Rising nuclear risk, disarmament and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Contents

Summary of conclusions and recommendations

The causes of nuclear risk

1.The level of nuclear risk has increased, in particular since the decline in relations between Russia and the West from 2014. There is a danger that misunderstanding, miscalculation or mistakes could lead to the use of nuclear weapons. Steps to manage and reduce this risk should be of the highest priority for the Government. (Paragraph 21)

2.While preventing the proliferation of nuclear capabilities to Non-Nuclear Weapon States must remain a priority, the principal cause of increased risk is the continued and at times expanding reliance of nuclear possessor states on their nuclear weapons. (Paragraph 22)

3.The world is increasingly multipolar, which means approaches to managing nuclear risk cannot focus only on the US, NATO and Russia. Efforts must also include states such as China, as well as nuclear possessor states outside the Non-Proliferation Treaty. (Paragraph 30)

4.Notwithstanding current tensions, the Government should be prepared to talk to Russia about nuclear strategic stability. The risks of miscommunication, misperception and miscalculation are too grave to allow other aspects of Russia’s behaviour to preclude talks on nuclear issues. (Paragraph 35)

5.It is also important that NATO has a dialogue with Russia on nuclear issues as part of an effort to take all steps to reduce the risk of nuclear use. One way of doing this would be to reinvigorate dialogue within the NATO-Russia Council. (Paragraph 36)

6.We do not regard such contacts, which took place even at the height of the Cold War, as constituting ‘business as usual’. (Paragraph 37)

7.We welcome international efforts to increase the security of nuclear and radioactive materials and thus reduce the risk posed by non-state actors. The security of nuclear stockpiles and measures to prevent proliferation must remain a priority for the Government. (Paragraph 42)

8.Nuclear possessor states are developing more sophisticated capabilities, utilising new technologies, and there is increasing ‘entanglement’ between conventional and nuclear weapons. These developments increase the possibility of miscalculation and the speed of decision-making, both of which could result in an escalation of hostilities. (Paragraph 65)

9.The Government should review the resilience of the UK’s nuclear deterrent and associated systems in the context of emerging technologies, in particular cyber capabilities. It should report its key findings to Parliament. (Paragraph 66)

10.Reckless nuclear rhetoric in an era of digital communications potentially increases the risk of misperception and thus nuclear use. (Paragraph 70)

11.We are concerned by the lack of understanding by nuclear possessor states of their respective nuclear doctrines and declaratory policies. Misunderstanding of these policies could increase the risk of use of nuclear weapons. (Paragraph 86)

12.The importance of the principle that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought” has not diminished. The Government should publicly endorse this principle and encourage all nuclear possessor states to do the same. (Paragraph 88)

The NPT and the wider non-proliferation regime

13.The UK should stand by its commitment, as a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and one of its three depositary powers, to implementing commitments across all three pillars of the NPT—non-proliferation, peaceful uses of nuclear technology and disarmament. (Paragraph 96)

14.The UK’s active role in developing effective techniques and partnerships for the verification of nuclear disarmament is a helpful contribution to the disarmament agenda. The Government should continue this work, and consider opportunities for using new technologies in verification. (Paragraph 112)

15.The Government should consider engaging China in its work on nuclear disarmament verification. (Paragraph 113)

16.The Government should consider facilitating discussion and technical work on nuclear verification with Middle Eastern countries, to build regional capabilities and increase dialogue on non-proliferation and disarmament. (Paragraph 114)

17.The P5 is an important initiative in nuclear diplomacy, which could play a positive role in co-ordinating the implementation by the five Nuclear Weapon States of their Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty commitments. It must not become a ‘cartel’ of Nuclear Weapon States, simply lecturing others on why their continued possession of these weapons is justified. (Paragraph 124)

18.We welcome the role played by China as the chair of the P5 process in 2018–19. Trust between the P5 remains low, and meetings in the P5 format could help to build understanding and trust between these states. This could, in the run up to the 2020 Review Conference, contribute to a reduction in the risk of nuclear use. (Paragraph 130)

19.The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty remains a critical part of international security. The success of the treaty will remain of central importance to the UK’s security and to the rules-based international order as a whole. (Paragraph 167)

20.The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty’s successes—near-universal membership, a considerable reduction in nuclear stockpiles since the 1980s, and the establishment of an international norm against new states acquiring nuclear weapons—should be lauded. (Paragraph 168)

21.The presence of nuclear-armed states outside the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty remains a challenge. The UK should pursue opportunities to include nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament in its bilateral discussions with India, Pakistan and Israel. (Paragraph 169)

22.Although nuclear possessor states outside the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty are unlikely to disarm in the short term, the UK should continue to advocate for the universalisation of the treaty. (Paragraph 170)

