Memorandum from Oxford Research Group
There is no need to rush into a binding decision
on replacing the Trident system at this time. Binding major financial
commitments would be imprudent.
Proper time should be taken to debate the post
Cold War security environment, in particular assessing the relative
probabilities of threats which it is suggested UK nuclear weapons
could deter, and threats which could occur if the non-proliferation
regime breaks down.
The UK should be seeking urgently to encourage
more rapid progress on non-proliferation and multilateral nuclear
disarmament. The UK would have more credibility and flexibility
in such negotiations if it had deferred long-term decisions on
its nuclear weapons.
Oxford Research Group (ORG) is a small independent
think tank based near Oxford which works to develop effective
methods for people to bring about positive change on issues of
national and international security by non-violent means. Established
in 1982, it is a registered charity and a public company limited
Dr Frank Barnaby is Nuclear Issues Consultant
to ORG. His previous positions include nuclear physicist, Atomic
Weapons Research Establishment, Aldermaston; Director, Stockholm
International Peace Research Institute; Professor, Free University
of Amsterdam: Professor, University of Minnesota. Professor Ken
Booth, E H Carr Professor of International Politics, Department
of International Politics, University of Wales Aberystwyth, has
been a visiting researcher at the US Naval War College, Dalhousie
University in Canada, and Cambridge University. Malcolm Savidge
is Parliamentary Consultant to ORG. He was previously MP for Aberdeen
North (1997-2005), and Convener, All-Party Parliamentary Group
on Global Security and Non-Proliferation (2000-05). Honorary Fellow,
Robert Gordon University.
1.1 The first question on Fact Sheet 1 accompanying
the White Paper"Why do we need to take a decision
now?"is pertinent. Certainly the Press from The
Daily Telegraph and The Daily Mail to The Daily
Mirror and The Guardian asked "Why the rush?" and
1.2 As stated in ORG's written evidence
to the Committee's first Inquiry on this issue, many experts in
relevant fields have also expressed surprise that the Government
wished to make this decision during the current Parliament.
1.3 There is a risk that there will be reduced
public confidence in a decision which appears to be rushed, particularly
if there is mistrust about the grounds for an early decision.
1.4 The White Paper indicates that timing
issues relate primarily to the submarine platform.
1.5 The time-table for making this decision
depends on four factors: the life-span of Trident, the date from
which the life span is deemed to start, any extension programme
and the required lead-time for a replacement.
1.6 The Strategic Defence Review indicated
a thirty year life expectancy for the submarine.
1.7 At the end of December 2002, Defence
Minister, Dr Lewis Moonie stated: "For as long as necessary
we will maintain a nuclear deterrent and that means Trident to
the end of its useful life, a minimum of 30 years".
1.8 In the 2003 Defence White Paper, which
referred to the decision being taken in the next parliament, the
life expectancy of Trident was given as 30 years.
1.9 In evidence to the Committee on 24 November
2004 [Q548], Admiral Sir Alan West said, "as was said in
the SDR, we expected the current deterrent, the Trident Force,
to last 30 years".
1.10 All these statements were made before
any decision had been taken on life extension.
1.11 The MoD memorandum to the Select Committee's
first Inquiry stated: "The submarines were procured with
a designed operational life of 25 years and on this basis, they
would start to be withdrawn from service late in the next decade.
1.12 This seems surprising not only because
it is at variance with previous statements, but also because patrols
and operational demands have been significantly reduced since
the Cold War ended, and a less intensive deployment regime might
be expected to increase longevity.
1.13 The change would seem so substantial,
and of sufficient economic significance, that it might be expected
that it would only have been made after careful analysis by the
1.14 However when Rear Admiral Mathews,
Director General Nuclear, MoD gave evidence to the Committee 21
November 2006, he was clearly unaware that life expectancy had
previously been given as 30 years, in the face of repeated questioning.
1.15 The White Paper and the accompanying
Fact Sheets state repeatedly that the submarines were "only
designed for a 25 year life". In view of 1.5, 1.6, 1.7, 1.8
above, prima facie this appears to be factually incorrect.
