Text Only | Disarmament Diplomacy | Disarmament Documentation | ACRONYM Reports
back to the acronym home page
WMD Possessors
About Acronym

Proliferation in Parliament

Back to Proliferation in Parliament, Winter 2008

Westminster 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.

Oral Evidence given by Lord Robertson of Port Ellen and Sir Michael Quinlan, Excerpts

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.

Q<131> <Chairman:> Lord Robertson, using your experience in NATO, do you think that there is a role for that organisation to do more to counter proliferation and strengthen non-proliferation methods?

<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.


Oral Evidence from Professor Malcolm Chalmers and Mark Fitzpatrick, 5 November 2008

Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Professor Malcolm Chalmers, Professor of International Politics, Bradford University, and Professorial Fellow, Royal United Services Institute, and Mr. Mark Fitzpatrick, Senior Fellow for Non-Proliferation, International Institute for Strategic Studies and Director, IISS Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Programme, gave evidence.

Q1 Chairman: Good afternoon, everybody. I welcome our two witnesses, Mr. Fitzpatrick and Professor Chalmers. This is the first public evidence session of our new inquiry on global security and non-proliferation. Today we will focus on nuclear weapons issues, but later in the inquiry we will consider other issues, including chemical and biological weapons. We will also consider some conventional arms issues, including the arms trade treaty, but the focus today will be on the nuclear issue.

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?

Mr. Fitzpatrick: I would be happy to answer, Mr. Chairman. Thank you very much for inviting me to attend and offer some thoughts. First of all, I think that the Government are correct. They are obliged by their commitment in the nuclear non-proliferation treaty to work towards the goal of nuclear disarmament, and they have reaffirmed that several times.

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.

Q2 Chairman: Thank you. I think that you meant 60 years, not 60 days.

Mr. Fitzpatrick: Sixty years, yes.

Q3 Chairman: I was wondering which crisis we had had in the past 60 days. No doubt we could say that there is always the potential for conflicts of that kind. Professor Chalmers, do you wish to add anything?

Professor Chalmers: I concur with everything that Mr. Fitzpatrick said. I think that it is the case that nuclear weapons contributed to more caution on the part of those possessing them when they were confronted with other powers with nuclear weapons during the cold war. Therefore, I think that they did reduce the chances of conventional conflict between the major powers. What they did not do was to end that possibility altogether. As Mark said, there was a real possibility that nuclear weapons could have been used during the cold war. We were lucky that they were not. In the current period, it continues to remain possible that they might be used. Indeed, I think that the reason why we are having this discussion is that there is concern that nuclear weapons might one day be used, by accident or deliberately, which would create a transformation in international politics, very much for ill.

Q4 Chairman: Is the real problem the proliferation of nuclear weapons to new countries or the existence of nuclear weapons themselves?

Professor Chalmers: I think that the problem is the possibility that nuclear weapons might be used. That relates both to countries that already possess nuclear weapons and to countries that might possess them in future. It does not apply to all those countries equally at any one point in time, but if we are talking about the next 20 or 30 years, I would be just as worried about the nuclear weapons of Russia or Pakistan as I would be about the possibility that Iran or North Korea might have them in 20 or 30 years' time. Of course, I am less worried about the arsenals of countries like the United Kingdom or the United States, but even in those cases there are real issues surrounding their accidental use and the security of those weapons, and the associated fissile materials, against terrorism which we need to address and which are not being addressed sufficiently right now.

Q5 Chairman: We are going to come on to some of these detailed areas in a moment. Mr. Fitzpatrick, do you wish to add anything?

Mr. Fitzpatrick: I largely agree with Professor Chalmers on that. There is a particular danger in the proliferation when countries newly acquire nuclear weapons. The potential for misuse, mistakes and miscalculation is higher than in states like the United States and the United Kingdom which have evolved careful control strategies, communications with potential adversaries and the like.

Q6 Chairman: In the debates around the issues there is often a tendency-the Government themselves do it in their documents-to group together nuclear, chemical and biological weapons under the heading of weapons of mass destruction. Without going into events of five years ago, there is sometimes therefore a confusion about what is meant by WMD. We have had at least one submission from an academic saying that it is very unhelpful to group them together in this way and that people should not talk about WMD because it does not give clarity. Do you agree?

Professor Chalmers: I would concur with that. I do not think that weapons of mass destruction is a very helpful term. People sometimes use the even worse acronym, NBC-which is also a TV channel in the United States-for nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, distinguishing them as distinct categories of weapons. Mass destruction in terms of physical destruction is a characteristic of nuclear weapons, not of chemical and biological weapons. Chemical and biological weapons may in some circumstances be very useful terror weapons, but in terms of their military utility against those who have organised their own defence, they are much more problematic. Nuclear weapons are in a category of their own and should remain so.

Mr. Fitzpatrick: I agree with that. WMD is usually used as shorthand. It does not create clarity. But it is a term that has some standing in international law. It has been used by the United Nations. We cannot simply discard it, but it is useful when analysing the problems to try to distinguish between the threats.

Q7 Mr. Horam: Looking at the overall global situation today, what view do you take of the trends there are in the possession of nuclear weapons by individual states. Do you think the trends are helpful, very bad or how would you assess the situation as we see it from today's perspective?

Professor Chalmers: The nuclear non-proliferation treaty has played an important role in slowing the pace-

Q8 Mr. Horam: It has done so?

Professor Chalmers: It has done so up to now. I was reading recently a US national intelligence estimate from 1957 which predicted that by 1961 Sweden would be acquiring nuclear weapons and that several other states would do so in the following decade. That simply did not happen. A large number of countries-Sweden, Spain, Yugoslavia, Australia and others-which did have nuclear weapons programmes in various stages, abandoned those programmes in large part because of the norm created by the NPT. Even today, the number of states that are actively pursuing nuclear weapons options beyond the nine states which we know have them is very limited. Iran is the main example in that category. That is not to say that other countries are not hedging around such options, but the idea that we have a cascade of proliferation under way right now is not the case.

What we should worry about, and this is why there is so much focus on Iran and North Korea, is that if those countries acquire and consolidate a nuclear weapon capability, there is likely to be considerable domino pressure in those regions, which would then lead to other countries acquiring them. Yes, we have had some degree of success, but I would come back to the point that I made in response to a previous question. The problem of nuclear weapons is not confined simply to new states. It is also characteristic of those who already possess them.

Mr. Fitzpatrick: A year ago, I might have said that the states seeking nuclear weapons were the same states that were seeking them 20 years ago-North Korea and Iran. The case of Syria, though, gives me further cause for concern. In the past year we have learned that Syria was pursuing nuclear capabilities, and it very much looked like the intention was to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons. There is this blip here, that there could be other states that already have been seeking to join Iran in acquiring capabilities, and that is of concern.

The other trend that is worrisome is that Iran and North Korea both violated their NPT obligations, and the enforcement of those obligations has, in my view, not been sufficient. So, there is both the impetus on the part of some states to seek nuclear weapon capabilities, and the insufficient will and ability of the rest of the world to take measures both to penalise and to stop them.

Q9 Andrew Mackinlay: Professor Chalmers, you said something almost as an aside. To paraphrase, you said, "I have some reservations, some concerns, about the security of the United Kingdom arsenal"-I think that you used the word "arsenal"-"the storage of fissile material, and so on." I clocked that. Can you amplify on what you said? I have seen some of our nuclear security with the marines. What do you have in mind?

