Global Security: Non-Proliferation - Foreign Affairs Committee Contents

 Submission from Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND)

  1.  The Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) has worked for the global elimination of nuclear weapons for 50 years. Scottish CND Coordinator John Ainslie has a BA in International Relations and has produced several detailed reports on the UK Trident system.[155]


  2.  (i)  Progress in tackling proliferation will be influenced by success in moving towards nuclear disarmament.

    (ii) Procuring nuclear technology from the US undermines efforts to tackle proliferation.

    (iii) The Government should not modernise or replace Trident because this would reinforce the value of nuclear weapons and undermine non-proliferation

    (iv) UK policy should be framed in accordance with the Advisory Opinion of the ICJ.

    (v) The UK should take measures to implement the 13 steps including taking Trident off patrol.


  3.  Disarmament and proliferation could only be separated if it could be established that states make decisions about their possession of nuclear weapons in isolation. In practice the opposite is the case. Factors which influence whether a state acquires and retains nuclear weapons include:

    (i) Perception of potential threats from nuclear-armed competitors;

    (ii) Status relative to nuclear-armed partners;

    (iii) International opinion on the acceptability of the possession, threat and use of nuclear weapons.

  4.  Examples of the first are the nuclear triangle of China, India and Pakistan and Iran's relationship with Israel. France and Britain provide an illustration of the second factor. International opinion has been a factor when countries have renounced their nuclear programmes and capabilities and in the many nations who have decided that they do not need a nuclear weapons programme.

  5.  The Chair's factual summary of the 2008 Preparatory Committee for the Review Conference said: "Emphasis was placed on the mutually reinforcing nature of disarmament and non-proliferation".[156]

  6.  A recent report on the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons, part-funded by the Foreign Office, points out: "Double standards on matters as materially and psychologically important as nuclear weapons will produce instability and non-compliance, creating enforcement crises that increase the risk of conflict and nuclear anarchy."[157]

  7.  General Lee Butler, a former Commander of US nuclear forces, said:

"It is untenable that a handful of nations should forever arrogate to themselves the right to nuclear weapons, while denying it to others".[158]

  8.  If the spread of nuclear technology is to be addressed it is essential that there is real progress towards disarmament and the devaluing of nuclear weapons.


  9.  The success of efforts to stop the spread of nuclear technology will require widespread agreement on measures to prevent the type of exchanges which take place every month under the Mutual Defence Agreement and Polaris Sales Agreement. The Anglo-American nuclear black market creates the impression that the UK ignores the principle that nuclear technology should not cross international boundaries and is not serious about non-proliferation.

  10.  Every thermonuclear weapon deployed by the UK has included essential components from the US. Although Britain tested a hydrogen bomb in 1958 this design was never transformed into an operational weapon. Red Snow, WE177, Polaris and Chevaline warheads all used a US design for the secondary stage.[159] The UK Trident warhead is of Anglo-American origin. It contains vital parts purchased off-the-shelf from the US.[160] The US supplies not only Trident missiles but also the targeting software. In the past nuclear material for warheads has been exchanged between Britain and America. There has been no guarantee that this practice has ceased.[161]


  11.  The National Security Strategy says that the Government's approach to proliferation includes defending our strategic interests by maintaining nuclear forces, based on the 2006 assessment that a nuclear threat might emerge over the next 50 years. This is an oblique reference to the plan to develop, with American help, a new nuclear capability which could remain in service until 2055.[162] The plan to replace Trident signals to other nations that nuclear weapons are of value even where these weapons have no relevance to any current security threats.

  12.  At the 2008 Preparatory Committee for the NPT Review Conference "concern and disappointment were raised about plans of some nuclear weapon States to replace or modernize nuclear weapons and their means of delivery or platforms".[163]

  13.  Two current UK modernisation projects are the acquisition over the next decade of a new fusing system, which will increase the destructive capability of the current warheads, and the purchase of new computer systems in 2010, which will increase targeting flexibility.[164]

  14.  With regard to Trident Replacement David Gould, Chief Operating Officer at Defence Equipment and Support, revealed that the programme goes well beyond the construction of a new submarine. In June 2007 he said: "The intention is to replace the entire Vanguard class submarine system. Including the warhead and missile."[165]

  15.  Under the Nuclear Warhead Capability Sustainment Programme the MoD are rebuilding the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE). If completed this expensive project would give AWE the capability to design and manufacture a new warhead, with assistance from the US.[166]

  16.  The US Department of Defence are developing a new missile, the Underwater Launched Missile System (ULMS), to replace Trident. ULMS was discussed at 3 meetings of the Joint (US/UK) Steering Group in 2007.[167] In due course the UK would be expected to opt for ULMS, so that they were not left supporting the Trident system on their own.[168]

  17.  Annual spending on nuclear weapons is set to double from £1.1 billion in 2003-04 to £2.1 billion in 2010-11 and then to rise further.[169] Continuing with this project as we enter a recession would send a powerful message that the UK is determined to keep its nuclear weapons for 50 years.


  18.  A critical part of the rules-based system is the Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice in 1996. The Advisory Opinion said that the threat or use of nuclear weapons was generally contrary to the rules and principles of International Law. The Court left open a hypothetical window where the survival of the state was at risk. The UK has failed to adopt the language of the Opinion. UK policy would appear to permit the use of nuclear weapons in circumstances which were extreme but when the survival of the state was not at risk.[170]

  19.  The Advisory Opinion and the comments by the President of the Court seriously question whether there are any circumstances where nuclear weapons could be legally used or deployed as a threat. Lord Murray, a former Lord Advocate, has argued that it is not only the threat or use of nuclear weapons that would be illegal but that the current deployment of the British Trident system is probably contrary to international law.[171]

  20.  The failure to take account of the full Advisory Opinion and its implications for British nuclear weapons undermines the potential for international law to regulate nuclear weapons and their proliferation.


