Select Committee on Defence Written Evidence

Memorandum from the Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy


  1.  The Government's White Paper on The Future of the United Kingdom's Nuclear Deterrent to the House of Commons, was introduced to the House of Commons on 4 December 2006.[93] It employs a succession of unsubstantiated assertions and circular arguments. Not only does it fail to make a convincing military or political case to justify retaining the current, cold-war-designed Trident nuclear system, but it then argues for procurement of a similar submarine-based system.

  2.  The Trident Lite option would carry UK nuclear weapons beyond 2050. The "20% reduction" in the "stockpile of operationally available warheads" [p 8 and Section 2] looks good, but though the new ceiling of 160 makes a probable virtue of necessity, it will not satisfy other parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). As detailed below, this "reduction" may not require any actual reduction of the current stockpile. Most importantly, this offer does not imply any reduction in the number of nuclear weapons deployed on the submarines when they go out on patrol.

  3.  The possibility of commissioning three rather than four submarines is canvassed, but the UK's deployed nuclear forces are likely to remain at current levels. The White Paper supports the MoD desire to retain the current "continuous deterrent patrolling" at sea, which it argues is essential for "invulnerability and assuredness" and to "motivate the crews".[94]

  4.  In pushing to renew Trident the White Paper ignores the growing body of analysis and intelligence that indicate that perpetuating nuclear weapons will undermine rather than enhance our national and international security, especially in view of potential proliferation and terrorist risks.

  5.  A decision this year is premature. It is neither necessary nor desirable to vote on the White Paper in March. MPs need to ensure that the full consultations that were promised are carried out before they vote. In view of the importance of getting Britain's nuclear policy right, the very least that MPs should demand is that the government undertakes a comprehensive security and defence review that combines the perspectives of foreign affairs, defence, non-proliferation and international law, with representation from civil society and security practitioners.[95]

  6.  The White Paper provides no consideration of practical options for non-nuclear deterrence and does not seriously engage with the fundamental questions relating to common security, deterrence or reducing nuclear dangers. It parodies alternatives, and dismisses without adequate discussion some compelling arguments about the positive role Britain could have in devaluing nuclear weapons and creating the conditions to facilitate more effective multilateral disarmament.

  7.  Nuclear and conventional weapons are juxtaposed as if these were the only defence tools available. Though it relies on a projection of new or "unknown" threats, the White Paper glosses over 21st century complexities and dumbs down consideration of alternatives to nuclear weapons. It simultaneously claims Britain's importance, for example as an "independent centre of nuclear decision-making", while implying that the UK is just a passive bystander, incapable of influencing the security and non-proliferation environment if we took a decision to renounce nuclear weapons.

  8.  Warheads with smaller yields may contribute to the government's statistic of reducing "the overall explosive power of its nuclear arsenal [from the height of cold war levels] by around 75%" [2-5], but deploying such smaller warheads for "sub-strategic" purposes may also lower the threshold of nuclear weapon use, and so increase threats and dangers, and contradict the government's assurance that nuclear weapons are not intended for use in conflicts.

  9.  Contrary to the White Paper's assertions, neither renewing Trident nor the uses of nuclear weapons envisaged in UK doctrine and policy would be compatible with the UK's international and legal obligations, particularly under humanitarian law and the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

  10.  The White Paper associates Britain's continued possession of nuclear weapons with deterring hostile forces that might arise over the next 20-50 years, particularly "re-emergence of a major nuclear threat", "emerging nuclear states", or "state-sponsored terrorism". Such potential dangers should undoubtedly be of concern, but the government signally fails to explain how UK nuclear weapons will deter either the development of such threats or the use of nuclear weapons against Britain or others.

  11.  Contemporary analyses of the kinds of potential aggressors identified in the White Paper conclude that they are unlikely to be deterred by nuclear weapons; on the contrary, their game plan may be to provoke a nuclear or similarly disproportionate retaliation, so states with nuclear weapons could well be putting themselves at greater risk of a devastating WMD attack. Then what do we do? Play into terrorists' hands by launching Trident? The White Paper talks vaguely of influencing states that might assist a nuclear terrorist. How? Whomever we chose to target in a retaliation, UK nuclear weapons would make any situation worse and could kill hundreds of thousands of non-combatants. Such a threat is not sufficiently credible to deter—and if we were actually to carry it out, we would be condemned across the world.

