Other Questions. - Nuclear Disarmament.

Jim Higgins


7 Mr. Higgins (Mayo) asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will give details of progress on international nuclear disarmament. [8309/00]

The end of the Cold War provided a unique opportunity for progress in the field of nuclear disarmament. The extension of the non-proliferation treaty in 1995 renewed the prospects for the early achievement of the goal of the total elimination of nuclear weapons, as called for by Article VI of the treaty. In spite of recent unilateral steps taken by some nuclear weapons states to lessen the role of nuclear weapons in their defence strategies, the promise of incremental nuclear disarmament, witnessed in the early 1990s, has not been realised and the process has stalled. In the interim the retention of nuclear weapons has again been rationalised long after the causes that originally gave rise to their development had disappeared.

The nuclear testing by India and Pakistan in 1998 and the continuing failure of India, Israel and Pakistan to adhere to the non-proliferation treaty must be seen as serious additional threats to the achievement of nuclear disarmament. It was in this context that Ireland, together with Brazil, Egypt, Mexico, New Zealand, Slovenia, South Africa and Sweden launched the initiative Towards a Nuclear Weapons Free World: The Need for a New Agenda in 1998. The purpose of this initiative, which currently numbers over 60 co-sponsoring countries at the UN, is to secure a more committed and rapid process leading to the early elimination of nuclear weapons.

In line with Ireland's unique role in proposing the non-proliferation treaty and its promotion over the 30 years of its existence, the Government continues to pursue the goal of early elimination of nuclear weapons wherever we are represented, especially at the UN, the conference on disarmament and the review conference of the NPT. We will contribute actively to the forthcoming review conference of the parties to the non-proliferation treaty in April. The Minister for Foreign Affairs will lead the Irish delegation.

The EU is the single biggest economic and political bloc in the world and it is growing as a security bloc. Where precisely in the EU is this matter being discussed and considered?

I am not sure I understand the question. The European security and defence policy is part of the Petersberg Tasks and not mutual defence commitments.

What has the Minister of State done to put it on the agenda of the EU? She does not know where it is being discussed because it is not on the agenda. She has spoken of high and mighty matters and has referred to various initiatives.

I can only outline the steps the Government has taken. The most recent has been the need for the new agenda initiative in 1998, which has been co-sponsored by 60 countries at the UN. We will be actively contributing to the forthcoming review conference of the parties to the non-proliferation treaty in April. If there are more detailed requests I will arrange for the Minister to reply directly to the Deputy.

I welcome the steps taken by the Government on this issue at international and UN level. With Deputy Mitchell, I would be happier if it also took the matter up in the EU because the question of a common foreign and security defence is currently being debated in the EU. Has the Government put forward views on the current status of nuclear deterrence and first strike, which NATO, for instance, retains? Given the views expressed by the Taoiseach last night that a common defence by the EU would simply replicate NATO, should that give rise to questions about our attitude to nuclear deterrence in the European context?

The issue for discussion in the European security and defence policy is the Petersberg Tasks and not mutual defence commitments. The Petersberg Tasks as defined in the Amsterdam Treaty are humanitarian, rescue, peace-keeping and crisis management tasks. All 15 member states, including countries which share our commitment to nuclear disarmament, are active members in the SDP debate. Contrary to misleading newspaper reports, there is no question of the Army being forced to fight countries with nuclear weapons in an EU role. I am sorry if that is not a comprehensive reply, but I have no information before me on whether nuclear disarmament has been raised at the EU. If it has been raised I am sure the Minister will deal with it.

Is the Government raising it with the EU?

I am not aware it is doing so. It is not my area.

Is the Minister of State aware of the US plans for the star wars system over Europe, based in Yorkshire, England, and that these developments are being viewed in a grave light, not only by the Russians but the Chinese? Is she also aware that it is a contradiction to the ABM treaty? Has the Government voiced its concern about this in the EU, to the Americans and to the British? With regard to progress in the EU and the formation of a European defence identity, has the Government made its views explicit on nuclear weapons and that we are opposed to the concept of the first use of such weapons?

Has the Government instructed our ambassador to NATO to raise this issue there?

Together with other member states of the EU we have indicated our disappointment at the failure of the US legislature to approve the ratification of the comprehensive test ban treaty. However, we have also welcomed the repeated commitment by the US Government to persist with the process of ratification in order that this treaty may enter into force at the earliest possible date. We have expressed our disquiet at any action which would call into question the ABM treaty, which is the cornerstone of nuclear disarmament and we will continue to monitor discussions between the US and the Russian Federation on reaching agreement on this issue. As to whether our Ambassador to NATO has raised this, I have no information on that on file but we can communicate with the Deputies separately.

To whom did the Minister of State voice her concerns?

We have already exceeded the six minutes.

To the Secretary of State.