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Proliferation in Parliament

Back to Proliferation in Parliament, Summer 2009

Westminster Parliament

Missile Defence and NATO-Russia relations

Select Committee Report


Written Questions

Missile Defence and NATO-Russia relations

Select Committee Report

Russia: a new confrontation, House of Commons Defence Committee, HC 276 of 2008-09, 10 July 2009

Conclusion and Recommendations

Russia's foreign policy

1.  Russia has been hit hard by the global economic downturn. It is too early to judge how this will affect Russia's foreign policy. Russia's low level of democracy may make it more likely to be assertive in its foreign policy than would be the case with a Western liberal democratic state that faced similar economic difficulties. (Paragraph 23)

2.  The West needs to engage with Russia to develop cooperation, yet the absence of shared values makes this difficult. Witnesses identified many areas where cooperation was desirable based on mutual national interests. NATO, the EU and the UK Government need a pragmatic and hard-headed approach to their engagement with Russia to achieve the best results. (Paragraph 27)

Russia's military capability and posture

3.  We welcome Russia's military reform programme that will modernise and professionalise its Armed Forces. It provides an opportunity for Russia to increase the interoperability of its Armed Forces and thereby the possibility for increased joint operations with NATO forces, whilst also improving the conditions of its rank and file soldiers. The UK military is experienced in implementing reforms. The Ministry of Defence should offer support to Russia in implementing its reform programme. (Paragraph 43)

4.  Russia's unauthorised flights into international airspace, including the UK's flight information region, do not pose a direct security threat to NATO or the UK; nevertheless, they are not the actions of a friendly nation and risk escalating tension. A further issue is that Russia's actions threaten the safety of civil flights and risk leading to serious accidents; Russia should not be making such flights without informing the appropriate authorities. The Government should take a more robust approach in making clear to Russia that its continued secret incursions by military aircraft into international airspace near to the UK is not acceptable behaviour. The Government should call on NATO to ensure that it monitors and assesses the threat posed by unauthorised Russian military flights into NATO and international airspace near to NATO's territorial perimeter. (Paragraph 49)

5.  It is understandable that some of Russia's neighbouring states should feel concerned about the possibility of Russian military action against them given Russia's actions in Georgia. Russia has proved that it is quite capable of using military force if it chooses. Russia does not, however, need to use conventional force to achieve its objectives; it has political and economic tools at its disposal to influence its neighbouring states. (Paragraph 52)

6.  In contrast to the level of threat Russia poses to some of its neighbouring states, Russia does not currently pose a direct threat to UK homeland security, nor is likely to do so in the near future. Although it is hard to conceive of a scenario in which Russia would threaten UK homeland security, Russia threatens the national interests of the UK through its attempts to establish a sphere of influence over other former Soviet States. It is in the UK's national interest to have stable democratic and independent states in Eastern Europe as this enhances European security. Russia's behaviour risks undermining this and thereby working against our own national interests. (Paragraph 53)

The Georgia conflict

7.  We welcome the EU's investigation into the causes of the Georgian-Russian conflict. Understanding the history and causes of the conflict is a prerequisite to achieving peace in the region. While awaiting the EU's forthcoming report that should provide a more detailed assessment of the causes of the conflict, we conclude that:

  • Responsibility for the conflict was shared, in differing measures, by all parties. Both Russia and Georgia share responsibility for the humanitarian consequences of the conflict that have left hundreds dead and thousands displaced from their homes.
  • Russia provoked Georgia through its actions over many years. Russian provocation included fuelling separatism in the region through the distribution of passports in the breakaway Georgian territories, building up its military forces in the region and through its recognition of the separatist territories in Spring 2008.
  • President Saakashvili's decision to launch an offensive on 7 August was politically reckless. Russia reacted swiftly to remove Georgian forces from South Ossetia. Russia also acted with disproportionate and illegal use of force by encroaching deep into Georgian territory, far beyond the conflict area. (Paragraph 74)

8.  There was a collective international failure at a political level to read the warning signs of an escalating conflict. The UK Government has stated its commitment to securing peace in Georgia. Ministers need to learn from history, and should carefully monitor intelligence on the situation in the Caucasus, to ensure that any future outbreak of conflict in the region does not come as a surprise. (Paragraph 75)

9.  Russia is failing to honour its ceasefire commitments under the agreements of 12 August and 8 September 2008. We recommend that the UK Government send a strong message to Russia that it needs to withdraw its military forces to its pre-conflict positions as previously agreed. (Paragraph 81)

