Proliferation in Parliament, Summer 2012

11 September 2012

This is the Summer 2012 edition of the Acronym Institute newsletter Proliferation in Parliament.  It offers a review of news, debates and developments in the UK Parliament and Government on issues relating to nuclear weapons, disarmament and proliferation, and is published in advance of the Party conferences where many of these issues will be discussed.  Compiled by Kat Barton, the review covers the period from mid-April after the Easter recess through to early September following members’ return to Parliament after the summer recess.  It focuses on recent UK government announcements of further expenditure in advance of the so-called ‘Main Gate’ decision due in 2016 on renewing the Trident nuclear weapons system, highlighting the simmering divisions within the coalition government.  The review also looks at parliamentary discussions around the Liberal Democrat-led Trident ‘Alternatives Review’ and considers how debates about Scottish Independence, UK nuclear weapons and NATO membership are affecting the Trident renewal debate.  We also provide an overview of parliamentary interest in other Trident-related news and developments including at the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) Aldermaston and Burghfield.

In addition, this Summer 2012 review offers a round-up of parliamentary questions and debates in relation to UK involvement in international processes including: the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) negotiating conference held in July at the United Nations, the 2012 Preparatory Committee meeting (PrepCom) for the 2015 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference (Vienna, 28 April - 10 May), preparations for the 2012 conference on a WMD Free Zone in the Middle East, progress towards agreement on the P5 protocol to the South East Asian NWFZ, the May NATO Summit in Chicago, and proliferation challenges by other states, specifically Iran.

1)   UK nuclear weapons & Trident Renewal

UK government finds funds for Trident, privatises Faslane & Coulport

In June 2012, with four years still to go until the ‘main gate’ point in 2016 when the government is supposed to finalise its commitment of core funds for Trident renewal, UK Secretary of State for Defence Philip Hammond (Conservative, Weybridge & Runnymede) confirmed that the Ministry of Defence (MoD) had signed a £1.1billion contract with Rolls-Royce for an 11-year programme of work at its nuclear reactor core facility in Raynesway, Derby.  This was the second Trident related funding announcement the government had made in little over a month, after declaring in May that it had signed submarine design contracts totalling £350 million.  Then in July, the MoD disclosed the signing of a 15-year contract with the newly formed ‘ABL Alliance’, for the first time handing day-to-day management of the government’s nuclear weapons bases at Faslane and Coulport to private contractors.  The ‘ABL Alliance’ is a consortium of Babcock, Lockheed Martin UK Strategic Systems (LMUKSS) and AWE plc which is itself an alliance of Jacobs Engineering Group, Lockheed Martin UK and Serco.  An earlier announcement in May via a written ministerial statement by Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence Peter Luff (Cons, Mid Worcestershire) revealed that the UK government has already made commitments of £1 billion a year for five years to warhead investment at the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) as part of a revised pricing structure to the current 25-year contract between the MoD and AWE Management Limited (AWEML).  Mr Luff said that the additional investment will ensure that the UK can maintain its current warheads and be in a position to design and manufacture a replacement warhead “should that be necessary”. 

This series of spending announcements so far in advance of the Main Gate decision has led some parliamentarians to request updated figures on the overall projected cost of the Trident renewal project.  In June, a question from Bridget Phillipson (Labour, Houghton and Sunderland South) elicited the information that the cost remains within the £11-14 billion (at 2006-07 prices) estimated by the 2006 White Paper.  Peter Luff, responding, said that the MoD’s first annual report to Parliament on the costs and progress of the project (which he confirmed is part of the MoD Committed Core Equipment Programme) is due shortly.  However, this had not been published by the time Parliament closed for the summer recess.  In July, when Jeremy Corbyn (Lab, Islington North) asked for an up-to-date expenditure report on Trident-related projects he was referred by then Armed Forces Minister Nick Harvey (Lib Dem, North Devon)to the government’s Initial Gate report of May 2011. 

