This article was originally published by The Times
During the Cold War nuclear weapons had the perverse effect of making
world a relatively stable place. That is no longer the case. Instead,
world is at the brink of a new and dangerous phase – one that combines
widespread proliferation with extremism and geopolitical tension.
Some of the terrorist organisations of today would have little
using weapons of mass destruction to further their own nihilistic
Al-Qaeda and groups linked to it may be trying to obtain nuclear
cause carnage on an unimaginable scale. Rogue or unstable states may
either willingly or unwillingly; the more nuclear material in
the greater the risk that it falls into the wrong hands. And while
governments, no matter how distasteful, are usually capable of being
deterred, groups such as al-Qaeda, are not. Cold War calculations have
replaced by asymmetrical warfare and suicide missions.
There is a powerful case for a dramatic reduction in the stockpile of
weapons. A new historic initiative is needed but it will only succeed by
working collectively and through multilateral institutions. Over the
year an influential project has developed in the United States, led by
Kissinger, George Shultz, William Perry and Sam Nunn, all leading
policymakers. They have published two articles in The Wall Street
describing a vision of a world free of nuclear weapons and articulating
of the steps that, cumulatively taken, could help to achieve that end.
Senator John McCain has endorsed that analysis recently. Barack Obama is
likely to be as sympathetic.
A comparable debate is now needed in this country and across Europe.
and France, both nuclear powers, are well placed to join in renewed
multilateral efforts to reduce the number of nuclear weapons in
The American initiative does not call for unilateral disarmament;
we. Instead, progress can be made only by working alongside other
towards a shared goal, using commonly agreed procedures and strategies.
The world’s stockpiles of nuclear weapons are overwhelmingly controlled
nations: the United States and Russia. While Washington is in possession
about 5,000 deployed warheads, Russia is reported to have well over
making its stockpile the largest in the world. It is difficult to
why either the American or Russian governments feel that they need such
enormous numbers of nuclear weapons.
Hard-headed Americans, such as Dr Kissinger and Mr Shultz, have argued
dramatic reductions in the number of nuclear weapons in these arsenals
be made without risking America’s security. It is indisputable that if
serious progress is to be made it must begin with these two countries.
The US and Russia should ensure that the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty
1991 continues to provide the basis for co-operation in reducing the
of nuclear weapons. The treaty’s provisions need to be extended.
should be reached on the issue of missile defence. The US proposal to
Poland and the Czech Republic part of their missile defence shield has
the Kremlin. It has been a divisive issue, but it need not be. Any
threat to Europe or the United States would also be a threat to Russia.
Furthermore, Russia and the West share a strong common interest in
Elsewhere, there are numerous stockpiles that lie unaccounted for. In
former Soviet Union alone, some claim that there is enough uranium and
plutonium to make a further 40,000 weapons. There have been reports of
nuclear smuggling in the Caucasus and some parts of Eastern Europe.
Council Resolution 1540, which obliges nations to improve the security
stockpiles, allows for the formation of teams of specialists to be
in those countries that do not possess the necessary infrastructure or
experience in dealing with stockpiles. These specialists should be
to assist both in the monitoring and accounting for of nuclear material
in the setting up of domestic controls to prevent security breaches.
Transparency in these matters is vital and Britain can, and should, play
role in providing experts who can fulfil this important role.
The Non-Proliferation Treaty, for 40 years the foundation of counter-
proliferation efforts, in in need of an overhaul. The provisions on
monitoring compliance need to be strengthened. The monitoring provisions
the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Additional Protocol, which
a state to provide access to any location where nuclear material may be
present, should be accepted by all the nations that have signed up to
NPT. These requirements, if implemented, would have the effect of
strengthening the ability of the IAEA to provide assurances about both
declared nuclear material and undeclared activities. At a time when a
of countries, including Iran and Syria, may be developing a nuclear
programme under the guise of civilian purposes, the ability to be clear
about all aspects of any programme is crucial.
Bringing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty into effect would, similarly,
represent strong progress in the battle to reduce the nuclear threat.
treaty would ban the testing of nuclear weapons, ensuring that the
development of new generations of weapons ceases. However, it will only
into force once the remaining nine states who have not yet ratified it
so. Britain, working through Nato and the EU, must continue to encourage
those remaining states that have not yet agreed to the Treaty – India,
Pakistan, Egypt, China, Indonesia, North Korea, Israel, Iran and the
States – to ratify it.
A modern non-proliferation regime will require mechanisms to provide
nations wishing to develop a civilian nuclear capability with the
and co-operation of those states that possess advanced expertise and
are able to provide nuclear fuel, spent-fuel management assistance,
uranium and technical assistance. But, in return, proper verification
procedures must be in place and access for the IAEA must not be impeded.
Achieving real progress in reducing the nuclear weapons threat will
obligations on all nuclear powers not just the US and Russia. The UK has
reduced its nuclear weapons capability significantly over the past 20
It disposed of its freefall and tactical nuclear weapons and has
big reduction of the number of warheads used by the Trident system to
minimum believed to be compatible with the retention of a nuclear
If we are able to enter into a period of significant multilateral
disarmament Britain, along with France and other existing nuclear
will need to consider what further contribution it might be able to make
help to achieve the common objective.
Substantial progress towards a dramatic reduction in the world’s nuclear
weapons is possible. The ultimate aspiration should be to have a world
of nuclear weapons. It will take time, but with political will and
improvements in monitoring, the goal is achievable. We must act before
too late, and we can begin by supporting the campaign in America for a
non-nuclear weapons world.