Another milestone to Zero

UK statesmen call for a world without nuclear weapons

In a breakthrough op-ed in the Times newspaper today, former long-serving UK Foreign and Defence Secretaries are endorsing the vision of a world free of nuclear weapons. Sir Malcolm Rifkind, Lord David Owen, Lord Douglas Hurd, and Lord George Robertson, in an article titled \’Start worrying and learn to ditch the bomb\’, warn that the world is entering a dangerous new phase “that combines widespread proliferation with extremism and geopolitical tension.”

Paul Ingram, Executive Director of the independent transatlantic research and analysis group, BASIC, welcomed the news: “The four echo the concerns central to BASIC\’s \’Getting to Zero\’ project. The only way to deal with this danger is to work urgently and multilaterally towards complete global nuclear disarmament.”

The article

The article argues that nuclear weapons no longer have the same role in security that they held during the Cold War. Terrorists are unpersuaded by nuclear deterrence, and seek to obtain nuclear material for “asymmetrical warfare and suicide missions”.

“This article is the transatlantic equivalent of the ground-breaking January 2007 Wall Street Journal op-ed by US statesmen George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger and Sam Nunn”, said BASIC board member and former arms control negotiator Ambassador Robert Barry. “That article kicked off a serious US debate with an energy and urgency not seen since the end of the Cold War.”

Trevor McCrisken, BASIC\’s Chair, said that “The Times article brings impeccable credentials to calls for nuclear disarmament within Britain. It adds to the momentum of a serious global movement calling for urgent moves towards zero nuclear weapons.”

The four UK statesmen call for a similar debate in Europe. They appeal to the United Kingdom and France, as Europe\’s two nuclear weapons powers, to take a lead in multilateral disarmament, calling upon them, through international organizations to:

  • secure unaccounted for stockpiles of nuclear material in the former Soviet Union;
  • bring the Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty into force by encouraging others, particularly the United States, to ratify the treaty; and
  • strengthen the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the International Atomic Energy Agency, by improving monitoring and compliance to verify that civilian nuclear programmes are not weaponized.

The United States and Russia, as those with the most nuclear weapons, have a unique responsibility to extend the provisions of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) and dramatically reduce their arsenals.


Background to the authors

The authors of the Times op-ed have a long history of distinguished public service in the United Kingdom. Lord Douglas Hurd served as Foreign Secretary under the Conservative Governments of Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher and John Major; Sir Malcolm Rifkind was Foreign and then Defence Secretary under Prime Minister Major; Lord David Owen was Foreign Secretary under the Labour Government of Prime Minister James Callaghan; and Lord George Robertson was the UK Defence Secretary under the Labour Government of Prime Minister Tony Blair 1997 to 1999 when he became the Secretary General of NATO, where he led the transatlantic alliance for five years. Debate over NATO\’s tactical nuclear weapons re-emerged last week after news that US free-fall bombs had failed safety tests and that those at Lakenheath in East Anglia had been withdrawn.

The vision gathers momentum – BASIC

Senior members of the transatlantic foreign policy establishment across the political mainstream have publicly endorsed the vision of a world without nuclear weapons, proposing practical and achievable steps to take the world in the right direction. Some have joined BASIC as Board members or Advisers to lend their weight and energy to the effort, including in the US former Secretary of State (under George Bush senior) Lawrence Eagleburger, former arms control negotiators and US Ambassadors Thomas Graham, James Goodby, James Leonard, Robert Barry and Max Kampelman and in UK former Ambassadors to the UN David Hannay and John Thomson, Senior Foreign Office Adviser Malcolm Chalmers, MP Malcolm Savidge, as well as musicians Brian Eno and Annie Lennox.

BASIC has played a key role in fostering this transatlantic debate. In 2007 it hosted a visit to London by Ambassador Max Kampelman, Reagan\’s top negotiator with the Soviets, to discuss the “Hoover Group” proposal with key UK policy makers and opinion shapers. In February 2008 the All Party Parliamentary Group on Global Security and Non-Proliferation, clerked by BASIC, hosted a briefing for members of the UK Parliament by former Secretary of State George Schultz and Senator Sam Nunn, authors of the US call for nuclear abolition.

BASIC is unique as a transatlantic think-tank advocating nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. We engage with decision-shapers in a constructively critical manner, and disseminate analysis of upcoming critical decisions on disarmament and modernization of arsenals.

For further information please contact:

Paul Ingram, Co-Executive Director: +44 (0)20 7324-4680; pingram at

or Kim Waller: +44 (0)20 7324 4680

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