NUCLEAR NON-PROLIFERATION TREATY REVIEW CONFERENCE – 9 March 2015
Dr Julian Lewis: I always like to start on a point of agreement with the hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) where I can, and I can certainly agree with him that whenever there is a major conference of this sort coming up, it is only fit and proper that it should be debated in advance on the Floor of the House of Commons. Therefore, he can always count on me to assist him from my very different point on the disarmament-versus-deterrence spectrum, and the right hon. Member for Derby South (Margaret Beckett) can count on me to assist her, as I did on this occasion, to obtain the debate. I shall always approach the Backbench Business Committee for these debates, just as the hon. Gentleman has always assisted me when I wanted to have a debate about the importance of Britain’s strategic minimum nuclear deterrent. That, I am afraid, is as far as the points of agreement go.
In the brief time available I will take up a number of the differing suggestions and arguments that we have heard so far. 'Who are we to criticise this, that or the other country for obtaining nuclear weapons if we persist in renewing ours?' I’ve got news for people who use that sort of argument: countries that are on the verge of obtaining nuclear weapons are not going to take a blind bit of notice of exhortations or criticisms from the likes of us. When countries acquire nuclear weapons, it is the result of a hard-headed reading of their own strategic interests. They do not do it by reference to whether a peaceful democracy that has a minimum nuclear deterrent, as we do, decides to keep hold of it.
Bob Stewart: What seriously worries me is the fact that Russia has declared that we are an enemy and also suggested that, if necessary, it will use nuclear weapons to pursue the problems it faces abroad. That worries all of us.
Dr Lewis: It certainly does, and to show the ecumenical nature of that concern, let me quote from a recent article in the Herald of Glasgow by a former Labour Defence Secretary, later the Secretary-General of NATO, Lord Robertson:
“Those people seduced by the SNP’s obsession with abolishing Britain’s nuclear deterrent should perhaps Google the Budapest Memorandum of December 1994. They would see there a document representing the deal struck when Ukraine, holding the world’s third largest nuclear weapons stockpile, agreed to give them up in return for solemn security assurances from Russia, the US and the UK. These countries, with France and China as well, promised to a) respect Ukrainian independence and sovereignty in its existing borders, b) to refrain from the threat or the use of force against Ukraine, and c) to refrain from using economic pressure on Ukraine in order to influence its politics. Don’t these promises look good in the light of the carnage we see on our TVs every night? Yet that is what Ukraine got in return for unilaterally disarming. Some bargain. And it is legitimate to ask this; would Crimea have been grabbed and Eastern Ukraine occupied if the Ukrainians had kept some of their nukes?”
Mr John Spellar: The hon. Gentleman rightly draws attention to the Budapest memorandum, for which the United Kingdom has a degree of responsibility. Does he not therefore find it extraordinary that the British Government are hardly involved in the talks on the future of Ukraine?
Dr Lewis: I am not sure that we want to start discussing the foreign policy dimension of this now. The only reason I brought Ukraine into this particular debate was in order to focus on the impact on its future of its one-sided disarmament in return for unreliable and undeliverable guarantees from other countries.
There are two ways of looking at the state of defence, armaments, security and peace in the world. The way to which I subscribe was summarised by an inter-war Chairman of the League of Nations Disarmament Commission, Salvador de Madariaga. He was writing about disarmament, which was very much in vogue in the early 1970s. This is what he wrote in 1973:
“The trouble with disarmament was (and still is) that the problem of war is tackled upside-down and at the wrong end … Nations don’t distrust each other because they are armed; they are armed because they distrust each other. And therefore to want disarmament before a minimum of common agreement on fundamentals is as absurd as to want people to go undressed in winter.”
I must point out that the hon. Member for Islington North, being typically objective about the matter, quoted article 6 of the non-proliferation treaty in full. That is very important, because often it is quoted only in part. I wish to focus my remaining couple of minutes on Article VI. It states:
“Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date”.
In so far as that affects Britain, it can be seen that we do not engage, and never have engaged, in a nuclear arms race. We have a policy of possessing a minimum strategic nuclear deterrent. Indeed, over the years, successive Governments – both Labour and Conservative – have reduced the number of warheads in that deterrent. And what direct response has there been to each and every one of those unilateral reductions? A big, fat zero. The ending of the nuclear arms race certainly applies to Russia and the United States, but it does not apply to China, Britain or France, because none of us has ever engaged in it.
Article VI goes on with a commitment to
“nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.”
That leads me to my final substantive point. There has been a lack of emphasis on the overall picture of what is recommended by Article VI. It recommends not only a nuclear-free world, but a conventional arms-free world, so that we do not end up in a situation whereby countries get rid of all of their nuclear weapons and leave conventional arms bristling in the hands of the protagonists. We do not want to create a situation where, unless we are crazy, we abolish one type of deadly weapons system – whose use lies not in the firing of it, but in the possession of it so that nobody starts firing any such weapons – and replace it with a world that is riven by all the old rivalries that bubble away beneath the surface and that would rise to the surface once again if the threat of the balance of terror is removed.
When we get to that happy state – when we have a World Government and the lion lies down with the lamb – we can be absolutely confident that the moment has come to get rid of those nuclear weapons and, while we are at it, get rid of the navies, the armies, and the air forces as well. Some might say:
“That’s nonsense. We don’t want to get rid of those conventional forces, because aggressors would take advantage of that against victim countries.”
However, if that is what we think those aggressors would do if we get rid of all our conventional arms, we should ask ourselves what they would do if, without resolving those tensions and rivalries, we get rid of the nuclear stalemate and open up the world once again for conventional slaughter on a massive scale.