Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 180-199)


23 JANUARY 2007

  Q180  Robert Key: I suspect Professor Garwin would agree with that broadly. Could I ask you, Professor Garwin, do you think this whole process is far more open in the United States of America or, to put it the other way, do you think in this country we are obsessed with secrecy over decision-making in this area of public policy?

  Professor Garwin: Secrecy is always more comfortable for those who have the secrets. The United States does have a more open policy and procedure and the people in charge often contrive to close it; the current administration is one of those. I would say on this question that one should not confuse fire insurance with fire extinguishers; an insurance policy does not keep the disaster from happening, it tries to make you whole afterwards, the fire extinguisher may keep the disaster from happening. What we have been discussing here, the essentiality of deterrence for a first-grade power, what does that say about Germany and Japan? They are trading nations; if it is essential for the UK why is it not essential for Germany and Japan? They may not be serious but they would have to have nuclear weapons in order to hold up their heads among the nations.

  Q181  Mr Hamilton: Chairman, I would like to follow that up because I do not follow the logic of the argument from Mr Pullinger or indeed the comments from Mr Willett. Mr Willett makes the assertion that if we do not have the nuclear deterrent and we want to be a lesser nation in armed forces, surely one of the big arguments is that we utilise the money that we would spend on a nuclear deterrent and put that to our conventional armed forces which actually assist us in the naval outlets that we have and indeed assist us in places like Iraq and Afghanistan if we want to utilise them. I do agree that we need to decide as a nation where we want to be as a world force for the future, but the question that Robert asked Mr Pullinger is do you accept the public assurance policy argument is a persuasive one to the general public? On what basis do you think the general public are persuaded by that argument, because that is not the public I have got. The public I have got are extremely sceptical about a Trident expansion and therefore I would like to hear clarified not the academic argument but how do you perceive the public to be on side in this issue? I do not see it.

  Dr Pullinger: The public see there are other nuclear weapon states in the world. They know that North Korea has tested a weapon and the Iranian regime, which in many respects is a reprehensible one, is not complying with the IAEA and is possibly pursuing a clandestine nuclear weapons programme. They know that Russia, China and others still have those weapons, and there is no prospect of getting rid of them, so in the near term, certainly, they do not see why we should get rid of it at the moment.

  Mr Hamilton: I understand the point you are making; these are arguments that are all well-tried, but I am asking a straightforward question: on what basis do you believe that the public side with your opinion and that the public are not of the opinion that we should be looking away and walking away from nuclear deterrence. I am asking, what evidence do you have?

  Chairman: He has given an answer.

  Mr Hamilton: He has given an opinion, but I am looking for evidence which tells us that there has been some survey done somewhere that says the public want us to be doing that.

  Chairman: To be fair, the question he was asked was what was his opinion. Robert Key.

  Robert Key: Chairman, the only evidence I have is that I, through my website, did a survey of opinion and it came in two to one that people thought that there was indeed value in the insurance value, but it is very, very small indeed.

  Chairman: Then next week we can take evidence from you, Robert.

  Q182  Robert Key: If you wish to, Chairman, it might be very long. Could I just continue this theme for a moment; it is very important. In their submission to us the Church of England memorandum says that, "To assess the validity of the deterrence argument, therefore, there must be some indication of the circumstances in which the weapons might be used." We know the Government has said that they wish to deliberately maintain ambiguity, but the Church of England's submission says that, "All it would require is for the Government to indicate what is its overall strategy, including the parameters for the weapons' use and any limits within which any targeting policy would be set. That would enable the Government to explain how their use would be consistent with [their] obligations in international law." Do you think the Church of England is right in posing that position?