1.16 The life span could start from manufacturers'
first sea trial, commissioning or entry into operational service:
for the first Trident submarine, HMS Vanguard the respective dates
are 1992, 1993 and 1994. The White Paper chooses the first option;
this is unusual, further reduces the expected life span and brings
forward the need for a decision.
1.17 With lead-time, Vanguard took 13-14
years from decision to going into service; Astute took nearly
15 years, but was reported to be subject to "years of delay
and cost overruns" [Michael Evans, Defence Editor, The
Times, 17 April 2006]. Professor Michael Clarke suggests a
lead-time of 10-15 years, while tending to favour the upper end
of that range [Does my bomb look big in this?, International Affairs,
January 2004, p 55].
1.18 The 2005 RAND report prepared for the
MoD assessed that "design of a follow-on SSBN class would
have to start approximately 15 years prior to the desired in-service
date for replacement submarines". [J Schank et al,
Sustaining Design and Production Resources, The United Kingdom's
Nuclear Submarine Industrial Base, Vol 1, p xviii].
1.19 In its first Report, the Committee
assumed "that procurement of a Trident replacement would
take approximately 14 years" [p 29, para 110 and conclusions].
1.20 The White Paper sets a lead-time of
17 years or around 17 years, and on that basis the Prime Minister
says the decision must be made early in 2007. This contrasts with
Dr John Reid's evidence to the Committee on 1 November 2005, "It
is not absolutely essential the decision is taken during this
Parliament but it would be highly desirable in my view".
1.21 The White Paper claims its estimate
of the lead time is based on experts, the judgement of industry,
and French and US experience, but provides little supporting evidence.
1.22 Evidence from the manufacturers is
vital, but they have a vested interest. From the Committee's Second
Enquiry it is clear that there are commercial interests in an
early decision and early replacement.
1.23 An unduly precipitate decision on this
issue risks exposing the government to many of the same criticisms
that were made of decisions taken prior to the Iraq war. These
included the allegation that expert evidence was used selectively,
and that evidence which supported the Government's favoured option
was insufficiently rigorously questioned. It has also been suggested
that Parliament was rushed into a premature decision, and that
in our adversarial system a situation where Prime Minister and
Leader of the Opposition were committed to the same course of
action and the same timetable contributed to insufficient scrutiny.
1.24 If the decision is taken in early 2007,
it will be taken under the present Prime Minister, and it is reported
that he sees this as a "legacy" issue.
1.25. A period for concept studies is included
in the Government's 17-year lead time. However, on 30 June 2004
Geoff Hoon informed the House [Hansard, col 356-358] that
concept studies were undertaken between May 2002 and May 2003
at a cost of around £560,000. Furthermore any further studies
could be agreed and undertaken before any irrevocable decision
1.26 The Committee in its first report,
based on the 25-year life expectancy, concluded that a decision
could be delayed to 2010, with a binding decision not required
2. NEED FOR
2.1 In its first report the Committee welcomed
"the Government's promise of a full and open debate, in Parliament
and in the country at large".
2.2 When the last decision was taken on
replacing submarine-based British nuclear weapons in 1980, the
then Labour Shadow Secretary of Defence, William Rodgers, argued
that an open debate required a Green Paper.
2.3 A Green Paper in which this Government
set out its position, but was then open to consultation, before
producing a White Paper would have seemed the best way of achieving
2.4 As it is, producing a White Paper in
December and having a vote in March, when recesses are taken into
account, seems to provide far too little time for scrutiny and
expert analysis of the Government's case. Indeed the Committee
may feel that it is being forced into an unduly rushed enquiry.
2.5 Given the totally changed strategic
environment of the post-Cold-War period, and that, as the Prime
Minister said, the "consequences of a misjudgement on this
issue are potentially catastrophic", far more time should
be provided for Parliament and the people to take a considered
3. UK SECURITY
3.1 In his statement, the Prime Minister
described British nuclear weapons as "one of the mainstays
of our security since the war". This seems questionable:
in the first decade after World War Two, the UK did not have its
own nuclear weapons. In the period from then until the end of
the Cold War, it is debateable how far British and French nuclear
weapons influenced the deterrence between the USA and the Soviet
Union. In the period since the Cold War, the nature of the security
environment has not been one in which British nuclear weapons
have been particularly relevant.