10.  We regret that the UN and OSCE monitoring missions have been forced to close. Their closure increases the vital importance of the EU monitoring mission in Georgia and the need for its mandate to be strengthened as well as extended. The EU monitoring mission has a vital role in acting as a deterrent to further military action and promoting stability. The UK Government should increase its diplomatic efforts to secure an extension in time and strengthening of the EU monitoring mission in Georgia, including enabling the mission to have full access to the disputed territories. (Paragraph 89)

11.  Russia has breached internationally accepted principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity by unilaterally recognising the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The prospect of South Ossetia and Abkhazia returning under the sovereign control of Georgia in the near future appears slight while the Russian military presence remains in these territories. It is vital for international security that NATO, EU and the UK Government remain resolute in their commitment to Georgia's sovereignty and international law. The international community has a vital role in securing stability and peace in the region. UK Ministers should press for the EU, UN and OSCE to secure a lasting peace settlement in the disputed territories. (Paragraph 93)

Russia and NATO

12.  We welcome the resumption of formal engagement between NATO and Russia on the NATO-Russia Council. Engagement provides a platform for progress in building trust and cooperation. This should not, however, be at the cost of abandoning a commitment to the territorial integrity of Georgia. NATO should continue to make clear to Russia that its actions in Georgia were disproportionate and that it should honour its ceasefire commitments in Georgia. (Paragraph 99)

13.  For the NATO-Russia Council to be effective in building trust between NATO and Russia there needs to be an honest dialogue on areas of disagreement as well as agreement. The UK Government should encourage the NRC to be used as a forum to discuss difficult and strategic issues—such as NATO enlargement, Georgia, and human rights—as well as issues where cooperation is more likely. (Paragraph 101)

14.  Arctic security is an issue of growing strategic importance as sea routes are opened up as a result of climate change. NATO has a critical role to play in securing Russian cooperation or at least minimising tensions over the territory. (Paragraph 104)

15.  There are many opportunities for NATO to pursue cooperation with Russia for mutual benefit. The full potential of the NATO-Russia Council will not be realised until it takes strategic decisions on the priority areas for cooperation. In relation to these areas of potential cooperation, the NATO-Russia Council should focus its efforts on key strategic areas where there is a consensus within NATO and realistic prospects for success: these areas could include arms control, the Arctic and Afghanistan. We recommend that the UK Government identify and communicate within NATO what its priority areas are for cooperation with Russia. (Paragraph 106)

16.  The Government should work within NATO to secure an agreement with Russia on the transit of NATO military goods through Russian territory to ISAF forces in Afghanistan. We acknowledge that the UK currently relies on a southern transit route to supply its Armed Forces, yet it has a vital interest in ensuring the effectiveness of the entire coalition mission in Afghanistan. The Alliance's effectiveness would be enhanced by accessing an alternative supply route for its military goods other than through Pakistan. (Paragraph 111)

17.  Russia should not have a veto over NATO membership. The costs of NATO closing the door on further enlargement are as great as the costs of premature enlargement. (Paragraph 122)

18.  Acceptance of new NATO members should continue to be performance-based; if a country meets the criteria for membership, and can demonstrate that it is able to contribute to the security of existing NATO members it should be permitted to join. We believe it is essential that NATO's open door policy is maintained on this basis. Ending it is not in the interests of NATO or of European stability as a whole. Signalling that the Alliance has reached its outer limits, or ruling out further expansion, would consign those countries left outside NATO to an uncertain future, potentially creating instability on the Alliance's Eastern fringes. Perpetuating this instability is not in the interests of any member of the NATO Alliance. (Paragraph 123)

19.  Georgia's unresolved territorial disputes considerably complicate NATO's decision-making on whether to grant Georgia membership or not. On the one hand, Georgia's membership may strengthen democracy and stability within the country and possibly beyond. On the other hand, its unresolved territorial disputes could risk NATO becoming embroiled in a direct conflict with Russia. While Georgia is working towards meeting the performance criteria for membership this issue can be avoided. But it can not be avoided indefinitely. At some point in the future, NATO will need to make a difficult decision on whether to grant Georgia membership in light of the harsh reality of the situation on the ground. It is vital that NATO does not allow Russia to dictate this decision; yet it is also vital that NATO considers the possible consequences arising from allowing a country to join while it has unresolved territorial disputes which it is in Russia's interests to perpetuate in the short term. (Paragraph 127)

20.  If NATO does grant Georgia membership it should do so to the whole of Georgia's sovereign territory, including Abkhazia and South Ossetia. To do otherwise would be to recognise Russia's actions in those parts of Georgia as having some legitimacy. This is a very serious issue to which we do not have an answer. Yet the international community must work to address it to produce an answer and, in doing so, reduce the tension between Georgia, Russia and NATO. This will be achievable only with a recognition by Russia that its long-term interests lie in stable and harmonious relations in the South Caucasus region, rather than a relationship of threats and domination. (Paragraph 128)

