Emily Thornberry (Islington South and Finsbury) (Lab)
Before I respond to the Foreign Secretary, I am sure the whole House will join me in sending our thoughts to the families of all those killed over the summer in the terrorist attacks in Barcelona and across the world, including seven-year-old Julian Cadman. Given the subject we are discussing, it does us all well to remember that some 8 million children like Julian, under the age of 10, live on the Korean peninsula today.
I thank the Foreign Secretary for advance sight of his statement, and I join him in unreservedly condemning North Korea for the flagrant breaches of international law that have brought us to this sorry pass. I have three questions prompted by his statement. First, although he mentioned the new sanctions regime agreed on 5 August, he will know that we are still in the early stages of enforcing the last set of sanctions agreed last November. Indeed, only 80 countries have so far submitted implementation reports on the new sanctions regime, so how does he propose to ensure that these new sanctions are implemented quickly and effectively and given time to work?
Secondly, on the strategy outlined by the Foreign Secretary, he will have seen the article today by his predecessor, William Hague, considering whether the strategic goal will eventually shift from preventing North Korea achieving nuclear capability to accepting that that capability exists and seeking, in some form, to contain it. Does the Foreign Secretary agree with his predecessor? Has the Foreign Office planned for that scenario?
Thirdly, given the threat to Japan and South Korea, the Foreign Secretary will be aware of the suggestion that they should now be allowed to develop their own nuclear weapons as a response to Pyongyang. Does he agree with me that that would be utter madness? Surely it cannot be a serious suggestion that the world’s response to North Korea breaching the non-proliferation treaty should be to encourage other countries to do the same. Surely our goal must be the denuclearisation of the entire region.
Beyond the substance of the Foreign Secretary’s statement, I welcome its careful and judicious tone. After a summer of utterly reckless rhetoric from Washington and Pyongyang, we urgently need some cool heads and calm words, especially now that we have drifted from that dangerous escalation of rhetoric into the even more dangerous escalation of actions. With every ratcheting up of words and deeds, the risk grows. That escalation will lead to miscalculation and a war will begin, not by design but by default.
Faced with that situation, we are told that all options remain under consideration and that no options have been ruled out, but if any of those options risks 10 million people in Seoul being, in the Foreign Secretary’s words, “vaporised”, or similar devastation in North Korea and Japan, we have to say that those options should be in the bin. The reality is that the only sane option is, as William Hague wrote today, dialogue and diplomacy. That means a deliberate de-escalation of rhetoric and actions, it means properly enforcing the new sanctions regime, and it means restarting the six-party talks to seek a new and lasting settlement.
Yet we have a US ambassador to the UN who says,
“the time for talk is over.”
We have a President who says,
“talking is not the answer”.
Although in his case I would usually be inclined to agree, for the US to turn its back on diplomacy at this stage is simply irresponsible and, as its closest ally, we must be prepared to say so.
Although we welcome the Foreign Secretary’s statement, the real test is what comes next. Will Britain be a voice of calm and reason on the world stage? Will we ally ourselves with Angela Merkel? She told the German Parliament today:
“there can only be a peaceful and diplomatic solution”.
If the answer is yes, and if that is the route the Government take, they will have our full support; but if they pretend that military options involving decapitation, annihilation, fire and fury belong anywhere but in the bin, and if they swear blind loyalty to Donald Trump no matter what abyss he drags us towards, they will be risking a hell of a lot more than just losing our support. I urge the Foreign Secretary and his colleagues to remain calm and judicious in their approach, to discount all so-called military solutions and to steer a course towards the only options that work: dialogue, diplomacy and peace.