Memorandum from MEDACT
MEDACT is a UK charity of health professionals
concerned with the health effects of nuclear weapons, conflict,
poverty and the environment. It is the UK affiliate of International
Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW: Nobel Peace
Prize 1985). Medact welcomes this opportunity to submit evidence
to the House of Commons Defence Committee on the White Paper on
the Future of the UK's Nuclear Deterrent.
1. Our evidence addresses the Government's views
as expressed in the White Paper in detail on pp 2-8. In summary
we make the following points:
(a) The UK's possession of nuclear weaponsfar
from ensuring national securitycontributes to a more unstable
international security environment.
(b) Nuclear weapons are recognised to be
the most deadly and devastating weapons of mass destruction (WMD).
They cause massive physical and social destruction with catastrophic
consequences for health, making an effective medical response
(c) The nature of nuclear threats has changed
and deterrence as outlined in the White Paper will not be able
to avert the new dangers.
(d) Further proliferation will greatly increase
the risk of nuclear accident, inadvertent use, acquisition opportunities
for terrorists and other non-state actors, and the possibility
of a nuclear exchange.
(e) The indiscriminate nature of a nuclear
weaponwhatever the yieldmeans that it cannot conform
to international humanitarian law (IHL) and this has in fact been
recognised in legal judgements at the highest level.
(f) That the present tentative plans to reduce
the UK arsenal in the absence of any ongoing nuclear disarmament
discussions, concurrently with a stated intent to carry out new
nuclear procurement, does in fact put the UK in breach of the
Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
2. Nuclear weapons are recognised to be
the most deadly and devastating weapons of mass destruction, distinct
from conventional and even other WMD in terms of their destructive
power and long-term effects. The Government advocates the continued
possession of nuclear weapons as an insurance policy against the
possibility that other states will develop them. However continued
possession by the Nuclear Weapons States (NWS) is likely to have
the opposite effect.
3. It is widely accepted that in the international
and intrastate conflicts of the second half of the 20th century
there was no relevant role for nuclear weapons. Even during the
Cold War, the fact that they were nuclear powers did not enable
the US or Russia to gain their objectives in Vietnam or Afghanistan
respectively. Nuclear developments in North Korea and Iran and
revelations of the activities of Dr A.Q. Khan (Pakistan) have
exacerbated concerns about the attraction of nuclear weapons for
weak leaders and non-state actors. The continued retention, maintenance
and manufacture of nuclear weapons by the NWS will not deter these
developments but will on the contrary add to the risks of and
impetus towards proliferation. If the NWS continue to proclaim
the value and indispensability of their nuclear deterrents in
the 21st century, they increase the incentive for other nations
to acquire nuclear weapons.
4. The concept of deterrence depends on
the perceptions of those involved, and it can only function if
there is some level of shared values between the protagonists.
Further, the parties involved must be able to communicate, comprehend
and make similar rational calculations. The complexity of communications
and interactions on which deterrence would have to rely would
massively increase the risks of its failure. Paradoxically, the
position may be reached where the possession of nuclear weapons
renders a nation more likely to be the target of a nuclear attack.
5. The nature of nuclear threats has changed
and the main nuclear dangers include:
(a) Proliferation to states with aggressive
(b) Regional rivalries between two nuclear
(c) Weak states or non-state actors gaining
access to fissile material to make a nuclear weapon or dirty bomb.
(d) Adoption of nuclear deterrence doctrines
by governments as a political strategy for domestic control and
to ward off outside interventions.
(e) Further development of doctrines of nuclear
pre-emption and retaliation.
(f) The use by a NWS of a nuclear weapon
against a Non-Nuclear Weapon State (NNWS) with the rationale of
protecting its "vital interests".
6. These threats are inter-related and compounded
by the continued possession of nuclear arsenals by a small number
of states. Clearly, the risk that nuclear weapons will be used
rises the more they spread around the world. This is especially
relevant when proliferation occurs in unstable regions or if the
weapons come into the possession of non-state actors. The risks
are also increased when nuclear weapons are deployed on high alert
or in ways that invite pre-emptive attack and exacerbate the risk
of accidental use.
