Speaking Edinburgh University Labour Club at Teviot Row House, Potterrow, at 1pm today, Gavin Strang MP said:
‘I assume that virtually nobody in this audience is old enough to remember the Cold War, and it is perhaps hard for the current generation of students to understand that my generation were living under a constant threat of nuclear annihilation.
‘I was a student here at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and there was a real sense of foreboding. At that time the prospect of 15, 20 or 25 nations acquiring nuclear weapons – and still more wanting to join them – was all too real. And clearly, the more states that have nuclear weapons, the more likely it is that a nuclear weapon would be used – with awful consequences.
‘It was in this climate that the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) was agreed – a deal between those states with nuclear weapons and those without. Non-nuclear states promise not to obtain nuclear weapons, in return for which the nuclear weapons states give them the commitment to disarm, and assistance with the peaceful use of nuclear energy.
‘The NPT is central to the world’s defences against nuclear proliferation. Without the NPT the world would have become a much more dangerous place much sooner.
‘But technology and the international climate evolve and change – and so must the NPT if it is to continue to protect us.
‘In the last five years, Libya and North Korea announced secret nuclear weapons programmes, North Korea claimed that it had manufactured nuclear arms, the International Atomic Energy Agency found undeclared uranium enrichment activity in Iran, and the AQ Khan trafficking network was exposed.
‘There is universal agreement that the NPT must be strengthened to reflect the political, logistical and technical challenges of our times.
‘There were two key opportunities this year – the 5-yearly NPT review conference in May and the Millenium Review Summit in September – but the talks failed. The world ‘allowed posturing to get in the way of results’, as UN Secretary General Kofi Annan put it.
‘As I have said, the NPT is a deal between those states with nuclear weapons and those without – and the non-nuclear weapons states rightly resent the lack of disarmament by those of us with nuclear weapons.
‘As a nuclear weapons state, Britain has a duty to meet our own side of the NPT deal. Trident is Britain’s nuclear weapons system, and will be operational until 2024. Because of the long lead time between deciding to build a system and it becoming operational – Trident took 14 years – the British Government has said that it will take the decision on replacing Trident in the course of this Parliament.
‘It is clear to me that a decision to replace Trident would further undermine Britain’s case for stronger non-proliferation measures, and would be seen as yet more evidence that those countries who had nuclear weapons at the start of the NPT are not prepared to deliver on our side of the bargain.’