23.Largely as a result of the worsening security environment, global progress towards disarmament has stalled. We urge the Government to set out its view on what the necessary global conditions for disarmament would be, and use its position in the P5 to encourage progress under this pillar of the NPT. (Paragraph 171)

24.Nuclear modernisation is a necessary part of the maintenance of nuclear weapons and can make these weapons more secure. However, the programmes of many nuclear possessor states go well beyond what can properly be described as modernisation, introducing new capabilities and potentially increasing nuclear risk. We are particularly concerned about new developments in the field of tactical nuclear weapons. (Paragraph 196)

25.The UK’s nuclear modernisation programme, although not without its critics, focuses on the renewal of its existing capabilities for a minimum credible deterrent. The Government should encourage other nuclear-armed states to exercise restraint in their modernisation programmes and to avoid expanding their nuclear capabilities. (Paragraph 197)

26.The issue of a Weapons of Mass Destruction-Free Zone in the Middle East has become one of the most contentious for successive Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conferences. The UK should continue to support work towards the forthcoming UN conference on a Middle East Weapons of Mass Destruction-Free Zone, and should encourage Israel to participate. (Paragraph 214)

27.The Government should also support dialogue and confidence-building steps in the Middle East—such as a regional testing moratorium—with the aim of increasing trust and improving the security environment. We believe that any increase in dialogue and reduction in tensions in the Middle East would be welcome and could make a contribution to the overall success of the 2020 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference. (Paragraph 215)

28.The Ban Treaty has little chance of achieving its goals in the short to medium term, not least because none of the nuclear possessor states are signatories. While we welcome evidence from its proponents that it will not undermine the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, we believe the Ban Treaty risks exacerbating existing polarisation between Nuclear and Non-Nuclear Weapon States while delivering no immediate disarmament benefits. We understand and accept that the Government will remain opposed to the Ban Treaty. (Paragraph 262)

29.We also believe however that the increasing signs of division between Nuclear and Non-Nuclear Weapon States are matters of concern, and that the dissatisfaction of the Ban Treaty’s proponents with the status quo on disarmament should be taken seriously. We therefore recommend that the Government should adopt a less aggressive tone about this treaty and seek opportunities to work with its supporters towards the aims of Article 6 of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which concerns disarmament. (Paragraph 263)

30.More openness from the UK, as a responsible nuclear state, on the possible humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons, and a willingness to engage on developing strategies to manage the consequences of nuclear weapons use, would be welcome. (Paragraph 264)

Challenges to non-proliferation and arms control

31.The US decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal is against the interests of the United Kingdom and undermines the global non-proliferation regime. The Government has been right to defend the deal; we welcome its co-operation with European partners to find ways to preserve it. (Paragraph 287)

32.The Government should consult its partners in the Iran nuclear deal about how best to ensure that the gains to the non-proliferation regime delivered by the constraints on Iran’s nuclear programme set out in the deal are not put in jeopardy when its time-limited provisions come to an end. (Paragraph 288)

33.We welcome efforts to seek a diplomatic solution to North Korea’s nuclear programme. Any future deal achieving the denuclearisation of North Korea will need to be complete and verifiable. (Paragraph 310)

34.Entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty would be a significant step towards nuclear disarmament. We regret that a number of Annex 2 countries have yet to ratify the treaty. We strongly welcome the UK’s vocal support for the entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, and its financial support for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation. Meanwhile, we welcome the fact that the P5 are operating de facto moratoriums on nuclear testing and urge the Government to use its influence to ensure that continues. (Paragraph 322)

35.The Conference on Disarmament is an important forum for non-proliferation and disarmament to be discussed by states, including those outside the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The UK should consider every option to unblock the Conference. One option could be to call for negotiations on a fissile material cut-off treaty to be moved out of the Conference on Disarmament and into the UN General Assembly. While this would be likely to result in a treaty with less geographical coverage, a less well-subscribed to treaty would be better than no treaty at all, particularly if it included among its signatories the P5 countries which have ceased production of weapons-grade highly enriched uranium and plutonium. Moreover, the removal of this issue from the Conference on Disarmament would remove an obstacle to the forum agreeing a programme of work. (Paragraph 338)

36.We accept that Russia is in violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. Numerous attempts to resolve concerns about compliance have made no progress, which has led to the undesirable collapse of the treaty. The UK, along with its European partners, should use the ongoing discussions in NATO to promote approaches that could lead either to a revival of the treaty or, at least, to avoiding the deployment of such missiles in Europe by either party to the treaty. (Paragraph 366)

37.The possible continuation of New START is a decision for the US and Russia, but the Government should make clear to the US Administration the value the UK attaches to this treaty being extended beyond 2021 and its importance to Euro–Atlantic security. (Paragraph 373)

