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Disarmament Diplomacy No. 89, Cover design by Calvert's Press, Photo by Rebecca JohnsonDisarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 89, Winter 2008

In the News

UK Debates on Nuclear Disarmament

Documents include:

Following outgoing UK Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett's speech on nuclear disarmament to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Conference in June 2007 (see Disarmament Diplomacy No. 86, Autumn 2007), there has been increasing emphasis on creating the conditions for UK and global nuclear disarmament. Over the past year, all three of the main political parties at Westminster have set out new policy positions on the issue. There have also been a number of statements and initiatives from senior political and military figures.

In her oral evidence to the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, which is currently conducting an inquiry on Global Security: Non-Proliferation, the Prime Minister's special adviser, Baroness Shirley Williams, raised concerns about prospects for the NPT: "I have not often heard such outspoken comments as I heard at the 2008 preparatory committee of the NPT in Geneva a few months ago, particularly from some rather surprising countries... In fact, it was clear at the meeting of the review conference that Lord Malloch-Brown and I attended in May, that there was a very powerful feeling that something had to be done by the nuclear weapon states." (See Proliferation in Parliament, December 2008)

In December Foreign Secretary David Miliband outlined his position on achieving "A world without nuclear weapons" in a >Guardian blog article, and on February 4 issued the full FCO report, titled "Lifting the Nuclear Shadow: Creating the conditions for abolishing nuclear weapons". Miliband called for "re-energised action on multilateral nuclear disarmament" along with a six point plan including CTBT entry into force; agreement on deep cuts to US and Russian nuclear arsenals; stopping proliferation by Iran and North Korea; fissile material cut off talks; a new IAEA-led system to reduce the risk of proliferation from civil nuclear programmes; and exploration of the military and technical issues required for further reductions and elimination of nuclear weapons. Despite the government's decision to renew Trident, Miliband argued that the UK has "moved to a minimum credible nuclear deterrent based on one system" and "reduced our operationally available arsenal by a further 20% in the last 12 months".

For the Conservative Party, Shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague called for an eight point plan to tackling nuclear proliferation in a speech to the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) in July 2008. Welcoming the "steps that the British government has taken to put Britain at the forefront of the debate on nuclear reductions and to propose a means of bringing the fuel cycle under international control", Hague called for action now to be "raised to a higher level of political priority and government commitment". The steps advocated by the Conservatives include: P5 strategic dialogue on nuclear reductions; working with partners to reinvigorate the NPT and close loopholes such as that on withdrawal; a mechanism to bring the nuclear fuel cycle under international control; a strengthened system of IAEA safeguards and inspections; steps to block the trade in proliferation-related technologies; disruption of financial networks that support proliferation; and a more robust approach to proliferators.

In the House of Commons, former Conservative Defence Secretary and Foreign Secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind called for progress on multilateral nuclear disarmament, arguing that "there can be no credible, logical or rational reason why we cannot massively reduce the number of nuclear weapons from the 27,000 around the world-mostly in the US and Russia-to a tiny number, even if the deterrent argument still holds sway."

An interim report from the Institute for Public Policy Research's Commission on National Security launched by Labour's former Defence Secretary and NATO Secretary-General Lord (George) Robertson and former Liberal Democrat leader Lord (Paddy) Ashdown calls for UK support for "the creation of a world free of nuclear weapons". Arguing that "action on non-proliferation is urgent ahead of the Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference in 2010", the IPPR report calls on the UK government to "use all of its influence inside NATO to ensure that the review of NATO's strategic concept, being carried out in 2009 and 2010, produces a result sensitive to and supportive of the requirements of a successful outcome to the NPT Review Conference in 2010."

Of the major parties at Westminster, the Liberal Democrats are presently the only one that supports immediate reductions to the UK's nuclear arsenal. A policy paper endorsed by the party's national conference in September 2008 argues for "a 50% cut in Britain's nuclear arsenal and retaining a multilateral negotiating position on further warhead reductions and any future system replacement for Trident. A final decision on the manufacture of a successor system does not need to be taken until 2014."

A world without nuclear weapons

UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband, Comment is Free,, 8 December 2008.

The UK has cut its stockpile of atomic weapons, but we need a new multilateral drive to avoid the risk of nuclear proliferation. The huge and complex challenges posed by the global economic crisis are producing a concerted, international response. Yet, at the same time, we cannot afford to lose sight of other pressing strategic challenges facing the world, including the question of nuclear weapons.

Today, we face new risks within a new nuclear context. Nuclear power is one of the energy sources more countries are likely to turn to in order to reduce carbon emissions while meeting rising energy demand. As a result, the technologies and materials for making nuclear weapons may become more widely dispersed, potentially raising the dangers of them falling into the wrong hands.

During my visit to the United Arab Emirates a couple of weeks ago, I saw an excellent example of how a responsible government can set about drawing on the powerful potential benefits of nuclear energy for their people and their economy - we have signed an agreement with the UAE to support their development of this important resource.

But just across the Strait of Hormuz from the UAE lies a very different example - Iran, whose leaders are taking a starkly different approach, persisting with suspect nuclear activities in defiance of no less than five UN security council resolutions. I am convinced that the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran poses the most immediate threat to the region's stability. A nuclear-armed Iran would be a massive blow to the prospects for comprehensive and just solutions to the problems of the Middle East as a whole.

Iran's leaders have a clear choice: dispel all doubts about their country's nuclear programme and work with the international community to develop the peaceful benefits of nuclear energy for their country, or face further isolation and sanctions if they continue to defy world opinion.

But for international action against proliferation to be fully effective, and to attract the commitment of the entire international community, it needs to include re-energised action on multilateral nuclear disarmament.

The UK is committed to working actively to create a world free from nuclear weapons. There has been significant progress. Since the end of the cold war, the explosive power of nuclear arsenals in the UK, US, Russia and France has been cut dramatically - by about 75%. As a nation, we have moved to a minimum credible nuclear deterrent based on one system and we have reduced our operationally available arsenal by a further 20% in the last 12 months. We now only possess around 1% of the global nuclear warhead stockpile.

But nuclear disarmament cannot take place in isolation from the international security situation, which is why we took the decision last year to maintain our deterrent. Creating the conditions that will enable further progress requires action by all states. We need to build a global coalition around not only a shared vision of a world free of nuclear weapons but also of how we are going to work together to make it happen. We must find common cause and move from a decade of deadlock to a decade of progress.

Just as the UK has set out its vision of a world without nuclear weapons, so has US president-elect Barack Obama. I believe the moment is now right to work with the new US administration and our partners for a renewed drive: to stop proliferation, to realise the benefits of nuclear energy and radically accelerate progress on six key steps necessary to move the world towards the abolition of nuclear weapons.

1) Bringing the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty into force. Early US ratification would do much to encourage the few remaining states to follow suit, thereby finally enabling the treaty - concluded in 1996 - to take legal effect and ban all nuclear weapons test explosions.

2) US-Russia negotiations and agreement on substantial further reductions in their nuclear arsenals.

