Global Security: Non-Proliferation - Foreign Affairs Committee Contents

 Submission from Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND)

  The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) welcomes the Foreign Affairs Committee's new inquiry which will examine the work of the British Government in countering weapons proliferation and its causes. CND was established in 1958 to work for the global abolition of nuclear weapons, with a particular emphasis on Britain's role in achieving that goal. CND is one of Europe's biggest single-issue peace campaigns, with over 35,000 members in the UK.


  CND welcomed the government's intention to provide, through the National Security Strategy (NSS), an overarching approach to understanding the increasingly complex and unpredictable international environment in which we live and interact. We also welcomed the government's attempts to devise an integrated approach to addressing the "diverse but interconnected set of threats and risks" that Britain—and the international community—currently faces. We did, however, identify a number of weaknesses with the approach as outlined in the NSS, most notably in the document's tendency to see Britain as being on the receiving end of negative external factors without adequate consideration of the role of Britain and its allies in creating some of those negative situations. For example, the role of Britain's historic economic, political and military involvement and intervention in the Middle East, and the impact that has had on the stability of that region and in the development of anti-western forces. Failure to recognise the impact of long-running injustices, in effect ripping current events out of their historical context, will make it impossible to resolve these complex and difficult problems. In short, a greater understanding of the causes of the world's complex problems must be embraced and addressed. That understanding must recognise the impact of Britain's policies and actions. These have often had unintended consequences in the past and continue to do so today. It is CND's primary concern that Britain's current policies and actions will again have unintended consequences, contributing to the likelihood of nuclear proliferation, rather than diminishing the risk.


  With specific regard to nuclear non-proliferation, CND welcomes the shift in emphasis, indicated by senior government figures over the past year. We also welcome a number of statements internationally from across the political spectrum, which advocate multilateral disarmament initiatives, including those of Kissinger, Shultz et al, and of former UK foreign and defence secretaries. The government has now explicitly recognised that there is a link between the failure of the nuclear weapons states to meet their disarmament obligations, under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and an increased likelihood of nuclear proliferation. In other words, disarmament and non-proliferation must go hand in hand. This was very clearly spelled out in July 2007, when Foreign Office Minister Meg Munn MP addressed a Westminster Hall adjournment debate on non-proliferation. She stated "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."[123] ie disarmament by existing nuclear weapons states in exchange for other states renouncing the development of such weapons.

  The importance of Britain playing a role in achieving that has been increasingly emphasised. This was initially made clear in Margaret Beckett's speech "A world free of nuclear weapons?" delivered at a conference hosted by Carnegie Endowment, Washington D.C. on 25 June 2007, where she made the following statement:

    "What we need is both vision—a scenario for a world free of nuclear weapons. And action—progressive steps to reduce warhead numbers and to limit the role of nuclear weapons in security policyFor more than sixty years, good management and good fortune have meant that nuclear arsenals have not been used. But we cannot rely on history just to repeat itselfWhen it comes to building this new impetus for global nuclear disarmament, I want the UK to be at the forefront of both the thinking and the practical work. To be, as it were, a "disarmament laboratory".[124]

  That position was subsequently strengthened earlier this year by the Prime Minister, notably in his speech to the Indian Chamber of Commerce, delivered in New Delhi, on 21 January 2008:

    "I pledge that in the run-up to the Non Proliferation Treaty Review Conference in 2010 we will be at the forefront of the international campaign to accelerate disarmament amongst possessor states, to prevent proliferation to new states, and to ultimately achieve a world that is freer from nuclear weapons."[125]

  Most significant in concrete terms has been the speech by the Defence Secretary, Des Browne, "Laying the Foundations for Multilateral Disarmament", delivered at the UN Conference on Disarmament on 5 February 2008, where he stated:

    "The UK is willing to host a technical conference of P5 nuclear laboratories on the verification of nuclear disarmament before the next NPT Review Conference in 2010. We hope such a conference will enable the five recognised nuclear weapons states to reinforce a process of mutual confidence building: working together to solve some of these difficult technical issues."[126]

  This intention was re-emphasised in the NSS, together with a focus on making progress before the 2010 Review Conference of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.