These latest developments in Trident renewal spending come against the backdrop of ‘austerity measures’ across Whitehall and a still-to-be-completed Trident ‘Alternatives Review’.  The review was a Liberal Democrat led initiative originally headed by Nick Harvey but following Prime Minister David Cameron’s (Cons, Witney) post-summer recess Cabinet ‘reshuffle’ which left the entire Defence and Foreign Affairs portfolio without any Liberal Democrat representation, the review is now in the hands of junior education minister and Lib Dem David Laws (Yeovil).  This has led some including Lib Dem MP for Wells, Tessa Munt, to raise concerns over the future of the review and its possible outcome, particularly given that its specific mandate is confined to considering other nuclear options for Trident replacement even though many Liberal Democrats wanted the Alternatives Review to consider non-nuclear as well as nuclear alternatives for UK security and deterrence.  Meanwhile senior military officials continue to express concern about cuts elsewhere in the MoD budget in light of an MoD decision to cut 20,000 army jobs and significant redundancies imposed on serving members of the armed forces.  Opposition to Trident continues to rise in Scotland, where the Scottish National Party (SNP) has committed to a referendum on Scottish independence.  With few if any alternatives to the MoD’s nuclear submarine home-port and warhead storage facilities at Scotland’s Faslane and Coulport bases, UK nuclear weapons policy is looking increasingly problematic, contentious and uncertain.

The announcement of the £1.1billion contract with Rolls-Royce came in a notably brief written ministerial statement delivered by Philip Hammond (Cons, Weybridge & Runnymede) to Parliament on 18 June, whose contents had been trailed a day previously by the Daily TelegraphLambasted as an obscenity by the Scottish government, the decision was championed by the Conservative Home blog as a means for Conservative MPs “keen for revenge” to “annoy the Lib Dems”.   On the morning of Mr Hammond’s statement, the Lib Dem Armed Forces Minister Nick Harvey (North Devon) told BBC Radio 4: “If we decide in 2016 not to go ahead with some of these engines the government of the day would have to negotiate its way out of that”.  Picking up on these remarks to raise concerns about today’s funding decisions locking future governments into Trident replacement ahead of the 2016 Main Gate decision, several MPs including Paul Flynn (Lab, Newport West) and Caroline Lucas (Green, Brighton Pavilion) posed questions about the apparent irreversibility of the contract and its implications for future decision-makers.  This decision followed an earlier Written Ministerial Statement from the Defence Secretary in May, which announced contracts worth £350 million agreed with BAE Systems (£328 million), Babcock (£15 million) and Rolls-Royce (£4 million). 

The decision to make such important government announcements via written text, rather than in the House of Commons where he could be questioned by MPs, was criticised by Angus Robertson (SNP, Moray) whose tabling of an urgent question led to a lively debate in the Commons.  Some MPs sought fuller information about the cost breakdown and were told by Mr Hammond (Cons, Weybridge & Runnymede) that £500 million of the £1.1 billion would be invested in infrastructure at the Rolls-Royce plant, with the remaining £600 million going towards the cost of “long-lead” items for producing the reactor core for the seventh Astute-class submarine and the first of the new Trident-armed submarines.  Mr Hammond later issued a correction to this answer, adding that the £600 million also included “the cost of sustaining the [submarine] capability out to 2023”. 

In response to the revelation that almost half of the £1.1 billion would be invested in infrastructure costs, Caroline Lucas (Green, Brighton Pavilion) questioned why public funds are being diverted to the upgrading of Rolls-Royce’s private infrastructure. Criticising this “£367,000 per job” contract, Tessa Munt (Lib Dem, Wells) drew attention to the opportunity costs of this and other Trident renewal expenditure, with particular reference to the budget cuts faced by the armed forces.  Conservative MPs meanwhile played down the announcement, presenting it as one that “does not convey any terribly new information” whilst at the same time commending it as “great news” for the defence industry.  Staunch Trident supporter Julian Lewis (Cons, New Forest East) sought assurances that this latest investment would bring the final Main Gate decision in favour of Trident replacement a step closer.  Several Scottish MPs conveyed their opposition, interrupting the debate at one stage with calls of  “We don’t want it!”.  