3) Stopping proliferation in Iran and North Korea and renewing agreement among all the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty states that the way forward must include tougher measures to prevent proliferation.

4) Multilateral negotiations, without preconditions, on a treaty to cut off the production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons. This is vital to help make reductions in nuclear weapons irreversible and to establish many of the mechanisms that would constitute the core of an eventual regime to oversee a global ban.

5) Working for agreement on a new International Atomic Energy Agency-led system that would help states wishing to develop a civil nuclear energy industry to do so without increasing the risks of nuclear weapon proliferation. The UK has contributed serious thinking on the options for addressing this and will host a conference of experts early in 2009, which will focus on this challenge.

6) Exploration of the many complex political, military and technical issues that need to be resolved if the states that possess nuclear weapons are to reduce and ultimately eliminate their arsenals securely, and to prevent nuclear weapons from ever reemerging. The UK is already giving a lead: next year, we have proposed hosting a meeting on disarmament with policymakers and scientists from the five recognised nuclear weapon states. UK experts have developed a research collaboration with Norway and the non-governmental organisation Vertic into the technical issues associated with international verification of nuclear disarmament.

Fresh, demonstrable progress on the path towards a world without nuclear weapons has the potential to deliver a dual dividend: to crack down on proliferation and to promote international security. We do not underestimate the challenges ahead but I am determined to energise international diplomacy in order to make much-needed headway. The next review conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty will take place in May 2010. Its success is critical to the peace and stability we all strive for. Between now and then, we need to demonstrate not only our good intentions, but our readiness to act.

Source: Guardian website,

Lifting the Nuclear Shadow: Creating the conditions for abolishing nuclear weapons

Released by FCO, 4 February 2009

Executive Summary

Nuclear weapons remain potentially the most destructive threat to global security. Since the end of the Cold War there has been significant progress in reducing the dangers of nuclear weapons. The UK has reduced the total explosive power of its nuclear arsenal by some 75%. The US, Russia and France have also made very significant reductions.

But new nuclear threats are emerging. There is increasing concern over the risks of nuclear weapons spreading to states like Iran and North Korea or to terrorists. And we need to be careful that the renaissance of nuclear power for good reasons concerning climate change and energy security does not lead to the much wider spread of the more proliferation-sensitive nuclear technologies.

The Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, has sought to re-energise international efforts to combat these threats, issuing a call "to accelerate disarmament amongst possessor states, to prevent proliferation to new states and to ultimately achieve a world that is free from nuclear weapons."

Achieving a global ban on all nuclear weapons requires the creation of conditions which will give confidence to all those who are covered by a nuclear deterrent (over half of the world's population) that their security will be greater in a world without nuclear weapons than with them.

There are three main sets of such conditions and six specific steps to help create them which are potentially attainable within the next few years.

Condition 1: watertight means to prevent nuclear weapons from spreading to more states or to terrorists at the same time as nuclear energy is expanding;

Step 1: stopping further proliferation and securing agreement among all the Non-Proliferation Treaty states that the way forward must include tougher measures to prevent proliferation and tighten security, and the vigorous implementation of such measures, including practical help to states which need it.

Step 2: working with the International Atomic Energy Agency to help states which want to develop a civil nuclear energy industry to do so in ways which are safe and secure and which minimise the risks of nuclear weapons spreading. The Prime Minister has called a conference in London in March 2009 to further co-operation on these issues.

Condition 2: minimal arsenals and an international legal framework which puts tight, verified constraints on nuclear weapons.

Step 3: US-Russia negotiations and agreement on substantial further reductions in their total nuclear arsenals. This needs to be complemented by efforts by other states with nuclear weapons to reduce and keep their own forces to an absolute minimum. The UK and France have made significant reductions. But China, India and Pakistan are believed to be expanding their nuclear weapons capabilities.

Step 4: bringing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty into force, banning all nuclear weapons test explosions and thereby constraining the qualitative development of nuclear weapons. Nine states still need to ratify the Treaty to enable it to be brought into force.

Step 5: starting negotiations, without preconditions, and making progress on a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty. This is vital to help make reductions in nuclear weapons irreversible and to establish many of the mechanisms that would constitute the core of an eventual regime to oversee a global ban. The UK is urging those countries still blocking the start of negotiations to reassess their position.

Condition 3: finding solutions to the challenges of moving from small numbers of nuclear weapons to zero in ways which enhance security.

Step 6: exploring the many complex political, military, technical and institutional issues which will need to be resolved if the states which possess nuclear weapons are to reduce and ultimately to eliminate their arsenals securely and to prevent nuclear weapons from ever re-emerging. A strategic dialogue among the five Nuclear Weapon States (and, in due course, others) needs to lay the groundwork. The UK is doing ground-breaking work on how to verify nuclear disarmament and has proposed a conference of the Nuclear Weapon States in 2009 to discuss confidence building.

Over the longer-term, there will need to be:

  • improved political relationships between key states, building trust and understanding between these countries to the point that a nuclear exchange between them becomes unthinkable. Long-standing disputes need to be resolved to remove key causes of conflict and terrorism;
  • consideration given to ways to ensure that limiting or banning nuclear weapons does not provoke arms races in other forms of weapons - chemical, biological or conventional; and
  • collective security arrangements to enforce a global ban on nuclear weapons and to maintain international security in a world without them. This is likely to require the reform and strengthening of international institutions and the international rules-based system as a whole.

Although the challenges are considerable, progress on these six steps would mark a decisive break from the deadlock of the past decade. Making progress will require the active engagement of the entire international community. The UK is working to build a broad coalition of governments, international organisations, non-governmental organisations and businesses which share the vision of a world free of nuclear weapons and to forge agreement on how we will work together to make it happen.

The full report is available from the FCO at: See also the Acronym Institute website at:

Preventing a New Age of Nuclear Insecurity

The Rt Hon William Hague MP, Conservative Shadow Foreign Secretary, speech to International Institute of Strategic Studies, 23 July 2008

Two years ago I gave a speech here at IISS in which I warned of a crisis in the global non-proliferation regime caused by the actions of countries like Iran and North Korea, the nuclear black market, the threat of nuclear terrorism, and stalemate over the future of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. I called on the international community to overcome its divided and uncertain response to these challenges. Since then, while there have been some welcome developments, the crisis over nuclear proliferation has grown.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the Middle East. International sanctions and diplomacy have failed so far to stop Iran's nuclear programme. The United States government has presented evidence that Syria was constructing a secret nuclear reactor with North Korean technology and assistance. And two weeks ago Iran test-fired a range of missiles aimed at demonstrating that it can disrupt oil flows through the Straits of Hormuz and target Israel, U.S. forces in Iraq and even parts of Europe. Israel has also conducted long-range military exercises that were widely portrayed as a dry run for a bombing mission against Iran's nuclear installations.

Given these events, some might argue that it is the wrong time to talk about the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and that governments should concentrate all their efforts on the crisis over Iran. However I believe that it is precisely this tendency to deal with each proliferation crisis as a one-off that fundamentally hampers our ability to stem the global spread of nuclear weapons. In the space of relatively few years we have been confronted by confirmed nuclear weapons programmes in Iraq, North Korea and Libya, and concealed nuclear activities and a suspected nuclear weapons programme in Iran. While all these cases are different, they have important features in common - including how these countries acquired their technology, how they hid their activities (in the case of Iran for nearly two decades), and how they successfully held off international pressure for many years.

