Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


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 in approach.

  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 security—arms racing was in no-one's interests—but 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 national activities.

  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.[28]

  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 is crucial.

  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 adversaries.

  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 (BTWC)

  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 Missile Treaty

  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 world.

  15.  Russia clearly wants the US to take its concerns seriously—it 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 `advantage'.

  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 CTBT—banning nuclear explosive testing—was 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, three—India, Pakistan and North Korea—had 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 forces.

  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 shield.[29]

  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 period.

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 disarmament.

  35.  There are two fundamental problems with the NPT. Firstly, a handful of very important nuclear-capable states are not parties—India, Pakistan and Israel. And two states that are—North Korea and Iraq—have 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 disarmament—CTBT, 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 future.

    —  To achieve the necessary ratifications to enable early entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT)

    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 defence—something 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

    Prospects: Well-rehearsed 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 Conference on Disarmament urged immediately to establish a body with a mandate to deal with nuclear disarmament

    Prospects: Nothing concrete on the horizon.

    —  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 ICBMs.

    —  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

    Unilateral efforts

    Increased transparency

    Reduction of non-strategic weapons

    Reduction in the operational status of nuclear weapons

    Diminishing role for nuclear weapons in security policies

    All the nuclear weapon states to engage in the process of disarmament as soon as appropriate

    Prospects: Unilateral 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.

    —  Reaffirm the ultimate objective of general and complete disarmament

    Prospects: The achievement of this objective is not in sight.

    —  To provide regular reports on disarmament progress

    Prospects: Hopefully there will be progress to report on strategic reductions, if little else.

    —  Further development of verification capabilities relevant to assuring compliance with nuclear disarmament agreements and for achievement and maintenance of a nuclear weapon-free world

    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

Executive Director


September 2001

28   Joseph Cirincione, Director of Non-Proliferation Project, CEIP, Carnegie Analysis, 6 August, 2001. Back

29   See Rose Gottemoeller, Washington Post, 6 September 2001, p.A23. Back

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