Memorandum from the Nuclear Information
THE FUTURE OF NUCLEAR WEAPONS IN THE UNITED
KINGDOM: A RESPONSE TO THE GOVERNMENT WHITE PAPER
On 4 December 2006 the Prime Minister presented
a White Paper1 in the House of Commons on the replacement of the
UK Trident nuclear weapons system. The White Paper concentrates
on proposals to build new nuclear-armed submarines (known as Ship
Submersible Ballistic Nuclear (SSBNs), whereas the design and
production of a new warhead at the Atomic Weapons Establishment
(AWE), Aldermaston is hardly mentioned. Throughout the Paper,
language is confusing and assuming, leading the reader towards
an unreasonable fear of the unknown and an unwarranted confidence
in nuclear weapons. No mention is made of the constant risks of
nuclear warhead transport and operations at AWE. A reduction in
warhead numbers is offered as a concession to "disarmament"
whereas it is probably related to warhead servicing capacity rather
than any intended disarmament. Trident is described as an "investment"
without reference to lost opportunity costs, or the difficulties
of financial stability in the nuclear weapons industry. The benefits
claimed for Trident are doctrinal and not military. There is nothing
to dispel the conclusion that a decision to replace Trident has
already been taken and that the race to seek endorsement from
the House of Commons without a proper Consultation appears to
be for political rather than security reasons.
The title of the White Paper, "The Future
of the United Kingdom's Nuclear Deterrent" should more accurately
read: "The Future of Nuclear Weapons in the United Kingdom".
The term "deterrence" and "nuclear weapons"
are wrongly used interchangeably to suggest that they have the
same meaning. "Deterrence" is not a weapon but an unproven
theory, a past doctrine that had many elements.
"The theory of deterrence is essentially
flawed because there is no way of demonstrating that it has worked.
There is absolutely no evidence to support the view that if we
had not possessed the nuclear deterrent we would have been invaded,
attacked or in any other way violated as a nation state.
Rev David A Keddie The Herald, (Scotland) 26
"This `having kept the peace for 50 years'
is like pulling the rabbit out of a hatjust a fancy sleight
of sloganism meant to shut everybody up; the trouble is, it often
works with those who don't really want to question and are satisfied
with an easy answer."
Hazel Rennie, Woman for Peace
The word deterrent(ce) is used 170 time in the
document to try to convince readers that these weapons will protect
"the safety and security of [...] citizens", the declared
aim in the Prime Minister's first sentence.
The use of the diminutive, "minimum"
is out of place with reference to Trident. The Paper acknowledges
nuclear weapons to be a terrifying power, but at the same time,
describes Trident as "the minimum necessary" in the
Foreword; a "minimum amount of destructive power required
to achieve our defence objectives" (3.4), and a "minimum
Trident is described as an investment, both
in financial and defence terms. But investment means getting a
beneficial return, which is not achieved by nuclear weapons, except
for the nuclear industry.
To equate Trident with an insurance policy is
a simile that falls at the slightest examination. No company would
offer insurance terms that add to the risk insured. Insurance
has to be neutral, without status, and not attract a calamity
or be a threat in itself. More than that, it is benevolent. In
times of disaster it can be claimed to give succour and recompense,
resources to rebuild or recover. The Non-Proliferation Treaty
is exactly like an insurance policy: you are protected so long
as you read the small print and comply with the terms of the agreement.
Insurance is recommended for everyone, not just the few. To pursue
the insurance analogy would be to accept that every country was
entitles to it.
There is no mention of Consultation in the White
Paper, yet a PM Answer, on 28 June 2006 said:
"We will announce the means of consultation
when we publish the White Paper. Of course, we believe it is extremely
important to have the fullest possible debate on the subject."
Ministers and the press have led a reasonable
person to assume that there was to be a normal consultation, regulated
under published government guidelines. On 21 December, I asked
the Department of Constitutional Affairs and the Ministry of Defence
for clarification on the Consultation process and received the
response "that there is no process, but anyone with concerns
about the proposal to replace Trident is invited to write in to
the Prime Minister" In general, government departments are
expected to abide by principles on consultation, contained in
the Governments Code on Consultation, and ensure consultation
follow regulation best practice.3 This has not been done.