  The government's positive statements on disarmament are welcome, but there are major contradictions in the government's approach to non-proliferation, as indicated in the NSS, as well as through government policies and actions on this matter. The NSS emphasises the government's determination to maintain a nuclear weapons system, pressing ahead with a replacement of Trident, effectively ensuring that the UK is a nuclear-armed state to 2050 and beyond. The government also supports NATO expansion and the US missile defence system, both of which are contributing to the development of a new nuclear arms race between existing nuclear states and increasing the likelihood of wider proliferation. CND urges the government to pull back from policies that will encourage nuclear proliferation and pursue policies—as well as statements—which will advance the twin requirements of the Treaty—disarmament and non-proliferation. Both are fundamental to the security of the world today. The consequences of failing to advance both requirements were very clearly expressed by Kofi Annan at the 60th anniversary of the UN:

    "the more that those states that already have [nuclear weapons] 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".[127]

  The failure of the nuclear weapons states to comply with their obligations under the NPT—taken together with an apparent orientation towards nuclear use by some of these states—has real potential to create a tendency towards proliferation. The logic of the "deterrent" notion is that all states need nuclear weapons to protect themselves. This point has also been made by Nobel Laureate Professor Sir Joseph Rotblat,

    "If some nations—including the most powerful militarily—say that they need nuclear weapons for their security, then such security cannot be denied to other countries which really feel insecure. Proliferation of nuclear weapons is the logical consequence of this nuclear policy."[128]


  The most grave contradiction between the government's stated commitment and its actual practice is the decision made on March 14 July 2007, to replace the submarines, the "platform" for the Trident nuclear weapons system, committing Britain to being nuclear armed until 2050 and beyond. This decision conflicts not only with Article Six of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, signed by the UK, which states:

    "Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes 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."[129]

  It is also contrary to the "unequivocal commitment", given at the 2000 NPT Review Conference by the UK and the four other declared nuclear weapons states (China, France, Russia and the USA), to "work towards the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals."


  A decision to manufacture new nuclear warheads would also be counter-productive to disarmament initiatives and the current confusion over whether or not a decision has already been taken behind closed doors does not strengthen the government's non-proliferation case. Whilst the decision was made to begin the process for replacing the submarines, the government has continually stated that the decision can be reversed if parliament so decides, and that a decision has not yet been taken to replace the nuclear warheads for the system. In her contribution to the 14 March 2007 debate on Trident replacement, the then Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett told Parliament, "we are not making any decision about the warheads in this Parliament, so the matter will inevitably come before a subsequent Parliament."[130]

  And during the debate on the Atomic Weapons Establishment Aldermaston, held on 26 March 2008, the Minister of State for Defence Bob Ainsworth told parliament, "No decisions have yet been taken on whether, or how, we will need to refurbish or replace the warhead. Such decisions are likely to be necessary during the next Parliament."[131]

  Despite these statements, The Guardian reported on 15 July 2008 that "previously unpublished papers released under the Freedom of Information Act reveal…The UK is to replace its stockpile of nuclear warheads at an estimated cost of more than £3 billion."[132]

  The government has subsequently stated that the papers—speaker's notes for a meeting between MoD officials and arms manufacturers—were erroneous, but nevertheless cause for concern remains, particularly in view of the extensive investment in staff and facilities at AWE Aldermaston, where Britain's nuclear weapons are made.


  Britain supports the US missile defence system both in terms of provision of facilities here in the UK, and in backing the location of US facilities for the system in central Europe. This system is contributing to proliferation and a new nuclear arms race, and Britain's support will be conducive to that. The US missile defence system is a highly controversial military initiative. It is based on the Strategic Defence Initiative (or "Star Wars" plan of President Reagan), and is an anti-ballistic missile system—previously illegal under the ABM Treaty signed between the United States and the Soviet Union. Such systems were outlawed because of their ability to destabilise the strategic balance between the two superpowers. The US unilaterally withdrew from the ABM Treaty a few years ago in order to pursue a missile defence system. It is widely understood that the system will allow the US to attack other countries without fear of retaliation. Although the US says the system is designed to confront "rogue states", it is generally thought to be against Russia and China. US plans to put facilities in Poland and the Czech Republic have only reinforced that assumption and increased Russia's concerns.

