Proliferation in Parliament: A Review of recent developments in the UK Government & Parliament, Winter 2012-2013

15 January 2013

The Winter 2012-2013 edition of Proliferation in Parliament offers a review of news, debates and developments in the UK Parliament and Government on issues relating to nuclear weapons, disarmament and proliferation.  It is published in January 2013 following the Christmas recess and covers the period from mid-September through to mid-January, including the main party conferences held in Autumn 2012. 

The review begins by looking at the continuing debate over Trident renewal and alternatives to like-for-like- replacement, before moving on to discussions in Scotland and Westminster on the potential impact of Scottish independence on the future of the UK’s nuclear weapons.  Continuing the focus on Trident, the review considers the information put out by the government on the economic and employment side of Trident renewal as well as the management of progress updates on the project.

Turning to the UK’s role on the international stage, this edition of Proliferation in Parliament reflects on how UK policies on nuclear weapons and arms control play out internationally, including in the context of current and emerging approaches to the issues.  It ends by detailing discussions in parliament on UK efforts at challenging nuclear proliferation in the Middle East with a brief look at UK perspectives on other relevant non-proliferation initiatives.

Debate over Trident renewal rages on as government commits more cash

As Britain’s economic woes persisted throughout 2012, the government continued its steady trickle of announcements of the latest spending on its renewal of the Trident nuclear weapons system.  Although the core capital costs are not supposed to be committed until after the 2016 Main Gate decision, spending on the design and concept (‘development’) phase, a total of £3 billion, is already underway.  The most recent chunk of expenditure, in the form of a £353 million contract with BAE Systems (£315 million) and Babcock Marine (£38 million), was announced by UK Secretary of State for Defence Philip Hammond (Conservative, Weybridge & Runnymede) during a well-timed visit to Faslane naval base in Scotland on 29 October.  In light of widespread Scottish opposition to nuclear weapons and the Scottish National Party’s much-publicised policy of removing Trident from Scottish soil in the event of independence, the announcement was widely viewed as a direct challenge to Scottish nationalists, and was seized on by the press (including the FT, Al-Jazeera and Bloomberg) as further evidence of the growing divisions between the Conservatives, who support like-for-like replacement of Trident, and their Liberal Democrat coalition partners, who are open to possible alternatives. 

The move provoked a response from the Lib Dem’s most senior figure, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg (Sheffield Hallam) (see video here), who warned against “jumping the gun” on whether Trident will get the go-ahead to be replaced in 2016.  This message was echoed by an article in the party’s Lib Dem Voice stressing that the 2010 Coalition Agreement, by freeing the Lib Dems to explore alternatives to Trident, provides plenty of “space for rational debate” in advance of 2016.  A call for public debate came also from the Green Party in a press release which highlighted how “savage cuts” are being imposed on public services whilst BAE Systems and Babcock receive £350 million “for a vast defence project that hasn’t even been signed off yet – and one which many believe is outdated, and incapable of addressing modern security challenges.”  Demonstrating just how widely this view is shared, in a surprise contribution to the debate former Conservative Defence Secretary Michael Portillo, speaking on BBC One's political analysis programme This Week in the days after Hammond's spending announcement, described the UK's nuclear arsenal as "completely past its sell-by date".  Portillo, who joins a growing number of former Defence and Foreign Secretaries who are speaking out in favour of nuclear disarmament, added “It is neither independent, nor is it any kind of deterrent because we face enemies like the Taliban and al-Qaeda, who cannot be deterred by nuclear weapons. It is a tremendous waste of money and is done entirely for reasons of national prestige.”

