Memorandum from the Campaign for Nuclear
The government's White Paper, The Future of
the United Kingdom's Nuclear Deterrent, is an inadequate and pedestrian
response to the enormous security challenges facing Britain and
the world today. It lacks any vision of how Britain can help take
steps to shape the future security context, passively clinging
to old arguments and justifications. It recognises neither the
opportunities that are presented by new thinking on nuclear weapons
in the post-cold war framework, nor the threats that are posedand
indeed exacerbatedby continuing its nuclear policy in the
same old way. The White Paper also misrepresents both Britain's
obligations under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and the
position of the International Court of Justice on the use, or
threat of use, of nuclear weapons. These points are explored in
greater detail below.
1. How the government fails to take steps
to shape the future security context
The government argues that it is necessary to
retain nuclear weapons for the purpose of "Insuring against
an Uncertain Future". The White Paper outlines an appalling
string of possibilities, including: the re-emergence of a major
nuclear threat; the emergence of more nuclear states; the possibility
of state-sponsored nuclear terrorism; wider instability owing
to weak and failing states; resource crises over energy and water;
problems due to population growth, rapid economic development
and climate change. Rather than looking to find ways to solve
these problems, the government concludes that it is therefore
necessary to go ahead with a new nuclear weapons system. But this
decision will do nothing to reduce the risk of these terrible
things happening. On the contrary it is a policy that will increase
the risk it claims to wish to prevent, promoting a new nuclear
arms race, and reinforcing the notion that building more weapons
of mass destruction provides security. Many people have come to
the view that a new approach is necessary. Many from across the
party spectrum in Britain, who have strongly supported nuclear
weapons in the past, have concluded that they are no longer relevant.
This is also the case internationally. One of the most significant
recent statements on this issue comes from the US, from Henry
Kissinger, former US secretary of state 1973-77, George Shultz,
former US secretary of state 1982-89, William Perry, former US
defence secretary 1994-97, and Sam Nunn, former Chairman of the
Senate Armed Services Committee. They note the current proliferation
dangers and argue that "the world is now on the precipice
of a new and dangerous nuclear era". But they do not use
this as an argument for the US developing new nuclear systems.
Rather they argue that:
"Nuclear weapons today present tremendous
dangers, but also an historic opportunity. US leadership will
be required to take the world to the next stageto a solid
consensus for reversing reliance on nuclear weapons globally as
a vital contribution to preventing their proliferation into potentially
dangerous hands, and ultimately ending them as a threat to the
They argue that there is an urgent need for
a rekindling of the vision of Reagan and Gorbachev for a nuclear
weapons free world, and for a consensus on practical steps to
bring this about. Indeed, they outline several concrete proposals
to work towards achieving the twin goals of disarmament and non-proliferation.
This is clearly a path that can be pursued to help shape the future
security context, rather than contributing to an escalation of
nuclear tension and proliferation and then waiting for an inevitable
nuclear conflict. But we do not get any inkling of this type of
vision from our own government, in spite of its professed commitment
to its obligations under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
We hear from the Prime Minister, in his foreword to the White
Paper, that "None of the present recognised nuclear weapons
States intends to renounce nuclear weapons, in the absence of
an agreement to disarm multilaterally". There seems to be
no comprehension that Britain could itself takes steps to promote
such a development. CND and others have pressed the government
to support Hans Blix's proposal for a global summit on nuclear
disarmament and non-proliferation, but this has not received a
positive response. Proposals that Britain should give its support
to the draft Nuclear Weapons Convention to ban nuclear weapons,
lodged at the UN, are also turned down on the basis that this
would cut across our NPT commitments. The logic is hard to follow.
It appears that the government does not want to shape a different
future, to find a way to promote a disarmament process, of which
a decision not to replace Trident could be part. Through its short-sighted
actions, the government is contributing to nuclear escalation
and eventual nuclear war.
To initiate a Global Summit on Nuclear
Disarmament and Non-Proliferation.
To support the draft Nuclear Weapons
Convention, lodged at the United Nations.