Ad hoc efforts have been made by contributors
to the No 10 website discussion site and Compass, the democratic
left pressure group, to undertake a Consultation. Compass sets
out the arguments, both for and against in a balanced way to inform
those taking part in its consultation. see http://www.compassonline.org.uk/surveys/december2006.asp>
Question 1: Why disarmament in the UK would
help our security?
Answer: Our security needs are threatened
by climate change, unsustainable increasing energy needs, potential
pandemics, HIV/Aids, global poverty, the competition for basic
resources and the growing gap between rich and poor internationally
and domestically. None of these threats are addressed by nuclear
weapons but the resources released by disarmament could be available
to directly tackle them.
Question 2: How to change the minds of hardliners
and extremists in countries that are developing these nuclear
Answer: Not by threatening to attack them
with nuclear weapons but by recognising that responsible governments
must seek to lower international tensions not escalate them. Nuclear
disarmament is the only action that will remove the justification
for countries to waste $billions to develop, produce and maintain
such weapons. This cannot be proved, as demanded, any more than
the corollary, that replacing Trident will cause hardliners and
extremists to desist from using them should they succeed in developing
or acquiring nuclear weapons.
Question 3: Would terrorists be less likely
to conspire against us with hostile governments because we give
up nuclear weapons?
Answer: No. Nuclear weapons are irrelevant
to terrorists. Nuclear weapons based in the UK are the easier
target and pose a real risk of terrorist attack that should be
eliminated if we are serious about the security of citizens in
Question 4: Would we be safer by giving
up nuclear weapons?
Answer: Yes we would be safer by not being
a potential threat of starting a nuclear war.
Question 5: Would our capacity to act be
constrained by nuclear blackmailers?
Answer: At present Britain is a nuclear
blackmailer, but Trident does not constrain any current identifiable
threat. If Britain were to so antagonise a nuclear state in the
distant future, that a nuclear attack was threatened, our best
defence would be to negotiate and listen to their grievance rather
than to threaten to join in any nuclear exchange.
The White Paper offers a reduction in warhead
numbers from below 200 to 160. But Nukewatch already puts the
stockpile at around 178 with any further reduction probably due
to logistics relating to warhead servicing rather than any intended
disarmament. The AWE Burghfield assembly/disassembly plant has
been condemned by the NII4 and there may well be a go-slow there
until the new facility is built. Nukewatch figures5 suggest that
at least two warheads were scrapped in 2006. In common with previous
defence statements, the process announced had already begun. Warhead
delivery into service is down on previous years by an estimated
six in 2006. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute
estimates the figure at about 165, consisting of 144 deployed
weapons plus an extra 15% as spares.6
Stealth and secrecy are the principal military
capabilities of submarines that naturally attract a following
of submarine enthusiasts. But nuclear submarines are politically
and militarily destabilising and should be the subject of an international
disarmament agreement and confined to museums sooner rather than
No mention is made in the White Paper of the
constant risks posed by nuclear warhead transport and operations
at AWE. The highest risk we have from nuclear weapons in Britain,
is from nuclear convoys trundling weapons up and down our motorways
between Scotland and Aldermaston every very few weeks. The insecurity
and environmental hazards created up is an un-acknowledged human
cost. Local Councillors in Oxford, Preston and elsewhere have
expressed concern that secrecy is a higher priority than safety,
just as Baroness Helena Kennedy did in 1994.7
The White Paper fails to mention the current
£5.3 billion expenditure at AWE. The 2002 AWE Aldermaston
Strategic Development Plan is now well into the building phase
of the high powered laser, following a new computer building and
modular office buildings. However major office plans have met
local opposition and a special meeting is to be held by West Berkshire
Planning Authority on 22 January to discuss the plans.3 Cursory
mention in the White Paper of a possible new warhead does not
sit well with the reality on the ground, where the infrastructure
for warhead development is being built to last another 50 years,
bringing a lifetime of unacceptable nuclear discharges into the
environment and the constant risk of an accident or terrorist
The White Paper says that a government decision
to replace Trident has already been taken. It can only be re-appraised
if Members of Parliament vote to have more details of what is
proposed before agreeing to an unknown financial commitment.
