Select Committee on Defence Written Evidence

Memorandum from the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND)


  1.  This submission considers the security implications, both for the UK and the wider world, of NATO's role as a nuclear-armed military alliance. It discusses the siting of nuclear weapons in Europe in contravention of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the failure of nuclear weapon states within NATO to comply with their obligations, under the NPT, to disarm, and the likelihood that this will promote nuclear proliferation. The submission also notes that NATO membership prevents the UK determining its own policy on nuclear use and deplores the fact that such significant decisions are removed from Britain's government and parliament. It observes that recent government statements, supporting a strengthening of the NPT's disarmament pillar, are not served by UK participation in NATO nuclear structures, or UK backing for US Missile Defence, which is contributing to global tensions and leading to a new nuclear arms race. The security of the UK and Europe is not best served by NATO's adherence to the possession of nuclear weapons and its failure to reject first use of nuclear weapons.


  2.  NATO is a nuclear-armed military alliance. As part of the alliance's armaments, recent estimates indicate that hundreds of US nuclear weapons are based in five different European countries at seven different bases.1 This is in spite of the fact that all 26 members of NATO have signed the NPT, which obliges them to:

    "pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a Treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control."

  3.  Four of the five European countries with US nuclear weapons on their soil, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Netherlands and Turkey have signed the NPT as non-nuclear weapon states. The UK signed up to the NPT as a nuclear weapon state, and thus is required to take steps to achieve nuclear disarmament. Instead the UK allows over 100 US nuclear weapons to be kept on British soil at Lakenheath and has also assigned the UK nuclear weapons system, Trident—with around 160 nuclear warheads—to NATO. It is no doubt the case that any replacement for the Trident system, which will make the UK a nuclear-armed state into the 2050s, will also be assigned to NATO.


  4.  The US is the only country that deploys its nuclear weapons on other states' territories under the NATO alliance. NATO regards these B61s, plus the UK's Trident nuclear weapons system, as the "minimum level sufficient to preserve peace and stability".2

  The B61 bombs are gravity bombs, termed tactical nuclear weapons. With a variable explosive power between 0.3 and 170 kilotons (the Hiroshima atomic bomb had a yield of around 15 kilotons) they are widely defined as being more usable in the battlefield. The use of just one would cause enormous and indiscriminate loss of life, massive destruction and poisonous radioactive fallout. Recent research shows that a so-called "small exchange" of 50 nuclear weapons could cause "the largest climate change in recorded human history" and a conflict "involving 50-100 weapons with yields of 15 kilotons has the potential to create fatalities rivalling those of the Second World War."3


  5.  The UK's nuclear weapons have been assigned to NATO since the 1960s, under the sales agreement for the Polaris missiles. This arrangement was restated with the leasing of Trident missiles from the US. The UK warheads, widely believed to be based on the US W76 warhead that arm the US Trident system, have an explosive power of up to 100 kilotons. A future replacement of Trident is likely to be assigned to NATO. In June 2007 NATO commended the UK on this position:

    "We noted with appreciation the continuing contribution made by the United Kingdom's independent nuclear forces to deterrence and the overall security of the Allies, reaffirmed the value of this capability and welcomed the recent UK White Paper in which the UK restated its commitment to provide this contribution."4

  6.  Ultimately the UK's nuclear weapons could be used against a country attacking (or threatening to attack) one of the NATO member states since an attack on one NATO member state is seen as being an attack on all member states.


  7.  According to Hans Kristensen, of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the hundreds of B61 bombs in Europe continue to be modified with new capabilities that "enhance the reliability, use control, and safety of these retrofitted weapons."5 US and UK Trident warheads are also to be equipped with a new Arming, Fuzing and Firing System, which may give them improved military capability against hardened targets.6 The UK and US are also both considering the eventual refurbishment or replacement of the Trident warheads.


  8.  At the NATO summit in April 1999, Germany proposed that NATO adopt a "no first use policy", but the proposal was rejected. As indicated by government statements, NATO still holds a policy of first use of nuclear weapons. This policy has serious implications for member states. The UK, for example, does not have an independent defence policy as it is circumscribed by its membership of NATO. When asked, in 2005, about ruling out the use of UK nuclear weapons on a "first use basis", Geoff Hoon, the then Secretary of State for Defence, replied:

    "A policy of no first use of nuclear weapons would be incompatible with our and NATO's doctrine of deterrence, nor would it further disarmament objectives."7

  It appears therefore that UK nuclear weapons policy, rather than being decided by the British government and Parliament, is being determined by NATO.