A series of articles have called for fresh thinking, including the Financial Times providing both a written and illustrated overview of the debate and calling for consideration of the options, and a columnist from the tabloid Daily Mail questioning the need for Trident at all.  Despite the increasing voices from the right calling for more open debate, both the Prime Minister and the Defence Secretary have made clear their unwillingness to consider alternatives to like-for-like replacement of Trident.  As the Cabinet Office continues to prepare its review of nuclear alternatives to Trident, Mr Hammond has been busy professing that any alternative is unlikely to be cheaper than the current system.  Responding to a question by pro-nuclear MP Julian Lewis (Conservative, New Forest East), Prime Minister David Cameron (Conservative, Witney), was also unequivocal in reaffirming his commitment to Trident renewal and the Cold War policy of continuous-at-sea-deterrence (CASD).  The results of the Lib Dem-led Alternatives Review were originally intended by the government to be reported to Parliament without actually being published; however a brief sentence in the Cabinet Office Mid-Term Review stated that it would after all be published and a parliamentary question in December gave an expected completion date of “the first half of 2013”

Given the disparity between Tory and Lib Dem approaches to alternatives, the decision by Nick Clegg (Lib Dem leader, Sheffield Hallam) to remove Nick Harvey (Lib Dem, North Devon), Armed Forces Minister and the Lib Dem responsible for the Trident Alternatives Review, from his post during the Cabinet reshuffle in September was heavily criticised by senior Lib Dems, as this  left both the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence bereft of Lib Dem ministers.  Following a brief hiatus when it appeared that Education Secretary David Laws (Lib Dem, Yeovil) would take charge on behalf of the Lib Dems, it was decided that the Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander (Lib Dem, Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch & Strathspey) should lead the review, with three Cabinet Office officials working under him

The ousting of Nick Harvey (Lib Dem, North Devon), who received the consolation prize of a knighthood, freed him up to share more openly the reservations military chiefs had expressed to him on the costs and perceived benefits of Trident as well as his assessment that the Alternatives Review would likely suggest a significant downgrading of UK nuclear weapons, described in a Guardian headline as “stepping down the nuclear ladder”.  Mr Harvey also encouraged the Prime Minister to keep an open mind on Trident replacement in light of the "severe cost pressures" on the defence budget, and used a fringe meeting at the Lib Dem Conference in September to say that there was a "realistic chance" of securing a different outcome to renewing Trident but that Lib Dems will need to build a "broad coalition of support" if they are serious about an alternative to Trident.  Party leader Nick Clegg  (Sheffield Hallam) spoke at the Conference of his desire for an alternative to the current system and his willingness to play “hardball” with David Cameron (Conservative, Witney) over the issue, thereby prompting Lib Dem President Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) to speak of the growing support within the Ministry of Defence for an alternative to like-for-like Trident replacement.  Still, until the Cabinet Office review is complete, the Lib Dems are keeping quiet about their favoured option, preferring to seek out support from the defence community and the Labour party before settling on one option. 

The Labour Party has so far said little on the subject, which has led to calls for them to outline their position or risk being left behind, with some commentators advocating for Labour to commit to scrapping Trident altogether.  One of those making “the case against renewal” was Labour MP Nick Brown (Newcastle East) who, at a fringe meeting on student tuition fees at the Labour Party Conference, drew attention to the broader implications of spending on Trident when he said: “It would be better to spend the money bringing down fees”.  The Guardian social affairs analyst Polly Toynbee exposed what many think but few say, writing: “no one in Labour actually believes we need a Trident replacement for national defence”, adding that “the higher theology of nuclear weapons was always about face, status and politics”.  Others, such as Labour party councillor Luke Akehurst, argued in Progress, the organ of a New Labour pressure group, that Labour should not “reopen deep wounds on defence”, but  that “A sensible Labour strategy would be to sit tight and let the coalition partners rip each other apart on this”.   Appearing to be still stuck in a simplistic 1980’s time warp, party Leader Ed Miliband (Doncaster North) opened his comments on the subject with the statement: “I am a mulitilateralist, not a unilateralist”, before demonstrating recognition of the need to be seen to consider the options by saying “We need to look at what are the arguments around the Trident upgrade, how soon does it have to happen and what are the alternatives, and I think that is the right way forward.”  Meanwhile Prime Minister David Cameron (Conservative, Witney) misleadingly equated having nuclear weapons with house insurance when he told the Conservative party conference that “we will always keep our ultimate insurance policy”.

