Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20-39)|
16 JANUARY 2007
Q20 Linda Gilroy: Is the point you
are making that somewhere in that software is the capacity to
stop in fairly short order the ability of the United Kingdom to
target and operate missiles?
Mr Ainslie: There is a number
of ways, if the intention was there, that from the United States
end they could do it. The system can almost certainly distinguish
between a plan which is produced only within the British system
or a plan which is produced within the American system. There
are all sorts of levels going in, so they can probably distinguish
between those two.
Q21 Linda Gilroy: Those are assertions
and statements. Can you source those for us in some further note?
Mr Ainslie: Yes. I have written
something on this recently, so I can give you a copy of that.
Q22 Chairman: You say the potential
exists for that to happen rather than your having any evidence.
Mr Ainslie: Precisely. It is a
potential vulnerability. Clearly, at levels of classification
involved in this it would be very difficult to verify.
Q23 Mr Hancock: Have you read the
previous evidence we have had at the Committee?
Mr Ainslie: Yes.
Mr Hancock: We were assured that the
guidance and targeting mechanisms were wholly British and were
unstoppable if a British Prime Minister gave authorisation for
their usetheir independent use. When the questions were
put to the panel on that day, a number of members seriously questioned
whether that was an accurate interpretation. The answer came back
that, irrefutably, there was no possibility whatsoever, once the
command to fire a missile from a British submarine was given,
that firing could in any way be impeded by a source outside of
the summary or outside of the chain of command in the United Kingdom.
I am a little surprised, to say the least, that you believe there
is evidencenot just the possibility but the evidenceto
suggest that is a possibility. We were given a cast-iron assurance.
It was the only thing that determined whether or not we had an
Chairman: I think you said there was
not evidence that it was possible but that it was a potential.
Q24 Mr Hancock: We were told it was
not possible. That is different from potential. When somebody
says, sitting where you are, that it is impossible to do that,
then we have to either prove them wrong by saying this is how
it can be done or we have to accept that. I am thinking that there
is a real difference between possible and potential.
Mr Ainslie: If I could explain
in terms of he authorisation process. In terms of a decision being
made by the Prime Minister, all the way down to some form of instruction
reaching a missile technician in front of his computer, I would
quite happily believe that is an entirely British process that
cannot be interfered with. Through the missile technician or electronically
or however it goes, once the authorisation message goes into the
fire control system computer, it is then running. There is no
doubt about this: there is no end of contracts. The fire control
system software is purchased from the United States and the shore-end
stuff that processes the target data is also reliant on American
computer models. I have no doubt about that at all. Whether there
is the potential for them to change it is a more complex issue.
I have no doubt about that at all.
Q25 Linda Gilroy: I am interested
in whether you think built into the ownership and operation of
the software by the United Kingdom is the capacity in short order
to interfere in a short space of time, rather than years, with
the ability of the Prime Minister to issue an order to fire a
missile and for that to happen.
Mr Ainslie: There are ways of
doing it. One is in terms of the difference between a Co-ordinated
plan or a uniquely British plan. The second, certainly in terms
of the Russian scenario, is dependent on 12-hourly weather data
from the United States and whether that 12-hourly weather data
could be used as an on/off switch. In order to get the accuracy,
they have to have the weather over the target area and that is
transmitted every 12 hours from America.
Q26 Mr Jones: Do you have any evidence
that this is the case? I am a very simple soul myself: I tend
to go on facts and things put in front of me rather than suppositions.
You say you have a paper. In that, is there some evidence?
Mr Ainslie: It is a vulnerability.
The thing that flagged this up to me was the Audit Office report
in 1998. The UK should have the ability to produce targeting and
effectiveness software. They were having difficulties doing that.
I basically have been told from America, from the analysts, that
the British expertise was negligible. The official MoD line is:
"No, we have sorted those problems and brought in contractors."
It was being flagged up at those early stages in the Trident process
that this is maybe a key vulnerability.
Q27 Mr Jones: There is a big jump
from what you have just said to then saying that somehow America
has a technological veto or electronic veto over the independence.