  Dr Pullinger: Obviously there is some ambiguity about when we would use nuclear weapons but we are actually constrained by certain limits. We have provided a negative security assurance to non-nuclear weapon states that we would not use nuclear weapons against them unless they were attacking us in alliance with a nuclear weapons state; we have said we would only use nuclear weapons in compliance with international law which involves questions of discrimination, not deliberately targeting civilians, proportionality and the rest of it. There are limits, therefore, there are constraints on the circumstances in which we could use nuclear weapons, but personally I think there is too much ambiguity about the circumstances. We are saying self-defence; we would use them in self defence in extreme circumstances. The Israelis could use that argument possibly to pre-emptively attack the Iranian nuclear weapons programme; they could say they are developing nuclear weapons which are a real threat to us, we are acting in self-defence under Article 51, pre-emption is allowed, we can go in and take this out. It is self-defence, it is extreme circumstances, no-one else is going to do it. The language we are using, therefore, is giving an awful lot of leeway to the circumstances in which we could use nuclear weapons and I personally would prefer it if we really tried to constrain it to when the national survival of the United Kingdom is at stake. We can talk about the precise terms, but I would really like to hone it down to that.

  Dr Stocker: I was just going to add two brief comments to that. Firstly, in relation to advance declaration—things like no first use or not using weapons against non-nuclear weapon states—it is simply a health warning that in the extreme and severe circumstances under which the use of nuclear weapons might be contemplated, the value of those kind of advance declarations is likely to be minimal; it is, frankly, not going to matter what you said you will and will not do in the past, your actions will be governed by the extreme circumstances that you find yourself in at the time.

  Dr Pullinger: Can I come back on that immediately? I agree, these things are not going to stop states doing things in extreme circumstances, but nevertheless they should not be planning to do them, they should not be planning to use nuclear weapons in those particular scenarios when the survival of the United Kingdom is not at stake—and it is these sorts of scenarios that we were talking about earlier on that matter. It is not the piece of paper, it is not the international law, but it is planning for what you are going to do in practical situations that we should take into account.

  Dr Willett: Very quickly, any potential state or party that will threaten us with a nuclear weapon or other weapon of mass destruction potentially is putting our national survival at risk, and therefore saying this, like we did with refusing to rule out first use and substituting it with declarations of preparedness to go first et cetera are part of the credibility of deterrence. Deterrence is all about communicating a credible and capable threat and showing you have the intent to use it and you have to talk up your ability to do it to make your opponent think that you actually are serious.

  Robert Key: Chairman, may I move on to tactical roles and first use of Trident?

  Chairman: Could you make them very brief, please?

  Q183  Robert Key: Certainly. Dr Stocker, you indicate in your written evidence that the White Paper makes only a passing reference to missile defence; what should it have said?

  Dr Stocker: It could have said more, to say what current Government and MoD thinking is in this area because it is directly relevant to the debate about the nuclear deterrent. Noting that, our deterrence posture to date, as a legacy of the Cold War, has been based purely on the punishment element of deterrence and we have always eschewed deterrence by denial, which is another way of saying defence—in other words persuading somebody not to attack you because you can ward off the blow rather than because you will hit back in retaliation. Because of the decision announced yesterday by the Czech Government about a radar site for missile defence, that issue is going to well up in the political arena again, particular when it looks like Poland might become the site for missile interceptors in a European context. Missile defence, which has been quiet for three or four years, is going to be back on the political agenda and it is, strategically as well as politically, relevant to the current debate about nuclear deterrence.

  Q184  Mr Jenkin: What impact does the recent Chinese missile strike on a satellite have in this debate and is it something we should consider?

  Dr Stocker: Directly I am not sure it does have a major impact, other than in terms of demonstrating (a) a higher level of technical capability than many people may have assumed the Chinese have and (b) it demonstrates some of the dynamics of their deterrence relationship with the United States. Clearly, the Chinese are putting a lot of resources into having a multi-faceted deterrent against the United States in order to increase their freedom of action in their particular region and the ability to counter American, Space-based military systems would clearly be an important component of that deterrent capability.

  Q185  Mr Jenkin: Making the world safer or less safe?

  Dr Stocker: Undoubtedly, less safe.