  12.  The most sensible way to reduce the dangers from the kinds of developments evoked in the White Paper would be to devalue nuclear weapons in all their aspects and make more coherent and concerted efforts to keep the weapons and materials out of circulation. This conclusion was compellingly drawn in a recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal by a very eminent group of former US policymakers, including Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and George P Schulz, Defence Secretary William J Perry, and the architect of the Cooperative Threat Reduction programme, Senator Sam Nunn. Coming from diverse political backgrounds, they all agreed that the world needed now to build "a solid consensus for reversing reliance on nuclear weapons globally as a vital contribution to preventing their proliferation into potentially dangerous hands, and ultimately ending them as a threat to the world".

  13.  Section 6 deals with Industrial Aspects, but fails to address the problems with BAE and the Barrow shipyard, and gives short shrift to the expensive, difficult—and unresolved—issues relating to decommissioning and disposal, especially regarding radioactive materials used in the current as well as any future nuclear weapon system. These issues must be addressed before any decision is made to procure a further nuclear system that would likely exacerbate current difficulties.


    "it will take around 17 years to design, manufacture and commission a replacement submarine" [p 6 and Section 1].

  14.  The White Paper distorts the facts when it pushes for a decision to be taken now. The current Vanguard-class submarines have a longer life expectancy than the government is now claiming.[96]

  15.  The White Paper's recommendation is for three to four similar submarines equipped with more robust nuclear reactors than the Vanguard-class. This reactor has already been developed and tested, so only very bad management would entail a 17-year construction schedule.

  16.  The government qualifies its "intention to build the new SSBNs in the UK", saying "this is dependent on proposals from industry that provide the right capability at the right time and offer value for money" [6-3]. BAE is mired in corruption scandals and the Barrow shipyard is behind in fulfilling its current contract for Astute-class submarines, so there is the risk that a hasty decision could compound the problems and might result in corners (including safety) being cut on the Astute or Trident programmes. Alternatively, in view of Barrow's problems, the order may go to a foreign (probably US) shipyard instead, despite use of the "jobs argument" to garner support for renewing Trident.

"Since 1956, the nuclear deterrent has underpinned our ability to [secure international peace and security]... it has been used to deter acts of aggression against our vital interests, never to coerce others." [p 6][97]

  17.  Though it has been convenient for many in the UK to treat the assertion that Britain's bomb deterred the Soviet Union as a "truism", it is open to serious question in light of documents from the Soviet era that are now becoming available. At best, the proposition is unknowable. We can only speculate about the relative weight to accord various Cold War variables, but there is no credible way to demonstrate the significance—or not—of nuclear weapons per se.

  18.  Labelling a succession of different kinds of nuclear weapons "the nuclear deterrent", as repetitiously done in the White Paper, may bind the concepts of nuclear weapons and deterrence together linguistically, but it does not say anything about the real world or create a logical or factual connection if one does not exist. Naming a cat "dog" does not confer the ability to bark. Whether UK nuclear weapons deterred in the past or are capable of deterring specific, unforeseeable or unknown threats in the future are questions that require examination, evidence and argument. The White Paper fails to do this, and relies instead on unsubstantiated assertions and slogans. Before making any binding decision, Parliament should insist on seeing a deeper analysis of nuclear and non-nuclear deterrence.

  19.  Contrary to the "truisms" that pepper the White Paper, history provides evidence that US and/or British nuclear weapons demonstrably failed to deter some very serious conflicts involving "acts of aggression" against what were perceived as our "interests". These include the Korean War; Vietnam War; Falklands War; and the invasion of Kuwait, leading to the first Gulf War. The first two appeared as part of the quintessentially Cold War contest of "Western values versus communism". US nuclear weapons failed to deter, prevent or influence the conduct and outcome of these conflicts.

  20.  With regard to the Falklands War and invasion of Kuwait, despotic leaders calculated correctly that they would not incur nuclear retaliation for their aggressive actions, despite not having nuclear weapons of their own. Far from being an effective deterrent, the evidence indicates that UK nuclear weapons were completely irrelevant to the decisions of the Argentinian generals; or of Saddam Hussein when he paraded British captives—including the UK ambassador—on Kuwaiti and international television, in what was a calculated public humiliation for Iraq's former colonial master.

  21.  Deterrence requires some level of shared values and reliable communications among protagonists, which took time to develop during the Cold War and is unlikely to work with the kind of threats—including terrorists and failed states with weapons of mass destruction—that the government now envisages. In addition, to make an adversary believe that a nuclear weapon threat is credible, it is necessary to demonstrate a preparedness to use the weapon. This entails concomitant risks of miscalculation, inadvertence or accident, as was clearly shown when the Cuban Missile Crisis brought the world to the brink of catastrophe in 1962.  It was clear then, and for the rest of the Cold War, that nuclear weapons increased global insecurity.