Prospects for Scottish independence threaten Trident future

Not everyone is as certain as the Prime Minister that indefinite possession of nuclear weapons by the UK is a done deal.  Having pledged to remove Trident from Scottish soil in the event of a yes vote in the 2014 referendum on Scottish independence, Scotland's First Minister and leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP) Alex Salmond (Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP) for Gordon) stated in October that he plans to draft a new constitution for an independent Scotland which explicitly bans nuclear weapons from the country.  Shortly afterwards, in an interview for the Andrew Marr on Sunday show on the final day of the SNP party conference, Mr Salmond (SNP, Gordon) commented on the implications for UK nuclear weapons policy, saying that the UK government “could either relocate Trident to another facility in the rest of the UK or, alternatively, they could use the nuclear facilities in America or in France”.   Mr Salmond also said that Trident would be removed “as soon as could be safely arranged”. A report by Scottish CND estimated that the process could be completed within two years.  This analysis was accepted by MPs on the House of Commons Scottish Affairs select committee whose own report “Terminating Trident: Days or Decades” concluded that Scottish independence will force the UK to abandon Trident and called on the UK and Scottish governments to consider the full consequences of Scottish independence and the removal of Trident from Scotland. 

Throughout 2012, the UK government refused to be drawn on the subject of contingency plans for an independent Scotland, insisting, for example, here and here, that “we are not making plans for Scottish independence”.  This despite another committee of MPs, the Joint Committee on National Security, repeatedly warning that “the possibility that independence might actually happen is being neglected in strategic planning”.  Prior to January, the only acknowledgment of the potential for Scottish independence came when the newly appointed Minister for the Armed Forces Andrew Robathan (Conservative, South Leicestershire) admitted during a debate in the Commons that "Current government policy is to continue with the continuous at-sea nuclear deterrent based on Trident. Should the Scots vote for independence—God forbid!—we would need to review the situation". 

The government eventually responded to the Scottish Affairs select committee in January 2013 to say that moving Trident “could cost billions”, would take a long time and would "put 19,000 Faslane jobs at risk" but made it clear that as far as they were concerned Trident would stay on the Clyde.  The notion that Trident might be moved south of the border in the event of a yes vote for Scottish independence was put forward by Admiral Lord West (Labour) at a House of Lords select committee hearing in December when he claimed that the nuclear-armed submarines could be housed at Devonport in Plymouth.  However, a Freedom of Information request to the Ministry of Defence revealed that “Trident could not be moved from Scotland to Plymouth”as the safety arrangements for Devonport do not permit the presence of submarines carrying nuclear warheads on account of the 11,000 people living nearby whose lives would be at risk in the event of an accident.

Meanwhile back in Scotland, the SNP have continued finalising their policies for an independent Scotland.  At the party’s annual conference in October, members voted 426 to 332 for a resolution put forward by Angus Robertson (Moray) for an independent Scotland to become a member of NATO, thereby ditching their 30-year policy of opposition to the nuclear alliance.  In response, two SNP MSPs, John Finnie and Jean Urquhart (both MSPs for the Highlands and Islands region), who had led opposition to the proposals, announced their resignations from the party.  Others in the party urged the SNP leadership to obtain a written guarantee from NATO stating that it would accept a nuclear weapon-free Scotland as a member.  The prospect of this was ridiculed in an article in The Scotsman by former Conservative Defence Secretary Liam Fox (North Somerset), whilstThe Daily Telegraph reported the MoD view that an independent Scotland would be out of NATO “regardless of SNP vote”.   Similarly, Westminster MPs David Mowat (Conservative, Warrington South), Anas Sarwar (Labour, Glasgow Central) and Russell Brown (Labour, Dumfries and Galloway) discussed the issue during a debate in the Commons, and variously described the SNP position as "hypocritical", smacking of a "contradiction" and "double standards - the shelter of the NATO umbrella, but the removal of Trident".   Others were delighted, as exemplified by this tweet from Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser (Mid Scotland and Fife) – "Excellent news as SNP back the NATO nuclear alliance. Trident is here to stay".  Adding to SNP concerns, a news story citing defence analyst Dr Phillips O'Brien from the Scottish Centre for War Studies at Glasgow University indicated that NATO membership would make it harder for nuclear weapons to be removed from Scotland.  Nevertheless, Alex Salmond (SNP, Gordon) outlined his views in an editorial in Scotland’s Sunday Herald newspaper entitled “Why we can ban nuclear weapons and stay in NATO”, asserting that Scotland should continue its membership of NATO subject to an agreement that “in line with the vast majority of current NATO members” it does not host nuclear weapons. 

