Memorandum from the British Pugwash Group
A. The White Paper suggests that the UK
needs a nuclear deterrent as an insurance. No one has been able
to suggest a possible foe against whom such a deterrent would
be necessary. Nuclear weapons could not be used against terrorists
or a state housing terrorists.
B. The White Paper does not discuss the
financial, political, security or opportunity costs of renewing
or replacing the Trident system.
C. The White Paper asserts that the UK's
policy with regard to nuclear weapons is legal. This claim is
D. The claim that the Trident system is
independent is not correct. It is heavily dependent on the USA.
E. The White Paper does not discuss other
methods of improving our security, the effect of globalisation
on the increasing interdependence between states, or the anomaly
of two European states maintaining nuclear weapons when others
We are responding to the White Paper as the
British arm of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs
which, as you may know, played an active role in helping to formulate
and work internationally on verification technology related to
the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and other Treaties of the
Cold War era (in part recognition of which Pugwash was awarded
the 1995 Nobel Peace Prize). Our response is thus informed by
experience of the bases of treaty creation and observance.
(A) The Government's White Paper puts a case
for maintaining our nuclear weapons on the assumption that deterrence
is necessary to maintain the country's security. (2-2; 3-2)
1. There is no evidence that the Polaris
or Trident systems have made any difference to our security in
the past. (Executive Summary; 3-2).
2. The Government's case is that we need
an insurance against a threatened nuclear attack on this country.
To our knowledge, no politician or expert commentator has yet
been able to suggest a hypothetical scenario in which a British
Prime Minister would order use of such a weapon.
(a) The source of any such threat is a matter
(b) No European country, other than France,
has seen the need to develop its own "independent" nuclear
(c) Particular emphasis is laid on the possibility
of an attack from a terrorist group assisted or harboured by another
state (Box 3-1). The White Paper argues that "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." (3-11). But any nuclear attack on such a state
would hardly be a proportional response. It would inevitably kill
a large number of civilians, and it is absurd to suppose that
any British Prime Minister would consider blasting a city because
it was placed in a country that harboured terrorists.
(B) The White Paper considers only the supposed
benefits of our retaining nuclear weapons. But such a decision
must involve balancing benefits against costs. The latter include
(a) The White Paper plays down the financial
costs of retaining nuclear weapons by giving only an (admittedly
at this stage inevitably) imprecise guess at the figure of £15-20
billion for procurement. This, however, does not include the annual
running costs likely to be at least £1-2 billion over circa
(b) The Government asserts that this will
not be at "the expense of the conventional capabilities our
armed services need" (Blair, Box 3-1:4), though such a claim
rings hollow when one considers how the several Services are always
in competition for funds and the reported shortages of equipment
and accommodation suffered by our troops at the moment.
It is scarcely necessary to list the many other
contexts in which additional resources are needed, from the NHS
to the Royal Mail.
There is a possibility that Scotland will achieve
its independence within the next 50 years. This might lead to
closing the existing Trident bases and facilities and moving them
elsewhere. This would involve very heavy costs.
(a) If we retain nuclear weapons we shall
continue to be seen as the subordinate ally of the USA by many
(b) The slight reduction in the number of
warheads proposed by HM Government, rather than setting an example
for others as a move towards a peaceful, fairer and safer world,
as the Prime Minister claims, emphasizes that we consider it necessary
to retain nuclear weapons. In any case, any reduction in number
of warheads is likely to be offset by the greater speed and accuracy
of the replacement Trident system.
(c) Retention also would be against the wishes
of the majority of Scottish citizens, who feel strongly both about
the UK's possession of nuclear weapons and about their presence
in Scotland: it will strengthen their desire for Scottish independence.
3. SECURITY COSTS
Our association with the USA would decrease
our security by increasing our liability to terrorist attacks.
If the UK were to abandon its nuclear weapons,
we should be the first of the original nuclear states to do so.
We should be signalling to the world that we no longer considered
that such weapons justified their costs. We should be confirming
the conclusions of those states that have started to acquire or
considered acquiring nuclear weapons and decided to abandon the
enterprise (Brazil, South Africa, Yugoslavia, Libya, Canada, Sweden,
Italy, Switzerland, and perhaps others) and the great majority
of states that have not seriously considered the matter. As the
first of the original nuclear states to abandon nuclear weapons,
there is a wonderful window of opportunity for UK to lead the
world towards a more peaceful world. Several serving and ex-diplomats
have commented off the record that the UK's abandoning nuclear
weapons would be likely to have a dramatic effect.
(C) The White Paper claims repetitively that
the UK's position with respect to nuclear weapons is legal. (Blair;
Executive Summary; 2-10; Box 3-1 para 7)
1. The major reason given is that the UK
has made some progress in reducing its nuclear armoury (Blair;
2-9 to 2-11). This is a non sequitur.