  22.  Though the bilateral treaties and measures put in place to enhance East-West communication and control and reduce nuclear build-up helped the US and USSR to avoid direct nuclear confrontation and mutual annihilation, it is a stretch too far to claim that their nuclear weapons—or Britain's—underpinned international peace and security. Arms sales continued to grow across the world, and many millions died as the major powers pursued proxy conflicts with each other by arming and fuelling wars in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Europe was spared, but the government has failed to provide any evidence to suggest that war was averted in Europe because of our nuclear weapons, rather than, say, the development of the European Union, less offensive military intentions on the part of the Soviet leadership than was assumed (or presented by US/Western leadership) at the time.

  23.  Soviet archives indicate that far from planning to invade Europe, the Soviet Union was put under great stress by having to divert resources into trying to match the US nuclear arsenal because of the fear generated by the perceived threats from US (and then British and French) nuclear weapons. Hence, the development and build-up of nuclear weapons by one side provoked the build-up of nuclear weapons by others. If Moscow had had any political or ideological impulse to undertake military adventurism in Europe, history suggests that it was most effectively deterred by its own compelling economic and political constraints.

  24.  From President Kennedy's Defence Secretary, Robert McNamara, to General Lee Butler, President George H W Bush's Commander-in-Chief, US Strategic Command (1989-91), senior military practitioners have expressed growing scepticism about the efficacy of nuclear reliance, even during the Cold War.[98]

  25.  Not only does the White Paper fail to justify its premise that our nuclear weapons aided peace and international security and deterred acts of aggression against the UK and its vital interests; the available evidence appears rather to point in the opposite direction. At the very least, the British public should expect the government to make a case based on more than the repetition of unsubstantiated assertions. Too much of our future security is at stake to rely on cold war myths and voodoo mantras about deterrence. The government needs to provide and examine evidence from the real world, based on the record of what actually happened in the past 51 years.

  26.  Even if nuclear weapons did play a role in deterring war among the major Cold War powers, relying on them in the manifestly different conditions the UK now faces reveals a naive and complacent stretch of faith. Adherence to a policy of nuclear reliance in a proliferating world increases the risks that deterrence will fail. If nuclear deterrence fails, remaining decision-makers (or even the submarine commanders, in a worst case scenario), may feel compelled to use UK nuclear weapons in retaliation, which could kill thousands, perhaps millions more civilians, as well as escalating the threats for Britain and the rest of the world.

"...the global context does not justify complete UK nuclear disarmament." [p 6]

  To back up this assertion, the government makes five specific claims:

(i)   "significant nuclear arsenals remain, some of which are being modernised and expanded".

  27.  The circularity of this argument is superficially persuasive, but deeply flawed. The government appears to be justifying its desire for Britain to retain its current nuclear weapons in perpetuity by citing similar decisions by others. By committing to acquiring a system to follow on from Trident, with upgraded submarines, perhaps also incorporating modified (modernised) warheads, Britain is excusing itself by creating an excuse for everyone else. Across the world, national legal systems and normal morality rightly reject the "others are doing it too" defence, even (especially?) by gang members who may genuinely feel threatened by knife or gun cultures that their own posturing with such weapons perpetuates and provokes.

(ii)   "the number of states possessing weapons has continued to grow"

  28.  It depends where the baseline is drawn, but there were more nuclear weapons and more states with nuclear weapons 15 years ago than now. The enhanced political value placed on nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation in the early 1990s played a major role in enabling South Africa, Belarus, Ukraine and Kazakhstan to close down nuclear weapons facilities and dismantle or give up the nuclear weapons on their territory. They subsequently joined the NPT as non-nuclear weapon states. Brazil, which at one time was expected to become the fifth nuclear threshold state (after Israel, India, Pakistan and South Africa), also renounced any ambition in that direction and finally joined the NPT a few years after they signed up to the Treaty of Tlatelolco, establishing a nuclear weapon free zone in Latin America and the Caribbean.

  29.  In that time, only one state—North Korea—has sought to withdraw from the NPT. Though North Korea's nuclear test on 9 October 2006, and its claim to have produced some nuclear weapons are undoubtedly a set-back for the nonproliferation regime, it is simply nonsense to suggest that this justifies UK nuclear weapons. If anything, the North Korean example illustrates the predictable consequences of military threats and nuclear sabre-rattling, as practised since 2001 by the Bush administration, in a context when major nuclear powers are revaluing and modernising their nuclear forces and undermining international law and the multilateral nonproliferation regime.