21.  For Ukraine to have a realistic chance of joining NATO, it not only needs to meet the performance criteria for membership, but it needs also to demonstrate that its public are supportive of its membership. (Paragraph 129)

22.  NATO needs to ensure that a continued commitment to mutual protection—Article 5—is at the heart of the new NATO Strategic Concept. NATO's global role is vital, given the shared challenges its Member States face. Yet this should not come at the expense of the Alliance's commitment towards mutual defence. (Paragraph 133)

23.  Central and Eastern European NATO members are understandably concerned about their security. Countries such as Estonia have proved to be valuable allies, particularly in the ISAF mission in Afghanistan, and it is right that we reassure them about their security. NATO should take steps to reassure Central and Eastern European NATO members that their security is of vital importance to the Alliance. (Paragraph 134)

24.  NATO should update its contingency plans for responding to an armed attack on its members, including ensuring that these plans cover the eventuality of attack on Baltic Member States, and setting out NATO's planned military response. (Paragraph 137)

25.  We believe that NATO's decision to enhance the remit of the NATO Response Force, rather than creating new structures, is sensible. It is vital that the NATO Response Force is able to reassure Central and Eastern European Member States. NATO should maintain a visible military presence in the Baltic States, including through the use of air-policing and conducting exercises in the region. (Paragraph 139)

26.  The UK, alongside many other countries, faces an increasing threat of cyberattack. Cybersecurity is an issue of increasing significance for the UK and NATO as society becomes increasingly dependent on information and communication technology. The cyberattacks on Estonia and Georgia demonstrate the importance of the UK and NATO developing robust resilience. (Paragraph 151)

27.  We welcome the Government's publication of a National Cybersecurity Strategy and the establishment of new offices to coordinate and implement cybersecurity measures. Despite information from the MoD, we are still not clear what the exact role and contribution of the MoD is towards national cybersecurity. In the Government's response to our Report, we recommend the Government to set out more clearly the MoD's current and future work in relation to national cybersecurity. The MoD should also ensure that the importance of cybersecurity is reflected within its planning and resource allocation. (Paragraph 152)

28.  Given the importance that the Government now attaches to national cybersecurity, we call on it to explain its decision not to sponsor the NATO Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence. The UK Government should urge NATO to recognise the security challenge posed by electronic warfare in NATO's new Strategic Concept. NATO should give cybersecurity higher priority within its planning to reflect the growing threat that this poses to its members. NATO should ensure that the work of the Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence is fully supported, including financially. (Paragraph 153)

European security and Russia

29.  We welcome the resumption of a dialogue between the EU and Russia on a new Partnership and Cooperation Agreement. Yet the Government's position, that the 'pace and tone' of negotiations on a new PCA will be informed by Russia's fulfilment of its obligations under the ceasefire agreements in Georgia, does not provide sufficient clarity on the Government's position. The Government should make a clear public statement that it will not sign up to a new Partnership and Cooperation agreement unless Russia honours its ceasefire commitments. (Paragraph 158)

30.  We note the concern expressed by witnesses about Russia's motives in proposing a new European security architecture. We are not convinced that there is a need for such a new architecture, which may undermine the primacy of NATO's security role. Nevertheless, engagement with Russia on this matter is necessary to understand their security concerns. The current proposals are vague; Russia needs to come forward with further details of its proposals to enable a meaningful dialogue to take place. The UK Government should maintain its willingness to engage with Russia on this issue, but should make clear that it will not commit to an agreement that overrides existing commitments to NATO and human rights. We support the OSCE's role in taking forward initial discussions on the new security architecture. (Paragraph 166)

European energy security and Russia

31.  Regardless of the causes of the Ukraine-Russia gas dispute, it is clear that it has damaged the reputations of both countries as reliable suppliers. The threat and reality of Russia cutting off energy supply demonstrates the need for the EU to reduce its energy dependency on Russia and diversify energy supply. (Paragraph 176)

32.  It is too early to judge what the long-term effect of the global economic crisis will be on future EU energy demand. Yet the EU needs to press ahead in diversifying its energy supply to ensure that it is not vulnerable to supply disputes (Paragraph 178)

33.  The UK Government should work within the EU to pursue a united approach to energy security and the prioritisation of developing the Nabucco pipeline. (Paragraph 184)