TRIDENT WARHEAD NUMBERS 2000-06
|Convoys out of|
|No of TCHD carriers||Total No loaded
||Estimated Warheads||Convoys in AWE
||No of TCHD carriers||Total No loaded
||8||8 (1 in each TCHD)||5
||ce||120 -88 =||32
TCHD = Truck Cargo Heavy Duty
Convoys are all loaded convoys
There are unlikely to be more than two warheads in each carrier,
but there could be less.
Original capability 16 m × four subs 64 missiles ×
eight warheads each = 512.
Data is recorded from 80% observation and 20% deduction.
There is no certainly in numbers because it is government
policy to keep them secret. But the stockpile never got anywhere
near the original 512 capability. in the last six years, 22 more
loaded TCHD carriers have returned to AWE from Scotland than went
out, indicating a withdrawal of between 30 and 50 warheads already
without being announced, leaving an operational stockpile of between
170 and 150 warheads.
The reduction mentioned in the White Paper, reflects existing
numbers that have already been made for any number of reasons.
Who is the 160 message going to?
160 is still a large figure since four is enough to totally
destroy a rogue state.
Given the limited number for use to change the balance of
power in a country 160 how many countries is the PM talking about?
How many wars?
11 January 2007
REFERENCES 1. Prime Minister's
White Paper Statement 4 December 2006
2. No evidence that nuclear weapons deterred
Letters The Herald, (Scotland) 26 June 2006
R D DON states that he believes that "our deterrent
has protected us and kept the peace for the past 50 years"
(24 June). Why? This is not a belief I share, for the simple reason
that he can offer no proof of this. The theory of deterrence is
essentially flawed because there is no way of demonstrating that
it has worked. There is absolutely no evidence to support the
view that if we had not possessed the nuclear deterrent we would
have been invaded, attacked or in any other way violated as a
You cannot make a causal connection between our ownership
of a small nuclear resource and the fact that there has been peace.
What evidence is there to support the view that Russia would have
trampled all over us if we had not possessed a bomb? It is very
inviting to postulate such a causal connection but there is none.
That is the problem with a theory of deterrence. It used to be
said that capital punishment was a "deterrent"but
how do you know? How many people were out there wanting to murder
their wife/husband/lover, etc, but did not because of capital
punishment? You simply do not knowall you do know is that
it did not deter a certain number and they went ahead and committed
murder anyway. Oddly enough, after capital punishment was abolished
in the late 1960s the number of murders in Britain actually went
That there has been "peace" (well, apart from the
Falklands, the Balkans, Afghanistan, Iraq, Chechnya, etc) and
that we have happened to own a little handful of nuclear weapons
are in no demonstrable way connected. That is an opinion. And
there is no evidence that Russia (or America) ever had any intention
of invading us after 1945. Our possession of nuclear weapons was
an irrelevance to their foreign policy.
There may be reasons for our retention of nuclear weapons
(although personally I can think of none), but the concept of
deterrence is most certainly not one of them. It is an illusory
Rev David A Keddie
3. Governments Code on Consultation
The six consultation criteria are as follows:
1. Consult widely throughout the process, allowing a minimum
of 12 weeks for written consultation at least once during the
development of the policy.
2. Be clear about what your proposals are, who may be
affected, what questions are being asked and the time scale for
3. Ensure that your consultation is clear, concise and
4. Give feedback regarding the responses received and
how the consultation process influenced the policy.
5. Monitor your department's effectiveness at consultation,
including through the use of a designated consultation co-ordinator.
6. Ensure your consultation follows better regulation
best practice, including carrying out a Regulatory Impact Assessment
Cabinet Office website at http://www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/regulation/consultation/
4. AWE Quarterly Assurance Report, June 2006
5. Nukewatch. see www.nuclearinfor.org/nukewatch
6. SIPRI http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/StockholmInternationalPeaceResearchInstitute
7. Secrecy versus Sefety. The findings of the AWE Aldermston
Community Inquiry by Helena Kennedy QC 1994.