Memorandum from the International Security
Information Service (ISIS)
This memorandum is intended to assist the Committee
with an update of developments in the area of arms control since
the publication of "Weapons of Mass Destruction", (Eighth
Report, Session 1999-2000, HC 407) produced by the Committee's
predecessor in the previous Parliament. It will seek to address
the Committee's remit:
"To inquire into relations between the
United Kingdom and the United States, and the implications of
US foreign policy for United Kingdom interests. "
1. A new US Administaration: a new approach
to arms control
1. There is mounting evidence that US arms
control policy has undergone a significant shift in recent times,
and especially so since President Bush has become President. This
shift is partly in response to a dramatically altered strategic
landscape, exemplified by the demise of the Soviet Union, but
it is also due to a more fundamental and conscious alteration
2. In broad terms, the traditional orthodoxy
regarded arms control as a benign force for enhanced security.
Arms control treaties were co-operative arrangements whereby states
accepted restraints themselves in return for similar restraints
by others (allies and potential foes alike). These agreements
reflected a mutual recognition of common securityarms racing
was in no-one's interestsbut also performed a more positive
role in establishing norms of acceptable international behaviour
- for example, in rendering certain types of weaponry totally
unacceptable. As with any multilateral, treaty-based regime states
parties had to be prepared to negotiate with others and thence
to take on obligations and to accept some restraints on their
3. International efforts to control weapons
of mass destruction (WMD) led to the negotiation of a number of
multilateral and bilateral treaties and other mechanisms that
together comprise the present non-proliferation regime. This regime
has grown into a complex inter-woven framework of agreements,
each one of which is interconnected in some way with the whole.
Consequently, any attempt to seriously disrupt one element will
have disturbing ripple effects throughout the construct. As one
leading US analyst has described it:
Taking elements we don't like out of the
regime structure starts a dangerous round of Jenga, the tabletop
game where blocks are sequentially removed from a wooden tower
until the whole structure collapses.
4. Yet this is precisely the process that
some now fear has already begun. The US, as the only remaining
superpower, is the most significant player in shaping the future
of the WMD non-proliferation regime: its approach to these matters
5. The new Republican Administration has
decided that the overriding priority of US national security
policy should be to ensure that the US acquires the military capability
to prevail in any future conflict. Consequently, it is no longer
prepared to accept those treaty restraints that hinder or prevent
its pursuit of that objective.
6. Whereas the bi-polar Cold War world was
one in which the US came to accept the impossibility of `winning'
a major war with the Soviet Union, the new strategic reality is
very different. Russia is no longer viewed as a potential adversary.
According to the present US Administration the new enemies will
be rogue states, such as North Korea, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan
and Libya. States that the US should not be afraid to confront
and to defeat militarily, if necessary.
7. Publicly at least, China is not being
spoken of in the same terms but privately a number of leading
Republicans regard China as the emerging strategic competitor
to the US and would include it on the list of potential future
8. This is the background to the US Administration's
approach to arms control agreements past, present and future.
The key question for this inquiry, as the Committee has rightly
identified, is what are the implications of US policy for the
UK national interest? What is clear is that our closest ally currently
has strong views on the way forward, if the UK is to uphold its
interests it will need to display equal fortitude, presenting
its case with clarity and conviction.
2. Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention
9. Before considering developments in nuclear
arms control and the related debate about missile defence it is
worth mentioning the BTWC as recent events here are indicative
of the new US thinking already alluded to.
10. The BTWC of 1972 banned all biological
and toxin weapons but included no verification provision to check
that states parties were complying with that obligation. Hence,
efforts began in 1994, spurred by the discovery of a clandestine
BW programme in Iraq, to rectify this deficiency. After seven
years of painstaking international negotiations a draft protocol
was produced for states parties to approve.
11. The Bush Administration's decision to
reject this verification protocol at the eleventh hour was a crushing
blow all those who had striven so hard to reach an agreement.
It was especially painful to the UK as its negotiators had not
only invested enormous energy into the talks but had also made
considerable efforts to accommodate US concerns.
12. Essentially, the US position is schizophrenic.
On the one hand, the US objects to the protocol's inability to
guarantee that cheating would be detected and yet, on the
other hand, it feels unable to accept even these `inadequate'
verification measures being applied to itself.
3. Missile Defence and the Anti-Ballistic
13. US plans to pursue a strategic missile
defence programme have put it on a collision course with the terms
of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty it signed with the
Soviet Union in 1972. This treaty forbids a national missile defence,
although it does allow limited `point' defences around a single
site. It also bans the development, testing and deployment of
sea-, air-, space- and mobile land-based missile defence systems.
Because the US would like to explore the development of all such
systems and to be able to break out of the restrictions on "point"
defences it wants to replace the ABM treaty.