34.  In our view NATO should have a role in energy issues but it should not play a leading role; this is more appropriately a matter for the EU. Nevertheless, energy is an issue that it is legitimate for NATO to be concerned about because there are significant security implications arising from the possibility of disputes between countries over energy supplies and the potential for states to use their military assets to defend pipelines. The Government should work within NATO to develop an approach on energy issues that focuses on the security aspects of the energy agenda. (Paragraph 187)

Global security

35.  A strong bilateral relationship between the US and Russia is vital for global security. Yet it is also important for European security that this relationship does not come at the expense of the NATO-Russian relationship. (Paragraph 190)

36.  We welcome the US-Russian negotiations on a nuclear arms reduction treaty to succeed START I. We support the recommendation made by the Foreign Affairs Committee in its Report, Global Security: Non-Proliferation, that the Government should offer every assistance to facilitate a speedy and productive conclusion to the negotiations on a treaty to replace START I. We ask the Government, in its response to our Report, to set out what steps it has taken to facilitate an agreement. (Paragraph 195)

37.  We are not convinced that European security will be enhanced by the United States' planned ballistic missile defence (BMD) system as currently envisaged. If the US decides to press ahead with its BMD plans, we recommend that the Government seek ways to involve Russia in its development. (Paragraph 203)

38.  Russia has an important bilateral relationship with Iran and thereby has a vital role in preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons. We call on the Government to encourage Russia to persuade Iran to comply with its nuclear obligations. (Paragraph 208)


39.  Although Russia does not pose a military threat to NATO as an Alliance, some Central and Eastern European NATO Member States are understandably concerned about the military threat that Russia poses to them individually, given Russia's actions in Georgia. It is important they are reassured. (Paragraph 211)

40.  It is in NATO's interests to continue to support the territorial integrity of Georgia. If Russia believes it has carte blanche to disregard international law there is an increased risk of other countries suffering the same fate as Georgia. The credibility of NATO as a military alliance is based on its ability to provide mutual defence to its Member States, as outlined in Article 5. NATO's new Strategic Concept should contain a renewed commitment to Article 5 as well as ensuring that NATO is militarily capable of acting inside and outside of NATO boundaries. NATO is strongest when its Member States are united; the UK Government should work within NATO to ensure that this is achieved. (Paragraph 212)

41.  It is right that NATO, the EU and the UK Government engage with Russia both on areas of cooperation and areas of disagreement. Russia has much to gain from positioning itself firmly within the community of nations. Engagement is important to build trust and avoid a new confrontation arising between Russia and the West. The Government should adopt a hard-headed approach to engagement with Russia, based on the reality of Russia's foreign policy rather than abstract and misleading notions of shared values. (Paragraph 213)


Ballistic Missile Defence, Westminster Hall Debate, 7 July 2009 : Column 246WH

Mr. Peter Kilfoyle (Liverpool, Walton) (Lab): It is a pleasure for me to state my case before you in this short debate, Mr. Cummings. I am particularly pleased that the relatively new Armed Forces Minister is here to respond on a subject that I have taken up with several of his predecessors.

We are here to talk about UK policy, but in a sense, that cannot be divided from American Government policy. By way of background, I should like to put on the record some comments that were made recently by the American deputy Defence Secretary, William J. Lynn III. He told the Senate Armed Services Committee that missile defences

“are affordable, proven, and responsive to the threat.”

He later went into great detail about such defence systems. He was talking about the additional budget requirements that had been set out to include things such as terminal high-altitude area defence, the Aegis ballistic missile defence ships and standard missile 3 interceptors.

Those details are important, because we tend to think of missile defence as being some kind of science fiction or that it comprises initiatives like star wars, which involved popping things out of the sky. In fact, an array of weapons systems come under the broad aegis of missile defence. If I recall, the figures that were bandied about when the current system was first proposed were enormous. I had never imagined such figures at the time, but since the banking crisis, they have become everyday. People were talking about $500 billion for the total cost of the defences, but they were pie-in-the-sky estimates—guesstimates—simply because the technology was not known and nobody knew what to expect. What we do know is this: the systems are very complicated and very expensive.

I should like to go back to that first quote that said that the missile defences are

“affordable, proven, and responsive to the threat”

because, frankly, I was mystified when I read what Mr. J. Lynn III later told the Armed Services Committee—that missile defence is expensive. He recognised that although it is affordable, it is a very expensive exercise. Having said that it is “proven,” Mr. Lynn emphasised the need for robust testing. At the same time, he terminated the troubled kinetic energy interceptor and the multiple kill vehicle programmes, and returned the airborne laser to a technology demonstration programme. He said that some facets of the programme that had been shown to be unworkable and untenable had to be cancelled.