2. How the government contributes to proliferation
When the government makes its "Responses
to Counter-Arguments", it fails to address one of the most
compelling arguments against Trident replacementthat it
will encourage nuclear proliferation. This point was made last
year by Kofi Annan, who linked the failure to disarm with the
danger of nuclear proliferation: "the more that those states
that already have [nuclear weapons] increase their arsenals, or
insist that such weapons are essential to their national security,
the more other states feel that they too must have them for their
security".2 This point has also been made by Nobel Laureate
Professor Sir Joseph Rotblat, "If some nationsincluding
the most powerful militarilysay that they need nuclear
weapons for their security, then such security cannot be denied
to other countries which really feel insecure. Proliferation of
nuclear weapons is the logical consequence of this nuclear policy."3
The failure of the nuclear weapons states to
comply with their obligations under the NPTtaken together
with an apparent orientation towards nuclear use by some of these
stateshas the real potential to create a tendency towards
proliferation. This also exposes the nonsense of the deterrence
argument, the logic of which is that all states need nuclear weapons
to protect themselves. Kissinger et al also draw attention to
the problems caused by the failure of the nuclear weapons states
to take steps to comply with their treaty obligations:
"The Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) envisioned
the end of all nuclear weapons. It provides (a) that states that
did not possess nuclear weapons as of 1967 agree not to obtain
them, and (b) that states that do possess them agree to divest
themselves of these weapons over time. Every president of both
parties since Richard Nixon has reaffirmed these treaty obligations,
but non-nuclear weapons states have grown increasingly sceptical
of the sincerity of the nuclear powers."4
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.
To take a decision not to replace
Trident and instead genuinely to pursue global disarmament initiatives.
3. How the government misrepresents Britain's
obligations under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty
The White Paper describes Britain as a "recognised"
nuclear weapons state as if this is some kind of legally accepted
status. Actually, the term "nuclear weapons states"
is just the way the NPT defined those states that had tested nuclear
weapons before 1967, for the purposes of the Treaty. This is part
of an ongoing attempt to reinterpret the NPT to suggest that the
nuclear weapons states are somehow legally entitled by that Treaty
to possess nuclear weapons. In November 2003, Defence Secretary
Geoff Hoon stated: "Under the terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation
Treaty, the United Kingdom, the United States, France, China and
Russia are legally entitled to possess nuclear weapons".5
This is nonsense. In fact, what that the nuclear weapons states
are actually legally obliged to do, under the NPT, is work towards
the elimination of their nuclear weapons.
Article VI of the NPT states:
"Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes
to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating
to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to
nuclear disarmament and on a Treaty on general and complete disarmament
under strict and effective international control."
This requirement was strengthened at the 2000
NPT Review Conference, with the addition of the commitment by
the nuclear weapons states to "an unequivocal undertaking
to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals".
Yet the White Paper states that "The UK's
retention of a nuclear deterrent is fully consistent with our
international legal obligations." However, recent legal opinion
makes it clear that a replacement of Trident would not be acceptable
under the NPT. In 2005, Peacerights sought a legal opinion from
Rabinder Singh QC and Professor Christine Chinkin on "The
Maintenance and Possible Replacement of the Trident Nuclear Missile
System". In their opinion, the replacement of Trident is
likely to constitute a breach of Article VI of the NPT:
"Enhancing nuclear weapons systems, possibly
without going through parliamentary processes, is, in our view,
not conducive to entering into negotiations for disarmament as
required by the NPT, article VI and evinces no intention to `bring
to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in
all its aspects'. It is difficult to see how unilateral (or bilateral)
action that pre-empts any possibility of an outcome of disarmament
can be defined as pursuing negotiations in good faith and to bring
them to a conclusion and is, in our view, thereby in violation
of the NPT, article VI obligation".