  30.  It is true that India and Pakistan have gone more overt, declaring themselves nuclear weapon states after conducting underground test explosions in May 1998.  After initial condemnation, the international community did not take long to accept them back into the fold, particularly when President Bush has embraced them so closely as allies in the "war on terror", resuming arms sales to Pakistan and, most recently, concluding a nuclear deal with India that is widely perceived as undermining some of the basic principles and practices of the nonproliferation regime, including export controls on nuclear technology.

  31.  The "nuclear ambitions of Iran", cited in Tony Blair's introduction to the White Paper, are still many years from a nuclear capability. This is not to say that the world can afford to be complacent. Though we are right to be very concerned, Iran's ambitions are not going to be thwarted by British nuclear weapons. Quite the reverse: Iran's ambitions may be contained and kept as unfulfilled as Libya's, but the strategies for doing so will require at a minimum the devaluing of nuclear weapons, strengthening the nonproliferation regime, and reducing the status, value, additional security and power projection that many in Iran think are being bestowed on Israel, India and Pakistan by their possession of nuclear weapons.

(iii)   "ballistic missile technology has also continued to proliferate"

  32.  As for ballistic missiles, one of the foremost US nonproliferation experts, Joseph Cirincione, noted in January 2007: "The ballistic missile threat is often exaggerated by government officials in their justification for favoured programmes. The "missile scare" of the past 10 years provoked by the inaccurate assessment of the 1998 Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States chaired by Donald Rumsfeld, has proven to be a false alarm. None of the threats predicted by the commission developed. No new nation acquired ballistic missile technology over the past nine years (in fact, no new nation has started a ballistic missile program in the past 20 years). Nor did North Korea, Iran or Iraq develop an ICBM, as the commission predicted they would. The only missile development of any consequence has been the testing of medium-range ballistic missiles by North Korea and Iran, with ranges of 1,000-1,300 kilometres. Efforts by North Korea to develop longer-range missiles have failed; Iran has announced programs to extend the range of their Scud-based missiles but without any demonstrated success."[99]

  33.  Cirincione concludes, "the ballistic missile threat Europe faces today is limited and changing very slowly. Russia's arsenal is steadily declining and this decline could be accelerated through negotiated reductions. China's arsenal is limited and could be limited further through negotiations. Iran is the only other conceivable threat but there is little evidence that Iran could develop a long-range missile capable of hitting Central Europe with nuclear warheads within the next 15 years. Here, too, internal political developments and diplomatic efforts and measured military preparedness could deter and even eliminate this threat before it develops."[100]

  34.  In an article outlining two multilateral approaches to constrain the proliferation of missiles, President Clinton's former ambassador for nonproliferation, Thomas Graham, and Indian expert Dinshaw Mistry noted that the major impediment to getting a global missile nonproliferation treaty would be the nuclear powers, who would "seek to retain their nuclear missiles in any such treaty".[101]

  35.  This again exposes the circularity of positions relied on in the White Paper: it justifies Trident replacement as necessary to defend against a possible future threat that we would be in a much stronger position to prevent here and now if we weren't so bent on keeping our nuclear options as wide open as possible.

(iv)   "most industrialised countries have the capability to develop chemical and biological weapons"

  36.  This is technically true but very misleading. Most pharmaceutical manufacturers and kitchens also have the "capability" to develop some kinds of chemical and biological weapons (CBW), but that does not mean that there is an increased threat from chefs and people who work for Boots and Superdrug. To constitute a threat requires not only capabilities and know-how, but intentions and concealment, as the government well knows. This assertion therefore carries uncomfortable echoes of the exaggerations and innuendos in the "dodgy dossiers" crafted in 2002-03 to create sufficient fear to propel sceptical MPs into voting for the war on Iraq.

  37.  Two further aspects embedded in this assertion need to be unpicked. Including it here implies that Trident would have some role to play in countering biological and chemical weapon threats. First, in accordance with Britain's international legal obligations and security assurances, nuclear weapons cannot lawfully be used to counter a biological or chemical threat from a non-nuclear state. As Professor Michael Clarke of the University of London points out, "There is no comparison between the strategic destructive power of nuclear weapons on the one hand and of chemical and biological weapons on the other."[102] Nuclear weapons would not be a proportionate response even in the event of a significant attack using biological or chemical weapons, and so would violate humanitarian law and the laws governing armed conflict.