Professor Chalmers: A couple of cases that have come up recently in relation to the United States arsenal illustrate that there is no such thing as entirely foolproof security. Last year, half a dozen US nuclear-armed missiles went missing from the US Air Force for a couple of days without anybody realising. Subsequently, of course, very senior Pentagon officials were fired as a result. There was another case in May of this year in which there was a fire in a Minuteman silo. The fire was not even detected for five days by the people in charge of the site. Things like that happen in any complex organisation. I do not have any specific concerns in relation to UK nuclear weapons, but I think that we need to be very careful. Perhaps the experience of the recent financial crisis has increased our concern about thinking that systems always work perfectly. They do not.

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.

Q10 Andrew Mackinlay: Do you have any concerns about our single-platform delivery system-basically submarines, which tragically do break down and go wrong-compared with either land-based or aircraft systems? I am following your trend. I have listened to your last few comments and I think that you are right to caution us. Things go wrong; people get confident and complacent. However, it occurs to me that our delivery system is under the water-deep in the ocean-and vessels do go wrong and have accidents.

Professor Chalmers: One of the advantages in terms of safety that the UK has is that because we have a survivable system, and only one system, there is less pressure in times of crisis or uncertainty to mobilise or reduce the safety level to be able to use those systems. Therefore, there is a lot to be said for a system such as ours, compared with that of other countries. I would not suggest for a moment that ours was less safe that others; I think that it is more safe by having single-platform delivery. Nevertheless, events happen. There could be breakthroughs in anti-submarine warfare-there might already be breakthroughs that I am not aware of-which mean that we have to change our operating patterns. They are dynamic systems, so we should never think that anything is foolproof.

Q11 Mr. Pope: You have already mentioned three countries of concern-Iran, North Korea and Syria-so perhaps we could look briefly at each in turn. Professor Chalmers, in your submission you stated that there is a real possibility that Iran will become a nuclear weapon state within a decade, and it is possible that that might be unstoppable. A while ago the Committee visited Iran and went to Esfahan, and I understand that most of the nuclear facilities are in the mountains around Esfahan. It looks like a very secure area. Is it inevitable that Iran will become a nuclear weapon state?

Professor Chalmers: No, I do not think that it is inevitable, but I think that it is possible. A lot will depend on the calculation of the Iranian leadership, which seems, like the leadership of most states, to be concerned to a very significant extent with regime survival and security. It has concerns in that regard and will make a calculation on whether pursuing the goal of complete weaponisation, which is distinct from stopping somewhere along the road towards that end goal, will add to or diminish its security. There are very strong reasons to suggest that going down that route could pose real dangers to the Iranian regime, but that has not stopped leaders going down such paths in the past. The UK and allied countries need to continue the strategy of doing everything we can to change the cost-benefit calculation of the Iranian leadership so that they do not go down that road.

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.

Q12 Mr. Pope: It could reach a breakthrough capacity and stop short of the stage at which it could easily weaponise if it wanted to.

Professor Chalmers: Exactly.

Mr. Fitzpatrick: I agree with that. There is a difference between having a capability and having a weapon, but that difference is usually invisible, and in the case of Iran, which has such a low level of co-operation with international inspections and which has violated its treaty obligations in the past, if it has the capability we have to take the worst-case analysis and assume that it would have weaponisation. However, there are strategies that can be pursued to try to make that line more visible and stronger. Iran is already reaching the point at which it will soon be able to produce a quantity of enriched uranium that, if further enriched, could be enough for a nuclear weapon. It is very close to reaching the red line of mastery in enrichment. These are the questions: can it be persuaded to stop there, and can we keep its capabilities limited?

Q13 Mr. Pope: Iran is a depressing example, so maybe I could turn to North Korea, where there has arguably been more diplomatic success. What are the prospects that diplomatic pressure will bring North Korea's nuclear ambitions to an end?

Mr. Fitzpatrick: I would not call North Korea a success story, since diplomacy failed to prevent it from crossing the line of testing a nuclear device. The diplomacy is very active today in persuading North Korea to at least stop producing more fissile material and disable what it already has. The big question is whether it will be ready to go further and disable the nuclear devices that we presume it has and get rid of the plutonium. The big question is what would persuade North Korea to give up what it sees as its last remaining trump card and views as essential for the security of the regime and country. Can it be persuaded to take the course that Libya took and realise that nuclear weapons are not essential and are in fact a detriment to their security? I think that it is going to be very hard to persuade it, but a step-by-step process that establishes trust and shows that it gets rewards for taking steps to disable them is the only way forward.

Professor Chalmers: One of the differences between North Korea, on the one hand, and Iran and Libya, on the other, is that Iran and Libya, because of oil, potentially have very prosperous economies, and international sanctions, or the prospect of sanctions, have hampered their ability to develop their economies and to become very viable members of international society. On the other hand, North Korea has no such resources; its economy is dependent on illegal or nefarious activities such as missile exports, which are not covered by the current negotiations. The regime is clearly concerned that if it gives away all of its bargaining cards in this process, even if it is promised aid, it will become a state that is essentially dependent upon international aid, not least from South Korea, which could be withdrawn.

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 North Korea and negotiations about its nuclear weapons and missiles. I think that it is unlikely that it will give up entirely those options without some significant political change.

Q14 Sir John Stanley: As you know, in the immediate run-up to the American presidential election yesterday, President Bush agreed to withdraw the Democratic People's Republic of Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism. In Seoul the weekend before last, I found that across the political spectrum within the Government, the view was that the Bush Administration's decision may have been heavily influenced by the impending presidential election. Their view was that the verification provisions that had been agreed with the DPRK by the American negotiator, Chris Hill, were far too loose and elastic, and that is very dangerous country to get into when dealing with the DPRK. What is your view of the strength of the verification provisions entered into by the US Government?

Mr. Fitzpatrick: I believe that it was the right decision to take North Korea off the terrorism list. There was an agreement that if North Korea declared its nuclear facilities, it would be taken off the list. That declaration was apparently not complete, so there needed to be a verification process that could confirm whether it was complete. I think that the initial verification proposal put to North Korea was probably the kind of proposal that a nation might put in the first round of a negotiation seeking the maximum that one would want. I would certainly have wanted everything that was asked for, but verification means verifying what a country declared and North Korea only declared the facilities at Yongbyon, so it makes sense that the verification was largely limited to that, with some possibility for inspection of other undeclared sites. It is those undeclared sites that did not require access for the verification that some in Seoul took exception to. Verification will continue to be a very important issue as we try to learn more about the North Korean programme. One has to take it step by step, and if the United States had not taken that step, the process would have continued to unravel and we would be further from the goal.

Q15 Sir John Stanley: Professor Chalmers, do you want to add to that?

Professor Chalmers: No, I agree with it.

Q16 Mr. Pope: I just have one more question, which relates to Syria. A facility was destroyed al-Kibar just over a year ago by the Israelis in an air strike. In its written evidence, the British Foreign Office said that the evidence provided by the CIA that the Syrian facility was a nuclear facility was compelling. I am trying to be generous to the CIA, but its track record in assessing with accuracy whether or not a country has a WMD facility is patchy. I am interested to know what your assessment is of Syria's intentions. Was the facility at al-Kibar a nuclear one?

Mr. Fitzpatrick: I have looked at this question deeply and it was part of an assessment dossier we put out earlier in the year. I agree with the Foreign Office conclusion that the evidence the CIA put forward was compelling, in that the facility destroyed at al-Kibar was a nuclear reactor and that the purpose of the reactor was to produce plutonium. That much is very clear. What cannot be said with 100% clarity is that Syria intended to use this plutonium to produce nuclear weapons. There was no evidence of a facility that could reprocess the plutonium, which you need to do before you can make nuclear weapons. If I analyse it, it stands to reason: why would you produce plutonium except for a nuclear weapons purpose? It is a logical assessment. I think we can say that it is obvious that the reactor was there and it was for plutonium production, and that the assessment is probably correct.