14. The Russians are resisting pressure
to ditch the ABM treaty because it guarantees the continuing credibility
of its nuclear deterrent vis-a"-vis the US, and the Bush
Administration has not provided (yet at least) any proper assurances
that this credibility will be preserved in any post-ABM Treaty
15. Russia clearly wants the US to take
its concerns seriouslyit wants to be treated as an important
player, whose views matter. A deal between the two is conceivable
whereby Russia agrees to new US missile defences (as long as these
are constrained sufficiently so as not to neutralise the Russian
deterrent) in return for further deep cuts in offensive forces
and a series of other inducements and rewards. The US wants Russia
to agree to replace the ABM Treaty with a new political agreement,
but has made it clear that it is prepared to proceed with missile
defence without Russian acquiescence if necessary.
16. Obviously, Russia would like to extract
the maximum price for its acceptance of moving beyond the ABM
Treaty. But at the same time it will suffer if the US refuses
to pay that price and proceeds regardless. Failure either to constrain
US missile defences (possibly provoking an expensive Russian re-MIRVing)
or to pocket the other inducements on offer would be an undesirable
outcome for Moscow. On the other hand, if Russia feels that it
has no choice but to resist unreasonable US pressure on missile
defence it cannot be expected to simply roll over and accept the
new situation without complaint.
17. As things stand at present, if the ABM
Treaty falls, Russian co-operation regarding limitations on its
missile technology exports could be jeopardised, along with any
prospect of reversing its close nuclear relationship with Iran.
It might even halt the current programmes through which it receives
assistance with the dismantling of its nuclear weaponry and infrastructure,
as part of a general move to become less transparent. In summary,
an affronted Russia, seeking ways of annoying the US and maximising
its foreign currency receipts could act in ways seriously detrimental
to western security interests.
18. Similarly China, with whom Russia may
form a closer anti-American alliance, could revert to its bad
old ways in terms of missile and nuclear exports, a course from
which it is still only painstakingly being teased. Fearful of
a "protected" Taiwan, China might even be tempted to
act militarily against its former territory before the missile
defence umbrella descends upon it.
19. It is extremely important that Russia
and China are reconciled to US plans for missile defence. Their
continued active participation in the multilateral arms control
and anti-proliferation process is critical for the effectiveness
of that process. If the US acts unilaterally, without due care
and attention to the sensitivities of these other major nuclear
powers the consequences could be grave.
20. The rest of this memorandum considers
in more detail some of the possible implications for arms control
if agreement is not reached over missile defence.
4. START and strategic reductions
21. The Russians and the US are discussing
further reductions in strategic offensive weapons in the context
of their talks on missile defence and the ABM Treaty. Previously,
the START I agreement reduced strategic nuclear warheads to a
maximum of 6,000 each, and START II will cut them down to no more
than 3,500 each. Within a few years, however, the Russian strategic
nuclear arsenal looks set to fall well below this level through
aging and lack of funds to maintain it (perhaps 1,000 warheads
by the end of the decade). Hence, it wants to secure US agreement
to cut both sides' forces to a maximum of 1,500 warheads or even
less. The US, soon to announce the results of its nuclear posture
review, will probably agree to go lower than 3,500 but perhaps
only to 2,000-2,500 warheads. Whatever mutual reductions are agreed
upon they are unlikely to be codified in any formal treaty arrangement.
22. Hopes remain that the US and Russia
can strike a "grand bargain" whereby Russia agrees to
allow missile defence to proceed in a manner guaranteed not to
challenge its own deterrent in return for further deep cuts in
offensive forces. Failure to reach agreement followed by a US
withdrawal from the ABM treaty could see Russia pull out of START
II (its ratification of which was dependent on the ABM treaty's
continuation), and perhaps also the Intermediate Nuclear Forces
(INF) treaty. This may not trigger a dramatic increase in weapons,
although Russia has plenty of stored warheads with which it could
re-MIRV its ICBMs, the really serious consequence would be Russia's
probable retreat from transparency and co-operation in the wider
arms control and non-proliferation process.
23. China's reaction to missile defence
is likely to be to continue with, and probably accelerate, the
modernisation of its strategic nuclear forces, which could have
detrimental regional repercussions if India and thence Pakistan
felt compelled to respond by weaponising their latent nuclear
capabilities. Even Japan could start to think again about the
wisdom of its nuclear weapon abstention. It is difficult to predict
precisely the implications in South and East Asia of a breakdown
in multilateral nuclear arms control but the response cycle is
unlikely to be virtuous.
5. Fissile Cut-Off
24. Achieving an end to the production of
fissile materials (plutonium and highly-enriched uranium (HEU))
for nuclear weapons purposes is a crucial component of international
efforts to bring about disarmament. Attempts to negotiate such
a ban, however, have made no progress since 1996 because it has
proved impossible to agree a negotiating mandate. Four of the
five acknowledged nuclear weapon states have already halted production
of such material, and declared moratoria: China being the exception.