That outcome was postulated a long time ago by experts in the field such as Ted Postol and Richard Garwin. Not only are they eminent scientists, but they are former presidential advisers, and they said it was unworkable. They said that the technology was not only unproven, but that it could not be proved. I still argue that we do not have a clue how effective the proposed systems are or might be in future. The common metaphor is a bullet hitting a bullet at 15,000 mph. That is the kind of objective that the technology seeks to achieve, and frankly, it does not seem to work.

7 July 2009 : Column 247WH

The final part of the quote is “responsive to the threat”. I got a research paper from the Library and was particularly taken by its account of what is happening on the other side of the globe, in the far east, in relation to North Korea. Wallace Gregson, a senior US Defence Department official, was quoted as saying that the present policy on containing North Korea has not worked. Responding to the renewed debate in Japan about whether that country should develop its own nuclear weapons capability, Gregson said:

“Japan certainly has the right to consider all available options”.

That is at the heart of the whole question of missile defence. If it does not work, what is its use? Is it a deterrent? Does it in any way inhibit the likelihood that nuclear weapons will either be acquired by other states or be used by rogue states or terrorist organisations? Yet a senior official is actually suggesting that it is perfectly well and good for Japan, or indeed South Korea, to go along the road of acquiring nuclear weapons, at a time when one of the great challenges is to prevent nuclear weapons from getting into the hands of, for example, Iran.

There seems to be a contradiction. If a country’s face fits in the higher echelons of today’s nuclear-capable powers, it is okay for it to have nuclear weapons; but if a country has been deemed, for whatever reason, to be an unacceptable or rogue state—the definition tends to emanate from Washington—it cannot have those weapons. It is those very rogue states against which ballistic missile shields are supposed to defend us. That is where I have some concerns.

Anybody reading the papers today would have been absolutely convinced that the meeting between Presidents Medvedev and Obama in Moscow was a great success for the whole question of reducing the nuclear threat, which I imagine is a prime purpose of our foreign policy in that area. Of course, it depends what people read. The BBC online news headline reads “US and Russia agree nuclear cuts”. The Times shows that that is plainly untrue; I will explain why in a moment.TheTimes headline is “US and Russia to cut nuclear warheads—but no deal on missile defence”. That is partly true. TheGuardian headline is “US and Russia agree nuclear disarmament road map”. We are getting nearer to the truth.

The truth is that what has actually been agreed is the aspiration that when START 1 ends in December this year, there will be a commitment to commence START 2, in effect, to reduce the number of warheads. I seem to recall the rather improbable figure of 1,675 warheads apiece. That is still many times the number required to smash each other into smithereens. Nevertheless, that is going on.

The other side of that equation is missile defence, because there is no agreement on that. That is at the heart of my concern about our policies and our connection with missile defence. I am not trying to raise the global issue; I am talking about what is happening here in Europe. After all, we are members of the European Union and NATO. What happens in terms of missile defence proposals, particularly in Poland and the Czech Republic, impacts strongly on the United Kingdom and its interests in the wider European sphere.

There is little doubt that there are grave concerns in Russia about the current American proposals. Where do we come into that? We are an integral part of the

7 July 2009 : Column 248WH

ballistic missile shield. The shield, by the way, has nothing to do with Europe. It does not even pretend to be a protective shield for Europe. Whatever it is, it is supposed to protect the United States. Nevertheless, two sovereign bases in the United Kingdom—Menwith Hill and Fylingdales—are meshed into the system. In the case of Menwith Hill—it might be the other one—that was agreed without any reference whatever to Parliament. It is a matter of record now that the former Prime Minister was prepared to base interceptor missiles in the UK, certainly without any reference to Parliament. It is that uncertainty—the ability of missile defence to destabilise—that ought to be a matter for concern in this House and beyond.

I return to the development of missile defence, because we must contextualise it. It took off when the United States withdrew in June 2002 from the anti-ballistic missile treaty, ensuring that it could embark on a missile defence scheme legally in terms of international agreements. Many believe—rightly or wrongly; it does not matter whether it is true—that the system, placed in Europe as envisaged by the Bush Administration, would give the US the capacity to attack another country without fear of retaliation.

Both Russia and China expressed fears along that line. That does not necessarily mean that they were obsessed by the idea that it was an offensive system, but they saw the concerns registered by academics and many others about the siting of the system, because it was not just done in splendid isolation; it was done in conjunction with NATO expansion, and it created serious tension between the US and Russia and, by extension, us. It certainly increased the possibility of a new arms race. Right up to today, in what Medvedev says and what has been issued officially from the meetings in the run-up to the summit, the Russians still hold that view. They are concerned.