  21.  At the 2010 Conference the UK Government should stress the importance of the 13 Steps to implementing Article VI, which were agreed at the 2000 Review Conference. The Government should also take practical measures to implement these steps. This should include the following measures outlined in Step 9:

22.  "Further efforts by the nuclear weapon States to reduce their arsenals unilaterally".

  In 2007 the Government reduced the number of operationally available warheads by around 40. This could have been achieved without altering the number of weapons deployed on submarines.[172] The Government should be encouraged to make further unilateral reductions and should abandon plans for modernising and replacing Trident.

23.  "Increased transparency by the nuclear-weapon States"

  The MoD has scheduled a major milestone in the Trident Replacement programme, the Initial Gate of the Future Submarine Programme, for August 2008. This will be only months before the review Conference. At or before the Initial Gate the Government should be urged to explain in full their plans for Trident Replacement along with a full justification and detailed costs.

24.   "The further reduction of non-strategic nuclear weapons based on unilateral initiatives and as an integral part of the nuclear arms reduction and disarmament process"

  The Government should encourage the US to withdraw all its B61 nuclear bombs from Europe. They should also state whether or not there are US nuclear weapons at RAF Lakenheath.

25.  "Concrete agreed measures to further reduce the operational status of nuclear weapons systems."

  The P5 Disarmament Conference in the UK will provide an opportunity to address the difficult issue of reducing the readiness of nuclear submarines. The Government should announce that it will take Trident submarines off patrol, store the warheads on shore and increase the alert notice to one month or more.[173]

  If there is no current threat, only a concern about long-term uncertainty, then there is no need for the nuclear force to be invulnerable. The theoretical risk from the revised posture would be more than offset by the contribution such a move would make to the devaluing of nuclear weapons.

  The MoD has stated that the submarine on patrol is on an alert state of several days. But this cannot be verified. Ending patrols and storing warheads on shores could be verified. This would provide a model for other countries, including China and Russia, and so contribute to wider moves to reduce nuclear risks.

  Taking Trident submarines off patrol and storing the warheads on shore would increase the potential life of the submarine hulls and the warheads. No case could be made for replacing the submarine or warhead at this time and the current replacement proposals could be shelved, saving over £1 billion per year.

  26.  These limited measures are only a starting point. Britain is in a good position to make progress towards nuclear disarmament. This would enable the Foreign Office to use our diplomatic influence to effectively promote both non-proliferation and disarmament.

29 September 2008

155   The Safety of Trident, SCND, 1994; Trident: Britain's Weapon of Mass Destruction, SCND 1999; The Future of the British Bomb, WMD Awareness Programme, 2005. Back

156   Factual Summary of the NPT Preparatory Committee 28 April-9 May 2008. Back

157   George Perkovich & James Acton, Abolishing Nuclear Weapons, Adelphi Paper 396, IISS, August 2008. Back

158   General Lee Butler, former Commander STRATCOM, interviewed in Jonathan Schell, The Gift of Time, Granta, 1998, p188 Back

159   Information from The National Archives Back

160   The US have provided the Neutron Generators and most of the Arming, Fuzing and Firing System for UK Trident warheads. Back

161   When asked when the last transfer of nuclear material had taken place the Defence Secretary, Geoff Hoon, said "Precise details of such transfers are being withheld in order to safeguard national security". Written Answers 8 February 2005 Column 1379W, HansardBack

162   The Future of the United Kingdom's Nuclear Deterent, MoD and FCO, December 2006, Cm 6994 Back

163   Factual Summary of the NPT Preparatory Committee 28 April-9 May 2008. Back

164   Over the next decade the warheads will incorporate the new US Mk4A Arming, Fuzing and Firing system. Written Answers, 9 May 2006, Hansard. The submarines will be fitted with the Mk98 Mod 7 fire control system and the targeting computers at the Corsham Computer Centre will be upgraded to match this. Written Answers, 28 March 2007, HansardBack

165   Papers from the Future Deterrent Industry Day, Abbey Wood, 29 June 2007. The phrase "including the missile and warhead" was redacted from the version of the speech initially released to Scottish CND under the Freedom of Information Act. The full statement was only issued after an internal review under the Act. Reported in the Guardian 25 July 2008. Back

166   A series of PQs have been asked but only a limited amount of financial information has been disclosed. Back

167   Written Answer 3 December 2007, Column 843W, Hansard Back

168   Professor John Simpson pointed out that the MoD would not want to repeat the situation where they were left supporting Polaris after it had been withdrawn from the US Navy. Defence Committee inquiry into The Future of the UK's Strategic Nuclear Deterrent: The Strategic Context, June 2006, HC 986, Ev 29. Back

169   Written answers 30 October 2007 Column 1358W & 3 June 2008, Hansard Back

170   "we would only consider using our nuclear weapons in self defence (including the defence of our NATO allies), and even then only in extreme circumstances"-The Future of the United Kingdom's Nuclear Deterrent, MoD & FCO, December 2006, Cm 6994. Back

171   Paper submitted by Lord Ronald King Murray to the Scottish Government Summit on Nuclear Weapons, October 2007 and Sunday Herald 20 September 2008 Back

172   In 1998 36 warheads were removed from submarines into storage. These warheads remained part of the operational stockpile until 2007. Back

173   NATO's air-based nuclear forces in Europe are on an alert state measured in months. NATO's Nuclear Forces in the new security environment, Back

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Prepared 14 June 2009