With every prospect of the pace of nuclear proliferation increasing, we must lift our gaze to look at the coming crises, not just the current one. The certainties of the Cold War, when nuclear weapons were concentrated in the hands of a few and mutually-assured destruction prevailed, have been replaced by a far more unpredictable array of threats. We are facing a new era of nuclear insecurity which left unchecked, could lead to the unravelling of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which has been a fundamental pillar of our global security for the last four decades. We therefore must act now while time is still on our side and while there is a remaining chance of turning this tide.

Since I last spoke on this subject there has been a resurgence of interest in nuclear weapons issues. On the other side of the Atlantic, George Shultz, Henry Kissinger, William Perry and Sam Nunn have proposed an initiative to "reverse reliance on nuclear weapons globally...and ultimately end them as a threat to the world", which has drawn attention from around the globe. It has given much needed intellectual force and impetus to the debate about how to make the world safer from nuclear weapons and has attracted the support of leading figures from the worlds of defence, politics and academia, including in this country.

The two US Presidential candidates have also both given major speeches on the need to make nuclear non-proliferation a higher priority. Senator McCain has committed himself to reducing the size of the US nuclear arsenal "to the lowest number" needed to maintain US security and commitments. Senator Obama has spoken of the need for "deep cuts" in US and Russian nuclear stockpiles. Both have embraced the vision of a world free of nuclear weapons.

We welcome the fact that these ideas are being debated in the United States, as the country with the largest number of operationally active nuclear warheads in the world and stockpiles second only to Russia, and whose weight and influence is indispensable to the success of any global initiative.

We also welcome the specific proposals put forward by Shultz, Kissinger, Perry and Nunn for changes to the Cold War posture of deployed nuclear weapons to reduce the danger of an accidental or unauthorized use, for action to secure global stocks of fissile material, and for substantial reductions in the size of nuclear forces in all states that possess them - something that the UK has already done.

Addressing the existence of stockpiles of nuclear weapons is an integral part of efforts to reduce the risks of nuclear weapons and a fundamental commitment under the NPT, which requires "negotiations in good faith on effective measures" on nuclear disarmament and on "a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control". Britain has an excellent record. We have reduced our nuclear capability to a single system and the explosive power of our nuclear arsenal by 75% since the Cold War, more than any other nuclear weapons power, and the government has recently proposed using Britain as a "laboratory" to explore how disarmament could be verified. Showing that we take our disarmament commitments seriously is a vital part of winning the moral argument against nuclear proliferation.

However no amount of nuclear disarmament will protect us from the dangers of nuclear weapons without a more comprehensive approach to nuclear proliferation, which is by far the biggest challenge we face today. There is an urgent need for a concerted effort to put the brakes on nuclear proliferation, without which steps towards reducing nuclear stockpiles worldwide will have little effect.

The evidence for this is clear: more countries have acquired or attempted to acquire nuclear weapons technology despite progress that has already been made in reducing nuclear stockpiles worldwide. The US and Russia, which together possess 95% of the world's nuclear weapons, have destroyed over 13,000 warheads between them since 1987. It is a little-known and startling fact that one in ten homes, schools and businesses in the US receives electricity generated from dismantled Russian nuclear warheads, and that by 2013 the equivalent of 20,000 warheads will have been turned into nuclear fuel - enough to power the entire United States for about two years. Concrete and progressive steps to reduce arsenals have been taken, without denting the trend towards an increasing number of nuclear weapons states.

Although some countries have renounced nuclear weapons programmes or given up nuclear weapons on their soil, there are many more nuclear weapons powers today than when the Non-Proliferation Treaty was created, which aimed to limit the possession of nuclear weapons to five recognised powers: the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France. Today the global picture is far more complex - with Israel an undeclared nuclear power which has not signed the NPT, Pakistan and India as declared nuclear powers also outside the Treaty, and North Korea which pulled out of the Treaty and declared itself a de-facto nuclear power. In the light of this, not only is achieving nuclear disarmament now far harder than it was even at the height of the Cold War, but the risks of nuclear confrontation and the spread of nuclear technology are greater. Furthermore, unilateral disarmament by one or more of the nuclear weapons states would not change the rationale which drives some countries to seek nuclear capability.

Take the example of Iran. The driving factors behind Iran's nuclear programme . its relative weakness in conventional forces, its perception of being militarily encircled and its desire to ensure the survival of the Revolution. will remain whether or not the US and Russia make further reductions in their respective stockpiles. Iran knows full well that it cannot match the US or Israel in conventional forces, and that this position would be significantly altered if it had its own deterrent. This bigger picture of an uncertain world is also why I believe that the UK is right to take steps to retain its minimum strategic nuclear deterrent and why the Conservative Party supports the decision to renew the Trident submarines.

In short, proliferation, not the risk of accidental or deliberate nuclear war between the five original nuclear powers, is the greatest threat we face today. There are five major sources of this new threat:

First, the barriers to becoming a nuclear weapons power are considerably lower now than they were in the past. It was previously the case that only the most advanced nations had the technological capability to develop a nuclear weapons programme. This is no longer true. Although we have not yet reached the state predicted by President Eisenhower half a century ago that "the knowledge [then] possessed by several nations will eventually be shared by others - possibly all others", it is increasingly likely to become a reality. Much of the most significant nuclear technology is 50 years old, and up to 40 countries are now considered to have the technical know-how to produce nuclear weapons.

Secondly, a thriving black market exists operating as a one-stop shop for would-be nuclear powers, so that even those countries such as Libya which did not have the indigenous base for a nuclear weapons programme were able to import it from abroad, leapfrogging the years of complex research and development normally needed. Former CIA director George Tenet argued that "in the current marketplace, if you have a hundred million dollars, you can be your own nuclear power." Four years after the discovery of the operations of the rogue Pakistani scientist AQ Khan - who Tenet described as "at least as dangerous as Osama Bin Laden", we are still trying to piece together the extent of his network, which spanned 30 different countries. Only last month, encrypted documents on a computer seized from Swiss members of the network revealed a design for a compact nuclear device that could be fitted onto a ballistic missile; an advanced system that no-one had known that AQ Khan was supplying. More ominously still, we don't know who may have bought these designs, or how many other copies exist. Only a fraction of the black market has been exposed and few people have been successfully prosecuted. We are also behind the curve in learning how to catch and expose these individuals, more likely to be engineers and businessmen than the terrorist of popular imagination.

Thirdly, it is no longer beyond the power of terrorist groups to acquire the nuclear material necessary to detonate a nuclear device in one of our cities. We face the nightmarish combination of insecure nuclear research reactors and stockpiles of nuclear material across the world, coupled with porous borders and international terrorists groups known to have sought nuclear capability. Russia is a particular focus of this concern as its stockpiles are widely dispersed and believed in some cases to be poorly guarded. Pakistan is another source of worry. The Director General of the IAEA recently warned that "there are no grounds for the international community to consider relaxing its vigilance" over the threat of nuclear terrorism, the consequences of which would be obviously be devastating beyond anything we have yet encountered in the long catalogue of terrorist atrocities.

