The House of Lords International Relations Committee is undertaking an inquiry examining the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and nuclear disarmament. CND submitted the following evidence to the inquiry on 18th January 2019.

The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) campaigns to rid the world of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction and to create genuine security for future generations


  • The twin requirements of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT) – disarmament and non-proliferation – are fundamental to the security of the world today. But the UK government currently faces in two directions. The first openly pursues a new nuclear weapons platform to last decades into the future whilst the other talks of achieving progress on disarmament at international fora including conferences of the NPT and the UN’s Conference on Disarmament. At a time when our government vigorously and rightly opposes any nuclear proliferation, this is widely understood to be hypocritical.
  • CND believes that the UK and the nuclear weapon states are currently failing to deliver their side of the bargain they have made with the non-nuclear weapon states who are signatories to the NPT. The limitations of the NPT in expressing a political commitment to global disarmament, but without either the formal prohibition, or a time frame or a mechanism to deliver that goal, mean that further negotiation and agreement are necessary to complement and enhance the existing agreement.
  • CND believes the UK must make a commitment to fulfill its NPT obligations, including giving support to new international initiatives to advance nuclear disarmament such as the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), and instead of replacing the Trident nuclear weapons system, to carry out its decommissioning and scrap plans for its replacement. This would be welcomed by people around the world and could break the log jam in progress towards a safer, nuclear-weapon free world.
  • While nuclear weapons exist, we are never safe from a military disagreement escalating into nuclear war.

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty

  • The UK has committed to the NPT, which it signed in 1968, and which came into force in 1970, following widespread international concern about the risk of nuclear weapons proliferation. It is a binding multilateral treaty with the goal of general and complete nuclear weapons disarmament. The UK is one of five states that had already acquired nuclear weapons before the treaty was signed. The treaty establishes that those states without nuclear weapons agree not to acquire them and those with nuclear weapons agree to disarm. It also gives states the right to develop civil nuclear power.
  • The UK does not have any right to possess nuclear weapons under the treaty; instead it is legally bound to disarm. Article VI of the NPT states:‘Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a Treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.’
  • Despite 50 years since the signing of the NPT, continued possession of nuclear weapons remains a major global security risk and attempts at nuclear disarmament have fallen short of the progress envisaged by the NPT. The ultimate aim of the treaty is global disarmament, although it does not include a process for making that happen.
  • The NPT is reviewed every five years but the Review Conference of 2015 ended with no agreement and no progress. CND was present and noted the lack of willingness on behalf of the nuclear weapon states to even consider concrete steps towards getting rid of their nuclear arms. The next Review Conference will take place in 2020, with the preparation cycle launched in 2017. The next, and final, NPT Preparatory Committee will take place from 29 April to 10 May 2019 at the United Nations Headquarters in New York.
  • CND calls on the government to do all it can to inject new life into the NPT process and to use the Preparatory Committee meeting this year to prepare for progress on a range of initiatives which will advance global nuclear disarmament. The government justifies its non-participation in the TPNW by its continued commitment to the NPT. On this basis we would like to see the government take further steps to make its NPT commitments a reality. As initial steps, the government should make strenuous efforts to achieve progress on global nuclear stockpile reduction, the development of nuclear-weapons-free zones, the entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, and the negotiation of a fissile material cut-off treaty.
  • Four countries which are known or assumed to possess nuclear weapons are not current signatories – North Korea, India, Pakistan and Israel. These states have been called on to join the NPT but they can only do so as non-nuclear weapon states and so would be required to give up their nuclear weapons first. As more countries have developed the capabilities to extract nuclear weapons grade materials, there is a potential increasing risk of nuclear proliferation.

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW)

  • It is in the context of frustration with the NPT process that the international initiative on the humanitarian impact of nuclear use – the precursor to demands for a global ban treaty – began. This process culminated in a treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons.
  • The United Nations adopted the historic TPNW in July 2017. It opened for signatures in September 2017 and will enter into force when it has been ratified by 50 states.
  • The TPNW is a strong and comprehensive text which has the potential to achieve a world without nuclear weapons. Article 1 is a comprehensive ban on nuclear weapons and other related activity. The list of prohibitions includes the use, stockpiling, testing, production, manufacture, stationing and installation. Article 1 also bans assisting with prohibited acts, such as the United States leasing Trident missiles to the UK to carry nuclear warheads. It will also be illegal to allow nuclear weapons to travel through territorial waters or airspace. Articles 3 and 4 set out how the meeting of obligations are measured, including the verification of the irreversible destruction of nuclear weapons and the programmes to develop them. There are provisions to strengthen the safeguards and a prohibition on them being weakened. Articles 6, 7, and 8 require states to provide assistance to victims of nuclear weapons, either through their use or through testing. There is also a requirement to encourage other states to join the treaty, and for regular meetings to review the progress being made.
  • The TPNW acknowledges and supports the NPT, reinforcing the commitments made in the original treaty and adding to them. It was designed to reinforce the impact of the disarmament pillar of the NPT and should be seen as such. There is no basis in the criticism from nuclear weapons states that the TPNW undermines the NPT.
  • The treaty is a breakthrough in international disarmament efforts and will be of enormous support in achieving a world without nuclear weapons. The importance of the treaty was highlighted when the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to ICAN for its tireless work in campaigning for this momentous achievement. The award of this prestigious prize is an essential recognition of the global majority against nuclear weapons – and the movement that has done so much to advance it.
  • The UK government refused to participate in the treaty negotiations and even issued a hostile statement, while maintaining that it shares CND’s goal of a nuclear weapons-free world. The British government should constructively engage with the TPNW process and work towards signing the treaty, thus supporting the global dynamic towards the total elimination of nuclear weapons.
  • The UK government should be fostering a dialogue with countries and organisations working on the TPNW on how the treaty can make an effective contribution to disarmament, including through making a positive impact on the disarmament pillar of the NPT.