  38.  Additionally, there are widely adhered-to international treaties and agreements that prohibit biological and chemical weapons. These have created international norms that will act as a much more effective deterrent on any government contemplating the use of such weapons. Even though Saddam Hussein was hanged before he could be tried for using chemical weapons against Iranian forces and the Iraqi-Kurdish town of Halabja in the 1980s, the fact that this use has been widely condemned as a war-crime will give the deterrent effect a personal dimension for the leader(s) of any regime that might consider CBW use in the future.

(v)   some countries might in future seek to sponsor nuclear terrorism from their soil

  39.  As Tony Blair said, "I do not think that anyone pretends that the independent nuclear deterrent is a defence against terrorism."[103] He is right, and it is misleading for the White Paper to try to draw a link by asserting "retention of an effective nuclear deterrent by the UK has a role to play in reducing the potential threat from state-sponsored nuclear-armed terrorists". [p 20] This evoking of nuclear terrorism as a threat to justify Britain holding on to nuclear weapons has the same flaws as the previous assertion about CBW. Nuclear pre-emption or retaliation would inevitably kill thousands of innocent non-combatants and violate the legal requirement of proportionality.

  40.  The nuclear threat in these cases would be far less likely to deter than existing collective political, diplomatic and economic tools, and any nuclear use could profoundly compromise Britain's security and international standing in the longer term.

  41.  The taboo on using or assisting others to use nuclear weapons is even stronger than the taboos on CBW use. Moreover, UN Security Council resolution 1540 (2004) has placed an obligation on all governments to enact domestic legislation to comply with the treaties and do everything in their power to prevent non-state actors from acquiring the materials and technologies that might lead to biological, chemical or nuclear weapons. While this does not guarantee against a CBW or nuclear terrorist attack, it will give serious pause to any government, manufacturer or political group that might be tempted to assist or turn a blind eye to terrorists seeking to acquire any kind of weapon of mass destruction.

  42.  Finally, there is a post 9/11 twist that fatally undermines the concept of nuclear deterrence with regard to extremists driven by religious or political ideologies. Not only would such aggressors not be deterred by nuclear or other WMD held by their target countries or anyone else; on the contrary, their game plan could include provoking a nuclear or similarly disproportionate retaliation in order to turn moral outrage against the retaliator and recruit more people to their causes.

  43.  As Professor Malcolm Chalmers noted, "Far from being deterred by nuclear weapons, terrorists would be delighted to provoke a Trident retaliation, fully aware of the global opprobrium that this would bring on Britain. Even a nuclear attack on the UK by an identifiable "rogue" state could not justify a British nuclear response in which the main victims would be thousands of innocent civilians. Regime change using conventional forces would be a more appropriate, and moral, response."[104]

"We can only deter such threats in future through the continued possession of nuclear weapons." [p 7]

  44.  On the contrary: as analysed above, Britain's nuclear weapons cannot provide us with security or convincing deterrence, but they may increase our insecurity by making us a more attractive and vulnerable target than countries without nuclear weapons.

  45.  In the absence of any evidence, arguments or attempt to make a case for nuclear deterrence having had efficacy in the past or how it would work with regard to potential future threats, one of the ploys utilised assiduously in the White Paper is to refer only to the "nuclear deterrent", sometimes qualified by "independent" or abbreviated to "the deterrent". This is an advertising technique, as when a drink is labelled "naturally good" to distract consumers from the fact that it is packed with sugar and chemical colour and flavour enhancers. Such labels are not only dishonest; they function to influence decision-making. It is psychologically harder for MPs to vote against having a "deterrent", however tenuous, than if the words "nuclear weapons" were straightforwardly used in the government's discussions.

  46.  The White Paper's case for gaining public acceptance (and MPs' votes) for renewing Trident rests entirely on its unproven (and generally unprovable) assumptions and statements about deterrence. People may consent to nuclear weapons that are there in order not to be used, as government spokespeople used to proclaim, while magically preventing anyone else from using nuclear weapons against us. The idea of renewing Trident becomes far less attractive when put in terms of nuclear weapons that a political leader in the future might decide to launch against another country, where they could kill hundreds of thousands of people.

  47.  Though the White Paper goes further than most such documents in explaining why it prefers Trident's particular capabilities in terms of range, readiness and the diversity of targets it can hit simultaneously, it does not, for obvious reasons, discuss targeting doctrine and strategy. Information on this is classified in Britain, but available in an unclassified version from the United States, with which UK doctrine and targeting are harmonised.[105] UK officials insist there are some critical differences between British and American doctrines and targeting policies, but have failed to provide information on what these differences are and why.

