Global Security: Non-Proliferation - Foreign Affairs Committee Contents

 Submission from MEDACT

  1.  MEDACT is a UK charity of health professionals concerned with the health effects of nuclear weapons, conflict, poverty and the environment. It is the UK affiliate of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW: Nobel Peace Prize 1985). Medact has a history of advocating against nuclear weapons on the basis of their devastating consequences for health and well-being, and the threat they pose to world peace.

  2.  The British Government's non-proliferation approach, as set out in the National Security Strategy 2008 (NSS).

    2.1 We commend the British government for its stated commitment to supporting the NPT, pressing for early entry into force of the CTBT, seeking agreement to start negotiations for an FMCT, and for leading the international technical research into the verification of nuclear disarmament.

    2.2 The NSS opposes all proliferation; however it is difficult to argue that Britain is committed to non-proliferation when it is renewing the Trident Missile System. If nuclear weapons are promoted as being important to our security, it is very hard to argue that others should not to seek to obtain them, particularly when Britain is perceived as not taking steps towards serious nuclear disarmament itself.

    2.3 The marked deterioration in relations between Russia and the US, combined with their continued reliance upon high-alert launch-ready postures for one third of their strategic nuclear arsenals, does nothing to improve the odds of avoiding an accidental nuclear exchange (as the numbers of incidents over the past 30 years have demonstrated).

    Given the decreasing stability, increasing acrimony and distrust of that relationship, the need to institute measures to avoid catastrophic misunderstanding is greater than ever. The unwillingness of some NWS to admit that they maintain their nuclear weapons on high alert status does little to decrease the current levels of mistrust.

    2.4 The urgency of taking real steps towards the implementation by NWS of Article VI obligations, and of sending a strong signal that it is being implemented is greater than ever.

  3.0  The effectiveness of the current rules-based international system in curbing current weapons proliferation.

    3.1 The rules-based system for the control of nuclear weapons proliferation is under severe strain. The nuclear weapon states are turning once again to nuclear arms—finding new targets, framing new policies and strategies, and building new weapons and delivery systems.

    3.2 The United States has withdrawn from disarmament treaties and adopted the policies and rhetoric of pre-emptive use of military force, including nuclear weapons. The NPT, which is the cornerstone of global security, is severely threatened. The non-signatories India, Pakistan and Israel are de facto nuclear weapon states. North Korea has withdrawn from the Treaty and has developed nuclear capability. In an increasingly anarchic nuclear-armed world, other states are developing civil nuclear power programmes with the potential of developing nuclear weapons capability. The recent decision of the Nuclear Suppliers Group to grant India exemption from NSG rules and receive nuclear fuel and technology from the US—even though it is not a signatory to the NPT and refuses to allow IAEA inspections—signals to other countries that there are advantages in not being a member of the NPT.

    3.3 Additionally, and as raised in the NSS, there is the possibility of nuclear weapons, related materials and technology being acquired by terrorists and the dangers of nuclear terrorism.

  4.0  The potential merit of forthcoming diplomatic initiatives on non-proliferation, for instance the 2010 NPT Review Conference.

    4.1 Recent signs of a shift in thinking among past and present leaders have generated guarded optimism about the elimination of nuclear weapons. In January 2007, US "cold warriors" Henry Kissinger, George Schultz, William Perry and Sam Nunn called for a world free of nuclear weapons.

    4.2 In June 2007, our former Foreign Secretary, Margaret Beckett, challenged the nuclear paradigm and also called for a world free of nuclear weapons. A few weeks ago, the Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, echoed the same sentiments and committed Australia to creative middle power diplomacy by appointing an International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament. In the United States, both presidential candidates—Senators Barack Obama and John McCain—have expressed support for further disarmament and the elimination of nuclear weapons.

    4.3 On June 30th 2008 Hurd, Owen, Rifkind and Robertson published a letter in The Times advocating for a dramatic reduction in nuclear weapons and calling for support of the campaign in the US for a non-nuclear world. Of the nuclear weapon states, China supports the commencement of negotiations leading to a Nuclear Weapons Convention.

    4.4 At the 2000 review conference of the Nuclear NPT, Malaysia and Costa Rica introduced a working paper calling for the implementation of NPT obligations through the commencement of negotiations, culminating in a Nuclear Weapons Convention. In December 2007, the same two countries submitted an updated version of the 1997 Model Nuclear Weapons Convention, which has since been adopted as an official document of the United Nations (UN Doc A/62/650).

    4.5 A resolution on "Operational Readiness of Nuclear Weapons" is being presented to First Committee of UNGA by Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Nigeria, Sweden and Switzerland.

    4.6 The European Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee is proposing to submit a recommendation to the EU Council of Ministers on the future of the NPT.

  5.0  The role of arms control and disarmament, including nuclear disarmament, in non-proliferation efforts.

    5.1 Given the political dynamics of the NPT, it can be argued that a focus on negotiating a Nuclear Weapons Convention would strengthen compliance with all NPT obligations, including Article VI. The Model Nuclear Weapons Convention includes specific disarmament steps agreed in the final documents of the NPT Review Conferences in 1995 and 2000, and expands on additional elements, such as a verification regime, that would be required to achieve and maintain a nuclear-weapon-free world.

    5.2 Such negotiations would require unequivocal political commitment and investment of resources for engendering trust, transforming political mindsets, and developing mechanisms, procedures and regimes for nuclear abolition. Some argue that NWS might not be prepared to join such negotiations and that negotiations would have little value unless all NWS participated. But there are a range of scenarios which could pave the way.

    5.3 Firstly, some NWS might be prepared to participate, while reducing their reliance on nuclear weapons at the same time and achieving security through other means. North Korea would be an example. Other NWS might agree to join negotiations on the understanding that the final treaty would not enter into force unless ratified by all the NWS. China, India and Pakistan could take such a position.

    5.4 Secondly, the commencement of negotiations would stimulate the development of some of the measures required for the implementation of a Nuclear Weapons Convention, such as compliance and verification. This happened with negotiations for a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, when the development of a global monitoring and verification system helped build confidence in a verifiable CTBT.

    5.5 Thirdly, the commencement of negotiations would strengthen the global norm against nuclear weapons, highlight their illegality under international humanitarian law, and put considerable pressure on the NWS to join. Under the Ottawa process, the actual commencement of negotiations on banning landmines created sufficient momentum and pressure on a number of governments to abandon their possession of landmines and sign the Landmine Ban Treaty. This was also true of the Oslo process which initiated negotiations on a cluster munitions treaty.

  6.  Recommendations

    6.1 Britain should cooperate in a series of preparatory meetings with other like-minded governments, such as Australia and the New Agenda Coalition countries. These meetings would provide a forum for examining the political, legal, technical and institutional requirements for abolition, and could lead to wider multilateral negotiations, culminating in a framework of agreements that would make up a Nuclear Weapons Convention.

    6.2 Britain should support the Resolution on "Operational Readiness of Nuclear Weapons" being submitted to the First Committee of UNGA by Chile, Malaysia, Nigeria, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland.

    6.3 Britain should vigorously oppose the decision of the Nuclear Suppliers Group to exempt India from its guidelines and allow the US to supply India with nuclear fuel and nuclear technology—even though India is not a signatory of the NPT and has not agreed to permit IAEA inspections.

    6.4 Britain should take a decisive step to realising its obligations under Article VI by reversing its decision to renew the Trident Nuclear Weapons System.

    6.5 If Britain is serious about the NPT, we should be making an 80% rather than a 20% reduction in the number of warheads, and be working towards the reduction of ballistic missiles.

24 September 2008

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