Fourthly, we have to grapple with the dangers of the nuclear fuel cycle. Once a country knows how to produce enriched uranium for a civilian power programme, it has overcome one of the greatest hurdles to acquiring a nuclear weapon. It can do this while being a member of the NPT, allowing it to "cheat" the Treaty, as North Korea did. Not only is it extremely difficult to detect the moment when a state possessing civilian nuclear power decides to switch to a secret nuclear weapons programme, the international community is also then left with very little time to react.

Countries no longer even need to continue all the way to a nuclear test, but can linger on the threshold, being "virtual" nuclear weapons powers with the ability to assemble a weapon at very short notice. At which stage therefore should we be alarmed? There were jitters when thirteen countries in the Middle East announced new or revived plans to pursue or explore civilian nuclear energy in the space of eleven months between 2006 and 2007. Most will probably choose to buy their nuclear fuel on the international market, but some may wish to develop the full fuel cycle as Iran is doing. If Iran does emerge as a nuclear power in their doorstep, would they then feel compelled to pursue their own nuclear weapons programmes? The combination of high oil prices, finite oil reserves, and climate change, means that increasing numbers of countries will consider nuclear power to meet their energy needs. The dilemma of the fuel cycle is one which will only get worse. As things stand, we do not have an answer.

And finally, the absence of effective control of proliferation has contributed to the reluctance by nuclear weapons powers to assist with the transfer of peaceful nuclear technology to states who want it. This has undermined the central bargain of the NPT that states which promised not to pursue nuclear weapons would receive access to nuclear energy for peaceful purposes as an "inalienable right". As a result, non-nuclear weapons states feel they have lost out on the promised advantages of the NPT, and the international consensus about how to address nuclear threats has been weakened. Every five years all members of the NPT meet to review the progress of the Treaty. The last review conference, in 2005 was so mired in disagreement that it could not even agree a final document. In the words of former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, "'mutually assured destruction' has been replaced by mutually assured paralysis. This sends a terrible signal of disunity and waning respect for the Treaty's authority. It creates a vacuum that can be exploited." Iran has played on perceptions that non-nuclear weapons states have been denied access to technology by presenting itself as a champion of the rights of developing states and pledging to share its nuclear technology with others, implying that this is a dispute about access to technology rather than Iran's violation of the NPT.

It is this serious proliferation crisis which the international community has not addressed with sufficient rigour so far, and which requires a new concerted approach. This is not a problem that has arisen overnight to take the world by surprise. The warning has been written loud and clear in the actions of Iran and North Korea, in the blunt responses of countries who say privately that if Iran goes nuclear, they will have no choice but to consider their options, and in the bulletins of intelligence communities who tell us that terrorists continue to try to acquire the means to inflict mass casualties.

The international community has given the impression of fire-fighting in the wake of each crisis, with no consistent approach: North Korea has been dealt with through the Six Party Talks, largely outside the Security Council. Iran was dealt with initially by the European Troika of Britain, France and Germany, it then moved to the Security Council and is now handled by the so-called "P5+1", the five permanent members of the Security Council and Germany. But proliferation problems cannot forever be solved one country at a time. What would happen if we were suddenly faced by five or six cases of proliferation simultaneously, as could conceivably happen if Iran successfully acquires a nuclear weapon? How would we prevent the risk of nuclear war when 'new' nuclear weapons powers, not constrained by experience, civil-military checks and balances or arms control agreements come into conflict? We only have to think about what the world could look like in five years, to understand why we have to do better: these problems will become more difficult to respond to, in a more challenging global environment and with increasing calls on our diplomats, soldiers and resources.

In short we cannot deal only with the known threats posed by existing nuclear stockpiles, but we must also address the reality of the proliferation threat as it evolves and becomes less predictable and even more dangerous.

I want to set out eight proposals which I believe the British government should adopt and champion publicly now.

1. First, there needs to be strategic dialogue between Britain, the United States, France, Russia and China on how to achieve future reductions in nuclear stockpiles, on ways to reduce further the risk of nuclear confrontation or accidental nuclear war, and how to make progress on our disarmament commitments in a way that strengthens the NPT. Britain should propose a Conference of the five recognised nuclear weapons powers that should take place before the 2010 NPT Review Conference to seek agreement.

2. Britain should launch a new effort to address the decline of the NPT and restore the broken consensus at its heart, with the goal of making the 2010 NPT Review Conference a success after 10 years of failure and recriminations. We cannot hope to build better understanding and cooperation between nuclear and non-nuclear states unless we engage with countries which have not pursued a nuclear weapon even though they are considered to have the capability to do so, such as Argentina, Brazil, and Japan. These are some of the prominent non-nuclear weapons states and our natural partners in addressing these issues. And as part of the drive to reinvigorate the NPT, we should aim to bring the three nuclear powers outside its remit - India, Pakistan and Israel - within the wider non-proliferation regime.

3. There are specific steps which must be taken to close the loopholes in the Non-Proliferation Treaty. We must seek agreement about how to respond when a country either commits a serious breach of the Non-Proliferation Treaty or withdraws from it altogether. At the moment, there is no automatic procedure whereby a breach of the Treaty will be referred to the Security Council. This means that valuable time which could be spent addressing a suspected nuclear weapons programme is lost in political dispute about whether the Security Council should be discussing the matter at all. It took two years after Iran's secret nuclear programme was exposed to the world for the issue to be referred to the Security Council, and many further months for UN sanctions to finally be agreed. Iran has continued its programme almost uninterrupted throughout this period, with the result that has all but acquired the ability to enrich uranium to the level needed for a nuclear weapon. There needs to be a mechanism, preferably a Security Council Resolution, which would automatically refer a country to the Security Council in cases where a serious breach of the NPT has taken place. The international community is also powerless to respond when a country withdraws from the NPT, as North Korea did. While the Sovereign right of any country to withdraw from a Treaty has to be respected, the NPT is not like any other Treaty and the risks associated with its abuse are uniquely dangerous. This could 12 be addressed by a UN resolution which again, would immediately trigger discussions at the Security Council if a country withdraws from the NPT or announces it will do so. The IAEA would be required to report immediately on the nuclear activities of that country and whether there were grounds to suspect it was concealing a nuclear weapons programme. The resolution could also include the provision for international sanctions if the country in question were found to have breached the NPT.

4. We have to agree a mechanism to bring the nuclear fuel cycle under international control. High oil prices and mounting concern about climate change will make nuclear energy more attractive to many, just as burgeoning populations and growing economies in the developing world will make it increasingly necessary to many. We are already seeing an increased demand for the construction of new nuclear facilities worldwide as well as the supply of enriched uranium to power them. Proliferation control needs to keep pace with this fast changing reality. Whether it takes the form of international partnerships of a small number of states producing nuclear fuel, or a network of 'fuel banks', these proposals must be adopted and implemented as soon as is practicable. Britain should make this one of the top priorities of its international diplomacy. Addressing the dangers of the nuclear fuel cycle will make it possible to launch wider efforts to make the peaceful applications of nuclear technology available to all those countries who desire it.

