The NPT and nuclear proliferation
116. Some of the witnesses to our inquiry argued
against the Government's proposal to retain and renew the nuclear
deterrent on the grounds that it would be damaging to international
negotiations to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons and
to the UK's credibility in those negotiations.
117. In the White Paper, the Government reiterates
the pledge made in the 2003 Defence White Paper that
we are committed to working towards a safer world
in which there is no requirement for nuclear weapons and continue
to play a full role in international efforts to strengthen arms
control and prevent the spread proliferation of chemical, biological
and nuclear weapons.
The current White Paper recounts the UK's efforts
to promote nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation through the
NPT, the Conference on Disarmament and the UN Disarmament Commission.
And it states that "we stand by our unequivocal undertaking
to accomplish the total elimination of nuclear weapons".
Reference is made to the Norwegian 7 Country Initiative, which
aims to foster fresh thinking on how we can take forward the three
pillars of the NPTaccess to nuclear technology for exclusively
peaceful purposes, non-proliferation and disarmament.
118. In evidence to us, the Secretary of State for
Defence maintained that the UK had "a good record in living
up to our international obligations in this regard". He told
we continue to support and we have made progress
in 13 practical steps towards the implementation of Article VI
agreed in 2000; we have ratified the Comprehensive Nuclear Test
Ban Treaty; we have increased our transparency by publishing historical
accounting records of our defence fissile material holdings; we
have pursued a widely welcomed programme to develop expertise
in methods and technologies that could be used to verify nuclear
disarmament on which we have produced a series of working papers,
culminating in a presentation to the 2005 NPT Review Conference.
119. Mr Browne also stated that
our priority remains to press for negotiations in
the Conference on Disarmament of the Fissile Material Cut-Off
Treaty; we welcome the draft text which the United States tabled
last year; we hope that all concerned are able to accept the very
broad mandate proposed and agree to open negotiations towards
a treaty without delay, and we are also actively engaged in the
global initiative to combat nuclear terrorism, where we will be
playing a key and active role in shaping and contributing to the
forward-looking programme of this important new development.
120. We asked what impact the White Paper would have
on the UK's non-proliferation efforts. Ms Mariot Leslie, Director,
Strategic Threats at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, told
us that "we found a gratifying degree of understanding for
the Government's decision on the part in particular of our NATO
allies but also a large number of other countries". According
to Ms Leslie, at the Conference on Disarmament "a number
of countries went out of their way to congratulate the Government
on the degree of transparency it had gone in for in the White
Paper," which, she said, was one of the 13 practical steps
agreed to by the 2000 NPT Review Conference.
121. Some witnesses to our inquiry, however, suggested
that the Government's justification of the retention and renewal
of the UK's nuclear deterrent as an insurance against an uncertain
future was an argument that could be used by other states in defending
their attempts to acquire nuclear weapons. CND, for example, argues
that "Trident replacement
will encourage nuclear proliferation".
It states that "it is vital that sincere initiatives are
taken, by the nuclear weapons states, towards disarmament, otherwise
non-nuclear weapons states may conclude that there is no reason
for them to stick to their side of the NPT bargain".
Similarly, Scottish CND maintains that "every nation in the
world could use the arguments suggested [in the White Paper] to
show why they needed the bomb," and that "if each country
only considers itself then nuclear proliferation will accelerate".
It argues that "we should be working with others to prevent
this apocalyptic future".
122. A similar argument is put forward by Dr Stephen
Pullinger, who maintains that
Essentially there is a tension in policy between
extolling the value of nuclear weapons for Britain's security
while seeking to deny such capability to others. The danger is
that by affording nuclear forces a high importance within national
defence and security strategies we undermine our efforts to persuade
other states that they can do without such forces themselves.
According to Dr Pullinger, this "double standard
goes to the heart of the link between nuclear weapon
possession and non-proliferation". In his opinion, it "prompts
the fundamental question as to whether it is possible to tackle
proliferation effectively, while still insisting that nuclear
weapons are necessary for Britain's security, but not for others".