  9.  The European Constitution says something similar: that the EU Foreign and Security Policy shall, "respect the obligations of certain member states which see their common defence realised in NATO . . . and be compatible with the common security and defence policy established within that framework."8


  10.  The presence of nuclear weapons in Europe makes the continent less secure. As long as there are nuclear weapons in the world there is always the danger that one will be detonated by accident or by design. If NATO countries believe that their nuclear weapons actually keep them safe then there is the possibility that other countries will also want them for their own safety, thus encouraging proliferation and a nuclear arms race.

  11.  It is widely accepted that the major threat to security now comes from terrorist attack. It is also accepted that nuclear weapons cannot deal with the problem of terrorism. Terrorists present no precisely locatable target and the risk of large-scale fatalities is more likely to encourage than deter terrorists. The US nuclear arsenal did not deter the attacks of September 11th 2001, nor did the UK arsenal deter the later attacks on London. There is also the risk that nuclear weapons bases could themselves become targets.

  12.  Other governments have taken a different approach to ensuring the security of their citizens. Large parts of the world are covered by Nuclear Weapon Free Zones treaties. The preamble to the Nuclear Weapon Free Zone Treaty of Tlatelolco, which now covers the whole of Latin America, states:

    "The military denuclearisation of Latin America . . . will constitute a measure which will spare their peoples from the squandering of their limited resources on nuclear armaments and will protect them against possible nuclear attacks on their territories, and will also constitute a significant contribution towards preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons and a powerful factor for general and complete disarmament".


  13.  NATO's policies are based on the 1999 Strategic Concept, which was re-affirmed at the June 2005 meeting, and includes the following:

    "Article 42: The presence of United States conventional and nuclear forces in Europe remains vital to security in Europe."


    "Article 46: Nuclear weapons make a unique contribution in rendering the risks of aggression against the Alliance incalculable and unacceptable. Thus, they remain acceptable to preserve peace."

  14.  This position was most recently re-affirmed by NATO's Nuclear Planning Group and Defence Planning Committee in June 2007:

    "We reaffirmed that the fundamental purpose of the nuclear forces of the Allies is political: to preserve peace and prevent coercion and any kind of war. We recalled that NATO's nuclear forces are maintained at the minimum level sufficient to preserve peace and stability. In keeping with this goal, we continue to place great value on the nuclear forces based in Europe and committed to NATO, which provide an essential political and military link between the European and North American members of the Alliance."9

  15.  These polices are a block to the nuclear weapon states carrying out their obligations under the NPT to bring about global nuclear disarmament. Nuclear weapons do not "preserve peace". The continued possession of nuclear weapons, in contravention of the NPT, is damaging to global security prospects. Each time it is asserted that nuclear weapons are necessary for defence, other states—as Kofi Annan has pointed out, may come to the same conclusion, thus fuelling the danger of proliferation:

    "The more States have such weapons, the greater the risk. And, the more those States that already have them increase their arsenals, or insist that such weapons are essential to their national security, the more other States feel that they too must have them, for their security." 10

  16.  Recent statements by government ministers, recognising this to be the case, are very welcome. In June 2007, Margaret Beckett, the then Foreign Secretary, observed:

    "Last year, Kofi Annan said—and he was right—that the world risks becoming mired in a sterile stand-off between those who care most about disarmament and those who care most about proliferation. The dangers of, what he termed, such mutually assured paralysis are dangers to us all. Weak action on disarmament, weak consensus on proliferation are in none of our interests. And any solution must be a dual one that sees movement on both proliferation and disarmament—a revitalisation, in other words, of the grand bargain struck in 1968, when the Non-Proliferation Treaty was established." 11

  Meg Munn, Foreign Office Minister, in July 2007 reiterated this position:

    "Our efforts on non-proliferation will be dangerously undermined if others believe, however unfairly, that the terms of the grand bargain have changed, so we must do more than just have an exemplary record on disarmament to date. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Margaret Beckett), the former Foreign Secretary, made clear in her speech in Washington, we need a renewed commitment to a world free from nuclear weapons, and a convincing plan." 12


  17.  NATO's nuclear policies conflict with the legal obligations of the signatories under the NPT, who agree that:

    "Article 1

    Each nuclear-weapon State Party to the Treaty undertakes not to transfer to any recipient whatsoever nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices or control over such weapons or explosive devices directly, or indirectly; and not in any way to assist, encourage, or induce any non-nuclear-weapon State to manufacture or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices, or control over such weapons or explosive devices."

    "Article II

    Each non-nuclear-weapon State Party to the Treaty undertakes not to receive the transfer from any transferor whatsoever of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices or of control over such weapons or explosive devices directly, or indirectly; not to manufacture or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices; and not to seek or receive any assistance in the manufacture of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices."

