3 The Strategic Nuclear Deterrent
and the UK's international influence |
57. Before any decisions on the future of the
deterrent are made, it will be important to consider whether the
possession of nuclear weapons enhances the UK's international
influence and status and whether this contributes to the justification
for retention of a strategic nuclear capability.
58. It has often been suggested that possession of
a strategic nuclear deterrent is fundamental to the UK's international
status, and that such a capability provides the UK with greater
authority in international political organisations and structures,
and enhanced status within Europe and in the world. It is said
that it helped to maintain a political balance in Europe, that
it acted as a safeguard against US disengagement from Europe,
and that it provided a balance against global insecurity.
59. Dr Lee Willett, of the Royal United Services
Institute, argued that eliminating the strategic nuclear deterrent
would leave France as the only nuclear power in Europe and that,
consequently, the UK could lose world status and influence, especially
with the United States. We were also told that abandonment of
the strategic nuclear deterrent would indicate that the UK intended
to take on a different role in international affairs and occupy
a different place in the world order.
60. In the course of our inquiry, several witnesses
questioned the assumption that possession of a strategic nuclear
deterrent enhances the UK's international influence. Sir Michael
Quinlan, a former Permanent Under Secretary at the MoD, told us
that he did not find the so-called 'seat at the top table' argument
either persuasive or attractive. Although "our possession
of nuclear weapons in a very general way gives us slightly greater
confidence in the way we act around the world", he believed
that the UK's permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council
was not dependent upon, nor functionally linked to, the possession
of a strategic nuclear deterrent capability. Sir Michael further
it is rather a pity that we have the confluence
between permanent membership of the Security Council and nuclear
weapons status, because that does not seem to me logical, necessary
or indeed politically desirable.
61. Other witnesses agreed with this contention.
Dr Dominick Jenkins of Greenpeace told us that the UK would not
lose its seat on the UN Security Council if it chose to give up
its strategic nuclear deterrent.
Similarly, Malcolm Savidge of the Oxford Research Group, testified
that the UK's membership of the Security Council "is based
on our position in World War II" and that it was entirely
"coincidental" that the Permanent Five became the established
nuclear powers. We heard that, in discussions on the reform of
the UN, there was no suggestion that India (a state which possesses
nuclear weapons) would be favoured for permanent membership of
the Security Council before Japan and Germany (neither of which
possess nuclear weapons).
Malcolm Savidge also argued that the UK gained no additional status
or influence within the G8 or the EU because of its possession
of nuclear weapons.
62. Others suggested that any attempt to link permanent
membership of the UN Security Council to possession of nuclear
weapons was potentially very dangerous. David Broucher, a former
UK Permanent Representative at the UN Conference on Disarmament,
told us that there was a widespread belief in the developing world
that the UK possessed nuclear weapons in order to guarantee its
seat on the Security Council. This erroneous perception, he said,
risked fuelling further nuclear proliferation as developing nations
sought to enhance their own international influence. For this
reason, Mr Broucher claimed that the so-called 'seat at the top
table' argument in favour of nuclear weapons was 'pernicious',
is it not better for us to establish that the
reason we have a seat at the top table is because we are a powerful
industrial nation with a great trading history and a great diplomatic
history and we are a member of more international organisations
than anyone else
I do not think you need to be waving the
big stick in order to justify your seat at the top table.
63. Professor Colin Gray, of the University of Reading,
disagreed with this contention and suggested that "it is
an historical fact that members of the Security Council have been
nuclear armed". He argued that "the notion that we can
change that unilaterally
flies in the face of historical
experience", and "to try and rewrite that would be very
difficult and not very persuasive". Ultimately, in his view:
the diplomatic cost to Britain of abandoning
her nuclear weapons would be very considerable and the case for
Britain maintaining her position [in the world] would become very
much more difficult if she does abandon her nuclear weapons.
64. Other witnesses took the opposing view, that
far from enhancing its international influence, possession of
nuclear weapons undermined the UK's prestige. Abandonment of the
nuclear deterrent, they argued, would allow the UK to assume a
leading role in international arms control agreements and thereby
bolster the UK's long-term interests and status. Dan Plesch, of
the School of Oriental and African Studies, argued that "this
country would be looked on much more favourably if it did not
have nuclear weapons" and "would be regarded as being
much more modern".
Dr Kate Hudson, Director of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament,
told us that:
there is an overwhelming demand from the vast
majority of countries in the world for the nuclear weapons states
to pursue their disarmament obligations, and the status and prestige
which would associate with taking a step in that direction would
be quite extraordinarily large.
65. It is clear that there is a difference of
views and no clear consensus that international influence is,
of itself, a reason to retain the strategic nuclear deterrent.
We recommend that the MoD make clear whether the Government believes
the possession of a nuclear deterrent is an important contributor
to the UK's international influence.
47 Ev 67 Back
Q 40 [Dr Willett], Ev 67 Back
Q 40 [Sir Michael Quinlan] Back
Q 200 Back
Q 202 Back
Q 103 Back
Q 104 Back
Q 40 [Mr Plesch] Back
Q 40 [Dr Hudson] Back