96. There are difficulties inherent in anticipating
future threats to the security of the UK. It is not possible to
predict accurately the nature of the future strategic international
environment and to identify with any certainty the threats the
UK is likely to face.
97. In considering the future of the strategic nuclear
deterrent, Michael Codner told us that "we have to look into
the longer term and to a very cloudy future, and one in which
things could change very substantially".
"No prudent statesman," we heard, "would assume
the indefinite continuation of [the current relatively benevolent]
condition". Dr Lee Willett told us that recent history is
"littered with strategic shocks, things that we had not expected".
The point about the nuclear deterrent, Dr Willett stressed, is
that it "is there as a hedge, just-in-case capability, should
threats that require such a response come to pass".
Professor Colin Gray concurred with this analysis, emphasising
that "the future is deeply uncertain
. There are no
experts on the unknowable future. The first rule of statecraft
is prudence, do not take avoidable risks".
He continued, "in 2006, we can no more predict the strategic
history of the 21st Century, than our predecessors in 1906 could
predict what the 20th Century would bring".
98. Professor Gray argued that that although Russia
did not, at present, pose a direct military threat to the security
of the UK, its future political direction was deeply uncertain.
Russia, he argued, accords top priority in its defence policy
to modernising its nuclear weapons and has the lowest threshold
for nuclear use of any country's nuclear doctrine. He further
argued that Russia was deeply dissatisfied with its current situation,
that it has unsatisfactory relations on most of its borders, that
it was not reconciled to the loss of the Baltics, to the loss
of the Ukraine or to what had occurred in the Caucuses. NATO was
also pushing against its boundaries, which Russian policymakers
intently disliked. On this basis, Professor Gray argued that "the
notion that Russia was
. yesterday's problem is
unjustifiably optimistic assumption".
Other witnesses, however, believed that Professor Gray's view
was unduly pessimistic.
99. Professor Simpson, of the University of Southampton,
asserted that China did not, at present, represent a serious military
threat to the security of the UK and was unlikely to do so in
the future. Its main capability was short-range missiles which
were aimed primarily at Taiwan. Simpson pointed out that China
had never engaged in an arms race with any other nation and that
it was not driven to acquire additional nuclear weapons because
of specific concerns about other states; "they seem to want
a capability but do not want to go beyond that".
100. We were told that, in future, there could be
several additional nuclear powers, and that the nuclear Non-Proliferation
Treaty was currently under enormous pressure. David Broucher,
a former Head of the UK Delegation to the UN Disarmament Conference,
told us that "confidence in [the] treaty is flagging":
If the Non-Proliferation Treaty were to break
down, and if Iran develops a nuclear weapon, I think it is difficult
at this stage to be precise about which countries might follow
suit but there is a danger that you would see several countries
considering the nuclear option
. there are at least 15, perhaps
more, countries in the world that could develop a nuclear weapon
quite rapidly if they were to take the decision to do so.
101. The future of the Non-Proliferation Treaty is
likely to have a significant impact on the course of nuclear proliferation
in the coming decades. If the authority of the Treaty does not
recover, there is a danger that a number of states could develop
a nuclear weapons capability in a relatively short timeframe.
It could be argued that UK decisions on the future of its Trident
deterrent could affect the authority of the Treaty. Witnesses
to our inquiry have questioned the legality of replacing the Trident
system under the terms of Article 6 of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
We have not sought to address these concerns in this first report,
which focuses on the strategic context and timetable for decision-making.
102. Sir Michael Quinlan told us that, ultimately,
the strategic nuclear deterrent was an insurance policy against
the unknowable future. In considering the value of any insurance
policy, he argued, one had to undertake a cost-benefit analysis.
It would be possible, he believed, to design and build a nuclear
deterrent which was capable of countering most conceivable threats
to the security of the UK, but it would come at a significant
price. A lower level of insurance would protect against a narrower
range of threats for a lower price. According to Sir Michael,
when looking at future threats, policymakers would have to weigh
the likely threats against the available resources:
Life does not come with 100 per cent certainties
in either direction, but insurance policies are related to things
that may or may not happen. The hard question is: how much is
it worth? I am not an absolutist on this question at all. I would
want to know how much it is going to cost.
103. We call upon the MoD to consider publicly
the threats the UK faces today and how those threats may evolve
in the future. Such a threat assessment will shape any decision
on the future of the UK's strategic nuclear deterrent. We accept
that future threats are unknowable, but, clearly, a world in which
nuclear proliferation had taken hold would create deep uncertainties
in international relations. For this reason, the UK may wish to
retain a strategic nuclear capability as a guard against the unknown.
If the MoD believes in the value of the nuclear deterrent as an
insurance policy, rather than in response to any specific threat,
we believe it is important to say clearly that is the reason for
needing the deterrent.