In my view, whatever has been proposed and aired in the press in recent days holds no water if there is to be no agreement on missile defence. It is to be hoped—there is room for optimism—that the Obama Administration have their own reservations and recognise the destabilising effect. If that can be translated, against other elements in Washington and beyond, into some sort of positive action to allay the fears of people in Russia as well as many in parts of eastern Europe and the United Kingdom, that would be welcome. It would certainly be welcomed by most people in the Czech Republic, who, as has been shown time and again in poll after poll, want no part in having any trace of a ballistic missile screen in their country. Over a long period, we have had a lot of concerns about the circumstances facing us in eastern Europe, not just because of the missile defence proposals but because of the seemingly concomitant expansion of NATO.

Today’s Times said:

“Mr. Obama insisted that it”—

that is, the missile screen—

“was directed against potential threats from Iran and North Korea and could not affect ‘a mighty Russian arsenal’”.

It is one thing to say that, but the perception is another thing. The missile screen was likened in one colourful metaphor to a 21st-century Maginot line, meaning that the real threat could come around it. That has certainly bothered a lot of military thinkers in a time of asymmetric

7 July 2009 : Column 249WH

warfare, as it is known: there is far more likelihood of a so-called rogue nation planting an atomic weapon in London or New York, if that is their bent. They could get it in on the back of a wagon, in our case, or on a ship. Even if they had the technology, the wherewithal and the finances, there are a dozen and one ways to introduce such a threat other than by making use of an expensive, traceable and obvious delivery system of the sophisticated type to which we are used.

Russia has displayed a negative attitude to missile defence on a number of occasions. That affects us directly. Policies that do not have the support of the Russian Government might not be in our military or economic interests, and are certainly not in our diplomatic interests. For example, the overflight of troops and equipment bound for Afghanistan could be affected—there have been announcements on that today. It would be extremely helpful if the Russians ensured that the overflight facility, which enables the effort against the Taliban and the remnants of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan to continue, was maintained. However, what is opened up can easily be closed down. I hope that the recent series of meetings has brought us out of the sort of cold war mark 2 that there has been. We do not want to go back into that because it could damage the effort to stabilise the situation in Afghanistan.

We also need Russian co-operation over the Iranian nuclear programme. The Russians have co-operated strongly in the building of Iranian nuclear power facilities. People have different views on whether the Iranian uranium enrichment programme is a good or a bad thing, but as long as there is a fear that it will spill over into the development of nuclear weapons, we must have all the powers we can muster to persuade the Iranians not to go down that path. We need Russian support in that.

We need Russian support on many international challenges such as terrorism, climate change and people trafficking. We must ensure that Russia is on side for START 2, which is due for renegotiation and implementation by December this year. Last but not least, we need Russian co-operation on the security of energy supplies to western Europe, including the UK. Looking at a map, it does not seem like the new pipeline through Georgia and South Ossetia will have to go a million miles. However, we saw what happened in the war between Russia and Georgia. If the one independent pipeline becomes the subject of a conflict by proxy, it could cause immense problems for our energy supplies. We should be aware of that and should seek the co-operation of the Russians. One way to get their co-operation would be to allay their fears over missile defence.

As I said, we are talking about a system designed to make one missile hit another at 15,000 mph. It does not work. Decoys were used in getting the right test results, but nobody can say that these systems work. The United States has not tried the system against simple decoy systems of their own. Any so-called rogue state that can develop a missile to carry a warhead into continental Europe will have the wherewithal to put out decoys to upset any kind of missile defence system.

The system has nothing to do with the protection of Europe; it is about the protection of the United States, albeit an ephemeral protection. The Fylingdales early

7 July 2009 : Column 250WH

warning and tracking radar is involved. I have been there to see the improvements to the system and do not challenge its capabilities. Whether it should be used for the good of America rather than the good of the United Kingdom is a moot point. The integration of Menwith Hill into the system has never been debated in the House. A full debate is well overdue to provide parliamentary accountability of the Executive in this area.

Polls in the host countries show that 55 to 70 per cent. of people are opposed to any part of the system being sited in their country. That is destabilising. It is a matter of definition what a rogue state is.

Further down the track, there is a danger that missile defence policies will be seen as a step towards the expansion of anti-satellite technology. Hon. Members will be aware that such warfare in space is singularly prohibited. It would be a short step from anti-ballistic missile objectives to anti-satellite warfare. Interestingly, there has been a shift in opinion here and in the United States. Whether 19th and 20th-century solutions are applicable to the conflicts of the 21st century is being questioned. Doubts are being expressed about aircraft carriers, super-duper fighters and bombers, and so on. However, missile defence is the one area that appears not to be questioned. Some well briefed newspaper accounts point towards micro-satellites, with the implication that there will be a battle over communications and cyber potential via satellites in the stratosphere. That would be a dangerous development.