3.2 In looking ahead to the future, there
can be no absolute security. The balance of relative risks must
3.3 As the White Paper says [3-8]: "Currently
no state has both the intent to threaten our vital interests and
the capability to do so with nuclear weapons."
3.4 Britain is not currently threatened
by any other nuclear weapons state, and is very unlikely in the
future to be involved in unilateral confrontation of that order
with, say, Russia or China.
3.5 The UK faces no present or likely future
threat within our own European region.
3.6 The British Empire is reduced to very
few dependant territories.
3.7 Therefore out of region, military confrontation
is liable to be under the auspices of the United Nations, NATO
or possibly as part of a US `coalition of the willing'. In any
of these circumstances we would have the deterrence of the largest
conventional and nuclear forces in the world.
3.8 The Prime Minister, in his statement,
spoke of "circumstances where we are threatened but America
is not". However, surely we can be confident that no future
British Prime Minister would consider placing Britain in a position
where, without the support of the UN, NATO, the United States
or our other allies, we would become involved in a unilateral
confrontation with another nation that could lead to a nuclear
3.9 North Korean nuclear weapons and the
possible future acquisition of such weapons by Iran are certainly
a serious threat to regional security and a potential threat to
global security. However, they are not an immediate or direct
threat to the UK, and there is no reason to suppose they would
have either the intention or the capability to initiate unilateral
military confrontation with the UK. UK involvement in seeking
to contain and reduce such threats should be multilateral and
3.10 There is general agreement that nuclear
deterrence is irrelevant for any future nuclear terrorist groups,
as they are unlikely to have any substantial geographical location,
they may well be suicidal, and they might well actually welcome
the increased death, destruction and confrontation that could
be caused by a general retaliation against their neighbourhood.
3.11 The Prime Minister and the White Paper
spoke of the possibility of Britain deterring governments which
might sponsor or assist nuclear terrorism. Some countries sponsor
terrorism, but this is usually related to regional conflicts.
These are usually groups with specific political objectives, and
likely to view massive death caused by nuclear weapons as counter-productive.
The main threat of nuclear terrorism comes from apocalyptic groups
like al Qaida, with absolutist objectives and at war with most
of the world. A state would be unlikely to provide nuclear weapons
to such groups, unless they could control them. If they could
not control them, how would they know that the targets would not
be in USA or Russia, and why then would UK nuclear weapons deter
this, where larger stockpiles would not? Does this scenario envisage
a state and a terrorist organisation, with an agreed objective
of attacking the UK, as a sole target, with nuclear weapons? It
also presumably assumes that the state would believe that it would
be sufficiently clearly associated with the attack to provoke
nuclear retaliation if the UK had nuclear weapons, but that it
could live with likely response of the world community otherwise.
Apparently this scenario "is not utterly fanciful" and
"not impossible to contemplate".
3.12 The White Paper speaks of British nuclear
weapons as the ultimate insurance policy. When considering our
security, for decades to come, it might seem reasonable to have
an insurance policy against an uncertain future. However, there
is a great danger in that concept, for if policy is based not
on what potential adversaries have, but upon what they might obtain
in the worst-case analysis at some time in the future, that undermines
the whole basis of multilateral disarmament and non-proliferation,
and is a recipe for arms-racing. There is also a danger in using
unpredictability as grounds for irrationality. Probable risks
should be balanced against very remote ones. Most people do not
insure their house against comet strikes.
3.13 The relative risks of the more improbable
future direct threats to the UK must be balanced against the dangers
of a world in which there is widespread nuclear proliferation.
4.1 As stated in ORG's written submission
to the Committee's first inquiry, though the non-proliferation
regime has been remarkably successful, there are now real fears
of breakdown. The UN Secretary General's High Level Panel and
Kofi Annan warned of the risk of a "cascade of proliferation".
Subsequently the 2005 Review Conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation
Treaty and the UN summit failed to reach any agreements of substance
in this area. The Conference on Disarmament in Geneva has been
gridlocked for years.