  Q186  Robert Key: Should the UK be developing tactical nuclear weapons, Dr Willett?

  Dr Willett: No, the UK's strategic deterrent is there as an ultimate capability to protect the nation under grave threat to its national survivability. Tactical nuclear weapons are not part of our inventory, they are not part of our thinking and they are not part of our reason for having a deterrent. We should also make sure that we see that there is a distinction between tactical and sub-strategic, they are not the same thing. Tactical effectively relates to battlefield nuclear weapons and sub-strategic is more of a policy designed to enhance the flexibility of the UK's Trident system in a post-Cold War world, of course noting the points that have been made previously that any use of weapons, of course, can be seen as strategic. Tactical and sub-strategic are in my mind not the same thing, and it is important to note of course that our view on all this is very, very different from that of the US. The US has a different policy, different strategy, different capabilities and we should not be viewed as having the same views and developments as them.

  Q187  Mr Holloway: Common sense would be both tactical and strategic; I mean tactical in the sense that you would be able to remove the item that is a threat to you; strategic in the sense that it sends an extremely clear message and it did so before, so it can be both.

  Dr Willett: It absolutely can be both. The use of a service revolver can be strategic in the circumstances, but to use military terminology, tactical nuclear weapons are essentially the definition of battlefield nuclear weapons designed, in Cold War days, for example, to explode in Central Europe over a conventional conflict. A strategic nuclear weapon is what the UK has and that is not tactical in purpose.

  Q188  Mr Holloway: But that does not mean that you cannot and perhaps should not have 0.7 kilos, much smaller weapons. They still have a strategic effect, do they not?

  Dr Willett: This is where we start to get into the area of theory and why the UK has certain kinds of capabilities and why it does not. Yes, you could argue that to deter a threat to national survival you may need a smaller yield weapon that can take out a particular target without doing too much collateral damage et cetera, but the bottom line from the defence point of view though is that we have a capability that is designated to be a strategic capability, it is there as a policy tool and not as a battlefield/war-fighting weapon which is what tactical weapons are generally regarded as.

  Chairman: I would like to move on to non-proliferation.

  Q189  Robert Key: One very quick one, could I ask if any of our witnesses today think the White Paper should have had anything to say about first use?

  Dr Stocker: Only to reiterate the earlier point that, as Sir Michael Quinlan pointed out, there are two dangers with that kind of policy. First of all, in extreme circumstances those declarations will count for nothing. Secondly, by ruling out certain options, in other words drawing lines in the sand, you potentially invite other people to step right up to the line in a way that if there was greater ambiguity, they might not step quite so far forward. Therefore, no first use is pretty unhelpful.

  Q190  Robert Key: Professor Garwin, would you agree generally with that?

  Professor Garwin: No, I would not.

  Q191  Robert Key: I know you are a physicist, but you have come a long way and we want to get your wisdom.

  Professor Garwin: That is right. I have studied first use, I have some papers with the National Academy of Science's Committee on International Security and Arms Control which deal with this, the future of nuclear weapons in view of US nuclear weapon policy, and in fact there we recommend adopting a no-first-use policy and no-first-use stature—not necessarily no-first-use treaties because, as has been said, those do not mean anything and a no-first-use policy does not mean that if somebody threatens the United States, has destroyed all of us with biological weapons, that we would not respond; of course, it is a democratic society and it can change its mind at any time, so the point of extreme circumstances I really take. But I do believe that a no first use stature would be very helpful, though I do not say that the White Paper should have discussed that. On the point of missile defence though I would say that promising missile defence is a lot easier than delivering missile defence, and the programme on which the United States is spending some $10 billion a year will not deliver protection because it is a mid-course programme—that is the one which the Czech Republic and Poland have been in the news about, presumably for countering missiles from Iran, but if you have missiles from Iran from the very beginning they will have effective counter-measures—balloon decoys and anti-simulation—and if you go to my website you will see many, many articles about this. That is why the UK has not considered missile defence because it does not know how to do it.