25. The problems are that certain threshold
states, such as Israel, India and Pakistan, want to continue producing
fissile materials whilst a number of states want stockpiles, as
well as future production to be considered, because they do not
want to allow the nuclear weapon states to freeze their stockpile
26. If the ABM Treaty falls and the START
process stalls as a result of missile defence proceeding without
the agreement of the major powers, the prospects of a fissile
cut-off treaty being successfully concluded will become even more
unlikely. Those who are increasing their nuclear arsenals, including
China, will not agree to stop producing the material necessary
to make such weapons.
6. Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT)
27. The CTBTbanning nuclear explosive
testingwas successfully completed in 1996 following many
years of exhaustive negotiation. Although the treaty cannot prevent
the development of a crude nuclear bomb it can prevent the ability
of the possessor to discover whether or not the device will work
as planned. It can also prevent the development of more sophisticated
devices such as the miniaturization necessary to place nuclear
warheads onto ballistic missiles.
28. The five acknowledged nuclear weapon
states signed the treaty convinced that they could maintain their
existing arsenals through computer simulation techniques and that
the international verification provisions would provide adequate
assurances of detecting any cheating.
29. There are two major problems outstanding.
Firstly, the CTBT requires 44 named states (those deemed nuclear
capable) to ratify the treaty before it can enter into force.
As of mid-September 2001, of those 44 states, threeIndia,
Pakistan and North Koreahad yet to sign and ten more had
yet to ratify. Secondly, certain threshold states, especially
India, believe the CTBT gives the nuclear weapon states an unfair
advantage because, unlike states such as India, their computer
techniques will allow them to continue modernising their nuclear
30. A number of current non-parties, including
India, Pakistan and China appear to be waiting to see if the US
will ratify the treaty before making their own final decisions.
But the US Senate has refused to ratify the CTBT once and the
present Administration is in no hurry to try again. Indeed, President
Bush has asked for a report on the US's state of readiness to
resume testing should that be deemed necessary.
31. Although there are no concrete signs
yet that the US intends to withdraw from the CTBT the interest
by some in the Administration to develop new `bunker busting'
nuclear warheads could lead to pressure to change policy. There
have even been reports that the US might be prepared to turn a
blind eye if China decided it needed to resume testing in order
to develop warheads capable of penetrating any new US missile
32. The US's refusal to ratify the CTBT
is a major setback for the treaty's prospects of entry into force
and jeopardizes efforts to completely de-legitimize nuclear testing.
In other words, it threatens to make it easier for rogue states
and others to justify testing their nuclear weapons and thereby
to develop offensive nuclear capabilities.
33. The Foreign Affairs Committee's conclusion
in 2000 that the CTBT's early entry into force is "vital"
to Britain's security interest remains just as true today. Unfortunately,
the likelihood of this happening has receded over the intervening
7. Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)
34. The NPT is the cornerstone of the nuclear
arms control and disarmament regime. This treaty acknowledges
that five states possess nuclear weapons but forbids all other
parties from doing so (currently 182 states). However, this division
is only an interim one as the five nuclear weapons states (NWS)
are committed, under Article VI, to move towards complete nuclear
35. There are two fundamental problems with
the NPT. Firstly, a handful of very important nuclear-capable
states are not partiesIndia, Pakistan and Israel. And two
states that areNorth Korea and Iraqhave nevertheless
pursued clandestine nuclear weapon programmes. Secondly, a significant
number of non-nuclear weapon-states are dissatisfied with the
progress the nuclear weapon states are making towards fulfilling
their nuclear disarmament obligations.
36. In 1995 the NPT was extended indefinitely.
This was achieved primarily for two reasons. Firstly, the improving
record of the nuclear weapons states on arms control through the
START process (as well as unilateral reductions by the UK and
France). Secondly, because of their promise to pursue a future
series of `Principles and Objectives' on nuclear disarmamentCTBT,
Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty, and the pursuit of nuclear disarmament
more systematically and progressively.
37. At the NPT's Review Conference in Spring
2000 a number of main steps towards disarmament were agreed. These
are set out below. They are accompanied by my comments on the
prospects for these steps being taken successfully in the foreseeable
To achieve the necessary ratifications
to enable early entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban
Prospects: The current
US administration apparently has no intention of re-submitting
the CTBT for Senate ratification anytime soon, which will continue
to deter other states from ratifying.
A moratorium on nuclear tests
pending entry into force of the CTBT
Prospects: China and Russia
may decide that they need to test new warheads capable of overcoming
any US missile defencesomething the US itself has already
acknowledged. The US President has asked for an assessment of
how soon the US could resume nuclear testing.