 US rejection of nuclear arms control agreements

  • The recent US announcement of their intention to withdraw from the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Force (INF) Treaty with Russia is an extremely concerning development for global nuclear arms control. The INF Treaty has been a vital arms limitation treaty, and in actively reducing nuclear stockpiles it has been an important step towards nuclear disarmament.
  • The INF treaty has a special role in ensuring greater European security, which remains necessary to this day. It was because of the INF treaty that US cruise and SS-20 missiles were removed from Britain, significantly reducing the likelihood of the UK or Europe being an arena for any US nuclear war. Before the INF treaty was signed, the US based intermediate-range nuclear missiles in the UK and Europe. This was strategically advantageous to the US, as it meant the missiles were in range of Russia and therefore ready to attack, bringing the UK into far more danger.
  • With the destruction of the treaty, the possibility of these missiles being reintroduced in Europe would likely spark mass protests. It is clear that the possibility of new US missiles in Europe, such as those with a ‘low-yield’ capability proposed in the US 2018 Nuclear Posture Review, would increase the likelihood of a nuclear confrontation, and generate significant opposition in Britain.
  • The US has already withdrawn from the historic Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which was agreed between Iran, US, UK, France, China, Russia and Germany in 2015. Under the accord, Iran agreed to limit its sensitive nuclear activities and allow in international inspectors in return for the lifting of crippling economic sanctions.
  • The US withdrew from this deal in May 2019, imposing further sanctions on Iran. These sanctions have made it less likely that Iran will adhere to the original disarmament objectives of the deal, increasing the threat of Iran becoming another nuclear weapons state and therefore increasing global instability.
  • Furthermore, the announcement of the US intention to withdraw from the INF also calls into question the likelihood of possible US-Russia cooperation in working to renew the New START treaty on its expiry in 2021. Signed in 2010, the New START treaty limits the number of nuclear warheads of Russia and the US to 1,550. This treaty is therefore fundamental for preventing a global arms race and ensuring nuclear de-escalation.
  • These historic treaties brought about greater global stability after the cold war, and are crucial to preventing a new arms race. It is essential that they must be protected to provide global stability, ensure nuclear de-escalation and eventual disarmament.

Weapons of Mass Destruction free zone in the Middle East

  • As tensions continue to mount in the Middle East, so does the need for a weapons of mass destruction (WMD)-free zone in the region. Forty years after such a zone was first proposed, the need for one remains as urgent as ever. The disastrous civil war in Syria rages on, foreign military intervention in Iraq and Libya has resulted in upheaval and further violence while there is no settlement in sight to the conflict between Israel and Palestine.
  • Nuclear weapons-free zones are legally acknowledged geographical areas which have signed agreements prohibiting the use, development or deployment of nuclear weapons on their territory. Five zones have been recognised by the UN since the 1960s – Latin America and the Caribbean, the South Pacific, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Central Asia and Africa. Mongolia is also an UN-recognised nuclear-free zone. Similar agreements have established nuclear weapon-free areas in the Antarctic, on the sea-bed and in outer space. Large parts of the world are covered by these zones, including almost the entire southern hemisphere.
  • The only country in the Middle East with nuclear weapons is Israel, who have been consistently blocking progress on this issue including most notably preventing an agreement in 2015.
  • A WMD-free zone could represent a significant step towards global disarmament and completely transform security relations within one of the world’s most unstable regions. A nuclear weapons-free Middle East is central to the fight for a just, peaceful and stable region and a crucial component in the struggle for a nuclear weapons-free world.
  • Policymakers and the public in the region should look at the other examples of nuclear weapon-free zones to see how regional security can be achieved through co-operative, transparent and rigorously verified security frameworks.