7. There appears to be a trend towards slow
nuclear proliferation, with states gradually crossing the nuclear
threshold one by one. Western governments, especially the NWS,
take the optimistic view that slow proliferation can be contained
and that most non-nuclear states will stay non-nuclear within
the terms of the NPT. However the credibility of the NPT is being
undermined not only by the statements and actions of the leaders
of North Korea and Iran but more importantly by the actions of
the current Administration of the United States and by the failure
of a number of the NPT parties, including the NWS, to fulfil their
obligations in good faith. We believe that the decision by the
UK Government to replace Trident in any form could well hasten
8. If the non-proliferation regime is allowed
to erode further there is a risk that global restraints will crash,
causing a cascade of proliferation with perhaps 30 countries becoming
nuclear capable within 10 years. Such an increased level of proliferation
would decrease security and stability worldwide and greatly increase
the risks of nuclear accident, inadvertent use, acquisition opportunities
for terrorists and other non-state actors and the possibility
of a nuclear exchange. [3,4]
9. The US-driven shift from norm-based non-proliferation
to counter-proliferation has weakened some of the essential infrastructure
that the international community needs for combating nuclear proliferation.
10. By deciding not to replace Trident and
then using its considerable influence to strengthen international
law and exert pressure for full implementation of resolutions
and treaties, UK could do much to restore and reinvigorate the
international non-proliferation regime. In 1989 the then President
of the USSR, Mikhail Gorbachev, by instituting a unilateral moratorium
on nuclear testing, started a cascade of international disarmament
measures. The UK could act similarly and, by taking the decision
not to renew the Trident missile system, act as a catalyst for
the international community to commence global nuclear disarmament.
11. Any use of nuclear weapons creates a
highly radioactive fireball which generates an intense blast wave,
a heat flash, "prompt" radiation and radioactive fallout.
Any use is therefore likely to cause "superfluous injury
and unnecessary suffering" to targeted combatants and to
expose non-combatants (civilians of an attacked state or of neutrals)
to the risk of radiation sickness, to leukaemia and other cancers
for decades to come, and perhaps genetic change leading to harmful
mutations in succeeding generations. For such reasons, the International
Court of Justice (ICJ), in Paragraph 105 (2) E of its Advisory
Opinion,  stated 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 international humanitarian law." (Earlier, in
para. 47, it stated that if the use of any weapon is illegal under
IHL, the threat of such use is also illegal.) The Court could
not "... 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." In his Declaration, the then President of the
Court, Judge Bedjaoui, emphasised however that this possible reservation
did not constitute an authorisation of use, and that any such
use would still have to accord with IHL in respect of indiscriminate
12. The White Paper justifies the replacement
of Trident on the need to deter possible future nuclear threats
to the UK. We would point out that "deterrence" in this
sense, even if spun under such language as our nuclear arms being
"purely political weapons", constitutes threat of use.
We further suggest that it is virtually impossible to imagine
a use of Trident or a successor that would be legal within the
constraints laid down by the ICJ.
Replacing Trident Would Undermine the Nuclear
13. The NPT  was opened for signature
in 1968 and entered into force in 1970. The UK is a Depositary
State for the treaty, which defines a nuclear weapon state as
one which exploded a nuclear device before 1 January 1967; but,
contrary to statements by some Government ministers, there is
no implication that such a state is in any way authorised to continue
to possess nuclear weapons.
14. Indeed, under Article VI of the treaty,
all States Parties undertake "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." In
Para. 105 (2) F of its Advisory Opinion , the ICJ interpreted
Article VI as an obligation to pursue such negotiations and bring
them to a conclusion [our italics].
15. In the Final Document of the 2000 Review
Conference of the NPT, States Parties, including the UK, accepted
a 13-point list of "Principles and Objectives for Nuclear
Non-Proliferation and Disarmament" . Two of these which
are particularly relevant to Trident and its possible replacement
read as follows:
"(6) An unequivocal undertaking by the
nuclear weapon states to accomplish the total elimination of their
nuclear arsenals, leading to nuclear disarmament to which all
States Parties are committed under Article VI." And:
"(8) Further efforts by the nuclear-weapons
states to reduce their nuclear weapons unilaterally."
16. The White Paper only briefly discusses
the legality issue and the NPT. The possibility of reducing the
submarines to three and warheads to 160 might be claimed to be
in accord with Principle (8) above, but is only tentative. The
White Paper implies that Trident replacement will be in order
to maintain nuclear capability until 2050. At present no negotiations
towards nuclear disarmament are taking place, and it is hard to
see how the UK could participate in any in good faith having just
committed itself to a procurement programme costing £20 billion
17. Two reports on the legality of Trident
replacement and its possible use in relation to the NPT by specialists
in international law have recently been published [8,9]. Both
reports suggest that the Government's position, as subsequently
outlined in the White Paper, is faulty. They advise that any use
(and therefore also threat of usesee our para. 11 above),
and, by implication, the UK Government's retention and replacement
of Trident, is a material breach of Article VI of the NPT.
