The UK government’s Road to 2010

Gordon Brown’s roadmap towards the NPT Review Conference appears under-developed in key areas

The Prime Minister has today released his Road to 2010. In response, Paul Ingram, Executive Director of BASIC, said: “We welcome this publication as an outline of the urgent work needed to maximize the chances of success at the NPT Review Conference next May. Britain has played a positive role in persuading fellow nuclear weapon states to commit to disarmament. The alternative to success is a descent towards nuclear anarchy and unmanageable risk. Nevertheless, the government’s map published today appears in places under-developed, and we look forward to seeing further statements and commitments in the months to come prior to the NPT Review Conference in May 2010.”

In particular:

1) We approve of the concrete commitments made in the paper, such as:

a. the establishment of a national centre of excellence to develop proliferation-resistant technologies;

b. the proposal to host a funders meeting to discuss future resourcing of the IAEA with a view to increasing significantly its capabilities and powers, and press for a political commitment in 2010 to expand involvement in relevant safeguards agreements; as well as

c. the existing commitment to host a NWS conference in early September in London to build confidence in steps towards disarmament.

2) The list of multilateral disarmament initiatives, however, contains no explicit reference to progress on some of the most important steps to achieving a successful NPT Review Conference, demanded by signatory partners:

a. measures to encourage the US and Russia to de-alert arsenals, increase warning times, and take their systems off hair-trigger alert. This ought to be a relatively simple agreement in the first instance -all other states possessing nuclear weapons, including the UK, have their forces off hair-trigger status.

b. negative security assurances – non-nuclear weapon states are demanding guarantees that they will not be the victim of a nuclear attack – a key plank in assurance if we are to prevent further proliferation. Obstacles to these guarantees could be overcome relatively easily. Fears from some nuclear weapon states that they could be attacked by an alliance of non-nuclear weapon states are simply not credible.

c. changes in doctrine to limit nuclear deterrence only to prevent the threat of nuclear use, as currently being considered by the Obama administration in its Nuclear Posture Review due at the end of this year.

3) In this regard, we welcome in particular the explicit government commitment in Road to 2010 to ensure that NATO’s nuclear doctrines and capabilities are appropriate to security challenges in the 21st century, and believe that if this is genuine, Britain will be working with its partners to build up the confidence to end the forward deployment of NATO’s tactical nuclear weapons in Europe at an early date. [paragraph 5.42]

4) The Road to 2010 is, however, unduly pessimistic about the prospects for disarmament, saying: “Ultimately, states will only give up these weapons if they feel confident and secure they are no longer required”. [paragraph 5.44] This sets the bar impossibly high. In contrast, one of the fundamental shifts we are witnessing today is that many former and serving officials, in calling for a world free of nuclear weapons, point out that states are beginning to realize that the dangers of retaining nuclear weapons outweigh the benefits they believe they derive from possessing them.

5) There was never an expectation that the road map would contain any breakthrough announcement on Trident; nevertheless, in referencing the UK’s own deterrent, the Road to 2010 falls into several traps [paragraph 5.38]:

a. “The Road to Zero requires multilateral disarmament”, appears then to be phrased as if in opposition to unilateral moves. The measures the UK itself has already undertaken, as highlighted in box 5.2, p.32, have been unilateral in nature, and have, as HMG suggests, assisted in the multilateral process. It is deeply mistaken and possibly disingenuous to over-simplify and separate out multilateralism and unilateralism as if opposed, as a justification for replacing Trident.

b. It is disappointing that at the end of the same paragraph the opportunity was lost to clarify that Britain’s deterrent is not only just for self-defence in extreme circumstances, but that it is only appropriate to deter the threat of nuclear use by other states.

Paul Ingram, BASIC’s Executive Director, said: “The government faces some important decisions in the coming months around its own nuclear arsenal as the Trident follow-on project passes through its initial gate stage. We will be looking for some concrete decisions regarding this project that recognize Britain’s role in promoting reduced readiness, such as reducing the frequency of patrols, a move that has financial benefits for the taxpayer too.”

6) We agree with Road to 2010 that nuclear security is crucial, and welcome the renewed commitment to strengthening security. [Chapter4] The Global Partnership and Cooperative Threat Reduction programmes have unfortunately been insufficiently funded by participating governments across Europe in recent years when compared to the challenges, so the greater focus on this by both HMG and the Obama administration is positive. Nevertheless, to propose that this becomes a fourth pillar of the NPT bargain, whilst clearly well intentioned, could dangerously confuse and complicate the process, and there is a danger that it becomes part of the complex bargaining that already has held up progress in NPT negotiations in the past. If anything, the NPT bargain needs to be simplified – in that the security of all states would simply be strengthened by tighter non-proliferation rules and by moves towards a world free of nuclear weapons.

Notes for Editors

The Road to 2010, Addressing the nuclear question in the 21st century, Cabinet Office, 16 July 2009, Cmd 7675. (
This publication is the result of a process started by the Prime Minister on 17 March.

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