Significance of the reductions
57. Some witnesses to our inquiry have questioned
the significance of the reductions in the UK's nuclear weapons
stockpile announced in the White Paper. The Scottish CND, for
example, argues that "the White Paper does not propose any
reduction in the number of warheads deployed at sea" with
the result that "the reduction will be achieved by scrapping
warheads that are currently held in reserve, but operationally
available". It claims that since the "practical step
towards disarmament" of the 1998 Strategic Defence Review
was "the removal of 36 warheads from submarines," the
White Paper enables the Government to "make one reduction
but claim the credit for it twice".
Similarly, Paul Ingram, of BASIC, regards the warhead reductions
to be "almost irrelevant because we will still have 48 warheads
out on patrol at any time".
According to Mr Ingram, the decisions in the White Paper mean
that the Government is "planning to have pretty much a status
quo into the indefinite future".
Greenpeace, too, maintains that "the potential arsenal carried
by a Vanguard submarine on patrol remains unchanged despite any
wider stockpile changes proposed in the White Paper". It
argues that "whilst physical numbers might have changed"
since the end of the Cold War, "the actual capability of
Britain's nuclear weapons stockpile has increased".
58. Although broadly supportive of the White Paper,
Dr Jeremy Stocker, of the International Institute for Strategic
Studies (IISS), questioned the operational significance of the
reduction in warhead numbers. He argues that the White Paper offered
"no operational justification
for the 20% reduction
in operationally available warheads". He suggests that the
measure might have "more to do with diplomatic and domestic
political gestures than the requirements of a "minimum"
deterrent, the minimum size of which has been repeatedly reduced
since the end of the Cold War".
59. Other commentators suggest that logistical factors,
rather than a commitment to disarmament, lie behind the reduction
in warhead numbers. For example, Bruce Kent, of CND, told us that
the reductions in warhead numbers, though "certainly
more likely reflect "good housekeeping," the Government
reasoning that "there is no point spending fortunes on thousands
of violent weapons when you can do it with 50 or five".
Similarly, Di McDonald, of the Nuclear Information Service, suggested
that "all the reductions that there have been so far have
been for logistical reasons". She argues that the reductions
to date "have not been disarmament measures, they have been
measures to remove old weapons that have become obsolete and they
have been measures of efficiency". She maintains that "there
was never any stage that we reached the original 512 capability
number of warheads for Trident because it was actually impossible
in the way that Aldermaston is configured".
Dr Rebecca Johnson, Executive Director of the Acronym Institute
for Disarmament Diplomacy, meanwhile, argues that that while the
20% reduction "looks good," the new ceiling of 160 warheads
be little more than a political bid to make a virtue
out of necessity". Dr Johnson told us that this argument
is based upon calculations which have been made of "the frequency
and size of the nuclear warhead convoys between Aldermaston and
Coulport" which "suggest that Britain may not have manufactured
more than 160-170 warheads for the current Trident system".
Dr Johnson argues that, by proposing only minor reductions, the
White Paper effectively "proposes business as usual".
60. We asked the Secretary of State for Defence how
he would respond to these criticisms. He argued that the cuts
announced in the White Paper meant that "we will be dismantling
around 40 warheads". In his judgement, this represented "quite
a significant reduction in the number of warheads that we presently
have". He maintained that "people should not minimise
that, nor should they minimise the fact that we have in the time
we have had stewardship
of this deterrent halved the number
Mr Browne denied that any reduction had already taken place and
argued that the proposed cuts were the result of a review of the
UK's capability requirements. He stated that
This is the first time we have changed the size of
our stockpile since the decisions we announced in the Strategic
Defence Review in 1998 and it is driven by analysis, a very
hard analysis, of the capability that we believe we require
process was a difficult and challenging process and we went through
it with a view to ensuring that we did have the minimum deterrent
which has always been our policy.
61. We asked the Secretary of State what constituted
a minimum nuclear deterrent. He told us that it was "the
capability that we judge is necessary to provide an effective
deterrent posture". A "proper deterrent," he argued,
"needs to be not just minimum but credible and operationally
independent". It meant that the UK needed to be able "to
influence a potential enemy anywhere in the world" and affect
"the decision-making process of any potential future aggressors".
62. Mr Browne maintained that it was "instructive
that we have, as one of a small number of nuclear weapon states,
one percent of the nuclear warhead capability in the world".
He suggested that it was "clear that other countries take
a different view if they are seeking to achieve a minimalist approach".
And he argued that "we want
to engage others with a
view to minimising" their nuclear arsenals.
He concluded that "we are committed to maintaining the minimum
nuclear deterrent but that minimum has to offer a credible threat
to any potential aggressors".
63. We welcome
the reduction in warhead numbers announced in the White Paper
and recognise that this follows the significant reductions previously
announced in the 1998 Strategic Defence Review. We welcome this
arms reduction measure, but it is unclear whether this has significance
as a non-proliferation measure. Since the White Paper proposes
no changes to the number of warheads deployed on UK submarines,
it is unclear that this reduction has any operational significance.
64. The White
Paper states that the UK is committed to maintaining a "minimum"
nuclear deterrent. The Secretary of State told us that the Government
had conducted a very hard analysis of the nuclear capabilities
required by the UK with a view to ensuring that they were at a
minimum necessary level, but we are uncertain how the Government
determines what constitutes a "minimum" deterrent. The
Government should say how it calculates the scale of a minimum