  The role of Britain is significant in missile defence. RAF Fylingdales in Yorkshire had already been assigned to the US missile defence system, and there had been concerns that the same would happen to the communications base at RAF Menwith Hill. Former Prime Minister Tony Blair had told the House of Commons in February 2007 that such a matter would be put to the House first, "I am sure that we will have the discussion in the House… When we have a proposition to put, we will come back and put it."[133]

  However, on 25 July 2007, the Secretary of State for Defence, Des Browne, made a written statement to the House of Commons, stating that at RAF Menwith Hill, "equipment will be installed and operated by the US Government to allow receipt of satellite warnings of potentially hostile missile launches…The Government welcome US plans to place further missile defence assets in Europe to address the emerging threat from rogue states…we have been exploring ways in which the UK can continue to contribute to the US system as well as to any future NATO missile defence system."[134]

  This statement was given on the last day of Parliament before the summer recess, depriving MPs of the opportunity to raise their concerns about this development. There is considerable concern within Britain about the system, with many taking the view that it will put countries that host elements of the system at greater risk, effectively putting them on the front line in future US wars.

  Nevertheless, a number of MPs protested in the press about the lack of transparency and accountability, and the Foreign Affairs Committee issued a strong protest later in the year. The committee said that they "regret the manner and timing of the Government's announcement…and the resulting lack of Parliamentary debate on the issue" referring to the release of the news as a written statement on the last day before Parliament broke for the summer.


  During the recent conflict in the Caucasus, Poland and the US reached an agreement on the siting of interceptor missiles for the system in Poland. It is hard to imagine a worse time to make such an announcement. A US spokesperson was reported as saying Russia has nothing to worry about because its arsenal could easily overwhelm the interceptors.

  That would be true if Russia launched a first strike against the US. But if the US launched a first strike against the Russian arsenal and knocked most of it out, then the interceptor missiles would be able to knock out most of Russia's retaliatory strike. Whilst many people may consider that such an attack would be out of the question, it is necessary to recall that many others will think that as the US has recently pursued illegal pre-emptive war, it cannot be ruled out that it might do it again. There can be no doubt that such fears will be triggered in Moscow as a result of this provocative and destabilising development.

Moscow had already announced that it will re-target its missiles on Europe if missile defence goes ahead. Following the US-Polish agreement, Russian General Anatoly Nogovitsyn stated that "By hosting these (US Missile Defence facilities), Poland is making itself a target. This is 100% certain. It becomes a target for attack. Such targets are destroyed as a first priority."[135]

  Russian President Medvedev has recently announced that Russia plans to upgrade its nuclear systems including new nuclear submarines and a system of aerospace defence. Medvedev stated that the new systems were necessary in response to US plans to site missile defence facilities in Poland and the Czech Republic.

  These developments should send a clear message to our government about the urgent need to defuse tensions with Russia, and to pull back from missile defence if we are to avoid a new Cold War, a new nuclear arms race and even a nuclear confrontation.


  This is a further area where current British policy will contribute to an increase in the dangers of nuclear proliferation. The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) was formed in 1949, during the Cold War, ostensibly as a defensive military alliance. This nuclear-armed institution should have been disbanded when its counterpart, the Warsaw Pact was dissolved, at the end of the Cold War in 1991. Instead, two waves of expansion took place in 1999 and 2004, pushing up the membership from sixteen to twenty six. And, at NATO's Bucharest meeting, held in April 2008, Albania and Croatia were invited to join. President Bush called for Georgia to be allowed to join the Membership Action Plan, which is the next stage towards full membership. This was rejected due to opposition from several countries, led by Germany and France. But Georgia was assured in a special communique that it would eventually join NATO and a review of the decision was been pledged for December 2008. It is thought that this strong US backing may have encouraged the Georgian government to attack South Ossetia.