  48.  Therefore, before jumping to the conclusion that nuclear deterrence is a good or sensible thing, it is worth looking at the kind of targets that are being explicitly considered as part of US deterrence doctrine. While it is true that UK Trident missiles are not currently targeted at anyone in particular, a host of military and civilian targets anywhere in the world can be programmed in as quickly as it takes to key the coordinates into a computer.

  49.  Though the UK reduced the "notice to fire" from hours to days in 1998, the UK's current "deterrent posture" requires that whenever the submarines go on patrol they are equipped with armed warheads attached to navigationally primed missiles able to be launched at a moment's notice once they receive the order which, according to the White Paper, can only come from the Prime Minister. (If the Prime Minister has been incapacitated, what then? While accepting this is the political requirement, are we expected to believe that the commanders on board the submarines do not possess the physical capability to launch the nuclear weapons on board in extremis?)

"Conventional capabilities cannot have the same deterrent effect" [p 7]

  50.  Again, this is an assertion without a shred of evidence or analysis. The vast majority of the world's nations, many of which are in far more volatile or vulnerable regions than Britain, have concluded the opposite. This assertion completely contradicts the premise on which the nonproliferation regime is based. It severely undermines international efforts to prevent the acquisition of nuclear weapons by countries such as North Korea and Iran, and if taken seriously, could provide justifications for nuclear proliferation by many more governments. For the government to make such an assertion is deeply irresponsible, and flies in the face of history and Britain's broader security and nonproliferation objectives.

  51.  The issue is not whether deterrence is a useful concept for defence, but whether nuclear weapons are an essential—or even useful—component of actual deterrence. To the extent that deterrence works, it is the product of the interplay of multiple instruments, any one of which might fail. As well as hard and soft power, psychological, cultural and communications factors play important but not necessarily predictable roles in deterrence. It is inappropriate—and counterproductive—to rest the weight of deterrence on a single weapon system: if that were justifiable, all governments would feel duty-bound to provide such protection to their populace.

  52.  Finally, the possibility that deterrence may fail is inherent. Adherence to a policy of nuclear deterrence in a proliferating world increases the risks of its failure, and may then cause nuclear weapons to be used, which would likely prove worse than the original threat.

Renewing [Trident] is fully consistent with all our international obligations. [p 7]

  53.  On the contrary, renowned international lawyers have concluded that:

    —  The use of the Trident system would breach international law, in particular because it would infringe the "intransgressible" requirement that a distinction must be drawn between combatants and non-combatants;

    —  The replacement of Trident would constitute a breach of Article VI of the NPT; and

    —  Such a breach would, in legal terms, be a "material breach" of the NPT.[106]

  54.  To justify its claim to legality, the White Paper in Section 2 argues that the NPT "recognises the UK's status" and that Britain has substantially reduced its arsenal and is much smaller than the major nuclear powers. In the hope of being perceived as complying with its nuclear disarmament obligations under Article VI, the government goes a step further, and offers to reduce the "stockpile of operationally available warheads" by 20%, resulting in "almost a 50% reduction compared to the plans of the previous government".

  55.  Previous governments' levels of overkill are not disputed, particularly when the Conservatives brought Trident into service in 1994, several years after it had been rendered militarily obsolete by the end of the cold war. However, other governments' failures to take their treaty obligations seriously cannot constitute a justification for the present government to make the same mistakes. The treaty obligations were made more urgent and explicit in two consecutive meetings of NPT parties, in 1995 and 2000. If a decision is wrong for Britain's security and the nonproliferation regime, it isn't improved by making it only 80% as bad as the previous lot.

  56.  As part of efforts to strengthen the NPT, the obligations with regard to safeguards and disarmament were clarified and further elaborated in 1995 and 2000, by consensus agreement of all NPT states parties. In relation to this, the P-5 nuclear-weapon states made an "unequivocal undertaking... to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals", and committed themselves to a programme of "practical steps for the systematic and progressive efforts to implement Article VI".[107]

  57.  The withdrawal and ultimate decommissioning during the 1990s of obsolete weapons such as nuclear artillery and nuclear depth and free-fall bombs was, of course, welcome, but the Article VI obligation is not just to reduce the nuclear arsenals, but to eliminate them.[108]

  58.  By no legally admissible reasoning would it be consistent with these obligations for Britain to procure new submarines to carry continuously refurbished US ballistic missiles with up to 160 refurbished or possibly new warheads, with the intention of having this renewed nuclear weapon system come into service in 15-20 years time and run for up to 30 years after that.

  59.  The White Paper is not promising to reduce its existing Trident system, which would be welcomed as a step towards giving it up altogether. However it is dressed up, the White Paper's actual proposal is to maintain at least 80% of Britain's nuclear weapons for a further 30 plus years, representing an overall increase in capability and longevity.

