was present at a very interesting meeting
in Harvard of experts from
If you do not mind, I shall move on from that for one minute. You asked
a question-I probably do not agree with my own Government on this-about
the possibility of moving towards huge reductions in arsenals, taking
weapons off alert status, with very few exceptions to that rule, and a
much more manageable nuclear proliferation situation that we could probably
cope with. That has suffered very much at the hands of the deterioration
in relations between
If one thinks for a minute about the history of
What could we do? Personally, I think that the United Kingdom Government could do two important things. One, investigate the Russian proposal for linking up the radar screens, which you may remember that they made at an earlier stage. They said that we could link our radar screens to the Russian radar screens and have a common missile defence, which would go a long way to persuading them that it was not aimed at them. It would be well worth trying to explore that. The second, which I think the UK Government have been very good about, is the work done on verification-because verification dies out in 2009, which I think Malcolm Chalmers pointed out. There is no international verification system whatsoever after the START agreement comes to an end in 2009. Therefore, the British, who have been working hard on verification issues, including at a technical level in the Atomic Weapons Establishment, could put forward a proposal for seeing whether these missile protection schemes can be brought together.
I shall make a final point quickly-if I seem to have been controversial, forgive me. We are very fortunate that the possibility of Ukrainian membership of NATO has been put on to the back burner. It would have been seen by the Russians as a disastrous form of offensiveness because, whether we like it or not, Ukraine is clearly still seen by them rather like Ireland is seen by us-as being part of the same area of political interest, entity and so forth. They feel very strongly about it, so it would have been silly to go ahead with Ukrainian membership at the present time.
We have not been sufficiently willing to talk about the BMD issue and NATO expansion. We could have risked saying that we were not feeling happy about them, instead of which we rather automatically backed the Administration. Because we have so long been dealing closely with the Bush Administration, I am slightly worried that we are not moving quite fast enough to see what changes might occur with an Obama Administration. A lot will depend on whom he appoints as Secretary of State.
My final point concerns the
Going back to your question, my view is that we should have an enrichment facility that is international and internationally controlled, but it ought not to be on sovereign territory except that of the United Nations, and it could then be linked to our proposal for an enrichment bond, which is an excellent complement to a fuel bank, but not a total substitute for it. Sorry, that was a long answer.
© 2009 The Acronym Institute.