5. We need to strengthen the IAEA and the international system of safeguards and inspections. We need to face the fact that the existing inspections regime was unable to detect Iraq, Libya or Iran's covert programmes. After over four years of inspections, we still do not know the extent of Iran's nuclear programme and any activities they may be concealing. We still cannot be sure that Iran does not have secret sites where it is enriching uranium or conducting weaponization studies. This hampers our diplomacy and indeed increases the risk of military confrontation. The Additional Protocol, which gives the IAEA extra inspection powers, ought to be made a universal requirement for all countries within the NPT at the 2010 Review Conference, the momentum for which needs to be developed now. We must also ensure that the IAEA has the resources it needs. The IAEA monitors hundreds of tonnes of nuclear material in hundreds of facilities across the world, to ensure that it is not diverted from civilian to military purposes. It has sounded a warning about its ability to maintain this important work over the long term, since the amount of nuclear material it has to monitor has increased more than tenfold since the 1980s, while its budget has remained virtually static. Indeed as one report noted, the safeguards budget of the IAEA is not more than the budget of the police department of the city in which it is located. We have a vital interest in making sure the Agency's budget will be able to sustain the growing demands it will face and have to ensure that Member States are devoting sufficient resources to it.

6. We must urgently improve the international ability to track and block the trade in nuclear weapons technology and to isolate countries engaged in these practices. For an example of why this is important, one only has to look at Iran's missile capability, which includes Shahab-3 missiles based on North Korean technology which may one day give Iran the ability to threaten Europe. Part of the solution must be increasing our ability to interdict suspect vessels carrying such material. This currently happens on an informal basis under the Proliferation Security Initiative, which is a set of principles to which member states adhere and resolve to "seriously consider" boarding suspect vessels of another state, and does not impose mandatory steps on its members. It also has no international secretariat, no shared databases, and no established funding. This flexibility might be strength, but it doesn't guarantee its sustainability. Its reach is also limited. Key countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia, and Pakistan remain outside the PSI, as do India, China, and South Korea. The urgent need to counter proliferation from North Korea makes it vital that we increase Asian participation in the PSI, as well as other important countries which still do not participate. To do so we must find ways of making it more acceptable to those countries currently opposed to involvement.

7. We must act to disrupt the financial networks that support the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Identifying and blocking these activities is essential as a means to slow down illicit nuclear programmes and to put pressure on the governments behind them. The Iranian regime, for example, has been accused of disguising its hand in terrorism and weapons proliferation by using front companies and intermediaries to obtain dual-use technology and materials. The Security Council decided in 2007 to ban a major Iranian bank, Bank Sepah from the international financial system. The Financial Action Task Force has also warned that Iran's lack of money laundering and counter-terrorism controls means that it poses a significant threat to the international financial system. These developments have had a significant effect on the willingness of international banks and companies to do business with Iran and increased the isolation of the regime. We await the Financial Action Taskforce's report on Proliferation Finance, which will study the techniques and trends of proliferation finance, and provide recommendations to all governments on how to address the threat. Building on these recommendations, we must urgently develop the capacity at a national and international level to isolate nuclear proliferators from the international financial system. We must ensure that we have the right expertise and experience within our government departments to keep on top of this fast-expanding area and the capacity to assist other countries which do not have the means to do so. Many countries have been unable to meet their obligations under UN Resolutions to establish domestic laws and controls against WMD proliferation. This must be addressed, for our collective security against nuclear proliferation or a nuclear attack could be shattered by a single point of vulnerability.

8. Finally, we must deal more resolutely with existing cases of nuclear proliferation, learning the lessons of Libya and North Korea. First and foremost this means a step change in the international community's response to Iran's nuclear programme. The components of a successful diplomatic strategy have been slowly and painfully assembled in the form of limited sanctions, and a diplomatic offer holding out of prospect of normalisation of relations and economic benefits if a long-term settlement is reached. However there has yet to be any breakthrough comparable to North Korea's recent symbolic destruction of the notorious Yongbyon tower at its main atomic reactor and declaration of its nuclear facilities. Success in persuading Libya to relinquish its nuclear programme, and recent progress with North Korea, was the result of an intensity of diplomacy, incentives and isolation we have barely yet to muster on Iran. In the Conservative Party we have argued that the ability of the US to dangle carrots in front of Iran requires Europe to wield a bigger stick. In particular, Britain and other European nations should ban new investment in Iranian oil and gas, and the use of export credits to subsidise trade with Iran. As a part of the strategy to deal with Iran, Britain should also increase its level of dialogue with Middle Eastern and particularly Gulf countries most affected by Iran's nuclear programme, to address their security concerns and gain their fullest possible support for international sanctions.

The need for further decreases in nuclear stockpiles and working towards a world free of the fear of the use of nuclear weapons is as important a goal as tackling global warming. But a strategy to achieve this goal must go beyond unilateral action by the nuclear weapons states. Nuclear weapons are no longer a stand-alone issue in relations between the great powers - but are bound up into wider issues of energy security, regional security, regional power, and actions by non-states actors. Our strategy to deal with nuclear proliferation needs to be commensurately broad.

The NPT is the world's most universally upheld treaty . only four states in the world are not members. It entrenched a consensus that nuclear weapons are among the most dangerous threats to our planet and that reducing these dangers requires efforts by all countries. We must not allow it to be fatally undermined by threats that the makers of the treaty could not have predicted. Governments, including our own, have to accord counter-proliferation the highest priority. Reducing the risk posed by weapons of mass destruction and nuclear weapons in particular is not a party political issue but a vital national interest which needs a common purpose and shared vision. We welcome the steps that the British government has taken to put Britain at the forefront of the debate on nuclear reductions and to propose a means of bringing the fuel cycle under international control. But such action now needs to be raised to a higher level of political priority and government commitment.

As a case in point, the EU adopted sanctions in 2007 banning Iranian students from receiving training in nuclear sciences in any member state, only for it to emerge later in the year that 60 Iranian nationals had been granted places at British universities to study advanced nuclear physics and engineering. This did not give the impression of an effective and joined-up counter-proliferation strategy.

We have to impart greater urgency to our efforts. Reading the great speeches of the 1950s and 1980s which led to the creation of the NPT and the International Atomic Energy Agency, one is struck by the vividness of the threat and the extent of the terror caused by the spectre of nuclear war. JFK, for example, spoke of a "nuclear sword of Damocles" hanging "by the slenderest of threads" over "the head of every man, woman and child" in the world, and "capable of being cut at any moment by accident or miscalculation or madness". This sense of urgency no longer pervades the debate on nuclear proliferation. I believe we need to have a galvanising moment somewhat akin to the momentum mustered by the early champions of nuclear arms control if the division and inertia of recent years is to be overcome.