  NATO is a nuclear-armed alliance, and between 150 and 240 US B61 nuclear bombs are stationed in five countries across Europe—Belgium, Germany, The Netherlands, Italy and Turkey. There is strong campaigning opposition to the nuclear weapons in those countries. Until earlier this year there were 110 US nuclear bombs located at RAF Lakenheath in East Anglia, under the auspices of NATO and outside the control of the British government. It is reported that these have now been removed. NATO's nuclear policies conflict with the legal obligations of the signatories to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Articles 1 and 2 of the NPT forbid the transfer of nuclear weapons to non-nuclear weapon states, but US/NATO nuclear weapons in Europe are located in non-nuclear weapons states. NATO has also rejected a policy of "no first use" of nuclear weapons. In other words, NATO would be prepared to use nuclear weapons in a first strike. The UK's own rejection of a no first use policy is also linked to NATO's policy and Defence Secretary Des Browne has recently confirmed that position, indicating that a policy of no first use of nuclear weapons would be incompatible with the UK and NATO's "doctrine of deterrence."

  The UK's nuclear weapons system has been assigned to NATO since the 1960s. Ultimately, this means that 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. Potentially, since the 1999 rewrite of NATO's mission, they could also be used outside the NATO area in a first-strike capacity.


  CND welcomes the positive statements by the British government and senior politicians both in the UK and the USA—who used to be leading advocates of nuclear weapons—calling for a nuclear weapon free world. If acted upon, this will bring government policy in line with the majority view. In a poll taken before the decision on Trident replacement was taken, 72% of the British people did not support the government's plans to replace Trident at that time. This scale of opposition to a new nuclear weapons system is reflected in large sections of society calling for nuclear disarmament, including students, trade unions, church leaders and faith communities. A majority of the population also supports the idea of a nuclear weapons convention which would ban all nuclear weapons worldwide.

  However, in order to make progress in this crucial area, the government must not only take concrete steps towards disarmament, making practical advances as well as positive statements. It must also cease to support or initiate policies which will encourage nuclear proliferation and a new nuclear arms race—potentially leading to catastrophic nuclear war. We must be quite clear that if Britain is serious about contributing to global nuclear disarmament, it cannot say one thing and do another.

  CND makes the following proposals for consideration by the Foreign Affairs Committee, as short-term concrete steps towards nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation:

    —  A halt must be called to the Trident replacement developments—both submarines and warheads.

    —  Steps must be taken to advance and implement the "Thirteen Steps" agreed at the 2000 NPT Review Conference.

    —  Support must be given for a nuclear weapons convention, or any other comparable treaty or treaties, banning all nuclear weapons, as chemical and biological have been banned.

    —  The further expansion of NATO must be halted and Britain must oppose NATO's first strike nuclear policy and urge the withdrawal of US nuclear weapons from Europe.

    —  Use of British bases for the US missile defence system must be withdrawn and Britain must cease to support proposals for expansion of the system within Europe.

    —  Concrete timetabled proposals for achieving a nuclear weapons-free world must be made to the NPT Review Conference in 2010.

29 September 2008

123   Foreign Office Minister Meg Munn, Westminster Hall adjournment debate, 23 July 2007. Back

124   Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett, Carnegie Endowment, Washington D.C., 25 June 2007. Back

125   Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Indian Chamber of Commerce, New Delhi, 21 January 2008. Back

126   Defence Secretary Des Browne, Conference on Disarmament, 5 February 2008. Back

127   Kofi Annan, UN 60th anniversary event, London, January 2006. Back

128   Sir Joseph Rotblat, Science and Nuclear Weapons: Where do we go from here? The Blackaby Papers, no 5, Dec 2004, p.7. Back

129   Article Six, Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Back

130   Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett, House of Commons Hansard, 14 March 2007, column 299. Back

131   Defence Minister Bob Ainsworth, House of Commons Hansard, 26 March 2008, column 122WH. Back

132   The Guardian, 25 July 2008. Back

133   Prime Minister Tony Blair, House of Commons Hansard, 28 February 2007, column 920. Back

134   12 Defence Secretary Des Browne, House of Commons Hansard, 25 July 2007, column 72WS. Back

135   13 General Anatoly Nogovitsyn, reported in The Daily Telegraph, 15 August 2008. Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2009
Prepared 14 June 2009