William Hague spoke to members of the respected International Institute of Strategic Studies this afternoon on the subject of "preventing a new age of nuclear insecurity":
"The certainties of the Cold War, when nuclear weapons were concentrated in the hands of a few and mutually-assured destruction prevailed, have been replaced by a far more unpredictable array of threats. We are facing a new era of nuclear insecurity which left unchecked, could lead to the unravelling of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which has been a fundamental pillar of our global security for the last four decades. We therefore must act now while time is still on our side and while there is a remaining chance of turning this tide."
He actually gave a speech there on the same subject exactly two years ago. This time he had eight specific recommendations to deal with nuclear proliferation and the tensions in the Middle East caused by Iran’s nuclear programme:
- A constructive conference should be held before the next Non-proliferation treaty conference, between the five recognised nuclear weapons powers – the US, UK, China, Russia and France.
- A new drive is needed to revive the NPT and restore the broken consensus at its heart.
- A new Security Council resolution to close loopholes in the NPT, including the difficulty in getting a proliferating country before the UN Security Council (taking about two years) and preventing countries from withdrawing from the NPT as nuclear weapons powers.
- A mechanism to bring the dangerous nuclear fuel cycle under international control.
- Steps to strengthen the International Atomic Energy Agency and the international system of safeguards and inspections – IAEA monitors have had a greatly increased workload but haven’t had more resources.
- Steps to clamp down on the trafficking in nuclear technology and materials
- Steps to isolate proliferators from the international financial system
- A stronger international strategy to deal with Iran.
On Iran he also said the fact that sixty Iranian students had been allowed to study proliferation-sensitive nuclear physics course in the UK didn’t inspire confidence in there being a joined-up counter-proliferation strategy, and in answering a question said that whilst not the best course of action at the moment the option of military intervention couldn’t be ruled out in the future.
An arms control expert from Kings College said that the speech had made her think about changing political affiliation, to which Hague replied without missing a beat: "in which direction?!". She also asked about resolving the Israel/Palestine issue which Hague rightly said wasn’t in itself an answer to the nuclear proliferation problem.
It’s worth noting that as with Liam Fox’s speech on nuclear proliferation last October, the usual political hacks weren’t to be seen at today’s speech. You would have thought that warnings about time running out for tackling the biggest threat to our way of life should merit some mention in the media. Looking at the BBC website at the moment, and even the much more comprehensive PoliticsHome, it seems not!