15 May 2013 – House of Lords Debate on Defence, Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and International Development following The Queen’s Speech


[17:16] Lord Reid of Cardowan: Cyberspace is an environment characterised by its breadth—it is transnational, across over 192 countries. It is deep, because it diffuses power downwards, now to nearly 4 billion people who have never been able to gain information, to influence or to communicate before. It is ubiquitous and now runs through politics, economics, finance and our social networks, as well as many other aspects of life. It is truly the first environment made by men and women. It is not just an amalgam of technologies anymore or a means of communication, it is an environment like the land, sea, air and space. That has enormous consequences for us in terms of our national security. It means that we now have a fifth domain of warfare potential as well as a source of great opportunity. That makes us very vulnerable if we are not alert to it, both in concept and in practice. Of course, cyberspace has been an amazing gateway of opportunity for billions in the world, but it has also seen an equal growth in virus and malware development; from the first malware inserted by floppy disk back in 1981 to the myriad threats we now see. I will not rehearse them to this House but they are extremely sophisticated.

Suffice it to say that three years ago, when I chose to raise the subject in my maiden speech, the pursuit of the study of cyberspace was regarded as a rather iconoclastic occupation of mine. We now hear of malware attacks every day, on big names such as Microsoft, Apple, Lockheed Martin, Thyssen Krupp and so on. It might astonish your Lordships to know that it is much more widespread than just those headline names. Last year, 93% of companies in the United Kingdom with more than 250 staff suffered a cyberattack on their systems. It is not just the quantity—we now face an increasingly sophisticated array of persistent attacks, sometimes lasting months or years. They are targeted, adaptive and dynamic attacks that can change as they hit the defences that have been installed for them. They can involve compromise of the supply chain and the storage of vulnerabilities—reconnaissance, if you like—in order to probe weaknesses for future use. All this is going on at the moment and that vulnerability will increase as we move to consumer technology in our workplaces: smartphones and so on, the movement to the cloud, and the “Internet of Things”, from road charging to pacemakers. All that will become more and more vulnerable.

Why does all this vulnerability from the network world matter to defence and national security? It is because our critical national infrastructure is now more vulnerable than ever before. Software systems and industrial operating systems will protect our water supplies, supply our energy distribution and generation, land our planes, run our trains, heat our homes and underpin our hospitals. They will become the infrastructure on which our lives, livelihood and morale depends. Why use an expensive platform such as a nuclear submarine to launch an expensive weapon such as an intercontinental ballistic missile when we have that platform in all our pockets and in an iPad in most of our bags?

All of them now allow the possibility of enormous damage, as can be seen through the operation of the Stuxnet virus, which, unknown to the Iranian authorities, was effectively running—or mis-running—the centrifuges that were meant to produce their enriched uranium. All that, every passing day, should alert us. I have just learnt today that there has been another wave of attacks on major US corporations, specifically aimed at energy supplies. That is the critical national infrastructure vulnerability that we face. Of course, there has been some response from the Government, for which I give them credit: £650 million has been allocated to cyber, admittedly over three years; there is now a national cybersecurity strategy; research continues at GCHQ; there is improved assistance to the private sector and sharing; and the CPNI, which protects our national infrastructure, has been trying to influence standards. The MoD has played its part: it has set up the Cyber Security Operations Centre and enhanced co-operation with GCHQ.


[17:37] Lord Ramsbotham: However, the omission that most surprised me was the future of our nuclear deterrent, bearing in mind the alleged imminent publication of the Government’s Trident alternatives study. It is true that the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, when summing up my debate on nuclear disarmament on 24 January, told the House that the purpose of that study was to help the Liberal Democrats make the case for alternatives to the current continuous-at-sea deterrent, but I submit that far from merely being a matter of internal coalition politics, the question of whether a weapon system of the potency of Trident is the minimum credible deterrent that the nation requires to maintain ought to be discussed and debated in both Houses. That debate needs to be wide-ranging because of the number of questions about the ability of a system designed to meet yesterday’s criteria to satisfy those of today and tomorrow.

The need for such a debate was confirmed by a recent exchange of letters in the Times following the statement by the Prime Minister on 3 April that, in his judgment, North Korea’s unveiling of a long-range ballistic missile, with a nuclear warhead that it claimed could reach the whole of the United States, affected the whole of Europe, making it foolish to leave Britain defenceless against a continuous and growing nuclear threat. The very mention of the alleged threat from that North Korean missile reminded me of the 45-minute nonsense over Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. Immediately, General Sir Hugh Beach, a former Master-General of the Ordnance, wrote that no country on earth was less vulnerable to North Korean nuclear blackmail than the United Kingdom, and that, like it or not, the Trident missile, in British hands but supplied by America, was unusable without American support. His arguments were summarily dismissed by the noble Lord, Lord West of Spithead, on the grounds that the independence of our continuous-at-sea deterrent was not just technical but absolute, and that it would be reckless to abandon our ultimate insurance against threats that cannot be predicted from countries yet to be identified.