We cannot afford to be complacent and must recognise that proliferation is a moving target - that the decision for states to forgo nuclear weapons is not irrevocable - and that the decision-making process of states about their security needs is a continuum. We cannot afford to switch off for a number of years while we are preoccupied in other areas.

We need to take action now to address the financing of nuclear proliferation and the nuclear black market; to create a nuclear fuel mechanism to prevent proliferation through the fuel cycle, to establish a chain of response enshrined in a UN Security Council Resolution to deal with countries which breach the NPT or withdraw from it, and above all, we must redouble of efforts to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon and shattering the NPT.

As the starting point for a such a concerted strategy to revive the NPT, we should seek a common approach with America which would combine the influence of one of the world's most powerful nuclear weapons states with the moral authority of the UK as the nuclear weapons state with arguably the best record in this area. An important starting point might be dialogue between the US and UK about ways to build a consensus and bring in other countries . a vital issue for the incoming President of the United States. We ought to seize the opportunity of combining a new US administration with a major British effort to push these and similar ideas. This would be a real and meaningful use of the special relationship. It is an urgent one.

Source IISS website:

Sir Malcolm Rifkind, Debate on the Address, Foreign Affairs and Defence, House of Commons, 10 December 2008.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind (Conservative MP for Kensington and Chelsea): I listened with interest to the remarks of the hon. Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) about nuclear weapons. On the Trident decision, the point on which I think he is mistaken is that the need is for multilateral, not unilateral, nuclear disarmament. I do not believe that the Government's decision is irreversible. I have no doubt that if there were scope for major progress on nuclear disarmament over the coming period, it could be revisited in the context of what was happening around the world.

.... I believe that the whole issue of nuclear weapons will be increasingly important over the next 12 months and the period thereafter, partly because the first foreign policy crisis with which President Obama will have to deal will be the question of nuclear weapons in Iran-and how he deals with that will also be influenced by what is happening on the wider nuclear weapons front-but also because I believe the time has come for major consideration of where the world is going with regard to the overall question of nuclear weapons.

Over the last two days, I have attended an international conference in Paris arranged by the new Global Zero organisation. It may be thought that the conclusion that was reached was not a surprising one, but it was surprising in one sense. I shall come to that in a moment. The conference reached the conclusion that there was an urgent need for a massive reduction in the number of nuclear arsenals around the world, and for serious consideration of the question of ultimate elimination of nuclear weapons.

Members may ask what was surprising about that, given that over the years many conferences have reached the same conclusion. It was extraordinary, however, in view of the composition of the conference. To put it mildly, none of the usual suspects were there. It was not a collection of professional peace campaigners. Among those present were a former President of the United States, a former American national security adviser, Foreign Ministers and former Defence Ministers of NATO countries and nuclear weapons states, and air marshals, generals and other senior military personnel from countries with nuclear weapons.

The conference followed an initiative taken nearly two years ago in articles that appeared in the American press signed by Henry Kissinger, George Shultz and others. In this country, a number of us have made similar proposals. An early-day motion is currently before the House, signed by 277 Members including, I believe, some 57 of my hon. Friends. We have to ask why those of us who have so often been identified with realpolitik are becoming strongly convinced of the need for a fundamental debate on the overall question of nuclear weapons, along with a change of approach to one of greater urgency. Essentially, it is because realpolitik means being influenced by real events and not by idealism or theoretical issues, and the real world has changed substantially since the end of the cold war.

.... At the end of the cold war, the United States and the Soviet Union between them had between 26,000 and 27,000 operational nuclear weapons. That figure is now down to about 12,000-between 5,000 and 6,000 each. Nuclear weapons have also been successfully eliminated from Kazakhstan, Belarus and Ukraine in the former Soviet Union, and there have been local achievements, such as South Africa giving up its nuclear weapons and Libya being persuaded not to conduct a weapons of mass destruction programme.

In the past few years, however, that whole process has stalled dramatically. There is no evidence of any further impetus with regard to the United States and Russia, who between them have 95 per cent. of all the nuclear weapons in the world. That is becoming an increasingly serious matter because the continuation of the non-proliferation treaty, which comes up for debate in 2010, can no longer be taken for granted. Not only have we seen serious new proliferation in recent years, such as in Israel, India and Pakistan, but now there is the possibility of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons as well; the North Korea situation is not yet resolved, and we know that if Iran were to acquire nuclear weapons, it would only be a matter of time before the Arab states did so as well.

There is, therefore, a serious new urgency, and the arguments that were valid during the cold war are no longer valid in the same way. The countries that had nuclear weapons during the cold war were overwhelmingly the great powers involved in that cold war, and they needed nuclear weapons because of the perceived conventional superiority of the Soviet Union and the need to prevent any war-conventional or nuclear-from breaking out.

Because they have 95 per cent. of all nuclear weapons, the key to progress lies with the United States and Russia. If they were both able to make massive further reductions in their nuclear arsenals, they would know they could do so without any change in the relative power of the two states and their ability to deter any possible attack on themselves. Even if we believe in deterrence, we do not need 5,000 nuclear weapons to prevent an attack by our enemy; 500 would clearly destroy the world several times over. There is, therefore, no logical argument of defence why the Russians and the Americans cannot now approach a further stage in these negotiations by at the very least reducing their nuclear arsenals to 500 or 400, or even 200 or 300, without any change in fundamental defence strategy.... I think both that the United States has been premature in giving such emphasis to a ballistic missile programme long before there is any real threat of the kind suggested and that the Russians have grossly overreacted to some unarmed missile defence systems that might be placed in the Czech Republic and Poland. Therefore, I think both countries have to look at this afresh and try to move forward in a more sensible way.

To return to my theme, if the Americans and Russians were able to make such major progress, that would itself send a massive signal to the NPT negotiations and help to ensure a continuation of that treaty. In addition, it would very greatly strengthen future President Obama in dealing with the Iranian threat. If he is able to demonstrate to the world not only that the United States is making massive reductions in its nuclear arsenal, but that he is prepared to negotiate-as he has said he is-with the Iranians on a resolution to the problems they face, either the Iranians will respond positively or if they fail to do so President Obama would be able to expect, and would receive, much greater international support for any tough measures that might then be needed against the Iranians. Therefore, no loss would be involved in the American position; instead it could be enormously enhanced.

The second half of this debate is about not only a reduction in nuclear arsenals, which would ultimately have to include the United Kingdom, China, France and other nuclear powers, but whether it is possible actually to contemplate their elimination. That is, of course, a very difficult issue, because there is a crucial difference between a country reducing the number of nuclear weapons it has to 150, 100 or even 50 and removing them completely. If a country has even five or 10 nuclear weapons and its opponent has the same, the relative position between the two countries remains the same. Compared with a country that does not have nuclear weapons, a country with five or 10 weapons is enormously powerful in a way that the other is not; in the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.

