Keynote Address: A World Free of Nuclear Weapons? with remarks by Margaret Beckett at the 2007 Carnegie International Nonproliferation Conference.
Rt. Hon. Margaret Beckett
Margaret Mary Beckett is a British Labour politician and Member of Parliament (MP) for Derby South. She served in government under Tony Blair, becoming the first woman to hold the office of Foreign Secretary (the second of only three women to have held one of the Great Offices of State). She was Deputy Leader of the Labour Party from 1992 to 1994 and was briefly its leader in 1994 following the premature death of John Smith.
Good afternoon. Thank you for that kind welcome and those kind words.I expect that many - if not all - of you here today read an article whichappeared in the Wall Street Journal at the very start of this year. Thewriters would be as familiar to an audience in this country as they arerespected across the globe: George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger, Sam Nunn.The article made the case for, and I quote, "a bold initiative consistent withAmerica's moral heritage". That initiative was to re-ignite the vision of aworld free of nuclear weapons and to redouble efforts on the practicalmeasures towards it.The need for such vision and action is all too apparent.Last year, Kofi Annan said - and he was right - that the world risksbecoming mired in a sterile stand-off between those who care most aboutdisarmament and those who care most about proliferation. The dangers ofsuch mutually assured paralysis - as he termed it - are dangers to us all.Weak action on disarmament, weak consensus on proliferation are in noneof our interests. And any solution must be a dual one that sees movementon both proliferation and disarmament - a revitalisation, in other words, ofthe grand bargain struck in 1968, when the Non-Proliferation Treaty was established.What makes this the time to break the stand-off?Today the non-proliferation regime today is under particular pressure. Wehave already seen the emergence of a mixture of further declared andundeclared nuclear powers. And now, two countries - Iran and NorthKorea, both signatories of the NPT - stand in open defiance of theinternational community. Their actions have profound and directimplications for global security. Each of them also raises the seriousprospect of proliferation across their region.In the case of Iran, in particular, if the regime is trying to acquire nuclearweapons - and there are very few either in that region or outside it whoseriously doubt that that is the goal - then it is raising the spectre of a hugepush for proliferation in what is already one of the most unstable parts of the world.That alone makes the debate on disarmament and non-proliferation wemust have today different in degree: it has become more immediate and more urgent.On top of that, we must respond to other underlying trends that are puttingadded pressure on the original non-proliferation regime. One of those is theemergence of Al Qaeda and its offshoots - terrorists whom we know to beactively seeking nuclear materials.Another is the anticipated drive towards civil, nuclear power as the twinimperatives of energy security and climate security are factored into energypolicy. How can we ensure that this does not lead to either nuclearmaterials or potentially dangerous nuclear know-how - particularlyenrichment and reprocessing technologies - being diverted for military useor falling into the wrong hands? How do we do so without prejudice to theeconomic development of countries that have every right under the NPT todevelop a civil, nuclear capability.Lastly there are some very specific triggers for action - key impendingdecisions - that we are fast approaching. The START treaty will expire in2009. We will need to start thinking about how we move from a bilateraldisarmament framework built by the US and Russia to one more suited toour multi-polar world.And then in 2010 we will have the NPT Review Conference. By the timethat is held, we need the international community to be foursquare andunited behind the global non-proliferation regime. We can't afford for thatconference to be a fractured or fractious one: rather we must strengthenthe NPT in all its aspects.That might all sound very challenging - I meant it to. But there is no reasonto believe that we cannot rise to that challenge.Let's look at the facts. Despite the recent log-jam, the basic nonproliferation consensus is and has been remarkably resilient. The grandbargain of the NPT has, by and large, held for the past 40 years. The vastmajority of states - including many that have the technology to do so if theychose - have decided not to develop nuclear weapons. And far fewer statesthan was once feared have acquired and retained nuclear weapons.Even more encouragingly, and much less well known outside this room,many more states - South Africa, Libya, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, [Belarus],Argentina, Brazil - have given up active nuclear weapons programmes,turned back from pursuing such programmes, or - in the case of the formerSoviet Union countries - chosen to hand over weapons on their territory.And of course the Nuclear Weapons States themselves have madesignificant reductions in their nuclear arsenals, which I will come to later.So we have grounds for optimism; but none for complacency. Thesuccesses we have had in the past have not come about by accident butby applied effort. We will need much more of the same in the months andyears to come. That will mean continued momentum and consensus onnon-proliferation, certainly. But, and this is my main argument today, thechances of achieving that are greatly increased if we can also point togenuine commitment and concrete action on nuclear disarmament.Given the proliferation challenges we face, it is not surprising that so muchof our focus should be on non-proliferation itself.For the reasons I gave a moment ago, stopping and reversing nuclearproliferation in North Korea and Iran has to remain a key priority for thewhole international community.With North Korea the best hope to