That prompted my noble and gallant friend, Lord Bramall, to write that the arguments of the noble Lord, Lord West, reminded him of the senior general who, after World War 1, said that there would always be a place for the horse on the battlefield, particularly if well-bred. Although the nuclear deterrent served both sides well in the Cold War, the reality today is that it does not, and cannot, deter any credible threats likely to be faced by this or any other European country; nor, in a highly globalised and interlocking world, could a weapon with the destructive power of Trident conceivably be used, even in retribution. For us, he said, nuclear weapons are superfluous and now redundant, and the sooner a Trident replacement is removed from the Treasury’s overload, the better.

My final quotations from that exchange are from two other retired admirals, with whom I fully agree. Vice-Admiral Jungius suggested that,

“whether or not the UK should continue to have a nuclear deterrent is primarily a political decision”.

Rear-Admiral Middleton wrote that,

“in the next few years a combination of smart delivery systems … together with cyberwarfare programmes … will be able to provide a national deterrent that is demonstrable, effective, selective, non-lethal and cheap”. In other words, the cost of our nuclear deterrent should not be borne by the defence budget, and our present deterrent is not only unusable but at best obsolescent when set against emerging technologies.

Two other aspects must be considered when determining whether a weapon system with the potency of Trident is the most appropriate minimum credible deterrent. The first is cyber, which presents a far greater threat to the economic, political and social life of a country than Trident, suggesting that cyberdefence should be at the top of any national defence priority list, and, to be credible, any proposed deterrent must be cyberproof, putting a question mark against Trident, as the noble Lord, Lord Reid has advised us. Secondly, not least on moral grounds, account must be taken of the devastating effects of the use of nuclear weapons on our climate. All that is in the context of two other climates, both of which must be considered by those responsible for reaching a conclusion on an issue of such long-term national importance. The first is the continued efforts to achieve international multilateral disarmament, in line with President Obama’s commitment to ultimate zero. There is no time to discuss the present state of negotiations on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, the Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty, or the continually frustrated attempts to establish a weapons of mass destruction free-zone in the Middle East. Although I am glad that we are contributing to these negotiations, I fear that questions arising from our continued reliance on Cold War logic have unintended consequences on the credibility of that contribution.

First, does our proposed replacement of one unusable system, designed to take out Moscow by another with the same capability, increase or reduce our right to prevent other countries from advancing their nuclear ambitions? Secondly, does not the presumption that war was deterred and peace maintained during the Cold War by uncertainty over whether either side would use their nuclear weapons suggest that if the same logic was applied to the Middle East, war would be better deterred and peace better maintained by allowing Iran to develop a nuclear weapon to balance Israel’s?

Finally, of course, there is the current economic climate. Here I remind the House of the two definitions of affordability: can you afford something, or can you afford to give up what you have to give up in order to afford something? I submit that the latter must be applied ruthlessly when considering conventional shortfalls such as those mentioned by my noble and gallant friend Lord Craig and the noble Lord, Lord West, and when considering whether we can afford to buy more well bred nuclear horses, unsuitable for use on post-Cold War battlefields. Inevitably, in eight minutes, one can only scratch the surface of an issue as important as this. Having expressed my surprise that this was not included in the gracious Speech, I sincerely hope that the Government will make that omission good by allowing noble Lords time to prepare and make their contributions to a full debate, in government time, after the publication of the Trident alternatives study.


[19:27] Lord Browne of Ladyton: My Lords, I am pleased once again to follow the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, in a debate in your Lordships’ House because it gives me an opportunity to commend his well-argued and characteristically clearly delivered speech. I sense from the response of noble Lords that the Minister would be well advised to heed the words of the noble and gallant Lord, as indeed I did every day that I was the Secretary of State for Defence when we served together in the MoD. I am also pleased because it gives me an opportunity, which I have not had so far, to congratulate the noble and gallant Lord on his elevation to Knight Companion of the Most Noble Order of the Garter. I remind noble Lords of my entry in the Register ofLords’ Interests, particularly my involvement in organisations associated with non-proliferation, arms control and disarmament issues.

On 6 and 7 May, the two days before the gracious Speech, I attended the ninth annual NATO Conference on Weapons of Mass Destruction, Arms Control, Disarmament and Non-proliferation in Split at the invitation of NATO and representing the European Leadership Network. There were over 100 participants in this conference, which has a very extensive agenda. Some 20 NATO countries were represented, as were four countries from the Middle East along with Japan, China, India and other nations across the world.