Trident divides coalition

The fact that the Defence Secretary’s announcements on these Trident-related contracts had been pre-empted by the Conservative-supporting Daily Telegraph raised further concerns about conflict within the Coalition.  In June, senior Lib Dems maintained that the Alternatives Review would remain unaffected by spending decisions on Trident and responses to parliamentary questions reconfirmed that the review is on track for completion at the end of 2012 but that it will not be published (due to its “highly-classified nature”).  Nick Harvey (Lib Dem, North Devon), who was at that time the minister responsible for delivering the Review, refuted the suggestion that the contracts marked “a step closer to a full Trident replacement”.   However, concerns were demonstrated by 89 MPs, including Lib Dem Nick Brown (Newcastle East), who signed Early Day Motion 96 calling for Trident to be cancelled and the money earmarked for it to be reallocated to “greater spending priorities”. 

With the Conservative-led Coalition pressing ahead with signing contracts related to Trident renewal, several articles in the press over the summer noted that the nuclear issue had become a major flashpoint for the coalition.  In May, following its op-ed piece by senior Lib Dem Sir Menzies Campbell calling for the UK to scrap the ‘Moscow Criterion’ which requires Continuous-at-sea-Deterrence (CASD), the FT ran a piece with the headline “Trident divides coalition partners”.  Two weeks later, The Week posed the question “Is Coalition avoiding the debate that could blow it apart?” whilst The Economist’s article was simply titled “Divided Over Trident”The Guardian’s response to the news of the £1.1 billion contract with Rolls-Royce was an article declaring that the “Coalition faces split over Trident nuclear replacement”.  

Scottish Independence: Trident in the balance

With Scotland preparing for a referendum – now scheduled for autumn 2014 – on whether to become independent of the United Kingdom, the public commitment made by the Scottish National Party (SNP) to freeing Scotland of all nuclear weapons has caused consternation in UK defence circles, further complicating decision-making for those that wish to renew Trident.  In June, then Armed Forces Minister Nick Harvey told the Scottish Affairs select committee that Trident would be “the biggest issue” in negotiations following a vote for Scottish separation.  Even so, Harvey admitted, the coalition is not making any contingency plans for the withdrawal of Trident from the Clyde.  Further government responses to a number of parliamentary questions (see for example 1, 2, 3) confirmed this admission, and in July the government's lack of security planning was criticised by a cross-party committee of MPs and Lords for the second time this year when the 'Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy' stated that the Coalition government's focus on its opposition to Scottish independence had reinforced the committee's belief that "the possibility independence might actually happen is being neglected in strategic planning".  This failure to plan may be a sign of complacency, panic or helplessness, since it is widely recognised that it would be difficult to find appropriate locations to store the nuclear warheads currently at RNAD Coulport and homeport a fleet of nuclear submarines.  Planning for new nuclear facilities would be very difficult to get permission for, particularly in light of the dangers and transport problems and the likelihood of provoking considerable public and local opposition.  The press, especially in Scotland, have frequently debated the implications of Scottish independence on UK defence policy, with one senior government source quoted in Scotland’s Sunday Herald newspaper describing the gap in forward planning as “nonsensical”.  For its part, the SNP announced its post-independence plans for Scotland’s defence in July, when First Minister Alex Salmond declared that an independent Scotland would seek to trade the UK's Scottish-based nuclear arsenal for "something more useful".  Scottish ministers also welcomed a plan, produced by the Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (SCND), for disarming Trident missiles within days of independence and ridding Scotland of nuclear weapons within two years.

Epitomising the likely problems of relocating the UK’s nuclear arsenal, Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones found himself mired in controversy in June when he suggested during parliamentary Question Time in the Senedd (Welsh Assembly) that the Trident nuclear weapons system would be “more than welcome” at Milford Haven in Wales.  His comments prompted MPs Angus Robertson (SNP, Moray), Alison Seabeck (Lab, Plymouth Moor View) and Jonathan Edwards (Plaid Cymru, Carmarthen East and Dinefwr) to seek clarification from the Coalition Government as to whether there have been negotiations between Cardiff (seat of the Welsh Assembly) and Westminster over the relocation of Trident to Wales.  Though the Westminster-based government responded that no talks have taken place, the issue caused quite a stir in Wales, with Plaid Cymru denouncing Mr Jones as having “no grasp on reality if he believes that the people of Wales want nuclear weapons stored in Wales”.  As Westminster MPs sought to demonstrate their opposition to Jones’ suggestion through an Early Day Motion (EDM 230), titled ‘Nuclear-free Wales’), the jobs issue also reared its head.  Jonathan Edwards MP (Plaid Cymru, Carmarthen East and Dinefwr) asked for details on the number of Trident-related jobs in Scotland and the rest of the UK.  Defence Secretary Philip Hammond (Cons, Weybridge & Runnymede) responded that 6,300 jobs are based at Faslane and Coulport although he offered the caveat that “it is not government policy to compile statistics related to defence spend on equipment or employment in UK regions”.  A week after the Welsh First Minister’s remarks hit the headlines, Wales Online reported that Mr Jones was forced to backtrack during a heated debate with Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood.  Labelling Jones’ comments “embarrassing”, Ms Wood summed up the Welsh Government’s attitude as: “Edinburgh gets the Green Investment Bank and Pembrokeshire gets weapons of mass destruction”.