Bringing the amount of weapons down to a very small number will not be easy, but going to zero will be infinitely more challenging. That does not mean that it cannot be done, because we have been enormously successful in, effectively, abolishing chemical weapons, and that is a very encouraging precedent. To be able to contemplate achieving a reduction to zero, there must be a huge improvement in the verification and transparency regimes, not only for the weapon states themselves, but for civil nuclear programmes. That is because the fissile material in such programmes is also relevant to the potential production of enriched uranium or plutonium for nuclear weapons. We would also need to be confident that the verification and control systems would prevent the fissile material from getting to terrorist organisations, because those would be the people who could wreak enormous damage on the wider world.

That is the basis on which we would have to address this issue, but there is a second aspect to it. One of the arguments that many, including myself, have used over the years, and which needs to be addressed if we are ever to contemplate the elimination of nuclear weapons, is that our eliminating them-assuming that we can do that-might, in practice, make conventional war more likely. Might it not be argued that nuclear weapons have helped to prevent conventional wars from breaking out? That was a powerful argument during the cold war; indeed, in one of his last speeches as Prime Minister, Winston Churchill said that "it may well be that we shall by a process of sublime irony have reached a stage in this story where safety will be the sturdy child of terror, and survival the twin brother of annihilation."-[ Official Report, 1 March 1955; Vol. 537, c. 1899.]

Those are very powerful words. Even in recent years, there is at least an argument to be made that India and Pakistan are now much less likely to renew the conventional wars that they have had several times in the past 30 or 40 years, because both are now nuclear powers and they know that a conventional conflict might lead to a nuclear exchange. So this is not a foolish argument and we cannot simply dismiss it lightly. However, although the argument is valid, it is becoming progressively less so; indeed, it is becoming outweighed by other factors.

The crucial argument that was relevant during the cold war was that if a conventional war ever broke out between the Soviet Union and the NATO powers, it would, in effect, be a third world war. It would not just be a local conflict; it would be a global conflict of dimensions comparable with both the first and second world war. There is no prospect of a global conflict of that kind in the foreseeable future. The great powers have not the remotest intention of going to war with each other, and there is no fundamental issue that might even lead towards that in the foreseeable future. The wars that we are trying to avoid are essentially local conflicts in various parts of the world. That is still a serious matter, but one cannot use the argument that we must therefore have nuclear weapons in those countries, because the logic would then apply to 180 countries around the world, and that would result in an unsustainable situation.

In any event, even if the India and Pakistan situation in respect of the outbreak of conventional conflict has, in some way, been assisted by the fact that they are now both nuclear weapon states, that must be set against the downside that flows from what has been happening in recent years. The proliferation of nuclear weapons states has increased alarmingly, is increasing and, if we are not careful, will continue increasing so that it will encompass many more states around the world. We are talking not only about nuclear weapons states, but about the fissile material that is available, because when that fissile material is available and people such as A. Q. Khan in Pakistan are prepared to sell information to rogue states, the risks of that information getting into the hands of terrorist organisations become far more serious.

..... President-elect Obama will start with far greater authority than any other recent American President. If he is determined, a massive reduction in American and Russian arsenals can be achieved, at the very least because there is a mutual interest for both countries in achieving that. Going beyond that will require a degree of leadership...

I have reached the following conclusions on the issues that I have mentioned. First, whatever people's views on nuclear weapons, there can be no credible, logical or rational reason why we cannot massively reduce the number of nuclear weapons from the 27,000 around the world-mostly in the US and Russia-to a tiny number, even if the deterrent argument still holds sway. Personally, I believe a deterrent is necessary unless we can achieve multilateral disarmament.

Secondly, only by making major progress in that direction can we be sure of the continuation of the non-proliferation treaty. If we are having such problems with proliferation when the treaty exists, one can imagine how disastrous it would be it if fell and was not renewed. Thirdly, the progress that has to be made cannot be unilateral. It is no use asking for gestures from individual countries. At the very least that will do no good, and it may do a lot of harm. Multilateral disarmament is the best hope for progress.

Fourthly, major enhancement of the verification and transparency regimes is needed, even though they are already quite sophisticated. With the advances in modern technology, the verification that will be available over the next few years will be of a much higher order. My final point is that we are not talking about these things happening in a year, or two years or five years. If we are to make the kind of progress required, it will be 10 to 20 years before we get down to low levels. It is only at that stage that we will be able to reach the final decision about whether it is acceptable to go from very small numbers of nuclear weapons to the actual elimination of this class of weapons, as we did with chemical weapons. It may be possible, or it may prove to be too difficult. It is not a decision that we have to reach now, and the mere attempt to move in that direction will undoubtedly be beneficial. In any scenario, having far fewer nuclear weapons than currently exist is infinitely preferable to the status quo, not least because it reduces the prospect of accidental conflict as well as removing large amounts of fissile material from the world....

These are fundamental issues that do not depend on whether we are right wing or left wing, Labour or Conservative. They affect every human being for the most obvious of reasons. Victor Hugo once remarked:

"More powerful than the march of mighty armies is an idea whose time has come."

The Global Zero concept is an idea whose time has come, and if it can help to stop the march of mighty armies, that is an objective worth achieving.

Source: Hansard, December 10, 2008. Column 600 onwards. UK Parliament website,

Security and Liberty in a Globalised World

Liberal Democrat Policy Paper 86, endorsed by Liberal Democrat Party Conference, Bournemouth, September 2008, excerpt.

8.6 Making Nuclear Weapons History

8.6.1 Liberal Democrats believe that Britain must be in the vanguard of the struggle to make nuclear weapons history. Although the tension of the Cold War may be over, the legacy of that era in the form of huge stockpiles of weaponry, particularly in Russia and the US, remains a significant threat to international security. The risk of accidental detonation or explosion of a nuclear device or of materials falling into the hands of terrorists or countries of concern is a real threat. The proliferation of nuclear weapons technology presents a profound threat to international security.

8.6.2 The climate for nuclear disarmament has been poor in recent years. The unilateral actions of the Bush administration have been divisive. Its missile defence programme contributed to the set back of arms control agreements with Russia; the decisions to invade Iraq on a pretext of mass destruction while avoiding military confrontation with North Korea have arguably given non-nuclear states a rational excuse to pursue nuclear weapons.

8.6.3 In this context, the 2010 Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference presents a critical opportunity for the international community to set in train a process of further disarmament and arms control agreements to reduce and eventually eliminate nuclear weapons. Although a relatively small nuclear power, Britain remains a nation of considerable influence and must play a leading role at the conference. It is essential that the 2010 talks make real progress towards a nuclear-free world.

8.6.4 The fundamental principle on which the NPT is based, that nuclear powers will reduce their arsenals in return for others not developing nuclear weapons is at risk. If today's nuclear powers are to convince other states that it is not in their interests to have such weapons then they must show that they are prepared to take serious measures to reduce and eventually eradicate their own arsenals, and also to back new international control regimes such as the tighter inspection and monitoring of the uranium enrichment process and a halt to the production of fissile material.

8.6.5 In order to kick-start those talks, Liberal Democrats are committed to Britain taking the lead in working towards global disarmament at the 2010 conference by making a 50% cut in Britain's nuclear arsenal and retaining a multilateral negotiating position on further warhead reductions and any future system replacement for Trident. A final decision on the manufacture of a successor system does not need to be taken until 2014. Britain has a window of opportunity to show courage and conviction at the conference, and take the lead.