reverse their nuclear programmeremains patient multilateral diplomacy underpinned by sanctions regimes.As for Iran, the generous offer the E3+3 made in June 2006 is still on thetable. Sadly Iran has chosen not to comply with its international legalobligations, thereby enabling negotiations to resume. That forced us toseek a further Security Council Resolution. We will do so again if necessary.The US contribution on Iran has, naturally, been critical. It made the Viennaoffer both attractive and credible - showing that the entire internationalcommunity was willing to welcome Iran back into its ranks provided that itconformed to international norms on the nuclear file and elsewhere. And Ihave no doubt that the close co-operation between the US, Europe, Russiaand China has been a powerful point of leverage on the Iranians. We must hope it succeeds.The US has also taken the lead on much of the vital work that is going onto prevent existing nuclear material falling into the hands of terrorists androgue states. That framework is more robust than ever before - the GlobalThreat Reduction Initiative, the Proliferation Security Initiative, the GlobalInitiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism and efforts to prevent the financing of proliferation.Meanwhile, there is some imaginative work going on aimed at persuadingstates that they can have guaranteed supplies of electricity from nuclearpower without the need to acquire enrichment and reprocessingtechnologies. For example, the work on fuel supply assurances followingthe report of the IAEA expert group; the US's own Global Nuclear EnergyPartnership initiative on more proliferation-resistant technologies; and theUK's own proposal for advanced export approval of nuclear fuel that cannotsubsequently be revoked - the so-called "enrichment bond".But the important point is this: in none of those areas will we stand achance of success unless the international community is united in purposeas well as in action.And what that Wall Street Journal article, and for that matter Kofi Annan,have been quite right to identify is that our efforts on non-proliferation willbe dangerously undermined if others believe - however unfairly -that theterms of the grand bargain have changed, that the nuclear weapon stateshave abandoned any commitment to disarmament.The point of doing more on disarmament, then, is not to convince theIranians or the North Koreans. I do not believe for one second that furtherreductions in our nuclear weapons would have a material effect on their nuclear ambitions.Rather the point of doing more is this: because the moderate majority ofstates - our natural and vital allies on non-proliferation - want us to domore. And if we do not, we risk helping Iran and North Korea in their effortsto muddy the water, to turn the blame for their own nuclear intransigenceback onto us. They can undermine our arguments for strong internationalaction in support of the NPT by painting us as doing too little too late tofulfil our own obligations. And that need to appear consistent, incidentally,is just as true at the regional level. The international community's clearcommitment to a Middle East Nuclear Weapons Free Zone in successiveUN resolutions has been vital in building regional support for a tough line against Iran.So what does doing more - and indeed being seen to do more - ondisarmament actually mean?First, I think we need to be much more open about the disarmament stepswe are already taking or have taken. Here in the long-standing, andunderstandable, culture of secrecy that surrounds the nuclear world wemay be our own worst enemy. There is little public remembrance orrecognition of the vast cuts in warheads - some 40 000 - made by the USand the former USSR since the end of the Cold War. Nor, for that thatmatter, the cuts that France and the UK have made to our much smallerstocks. We all need to do more to address this. And I welcome the USState Department's recent moves in that direction.But we'd be kidding ourselves if we thought that this was a problem ofperception only - simply a failure to communicate. The sense of stagnationis real enough. The expiry of the remaining US-Russia arms control deals;the continued existence of large arsenals; the stalemate on aComprehensive Test Ban Treaty and Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty. Theyall point to an absence of debate at the highest levels on disarmament anda collective inability thus far to come up with a clear, forward plan.What we need is both vision - a scenario for a world free of nuclearweapons. And action - progressive steps to reduce warhead numbers andto limit the role of nuclear weapons in security policy. These two strandsare separate but they are mutually reinforcing. Both are necessary, both atthe moment too weak.Let me start with the vision because it is, perhaps, the harder case tomake. After all, we all signed up to the goal of the eventual abolition ofnuclear weapons back in 1968; so what does simply restating that goal achieve today?More than you might imagine. Because, and I'll be blunt, there are somewho are in danger of losing faith in the possibility of ever reaching that goal.That would be a grave mistake. The judgement we made forty years ago,that the eventual abolition of nuclear weapons was in all of our interests - isjust as true today as it was then. For more than sixty years, goodmanagement and good fortune have meant that nuclear arsenals have notbeen used. But we cannot rely on history just to repeat itself.It would be a grave mistake for another reason, too. It underestimates thepower that commitment and vision can have in driving action.A parallel can be drawn with some of those other decades-long campaignsconducted as we strive for a more civilised world.When William Wilberforce began his famous campaign, the practice of oneset of people enslaving another had existed for thousands of years. He hadthe courage to challenge that paradigm; and in so doing he helped to bringan end to the terrible evil of the transatlantic slave trade.Would he have achieved half as much, would