The immediate commencement of
negotiations on a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty (FMCT) with
a view to their conclusion within five years
differences remain with no foreseeable prospect of talks starting.
China's intention to expand its nuclear arsenal, perhaps exacerbated
by US missile defence, adds to the pessimistic outlook.
The principle of irreversibility
in nuclear disarmament to apply
Prospects: With most arsenals
being reduced the prospects for this are better, although China
is still expanding its strategic nuclear forces and fears that
this could trigger reactions in India and thence Pakistan. There
is a risk that missile defence could provoke a re-MIRVing of Russian
An unequivocal commitment to complete
nuclear disarmament by the nuclear weapon states.
Prospects: Although this
commitment was made, none of the nuclear powers currently is seriously
contemplating implementing it to the full.
The early entry into force and
full implementation of START II and the conclusion of START III
as soon as possible while "preserving and strengthening the
ABM Treaty as a cornerstone of strategic stability and as a basis
for further reductions in offensive weapons"
Prospects: This has been
overtaken by events. If the US and Russia can reach agreement
on missile defence we may be able to get further strategic reductions
in offensive strategic nuclear weapons (though not through a formal
START III) while seeing the ABM Treaty amended or replaced in
a mutually acceptable fashion. On the other hand, Russia is committed
to withdraw from START II if the US pulls out of the ABM Treaty.
The completion and implementation
of the Trilateral Initiative between the US, Russia and the IAEA
Prospects: Progress is
being made to ensure the transparency and irreversibility of commitments
regarding fissile material rendered excess through arms control
agreements. There is a danger that if missile defence pushes Russia
into becoming less transparent about its nuclear activities it
may stop telling the US what it is doing with the fissile material
extracted from dismantled weapons. Accounting for the whereabouts
of such material is vital for non-proliferation purposes. Losing
track of it would be very worrying.
Steps towards nuclear disarmament
Reduction of non-strategic weapons
Reduction in the operational status of nuclear
Diminishing role for nuclear weapons in security
All the nuclear weapon states to engage in the
process of disarmament as soon as appropriate
US reductions in offensive strategic nuclear weapons are almost
assured. These cuts will be reciprocated by Russia if there is
agreement on missile defence. Without agreement on missile defence
Russia may re-MIRV some of its missiles, although warhead numbers
overall may fall from present levels as weapons atrophy faster
than new ones are introduced. Russia would probably become far
less transparent about its nuclear holdings and activities and
China would not become more so (as a logical response to wanting
to keep US missile defences `in the dark') and the operational
status of Russia's offensive weapons would remain on hair-trigger
alert. It is difficult to see how nuclear weapons could play a
`diminishing role' in this context. Russia sees nuclear
weapons as offsetting its conventional inferiority, China is expanding
its strategic nuclear arsenal and although the US is reducing
numbers of warheads its nuclear posture review is expected to
identify new roles for the remaining ones. A multilateral engagement
in the `process of disarmament' looks like wishful thinking.
Arrangements to place all fissile
material no longer needed for military purposes under IAEA or
other relevant international verification and to ensure it remains
permanently outside military programmes.
Prospects: This depends
on states' perceptions of the permanence of their nuclear reductions.
Missile Defence adds to the uncertainty in this respect.
To provide regular reports on
Prospects: Hopefully there
will be progress to report on strategic reductions, if little
Further development of verification
capabilities relevant to assuring compliance with nuclear disarmament
agreements and for achievement and maintenance of a nuclear weapon-free
Prospects: This depends
on the major nuclear powers remaining within the framework of
existing multilateral treaties and of their continued confidence
in its importance to their national security.
38. Any decision by the US to abandon the
ABM Treaty unilaterally would raise wider concerns that the US
has "given up" on the multilateral, treaty-based approach
to tackling proliferation, preferring instead to pursue its own
unilateral strategy. Its refusal to ratify the test-ban treaty
(CTBT), along with its rejection of the Biological Weapons Convention
protocol, International Criminal Court, Landmines Convention and
Kyoto protocol has caused widespread concern in other Western
capitals. The danger is that if the largest, most powerful state
in the world, believes that its interests are best served by going
it alone, others will take their cue and follow suit. Confidence
in the non-proliferation regime would then dissipate.
39. If the British Government continues
to believe that the international community can only tackle non-proliferation
effectively on a multilateral basis, it should use its influence
to impress upon the US Administration the value of its case. Just
as international terrorism cannot be addressed unilaterally, nor
can trying to cope with the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
We all have a common interest in preventing nuclear, chemical
and biological weapons from falling into the wrong hands.
Dr. Stephen Pullinger
28 Joseph Cirincione, Director of Non-Proliferation
Project, CEIP, Carnegie Analysis, 6 August, 2001. Back
See Rose Gottemoeller, Washington Post, 6 September
2001, p.A23. Back