I hope that Her Majesty’s Government will begin to look at what is in the best interests of the United Kingdom and our partners in the European Union, rather than have imposed upon them the views of an outdated and outvoted US Administration, who have thankfully been cast into oblivion. The Government’s involvement in the American missile defence programme is of particular concern.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Bill Rammell): May I reassure my Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle) that what drives me as a politician and a Minister on these issues is our national interest? That is my overriding and fundamental priority. I congratulate him on securing this debate. Although we do not always agree, as will become clear in this debate, I greatly respect the honesty and integrity that he has brought to these issues over many years.

Other than the US, the UK and France, about 20 countries possess ballistic missiles. In 2007, there were 100 non-US ballistic missile launches around the world, which is 30 per cent. more than in 2006 and slightly fewer than in 2008. Those figures reflect the determination of many countries to acquire a ballistic missile capability. Although many countries possess only short-range weapons that do not threaten the UK mainland, we remain concerned by missile development in countries such as Iran and North Korea.

We recognise that neither of those countries has a confirmed long-range ballistic missile capability, but Iran does possess a medium range missile, the Shahab 3, that could reach Turkey and much of the middle east. The recent test firings of those missiles and the accompanying rhetoric is a worrying development.

7 July 2009 : Column 251WH

Reports suggest that Iran is developing longer-range missiles that in time could pose a greater threat to the UK and our European allies. Tehran has acknowledged that it is pursuing a space launch capability. The successful launch of the Safir rocket, which put a small satellite into orbit earlier this year, is testament to the growing Iranian mastery of rocket and missile technologies.

As we have seen recently, North Korea continues to develop and test its missile capabilities, and shows gradual improvement in its understanding of missile and rocket systems. It continues to develop the Taepodong-2 missile, and earlier this year attempted to use Taepodong-type technology to place a satellite into Earth’s orbit. That vehicle failed to reach orbit, but the North Koreans’ intention to develop long-range rocket technology cannot be ignored. Both Iran and North Korea claim that their developments are designed for civilian applications and are meant to allow them to join the ranks of peaceful space-faring nations. However, the technologies could equally be used to develop missile systems capable of delivering military payloads over intercontinental distances. Those payloads could include chemical, biological or nuclear weapons that are capable of killing many people and inflicting massive damage with a single missile.

We assess—this is the nub of the challenge—that within the next 10 years, both North Korea and Iran could have the capability to target the UK with ballistic missiles if they so wished. Of course, the development of technological and technical capability is only one facet of the threat; the other is the intent to use missiles. We can monitor the development and proliferation of ballistic missiles and the associated technology, and we can prepare to defeat them, but it is more difficult to know with any certainty when, or even if, intent changes. At the moment, the Government assess that there is no ballistic missile threat to the UK homeland, but if we look to future trends, that could change.

Let me address some of the questions that my hon. Friend has asked. First, I shall respond to his underlying challenge about what we as a country, and particularly as a Government, want to do about the threat of nuclear proliferation and the challenge of nuclear weapons. We are very clear that we want to work towards a world free of nuclear weapons—that is our absolute intent. Of the existing nuclear weapon states, under the auspices of the non-proliferation treaty, we have the best and most forward-leaning record on disarmament. That has been attested by independent observers and is borne out by the fact that in the past decade we have reduced the explosive capability of our nuclear arsenal by 75 per cent. We want to go through further multilateral negotiations, and that is why we are emphatically committed to, and have signed up to, a comprehensive test ban treaty. That is also why we want a fissile material cut-off treaty.

My hon. Friend referred to the START 2 process, involving the United States and Russia. One of the most encouraging aspects of the current debate about nuclear weapons is the impetus and vigour that President Obama has brought to discussions. He is considering taking a comprehensive test ban treaty to Congress, which would be a very positive step forward, and he is committed to bringing about further multilateral nuclear weapons reductions through the START 2 process. I think we should support that approach.

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My hon. Friend asked about the cost of ballistic missile defence. Let me be clear that the cost to the United Kingdom—that is what we are principally concerned about—is limited to the cost of running Fylingdales at the moment, which we would be paying for anyway. He also asked an important question about whether BMD systems actually worked. I do not resile from the fact that the technological challenges involved in constructing an effective missile defence system are considerable. The US is deploying an initial operational system that has undergone a great deal of testing. There have been many successful test intercepts to date—38 out of 48 tests—so a rudimentary capability exists, but we recognise that there is scope for further development and improvement as the technologies mature.