In related news, the SNP had its own battles to fight when it was revealed in June that party leaders planned to drop their decades-long opposition to NATO and support an independent Scotland’s membership of the nuclear alliance.  Speculation about the policy u-turn first emerged back in April and SNP leaders had initially hoped to get the change quietly sanctioned at an SNP national council meeting scheduled for June.  The prospect of the SNP reversing a long-held policy of staying outside NATO provoked strong opposition among many Party members, with the consequence that party leaders have been forced to concede to a full vote on NATO membership at the October party conference.  The issue of NATO membership was put forward in July by the SNP’s spokesperson on defence Angus Robertson MP (Moray), who is also the Party’s leader in the Westminster parliament.  Robertson’s proposals were contained in a resolution to be considered at the October SNP party conference entitled ‘Foreign, Security and Defence Policy Update’, which is said to have the support of Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond.  Adding fuel to the fire, former Labour Party Defence Secretary Lord (George) Robertson, who also served as Secretary General of NATO for several years, claimed that Scotland would have to retain nuclear weapons as a condition of remaining in NATO.

Given Scotland’s historically strong opposition to nuclear weapons, the possibility of Scottish membership of the NATO nuclear alliance has proved highly controversial.  In opposition to the policy change, Jamie Hepburn, an SNP Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP) tabled an amendment to Angus Robertson’s resolution in early August, resolving that following independence “the SNP position will continue to be that Scotland should not remain a member of NATO”.  Since then, six other SNP MSPs – John Finnie, Sandra White, Jean Urquhart, Dave Thompson, Bob Doris, and Marco Biagi – have joined Mr Hepburn as co-proposers and the party’s youth wing has also signalled its support for his amendment. John Wilson MSP even criticised the amendment for not going far enough because it appeared to accept the SNP leadership’s claim that an independent Scotland would automatically inherit NATO membership. Challenging this interpretation, Mr Wilson announced his own plans to oppose the resolution. 

Andrew Whitaker writing in The Scotsman was amongst those to suggest that the move to row back on the party’s stance on NATO membership is part of Alex Salmond’s attempt to soften the SNP position in the eyes of the electorate in the run-up to the 2014 referendum on independence.  Be that as it may, in earlyAugust anti-nuclear activists demonstrated outside SNP headquarters in Edinburgh.  This was followed by an anti-NATO seminar convened by the SNP’s own Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament group (SNP CND).

Further cost questions, AWE projects & other Trident-related news from Parliament

Concerns over the cost of modernising the UK’s nuclear weapons system have continued to feature prominently in parliamentary questions. In July Jeremy Corbyn (Lab, Islington North) led efforts to get up-to-date information on past, current and planned government expenditure for Trident replacement.  Responding for the government, Nick Harvey (Lib Dem, Devon North) and Peter Luff (Cons, Mid Worcestershire) between them reiterated previously published figures detailing the cost of planned expenditure on the submarine replacement programme as expected to be £431 million in 2012-13, £486 million in 2013-14 and £595 million in 2014-15.  In relation to the cost of warhead replacement, Nick Harvey noted that the decision to refurbish or replace the existing warhead will be made in the next Parliament.  He reiterated Peter Luff’s May statement that studies informing such a decision are expected to amount to £12 million per annum in 2012-13 and 2013-14 and £16 million in 2014-15 and that the expenditure forms part of the programme of investment at the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE).