Nuclear weapons modernisation

  • All of the P5 nuclear weapons states have stated their commitment to modernise their nuclear arsenals in contravention of the NPT.
  • This is underpinned by the false view that a nuclear ‘deterrent’ provides the best way of convincing other nuclear powers to engage in meaningful arms control initiatives. The opposite has occurred: nuclear weapons proliferate and the NPT has been driven into a state of stalemate.  Nuclear weapons state should to take into consideration how other countries might perceive and react upon their own nuclear policies, both in words and deeds.
  • In 2018, the US Nuclear Posture Review reversed the previous policy of promoting nuclear arms control; rather it places new emphasis on the role of nuclear weapons in US national security strategy, promoting the development of new nuclear capabilities, including low-yield tactical nuclear weapons, and broadening the number of non-nuclear attack scenarios which might lead to a nuclear response by the United States.
  • In the UK in 2016, MPs voted in favor of building four submarines for a new nuclear weapons system. A replacement nuclear weapons system will have a lifetime cost of at least £205 billion. This is an appalling waste of money for a system that can no longer protect the UK against modern security threats such as terrorism, cyber-attacks and health pandemics. The vast amounts of money being poured into drone technology means that eventually Trident will be both detectable and targetable, meaning the government is wasting money on weapons with built-in redundancy.
  • These modernisation programmes are in contravention of the 1968 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty which requires them to engage in nuclear disarmament. This widens the gap between nuclear and non-nuclear states.

New technologies

  • With a wide range of emerging non-nuclear technologies that could sabotage and undermine a country’s nuclear launch capability, it becomes almost impossible to accurately assess security threats. This could influence decisions about what would constitute a credible deterrent leading to increasing numbers of warheads and missile systems.
  • Developments in underwater drone technology could render Trident obsolete as eventually it will be both detectable and targetable. Hostile submarine detection is generally undertaken by staffed ships and aircraft, a time consuming and expensive endeavour. However, new developments in underwater drone technologies mean that it becomes feasible for many drones to be searching for the submarines at once, increasing the area covered. This adds up to a ‘swarm’ effect with possibly hundreds, or thousands, of machines able to search together, covering vast areas. As well as getting smaller and cheaper, sensors are getting better at detecting submarines from further away. A network of drones successfully detected, reported and tracked a live submarine in a Royal Navy demonstration in October 2016. If the Trident submarines were to become easily detectable, they of course lose their advantage.
  • The growing complexity and sophistication of cyber-attacks is a concerning development for Trident as the risks of being hacked increased. Although Trident is ‘air-gapped’ there have been instances of hackers jumping similar ‘gaps’. Britain’s nuclear weapons are connected to other computers and servers for various reasons, for example to upgrade with new information or to receive weather reports. The Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) near Reading, where Britain’s nuclear bombs are made and serviced, even uses a public cloud service to store its data. AWE has refused to answer whether this will include classified information.
  • The worst-case scenario is a hostile, cyber take-over of our nuclear weapons system. This is more likely to succeed if an adversary manages to install a malware programme during the building phase that would activate at a later date. As a lot of equipment for Britain’s submarines is produced outside of the country – in China – it is possible to see how this could happen.
  • Another cyber-threat is the possibility of another state or organisation hacking into communications to the submarines, and suggesting a nuclear attack was imminent to a sufficient degree to confuse those on board. The government does have high security measures in place to attempt to counter these threats, but with 250-350 serious cases of cyber-attack against NATO countries each week, the risk of just one being successful and accessing Trident is not unthinkable.

Recommendations for the UK government

  • The UK committed to ‘pursue negotiations’ towards nuclear disarmament in 1968 and often repeats its commitment to a nuclear-free world. Now is the time to respect the framework of the NPT and the other signatories of the treaty, and take concrete steps towards disarmament.
  • The Trident nuclear weapons system should be scrapped and plans for its replacement cancelled. Disarming could not only provide political leadership to the rest of the nuclear-armed states, but would be a practical guide for how to do it, a blueprint for the rest of the world drafted by our experts and politicians.
  • Britain needs to disarm or provide a plan of its intention to disarm before it can sign the TPNW. Until then, the government should adopt a constructive approach towards the treaty, and acknowledge it as part of the rules-based international system. Within such an approach it should provide technical expertise and other input within the TPNW framework where relevant, for example on: discussions of verification issues that will take place and on which the UK continues to do substantial work; and on activities to address ongoing human and environmental harm from past nuclear testing. The government should condemn, and not participate in, any attempts to intimidate other countries not to sign the treaty.
  • Use diplomatic routes to encourage the US to re-engage with important international treaties and agreements such as the INF and JCPoA. International cooperation is essential to maintaining a stable and just world order, and the UK government should do all it can to ensure that the US and Russia are part of this process.

Submitted by Amy Keegan on behalf of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, January 2019