2. The White Paper gives the fact that the
NPT recognises the five original nuclear states as though that
were a justification for our retention of nuclear weapons, whereas
it was merely a recognition of the status quo (2-9).
3. The White Paper quotes the 1996 judgement
of the International Court of Justice selectively (2-11), and
mentions only in the attached Fact Sheet 3 its unanimous decision
that "the threat or use of nuclear weapons would generally
be contrary to the rules of international law applicable in armed
conflict, and in particular the principles and rules of humanitarian
law"; though it added the reservation that "in view
of the current state of international law, and of the elements
of fact at its disposal, the Court cannot conclude definitively
whether the threat or use of nuclear weapons would be lawful or
unlawful in an extreme circumstance of self-defence, in which
the very survival of a State would be at stake".
4. The White Paper's claim that it would
only use nuclear weapons in extreme circumstances of self-defence
is hardly in keeping with its refusal to forgo first use (3-4).
5. The White Paper also failed to mention
the unequivocal undertaking given by the five original nuclear
states in the 2000 Review Conference "to accomplish the total
elimination of their arsenal leading to nuclear disarmament."
Recognition as one of the five nuclear states gives us specific
responsibilities under Article VI to negotiate in good faith towards
a nuclear weapon free world. Renewing Trident, even with the fudge
of a possible reduction in warhead numbers, is hardly consistent
with this responsibility.
6. The White Paper also claims that we have
done all we can to encourage other states to abide by the Nuclear
Non-Proliferation Treaty (2-6). This cannot be the case so long
as we signal our belief in dependence on nuclear weapons by retaining
our own. Nor does our refusal to give assurance that we will not
be the first to use a nuclear weapon discourage other states from
acquiring nuclear weapons.
7. The White Paper points out that the NPT
sets no time table for nuclear disarmament as though that were
an excuse for their indefinite retention (2-10).
(D) The Trident system and its proposed replacement
is referred to as an "independent" deterrent. (eg Blair;
3-4; Box 3-1)
In the long term it uses US components. In the
medium term the system is dependent on the USA for missiles and
missile maintenance and on the largely US owned Devonport dockyard
for submarine maintenance. In the short term missile accuracy
depends on the US GPS system (until the European system becomes
fully operational) and on information on upper winds that at present
comes from the USA. Anticipated warhead refurbishment or replacement
is also likely to involve the USA.
(E) A number of highly relevant and important
wider issues are not considered in the White Paper
1. The White Paper neglects other possible
ways of improving our security. It is undeniable that, in addition
to our irredeemable colonial past, our policies in Iraq and Afghanistan,
and our close identification with US foreign policies, are potent
causes of our current insecurity. The two latter are reversible.
2. The White Paper does not take account
of the inexorable trend, exemplified particularly in the climate
change problem and in patterns of commercial activity, towards
global inter-dependence. To survive and prosper in this situation
it will surely be in the interest of a middle-ranking, trade-dependent
power, such as the UK, to promote the acceptance of effective
international treaties and mechanisms of collaboration, particularly
the UN (for all its present shortcomings and need for reform).
Whatever value the concept of nuclear deterrence may have held
in the Cold War, it is clear that to-day nuclear weapons are only
an obstacle to peace and security. We believe that the questionable
benefits of Trident continuation, suggested in the White Paper,
could be far surpassed (in the period 2020-50, when any Trident
replacement would be operative) by a UK diplomatic initiative,
starting with true compliance with Clause VI of the NPT, for strengthening
the effectiveness and credibility of the UN and similar bodies.
3. Related to this, the White Paper does
not make any contribution to solving the anomaly of an increasingly
integrated Europe that contains two nominally independent, and
essentially uncollaborating, nuclear forces, in a continent in
which no other country owns nuclear weapons. At the very least
there should be public debate on whether and why this anomaly
can be sustainable.
4. If the Government moves forward with
Trident replacement, Parliament should ensure that the UK significantly
increases its non-proliferation activities in order to ensure
that this will be the last time the UK needs to upgrade a nuclear
(F) In conclusion
The renewal of our nuclear weapons will be a
step towards a world ruled by mutual threat and fear. It will
signal to those countries that might be considering "going
nuclear" that we consider them to be essential to the security
of the state, and hence encourage further proliferation. The Trident
renewal decision presents us with a real window of opportunity
to reverse these increasingly worrying trends. Not renewing Trident
would be a step towards a world ruled by law and mutual understanding.
We all desire the latter, but it will not be achieved unless some
country takes the lead. The UK has a unique opportunity to earn
the respect of the world by being the first of the original nuclear
weapon states to discard its nuclear arsenal. Following this with
a programme of positive diplomacy could put the UK in the forefront
of international progress in accomplishing the total elimination
of nuclear arsenals world-wide, so implementing our responsibilities
under the NPT. In the words of the Russell-Einstein manifesto,
the founding document of Pugwash, we encourage all decision makers
to "remember your humanity and forget the rest."
10 January 2007