In Whitehall, the desire to fulfil the Submarine Enterprise Performance Programme (Sepp – under which private companies work with the MoD to ensure £900m of cost savings to build and maintain submarines), has led the civil servant in charge of reducing such costs, Bernard Gray, Chief of Defence Materiel, to consider bringing in another company amidst concerns that the deal requires an independent commercial partner with no existing contractual ties to keep the savings on track.  Separately, SNP MP Peter Wishart (SNP, Perth and North Perthshire) was among MPs who criticised spending on Trident in the context of debating other parliamentary matters when he used a Westminster Hall debate on Scottish-recruited units as an opportunity to deride Trident-related contracts for £350 million as an example of the government’s “skewed priorities”

Parliamentarians have also raised questions about the status and decision-making processes relating to particular AWE projects.  Caroline Lucas (Green, Brighton Pavilion) asked about the timeline for AWE’s planned enriched uranium facility ‘Project Pegasus’ and was told that it received Main Gate approval on 14 September 2011 and that on current plans, commissioning is scheduled for January 2018, with the facility due to be operational in December 2019 (three years later than originally expected).  Another question from Caroline Lucas relating to the 2010 review of the Nuclear Weapons Capability Sustainment Programme revealed that the Terms of Reference for the review were to "re-validate" the programme, policy assumptions and cost

Paul Flynn (Lab, Newport West) raised further questions that showed that despite the MoD’s own guidelines, there has been no 'review, learn & improve analysis' of the decision to cancel Project Hydrus at AWE Aldermaston.  Other questions about AWE revealed that there is currently one French representative stationed at AWE who is working on a joint UK-French hydrodynamics programme but no French representatives are currently stationed in the MoD’s Chief Strategic Systems Executive, whereas in contrast, the US currently has no staff at AWE but under the Polaris Sales Agreement 1963, as modified in 1982, there is one US Navy Commander and four US Navy civilians at the Chief Strategic Systems Executive.  In addition, in response to a parliamentary question, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence Peter Luff (Cons, Mid-Worcestershire) stated that AWE has spent between £8 million and £9 million a year for the past 3 years on payments to UK universities for research and development work undertaken on their behalf.

In June Peter Luff responded to further questions from Paul Flynn by listing the 8 test firings of Trident D5 missiles from UK submarines that had taken place over the past 18 years, the last one being on 18 May 2009.  He declined to give information on any planned test firings, citing “safeguarding national security” as the reason.  In July, a government response to a question on nuclear safety issues from SNP defence spokesperson Angus Robertson (Moray) revealed that there have been 266 fires on nuclear submarines in the past 25 years, including 74 on ballistic missile submarines of which 67 were small scale fires, 6 medium-scale, and 1 was a major fire. The figures were reported in the press, including by the BBC which quoted Mr Robertson as saying that the "apparent vulnerability" to fire raised "grave questions".  Also in July, the House of Commons Library published a briefing paper entitled 'The Future of the British Nuclear Deterrent'. Scotland’s Sunday Herald, which has often been at the forefront of raising nuclear safety concerns, carried an article in August by investigative journalist Rob Edwards that revealed that according to a secret MoD briefing found in the UK National Archives, “the MoD planned to dump nuclear submarines” at sea without dismantling them.

2)  The UK in the wider world

Arms Trade Treaty

From 2-27 July, British representatives took to the international stage at the United Nations in New York with the objective of negotiating a comprehensive, legally binding Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) to prohibit arms transfers that violate international human rights and humanitarian law.  In advance of the ATT conference, the House of Commons Library produced an information paper for MPs entitled 'In brief: The Arms Trade Treaty - the moment of truth approaches', and in May EDM 43 calling for a “robust” and “comprehensive” treaty, which not only includes small arms and light weapons but also “all related ammunition and equipment”, managed to secure the signatures of 45 MPs before UK parliamentarians rose for their summer recess. 