Chatham House rules apply to those discussions so I will not—even if I could in the short time available to me—share with noble Lords all of what was said. However, it was an extensive agenda, covering nuclear, biological, chemical and cyber threats. There was a significant discussion about the defeated ambition to have a conference on a weapons of mass destruction-free zone in the Middle East, and all aspects of proliferation were discussed. Many of the national delegations present had been at the preparatory committee of the NPT review in Geneva and had come from there. It was good to see that the Egyptians were at the conference in Split despite their leaving the NPT review disappointed that no date was fixed for a rearranged conference on weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East. The House will also be aware that the fourth P5 meeting to discuss the P5 obligations under Point 5 of the 64-point plan that came from the NPT review in 2010 and the

P5 obligations under Article 5 of the NPT took place on the margins of the Geneva discussion, hosted by Russia.

I think there will be agreement on all sides of the House that these are important issues. In almost any hierarchy of threats, these issues would be high in anybody’s priorities and on the list of issues being discussed. As I have said before in your Lordships’ House, when representing a European organisation in that environment, when both the United States and Russia are represented, and if China is also in the room, you have to have pretty sharp elbows as a European to get into the discussion. The scale of their weapons capabilities is such that Europeans, even when aggregated, appear rather small. It was slightly disappointing and worrying that there was no Russian voice in these discussions and at the conference, for the first time to my knowledge.

What was even more disappointing from my perspective was that there was no official United Kingdom voice either. At the NATO discussion on weapons of mass destruction, we appeared to have no point to make. This is not the only recent example of our country not being represented at important discussions relating to the threats and challenges that the world faces. Recently, the Norwegians convened a meeting to discuss the humanitarian effects of weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear weapons, and we did not turn up. On that occasion, I think, it was out of solidarity with our P5 partners, none of which turned up to take part in that discussion, to my disappointment and that of many other countries of the world, and which I am sure your Lordships will share. Although it was no surprise to me, I share the disappointment of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, that these issues did not deserve one line in the gracious Speech.

As will be clear to every noble Lord in this debate in your Lordships’ House today, the range of this debate shows the extensive competition there is for that priority. Almost every noble Lord who has spoken has bemoaned the fact that something was not in the Queen’s Speech. Of course, not everything can be in it, and the range of challenges for priority are very obvious from the nature of this debate. However, it is also obvious that if Europe is to seize the opportunities of the future, it has to deal with the legacies of its past. That has been a significant part of the debate this afternoon and it will be into the evening.

Nowhere is that more evident than in defence and security issues. The blunt truth is that the security policies of the Euro-Atlantic region remain largely on Cold War autopilot, 20 years or more after the end of the Cold War. The Euro-Atlantic region is home to nine of the 14 states in the world that have nuclear weapons on their soil and 95% of the nuclear weapons that exist in the world. However, we seem always to want to talk about the “other”, instead of what is in our own neighbourhood. We are home to large strategic nuclear forces, many—indeed, thousands—of which are ready to be launched in minutes. Thankfully, that does not include the United Kingdom’s forces, but it does include Russian and American forces. Thousands of tactical weapons remain in Europe and a decades-old missile defence debate remains stuck in neutral. New security challenges associated with prompt-strike forces, cybersecurity and space remain contentious and inadequately addressed.

This legacy contributes to tensions and mistrust across the Euro-Atlantic region and needlessly drives up the risks and costs of national defence at a time of unprecedented austerity and tight national budgets. We must ask ourselves why, two decades after the Cold War ended, the United States, Russia, France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom and other European nations spend hundreds of billions of dollars, roubles, euros and pounds in response to these tensions while both local and national leaders face a growing list of fiscal demands and unmet needs. This is not just about guns versus butter, although that is a very attractive argument in the current environment. The likelihood of a major war in Europe may have radically reduced since the end of the Cold War but this legacy undermines any effort to build a true Euro-Atlantic partnership to meet the common threats and challenges of the 21st century, which we can all list and which we all know will have to be addressed in a collective and multilateral fashion across the world. The status quo divides our continent and will set Europe and Russia up for a future of failure and irrelevance in the emerging international system if it is not addressed.

Many across the world believe that we need a new approach to defence and security issues in the Euro-Atlantic region. In response to that growing demand, the European Leadership Network, under my chairmanship, the Nuclear Threat Initiative under the chairmanship of Senator Sam Nunn, the Russian International Affairs Council under the chairmanship of Igor Ivanov, the former Russian Defence Minister, and the Munich Security Conference, under the chairmanship of Wolfgang Ischinger, brought together a Track II dialogue to discuss some of these challenges with experts. I was pleased to be able to invite my noble friend Lord West of Spithead, who accepted, and General Sir John McColl, the former DSACEUR, who recently retired and is now the Lieutenant Governor of Jersey, to join that significant group of people, including very senior former soldiers from Russia and the United States, to address some of these issues.

I do not have time now to go into the detail, but I have a copy of the report from that dialogue and I commend it to both the House and the Government. It is a comprehensive document that sets out the principles that ought to instruct such a dialogue and a step-by-step approach to take us, over 15 years, away from this difficult set of circumstances that we have got ourselves into by not addressing these challenges. We need political leadership but we will not have it if we do not even recognise this challenge when we set the course for a year’s debates.