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.

Mr. Pope: That is very helpful. Thank you.

Q17Mr. Moss: May I now come on to Pakistan? Of course, Pakistan was the source of the most well-known illicit nuclear proliferation network. In your opinion, is Pakistan's nuclear weapons programme now secure from proliferation risks?

Mr. Fitzpatrick: I will take the question as I have also looked at this carefully. Not to blow our own horn, but the International Institute for Strategic Studies put out a dossier on this. There are three aspects of the Pakistan programme that I think are causes for ongoing concern. One is the security of the weapons themselves. Could they fall into the wrong hands in Pakistan? The second is the proliferation risk. Could it again sell the technology or used parts to other nations, as A. Q. Khan did? The third is, will Pakistan expand its nuclear arsenal? The last is a real concern because it is expanding its production capabilities.

Pakistan undertook a reform of the command and control of nuclear assets. It put in charge of the programme elements of the Pakistani army which are the most elite and reliable of forces available. I have a degree of confidence that it really did change its control over these weapons in ways that make me think they are not going to fall into the wrong hands overnight. That does not mean that I have no concern at all. Pakistan is a country beset by many problems. The confluence of terrorist threats in Pakistan and the existence of these nuclear weapons puts it very high on the list of countries that we need to be concerned about.

Q18Mr. Moss: Can I pick up on your third point about proliferation and the scale of nuclear weapons? Is that to replace older weapons and capability, or is it adding to existing capability?

Mr. Fitzpatrick: It is largely adding to existing capabilities. Pakistan's programme has largely been based on highly enriched uranium. This was the technology that A. Q. Khan sold. It has supplemented that with the plutonium-based weapons programme, which is the one that is expanding. Pakistan is in competition with India. It is perhaps too much to call it a race, because they have not been racing as fast as they can, but Pakistan is making very significant efforts to increase its capabilities.

Q19Mr. Moss: What are the prospects that India, Israel and Pakistan might be brought into the nuclear non-proliferation treaty?

Professor Chalmers: I think the prospects of that are very limited. However, one of the questions is whether there are other ways in which those countries can be brought into multilateral arms control-through a comprehensive test ban treaty, or some sort of limitation on fissile material production, for example. There are more possibilities, perhaps particularly in relation to the former.

Opportunities were missed after the cold war by not proceeding more rapidly in some of those areas, when India and Pakistan became openly nuclear. Then, when we got into the recent discussion between the US and India about a nuclear deal, not enough advances were made in those areas for India and Pakistan to have had something that they were then under pressure to join.

There are now real prospects in relation to the comprehensive test ban treaty; we may now be in a situation where the US can ratify that treaty, which would then put significant pressure on countries such as India. It is entirely possible that Israel would ratify such a treaty. China would probably ratify it if the US did. It would very quickly come down to India and Pakistan being the only countries remaining. There may be risks that, in a situation in which India and Pakistan were the two main holdouts to CTBT entry into force, like France before its CTBT ratification, they might be tempted to test in advance of ratification. That would clearly create enormous problems. Mark may wish to add to that, but that is an area in which there could be progress.

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 Pakistan-it is also true of India-there is still a build-up of fissile material and warheads in those two countries. However, I think that it is possible in the not-too-distant future.

Q20 Andrew Mackinlay: Are both of you satisfied with what South Africa had developed? Has the security of that been accounted for? More difficult is the intellectual property surrounding its programme. You said how Khan sold stuff, which is obviously a major thing. What happened to the people who were developing the programme in South Africa? What happened to their information and the things themselves?

Mr. Fitzpatrick: South Africa deserves a great deal of credit in two regards. First, its co-operation with the International Atomic Energy Agency, when it disabled its facilities, was so thorough that the IAEA was able to conclude that, yes, everything had been disposed of. In terms of the intellectual property, there were cases when people involved with the South African programme then got involved with the A. Q. Khan network.

The second way that I would compliment South Africa is that it took judicial action against those individuals who got caught up in the Khan network, and imposed penalties more severe than any other country imposed on people involved in the Khan network. They were also very transparent in all this, with regard to bringing all the evidence forward to the world. In this case, other countries could take a model from South Africa.

Q21 Chairman: Can I go back to the Pakistan and India question? What arrangements are there for a hotline, consultation or crisis management between India and Pakistan, so that we do not get the potential world-or nuclear-war between them that we had a few years ago?

Mr. Fitzpatrick: Pakistan and India have had several agreements over the years to try to create such crisis management mechanisms-to create hotlines and to have procedures for the pre-notification of missile tests and force deployments. But it is fair to say that these have not all been implemented to the degree to which they were first proposed. The case of 2002, when the two came so close to the possibility of a nuclear exchange that certain embassies in New Delhi sent staff home, out of the country, indicates that there is still much more to be done. I am sorry; I do not have a very detailed answer.

Chairman: If you have any information, perhaps you could send us a note on it. Clearly, it is a relevant issue for future stability, not just for that region-there are wider implications.

Q22 Mr. Horam: As you know, some experts whom we have heard evidence from question the value of arms control treaties and disarmament and the whole multilateral rules-based approach led by international institutions. They say that adversarial regimes will ignore all that anyway and that benevolent regimes are not a threat. Do you see any value in that criticism?

Professor Chalmers: I think that there is a point, but it can be taken too far. As I explained in my submission, there is clearly a relationship between international politics on the one hand and arms control on the other. To come back to the first question that was asked by the Chairman, it is not possible in current circumstances to envisage the abolition of nuclear weapons. There is a co-dependent relationship between politics and arms control. However, it is not the case that arms control cannot help that political process or aid the reduction of tensions between states that have a relationship that is somewhere between total amity and total hostility.

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. India and Pakistan are a good example of that. If you want to tackle the India-Pakistan nuclear issue, you have to tackle the issue of Kashmir and Pakistan's perception that it is a state under threat of dismemberment by India, however justified or not that perception might be.

Mr. Fitzpatrick: I would add that a rules-based system is important for establishing norms. Even with states that we might call adversarial or rule-breakers, it constrains some of their abilities, and when they break rules, there are consequences. However, any rules-based approach needs to be supplemented by practical measures, such as those led by the United States in the proliferation security initiative-the PSI-to improve the capabilities of respective nations to be able to interdict shipments of illicit weapons when the rules have broken down. I would not put all my emphasis on the rules, but neither would I put it all on practical measures. A multi-layered approach is the best way forward.

Q23 Mr. Horam: So you both think that the present approach is correct? You would certainly use that approach as part of your advance on this topic, but does the present approach have real weaknesses? Are there things about it that you would like to improve?

Professor Chalmers: There have been weaknesses. There was an opportunity lost at the end of the cold war, when the political dynamic between the US and the Soviet Union ended. There was a dramatic transformation in the relationship between NATO and the then Warsaw pact conventional forces in Europe, but there was not a similar transformation in relation to nuclear weapons. Now, 18 years after the end of the cold war, one of the things that is quite remarkable is that the US and Russia still have thousands of nuclear weapons on five or 10 minute-alert to destroy the silos and cities of the other, as if nothing has changed politically. There is a disconnect between the military side and the political side.

We are now in a phase in which relationships with Russia have taken a turn for the worse, but they are not back to cold war times. I think that we would be in a better position politically with Russia today if we had taken the opportunity in the '90s to push much further with dismantling the nuclear infrastructure-not ending it, but getting it down to levels more suitable to a relationship between countries that are not the sort of ideological adversaries that they had been since 1917.

