Saturday, 7 March 2015

Labour's role in halting our pro-proliferation policy on nuclear WMDs

On Monday Parliament debate the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT)

This sounds obscure, but is central to both security and spending policy of the next Government.

The NPT will have its quinquennial review at the United Nations in New York, starting in April. The review will be held from 27 April–22 May straddle the UK General Election on 7 May, so little media  or political attention will  be paid, which is unfortunate, but predictable

Monday’s debate is thus is the penultimate chance, before Thursday’s wider defence debate, that Parliament will have to debate this important matter on the future security of the planet bristling with  nuclear WMDs before the election,

Based on past experience, the minister will to draw to MPs’ attention to the policy mantra always wheeled out in non-proliferation debates, that:

-The Government has unilaterally reduced the number of deployed nuclear warheads;

- The UK deploys the minimum number of nuclear weapons for our security, what the will misleading call our “Nuclear Deterrent”

- The UK has participated in debates at the Conference on Disarmament and Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review conference preparatory meetings;

 -and the UK attended the conference in Vienna last December on the Humanitarian Effect of Nuclear Weapons

All true. But this leaves out what has not been done.

Errors of Omission

The NPT negotiations themselves really got started after the unanimous approval of a 1961 UN General Assembly resolution on negotiation of a treaty that would ban countries without nuclear weapons from acquiring them and that would require the inspections that the IAEA treaty only authorized. In particular, the resolution asked the countries “possessing nuclear weapons” to “undertake to refrain from relinquishing control of nuclear weapons and from transmitting information necessary for their manufacture” to nations not possessing nuclear weapons.

Papers available in the National Archives in Kew show that on 23 January 1968, Fred (later Lord) Mulley, as the UK Labour Government's minister of state for foreign affairs, addressed the 358th plenary meeting of the Eighteen Nation Committee on Disarmament (ENDC) in Geneva, the predecessor committee to the CD, explaining why nations should sign up to the newly negotiated NPT, he told the ministerial delegations:

"As I have made clear in previous speeches, my government accepts the obligation to participate fully in the negotiations required by [NPT] Article VI and it is our desire that these negotiations should begin as soon as possible and should produce speedy and successful results. There is no excuse now for allowing a long delay to follow the signing of this treaty."(emphasis added)

A year later, on 24 January 1967, a refined joint draft by the US and Soviet Union negotiators differed from the earlier US/UK draft, according to another US embassy aide-memoire, "in that the former would ban the transfer of nuclear warheads (as distinct from nuclear delivery vehicles) not only between nuclear weapons states (NWS) and non-nuclear weapons states (NNWS) but also between NWS themselves."

A secret US ‘Interpretations Memo’, dated May 1967, stated that the NPT would thus prohibit "transfer to any recipient whatsoever 'nuclear weapons' or control over them", meaning bombs and warheads.

That is just what buying significant sections of Trident from the US does in practice, and thereby undermines our compliance with the treaty which the UK Labour government helped draft, and for which the UK is a depositary state with the US and Russia.

Next year, on 23 January 1968, Fred Mulley, in his address to the ENDC in Geneva, told the representatives of the nations which Britain hoped to convince to join up to the atomic self-denying NPT, that NPT "articles 1 and 2 effectively provide for the closing of all loopholes of practical significance to the proliferation of nuclear weapons."

Sadly, with UK complicity, we can see from subsequent history and the Polaris and Trident nuclear WMD import from the United States that he was wrong.

Shortly after, on January 26 1968, a confidential memo by Mulley for the cabinet defence and oversea (sic) policy committee laid out Britain's position on the key nuclear disarmament clause, which became NPT article 6, commented:

"A number of countries may withhold their ratification of the treaty until nuclear-weapon states show they are taking seriously the obligations which this article imposes on them. It will therefore be essential to follow the treaty up quickly with the further disarmament measures if it is to be brought into force and remain in force thereafter. We have therefore begun to work on a paper examining the most suitable measures on which we should concentrate our attention once a non-proliferation treaty has been achieved."