18. In view of the above arguments, we conclude
that the Government must carefully consider the serious concerns
regarding the legality of the UK's strategy on use of nuclear
weapons; whether the use of Trident would be compatible with international
humanitarian law, and the legality of replacing or upgrading the
present system. We also believe the Government would be well advised
to look to other possible ways of maintaining UK security into
the second half of this century. We therefore make three recommendations:
19. Both in its submission to the 2005 NPT
Review Conference, and again in the White Paper, the Government
emphasises its commitment to the NPT. Internationally, the treaty
is regarded as the keystone of the nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation
process, and it is vital that our policies should not in any way
undermine it. Yet, as noted, expert opinion is that replacing
Trident would do just this. We therefore recommend that, as a
key part of its deliberations upon the appropriateness of the
replacement of Trident, the Committee should invite the authors
of the legal opinions cited [8,9], to appear before it, and for
the Attorney-General or his representative to respond in detail
to their critique.
20. We recommend that the UK Government
gives consideration to the concept of sustainable non-proliferation.
It is essential to assess the balance between the assured dangers
of widespread proliferation and the difficulties and uncertainties
of global nuclear disarmament. Article VI of the NPT made disarmament
an indispensable part of the non-proliferation equation. However,
it is unlikely that any government would consider renouncing the
option of such a powerful weapon if it thought that other governments
would keep them indefinitely.
21. The alternative to prohibiting and eliminating
nuclear weapons is not the status quo in which the UK remains
one of the privileged "haves", but a planned integrated
time-bound verifiable and policed approach to joint measures for
disarmament and non-proliferation. Common security is best promoted
when disarmament is integrated with non-proliferation responsibilities.
We therefore suggest the following integrated approach to disarmament
(a) Reinforce international laws and norms
of the regimes with more effective policing and measures for compliance,
enforcement and verification.
(b) Implement further deep cuts in nuclear
(c) Legislate to make any use of nuclear
weapons illegal in the form of a Nuclear Weapons Convention (as
with Chemical and Biological Weapons Conventions).
(d) Require each NW possessing nation to
develop a time-tied coherent plan to implement their disarmament
obligations under the NPT.
(e) Legislate to make the production of plutonium
and highly enriched uranium (HEU) either for weapons purposes
or for civil nuclear reactors illegal.
(f) Freeze the financial resources of those
who constitute a nuclear threat.
(g) Address perceptions of insecurity such
as regional conflict, injustice and discrimination, especially
with regard to access to education and resources.
(h) Research the causes of terrorism and
act on this to reduce the likelihood of people resorting to this
22. We urge the Committee to conclude, and
advise HMG accordingly, that the expenditure of some £20
billion in procurement and a further £50 billion in running
costs on a weapons system which could never be used in accordance
with IHL would be unjustified.
1. General Lee Butler. Speech to the National
Press Club Washington DC 1996.
2. Facing Nuclear Dangers. Report
of Tokyo Forum for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament.
Japan Institute of International affairs 1999.
3. John P Holdren. The future role of
nuclear weapons in international relations presentation to
the National Academy of Sciences Washington DC July 2005.
4. Scott D Sagan and Kenneth N Waltz. The
spread of nuclear weapons, a debate renewed 2003.
5. Legality of the Threat or Use of
Nuclear Weapons. ICJ Reports 1996.
6. Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of
Nuclear Weapons, 1970. Available inter alia in Report
of the Inquiry into the Legality of Nuclear Weapons, 2004:
Appendix 1: At: www.peacerights.org
7. Nuclear Disarmament Plan of Actions,
NPT Review Conference, 2000. Available inter alia in
Report of the Inquiry into the Legality of Nuclear Weapons,
2004: Appendix 2: At: www.peacerights.org
8. Rabinder Singh QC & Prof Christine
Chinkin. (Matrix, Gray's Inn, London WC1R 5LN) The Maintenance
and Possible Replacement of the Trident Nuclear Missile System.
Peacerights, December 2005. At: www.peacerights.org
9. Philippe Sands QC & Helen Law. (Matrix,
Gray's Inn, London WC1R 5LN), The United Kingdom's Nuclear
Deterrent: Current and Future Issues of Legality. Greenpeace,
November 2006. Available at: http://www.greenpeace.org.uk/MultimediaFiles/Live/FullReport/8072.pdf
10. Rebecca Johnson. Integrated Disarmamenta
prerequisite for sustainable non-proliferation' Disarmament
Diplomacy 82 Spring 2006.
12 January 2007