Q24 Mr. Horam: Do you think that it was feasible to do so, given that old enmities were still quite strong? It is hard to expect people to change so rapidly and see possibilities quite so quickly, is it not?

Professor Chalmers: Well, counterfactual history is a wonderful thing, but I think that the explanation for the relative lack of progress, although there clearly was some progress, had to do partly with the mindset of those involved in nuclear weapons. One got to the stage, in the early years of the George W. Bush Administration, where things went further backwards and the Administration argued that it was no longer necessary to verify US-Russian strategic treaties, because of the high level of trust. That sounds a bit dubious nowadays. If there had been a push forward with the comprehensive test ban treaty, a verifiable fissile material cut-off treaty and strategic reductions by the US and Russia, I think that we would be in a better position. It would have made some difference to the Russian mindset. We are now seeing the Russians, increasingly and very regrettably, deploying a nuclear card in international rhetoric in a way that deeply concerns other Europeans.

Q25 Mr. Hamilton: I am well aware of the provisions of the non-proliferation treaty regarding the nations that had nuclear weapons when it was signed, but can either of you comment on the view that we-Great Britain and other nuclear nations-would have a little bit more moral authority in persuading Iran and others who are trying to develop their own independent nuclear weapons facilities if we were not attempting, as the United Kingdom is, to renew the delivery vehicles for our own independent nuclear deterrent?

Professor Chalmers: That is a very good question. Clearly, there is an inevitable double standard at the heart of the non-proliferation regime. The NPT seeks to address that in article VI and the commitment of the five recognised nuclear weapon states to pursue the goal of ultimate disarmament, but it does not specify what should be done in the meantime. That meantime could be a long one.

In the case of the UK nuclear force in particular, although I think that this applies to all five, the nature of the nuclear weapons systems is such that they do not last forever. Submarines wear out, in the case that you refer to. A decision never to replace those submarines no matter what happens to disarmament negotiation would effectively be a decision to give up that capability at some stage in the future, which is not something asked for in the NPT. What it means for the UK and other nuclear weapon states is that they have a responsibility, if they do have to maintain their delivery systems in the way that the UK has, to do so in such a way that they are not seen to be increasing their capability qualitatively or quantitatively.

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.

Q26 Mr. Hamilton: Do you know, Mr. Fitzpatrick?

Mr. Fitzpatrick: I do not think that there is any lack of moral authority in calling on states to adhere to their commitments. Iran signed up to the NPT not to pursue nuclear weapons. The evidence suggests that it did have a nuclear weapons development programme. If one believes the US intelligence agencies, Iran had such a weapons development programme until 2003 and then put it on hold. Whether or not Iran resumed that programme-maybe it did not resume it-apparently it had such a programme, in addition to Iran's violations of its safeguards agreement over 18 years in 14 different ways. There is no reason not to call it to account for that programme. In answer to Mr. Horam's question about the weaknesses of the present system, if the issue is the weaknesses of the NPT, then the weakness is in enforcing the NPT, and bringing countries to account for their violations is one of the major weaknesses.

Q27 Mr. Hamilton: When we were in Iran a year ago, we asked that very question. You will not be surprised to learn that the response we got from people was that it was quite un-Islamic to weaponise this technology-their religion would not allow it. Anyway, in their own self-interest, they recognised that, had they got those weapons, they would be open to immediate destruction by anybody they cared to point them at, without Iran even firing them, so why would they develop them? It is complete nonsense to suggest that they would. I am not suggesting that I believe every word of that argument, but it is plausible, is it not?

Iranians look to the UK and they say, as some of our interlocutors did indeed say, "Well, you are just extending the life of your own nuclear weapons." We recognise that that extension is allowable within the NPT, but do you not think that that shows a bit of a double standard?

Mr. Fitzpatrick: With regard to the religious prohibition, as I understand it, the fatwa against the development, production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons was issued by the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, in 2005. One might ask the Iranians this question: if there was a religious prohibition that preceded that, why would they develop these plans and designs for nuclear weapons, missiles and nuclear test facilities and so forth? Previous Iranian leaders are on record talking about nuclear weapons development. I do not underplay the utility of having such a religious prohibition; I think that it establishes an important norm. However, fatwas can change. They could say that the circumstances are different. Therefore, I think that holding Iran to the requirements of the Security Council and new international law to suspend the programmes that create concern is a reasonable approach to take.

I do not think that Iran would change based on what the United Kingdom does with its own nuclear policy; Iran's pursuit has nothing to do with the United Kingdom.

Professor Chalmers: I would just like to add briefly to what Mark said, which I agree with. I think that the audience for steps towards nuclear disarmament by the existing nuclear weapons states is more the broader international community of the vast majority of NPT members who are in good standing and are not developing nuclear weapons, to show them that we are in compliance with the treaty and that it is Iran that is not in compliance, rather than to influence Iran's decision making directly.

Q28 Sir John Stanley: Professor Chalmers, a few moments ago you made a very important but little publicly known point about the extraordinary anomaly-in my view, a grossly irresponsible anomaly-whereby on the one hand we have ended the cold war and on the other hand we have literally thousands of US and Russian nuclear weapons pointed at each other on hairline warning times, measured in minutes. Are you aware of the important work and contribution that has been made by a former Senator, Sam Nunn, in this field? I am sure that you are. Would you like to give the Committee your views on his proposals to extend significantly the warning times at which both American and Russian nuclear weapons are held?

Professor Chalmers: Yes, I would be delighted to do so. I think that that is a very important area, and one in which quite significant progress could be made rather rapidly. The dangers created by having very short alert times-a situation in which US and Russian forces could be used within 10 minutes of an order being given-mean that there are real dangers, for example, from cyber-attack. One of the things that states do to disrupt other states' nuclear weapons programmes is seek to subvert their communications systems, but that is something that terrorists and hackers could do, given the increasing dependence of states on information technology in relation to these systems. What Sam Nunn and his group of distinguished elder statesmen and associated experts in the United States have proposed is that the US and Russia take their nuclear forces off that hair-trigger alert.

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 UK, but you can go an awfully long way down that road without creating extra vulnerabilities.

Q29 Sir John Stanley: Can I turn to a couple of other areas? First, in the well publicised dirty war threat, one of the most worrying nuclear proliferation possibilities is clearly that the huge arsenal of fissile material within the former Soviet Union could get into non-state-terrorist-hands. Indeed, members of the Committee visited the location, which I shall not name, of a civil nuclear reactor being used for research purposes, where the external security was patently and seriously inadequate. The internal security was better, but there was no question but that the external security was seriously inadequate. Against that background, what is your assessment of the contribution that the Global Partnership has made, since the agreement was made at the G8 meeting in 2002, to improving the security of WMD materials in general-it applies to chemical as well as nuclear-held inside the former Soviet Union?

Mr. Fitzpatrick: I am not in a position to give a detailed answer, but I think it is clear that much more remains to be done. The efforts that a number of nations have taken, both within the Global Partnership and bilaterally with Russia and the other states of the former Soviet Union, have made some real strides in securing the most insecure areas. The weapons themselves and the fissile material that could be used for nuclear weapons should be the top priority. The material that could be used in dirty bombs also needs to be secured, but it will not create a threat to mankind in the same way. The threat of dirty bombs is more economical and psychological: they are not weapons of mass killing.