On the opening day of the conference, UK Foreign Secretary William Hague joined with his counterparts Laurent Fabius (France), Guido Westerwelle (Germany) and Ewa Björling (Sweden) to publish an op ed in The Guardian newspaper highlighting "why this ATT is essential".  Back in the UK, NGOs and elected representatives including for example Alec Shelbrooke MP (Cons, Elmet and Rothwell) put pressure on the government to push for a robust and effective treaty which attaches high importance to human rights criteria. In the House of Lords, Lord Triesman (Lab) urged the government not to settle for a weak "lowest common denominator" treaty that gains consensus, while Lord Browne of Ladyton (Lab) called on the government to join other ATT supporting countries in setting out the "humanitarian bottom line for a robust treaty".  Halfway through the negotiations, concerned that the government was "prepared to weaken the Arms Trade Treaty in the hope of persuading other major arms exporting countries to become signatories", the cross-party Business, Innovation and Skills select committee published a report criticising the coalition government's approach for adopting "a different policy from its predecessor" and "failing to maintain continuity of FCO staff at a senior level".  The ATT objective had been regarded as a flagship policy by the previous Labour government.  Criticising the current government's handling of the ATT negotiations, Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander (Lab, Paisley and Renfrewshire South) wrote two opinion pieces in July.  The first, published in The Independent, questioned HMG's "capacity to lead", and the second published on the online news site Huffington Post UK condemned the government for seeking to"close down debate by arguing that in the final stages of negotiations any public discussion might jeopardise progress".  As the negotiating conference neared its end, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State in the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) Alistair Burt (Cons, North East Bedfordshire) and Alan Duncan (Cons, Rutland and Melton),second in command at the Department for International Development(DfID), put the government’s view forward in Huffington Post UK. While stressing their commitment to "the highest possible standards", they seemed to pave the way for the UK to support a weaker text when they stated that "there will be compromises" as the ATT must "be supported by the major arms exporters"

On 27 July, following requests from both the United States and Russia for more time to consider the document, the conference closed without having secured consensus on a draft treaty text. The Guardian newspaper quoted William Hague (Cons, Richmond – Yorks) as saying "This is not the result we wanted. But we have made huge progress" adding that he hoped it would remain a possibility.  On his return from the summer parliamentary recess, Alistair Burt issued a Written Ministerial Statement reiterating the government’s disappointment but saying “we recognise that to be fully effective the treaty will need broad and ideally universal participation”.  Diplomats now expect the draft text to be taken to the UN General Assembly in late 2012 where it could be adopted by a two-thirds majority of the 193 countries represented there. 

2012 NPT PrepCom

British officials working on arms control and disarmament issues were also busy back in May when the first PrepCom for the 2015 NPT Review Conference took place over two weeks in Vienna.  Although the conference attracted little media attention, some parliamentarians attempted to hold the government to account via a series of questions in the Lords.  Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer (Lib Dem) queried the hundreds of billions of dollars being spent by nuclear weapon states on modernising their weapons systems, noting that "It is one of the few things that seem to have escaped austerity cuts in spending".  Lord Browne of Ladyton (Lab) raised concerns about the thousands of nuclear weapons kept on high alert status "which is totally unnecessary", while Baroness Williams of Crosby (Lib Dem) questioned what could be done  about the non-NPT nuclear-armed states.  At the PrepCom, which Paul Meyer described in the Toronto Star as having an "undercurrent of discord", the non-nuclear weapon states pushed for the big powers to comply with their article VI obligation to disarmSeveral articles by Acronym Institute Director Dr Rebecca Johnson analysed the PrepCom, noting that a 16-nation statement on the humanitarian dimension of nuclear disarmament created quite a buzz in the conference room.  Once the agenda and other procedural requirements for further PrepComs had been adopted, the PrepCom concluded "as smoothly as it had began" with the Chair opting to issue his Factual Summary as a working paper, rather than seeking consensus on the wide-apart issues of substance.