4.2 In significant speeches on non-proliferation
last year, Shirley Williams [opening a debate in the Lords] and
William Hague [in a lecture at the International Institute for
Strategic Studies], expressed a similar sentiment: that so long
after the end of the Cold War it was bizarre that our world still
around 27,000 nuclear weapons, nearly half of them deployed -
ready to fire. Baroness Williams went on to say, "We can
move from being deployed to being used in a matter of seconds,
that is the tiny thread on which the safety of the world hangs".
Where she hinted that the danger of a major nuclear exchange had
not been removed, William Hague spoke movingly of the consequences
of a single incident: "the detonation of a nuclear weaponby
accident or designanywhere quite literally the fall out
from such a calamity would be felt across the world".
4.3 The White Paper [3-7] draws attention
to some of the factors which could cause instability in this century,
failed states harbouring terrorism, conflict over resources, population
growth, climate change, dual use technology. It is surely correct
that the combination of such destabilisation with nuclear proliferation
could be very perilous.
4.4 There is the risk that material could
be diverted from a state's nuclear weapons programmewith
or without the collusion of that stateto absolutist terrorists
for ideological and/or commercial reasons. Given what happened
with A Q Khan, this is a scenario which seems less utterly fanciful
and more possible to contemplate than the scenario outlined at
3.11. If such terrorists then decided to target the UK, nuclear
deterrence would probably be irrelevant [as discussed at 3.10
4.5 More generally if there is instability
in the coming century, then the more widespread nuclear proliferation
is the greater probability that there will be a nuclear terrorist
incident, localised nuclear war or even a major nuclear exchange,
whether the UK was directly attacked or not, the "calamity
would be felt across the world".
4.6 The reality surely is that with the
most likely nuclear catastrophes that could occur in the coming
century, whether the UK individually possesses or does not possess
nuclear weapons will have little or no direct effect on their
probability. If we are to reduce the risk of disaster, the urgent
need is globally to revive non-proliferation and take multilateral
4.7 In an editorial response to the White
Paper, the International Herald Tribune [7 December 2006]
expressed the wish that the UK Prime Minister would put this issue
on the global agenda, in the way Britain had with poverty and
4.8 Nuclear calamity is one of the great
threats of the coming decades, and even a "regional"
nuclear war could undermine or outweigh any progress we made on
reducing global warming or alleviating poverty.
4.9 In seeking urgent international discussion
on non-proliferation and disarmament, the UK could co-operate
with Commonwealth and EU partners and the various groupings of
Non-Nuclear Weapons States.
4.10 Russia has an economic interest in
agreeing deeper cuts in nuclear arsenals.
4.11 The present US administration has been
as negative on arms control treaties, as it has on Kyoto. However,
with such factors as the mid-term elections, and the departure
of Bolton and Rumsfeld, the atmosphere may be starting to change.
On 4 January 2007, four of the elder statesmen of US security
policy, Henry Kissinger, Sam Nunn, William Perry and George Schulz
issued a bipartisan appeal for the USA to take a lead in practical
steps to revive multilateral nuclear disarmament. [See Appendix]
4.12 There are many other constructive proposals
for progress, for instance in the House of Lords debate and speech
by William Hague, and the suggestions of Dr ElBaradei and the
4.13 By negotiating far deeper and more
rapid cuts in their own nuclear arsenals, the original nuclear
weapons states would improve their own safety, strengthen their
position in persuading, say, neighbours of North Korea to stay
non-nuclear, and help to unite the world community in putting
pressure on the nuclear weapons states outside the NPT and potential
4.14 Rather than rushing prematurely into
a decision on replacing Trident, the UK should be concentrating
on urgent diplomatic initiatives to revive nuclear non-proliferation
and multilateral disarmament.
5.1 There is no need to rush into a binding
decision on replacing the Trident system at this time. Binding
major financial commitments would be imprudent.
5.2 Proper time should be taken to debate
the post Cold War security environment, in particular assessing
the relative probabilities of threats which it is suggested UK
nuclear weapons could deter, and threats which could occur if
the non-proliferation regime breaks down.
5.3 The UK should be seeking urgently to
encourage more rapid progress on non-proliferation and multilateral
nuclear disarmament. The UK would have more credibility and flexibility
in such negotiations if it had deferred long-term decisions on
its nuclear weapons.
15 January 2007