38.The world is dangerously close to an era without arms control, which would increase the risk of nuclear use. We urge the Government to support initiatives, including trust and confidence building measures, to achieve new arms control agreements in the context of a more multipolar world. (Paragraph 388)

39.The future of arms control is challenged by the emergence of certain new technologies. However, that it is difficult is no excuse not to try to develop arms control in the context of these technologies. Arms control agreements have overcome technological change in the past, and there is no inherent reason why this cannot be done again. (Paragraph 390)

The 2020 NPT Review Conference

40.The 2020 Review Conference is likely to be challenging for the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and will be affected by the global security situation. In particular, the Review Conference will be likely to be tested by the collapse of important non-proliferation and arms control agreements, and the perception of wider threats to the rules-based international order. (Paragraph 397)

41.The Nuclear Weapon States must, in good faith, address the dissatisfaction of Non-Nuclear Weapon States at the 2020 Review Conference, including by showing a demonstrable commitment to the disarmament pillar of the NPT. (Paragraph 398)

42.The Government should make every effort to ensure that a Final Document to the 2020 Review Conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is agreed and avoid a situation such as that in 2015 when the UK was one of only three countries which prevented consensus being reached. (Paragraph 399)

43.We recommend that the UK, as one of the three depositary powers, should mark its political support for the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty on its 50th anniversary by being represented at a high level. The Government should consider representation by the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs at the 2020 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference. It should also support High Representative Nakamitsu’s initiative to hold a ministerial meeting in advance of RevCon, by indicating the willingness of the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs to attend such a meeting. (Paragraph 403)

44.The UK should propose that the impact of new technologies should be considered by both Nuclear Weapon States and Non-Nuclear Weapon States at the 2020 RevCon of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Ahead of this conference, the Government should set out its ideas on how to manage the nuclear risks associated with new technologies. (Paragraph 404)

45.The UK has a strong track record of disarmament—having unilaterally reduced its arsenal to a single strategic system—and has been actively engaged in counter-proliferation work, including talks with Iran. In the run up to the 2020 Review Conference, it should set out a clear vision for future work towards disarmament, and seek to influence the Nuclear Weapon States to fulfil their obligations under the three pillars of the NPT. (Paragraph 412)

46.Assuming the chair of the P5 process from May 2019 presents a significant opportunity for the UK. It should encourage the other Nuclear Weapon States to use the P5 process for more substantive discussions, and as a forum to promote greater transparency between them. (Paragraph 425)

47.As the only Nuclear Weapon State to have adopted a credible minimum deterrent, the UK should advocate reducing reliance on nuclear weapons, and outlining the conditions for moving towards credible minimum deterrence. (Paragraph 426)

48.The Government should consider proposing that Nuclear Weapon States’ doctrines and postures, and increasing transparency through regular reporting on strategic weapons numbers, should be on the agenda for the next P5 conference. Such discussions could be a valuable contribution to transparency and should reduce the risk of miscalculation. (Paragraph 427)

49.The Government should consider clarifying its nuclear posture at the 2020 NPT Review Conference and encouraging other members of the P5 to take similar steps. This could include providing clearer negative security assurances, considering declarations of sole purpose and a no first use commitment, and further work on de-alerting. The objective should be to reduce the possibility of misperceptions and misunderstanding during a crisis. (Paragraph 428)

50.The UK should use its chairmanship of the P5 group to encourage a more constructive tone and approach by Nuclear Weapon States towards advocates of disarmament at the 2020 RevCon. It should explore further engagement between the P5 and Non-Nuclear Weapon States (NNWS) on the disarmament agenda to bridge the gap between the P5 and signatories to the Ban Treaty. It should ensure that both NNWS and civil society are invited to engage in parts of any P5 meetings led by the UK. (Paragraph 429)

51.Recent tensions between India and Pakistan demonstrate that it will be impossible to reduce the risk of nuclear use without engaging all nuclear possessor states. The UK should propose inviting India and Pakistan to meet the P5 on the margins of the next P5 conference. India and Pakistan have been included in discussions in the past, and this would be an opportunity to hold dialogue with the aim of reducing tensions and increasing understanding. (Paragraph 430)

52.The Government should continue to engage constructively with the President-designate to the 2020 Review Conference, and seek fully to engage the members of the P5 in preparations for this conference. (Paragraph 431)

53.The UK’s contribution to disarmament verification was widely welcomed by witnesses. It should continue this work, and be prepared to increase its wider funding for research on non-proliferation and disarmament. (Paragraph 432)

54.The US’s ‘Creating the Environment for Nuclear Disarmament’ initiative could be a helpful part of the step-by-step process towards eventual disarmament. We recommend that the UK should engage fully with the initiative, to seek to make it a constructive forum for engagement between Nuclear Weapon States and Non-Nuclear Weapon States. (Paragraph 438)

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