Middle East WMD Free Zone

One of the central issues discussed at the NPT PrepCom was the convening of a Conference on a Middle East Zone Free of Weapons of Mass Destruction (MEWMDFZ) WMD Free Zone, which was central to the successful conclusion of the 2010 NPT Review Conference.  The 2010 Review Conference identified 2012 as the year in which the Middle East Conference should take place. Following the appointment in October 2011 of Finnish diplomat Jaako Laajava as conference facilitator, it was announced that the Finlandia Hall had been earmarked as the venue for the conference which it is hoped will take place in December.  However, notwithstanding his numerous meetings with regional and interested parties, Ambassador Laajava reported to the NPT PrepCom that he was still unable to finalise any of the specifics, including the precise date and which countries will attend, although he noted that none had at this stage refused, which was taken as a positive sign at this stage.  As an NPT depository state, together with Russia and the United States, Britain has a special responsibility for overseeing the conference preparations. With this in mind two parliamentarians posed questions in relation to the UK's role in moving the process forward.  However, Lord Judd’s (Lab) question in June, which asked what action the UK was taking to promote nuclear weapon free zones (NWFZs) particularly in the Middle East, elicited a response from Lord Howell (Cons), the government’s representative on Foreign & Commonwealth Office issues in the Lords, that made no mention of a Middle East WMD Free Zone or conference but instead focused on other NWFZs with particular reference to the recent agreement on the 'P5 protocol' to the south-east Asia nuclear weapons-free zone.  In the House of Commons, two subsequent questions from Jeremy Corbyn (Lab, Islington North) sought both reassurance of the government's commitment to the Middle East WMD Free Zone conference and more specific information, undecided at that time, about the delegation the UK plans to send to Helsinki when the conference is finally convened.  Jeremy Corbyn also sponsored EDM 73 urging the UK government to “do its utmost” to ensure the conference happens in 2012 and is attended by all States of the region, but when Parliament rose for the Summer recess this had received only 20 signatories.

Southeast Asia NWFZ

In July, it was the Southeast Asia NWFZ that aroused interest in the UK Parliament when Cambodia announced that the signing ceremony for the 'P5 protocol' to the Southeast Asia NWFZ, due to be held on 12 July, had been postponed because the UK, US, Russia and France – four out of the five NPT-defined nuclear-weapon states – were not ready to sign the protocol.  China's Xinhua news agency quoted a senior Cambodian official as saying:  "They (the four countries) have introduced the text of reservation and position reservation to the SEANWFZ commission very late; therefore, the commission has not had more time to review them, and the commission decided that the signing will be postponed so that we will have more time to review the text of reservation and position of reservation".  However, when Baroness Sue Miller (Lib Dem) asked in the Lords why the government had not signed the protocol, Lord Howell (Cons) offered a different explanation to the one provided by the Cambodian official, saying the postponement was "the result of some questions raised by ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries".  It is now hoped that the protocol will be signed at the next ASEAN Summit, scheduled for November this year.

NATO Summit, Chicago

The NATO Summit held in Chicago on 20-21 May sparked significant interest in the UK Parliament. In anticipation of this, the House of Commons Library produced an information paper entitled 'NATO: The Chicago Summit' to brief MPs before the event.  In particular, Lord Des Browne (Lab), who served as Defence Secretary between 2006 and 2008, was keen to discuss NATO’s Deterrence and Defense Posture Review (DDPR), which was set up at the 2010 NATO summit in Lisbon.  Shortly before the Chicago Summit opened, the New York Times published an op-ed by Lord Browne and former German Defence Minister Volker Rühe in which they urged NATO member states to produce a strategy that would "reduce nuclear risks in Europe" and "chart a course toward genuine strategic cooperation with Russia".  The article, which was based on a European Leadership Network (ELN) statement by 40 former European defence and foreign ministers, called specifically for NATO to: announce an immediate 50% cut in the number of US 'tactical' nuclear weapons stationed in Europe, initiate a dialogue with Russia aimed at removing such weapons from Europe altogether, and provide Russia with additional reassurances on missile defence.  Despite several European NATO member states having themselves called for US nuclear weapons to be removed from their territories, the Alliance - which makes decisions by consensus - did not take up the "challenge" set out for them by Lord Browne and his ELN colleagues. 

Because of unresolved disagreements on nuclear policy, the Chicago Summit preferred to send out signals of unity on the continuing war in Afghanistan. Prime Minister David Cameron's post-summit statement (later repeated in the Lords) therefore made no mention of the DDPR, although he did confirm the news, trailed pre-summit by NATO Head Anders Fogh Rasmussen, that "the interim ballistic missile defence capability that will protect Europe is now operational".  On the same day as Cameron's statement, Lord Browne received a short response to a series of previously submitted written questions on US-UK-NATO communications over plans to modernise US nuclear weapons stationed in Europe.  Responding for the government, Lord Wallace of Saltaire (Lib Dem) did not address specifically any of the questions as to whether US-NATO consultations on modernising US nuclear weapons stationed in Europe had taken place, except to say that discussions on the programme were part of routine nuclear meetings, and that the US had informed NATO in June 2008 of the planned 'life extension programme' (LEP) of its nuclear weapons, noting that the LEP is not regarded by the US as constituting a new capability.  Undeterred by the lack of progress, a week after the Chicago Summit Lord Browne initiated a short debate in the Lords on the implications of the DDPR for European security and the relationship with Russia.

