Memorandum from David Broucher
I was asked to submit written evidence to the
Inquiry. I shall confine this to one aspect of the terms of reference:
the possible impact of the Government's decision to retain and
renew the deterrent on the UK's non-proliferation efforts, which
is my area of expertise.
Why support non-proliferation?
The central dilemma is this: how can we continue
to deny others the right to develop the same capability we claim
for ourselves? Since we believe that our deterrent enhances international
security, would not the same be true of nuclear weapons in the
hands of others? In other words, would not international security
be enhanced by nuclear proliferation?
Plainly this makes no sense. Nuclear weapons
are not a risk-free acquisition. The more countries possess them,
the greater the danger that they will be used, and avoidance of
their use is of paramount importance. Therefore their spread must
But in that case should we not also be trying
to reduce the number of countries that already possess the weapon,
and should not that reduction include ourselves?
The government's answer is that we live in a
dangerous world, and that it would be imprudent to disarm. It
is possible to support that view, while remaining troubled by
the logic. The world is dangerous for other countries. Some of
these choose nevertheless to live without acquiring nuclear weapons.
Others may be considering whether they should follow our example.
The government's reasoning on its own does not, therefore, provide
an adequate answer to the dilemma. We need to delve deeper into
the theoretical basis for the non-proliferation strategy.
Why should some go nuclear but not others?
A frequent argument is that "dangerous
countries" should not be allowed to acquire the weapon. Taking
direct action to curb proliferation has obvious attractions, and
a far-reaching counter-proliferation strategy has been evolved
to deal with the threat. But the campaign to isolate and interdict
such countries is only likely to succeed if we maintain a broad
international consensus that nuclear weapons are "a bad thing".
This in turn might best be based on some common norms of international
law. If the Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) did not exist, therefore,
we would be compelled to invent it. In doing so, we would be unlikely
to avoid the bargain on which the NPT is based: that nuclear proliferation
can only be arrested if the existing nuclear weapon states commit
themselves to disarm and if civil nuclear technology remains available
International law may, of course, make the task
of isolating and dealing with problem countries harder, but we
would be most unwise to abandon it on that account. Its main strength
is not in the handling of individual cases but in the maintenance
of the international consensus.
A possible difficulty with the "dangerous
country" theory is its implication that we should be less
concerned about proliferation to more moderate countries. In fact
the opposite is the case. A nuclear adventure by a pariah state
is certainly worrying, and it needs to be contained. The larger
objective is to prevent a general conclusion by major industrial
states that do not yet have nuclear weapons that their security
can only be maintained by acquiring them. This may seem like a
distant risk, but the jury is still out on whether we will be
successful in preventing it over the long term.
Once the possession of nuclear weapons is recognised
to be acceptable, there is no defensible threshold for the number
or type of countries that could or should acquire them. We would
therefore be most unwise to relinquish the consensus that the
existence of nuclear weapons is ultimately unacceptable. Their
possession by us is temporary, pending an agreement on nuclear
disarmament, which in turn depends, in the view of some, on general
and complete disarmament. That culmination may remain distant,
but we should continue to strive to attain it. Of course, we must
be genuinely committed to this end, and not just pursue it as
a hypocritical cover for our activities.
In the past it has been possible to preserve
our position by arguing that certain countries acquired nuclear
weapons to meet a particular security need in given historical
circumstances and can now only give them up as part of an agreed
disarmament process. Other countries, those that did not need
to acquire the weapon before, would be wrong to do so now, because
of the added costs and risks involved.
Although some, but not all, non-nuclear weapon
states (NNWS) still accept this argument de facto, they
are inclined to question the logic. If nuclear weapons are expensive
and dangerous, why are they so entrenched in the military security
postures of the countries that keep them? Can the nuclear weapons
continue to be tolerated once the historical circumstances that
gave rise to them have terminated? When might the promised disarmament
process be expected to start? Parrying such questions becomes
progressively more difficult as the "historical circumstances"
retreat further into the past.
Will the UK decision encourage proliferation?
It seems most unlikely that a would-be proliferator
would be influenced definitively either way by the UK's decision.
Strategic weapon policies evolve over decades for a wide variety
of reasons and are not susceptible to short term change based
on the calculation of one other country. Nor is the United Kingdom
the adversary of choice for those currently in the proliferation
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 regimes.
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 environment. They are no longer a response to a specific
security need, but an insurance policy against all comers. This
will signal that efforts to eradicate nuclear weapons have effectively
been shelved, 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.
In the past it has been possible to point to
the process of bilateral and multilateral nuclear disarmament
and its gradual progress in limiting existing weapons and arresting
the development of new ones. However, with the failure of the
Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty to enter into force, this process
has stalled, and even gone into reverse. The UK has ceased, for
whatever reason, to advocate multilateral nuclear disarmament
with any conviction. None of the other nuclear weapon states seem
to have much interest in reviving the process, so that without
the UK's advocacy, it risks stagnating.
Plainly this trend will not be easily reversed,
and most of the levers are not under UK control. We may have good
reasons to avoid rocking the international boat, especially in
relation to our principal ally, when the potential rewards seem
at best remote. Nevertheless, there are some ideas that could
be pursued further against the day when other countries may again
be more receptive to negotiations. In the remainder of this memorandum
I will outline two of them, which the Defence Committee might
be invited to endorse.
It used to be axiomatic that any arms control
agreement would need adequate verification to ensure compliance.
For example, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) provides
assurances that declared fissile material is not being diverted
from civil uses, and that no clandestine acquisition or production
of fissile materials is occurring. So to an extent it verifies
compliance with the NPT. Lately the concept of verification has
been challenged for several reasons. Incomplete verification could
provide a false sense of security, but more intrusive verification
could be used for intelligence gathering. Even when evidence of
misconduct is revealed, enforcement remains problematic.
These are potent objections, but technology
does not stand still, and there may be new ways in which compliance
with nuclear disarmament could be verified remotely without compromising
design features or spreading nuclear know-how. The Atomic Weapons
Establishment (AWE) has already done some work on this, but the
results need to be placed in a political context showing how a
disarmament process could actually be carried out and what its
end state would be. It is obvious that nuclear disarmament will
only proceed if it enhances everyone's security.
The NPT provides a basis for countries that
do not possess nuclear weapons to assure each other of their good
intentions, but it says nothing about why a country might decide
to renounce the nuclear option in the first place. This decision
can only be based on a country's perception of its own security
needs. A country may decide that it does not need to acquire nuclear
weapons because it enjoys the protection of an existing nuclear
power, because it does not feel threatened, or because it has
made a particular risk and cost calculation.
Further consideration could be given to ways
of maximising the chances that a given country will continue to
take the "right" decision. In particular, work is needed
on ways of expanding the concept of "security assurances".
There are both positive assurances, in which a nuclear weapon
state extends an umbrella to its allies, and negative assurances,
in which a nuclear weapon state assures a non-nuclear adversary
that nuclear weapons would not be used in a potential conflict.
There are various ways in which this latter concept could be expanded
I am submitting this evidence as a visiting
fellow at the Mountbatten Centre for International Security (MCIS)
at Southampton University. I am indebted to Professor John Simpson
of MCIS for his help in preparing it.
15 January 2007