he have inspired the samefervour in others if he had set out to 'regulate' or 'reduce' the slave traderather than abolish it? I doubt it.Similarly the Millennium Development Goals, the cancellation of third-worlddebt, increased overseas aid were all motivated by the belief that one day,however far off it might seem, we could "Make Poverty History".So too with nuclear weapons. Believing that the eventual abolition ofnuclear weapons is possible can act as a spur for action on disarmament.Believing, at whatever level, that it is not, is the surest path to inaction. Ifthere will always be nuclear weapons, what does it matter if there are 1000 or 10 000?And just as the vision gives rise to action, conversely so does action givemeaning to the vision. As that Wall Street Journal article put it: "Without thebold vision, the actions will not be perceived as fair and urgent. Without theactions, the vision will not be perceived as realistic or possible"By actions, I do not mean that the nuclear weapons states should bemaking immediate and unrealistic promises - committing to speedyabolition, setting a timetable to zero.The truth is that I very much doubt - though I would wish it otherwise - thatwe will see the total elimination of nuclear weapons in my lifetime. To reachthat point would require much more than disarmament diplomacy,convoluted enough though that is in itself. It would require a much moresecure and predictable global political context.That context does not exist today. Indeed it is why, only a few months ago,the UK took the decision to retain our ability to have an independentnuclear deterrent beyond the 2020s.But acknowledging that the conditions for disarmament do not exist todaydoes not mean resigning ourselves to the idea that nuclear weapons cannever be abolished in the future. Nor does it prevent us from taking steps toreduce numbers now and to start thinking about how we would go aboutreaching that eventual goal of eliminating all nuclear weapons.That is why in taking the decision to retain our ability to have nuclearweapons, the UK government was very clear about four things. First thatwe would be open and frank both with our own citizens and with ourinternational partners about what we were doing and why. Second that wewould be very clear and up front that when the political conditions existed,we would give up our remaining nuclear weapons. Third that we were notenhancing our nuclear capability in any way and would continue to actstrictly in accordance with our NPT obligations. And fourth that we wouldreduce our stock of operationally available warheads by a further 20 percent - to the very minimum we considered viable to maintain anindependent nuclear deterrent.This was our way - and I can assure you that it was a difficult process - toresolve the dilemma between our genuine commitment to abolition and ourconsidered judgement that now was not the time to take a unilateral step to disarm.It's the same dilemma that every nuclear weapons state faces. And we canall make the same choices in recommitting to the goal of abolition andtaking practical steps towards achieving that goal.Practical steps include further reductions in warhead numbers, particularlyin the world's biggest arsenals. There are still over 20 000 warheads in theworld. And the US and Russia hold about 96 per cent of them.Almost no-one - politician, military strategist or scientist - thinks thatwarheads in those numbers are still necessary to guarantee internationalsecurity. It should not therefore be controversial to suggest that thereremains room for further significant reductions. So I hope that the MoscowTreaty will be succeeded by further clear commitments to significantlylower numbers of warheads - and include, if possible, tactical as well asstrategic, nuclear weapons.Since we no longer live in a bipolar world, those future commitments mayno longer require strict parity. They could be unilateral undertakings.Certainly the UK experience - and indeed the United States' ownexperience with the reduction of its tactical weapons in Europe - is thatsubstantial reductions can be achieved through independent re-examination of what is really needed to deter: that approach has allowedthe UK to reduce our operationally available warheads by nearly half overthe last ten years from what was already a comparatively low base. Wehave also reduced the readiness of the nuclear force that remains. We nowhave only one boat on patrol at any one time, carrying no more than 48warheads - and our missiles are not targeted at anyone.Commitments like these need not even be enshrined in formal treaties. TheUK's reductions, after all, are not. But clearly both the US and Russia willrequire sufficient assurance that their interests and strategic stability will besafeguarded. Part of the solution may be provided by the extension of themost useful transparency and confidence building measures in the STARTframework, should the US and Russia agree to do so.And I should make clear here again, that when it will be useful to include inany negotiations the one per cent of the world's nuclear weapons thatbelong to the UK, we will willingly do so.In addition to further reductions, we need to press on with both theComprehensive Test Ban Treaty and with the Fissile Material Cut-OffTreaty. Both limit - in real and practical ways - the ability of states party todevelop new weapons and to expand their nuclear capabilities. And assuch they therefore both play a very powerful symbolic role too - they signalto the rest of the world that the race for more and bigger weapons is over,and that the direction from now on will be down not up. That's why we areso keen for those countries that have not yet done so to ratify the CTBT.The moratoriium observed by all the nuclear weapon states is a great stepforward; but by allowing the CTBT to enter into force - and, of course, USratification would provide a great deal of impetus - we would be showingthat this is a permanent decision, a permanent change in the right direction.At the same time, I believe that we will need to look again at how