8.6.6 Liberal Democrats welcome President Sarkozy's recent proposals to reduce the French nuclear arsenal. As two-fifths of the UN Security Council together, with closely aligned national security interests, Britain and France should work towards a joint negotiating position at the review conference, representing a European perspective on nuclear disarmament.

8.6.7 Respected voices in the US security establishment including George P. Shultz, William J. Perry, Henry A. Kissinger and Sam Nunn have recently called for America to re-engage in the nuclear disarmament agenda and to show leadership on the world stage. It is to be hoped that the next President of the United States will heed their call, believing that the US, along with Russia, must set early deadlines for reducing their own nuclear stockpiles.

We welcome the recent agreement by President Bush and President Putin to begin talks on an extension of the START nuclear weapons reduction programme. But more can be done to enhance security and reduce the risk of accident. Any remnants of the Cold War posture that contribute to security or risk of accident should be eliminated.

8.6.8 We remain sceptical that the current US missile defence programme, seemingly intended to protect the US against a potential Iranian threat, will enhance regional or global security. The controversy over missile defence in Europe and between Russia and the US has sapped vital political energy from the arms control agenda. Whilst we are encouraged that the programme now has the wider backing of NATO, it is essential that intense effort is made to extend multilateral support for the programme, particularly to Russia and China.

8.6.9 Liberal Democrats believe that despite the US National Intelligence Estimate, which judged "with high confidence" that Iran halted its nuclear weapons programme in 2003, the US, EU and UN Security Council must continue to take a robust approach in dealing with Iran. However, Britain, and its European partners, should grasp the opportunity of the forthcoming change of US Administration to push for constructive dialogue with Iran, including a form of comprehensive security guarantee, to persuade Iran to open its nuclear programme to full international inspection.

8.6.10 The 2010 talks should work towards the establishment of a UN agency managed by the IAEA to oversee the provision of nuclear fuels and pave the way for stricter access to nuclear technology. Liberal Democrats would like to see the "Additional Protocol" to the NPT on greater IAEA verification access brought into force. We welcome any push towards a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty.

Source: Liberal Democrat Party website,

Shared Destinies

IPPR Commission on National Security Interim Report, 27 November 2008, excerpts

Issue-specific and treaty-based multilateralism

Nuclear non-proliferation

Given the growing dangers associated with nuclear weapons, we believe it is not safe for the world to rely on nuclear deterrence for long-term security. We therefore support the view that the long-term goal of our policy must be the creation of a world free of nuclear weapons and believe action on non-proliferation is urgent ahead of the Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference in 2010. We know the road to achieving this goal will be long and the path towards it not always clear, but we call upon the Government to pursue it actively and to:

  • Use all the instruments at its disposal to encourage further rapid reductions in the strategic arsenals of both Russia and the United States (see Recommendation 15).
  • Pursue a strengthening of the Non-Proliferation Treaty provisions on monitoring and compliance, to provide greater assurances to all parties on the effectiveness of the Treaty (see Recommendation 16).
  • Increase further its financial contribution to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and encourage other states to do the same (see Recommendation 17).
  • Provide further practical help to those states wishing but not fully able to implement Security Council Resolution 1540 on improving the security of nuclear stockpiles (see Recommendation 18).
  • Provide a financial contribution to the IAEA/Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) nuclear fuel bank fund, which is aimed at establishing an internationally accessible nuclear fuel bank (see Recommendation 19).

Use all of its influence inside NATO to ensure that the review of NATO's strategic concept, being carried out in 2009 and 2010, produces a result sensitive to and supportive of the requirements of a successful outcome to the NPT Review Conference in 2010 (see Recommendation 20).

Moreover, the Government should:

  • Seek to use its membership of the P-5 to stimulate a deeper and more active strategic dialogue on non-proliferation within this group of states (see Recommendation 21).
  • Invite the foreign and defence ministers of the P-5 to a non-proliferation strategic dialogue meeting prior to the 2010 NPT Review Conference in pursuit of a joint P-5 position at the conference (see Recommendation 22).
  • Fund and contribute to a second, less formal track of diplomatic activity involving former senior officials and policy experts from the P-5 plus India, Pakistan and Israel, if possible. This would not be easy to put together, but should be attempted and should be aimed at identifying and thinking through the political and strategic issues required for a phased progression to zero nuclear weapons among this group, the representatives of which would cover the eight key nuclear weapons states (both signatories and non-signatories of the NPT) (see Recommendation 23). In addition:
  • To ensure that non-proliferation issues remain at the forefront of national political debate and to ensure domestic awareness of the need for these measures, the Defence Secretary and Foreign Secretary should make annual joint statements to the House of Commons on current proliferation concerns and trends, and on the Government's full range of activities and resources being deployed to respond to them (see Recommendation 24).

Source: IPPR website,

UK does not need a Nuclear Deterrent

Nuclear weapons must not be seen to be vital to the secure defence of self-respecting nations

Letter from Field Marshal Lord Bramall, General Lord Ramsbotham and General Sir Hugh Beach to the Times, 16 January 2009.

Sir, Recent speeches made by the Prime Minister, Foreign Secretary and the previous Defence Secretary, and the letter from Douglas Hurd, Malcolm Rifkind, David Owen and George Robertson in The Times on June 30, 2008, have placed the issue of a world free of nuclear weapons firmly on the public agenda. But it is difficult to see how the United Kingdom can exert any leadership and influence on this issue if we insist on a costly successor to Trident that would not only preserve our own nuclear-power status well into the second half of this century but might actively encourage others to believe that nuclear weapons were still, somehow, vital to the secure defence of self-respecting nations.

This is a fallacy which can best be illustrated by analysis of the British so-called independent deterrent. This force cannot be seen as independent of the United States in any meaningful sense. It relies on the United States for the provision and regular servicing of the D5 missiles. While this country has, in theory, freedom of action over giving the order to fire, it is unthinkable that, because of the catastrophic consequences for guilty and innocent alike, these weapons would ever be launched, or seriously threatened, without the backing and support of the United States.

Should this country ever become subject to some sort of nuclear blackmail - from a terrorist group for example - it must be asked in what way, and against whom, our nuclear weapons could be used, or even threatened, to deter or punish. Nuclear weapons have shown themselves to be completely useless as a deterrent to the threats and scale of violence we currently, or are likely to, face - particularly international terrorism; and the more you analyse them the more unusable they appear.

The much cited "seat at the top table" no longer has the resonance it once did. Political clout derives much more from economic strength. Even major-player status in the international military scene is more likely to find expression through effective, strategically mobile conventional forces, capable of taking out pinpoint targets, than through the possession of unusable nuclear weapons. Our independent deterrent has become virtually irrelevant except in the context of domestic politics. Rather than perpetuating Trident, the case is much stronger for funding our Armed Forces with what they need to meet the commitments actually laid upon them. In the present economic climate it may well prove impossible to afford both.

Source: The Times, 16 January 2009,

See following commentary in the Daily Telegraph, the Independent and the Guardian at:

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