Q30 Sir John Stanley: I note your evidence. All I can say is that all the information I had, including that contained in the useful BBC documentary, which dealt with a purely fictitious scenario and demonstrated the consequences of the detonation of two dirty bombs in London, suggested that apart from the catastrophic economic consequences, the loss of life, both immediate and in the long term, through radiation, would have been substantially greater than occurred in the 9/11 attack or in the terrorist attacks in London.

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.

Professor Chalmers: Perhaps I can start. For a few years, the UK Government have been rather a lone voice in their position on taking article VI of the NPT seriously. However, given the statements of Senator Obama and, to be fair, his Republican rival, the United States will be taking the issue much more seriously in the run-up to the 2010 review. That is reinforced by the work of Sam Nunn, Henry Kissinger, George Schultz and Bill Perry to create an emerging bipartisan consensus in the US that there needs to be a much more active policy in that area, if the NPT is to be strengthened and some of the dangers that we have been talking about are to be averted. That is creating an expectation of progress, which it will be difficult in the short term for western Governments to fulfil, for lots of different reasons. As Nunn and Kissinger and their colleagues have emphasised, it is therefore important to have shorter term progress on several different fronts. I put the comprehensive test ban treaty high on the list-No. 1. I have already commented on that: there is a real chance of significant progress in perhaps not immediate entry into force, but in reducing the number of hold-outs to one or two countries within the next couple of years.

Secondly, there is potential for real progress in US-Russia discussions. There are lots of different formulae out there. There is now a recognition by both Russia and the incoming US Administration that the verification provisions of the strategic arms reduction treaty should be extended beyond the end of 2009. Barack Obama has committed himself to a more or less immediate reduction in strategic warheads to the lower limit of the strategic offensive reductions treaty of 1,700, and an agreement between the US and Russia to come down to something significantly below that is possible over the next couple of years. Areas in relation to de-alerting could be involved.

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 UK Government have argued for, for which the French President has argued for and for which President-elect Obama has also argued. The western members of the P5 have argued for progress in that area and, indeed, as Russia is already part of transparency measures in START, there may be ways in which that could be extended to the P5 more generally. That will be hard, but if we are going to get into a situation where we are talking about nuclear disarmament by existing nuclear weapons states beyond the two former superpowers, you first need a baseline from which to work and a high degree of confidence that you know how much fissile material and how many warheads states produce. That will be difficult to achieve.

The caveat to that relates particularly to China, but it might also relate to other small nuclear weapons states: precisely because they have relatively small arsenals, they may be more reluctant than others to reveal where they are and how big they are. Nevertheless, it is an area where I think progress can be made.

All of this is important, but there is also a real risk in relation to Iran, which we have to be very aware of. If Iran gets into a situation of weaponisation, the political climate for progress in these other areas will be put at risk.

Q31 Sir John Stanley: Thank you. Mr. Fitzpatrick, do you want to add to that?

Mr. Fitzpatrick: I think these steps on disarmament are important in and of themselves, but they are also very important as a way of leveraging to get more in the area of non-proliferation. It would be ideal if the non-nuclear weapons states were ready to adopt stronger measures in the non-proliferation area as a kind of quid pro quo for these disarmament steps, but it is going to be very difficult to get that because at the NPT review conference everything is done by consensus. At the last one, Iran was one of the three countries that really prevented consensus. Iran might even be the chairman of the next conference-it is in line for it.

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 North Korea, where a country violates, pulls out and still retains the capabilities it acquired while it was supposedly a member. I would not have too high expectations for the review conference, but some practical steps like this are something that the UK Government could pursue.

Chairman: Thank you. I am very conscious of time and that we have another witness waiting. We are not going to be able to ask all the questions that we had hoped to ask. I am going to get a quick question in about India from Eric Illsley and then I am going to go to John Horam for questions about the UK Government.

Q32 Mr. Illsley: One of the issues in non-proliferation at the moment that is quite controversial is the US-India deal. Some people support it and say that it brings India within the international regime and we can check what India is doing; other people oppose it on the basis that it is a bit hypocritical to be trying to persuade India to come into the NPT at the same time as doing deals with it and "rewarding" it for obtaining a nuclear weapon. Do you have a view on that? Do you think that the US-India deal strengthens or weakens the NPT regime?

Mr. Fitzpatrick: I think the deal weakens the NPT regime for a number of reasons. I would be happy to provide some further evidence in written form.

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 India took seriously the commitment it made when the deal was first agreed in principle between President Bush and President Singh. India undertook to seriously pursue a fissile material cut-off treaty to stop the production of more fissile material. Perhaps it will be hard to get such a treaty in Geneva, where it has been languishing for the last 10 years, but India could take steps unilaterally to stop the production of more material if it decided that it had enough for its deterrence capabilities. That would help to persuade Pakistan to stop. This is the area where diplomacy might be best applied to try to persuade India to make this a non-proliferation plus.

Mr. Illsley: We would welcome further material on that.

Chairman: One quick question on ballistic missile defence from John Stanley, and then we will go to John Horam.

Q33 Sir John Stanley: I should be very grateful if you could help me on an angle of American policy that totally bemuses me. Perhaps the next Administration will make it a change of policy and I will understand the rationale. What I find almost incomprehensible, having looked at this area quite closely over many years, is why, for the sake of a minimal degree of ballistic missile defence in Europe-absolutely minimal in terms the scale of the deployment-supposedly against the Iranians, it is judged worth while to cause such an enormous amount of ruction with the Russians. I simply do not understand the logic of the policy. Can you help me please?

Mr. Fitzpatrick: I used to have to defend that policy when I represented the US Government. I do not represent them any more, so I respectfully decline to try to defend it. I share your sentiments, sir.

Professor Chalmers: My judgment is that the US decision to have a third interceptor site was taken in relation to the possibility of a missile threat-perhaps overstated-from Iran or countries in that region, not from Russia. The decision to site the interceptor and radar in eastern Europe, in countries that are new members of NATO, was taken largely because those countries, for reasons that have nothing to do with Iran, were prepared to take those sites when other members of NATO were not. Once the decision that they were to be located in Poland and the Czech Republic had been announced, it became an issue in relations with Russia. It then became very difficult for the US, in terms of its relations with new members of NATO, to withdraw. That is where we are now.

The US is exploring two proposals which may produce some way through this unfortunate situation. The first is to have some facility for Russian verification of what is happening at these sites, perhaps with personnel on the ground or remote verification. That is helpful. Secondly, the US can and indeed should make it clear that it would not activate the interceptors in Poland until there was clear evidence that Iran had the capability-that it had tested ballistic missiles capable of reaching western Europe, which of course it does not have now. It would be better if we did not have to think about such measures, but I think that the politics of the situation within NATO and relations between the US and its east European allies would make it very hard for it to stop the programme altogether, rather than freeze it in the way Secretary Gates and others have suggested.

Chairman: Thank you. We may revisit this question early next year.

Q34Mr. Horam: As the Chairman has said, our focus is fundamentally on whether the UK Government are doing all they can to make progress. In so far as you are aware of the institutional arrangements inside Government to handle the NPT and so forth-in the Cabinet Office, which is co-ordinating it, and in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which has a minor role-do you have any comments on whether those arrangements are satisfactory?

Professor Chalmers: The only comment I would make-reiterating what I said earlier-is that for some time now the UK has been well ahead of the US and France in the seriousness with which it has addressed its disarmament obligations. We may now be moving into a period in which the US is much more active in that area, which means the UK has an opportunity to be more active in a way which does not leave it isolated.

Q35Mr. Horam: How can it do that?

