Defence Committee

Session 2002-03, 14 April 2003

Press Notice No.19


ARMS CONTROL & DISARMAMENT (INSPECTIONS) BILL
THIRD REPORT (HC 321)


The Defence Committee today publishes its Third Report on the Arms Control & Disarmament (Inspections) Bill; a bill which will soon be considered by the House of Commons. The report is also available on the Committee's website.

The Bill will allow the UK to ratify a revision to the 1990 Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty , by giving additional rights of access to foreign military inspection teams visiting the UK (to check compliance with equipment limits).  The UK cannot ratify the adaptation of the Treaty until the Bill has been passed. But ratification depends on Russia satisfying commitments it made to withdraw its remaining forces from Georgia and Moldova (which it has not done) and to bring excess levels of tanks, armoured vehicles and other military equipment within specified limits (which it has). The Committee examines these factors, along with the implications of the Bill for private owners and businesses who might be subject to inspection, and concludes that the Bill should be passed.

Although the new treaty introduces a new type of inspection and increases the number of the existing types of inspection that each country is liable to host, the Committee concludes that it is unlikely in practice that the position for private owners and operators will be significantly different under the Adapted Treaty.

The Committee found that although Russia still has significantly more armoured combat vehicles in Europe's 'flank zone' (which includes Chechnya) than permitted under the 1990 Treaty, it would be in compliance with the ceilings for that area that would be introduced under the Adapted Treaty.  The Committee also found, however, that Russia's withdrawal from Georgia and Moldova has been beset by delays and is incomplete, in part because of local separatists (in Abkhazia in Georgia, and in Transdniestr in Moldova) and how they have impinged upon the wider relationships between Russia and Georgia and Moldova.

The Committee sees Russia having a pivotal role in creating the conditions that could encourage Georgia and Moldova to ratify the Treaty.  It concludes that the UK and other states should encourage Russia, for example, to provide sufficient security to allow an inspection of its base at Gudauta in Georgia, and to maintain pressure on Moldova and the Transdniestrian authorities to reach a settlement that would allow Russia to reduce its presence at its base at Colbasna in Moldova.

At the same time, the Committee cautions that care will be needed not to allow the differences between Russia and its two neighbours to hold the Adapted Treaty hostage. The Treaty promises real benefits in terms of increased security across Europe, and its implementation must not be delayed unnecessarily.

The Committee recommends that the House should pass this Bill, not least to send a clear message that the conditions for ratification are now beginning to fall into place. It would allow timely UK ratification once that is appropriate, but the Committee also calls on the Government to give a specific undertaking to give advance notice when it intends to proceed to ratification, to allow Parliament to re-examine the issues in their contemporary context.