Singh and Chinkin further hold the opinion that
such a breach would be a material breach of the treaty:
"The linkage between the principles of non-proliferation
and the obligation to negotiate towards disarmament shown by the
negotiation history...indicate that Article VI is a provision
`essential to the accomplishment of the object or purpose of the
treaty.' The non-nuclear weapon states required commitments from
the nuclear weapon states as part of their willingness to accept
non-nuclear status under the NPT and failure to comply with article
VI thus, in our view, constitutes material breach."6
The final sentence quoted further indicates
the significance of compliance with the disarmament requirements
of the NPT. As explained in the previous section, for the nuclear
weapons states to do otherwise will have a negative impact on
the compliance of non-nuclear weapons states with the non-proliferation
requirements of the NPT.
To comply with the nuclear Non-Proliferation
Treaty and begin negotiations in good faith towards disarmament,
starting with a decision not to replace Trident.
4. How the government misrepresents the position
of the International Court of Justice on the use, or threat of
use, of nuclear weapons
The White Paper's comments on the 1996 Advisory
Opinion of the International Court of Justice misrepresent the
Court's position. The White Paper states that the ICJ "delivered
an Advisory Opinion which confirmed that the use, or threat of
use, of nuclear weapons is subject to the laws of armed conflict,
and rejected the argument that such use would necessarily be unlawful."
In fact, the Court stated that "the threat or use of nuclear
weapons would be generally contrary to the rules of international
law applicable in armed conflict and in particular the principles
and rules of humanitarian law."7
Within the team of judges there was some difference
of view over the implications of the right to self-defence enshrined
in Article 51 of the UN Charter. Nevertheless, 10 of the 14 judges
came to the conclusion that the existing body of international
law governing the conduct of armed conflict would make the use
or threat of use of nuclear weapons illegal. The Court gave "no
opinion" on whether the use of nuclear weapons might be legal
in a situation of extreme self-defence where the existence of
the state was threatened. The judges differed in their views on
this, in a scenario, for example, where a state is under attack
from weapons of mass destruction. Three judges considered nuclear
weapons to be unlawful regardless of Article 51, because a state
so defending itself would be in open violation of the cardinal
principles of international law, causing "immeasurable suffering"
to civilian populations.
The White Paper states, "The threshold
for the legitimate use of nuclear weapons is clearly a high one.
We would only consider using nuclear weapons in self-defence (including
the defence of our NATO allies), and even then only in extreme
circumstances." But it is clear from the ICJ opinion that
the threshold for lawfulness, if such a concept is even feasible,
is much higher than any suggested within the White Paper. The
government must be absolutely clear about this, for statements,
such as that by Geoff Hoon when Defence Secretary in the run up
to the war on Iraq, on the possible use of nuclear weapons, was
clearly referring to a use of nuclear weapons which would be illegal.
In recent years the government appears to have abandoned its commitment
to "negative security assurances"not to use nuclear
weapons against countries without themand this commitment
must now be restored.
The White Paper also ignores the ruling which
the ICJ also made at the same time, which states:
"There exists an obligation to pursue in
good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear
disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international
To acknowledge that under virtuallyif
not allcircumstances, the use, or threat of use, of nuclear
weapons is illegal.
To reaffirm Britain's commitment
to "negative security assurances".
To reject any "first use"
or "pre-emptive use" policy for nuclear weapons.
To comply with the ICJ ruling on
negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament.
NOTES 1 Kissinger,
Henry A, Shultz, George P, Perry, William J, "A World Free
of Nuclear Weapons." The Wall Street Journal, 8 January 2007.
2 Kofi Annan speaking at the UN 60th anniversary
event, London, January 2006.
3 Joseph Rotblat, Science and Nuclear Weapons:
Where do we go from here? The Blackaby Papers, no 5, Dec 2004,
4 Kissinger et al, op cit.
5 Geoff Hoon, House of Commons, 20 November
6 Peacrights, The Maintenance and Possible
Replacement of the Trident Missile System, joint opinion, Rabinder
Singh QC and Professor Christine Chinkin, 19 December 2005.
7 International Court of Justice, Legality
of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons, Advisory Opinion, 8 July
12 January 2007