Professor Chalmers: As you know, the UK has floated some interesting proposals for the UK to be more of a disarmament laboratory. Some of those proposals require resources, work and people to think through the ideas. A good example, which has a lot of potential, is that to be serious about nuclear disarmament we have to find ways of verifying warhead dismantlement. We do not have proven ways right now. There are all sorts of sensitivities, because you do not want people without knowledge of warhead technology finding out what those technologies are. If the UK were to put some resources into testing methods of warhead dismantlement, perhaps in co-operation with other nuclear weapon states-there would be various options-that could be a real, practical contribution to the process.

Mr. Fitzpatrick: In comparison with the way in which many other countries arrange their institutions to deal with non-proliferation and disarmament issues, the UK has the best that I have seen. In comparison with my own country, where the arrangements have been dysfunctional at times, they seem to be functioning well here.

Chairman: Thank you, gentlemen, for a very useful session. We are grateful to you. We might pursue several matters in writing, but this evidence session was certainly extremely valuable and we are pleased to have had it. We will now pause for two minutes before beginning the next section of this session with the new witness, who has been patiently listening to us.

Oral Evidence, Baroness Williams of Crosby, 5 November 2008

Examination of Witness

Witness: Baroness Williams of Crosby, Adviser to the Prime Minister on Non-Proliferation; Member, International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament; and Member, Board of Directors, Nuclear Threat Initiative, gave evidence.

Q36 Chairman: Baroness Williams, welcome. We are pleased to have you come down from the other place to give us the benefit of your great experience. You heard many of the questions to our previous witnesses, and some of the issues we will discuss will cover the same areas. May I begin by asking you about your current role? You were appointed by the Prime Minister as adviser on nuclear proliferation in July 2007. What exactly do you do in that capacity for the Prime Minister, and do you also have a relationship with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office with regard to those issues?

Baroness Williams: Thank you very much. Right away, I should say that to many people this appointment was an odd one. Some people probably thought that it was just a case of bringing in more people to form the big tent. The Prime Minister announced that he wished to broaden the big tent, and I suppose that I was one of a number of examples of that, but there was more to it than that. I spent 12 years as a professor at Harvard, and I was on the board of the Belfer Centre for Science and International Affairs, which has prime responsibility in the university for looking at issues of security, with particular emphasis on nuclear security.

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 Russia.

I next got invited, partly because of this, by Gareth Evans, President and CEO of the International Crisis Group, who has now become the co-chair of the new international nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament group (ICNND), along with the former Prime Minister of Japan to become a member of the Commission. In that context, I have been to many discussions about nuclear security throughout different parts of the world.

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 United States, the preoccupation with the economic crisis in the last couple of months has tended to push the nuclear issue on to the back burner to some extent. One may regret that, but it is pretty inevitable.

Q37 Chairman: Thank you, that is helpful. We will have some other questions in a moment from John Horam. First, you have referred already to your role in the new International Commission on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament. Are you there as a UK Government representative or in a personal capacity?

Baroness Williams: I am invited in a personal capacity, but I have the approval of the Prime Minister, although I did not ask for it. He wrote me a very nice letter saying he was pleased that I was on it. I think that I happen to be the only person from the UK on it, but that does not make me the Government's representative.

Q38 Chairman: What impact do you expect this organisation to have, generally, given the renewed upsurge of interest that there has been in nuclear disarmament and related issues?

Baroness Williams: I am not a believer in creating commissions for the sake of having them. I think that the key role of the new commission arises, at least in part, from what I would almost describe as the quite considerable anger, or certainly irritation, of the non-nuclear weapons powers. They have become a good deal more aggressive and frustrated by the sense that article VI of the NPT has not been adequately carried out. Part of that flows from the way in which some of the initiatives by the nuclear states, with regard to the NPT, are becoming more and more evident.

I have not often heard such outspoken comments as I heard at the 2008 preparatory committee of the NPT in Geneva a few months ago, particularly from some rather surprising countries. Obviously Australia, with the change of government, has become quite outspoken about its sense of frustration about what is happening under the aegis of the NPT. Germany has a much stronger voice than it used to have on similar issues. Indonesia and Egypt are both finding their voices. In fact, it was clear at the meeting of the review conference that Lord Malloch-Brown and I attended in May, that there was a very powerful feeling that something had to be done by the nuclear weapon states. Partly, that was of course about the unilateralism of some elements of the Bush Government's policy, most notably with regard to such things as the move away from the anti-ballistic missile treaty (ABM) and the growing strain between the United States and Russia. But part of the purpose of the new commission is to try to create something of a pressure group on the part of the non-nuclear powers to, in their view, very much strengthen the NPT when the next review conference is held in 2010.

Q39 Mr. Illsley: That is exactly what I was going to ask about. Do you see that as a force for encouraging the NPT? Do you see the role of the commission as complementary, or is there a danger that the new commission will get in the way of the NPT, duplicate some of the work and perhaps create some resentment?

Baroness Williams: That is a very interesting question. My impression is that these are people who want a say in the NPT, to strengthen the regime, and they want to compel the nuclear powers to look again seriously at such issues as disarmament. They probably could be a very constructive force; a lot of very sensible Governments are involved. We should recognise that it is a real force, which has partly grown up-in my view at least-because the other leading Asian nuclear countries, namely India and Pakistan, have not really played a full part in the creation of this rules-based system. They have stayed outside of it, as we all know.

That means that there is a sense that, as the global balance shifts towards Asia, from being largely western based, there is not a sufficient voice for that part of the world in the negotiations that are now going on. The case of Indonesia is very striking. It is usually a fairly quiet power in discussions of this kind, but there is now a strong sense that it ought to exercise a louder voice, because it chose not to be a nuclear power-the biggest international country to so desire. It feels, I think, that it should have a greater say in the review of the NPT.

Q40 Mr. Horam: I am very interested in what you said about the frustration on the part of the non-nuclear powers, and how that has built up to a point where it has become something that the nuclear powers have to take seriously. I am sure that the nuclear powers would say, "That is all very well, but what we are really concerned about is the possible rogue states such as Iran, and the difficulty that we face over there. That is a real threat. The threat does not come from us; it comes from Iran or North Korea." How do you see the situation between those two perhaps conflicting viewpoints? The major powers are concerned about Iran and North Korea, and are probably less concerned about the frustrations of the non-nuclear powers.

Baroness Williams: I have attended about seven or eight conferences at which substantial numbers of non-nuclear weapon powers were present, and I have to say that they do not see Iran in the same way as the United States and the United Kingdom do. That is not particularly because Iran has done a very good job at diplomacy with them; Iran tends to be a rather remote power that does not go out of its way to build friendships. Having said that-I am talking not about Islamic countries but about non-Islamic ones-it is probably true that the sense of alarm that is felt here is not felt in the same way by other non-nuclear powers, including some European non-nuclear powers. I will come back, if I may, to why. I do not know, Mr. Chairman, whether you want me to go any further into Iran. I am happy to do so.

Q41 Mr. Horam: We are interested in why you think that that is the case, so please go further now.

Baroness Williams: Okay. I have recently been in Iran. There is a very strong argument about what Iran's real motivations are and whether they resemble those of Iraq, in the sense that you hide the information because you do not want your bluff called, but it is a bluff. The second argument, strongly advanced by Dr. el-Baradei, director of the IAEA-including in a conversation with me a couple of months ago-is that one of the main reasons for Iran being obscure and leaving open the question of whether it is or is not developing nuclear weapons is that, because until very recently the United States was not prepared to talk directly to it or to recognise it diplomatically, it has been unable to establish a diplomatic presence in the region, so it uses the obscurity about whether it has a weapons programme as a way of compelling people to recognise its role in the region. Its real intention is to be taken as a serious regional power, not to develop nuclear weapons particularly.

