Foreign and Defence Debate – 23 November 2009

Key Excerpts from Debate on the Address: Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and Defence (Monday 23 November 2009)

Malcolm Rifkind (Kensington & Chelsea, Conservative): Will the Foreign Secretary say explicitly that the United Kingdom would oppose any new proposal for Iran that did not involve its allowing its uranium to be transferred overseas for enrichment?

David Miliband (Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office; South Shields, Labour): ….We support director general el-Baradei’s proposal, which he has developed with us, the Americans and the French. The argument is actually not about whether the LEU eventually goes out of Iran-some of Tehran’s counter-proposals involve it doing so, although at a tempo and a stage not in accord with what director general el-Baradei has said.


The year 2010 will also provide the opportunity for a reinvigoration of key elements of international security. President Obama’s personal engagement and the prospect of an historic agreement between Russia and the US to cut nuclear warheads put us in a much stronger position to strengthen the non-proliferation and disarmament regime as we look towards the global nuclear security summit in April and the non-proliferation treaty review conference in May.

On weapons proliferation more generally, the brokering of a global arms trade treaty is progressing well. The US has for the first time committed to supporting such a treaty and there is a clear timetable leading to a diplomatic conference to finalise a treaty in 2012. That comes on top of last year’s convention on cluster munitions and the cluster munitions (prohibitions) Bill will implement in UK law the convention that bans the use, development, production, stockpiling, retention or transfer of cluster munitions.

In advance of the Lisbon Summit at the end of 2010, NATO will review its strategic concept. NATO needs to build strong ties with other organisations, particularly the EU, to modernise its structures so it has the right tools and capabilities to tackle the threats of today and tomorrow, and to build a frank and constructive relationship with Russia, not shying away from relaying tough messages on difficult issues.

William Hague (Shadow Foreign Secretary, Foreign Affairs; Richmond (Yorks), Conservative): The sentences on foreign and defence policy in the Gracious Speech were relatively without controversy and expressed sentiments that unite the House: the seeking of effective international co-operation, the combating of climate change, the objective of working for security, stability and prosperity in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the middle east, and the essential work towards preventing nuclear proliferation are important British national objectives, and everyone should be clear that they will remain so if there is a change of Government in Britain in the coming months.

Edward Davey (Kingston & Surbiton, Liberal Democrat): …One of the main reasons why our party supported the mission in Afghanistan but opposed the attack on Iraq is our commitment to multilateralism and international law, and that is why we welcome the support in the Queen’s Speech for the Government’s efforts on nuclear non-proliferation. The all-important non-proliferation treaty review conference will take place next year, and I have been impressed by the FCO’s efforts to prepare for it.


Not all the keys to the success of the conference lie in the Government’s hands. Two critical questions will be whether the United States and Russia can ratify the successor to the strategic arms reduction treaty-which will include substantial reductions in missiles-and, of course, whether the United States Senate is of a mind to pass the treaty for a comprehensive nuclear test ban. Given the multiple pressures on Obama, I am not sure whether he will be able to pull that off, but he has shown a lead that I only wish others, including Britain, could emulate. In his willingness to drop President Bush’s idea of a ballistic missile defence system based in Poland and the Czech Republic, he has not only helped the thawing of relations with Russia but shown an ability to reassess accepted wisdom on nuclear strategy.

We believe that it is time for the Government to reassess their approach to the replacement of Trident, and to do so ahead of the NPT review conference. The stakes are high, and not just in regard to reform of the NPT or the next stages of multilateral nuclear disarmament. The signal that such moves and progress would send to Iran and North Korea, among others, would be extremely strong-perhaps not strong enough to resolve the specific nuclear confrontations, but perhaps strong enough to address the current impasse in both cases.


Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): …I conclude with this point: Israel is the only country in the Middle East that possesses nuclear weapons. It has more than 200 warheads. It is not a signatory to a nuclear non-proliferation treaty or any other nuclear treaties, except that it did sign the Mediterranean convention two years ago, which at least appeared to be recognition on its part that it had weapons of mass destruction. Surely, in advance of the non-proliferation treaty review next year, we could encourage Israel to be part of a nuclear weapons convention and help to bring about a nuclear-free middle east, which would reduce the pressure by some reactionary forces in Iran for Iran to develop its own nuclear weapons.