Mr Ainslie: I am saying: Why is
it considered essential for the United Kingdom to have that independent
targeting capability? Why was that considered essential in the
1980s? Because we do not have it.
Chairman: I think we have taken this
as far as we can. Do any of your further questions arise under
Linda Gilroy: I will come back to them
at the end. They possibly do, about the impact of the non proliferation
Q28 Chairman: That certainly does
come back at the end. I have a quick questionwith I hope
a quick answerabout openness and the openness of the decision-making
process that we are currently going through. The Prime Minister
says that it has never been as open a process as this: everything
in the past has been conducted behind closed doors and perhaps
not even getting as far as the Cabinet. What would your comment
be on this?
Mr Kent: My comment would be that
I could understand that the technical details may have to be discussed
behind closed doors but I can see absolutely no reason why the
major principles of the issue should not be discussed as widely
as possible in a democracy. Is this the right way to proceed for
our security? It is not a closed-door issue. It should be an open-door
Q29 Chairman: That is what we are
Ms Jones: That is exactly what
is going on now.
Q30 Chairman: Ms McDonald.
Ms McDonald: As I understand it,
in the White Paper it says the Government decision to replace
Trident has been taken. All the supporting views that they give
are to saying that this is what we want to do. That is their position.
In the White Paper there is no mention of consultation. Although
it says the Prime Minister said in a parliamentary answer on 28
June that there would be an announcement of the means of consultation
when the White Paper was published, we are still awaiting those
means, and there is no consultation as far as I understand it
in the normal sense and the understood meaning of the word.
Linda Gilroy: The White Paper sets out
the Government's position on it.
Q31 Chairman: Sian Jones.
Ms Jones: You opened that by saying
we are discussing it, but we are discussing this in a separate
process which began before the publication of the White Paper.
This was an initiative of the Defence Select Committee. We know
that the Government decided at the beginning of that process not
to engage in it and issued a statement and then said that they
would not be attending to produce evidence. Our questions would
be very much around the failure of the Government to be transparent
and to come before you and inform youand I am speaking,
as always, about Aldermaston, because it is the only area in which
I have any expertiseof the measures they have taken to
date that take us down the road towards the factin our
understanding and beliefthat very many aspects of that
decision are being made and that what is going to be put before
Parliament is the end of a process of decision-making that has
resulted in the preparation of the options that are included in
the White Paper. One of the other things I would add is that,
because our colleagues in the US have far more freedom of information
under their Freedom of Information Act, they are able to find
out details of the US and UK collaboration and various other processes
involved under mutual defence agreements between the US and the
UK. In a way the evidence that John has cited in some respects
and that we cite in our submission does not come from transparency
and openness by our Government; it comes from a process with the
American Freedom of Information Act that allows people to find
out what is going on at Los Alamos, Livermore, Sandia and the
other laboratories with which Aldermaston works.
Mr Jones: Will you give any credit to
the Government, who are going to have a vote for the first time
on this in Parliament?
Mr Jenkin: That is not quite correct.
There was a vote in 1982.
Q32 Mr Jones: Is it not a major step
forward? The supposition is that Parliament is going to vote for
this. What happens if we vote against it? If you are to give politicians
options or people options to do something, surely you have to
do the preparation beforehandwhich is what is happening
Mr Kent: It is an advance on 1947,
undoubtedly, where the decision was taken secretly and announced
about two years later. It is an advance but it is still not what
is needed in a democracy.
Q33 Mr Jones: In the Bruce Kent world,
what would be the perfect way of dealing with this?
Mr Kent: I think to open some
of the issues which are simply missing in the paper: to discuss
the things that we are all concerned aboutand not just
us but Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and the rest of themon
the threats that face our planet. That discussion is not being
conducted. The assumption is: deterrence works, full stop, and
we do not have to do anything else except rely on it.
Q34 Mr Hancock: The Prime Minister,
probably going back in his own short memory to the time when he
supported the campaign you were leading, said that he fully accepted
that people had a different view from the one he now holds about
this issue, but he also stated quite clearly in the White Paper
that those who hold that view and who question the decision, need
to explain why disarmament in itself by the UK would help our
security. I think that is a question he would pose to all of us
who would believe that replacement of the submarines is not in
the best defence interests of the country. I would be interested
to know your views on that. The Prime Minister invited us to give
our views and today we are giving you the opportunity.