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 Iran of a possible military strike, somewhat strengthened a few weeks ago by Israel's consideration of such an action, has made Iran a very defensive and very secretive power. However, if it were possible to have direct discussions with Iran, one would be able to find out much more about what Iran's real intentions were. Dobbins argues that there should be a diplomatic initiative, which was not possible under the Bush Administration but might be under a new one.

When I want to Iran a couple of months ago, I found that there were two unending problems. One was that the relationship between Ahmadinejad and the supreme ruler was very obscure-incidentally, his proper description is the Supreme Guide. He certainly seemed to be busily building up both sides of the argument in Iran itself, perhaps to strengthen his hand.

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.

Q42 Mr. Horam: That is interesting. You may be aware that this Committee went to Iran.

Baroness Williams: A year ago.

Mr. Horam: Yes, and we recognised some of the points that you are making. We said in our report, with certain qualifications, that we wanted talks to take place, not entirely without preconditions-

Baroness Williams: I thought that you were very nuanced.

Mr. Horam: We were giving a clear signal that we would like it to happen the way that you describe. As you said, we are at a significant moment with Obama being elected President of the United States, and the United States is the key. One lesson that we have learnt from all these talks with the Iranians, both in Washington and in Tehran, is that the United States is the key to unlocking this. If it does not play a role, everybody else-all the European powers-can talk until they are blue in the face but they will not necessarily make a difference, because that is what Tehran understands to be the power of the situation. Do you not think, therefore, that given what Obama has said, we are at a significant moment where some real progress could be made in relation to Iran?

Baroness Williams: I do. I would hope that our Government could encourage the new President, and perhaps even more so those people around him, such as the Secretary of State and the new Secretary of Defence-or perhaps the same Secretary of Defence-to consider sitting down and talking. There was one element of breakthrough a month or two ago, when the United States agreed to the presence of an observer on the one plus three discussions. That was encouraging.

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 with Iran since 1980, which is quite extraordinary. It is one of the major powers in the world. As we all know, when the leader of the Iranian Administration was rather liberal, Iran made deliberate attempts to reach across to the United States, particularly in 2002 and in 2004-perhaps an unfortunate year-to try to talk about the possibility of discussing how the two countries could deal with Iraq and how they should deal with the general troubles in the region. One of the problems is that those approaches were rejected by the Bush Administration. That tends to build up a sense of paranoia among the Iranians because they feel that there is no way that they can reach a formal exchange of views which are officially recognised. The sensitivities are huge. Iran feels itself to be a great civilisation. It feels that it is not recognised as such by the major powers in the west.

Q43 Mr. Horam: To finish with this point on Iran-I am sure we do not want to carry on too long-one point that has been made to us by the experts on Iran, in the context of the Iranian push for nuclear weapons, or perhaps not nuclear weapons, is that when our Secretary of State, David Miliband, came to office, he failed to make an early visit to Tehran, when he could have done so. Because of the importance that the Iranians still attach to British opinion-it is second to America, certainly, but still important-that would have been well received. It is a pity that the UK Government did not make that initial effort.

Baroness Williams: That is rather my sense as well. That is why I said that I thought the opportunity that was offered by the Larijani initiative only a couple of weeks ago might have been one where we could at least have used the phrase, "This sounds interesting enough to explore," or something of that kind. In fact, as far as I know, we said nothing. That is immediately seen as another rejection by Iran.

I have only one other thing to add about that, which is that cultural exchanges, and for that matter, inter-faith exchanges with Iran could be very useful. That country is very far away and isolated from the rest of us. When we were going there, for example, there was a tight system of selection to decide who would be allowed to have a visa to get to Iran. At that time, rather sadly, all the American applications were dismissed, but that was because America, in turn, had dismissed all the Iranian applications to go there.

Mr. Horam: That is one issue that we took up with them.

Chairman: I am conscious that we do not want to spend too long on Iran because we have to get on to other areas.

Mr. Horam: Can I broaden out one question?

Chairman: On Iran?

Mr. Horam: No.

Chairman: In that case, Fabian wants to come in on Iran and then we can move on.

Q44 Mr. Hamilton: Baroness Williams, you touched on the point that just before we went to Iran last November, we were in Washington. As I recall, we had breakfast with the late Tom Lantos, who is sadly missed. At this breakfast with the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, he told us that he and a number of other Congressmen and women had applied to go to Tehran because they felt, independently of their Government, that they needed to talk to the Iranians-Iranian parliamentarians and people like Larijani-but they were told that there would be no visas. When we were there, we challenged people on why they were not given visas. They were going to go there to talk to the Iranians against their own Government's wishes. They were peaceful elements of the American Administration and the Iranians would not even talk to them because they would not give them visas. Has that changed?

Baroness Williams: Yes, I think that it has changed. I completely agree with you, and you are absolutely right. It was very foolish to refuse those visas, but you will remember that the Iranian Administration at that time was very much divided. There was the rise of Ahmadinejad, who had just recently come back as the President, and there was the attempt to move Larijani from the Administration altogether. He was later saved by the supreme ruler and brought back as his adviser on nuclear proliferation, and he is now showing signs of rising in the Administration. As I mentioned earlier, I suspect that the supreme guide does not discourage divisions between those around him. It is not a unified Administration, so now is a good time to revisit that because you have the initiative coming from Iran, albeit through the Larijani channel, but you are clearly not going to get it through the Ahmadinejad channel at the moment.

Mr. Hamilton: Thank you for your very clear analysis of Iran.

Q45 Mr. Horam: I want to look at the whole NPT situation and get away from the issue of Iran for a moment. We asked the two previous witnesses what they saw as the weaknesses of the present international arrangements for controlling nuclear weapons, and one answer was that we had not been tough enough on some of the people who threatened not to comply with them. Unfortunately, Iran is one of them, but I do not want to go on about that. Do you agree that we have not been tough enough with some of them?

Baroness Williams: I will step back for a moment and look at that word "we". We are by no means a completely united group, in the sense that France clearly follows a rather different line than the Bush Administration in the US does. I might put that in stronger terms than those that you have used so far, because I think that the Indo-US nuclear treaty was seen by many non-nuclear powers as a coach and horses going right through the middle of the NPT, and I rather agree.

At that time the US did not exact from India the requirement that the additional protocol apply to its military installations, for example, but allowed it to refuse any access to military installations. They proudly said that they would accept access to civil nuclear facilities, but that was not the point. We do not allow Iran to say, "You can have access to our civil nuclear facilities at Bushehr, but do not come and ask us about anything to do with the military." That would make a nonsense of the NPT. Although I am, personally, deeply pro-Indian, I though that that was a very unfortunate and damaging case of double standards.

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 made Pakistan, at an internal political level, argue that it has been treated quite differently from India and far less favourably. It is not a happy moment for that kind of attitude to be taken in a democracy that is clearly very frail at present.

Q46 Mr. Horam: Thank you, Baroness Williams. With our previous witnesses we discussed, as you might have heard, dirty bombs, their associated problems and the business of the wrong material getting into terrorist hands. Have we succeeded in making the acquisition of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction by terrorists less likely?

Baroness Williams: No, we have not. We have not given that anything like the necessary attention, but I would question slightly the use of the word "terrorist", and you will see why. I have just looked at a very interesting report called "Securing the Bomb", which the Committee might want to look at, which was put out by the Belfer Centre, of which I am a board member, and written by Malcolm Bunn, a brilliant man and one of the centre's experts in the field. The report points out that since 1993 there have been approximately 1,800 attempts to seize, sell or trade nuclear materials. Of that 1,800, only 18 have been serious attempts to seize highly enriched uranium. Most of the other incidents involved poor security or attempts by people-but not serious terrorist groups-to seize or steal.