wemanage global transparency and global verification. This will have toextend beyond the bilateral arrangements between Russia and the US. Ifwe are serious about complete nuclear disarmament we should begin nowto build deeper relationships on disarmament between nuclear weapon states.For our part, the UK is ready and willing to engage with other members ofthe P5 on transparency and confidence building measures. Verification willbe particularly key - any future verification regime for a world free ofnuclear weapons will need to be tried and tested. In my opinion, it will needto place more emphasis on the warheads themselves than the currentarrangement which focuses primarily on delivery systems. That willbecome particularly true as numbers of warheads drop.Finally we have to keep doing the hard diplomatic work on the underlyingpolitical conditions - resolving the ongoing sources of tension in the world,not least in the Middle East and between Pakistan and India. We also needto build a more mature, balanced and stable relationship between ourselves and Russia.And since I have the non-proliferation elite gathered in one room, let meemphasise the importance this and future UK governments will place onthe agreement of an international and legally binding arms trade treaty.Conflicts across the globe are made more likely and more intense by thosewho trade arms in an irresponsible and unregulated way. An arms tradetreaty would contribute to a focus on arms reduction and build a safer world.When it comes to building this new impetus for global nucleardisarmament, I want the UK to be at the forefront of both the thinking andthe practical work. To be, as it were, a "disarmament laboratory".As far as new thinking goes, the International Institute of Strategic Studiesis planning an in-depth study to help determine the requirements for theeventual elimination of all nuclear weapons. We will participate in that studyand provide funding for one of their workshops, focussing on some of thecrucial technical questions in this area.The study and subsequent workshops will offer a thorough and systematicanalysis of what a commitment to a world free of nuclear weapons meansin practice. What weapons and facilities will have to go before we can saythat nuclear weapons are abolished? What safeguards will we have to putin place over civil nuclear facilities? How do we increase transparency andput in place a verification regime so that everyone can be confident that noone else has or is developing nuclear weapons? And finally - and this isperhaps the greatest challenge of all - what path can we take to completenuclear disarmament that avoids creating new instabilities potentiallydamaging to global security.Then we have the new areas of practical work. This will concentrate on thechallenge of creating a robust, trusted and effective system of verificationthat does not give away national security or proliferation sensitive information.Almost a decade ago, we asked the UK's Atomic Weapons Establishmentto begin developing our expertise in methods and techniques to verify thereduction and elimination of nuclear weapons. We reported on this workthroughout the last Non-Proliferation Treaty review cycle. Now we intend tobuild on this work, looking more deeply at several key stages in theverification process - and again report our findings as soon as possible.One area we will be looking at further is authentication - in other wordsconfirming that an object presented for dismantlement as a warhead isindeed a warhead. There are profound security challenges in doing that.We need to find ways to carry out that task without revealing sensitiveinformation. At the moment we are developing technical contacts withNorway in this area. As a non-nuclear weapons state they will offer avaluable alternative perspective on our research.Then we will be looking more closely at chain of custody issues - in otherwords how to provide confidence that the items that emerge from thedismantlement process have indeed come from the authenticated objectthat went into that process to begin with. Here we face the challenge ofmanaging access to sensitive nuclear facilities. We have already carriedout some trial inspections of facilities to draw lessons for the handling ofaccess under any future inspections regime.Last we intend to examine how to provide confidence that the dismantledcomponents of a nuclear warhead are not being returned to use in newwarheads. This will have to involve some form of monitored storage, with adifficult balance once again to be struck between security concerns andverification requirements. We are currently working on the design conceptsfor building such a monitored store, so that we can more fully investigatethese complex practical issues.Those initiatives I have announced today are only small ones. But they arein the right direction - a signal of intent and purpose to ourselves and toothers. We will talk more and do more with our international partners -those who have nuclear weapons, those who do not - in the weeks andmonths to come.I said earlier that I doubted that I would live to see a world free of nuclearweapons. My sadness at such a thought is real. Mine is a generation thathas existed under the shadow of the bomb - knowing that weapons existedwhich could bring an end to humanity itself. We have become almostaccustomed to that steady underlying dread, punctuated by the sharperfear of each new nuclear crisis: Cuba in 1962, the Able Archer scare of1983, the stand-off between India and Pakistan in 2002.But there is a danger in familiarity with something so terrible. If we allowour efforts on disarmament to slacken, if we allow ourselves to take thenon-proliferation consensus for granted, the nuclear shadow that hangsover us all will lengthen and it will deepen. It may, one day, blot out the light for good.So my commitment to the vision of a world free of nuclear weapons isundimmed. And though we in this room may never reach the end of thatroad, we can take the first steps down it. For any generation, that would bea noble calling. For ours, it is a duty.