He concludes that "the entire non-proliferation regime is
creaking under the strain" of this double standard and argues
that "unless we address its underlying problems it may disintegrate
with dire consequences for all of us".
123. David Broucher, a former head of the UK delegation
to the UN Disarmament Conference and now a Research Fellow at
the University of Southampton, maintains that, in absolute terms,
the UK's decision on whether to retain and renew its nuclear deterrent
will not encourage proliferation, but that its propaganda effect
may undermine the international consensus needed to prevent the
spread of nuclear weapons. He argues that
It seems most unlikely that would-be proliferators
would be influenced definitively either way by the UK's decision.
Strategic weapon policies emerge over decades for a wide variety
of reasons and are not susceptible to short-term change based
on the calculation of one other country
On the other hand,
the UK's decision will undoubtedly be used as a political defence
by would be proliferators, and the resulting propaganda will have
some influence with uncommitted countries whose support we need
to retain if we are to uphold the efficacy of non-proliferation
In the longer term the danger is that the UK's decision
will be taken as one of a number of factors indicating that nuclear
weapons are now a permanent feature of the international security
which could combine with other factors that are
already eroding confidence in the Non-proliferation Treaty and
contribute to a seismic shift in international security postures.
124. According to Mr Broucher, progress towards bilateral
and multilateral disarmament has "stalled, and even gone
into reverse". He argues that "the UK has ceased, for
whatever reason, to advocate multilateral nuclear disarmament
with any conviction" and he suggests that, in the absence
of any enthusiasm amongst the other nuclear weapon states, the
disarmament process "risks stagnating," a trend which
he fears "will not easily be reversed".
As a possible remedy, Mr Broucher argues that future international
agreements should, if necessary, rely on remote verification to
ensure compliance, such as that pioneered by the UK Atomic Weapons
Establishment, rather than insist upon on-site inspections, which
have hitherto impeded negotiations. He also suggests that further
consideration should be given to the idea of "security assurances"
as a means of discouraging further nuclear proliferation.
125. In a similar vein, Professor Michael MccGwire
argues that in any discussion over the future of the UK's nuclear
deterrent, consideration should be given to the "opportunity
costs" of retention and renewal"things Britain
could do and achieve (if it were not a nuclear weapon state)".
He maintains that, at present, the Non-Proliferation Treaty is
"increasingly in jeopardy". The nuclear weapon states,
he suggests, "are not observing their side of the bargain,"
and stand accused of employing "double standards," maintaining
their own nuclear arsenals whilst denying nuclear weapons to others.
According to Professor MccGwire, "the NPT is increasingly
seen as part of a larger Western conspiracy" and is "failing
the crucial test of being seen as "fair"".
126. The White
Paper states that the Government is committed to nuclear non-proliferation
and to the ultimate goal of nuclear disarmament. It cites a variety
of ways in which the Government has sought to achieve these objectives.
Some witnesses to our inquiry, however, have argued that the White
Paper gives insufficient attention to the implications of the
Government's decisions for non-proliferation efforts. Some argued
that the Government's proposals may actually encourage nuclear
proliferation and undermine the authority of the Non-Proliferation
Treaty. Others have argued that whether the UK opts for or against
retaining its nuclear deterrent, the decision will have a negligible
impact on global proliferation.
127. The reductions
in warhead numbers announced by the White Paper are significant
disarmament measures, but, in themselves, they do not amount to
a non-proliferation strategy. There is a need for a much stronger
narrative on the forward commitment of the Government to achieve
nuclear non-proliferation. The Government should not assume that
current activities such as those mentioned in respect of the Norwegian
7 Country Initiative have a wide currency. The Government should
explain how it will use its position at the Security Council,
as the only nuclear weapon state with a single platform and 1%
of the global arsenal, to give new momentum to what are widely
perceived as stalled non-proliferation treaty discussions. Without
a stronger narrative, the UK's decision to retain and renew its
nuclear deterrent might be seized upon by would-be proliferators
to justify their own efforts to acquire nuclear weapons, though
it remains the case that any non-nuclear state which is a signatory
to the NPT is in clear breach of its undertakings if it seeks
to acquire nuclear weapons.