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.

Mr. Horam: Thank you.

Chairman: That is very helpful. Some of the members of the Committee went to Russia on a previous inquiry and visited a nuclear research reactor. We saw what I would say was woeful security, but it was being improved with the support of Global Partnership and British Government money. That was just two years ago, so the issue that you mentioned is important.

Q47 Sir John Stanley: Baroness Williams, in the context of the NPT review process in 2010, what is your view as to what the British Government's policy objectives should be? What should we try to achieve in that review?

Baroness Williams: That is a huge question, but I will try to answer it quickly, because I know that you are a bit short of time.

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 United States and the Russians together. Questions were asked earlier about the reduction of nuclear arsenals, and there is no question about the need to do that in a major way. That would begin to get some of the sense of there being sharp divisions between non-nuclear and nuclear back on track again.

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 Russia and the United States. It was held under the aegis of the Gorbachev Foundation at the time, but they were not Gorbachev people. They were mainly scientists and technicians. I do not pretend to be able to know whether what they were saying was right, but it was very interesting that the Russian and American scientists-the meeting was held two years ago-agreed that both sides could reduce their nuclear warheads to 500, and that that would be a more than sufficient deterrent. At present, the United States has 10,000 nuclear warheads, and the Russians have 16,000. The point about that is that it is so far beyond the deterrent required that there is a wide-open invitation to accessibility to the parts that are not needed and not well protected, but could certainly be the source of materials for other powers. One of my strong senses is that it would not be difficult to get towards the point at which you could have major reductions, without even Britain, France and China being affected, because they are well below these figures. That would go a long way to rebuild trust.

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 Russia, the United States and ourselves. The issue that you raised-ballistic missile defence-is absolutely central there. I cannot help wondering whether the price that we are paying for that is not much too high.

Q48 Sir John Stanley: Thank you. Rightly, in my view, you highlighted the huge scope and critical importance-preferably before 2010-of trying to get real substantive progress between the US and Russia in reducing their nuclear weapons stockpiles. We have a change of American President, but it remains to be seen what degree of priority this will have for President-elect Obama. However, from your knowledge of the Putin Government-he is now Prime Minister-and how they have moved, do you believe that there is a realistic possibility of getting them to move into an altogether more co-operative stance towards the United States and to talk really serious numbers in terms of reducing their own stockpile, if there are equivalent reductions by the Americans?

Baroness Williams: I think that there is. I spend a fair amount of time in Russia, because I am on the board of something called the Moscow School of Political Studies, which is a fairly democratic body, with all the parties of Russia in there, training young elected members of the Duma and the regional and major city dumas-that is to say, the next generation of Russian democrats, if there is a Russian democracy. The school is supposed to be for young people between the ages of perhaps 25 and 40, and they are almost all elected councillors or parliamentarians, but-although they are mostly pretty pro-American-I have never encountered such an absolutely united sense of hostility towards the United States and the UK over the recent installation of ballistic missiles, which are not necessarily nuclear, in Poland and the Czech Republic.

If one thinks for a minute about the history of Russia-with respect to my American colleagues, not many know it-it is a history that leads to paranoia. This is a country that has been invaded and invaded and invaded, and has gone into a sort of state of what one must almost call a security obsession. I think that whatever we may say rationally about this-"It's not really threatening Russia"-the Russians are not going to be persuaded of that. They really believe that it is a threat to Russia. When they look at Iran or North Korea-well, "It's a funny place," one might say.

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.

Q49 Chairman: You referred to the policy of the British Government in different ways. Wearing your hat in your special role, will you say whether the Government are doing enough on nuclear disarmament?

Baroness Williams: In some areas, they are doing a major job that has not been publicised much. I have mentioned the verification issue, so I shall refer to the very interesting proposal of the Ministry of Defence for a summit between the laboratories. Your earlier witnesses mentioned, for example, the importance of defining what is a warhead. Of the 16,000 Russian warheads, which are effective and which are just there to fill in the gaps? We have been able to do that sort of technical work, and we have done that well, both verification and the lab proposal.

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 UK. There is one huge contribution that we can make. You have not asked me the question, so I shall ask it of myself. Strengthening the IAEA at the resources and inspection level is absolutely crucial. It is now pushed to its limits. The UK could be a very satisfactory place for recruiting and training inspectors because ABWE is certainly one of the best technical bodies there is and, because of our well-known commitment to the IAEA and the United Nations, it is an area where there could be a British initiative. It could be very important. It could be helpful to America, which could not make that initiative at the moment because it has still not got the comprehensive test ban treaty through Congress. However, we have, and we have built up all the treaties; it is something that we could do in a major way and for which we could receive a great deal of credit.

Q50 Chairman: We, as a Committee, intend to look closely at what is happening in the IAEA. You referred to strengthening, but is it just a question of resources or could any other changes be made?

Baroness Williams: It is not just resources. We could explore the sort of training that new inspectors will need. They will need to be both civil and military to a much greater extent than they have been up to now. Obviously, the IAEA ought to expand to take in the inspection of potential proliferation in the form of civil nuclear reactors in countries that have never had anything to do with nuclear technology. There are an awful lot of them, such as Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. They are all countries with virtually no knowledge, let alone people who would be capable of inspecting. There is a huge need, and the UK could help to fill that need. It is not just a matter of financial resources although, God knows, that is important. The level of experience is so low in human resources that the people from Britain and, for that matter, France who understand such matters, could do a useful job. In that context, you probably know that the new director of the World Institute for Nuclear Security-the NTI initiative for exchanging best practice on nuclear security-will be the former head of the British nuclear inspectorate, so that might be a useful link.

Q51 Chairman: One other area is related to the action of the British Government. It is the suggestion of a so-called enrichment bond. Do you have any views on that?

Baroness Williams: It is useful, but it is useful essentially as a complement to a relatively small fuel bank. It is another illustration of the distrust of non-nuclear weapon powers. You probably know that, a couple of months ago, they were advised by the IAEA to withdraw all support for fuel banks. It asked their Governments not to assist in creating a fuel bank. The reason for that was primarily sensitivity about sovereignty. It thought that it was a step towards refusing all non-nuclear weapon powers the ability to enrich uranium even up to the permitted level. It is a very sensitive area. Personally, I think that the only way in which we can deal with it is by leaping over the whole of that argument and moving to an international site for an enrichment plant-a nuclear Vatican-placed somewhere that could not have sovereignty.

Q52 Chairman: Perhaps you should not call it the Vatican in the context of Iran.

Baroness Williams: Of course, you are right, but you know what I am trying to say. It has to be placed somewhere where the sovereignty issue does not arise. In other words, it must be ceded to the United Nations. It has to be an international place, and that ceded place would probably best be Switzerland next door to the existing UN structures. A sovereign power must not be involved, because that power could decide to take over nuclear installations unilaterally by an act of nationalisation, which, after all, happened in the case of the Suez canal a long time ago. Countries will not buy into that.

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.

Chairman: No, it was very helpful. Baroness Williams, the proceedings have been extremely useful. We are very grateful to you for coming along and for giving us your wide experience of such matters.

Baroness Williams: Thank you very much for inviting me. I am grateful to you, and good luck.

Back to Proliferation in Parliament, Winter 2008

Back to the Top of the Page

© 2009 The Acronym Institute.