Back in Westminster, as 2012 drew to a close, increasing interest in the debate over Scotland’s future led to discussions in Parliament, including a question about conversations between the Scottish Government and NATO and a short debate in the House of Lords, during which Lord Astor (Conservative), speaking for the government, questioned whether Scottish membership of NATO would indeed be possible.  Each time, the government expressed confidence that the Scottish people would reject independence and stuck to its well-rehearsed line that “the UK Government are not contemplating losing the argument on Scottish independence”.  While the UK government for the most part avoided considering the security issues around a future independent Scotland, Acronym Institute Director Rebecca Johnson, along with William Walker, Paul Rogers and Bill Patterson contributed to a report by Scottish think tank “The Jimmy Reid Foundation” which offer an independent assessment of possible threats to Scotland's security and how they should be addressed.  The Daily Telegraph also weighed into the debate, again quoting from an individual submission to the Scottish Affairs select committee with the headline “Separate Scotland would have 'paltry' defence budget”.  With the UK in a deep recession, concerns over budget projections and spending are especially pertinent, and the Daily Telegraph was not the only one to pick up on this: Alex Salmond (SNP, Gordon), speaking during First Minister’s Questions in the Scottish parliament in November, calculated that the £163m a year that Scottish taxpayers currently pay towards the running costs of deploying Trident, amounts to almost £500,000 a day.

Jobs, costings and progress: uncertainty in a time of fiscal ‘austerity’

For many people in the UK, government-imposed fiscal ‘austerity’ measures, such as reductions in social security and National Health Service (NHS) budgets, have led to widespread economic insecurity and increased anxiety over jobs.  In recognition of this, by travelling to Faslane to make his October spending announcement, the Defence Secretary sought to present his £350 million expenditure as a means of maintaining jobs for 1,200 employees of defence contractors BAE Systems and Babcock Marine.  To drive home the point, he also announced plans to make Faslane a ‘Centre for Excellence’ by basing all of the UK's nuclear-powered but conventionally armed Trafalgar and Astute class submarines on the Clyde by 2022.  This is not a significant change from the present, so it is difficult to see how it would create a reported 1,500 new jobs in addition to the existing 6,500 “the majority of which” the government says “play a role” in supporting the UK's nuclear weapons programme and the Astute Class submarine.  Astute submarines were recently in the news after being “beset by design and construction flaws”, and due to the trial coming to court of one of its submariners for shooting and killing his commanding officer following a two-day drinking binge in Southampton last year.  Following concerns raised by Ian Davidson (Labour Cooperative, Glasgow), Chair of the Scottish Affairs select committee, that Trident removal from Scotland could have a knock-on effect on defence jobs, the government’s January response to the Scottish Affairs seclect committee claimed that 19,000 jobs in the Faslane area are dependent on Trident remaining in Scotland

However, the credibility of figures for the number of jobs dependent on the Trident nuclear weapons system has been called into question, especially after the MoD revealed in a response to a Freedom of Information request that 520 is the actual figure for civilian jobs at Faslane and Coulport that depend directly on Trident.  This contrasts with the 6000 - 11,000 jobs that pro-Trident politicians claim exist on the Clyde.  Given the lack of clarity, MPs such as Paul Flynn (Labour, Newport West) have questioned the methodology used to calculate Trident employment figures and have also sought information on the number of MoD employees working on the Trident renewal programme.  Philip Dunne (Conservative, Ludlow), responding for the government as Minister for Defence Equipment, Support and Technology, stated that there are currently 130 MoD employees working on the programme plus 3 employees from Babock Marine and 1 from Roll-Royce seconded to the project