  60.  This is not disarmament, but "nuclear re-armament", as noted by Kofi Annan. In pursuing the renewal or modernisation of existing arsenals, the outgoing UN Secretary-General warned that the nuclear weapon states "should not imagine that this will be accepted as compatible with the NPT".


  61.  While the various steps that the UK has taken towards reducing its arsenal since 1991 and ceasing nuclear testing and fissile material production are welcome, these should not obscure the fact that Britain will be violating the NPT and several other international legal obligations if it acquires and deploys a further generation of nuclear weapons, even if there are "only" three submarines and 160 warheads and they are designed to look almost exactly the same as the current Trident system.

  62.  The White Paper makes misleading reference to the 1996 Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), saying that it "rejected the argument that [the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons] would necessarily be unlawful". In fact, three of the 14 eminent Judges hearing the case took the view that any and all uses of nuclear weapons would be unlawful, even if the very survival of the state was at stake, while seven felt unable to make that determination—as the law then stood—and the remaining four considered that the use of nuclear weapons to ensure the survival of the state would be permissible under international law. Though the White Paper provides only a thin overview of doctrine and targeting policy, it is hard to see how any envisaged use would pass this high legal threshold.


  63.  Trident Lite is that classic mistake of weak governments—an apparent compromise that resolves nothing. There is no convincing military or political case to justify retaining the current, cold-war-designed Trident nuclear system at a cost of over £1 billion per year, and the government has failed to make its case for buying and deploying the same system all over again, albeit with three submarines and fewer warheads.

  64.  Calculations based on the frequency and size of the nuclear warhead convoys between Aldermaston and Coulport suggest that Britain may not have manufactured more than 160-170 warheads for the current Trident system. The White Paper's offer of a reduced stockpile may therefore be little more than a political bid to make a virtue out of necessity. With 160 warheads, Britain's nuclear arsenal would carry an aggregate explosive power of some 16 megatonnes.

  65.  Since the cost savings of Trident-lite over Trident are not very big, the government appears to be politically banking on their slightly scaled down version being more acceptable to domestic and international opinion than commissioning the full-blown Trident or, worse still, a more flexible, provocative or vulnerable air-, land- or sea (surface)-based system.

  66.  The Foreign Office has embarked on a "charm offensive" to explain the government's decision, with great emphasis being placed on presenting the 20% reduction as a significant step towards fulfilment of Britain's article VI obligations.

  67.  Trident lite will extend dependency on the United States. Britain relies on US ballistic missiles, which are manufactured by US arms giant Lockheed Martin, which also owns 30% of the consortium that manages AWE Aldermaston. UK warheads are manufactured using extensive research and design cooperation from the United States and even some US-made components and materials.

  68.  The current Vanguard submarines and any envisaged follow-on will exacerbate tensions with Scotland, where they are deployed at the Clyde Submarine base at Faslane. A significant majority of Scottish public opinion, including several political parties and the major churches, are opposed to nuclear weapons, and resent having the UK nuclear forces foisted on them.

  69.  Scotland's concerns have been more prominently voiced since the partial devolution of some responsibilities to the Holyrood parliament. While defence and foreign policy decisions remain with Westminster, Holyrood has responsibilities for environmental safety and policing. In regard to this, questions have been raised in the Scottish Parliament about the transporting of nuclear warheads on the roads between Aldermaston and Faslane, and the costs and problems of policing the nuclear base. A focus for local and international protests for more than 25 years, disruptions of the Faslane base and its access roads has intensified in recent months. Among the thousands who have protested against Trident and its renewal in recent months, over 450 have been arrested, including seven members of the European and Scottish parliaments, eminent clerics, authors and professors, and a former Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations. The costs of policing now exceed £1.75 million per month, and are predicted to rise. In view of the costs and risks to Scottish taxpayers, the Scottish National Party (SNP) has proposed charging the UK government £1 million per nuclear warhead that is transported on Scottish roads to Coulport and Faslane.[109]


  70.  The Trident decision embodies both an opportunity and a responsibility to examine Britain's security needs and debate our role in the world for the 21st century. It should not be rushed.

  71.  The White Paper has failed to grasp the fundamental changes affecting UK security in the 21st century. It proposes business as usual (only 20 % less), when Britain needs to play a more visionary, coherent and pro-active role to prevent threats that nuclear weapons will not prove capable of deterring.

  72.  Parliament should not vote on the issue until there has been a much fuller consultation, involving experts and civil society.