Mr Kent: If I may speak on this,
I think disarmament by ourselves alone would put us into the position
of Sweden or New Zealand or other countries who are not at immediate
threat of some awful enemy with nuclear weapons. Disarmament on
its own would be a positive step, but it is not disarmament on
its own we are calling for. We are calling for multilateral negotiations
aimed at the elimination of nuclear weapons from the world surface
and that requires a completely different kind of political and
security structure and an awful lot of new thinking which is completely
absent. Mr Blair has changed his mind; many people have. That
is up to them. They have to face the issues of today and to answer
the kind of questions we are asking.
Q35 Mr Hancock: Does your response
to my question not beg the question: Over how long would you say
that process takes? In the meantime, do you secure your own security
by maintaining what you have until the climate is right for multilateral
Mr Kent: First of all, there is
no process. Despite the fact that there is a clear legal obligation,
the 2005 NPT review conference ended in complete failure. The
2000 conference produced some sensible proposals which have not
been operated on. There are no meetings in the Geneva Committee
on disarmament. There is no proposal anywhere. Despite Blix's
call for a world summit on nuclear disarmament, no response from
this Government. I cannot say there is an indefinite long process
because the process has not started. It could be quite quick,
like a landmines treaty, if we wanted to make it quick, but we
have not wanted to make it quick. The assumption behind your question
is that nuclear weapons do defend us interim while this is going
on. I do not believe they do any more.
Q36 Mr Hancock: The Prime Minister's
question, Mr Kent, was quite specific. He said in the foreword
in the White Paper: "Those who question this decision need
to explain why disarmament by the UK would help our security."
By that, he means the argument over yes or no to the replacement
of his submarines. It is not about global disarmament; he is talking
about the United Kingdom. That is the question that a lot of people
out there would like to have answered.
Mr Kent: We do not believe it
gives us security, it is an illusion of security, but to decide
not to replace Trident helps our security because, if we signal
up that in 20 years we will not have them, there is the chance
of serious negotiations with other countries that might start
to take a different road, including, of course, the existing nuclear
powers. It is not a tomorrow security but it is a process that
has to begin.
Q37 Chairman: Would any of you like
to add anything to that.
Ms McDonald: Yes, we would be
safer to give up nuclear weapons because we would then not be
a potential threat for starting a nuclear war. That is what other
countries see Britain as, and that would be something to undo
if we are serious about building a world that meets everyone's
real security needs.
Q38 Mr Hancock: Do you seriously
believe, Ms McDonald, that there are countries which believe the
United Kingdom would start a nuclear war?
Ms McDonald: We do not have a
policy of no first-use, so we must be prepared to start one.
Q39 Mr Crausby: The CND's alternative
White Paper: Safer Britain, Safer World effectively argues
that there is no current nuclear threat faced by the United Kingdom.
In fact it opens up with the fact that the most pressing threat
currently in the UK is that of international terrorism. The Government's
White Paper tries to counter that in the sense that it says some
companies might seek in future to sponsor nuclear terrorism from
their soil. It goes on to say, "We can only deter such threats
through the continued possession of nuclear weapons." It
effectively says that conventional capabilities cannot have the
same deterrent effect. How do you answer that argument, that there
really is a terrorist-linked nuclear threat that can only be countered
by a nuclear deterrent of our own?
Mr Kent: I think they are scratching
around to try to find a way of justifying the threat of nuclear
weapons against a territorial entity. Since they clearly cannot
do that against the terrorists, they try to find a state that
is harbouring terrorists to do that to. Not many terrorists are
going to have a flag up in a state saying, "We are now harboured
by X country or Y country" so it is a bit tenuous as a reason.
Why we cannot deal with countries that are supporting terrorism,
let alone nuclear, in other ways that are non nuclear, I do not
know. Economic, political, even military pressure or conventional
military pressure are all ways in which we can deal with such