Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120-134)|
16 JANUARY 2007
Q120 Mr Hancock: If there was a definitive
clause in the White Paper which said, "Under no circumstances
would the United Kingdom use a nuclear weapon as a first strike
device", would any of you then suggest that it was right
to maintain it as a deterrent? Is there any proof that we have
breached any of the non-proliferation treaties that we have signed
up for? I do not believe we have. We have not assisted any country
in manufacturing a nuclear weapon. Thirdly, under what circumstances
would it be conceivable, in your view, for Britain to retain a
Mr Kent: In my view, I think the
British nuclear deterrent is quite unacceptable, for all sorts
of reasons. I do not think it gives us any security.
Q121 Mr Jenkin: So these legal arguments
are completely irrelevant?
Mr Kent: No, they are highly relevant.
Q122 Mr Jenkin: But your position
does not rest on the legal argument.
Mr Kent: We are talking about
two things. One is British nuclear weapons and the other is the
obligation to negotiate.
Q123 Mr Hancock: We have not breached
any treaty, have we, because we have not assisted any countryunless
you have evidence to the contraryto develop a nuclear weapon
of their own?
Ms McDonald: I think we have to
look at how we collaborate with the United States over nuclear
weapons, and that was done by undermining the commitments already
made by both countries to the NPT, by setting up the Mutual Defence
Agreement in 1958 to change that; so I think we have reneged on
our commitment not to work with another government on nuclear
weapons. The other thing about this is that it comes back to this
idea of an insurance policy. An insurance policy must be recommended
for all, everyone, not just for a few, and so to pursue that insurance
analogy would be to accept that every country was entitled to
have it. There are big problems by not giving the recognition
and the weight that is due to the NPT and to the countries who
have tried to maintain it, the countries who have set up the 13
steps, the whole NPT meetings that there have been over the last
ten years. Being an initiator and supporter of disarmament negotiations,
it seems to me, would give a very big signal to the rest of the
world of Britain's intentions, and those are the intentions we
wish to foster. Of course it would take quite a long time to disarm
the present nuclear system anyway, and taking them off patrol
would be the first step. These things are all staged, but I would
like to go back, since you ask questions about the law. The ICJ
1996 judgment came out of previous law, and I am not a lawyer,
but the previous law, the Geneva Convention and all the other
laws that they looked at to come to their conclusion, was to do
with not threatening or killing non-combatants, and the whole
point about nuclear weapons (perhaps we just take it for granted)
but which needs to be said so many times in the public domain,
is that it kills everybody and for a long time afterwards with
the radiation effects as well and you would only need four to
completely obliterate what is presently a `rogue state'. So it
is a very dangerous game that is being played out, and it is getting
more dangerous and, with the more complicated computer controls
and the size of the chips getting smaller and smaller, the potential
for mistake or accident, apart from all the other accidents, for
example on the M6, with nuclear weapons outside Preston, people
are very well aware if they know about it, but it is not common
knowledge, and one of the things that the Government, and certainly
this Committee, perhaps can help do is to educate the public more
about what nuclear weapons mean.
Chairman: I am grateful to you because
you have brought us back to the legality issue which I want to
concentrate for the moment on through Bernard Jenkin, then Mr
Ainslie, I will call on you, then John Smith, then Linda Gilroy.
We were getting a little away from it.
Mr Jenkin: I want to make one last point.
To quote from the Rabinder Singh and Professor Chinkin Opinion,
which has been obtained for CND, paragraph 74: "Enhancing
nuclear weapons systems, possibly without going through Parliamentary
processes, is, in our view, not conducive to entering into negotiations
for disarmament as required by the NPT Article 6 and evinces no
intention to `bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear
disarmament' in all its aspects." I would submit that that
is a political opinion. That is not a legal opinion, that is a
political judgment, and it is perfectly arguable for the Government
to say that the best way of bringing to a conclusion disarmament
negotiations is for us to maintain a minimum deterrent so that
we have a chip on the table to negotiate with. The point is that
this is not a legal question; it is a political question.
Q124 Chairman: Mr Ainslie, would
you like to comment.
Mr Ainslie: The point I was going
to make was to reinforce Di's thing about the legal and moral
issues. The two are not separate; the legal thing is based on
the same fundamental point. The ICJ Opinion includes Judge Weeramantry's
long dissenting Opinion. That is going through how different cultures,
different religions are all pointing to the same conclusion that
say the threat of the use of nuclear weapons is illegal. It is
not just using the legal arguments, it is also using the moral
arguments, and it is there in the ICJ Opinion itself.
Q125 Chairman: Except the ICJ Opinion
does not actually say that upgrading a nuclear weapons system
is in breach of the obligation to negotiate
Mr Ainslie: When I am saying "Opinion",
the Opinion includes all the dissenting opinions.
Ms Jones: May I make a couple
of remarks about this. One is that the NPT, although it is a treaty,
is a very weak instrument, and, of course, it was politically
constructed at a very specific time.