  Mr Ingram: Just on this point of no first use specifically and the ambiguity that is used, I think it is just very important to recognise that exactly that sort of policy is seen as a threat by other countries and drives proliferation, which is where we are going to now. It is very important to see that decisions that we take that may appear in our interests actually drive threat perceptions elsewhere. We have already identified the Chinese development last week as appearing to be against the interests of global security on the basis of increased capability by China—not intentions specifically but capability—so too our policy of ambiguity and not ruling out no first use can be seen by other countries as a direct threat and will drive their decisions over military procurement and particularly nuclear weapons procurement.

  Q192  Mr Borrow: Can I perhaps move on to the non-proliferation and disarmament which we have touched on, on and off, so far during this session. Can I go initially perhaps to Dr Pullinger and Dr Stocker; we need to have your views on what should have been in the White Paper to do with non-proliferation. You both mentioned that it was not covered in the White Paper; therefore, what are your views on what should have been and how the UK policy would have been improved had there been something firm in the White Paper?

  Dr Pullinger: As I said in my opening remarks, there should have been a more serious assessment of the potential dangers of a proliferated world and the threat that the non-proliferation regime is under. It is a question of degree and an appreciation of the problem that is not there. The United Kingdom has an excellent record on non-proliferation and arms control and the diplomatic effort that it puts into trying to stop other countries getting these things, putting controls onto the materials and in terms of its own force posture it has done more than any of the other nuclear weapons states in terms of reducing the number of warheads and platforms and its fissile material—it does not make any more fissile material for weapons purposes. It has an extremely good record, therefore, and what I would like to see from the United Kingdom—ideally it should come from the United States and that is a possibility, that is something that Henry Kissinger and others called for a couple of weeks ago, that the United States takes leadership, it realises that we are on the edge of this nuclear precipice in a proliferated world but it is not in the strategic interests of the United States or any of us to reach that stage and therefore we have to do a lot more in terms of preventing it ever becoming reality. This has been written by MoD/FCO and in terms of the arms control and disarmament aspect there is not a lot you can criticise about it, but it is too complacent, it is going through the motions. Arms control is stuck and the only way we are going to get beyond that is if we have political leadership—and by that I mean at prime ministerial and presidential level—to say we have got to tackle this problem, and the only way we can do that is to get the other nuclear weapon states around the table and thrash out what I would call a new nuclear settlement and say where are we actually going with this? We are drifting towards a world in which we are all going to be far less secure so maybe we can try and go back to first principles and decide where we are going with nuclear weapon proliferation and how we are going to avoid getting there in a staged process of de-nuclearisation. We may not be able to get to global elimination of nuclear weapons, I have no idea, but we can go a lot further down that road and we can also rebuild an international consensus that that is where we are trying to get to, so we are pulling nuclear weapons back from the front line, we are putting them back in the cupboard, and eventually we may be able to get rid of them. Perhaps we will not be able to, perhaps we will have to have a hedge against a break-out to make sure that no state ever has the incentive to start developing nuclear weapons. I do not know what that scenario will look like, but we have to avoid that nightmare scenario of 20 or 30 nuclear weapon states in, say, 20 years time, which is a possibility and people are now recognising that.

  Q193  Mr Borrow: Mr Stocker, do you agree with that and do you think that the UK could actually do something to get talks under way?

