Global Security: UK-US Relations - Foreign Affairs Committee Contents



  This note seeks to define the mission and scope of a possible new British institution, which would draw together the resources and experience of government organisations, academia and non-governmental organisations with an interest in the role that Britain might play in moving the international community towards a nuclear-weapons-free future. The underlying idea is that such a future is now on the international political agenda, as a result of the ground-breaking letter of George Schultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger and Sam Nunn in the Wall Street Journal on 4 January 2007, the speech made by Margaret Beckett to the Carnegie Institute on 25 June 2007, recent speeches made by the Prime Minister, Foreign Secretary and Defence Secretary, and the letter from Douglas Hurd, Malcolm Rifkind, David Owen and George Robertson in The Times on 30 June 2008. There is an urgent need to take these ideas forward, by promoting studies of the concrete political, financial and technical steps which need to be taken over the next few years if such a goal is to be realised, and by creating a centre of excellence in which the necessary expertise can be built up and sustained, and the necessary international leadership can be promoted.

It is rather clear that to reach the eventual goal of a nuclear-weapon-free world, the international community will have to proceed in steps. There is an immediate and pressing need to prevent the current situation from deteriorating further. This requires the strengthening of the Non-Proliferation Treaty regime, encouraging those countries that have not already signed the Treaty and the Additional Protocol to do so, and ensuring that those countries which have signed abide by its provisions. In parallel with this, there is a need for those countries which have already acquired nuclear weapons to start or continue arms reduction, arms limitation and other confidence-building measures, both to fulfil their obligations under the NPT and to move in the direction of a nuclear-weapon-free world. In the longer term, there is a need to create the international security framework within which nations could abandon nuclear weapons altogether as an element of their defence policy.

The approach proposed in this note is the creation of a British institution (hereinafter referred to as BRINPARDI) which would bring together all the expertise which exists in this country in these matters, and which would contribute an element of British leadership to the international efforts which are required. It should be both British and International, in the same way that SIPRI is both Swedish and International—i.e. located in the UK, and predominantly funded from British sources—but open to both individual experts from around the world, and to funding from outside the UK. It should be a predominantly non-classified institution, but should be able to draw on the advice of experts with security clearance as necessary. It should operate in such a way that it earns the respect of the international community as an objective, fair-minded organisation, not subject to undue influence from any national, political or military faction, but should be regarded by the British government as a reliable source of information and advice on policy in this area.

  Historically, the organisation within the British government which has provided the key technical leadership in this area has been AWE Aldermaston, and it is clear that in the foreseeable future it will continue to have a very important part to play. However there are various reasons why it should not be the only player in this field:

    (i) Its current mandate from MoD is to concentrate strongly on its "core mission", which is to maintain the existing UK nuclear deterrent, and to undertake the necessary development work to permit the construction of a next generation of UK nuclear weapons and deployment systems if the UK government so decides. Its so-called "Threat Reduction" work, which covers some of the work which would be undertaken in BRINPARDI, is on a much smaller scale than its core mission work, has a lower priority, and is subject to a number of constraints.

    (ii) Arising from the demands of its "core mission", it operates a rigid security policy which severely limits access to buildings within the fence to individuals who do not have full security clearance. Access would be particularly difficult for non-UK nationals, especially from countries which might be able to make an important contribution to BRINPARDI's objectives.

    (iii) The majority of its staff, particularly its senior staff who have the necessary experience to make a major contribution in this field, are highly committed to its core mission, and do not have a track record of making and publishing innovative contributions in this field. Although AWE has a substantial, and growing, programme of collaboration with British universities, this is overwhelmingly on topics related to its core mission.

    (iv) It does not possess, and would probably not claim to possess, a very high level of expertise in the economic and international political aspects of this programme, or in technical aspects which have historically been funded by branches of the UK government other than MoD.

  For all these reasons, this proposal envisages the creation of a Centre of Excellence in this area, which is physically located outside the AWE fence, and is not subject to the problems listed above. Nevertheless, its relationship with AWE would be rather close, and it would aim to develop a pattern of collaboration with AWE which is similar to the relationship between the US JASON organisation and the US defense establishments—i.e. enjoying mutual confidence, sharing information to the extent that national security permits, making use of AWE research facilities where that can be arranged etc.

  The range of activities which this Centre of Excellence, referred to as BRINPARDI, would cover would include:

Nuclear Non-proliferation

    — International political, economic and technical data gathering related to the NPT.— Development of rationales for signing & adhering to the NPT.

    — Analysis of loopholes in the NPT regime, and development of counter-measures.

    — Technical & political aspects of monitoring for compliance with NPT.

    — Identification of countries, groups and individuals with responsibility for non-compliance with NPT.

    — Development of database on trafficking in nuclear materials and dual-use materials, and technology relating to the detection of such trafficking.

    — Development of expertise on the potential for the creation of radiological threats ("dirty bombs" etc) and counter-measures.

    — Development and implementation of a nuclear forensic capability.

    — Development of "proliferation-resistant" civil nuclear power and an acceptable international inspection regime.

Arms Reduction, Arms Limitation and Confidence Building measures

    — Development of arms reduction, arms limitation and confidence-building strategies, including test bans, regional non-nuclear zones, cut-off treaties etc.

    — Development of rationales to persuade individual countries to adopt such strategies (political, military and economic).

    — Monitoring/verification of compliance with such agreements, including the dismantling of withdrawn weapons in ways that avoid further proliferation, or unnecessary intrusion into matters affecting national security or commercial practice.

    — Secure management of stockpiles of nuclear materials in NW states.

Disarmament Implementation

    — Identification of political and military disincentives to complete nuclear disarmament, especially in the final stages, and finding means of countering those disincentives.— Creation of non-nuclear security regimes.

    — Identification of economic and social implications of winding down nuclear weapons establishments, and/or converting them to civilian missions.

    — Intensification of the compliance verification regime as appropriate for the final stages in disarmament.

Nuclear weapon "breakout", both within NPT-signatory countries and post-disarmament

    — Creation of an acceptable international inspection regime

    — Development of technology to make such a regime effective in detecting breakout at an early stage.

    — Development of an effective international regime to deter breakout.

  To be effective, BRINPARDI would need to have a leader with the outstanding management and communication skills required in a strongly interdisciplinary centre, who could command the respect of all those who would contribute to its mission. It should be located somewhere which is not too far from the key contributory organisations. It would need to have a significant permanent staff, and also the ability to attach staff from other organisations for specific tasks. Above all, it would need to have a significant budget—perhaps £10 million per annum initially—if it is to undertake work at a sufficient speed to make a real impact on this urgent national/international task. In view of the interest in the "disarmament laboratory" concept which has been expressed by a number of senior UK government figures, it seems not unreasonable to hope that it could provide a significant fraction of the required funding.

Christopher Watson and John Finney

11 October 2008

previous page contents next page

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

© Parliamentary copyright 2010
Prepared 28 March 2010