  73.  Though the Acronym Institute shares some of the government's concerns about proliferation, the White Paper places the wrong emphasis on the various elements of the threats facing Britain, and specifically in relation to nuclear risks. Much more should be done to support the multilateral treaties and instruments that play a critical role in our national security and as a major component of international deterrence against the use and threat of use of weapons of mass destruction. Preventing the development of further nuclear weapons is an integral part of a successful non-proliferation policy.

  74.  Britain must not fudge this historic chance to provide leadership and promote more effective strategies to devalue nuclear weapons and enhance the non-proliferation regime's credibility and reduce nuclear threats worldwide.

30 January 2007

uclear Doctrine in Rebecca Johnson, Nicola Butler and Stephen Pullinger, Worse than Irrelevant? British Nuclear Weapons in the 21st Century, Acronym Institute, London, October 2006.

93   The page numbers in brackets and all quotes used as sub-heads in the detailed critique are taken from the government White Paper, The Future of the United Kingdom's Nuclear Deterrent, issued by the Ministry of Defence and Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Cm 6994, published 4 December 2006. Back

94   The White Paper dismisses suggestions from naval experts and other analysts that continuous at-sea patrols are not necessary. In holding open the possibility of building only three new submarines, the MoD's premise is that enhancements in submarine (and reactor) design would make it possible to have at least one submarine on patrol, even with only three submarines. Back

95   Some of the arguments below are drawn from the detailed discussion of the Trident decision published by the Acronym Institute before the White Paper was issued. See Rebecca Johnson, Nicola Butler and Stephen Pullinger, Worse than Irrelevant? British Nuclear Weapons in the 21st Century, London, October 2006. Back

96   See Richard L Garwin, Philip E Coyle, Theodore A Postol and Frank von Hippel, Comment on the Fuure of the United Kingdom's Nuclear Deterrent, 23 January 2007. Back

97   All quotes used as sub-heads are taken from the government White Paper, titled The Future of the United Kingdom's Nuclear Deterrent, issued by the Ministry of Defence and Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Cm 6994, published 4 December 2006. Back

98   General Lee Butler, for example, described nuclear deterrence as "a rhetorical sleight of hand, deceptively packaged and oversold". Speech to the National Press Club, Washington DC, 5 December 1996.  Back

99   Email communication with the author, 26 January 2007.  Back

100   Ibid. See also, Joseph Cirincione, The Declining Ballistic Missile Threat, 2005, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Washington DC, February 2005. In this, Cirincione states: "At present, neither the United States nor Europe faces a serious threat from nuclear-armedballistic missiles. Russia still fields some 3,550 warheads on over 900 intercontinental andsubmarine-launched ballistic missiles, but absent an accidental or unauthorised launch it isvery unlikely that these missiles would be used against another nation. Russia's forces will likely shrink dramatically over the next 10 years to under 1,000 warheads on a few hundredmissiles. China fields only 20 warheads on 20 intercontinental ballistic missiles, though it istrying to replace its aging force with a new generation of missiles it hopes to field by the endof the decade. No other potentially hostile nation has a long-range missile that can reach Europe or the United States from its territory." Back

101   Thomas Graham and Dinshaw Mistry, "Two Treaties to Contain Missile Proliferation" Disarmament Diplomacy 82 (Spring 2006). Back

102   Michael Clarke, "Does my bomb look big in this? Britain's nuclear choices after Trident", International Affairs, Volume 80, Issue 1, January 2004. Back

103   Tony Blair, House of Commons, Hansard, 19 October 2005, column 841. Back

104   Malcolm Chalmers, "Long Live Trident?" Physics World, August 2005. Back

105   See Appendix I on N Back

106   For a fuller discussion, including references to the analyses of Charles Moxley, Rabinder Singh QC and Professor Christine Chinkin, see Rebecca Johnson, Nicola Butler and Stephen Pullinger, Worse than Irrelevant? British Nuclear Weapons in the 21st Century, Acronym Institute, London, October 2006. See also Philippe Sands QC and Helen Law, The United Kingdom's Nuclear Deterrent: Current and Future Issues of Legality, London, Matrix Chambers and Greenpeace, November 2006. Back

107   Final Document of the 2000 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, (Section on Article VI and preambular paras 8-12, Paragraph 15, sub-paragraph 6), NPT/CONF.2000/28 (Vol 1, Part I and II), 25 May 2000. Back

108   See ??? Back

109   Paul Hutcheon, "SNP plan £1 million toll for Trident", Sunday Herald, 21 January 2007, pp 1-3. Back

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