  Dr Stocker: Broadly, I would agree with what Stephen said, but my main criticism about the White Paper and what it says about non-proliferation is largely presentation in that the White Paper talks about the options for the deterrent and then seems to tack on a series of perfectly valid statements about non-proliferation, almost as though the Government felt it necessary to demonstrate its non-proliferation virtue in order to sweeten the bitter pill of nuclear renewal. Actually, I think that was a missed opportunity because the Government could quite validly have spelled out that actually, done sensibly, deterrence and non-proliferation are not mutually exclusive, they are two tools designed to address exactly the same problem, namely proliferation. Whilst there is a certain tension inherent in having your own weapons while seeking to deny them to others, actually that tension is understood by most countries, they fully understand that it is normally in any country's interest to have its own weapons and other people not to have them, and there is nothing unique about nuclear weapons in that sense. I am rather more optimistic on the non-proliferation front than many commentators have been. It looks like the number of nuclear powers is about to hit double figures with Iran, and of course North Korea's recent partial test, but we have known about North Korea and Iran going nuclear for some years, we have been widely expecting it. Beyond Iran there are predictions of 15 or 20 nuclear powers, but we have had those predictions since the 1960s; beyond Iran, who is going to be the next one? There are no obvious candidates stacking up. There were two, Libya and Iraq, and in different ways they have been dealt with. There is not a next list of proliferators waiting to happen; that is not to say that further proliferation is not going to happen, and the crucial thing that the White Paper could have usefully said was one of the ways in which we prevent other countries going nuclear is through the extended deterrence that is provided to them by existing nuclear weapons states, principally the United States but also the UK. The UK in NATO doctrine—although it is not spelled out in the White Paper—the UK nuclear deterrent is a contribution to the deterrence posture of the alliance as a whole, and that of course provides a framework that allows countries like Germany, like Turkey, not to go nuclear because they are subject to an extended deterrence provided by others, and it is not only the United States. The White Paper, therefore, could have done more to actually spell out how deterrence and non-proliferation do actually work together towards the common end.

  Chairman: Dr Willett, we heard pretty much your view about this in our first inquiry, so do you mind if we move on—in the interests of time?

  Q194  Mr Jenkin: Dr Stocker, your analysis almost suggests that a world in which the present, broadly responsible nuclear states, forego their nuclear weapons is actually perhaps a less desirable world than the one we have where there are a few responsible states with nuclear weapons.

  Dr Stocker: I would agree with that. The argument about a nuclear-free world is an entirely abstract one because I do not know anybody who has the faintest idea of how you could bring about a nuclear-free world or even whether it would be desirable, if you could somehow bring it about, simply because we could bring about a nuclear, disarmed world and the country that cheated and had just two weapons and nobody else had them would be in a very, very unique strategic circumstance, as the United States found out in 1945.

  Mr Jenkin: That is very interesting, thank you.

  Q195  Mr Borrow: Can I ask Mr Ingram how effective he thinks the non-proliferation treaty is and does he feel that the White Paper has a positive or negative impact?

  Mr Ingram: To answer that directly, clearly I believe the White Paper has a negative impact because it will basically send a very clear message that supports the statement that has just been made, that while the Government in the White Paper itself and many times previously in its policy claims to have the objective of a nuclear weapon-free world, as is required under the non-proliferation treaty, to have that objective, whatever the time line, they do not believe in it. I too think that they do not believe in it; in fact, the White Paper itself says that "there would need to be compelling evidence that a nuclear threat to the UK's vital interests would not re-emerge in future before we responsibly could contemplate disarmament." It says that in black and white. That, of course, is never, ever going to happen; there will never be 100% possibility that there will be proof that there will never be an emerging threat, so we do enter into the realm of the Government believing the scenario that Dr Stocker has just outlined. I am one of those analysts that believes that that is an unstable situation. Even if we only take Iran as an example, if Iran were to acquire nuclear weapons there would be tremendous pressure on Saudi Arabia, Egypt and a number of other regional powers to respond likewise and the pressures would grow. I do not believe personally that it is a stable situation if North Korea were to develop their nuclear arsenal and actually be able to deliver them into South Korea and beyond into Japan, and Japan to sit idly by and think well that is all fine, thank you very much. I do not believe that we exist today in a stable situation, and if the nuclear weapons states believe that they can continue along the route indefinitely that we have now, they will be sorely disappointed and we will enter into a very unstable world of nuclear proliferation. While it is very difficult to perceive the steps towards a nuclear weapon-free world—and I would agree it is difficult—I would challenge that it is impossible and I would say it is equally difficult if not even more implausible to believe that the current status quo will be maintained indefinitely into the future.