The debate over Trident jobs will no doubt continue and for some, especially those employed in the industry, it will remain a key part of the broader discussion over UK nuclear weapons policy.  Comments questioning the cost of Trident jobs, particularly one by Sir Nick Harvey who suggested that sending BAE Systems employees at Barrow-on-Furness to the Bahamas for the rest of their lives would save money and leave the world a much better place, were not well-received by employees and prompted the MP who represents them, John Woodcock (Labour, Barrow and Furness), to object.  Given the relevance to Barrow and its residents of decisions on the future of Trident, the Nuclear Education Trust charity commissioned an inquiry into the possible impact on Barrow of options other than like-for-like replacement of Trident.  Over 30 organisations, including the Acronym Institute, contributed to the inquiry and the results were published in a report entitled “Trident Alternatives Review and the Future of Barrow” which was launched in Parliament in December.  A key finding of the report was that although Barrow is heavily dependent on BAE Systems as an employer, the town is not facing a “binary” choice – between 6,000 employed or none – over Trident.

The confusion over Trident-dependent jobs is mirrored by an absence of clear data on costings for the renewal of Trident.  Although announcements signalling the signing of new contracts for Trident renewal serve as a reminder of the government’s ongoing spending in advance of the Main Gate decision, detailed up-to-date information on the actual cost to the public purse of UK Trident are hard to come by.  This lack of transparency applies as much to future plans to renew Trident as it does to the current costs of the UK’s nuclear weapons. In November, Philip Dunne (Conservative, Ludlow), responding to a question posed by SNP defence spokesperson Angus Robertson (Moray), was unable to provide figures for the cost of maintenance, operation and re-fitting of Trident submarines in each of the last 10 years.  The government did however provide limited data on the estimated costs for a recent refuelling of HMS Vigilant (£360 million), the cost to the UK of the Trident D5 missile purchased from the United States (£8.86 million) and MoD spending to September 2012 on long lead items for Trident replacement (£17.033 million).  More often than not, Philip Dunne (Conservative, Ludlow), the minister responsible for Defence Equipment, Support and Technology who is tasked with responding to these parliamentary questions on behalf of the government, was able only to repeat previously published figures for projected year-on-year spending on Trident renewal and reiterate that Trident costs are to be met from the core defence budget.

In December 2012 the government appeared to be still using 2006 figures for its public remarks regarding the estimated design, build and operational cost of Trident renewal; Philip Dunne (Conservative, Ludlow) has been unwilling to be drawn on the timing of future Trident replacement spending announcements.  The MoD’s 2012 progress report for Parliament on the Trident renewal project was published the day before MPs departed the Commons for the Christmas recess, leaving little, if any, opportunity for it to be discussed in the House. 

The UK on the International stage: A Nuclear test, the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons & an international Arms Trade Treaty

On 23 October 2012, a week before Defence Secretary Hammond (Conservative, Weybridge & Runnymede) made his announcement of further spending on the renewal of the Trident nuclear weapons system, the UK test fired its Trident II nuclear capable ballistic missile in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida.  A parliamentary question by Caroline Lucas (Green, Brighton Pavilion) revealed that advance warning of the test – the UK’s first since 2009 – was given in accordance with the Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation, although as appears common for many defence related queries, the cost of the missile launch was reportedly not able to be disaggregated from the overall cost of the project it comes under.  The successful test demonstrated that Trident can be launched if deemed necessary, and was described by the Royal Navy as confirming “the credibility of the UK’s nuclear deterrent”.  The implications of any such use of nuclear weapons will be explored at an international conference on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons to be hosted by the Norwegian government in Oslo 4-5 March 2013.  A response by Alistair Burt (Conservative, North East Bedfordshire)to a parliamentary question posed by MP Sir Bob Russell (Lib Dem, Colchester) on 26 November revealed that the UK government is aware of the senior official and expert level conference and will respond to Norway’s invitation to attend once the invitation has been received.  The Acronym Institute understands that soon after the letter to Foreign Secretary William Hague by Norway’s Foreign Secretary Espen Barth Eid in November, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) accepted the invitation to participate in the Oslo Humanitarian Consequences Conference.