My hon. Friend discussed the situation in Iran. To paraphrase him, he said that there was a concern about Iran because its face did not fit, but I disagree wholly with that view. There is concern about Iran because it has concealed its nuclear programme for decades in contravention of its international commitments. There has been a wholesale failure by Iran to engage with the International Atomic Energy Agency, and it has failed to enable the IAEA to obtain reassurance about its studies that have a military dimension. That is why there is such significant concern about Iran.

Mr. Kilfoyle: Let me put the record straight. The issue of whether a country’s face fits, diplomatically or internationally, is important. Everything that the Minister has just said may be the case, but there is a different attitude to the hidden weapons in Israel, for example. I am not arguing the rights and wrongs of one against the other, but there are two separate approaches to two, admittedly different, problems, even though there is the same objective difficulty about nuclear weapons.

Bill Rammell: Let me deal with that point directly. We have always been clear that we want Israel to sign up to the NPT as a non-nuclear weapons state, and we are committed to having a middle east that is free from nuclear weapons. It is right that we should make that position as clear as we make our concerns about Iran. Nevertheless, our concerns about Iran are real. I welcome President Obama’s commitment to engage with the Iranian regime, but that regime must understand that it has a choice to make about engaging with the international community and reassuring us about its nuclear weapons intentions. The alternative is a much tougher regime of sanctions and pressure.

My hon. Friend talked about the former Prime Minister’s statement. It is important to state for the record what Tony Blair said in February 2007. He said that if the Government needed to re-examine their position on missile defence and to take further steps on participation, we would present those propositions to the House and have the necessary discussions, but that we would seek to do that only when there were proposals or propositions to be made. That statement was made in the context of a response to specific media allegations that there were plans to base missile interceptors in the UK. At present, there are no proposals or propositions to make, and we have stated that there are no plans to base additional missile defence assets in the UK. The key point is that we face an uncertain international environment. There is clear evidence of a determination to develop ballistic

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missile capability by a number of states, and in those circumstances we are right, with our international partners, to explore the potential for developing BMD systems. We need to be clear that such systems are defensive.

My hon. Friend also discussed the situation in Russia. One thing that is certain is that any future plans will include greater engagement with Russia, which the Government strongly welcome and will support. As we all know, Russia has consistently and incorrectly claimed that US proposals to place 10 ballistic missile interceptors in Poland and a radar in the Czech Republic is aimed at reducing the effectiveness of Russia’s strategic missile forces. Emphatically, that is not the case. The proposals are designed to defend against a limited threat from states of concern, rather than from countries with large arsenals of sophisticated weapons. None of us should forget that Russia understands missile defence. It has had a BMD system protecting Moscow since the cold war, and—this is the key point—it knows that 10 US interceptors would have little impact on the many long and medium-range missiles that it possesses. The Russians are fully aware of the capabilities and limitations of the

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proposed US system, and are aware that Russia’s security should not, and could not, be threatened by that system. Indeed, they have acknowledged that privately. Given the dialogue that has taken place with Russia, and the fact that the United States is reviewing these issues, I think that there is a way forward that addresses the concerns that my hon. Friend has raised, working with Russia to establish a collective BMD system so that it is clear that that is a defensive, rather than aggressive, posture. In those circumstances, we should support that process.

I genuinely want to get to a situation in which we live in a world that is free of nuclear weapons. The Government are leading the process multilaterally to try to achieve that state of affairs, and we should all strongly support that approach. I do not believe that a defensive BMD capability system is in contravention of that. If we get things right and work with our partners, that could give us greater security.

Written Questions

Nuclear Weapons, Written Questions, 21 July 2009 : Column 1209W

Nick Harvey: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what proposals the Government intends to make at the next NATO summit on (a) nuclear sharing, (b) nuclear first-strike and (c) the reliance by NATO members on nuclear weapons as a guarantee for their security; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Bob Ainsworth: The Declaration on Alliance Security that was agreed in April at the NATO summit in Strasbourg/Kehl makes clear that

“Deterrence, based on an appropriate mix of nuclear and conventional capabilities, remains a core element of (the Alliance’s) overall strategy”.

This provides the basis of discussions between Allies on a revised Strategic Concept for NATO, which is due to be agreed at next year’s summit meeting. The UK will play a full part in these discussions.

RAF Fylingdales, Written Questions, 29 Jun 2009 : Column 46W

Colin Challen: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will publish the agreement of 5 November 2007 between the Secretary of State for Defence and the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to amend the boundaries of the land in the Register of Titles concerning RAF Fylingdales.

Mr. Kevan Jones: A copy of the agreement to amend the boundaries of the land in the Register of Titles concerning RAF Fylingdales is being obtained and will be placed in the Library of the House as soon as practicable.

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