97. The White Paper envisages a role for the UK's
nuclear deterrent in deterring state-sponsored terrorism. It states
that "while our nuclear deterrent is not designed to deter
non-state actors, it should influence the decision-making of any
state that might consider transferring nuclear weapons or nuclear
technology to terrorists".
It also states that
we make no distinction between the means by which
a state might choose to deliver a nuclear warhead, whether, for
example, by missile or sponsored terrorists. Any state that we
can hold responsible for assisting a nuclear attack on our vital
interests can expect that this would lead to a proportionate response.
The White Paper also says that
A key element of our ability to exercise effective
deterrence in such circumstances is our capability precisely to
determine the source of material employed in any nuclear device.
We will retain and strengthen the world leading forensic capability
at the Atomic Weapons Establishment, Aldermaston in this area.
98. Some witnesses to our inquiry expressed scepticism
about the relevance of the UK's nuclear deterrent in deterring
state-sponsored terrorism. Dr Rebecca Johnson argues that "the
nuclear threat in these cases would be far less likely to deter
than existing collective political, diplomatic and economic tools,
and any nuclear use could profoundly compromise Britain's security
and international standing in the longer-term". She suggests
that extremist groups would not be deterred by nuclear weapons
and that, in fact, "their game plan could include provoking
a nuclear or similarly disproportionate retaliation in order to
turn moral outrage against the retaliator and recruit more people
to their causes".
Professor John Baylis argues that nuclear deterrence is "not
[to] work against non-state terrorist groups".
However, he suggests that "in circumstances where it is clear
that the terrorists are operating from a particular territory,
then deterrence aimed at the government of that state might work
but this invariably will not be the case".
99. We asked the Secretary of State how the UK's
nuclear deterrent would be relevant in deterring state-sponsored
terrorism. Mr Browne told us that "we might face at some
time in the future a rogue state which has [a nuclear] capability
and may want to use terrorists as proxies as a way of launching
weapons against us". This, he maintains, is what the White
Paper seeks to convey. He stated that "we are not saying
that we would deploy this as a deterrent or as an answer to what
people would generally consider to be the terrorist threat".
The White Paper, Mr Browne insisted, defined a specific type of
terrorist threat and asserted its relevance in that context. The
Government, he said, did not regard the nuclear deterrent as an
effective deterrent against terrorists themselves, but rather
against states sponsoring terrorism.
100. The Government
acknowledges that there is no current nuclear threat to the UK
but argues that nuclear weapons are needed as an insurance
policy against an uncertain future. Some of our witnesses
pointed to nuclear proliferation and noted that nuclear aggression
could only be deterred by the possibility of nuclear retaliation.
Othersincluding some who accepted the need for the deterrentfelt
that the Government's analysis of the threat was vague, flawed
and otherwise lacked logic, and many particularly expressed scepticism
about the efficacy of the deterrent in countering state-sponsored