Liam Fox, the shadow defence secretary, has called for stronger sanctions against Iran, warning that the country must not be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons.
By Murray Wardrop
March 30, 2010
Dr Fox said Iran is the “biggest single emerging threat that we face” but claimed not enough is being done to prevent it becoming a nuclear weapons state.
He warned that it was essential to thwart Iran’s attempts to arm itself with nuclear weapons or risk Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey following suit.
He attacked those who claim that renewing Trident, the British nuclear deterrent system, will be too expensive.
He compared the estimated £20 billion cost of renewal with the £12 billion cost of the London Olympics, saying: “You pay your money and you make your choices.”
During a debate at Chatham House in central London with Bob Ainsworth, the defence secretary, and Nick Harvey, the Liberal Democrat defence spokesman, Dr Fox said: “Iran is the biggest single emerging threat that we face. And yet it is so little on the political radar.
“You are either going to allow Iran to become a nuclear weapons state or you are not going to allow Iran to become a nuclear weapons state.
“There are three reasons why we shouldn’t allow it. Number one, the nature of the regime. In Iran you have an increasingly militarised state with a hardline theocrat at the top.
“Number two, this is a state where par excellence they are willing to export terror and instability as part of their foreign policy. I would not like to see fissile material added to that particular mix.
“And thirdly, if Iran becomes a nuclear weapons state, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt will follow.”
Dr Fox, who is opposed to unilateral disarmament for Britain, said we must not be left open to “nuclear blackmail”.
Asked about the Trident system he said: “People say it’s much too expensive with capital costs of £20-odd billion we can’t afford.
“But we’re willing to spend £12 billion on the Olympics for three weeks as opposed to 35 years of protection against nuclear blackmail.
“You pay your money and you make your choices.”
Dr Fox said the “unavoidable consequence” of Iran gaining nuclear weapons would be a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.
He said more pressure must be applied on Tehran, adding: “It’s inevitable that we are going to have to move to stronger sanctions and I think we should prepare for that.
“We should be preparing public opinion in Britain and in the rest of the European Union.”
Mr Ainsworth agreed that Iran presents a strong threat.
He said: “There are risks and there are tensions and the biggest single one is Iran. There’s North Korea as well.”
He said if Iran gained nuclear capability “we will wind up with a nuclear armed Middle East to a greater or lesser extent”, and added: “We have to persuade Iran not to go down that path.”
He continued: “Of course, in a proliferated world, nuclear defence may well become increasingly important but let’s not give up on counter proliferation.
He said Britain has to be prepared to engage with other countries to “reduce and potentially eliminate nuclear weapons in the future”.
Mr Harvey said it is important to keep the options open with regards to a British nuclear deterrent.
He said: “If you believe that the only way you can possibly have a nuclear deterrent is replacing the existing deterrent on a like-for-like basis, then you will fairly soon be persuaded to the notion that decisions have to be made now and contracts have to be signed.”
The debate comes two days after American and Russian presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev agreed to reduce their number of long-range nuclear weapons by about a third, from 2,200 to 1,550 each.
Foreign Secretary David Miliband said the pact must help pave the way for further reductions and the UK “stands ready” to take part in a future multilateral disarmament process.
Anti-nuclear campaigners urged the British Government to put its nuclear deterrent Trident system on the negotiating table, saying this would encourage France and China to make parallel cuts.