The role of the UK in strengthening international norms and supporting processes aimed at stemming the proliferation of weapons has recently been highlighted in Parliament in light of the UK’s earlier leadership in Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) negotiations.  Alistair Burt’s statement, repeated in the Lords by Baroness Warsi (Conservative), on the outcome of the July 2012 ATT negotiating conference – which closed without final agreement on the draft text – stressed the UK’s commitment to securing a “robust”, “effective” and “balanced” treaty and pledged to devote significant diplomatic efforts to that goal.  Demonstrating their high level of interest in the treaty, several parliamentarians including George Freeman MP (Conservative, Mid Norfolk), Lord Jack McConnell (Labour), Lord Bishop of Wakefield and Lord Hylton (Crossbench) all sought information on UK government efforts on the ATT as well as progress updates on moving ahead with the negotiations. 

Noting that agreement on the draft text in July had been blocked by the US who asked for more time to consider the text, prompting Russia and a handful of others to follow suit, Martin Horwood (Lib Dem, Cheltenham) asked what actions the UK was taking to secure assurances from the US that the treaty would not be watered down, whilst Dame Anne Begg (Labour, Aberdeen South) and Caroline Lucas (Green, Brighton Pavilion) both asked about UK plans to ensure “loopholes” such as those on ammunition and public reporting are closed.  Government responses, from Alistair Burt (Conservative, North East Bedfordshire) in the Commons and Baroness Warsi (Conservative) in the Lords, emphasised the UK’s frequent communication with the US government on the issue and the leading role played by the UK – most recently in securing support for a UN General Assembly Resolution convening a 18-28 March 2013 conference to finalise work on the treaty.  Baroness Warsi (Conservative) also said that the UK has begun discussing the draft text from July with stakeholders in the NGO community, industry and key allies with a view to establishing “a clear set of priorities” to “build the necessary consensus” in advance of the March conference.  In addition, in response to a question by MP Jeremy Lefroy (Conservative, Stafford), Alan Duncan (Conservative, Rutland & Melton), a Minister of State for International Development, detailed UK support for the European Union, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and NATO in their work over the last five years in implementing the UN Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate Illicit Trafficking of Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects.

UK efforts at challenging nuclear proliferation in the Middle East

Parliamentarians have also shown an interest in UK efforts to prevent nuclear proliferation in the Middle East, with several MPs seeking information on the UK government’s assessment of the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear programme, the effect of international sanctions, and progress updates on the E3 + 3 talks, comprising EU countries France, Germany and the UK, together with P-5 members China, Russia and the United States.  During a short debate in the Commons in September, MPs including Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander (Labour, Paisley and Renfrewshire South) and Conservative MP Philip Hollobone (Kettering), expressed concern over the Iranian nuclear programme’s potential to lead to the development of an Iranian nuclear weapon in the future, whilst Sir Gerald Kaufman (Labour, Manchester Gorton) sought clarification as to the UK position on the use of military action.  UK government responses have conveyed a “deep concern” over the issue and emphasised the UK’s “twin track strategy of engagement and pressure” whilst making it clear that military action on Iran has not been ruled out, frequently reiterating the phrase: “all options for addressing the issue remain on the table”.  When Paul Flynn MP (Labour, Newport West) made a comparison between the current war in Iraq and possible military action against Iran, Foreign Secretary William Hague (Conservative, Richmond – Yorks) warned against extrapolating too much “from one case to another” and highlighted the need for government to consult Parliament prior to committing UK forces to military action.

Nevertheless, concerns over military action against Iran were heightened in late October when an article in The Guardian revealed that as part of its contingency planning over the Iranian nuclear programme, the United States had requested the use of UK military bases to support a build-up of forces in the Gulf.  The Guardian said the US request had been rejected by the UK on the basis of secret legal advice and quoted a “senior Whitehall source” as saying “The UK would be in breach of international law if it facilitated what amounted to a pre-emptive strike on Iran… It is explicit. The government has been using this to push back against the Americans.”  Following the revelations, Jeremy Corbyn MP (Labour, Islington North) quizzed the government on recent requests it had received from the US government for the use of Diego Garcia for military action against Iran and operations in Persian Gulf.  Andrew Robathan (Conservative, South Leicestershire) responding, referred Mr Corbyn (Labour, Islington North) to the answer given back in March by Nick Harvey (Lib Dem, North Devon), then Minister for the Armed Forces, in which he stated that “the UK continues to work with other countries to achieve a diplomatic solution to Iran's nuclear ambitions”.  A month or so after the publication of the Guardian article, a question in the House of Lords by Lord Stewart Wood (Labour) led other members of the chamber to delve deeper into the circumstances in which a military strike against Iran might be justified as well as whether or not there are any circumstances where a first strike with nuclear weapons could be morally justifiable.  In addition, Baroness Shirley Williams (Lib Dem) pointed to Iran’s recently expressed openness to the possibility of bilateral discussions with the US whilst Lord Ashdown (Lib Dem), highlighting the likely counter-productive consequences of a military attack against Iran, described such a move as “militarily inept, politically unsuccessful and diplomatically disastrous”.