Proliferation Challenges

Following a fifteen month hiatus in the E3+3 (France, Germany, UK + China, Russia and US) talks on Iran’s nuclear programme, the parties returned to the table with meetings in Istanbul in April, Baghdad in May, Moscow in June and a further ‘technical’ meeting in Istanbul in July.  Although the meetings have not yet yielded a breakthrough, the renewed dialogue and focus on the Iranian nuclear programme did encourage some parliamentarians to seek updates on latest developments and current assessments by UK decision-makers, while in June the House of Commons Library produced a briefing paper entitledIran: could there be a compromise?  Following the June talks, Foreign Secretary William Hague (Cons, Richmond – Yorks) reiterated the government’s position that Iran must stop enriching uranium to 20% (which is far higher than the 3-4 % uranium enrichment required for nuclear power plants). Emphasising the UK’s determination to pursue sanctions, Hague agreed with comments by Rebecca Harris (Cons, Castle Point) and Malcolm Rifkind (Cons, Kensington), that should Iran not comply with the request, pressure would be intensified in the form of more sanctions.  A day later, Lord Howell speaking for the government in the Lords, stated that the UK remains “gravely concerned” about Iran's nuclear programme.  In July, when asked by Lord Stoddart (Independent Labour) about Iran’s compliance with the NPT, Howell’s response focussed on Iran’s non-compliance with several UN Security Resolutions requiring it to suspend its enrichment-related activities and all work related to heavy water nuclear projects.  Meanwhile, when Alec Shelbrooke (Cons, Elmet and Rothwell) requested a recap on IAEA generated information regarding Iran’s Parchin facility, Alistair Burt responded by saying that the IAEA is still seeking access to particular areas within the Parchin facility due to its concerns over the possible development of explosive devices at the site.  

As the summer progressed, tensions over Iran’s nuclear programme increased, with press speculations over the likelihood of an Israeli attack on Iran leading some members to raise concerns in parliament.  In July, George Galloway (Respect, Bradford West) asked about UK preparations for war with Iran, to which Nick Harvey responded by saying “We are not advocating military action against Iran”, though he added the now oft-heard phrase ”all options remain on the table”.  Jim Shannon (Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), Strangford Northern Ireland), speaking in the Commons in June asked about the UK government’s relationship with Israel.  Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) Minister Alistair Burt (Cons, North East Bedfordshire) replied that the UK government is “in close and regular touch with Israeli counterparts on the threat posed by Iran”.  During a House of Lords debate on the Middle East in July, diplomacy was stressed. Baroness Falkner (Lib Dem) argued that: “we need to be clear that diplomacy and negotiation is our preferred option in all circumstances”, while Lord Lamont (Cons) stated “a negotiated settlement with Iran is far better than a military attack”. 

In the House of Commons, Jeremy Corbyn (Lab, Islington North) drew parallels between the current process over Iran and “the one that we went through in the build-up to the war in Iraq” cautioning that “I hope that we will not be so stupid as to start yet another war in the Middle East”.  Mr Corbyn also questioned the logic of the UK’s foreign policy when he called for a “reordering” of priorities and drew attention to the link between the security role ascribed to UK nuclear weapons and concerns about nuclear proliferation, saying: “we are keen to say that Iran should not have nuclear weapons… but we have them, and we propose to spend £100 billion on replacing Trident”.

Other parliamentarians, including George Galloway (Respect, Bradford West) and Lord Stoddart (Independent Labour), were interested in the UK government’s approach to IAEA inspections in Israel, which has not signed the NPT and which maintains a policy described by Israeli nuclear analyst Avner Cohen as ‘opacity’ regarding its estimated 80-100 nuclear weapons.  The UK government response was to reiterate that despite not being an NPT signatory Israel has voluntarily opened one of its facilities to IAEA inspection.  FCO Minister Alistair Burt (Cons, North East Bedfordshire) also restated government policy that “Our long-standing position is to encourage all countries to adhere to the NPT”.