Q126 Chairman: As treaties tend to
Ms Jones: As treaties tend to
be. It is also a treaty without a treaty body where states are
under no obligation to report on their performance. Some of the
questions that we have raised previously in this debate about
can we show whether Britain has progressed towards negotiating
good faith towards nuclear disarmament are not actually set against
any standards to which all states are required to respond, both
nuclear weapons and non-nuclear weapons; so maybe it would be
a useful thing if we were to try and measure this progress that
the UK is apparently making towards disarmament. The other thing
is a mixture of politics and semantics. When you say "enhancing
a nuclear weapon therefore cannot be seen as a violation of the
treaty", because the treaty is loosely worded and because
we use words like "enhancement" or "replacement",
the image that is given here is of somebody who is just popping
out to get a new car which has got the latest refinements in it,
and that argument is so disingenuous. What we are going to have
to do is to get rid of one nuclear weapons system and replace
it with another. It is a new generation of nuclear weapons. Whatever
the language they use, it will be able to do its job more efficiently,
it will be better targeted, it will have a higher efficiency,
it will be apparently safer, we understand, which seems to be
a contradiction in terms of nuclear weapons. The net result is
the same. We will have a "better" weapons system for
the indiscriminate use against civilians, which is a fundamental
prohibition under any form of international law. So we can use
the semantics, we can use the arguments, but basically this needs
testing in some legal form, and we know the only way of testing
the legality of nuclear weapons would be post facto, and
I certainly do not want to see an International Criminal Court
addressing the issue of whether it was unlawful for us to use
nuclear weapons because I think we might not be in a position
to make reasoned and legal judgments, and so we have to look at
the law in advance acknowledging the political context in which
that law has been constructed.
Linda Gilroy: The whole tenor of the
way in which we have been discussing this issue and the most recent
debate about the legalities has been very pessimistic, perhaps
understandably so given the pressure that the NTP is under, but
I wonder if at this stage in our proceedings you would want to
express any positive views towards what the Non-Proliferation
Treaty has been able to achieve, and may yet still be able to
achieve, given that countries in the beginning were so pessimistic
about the possibility of it succeeding that there was difficulty
in them signing up, that there was a 25-year time limit on it
so that people could have a get-out clause and in 1995 it was
renewed, and that perhaps we should have just a little bit of
trust that Britain, having reached a minimum deterrent status,
should not at this stage express a unilateral commitment to disarm
against the background of the debate we are having; and that is
very important to the way in which we look at the legal issues
that Bernard Jenkin has been putting before you.
Q127 Chairman: That is a long question.
Can you try to make it a snappy answer?
Mr Kent: I think, certainly, the
NPT has probably prevented other countries from developing nuclear
weapons. That is very positive. It is under great threat. The
Americans have just signed a treaty negotiating nuclear technology
with India, though India has never signed the NPT and it has now
got nuclear weapons. So there are grave threats going on to the
NPT but its positive achievements, I think, have to be acknowledged.
Q128 Linda Gilroy: It has been far
more successful than most people thought it could be at the time
that this was all started.
Mr Kent: Indeed, so.
Q129 Chairman: Can I ask you one
final question about legality. Accepting your view for the purposes
of this argument that Britain is in breach of its duties already
to negotiate and to disarm generally and accepting your view that
there is a different issue about the life extension of Trident,
if this decision by the Government were limited to the replacement
of the submarines, the platform from which these weapons are fired,
is that any reason to suggest that that decision itself would
Mr Ainslie: I can answer this
probably in terms of the timescale that we are talking about here.
We are extending our nuclear capability for a long time into the
future, and that is really sending this message.
Chairman: That is a different issue,
sending messages and all of that. Is it illegal to replace a submarine?
Mr Hancock: There are two things, not
the missile, the weapons.
Q130 Chairman: What is the answer?
Mr Kent: I would think probably
not, but the legality requires the negotiations. That is where
the issue is.
Q131 Chairman: And that is a different
issue, but replacing the submarines as such is not illegal?
Mr Kent: I am not a lawyer, but
I would think that a case could be made that it was not illegal,
just the submarine.
Q132 John Smith: You are all experienced
campaigners. The White Paper has now been published. The Government
has clearly declared its preference. Are you winning the argument?
Are you winning the hearts and minds of people following publication
of this White Paper or are you disappointed in the level of public
interest and support. I must tell you that, as far as I understand
it, this is the first formal public hearing since the White Paper
was published and the attendance is very sparse.
Mr Kent: I am disappointed and
encouraged. We have been through a period where nobody was interested
at all in these matters. I spoke in Hexham on Saturday to 250
people, in Dorchester to 250 people. There is an interest. I have
never been asked to write for the Yorkshire Post before and I
am doing a feature article. There is a growing interest in this
issue. We are nothing like "Make Poverty History" of
two years ago, nothing like it, but there is a serious interest
Q133 John Smith: And the CND of the
Mr Kent: Not quite, no, not yet.
Mr Ainslie: I think in terms of
the Scottish perspective, I always wear two hats. I am involved
with the Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament but there is
another group, which is Scotland for Peace, which is a joint initiative
involved with trade unions, and that joint group has taken this
issue on and there have been three debates in the Scottish Parliament.
Q134 Chairman: As I understand it,
this session has been live on Sky, so we have reached an audience
of billions. If there are no further questions, may I say thank
you very much indeed to the witnesses and to the Committee for
becoming genuinely engaged in what has become a very interesting
Mr Kent: Can we thank you for