  Mr Borrow: Can I just come back to you on that scenario?

  Chairman: Can I interrupt and say we need to get the questions and the answers as short as possible now.

  Q196  Mr Borrow: The statement was made earlier that of the five original nuclear powers the UK had been the best in terms of reducing the number of nuclear weapons and being pro-active in non-proliferation. The White Paper envisages a further reduction in the number of warheads, but there has been criticism of the UK for not being proactive in terms of getting further discussions. Do you accept that?

  Mr Ingram: I accept that with the changes announced in the strategic defence review of 1998 and indeed the changes that were announced by the previous Government in the early Nineties, this nuclear weapons state is the best of a bad bunch. The trouble is, of course, that there have not been any changes since then and this announcement of a reduction from just under 200 to just under 160 warheads is almost irrelevant because we will still have 48 warheads out on patrol at any time, and we will continue to have this deployment until perhaps the 2050s. While we have a positive record up until this date, therefore, we are now planning to have pretty much a status quo into the indefinite future, which does not send the right signal, either to the other nuclear weapons states or indeed to any potential proliferators who may indeed interpret the statements we had earlier about status, about economic development and all the others and think yes, we would like some of that too and we do not feel it just to continue along the line. Just to finally finish, the argument that is put in the White Paper against that point is only legal on the NPT, which itself—I do not want to go into it—is contested. There is no political and there is no non-proliferation argument, I believe, against the idea that this is dangerous and sends a very bad signal to non-proliferators.

  Mr Borrow: If I can put a question back to you that I asked at the meeting that we had last week, are you saying that the only way for the UK to go is to make a decision which effectively gets rid of nuclear weapons altogether, and if we were going to be one of the good guys in terms of reducing nuclear weapons and getting rid of proliferation, the only step we have got is to unilaterally get rid of nuclear weapons. I know you have said we do not need to make a decision—

  Q197  Chairman: Let us have an answer to that. Mr Ingram.

  Mr Ingram: My answer is simply that we need to defer the decision and—

  Q198  Mr Borrow: Can I come in there? I have heard your argument that we can afford to defer a decision. In the scenario which is what the Government believes, that if we defer a decision as a country now then we are in effect unilaterally not replacing our existing nuclear weapons, and when the boats run out we will no longer have a platform and will no longer have a system, so effectively the decision would be made in the next few years—that is the belief of the Government and that is what the White Paper says. You may not accept that, but what I am saying is if what the Government is saying is correct, that we have to make a decision shortly one way or the other, your decision would be not to renew the boats that are used to fire nuclear weapons.

  Mr Ingram: My recommendation to you is to make a decision based on facts of the situation as far as we know them. The White Paper is riddled with inconsistencies on exactly that point, around the need to make a decision urgently and now. My recommendation is that this Government puts at the very heart of its nuclear policy the objective of achieving further nuclear disarmament, and that entails the idea of Britain becoming a non-nuclear weapons state at some point in the future, ideally on a multilateral basis.

  Chairman: I want to move on to deterrent options. Linda, moving on to deterrent options we have explored that in recent discussions.

  Q199  Linda Gilroy: I wonder if I can ask what your reaction is to the assessment of the various deterrent options in the White Paper. Was it comprehensive, Dr Stocker?

  Dr Stocker: Yes, it was and I do not think the answer that it came up with surprised many people; it is what the Americans would call a "no-brainer". What was interesting was that amongst the four generic options the only really credible alternative to Trident was not examined, which would have been a submarine-launched cruise missile, but the White Paper elsewhere did compare cruise missiles with ballistic so it did cover that option, albeit in an indirect way. It is very difficult to fault the logic of the White Paper and I know that the MoD did look at a wider range of options before settling on those four main ones featured in the White Paper, so I am convinced that a pretty comprehensive study has been done, based on realistic assumptions and the conclusions are correct.

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