A few days afterwards, on 30 January 1968, and the NPT was presented to the cabinet for its endorsement. A supportive foreign office memo stated:

"a lot of the thinking behind the treaty, and some of the language, originally came from us."

On 27 June that year, the NPT, including the key article VI obligation on nuclear weapon signatory states, to negotiate nuclear disarmament in good faith, was presented to Parliament as Cmnd 3683.

A talking paper (number 38) prepared for ministers in mid-April that year pointed out: "It should be remembered that the NPT is in the first instance, in the interests of non-nuclear countries themselves, adding to their security against the development of nuclear weapons in non-nuclear rival states, and sparing them the vast expense of developing such weapons themselves."

If we fast forward to June 2007, Margaret Beckett  was coming to the end of her time as Foreign Secretary under the last Labour Government, she made a very important speech to a prestigious and influential annual conference held in Washington DC by the Carnegie International Endowment for Peace

Mrs Beckett called for negotiators to take additional steps toward nuclear disarmament.

She said:

 “The judgment we made 40 years ago [at the NPT’s signing] that the eventual elimination of nuclear weapons was in all our interests is just as true today as it was then. For more than 60 years, good management and good fortune have meant that nuclear arsenals have not been used, but we cannot rely just on history to repeat itself.”

[Keynote address at Carnegie International Nonproliferation Conference, Washington, D.C., June 25, 2007]

These were very wise words then, and remain just as wise today.

Last week both US Secretary of State John Kerry and President Obama made speeches to mark the 45th anniversary of the entering into force of the NPT on 5th March 1970 (By contrast no British minister mentioned it at all).

Mr Kerry said: “All countries profit when there is smart, continuous action in the direction of nuclear disarmament.” (

President Obama said: “As I stated in Prague in 2009, reinforced in Berlin in 2013, and again reaffirmed last month in my National Security Strategy, the United States seeks the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.”(

A month earlier, after their meeting on 6 February organized in London by the foreign Office,  the UN Security Council Permanent Five member states – the UK, US, Russia, France and China- dubbed the “P5”-  diplomats issued a joint statement through the Foreign Office which included a very interesting passage, considering it is co-signed by Russia, stating: 

“At their 2015 Conference the P5 restated their belief that the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty remains the essential cornerstone for the nuclear non-proliferation regime and the foundation for the pursuit of nuclear disarmament, and is an essential contribution to international security and stability.” 

Indeed, less than a month ago in a Parliamentary debate (on 20 January) on the Trident nuclear weapons system, the Defence Secretary Michael Fallon told MPs

"we also share the vision of a world that is without nuclear weapons, achieved through multilateral disarmament.” (emphasis added)


Why is  the Government determined to continue a process that will result in £100 thousand million (£100 billion) on a nuclear weapons system when the Defence Secretary has put it on the Parliamentary record as recently as January he wants to realise a world  without any nuclear weapons of  mass destruction at all.

Instead of spending this unimaginably vast sum of taxpayers money - at a time when public services are being eviscerated by austerity cuts - why not implement the unilateral nuclear disarmament of which ministers are proud to announce when reducing deployed nuclear warhead numbers, and cancel the spending on Trident , which will be totally wasted when the Government’s own desire to reach complete nuclear  disarmament  is achieved?

Trident will become the ultimate ‘Stranded asset.”

The missiles great shiny white nuclear elephants!

The submarines great grey beached whales!

At the Vienna Conference on humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons last December in Vienna, which the Government - through its Ambassador to Austria and United Nations institutions in Vienna - was pleased to attend, the International Campaign Against Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) proposed as Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty.

As a recent ICAN briefing states:

“A treaty to ban nuclear weapons could be a straightforward legal instrument with prohibitions on the use, deployment, development and production, transfer, and stockpiling of nuclear weapons and on assistance with these prohibited acts. It would require the elimination of nuclear weapons for states that possess them, with the specific processes for elimination being the responsibility of the nuclear-armed states to implement and verify, in accordance with international laws and agreements.”

If the government wants to live up to its clearly stated belief in a non- nuclear weapons world, it should surely back such a treaty!

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