House of Lords Debate on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference 2015

26 April 2012
Question

Asked by Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer (Liberal Democrat)
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what are their priorities for the forthcoming session of the Preparatory Committee for the 2015 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference in Vienna.

Lord Howell of Guildford (Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office; Conservative)
My Lords, the first non-proliferation treaty preparatory committee of this review cycle is an opportunity for state parties to reaffirm collectively their support for the non-proliferation treaty. It is also the first opportunity to review the implementation of the action plan agreed at the 2010 NPT review conference. We hope that states will come ready to discuss progress made so far. The UK has taken a number of important disarmament steps since the 2010 conference, and we continue to give the highest priority to reversing the spread of nuclear weapons, keeping them out of terrorist hands and cutting their numbers worldwide.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer (Liberal Democrat)
I thank my noble friend for his reply. Does he share my concern that, worldwide, momentum seems to be going in the wrong direction? In fact, hundreds of billions of dollars are being spent on modernising weapons systems, increasing the number of weapons in many countries. It is one of the few things that seem to have escaped austerity cuts in spending. How does my noble friend think that we can revive the focus, particularly the political focus, on this crucial issue of non-proliferation?

Lord Howell of Guildford (Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office; Conservative)
My noble friend is quite right to be concerned at some of the trends. In answer to her question about what we can do, we are taking a whole range of steps and can do more. Of course, we led the way with the P5 conference process in Paris last year. We reduced the number of warheads on our submarines and reduced operationally available warheads and our nuclear stockpile. We carried forward the verification discussions with Norway and are progressing the nuclear-free zones for south-east Asia. We welcome the arrival of Mr Jaakko Laajava to drive forward the Middle East nuclear weapons-free zone. We have also encouraged the signing up of the additional powers for the IAEA. There is a lot that we can do individually, but best of all we can work with our NPT partners and others to make sure that the review process carries forward and the action plan of 2010 is given real beef and muscle.

Lord Wright of Richmond (Crossbench)
Can the Minister confirm that the range of steps to which he referred includes trying to persuade Israel to sign the non-proliferation treaty?

Lord Howell of Guildford (Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office; Conservative)
Yes, it certainly does. As we move towards the next review conference, we would of course like to see clarified Israel’s position on nuclear, which is ambiguous, as the noble Lord knows, and for Israel to sign up to the NPT.

Lord Browne of Ladyton (Labour)
My Lords, I remind the House of my entry in the register of interests, in particular my engagement in a number of multilateral nuclear disarmament organisations. The Minister will be aware that the worst aspect of the nuclear order in the modern world, now 20 years after the end of the cold war, is that there are thousands of nuclear weapons on high alert status. Indeed, in arsenals not only in the United States and Russia there are weapons ready for use within minutes, in some circumstances on warning of a possible attack and not just minutes after an attack is known. It seems highly improbable, given that President Obama took months to decide to send troops to Afghanistan, that he is comfortable with that position. What steps are our Government taking with our allies to reduce this dangerous situation in the world, because it is totally unnecessary?

Lord Howell of Guildford (Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office; Conservative)
The noble Lord is absolutely right about the concerns. Obviously, we welcome the signs that Russia and the United States, which after all hold 95 per cent of these weapons-although other countries certainly have dangerous weapons as well-are moving towards some further resumption of the START negotiations. That would be very good. Over and above that, we continue to take the lead in the P5 process. Disarmament is one of the key three pillars of the NPT regime, along of course with non-proliferation and peaceful use of nuclear energy, and our full emphasis and efforts are applied to it. But obviously the big reductions in numbers must come through Russian and American action, which we greatly welcome and support.

Baroness Williams of Crosby (Liberal Democrat)
My Lords, while accepting what my noble friend has just said, does he not agree that the number of weapons in the arsenals of the non-NPT nuclear powers is growing very fast indeed, particular in Pakistan, and as far as we know in Israel and India? Can he suggest any way in which we could raise at the prep con the issue of including the non-NPT nuclear powers within some structure of, for example, longer warning periods, because this is beginning to undermine the confidence in the NPT itself?

Lord Howell of Guildford (Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office; Conservative)
That, as my noble friend points out with her considerable experience, is the danger: that the non-signatories to the NPT-the non-state parties-will carry on on their own path. We must and intend to work, both at this preparatory conference and at the next review conference, to urge these countries to sign up to the NPT and observe the necessary responsible actions to join in the world movement to reduce nuclear weapons. It is very difficult and there are all sorts of political subcurrents, as my noble friend knows. There are many complications, of which the imbroglio over the Middle East, the position of Iran and Israel and many other issues are a part, but we keep working at it.

The Bishop of Bath and Wells (Bishop)
My Lords, many of us on this Bench recognise that it will take time to achieve the vision of President Obama, set out at the Prague conference, for a world without nuclear weapons. However, does the Minister accept that President Obama’s vision has generated enthusiastic hope and interest in that process, and that there is much longing for progress to be made on this issue? What steps are the Government taking to reach out to this Prague generation ahead of the prep con in Vienna, and what steps are they taking to engage with young people on international non-proliferation and security issues more broadly?

Lord Howell of Guildford (Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office; Conservative)
The key word is steps. It has to be done step by step. It would be nice to think that we could move directly towards the goal of a nuclear-free world, but we know that any attempt to move in that direction would be met with non-participation by large numbers of people, and possibly distract us from the overall aim of moving step by step to nuclear disarmament. The measures I have outlined already in detail to your Lordships are part of this step-by-step approach, which we have pursued and will continue to pursue with vigour. As to the message to younger people, we all share a responsibility for bringing home to the present and next generation the enormous dangers of allowing proliferation to continue, and of people being too relaxed and saying that certain countries should have nuclear weapons if they want. If they do, the matter will spread. It will not be contained, and we will have a much less stable and more dangerous world.

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