  18.  The siting of US nuclear weapons in Europe clearly contravenes Articles 1 and 2 of the NPT. In addition to the contravention through transfer, it is also the case that many of the US nuclear weapons in Europe would be flown to their targets by the host countries' own air forces. The US argues that the treaty will no longer apply in wartime, but maintaining nuclear weapons means that preparation for their use is required in peacetime including ongoing planning and personnel training by the host countries.


  19.  The dangers of NATO's nuclear policies, and its "nuclear burden sharing", increase as NATO expands to include more nation states. South Africa argued in 1997:

    "The planned expansion of NATO would entail an increase in the number of non-nuclear weapon states which participate in nuclear training and which would have an element of nuclear deterrence in their defence policies." 13

  20.  Although no nuclear weapons are believed currently to be stationed on the territory of the "new" member states, they, like all NATO member states except France, are involved in the planning arrangements for the use of nuclear weapons in time of war. Nor has NATO given guarantees not to deploy nuclear weapons on the territory of new member states, stressing only that it has no plans to do so. With the expansion of NATO to 26 states, Europe is rapidly becoming a nuclear-armed continent.

  21.  NATO has expanded despite protests by many states, including China and Russia. In the case of Russia, NATO now extends to its borders, including within NATO membership a number of former Soviet republics.


  22.  US Missile Defence plans to base interceptor missiles in Poland and a radar base in the Czech Republic have provoked strong reactions from Russia, which has threatened once again to target European countries with nuclear missiles, as it did during the Cold War.

  23.  In 2005 NATO approved the development of a theatre missile defence system to protect its troops in battle. The US has suggested that components of the new NATO system could be integrated with the expansion of the US Missile Defence programme into the Czech Republic and Poland, to form a European missile defence system. But there is no guarantee that Europe would be protected by such a system, even in the event of a developing missile threat, though member states would bear some of the costs.

  24.  The US also has plans to develop its missile defence programme beyond the arena of ground based interceptor missiles. Participant European countries will then become complicit in the future weaponisation of space.


  25.  The UK is committed under the NPT to begin the process of disarmament. The British government has recently reaffirmed its commitment to the NPT and its disarmament pillar. Continued membership of a nuclear-armed military alliance is incompatible with those goals. The UK's right, as a sovereign state, to determine its foreign and defence policy is infringed by NATO membership. It appears that Britain is not able to adopt a "no first use" policy, as a result of NATO membership, even though a first-use policy is illegal under international law. Through continued membership of NATO, the UK is also complicit in the contravention of Articles 1 and 2 of the NPT, which forbid the transfer of nuclear weapons to non-nuclear weapons states. Through participation in US and NATO Missile Defence systems, the UK will be increasing global tensions and encouraging a new nuclear arms race.

  26.  The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament urges the government to reject the nuclear policies of NATO, adopt a nuclear "no first use" policy, assert UK sovereignty in its foreign and defence policies, and begin negotiations towards disarmament.


1  Hans M Kristensen, United States Removes Nuclear Weapons From German Base, Documents Indicate, Strategic Security Blog, Federation of American Scientists, June 2007, at

2  NATO Press release, Final Communique, Ministerial meetings of the Defence Planning Committee and the Nuclear Planning Group, Brussels, 15 June 2007, paragraph 6

3  Reported by Jeanna Bryner, Live Science, Small Nuclear War Would Cause Global Environmental Catastrophe, 11 December 2006 08. The full paper can be found at

4  NATO Press release, Final Communique, Ministerial meetings of the Defence Planning Committee and the Nuclear Planning Group, Brussels, 15 June 2007, paragraph 6

5  Hans Kristensen, U.S. Nuclear Weapons in Europe: A Review of Post-Cold War Policy, Force Levels, and War Plannning, Natural Resources Defense Council, February 2005, p.20 at

6  Hans M. Kristensen, Administration Increases Submarine Nuclear Warhead Production Plan, Strategic Security Blog, Federation of American Scientists, August 2007, at

7  House of Commons, Written answers, Nuclear Weapons, Column 1133W

8  Assembly of Western European Union, The Interparliamentary European Security and Defence Assembly, Fifty-third session, Treaty Amending the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty Establishing the European Community, A/WEU [2007] DG, 7, Article 27-2

9  NATO Press release, Final Communique, Ministerial meetings of the Defence Planning Committee and the Nuclear Planning Group, Brussels, 15 June 2007, paragraph 6

10  Kofi Annan speaking at the United Nations Association UK in London, 31 January 2006, full speech at:

11  Margaret Beckett speaking at the Carnegie International Nonproliferation Conference, Washington, 25 June 2007

12  House of Commons, Debates, Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, 24 July, Column 199WH

13  Intervention of the South African Delegation to the First Preparatory Committee Meeting for the 2000 NPT Review Conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, New York, 9 April 1997

3 December 2007

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