In November Baroness Warsi (Conservative), responding to a question in the Lords, stated that the UK has “regular, senior discussions with the Government of Israel on Iran” the most recent of which had occurred as part of the UK-Israel ‘Strategic Dialogue’ in early November.  When asked about Israel’s own nuclear weapons programme she repeated the government line, given also by Alistair Burt (Conservative, North East Bedfordshire) in a written answer in September, that “Israel has not declared a nuclear weapons programme. We encourage Israel to sign up to the Non-Proliferation Treaty and call on it to agree a comprehensive safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency”.  Asked a similar question in December with regard to whether the UK will support any moves in the United Nations to require Israel to open its nuclear facilities to UN inspection, Baroness Warsi (Conservative) added that on 4 December the UK voted in favour of UN General Assembly Resolution 67/73 2012 on “the risk of nuclear proliferation in the Middle East”, which called upon Israel to place all its unsafeguarded nuclear facilities under full-scope IAEA safeguards.  Meanwhile, Foreign Secretary William Hague (Conservative, Richmond – Yorks), faced with a question by Grahame Morris (Labour, Easington) asking what the UK government is doing to pressure Israel to sign the NPT, framed his response in terms of the UK’s support for the Middle East WMD Free Zone conference which was agreed upon at the 2010 NPT Review Conference but which, despite originally being scheduled for 2012 in Helsinki, has had to be postponed.

UK Approaches to other arms control and non-proliferation Issues

The UK government had an opportunity to share its perspectives on a variety of disarmament and non-proliferation related issues when former Labour Defence Secretary Lord Des Browne, Convenor of the Top Level Group and Chair of the European Leadership Network posed a series of questions during the summer recess of 2012.  Viscount James Younger (Conservative), tasked with responding for the government on these issues in the House of Lords, stated that the UK continues to take “all appropriate opportunities” to promote signature and ratification of the CTBT (Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty), for example by Alistair Burt’s (Conservative, North East Bedfordshire) attendance at the sixth ministerial meeting on the subject on 27 September 2012.  He also said that the UK participates in the International Framework for Nuclear Energy Co-operation (IFNEC) as a means of supporting the development and use of proliferation-resistant technologies in the nuclear fuel cycle, and that the UK government sees no need to revive the seven-nation initiative on nuclear non-proliferation.  On the subject of the deadlocked negotiations at the Conference on Disarmament (CD) on a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty (FMCT), Viscount Younger (Conservative) stated that the CD still represents “best option” for negotiations on an FMCT.  A further question by Lord Browne (Labour) on the UK’s efforts to help other states meet their obligations under United Nations Security Council Resolution 1540 (which requires all UN member states to enforce effective measures against the proliferation of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, and their means of delivery), Baroness Warsi (Conservative) gave details of the UK’s role during the summer in securing a new, 10-year mandate for the 1540 Committee and the appointment of a UK group of experts, as well as UK funding for a range of capacity building and legislative assistance programmes, and the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) Global Threat Reduction Programme (GTRP).

Finally, motivated by a recent visit to China as part of a delegation from the US NGO the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) and driven by recognition of China’s important position in the international order, Lord Browne (Labour) initiated an in-depth although somewhat sparsely populated debate on the issue of China and multilateral nuclear disarmament.  The debate, to which a number of well-informed and interested members of the House contributed, closed by agreeing the motion that had been set out at the beginning – that “this House takes note of the case for intensified discussions on multilateral nuclear disarmament with China”.