The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament today reacted to the upcoming Radio 4 documentary ‘The Human Bomb’ with a statement exposing the illegal nature of the actions discussed by senior defence officials and politicians, to be aired in tonight’s programme.

Speculating on whether they would, for instance, “kill 20 million Russians” interviewees discuss the practicalities of ordering such an attack, even if the regular chain of command was broken. Former Chief of the Defence Staff Lord Guthrie reveals he would have intervened to counteract the order of a Prime Minister he considered to ‘have lost it’.

However the International Court of Justice, the UN’s highest judicial body ruled in 1996 that “the threat or use of nuclear weapons would generally be contrary to the rules of international law applicable in armed conflict, and in particular the principles and rules of humanitarian law” [see note 3 for ICJ ruling]. Any scenario which envisages mass civilian casualties, which all nuclear battle plans would indeed cause, would breach one of the central tenets of international law – that of being able to discriminate between combatants and civilians. Such a requirement, both legally and ethically, applies regardless of the actions of other states.

The producer of the documentary has written that ‘Safeguards are built into the system from top to bottom’ yet whilst other major nuclear powers, such as the US and Russia protect their nuclear weapons with specific codes that prevent firing without explicit political authorisation, the UK does not. The Defence Secretary confirmed last year that the findings of a Newsnight investigation into the so called ‘Permissive Action Links’ was correct, with the UK not employing such a system. There is therefore thought to be no technical barrier preventing a submarine crew from launching the 16 missiles on board which can carry up to 48 nuclear warheads.

Kate Hudson, Chair of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, said, “Regardless of who gives the order, the calm discussion of the British state ordering the deaths of literally millions of people is monstrous. Whatever the severity of the threat – even if the UK has been attacked, there can never be an excuse for launching weapons each of which are eight times as powerful as the Hiroshima bomb against predominantly civilian targets.”

She continued, “The principle of discriminating between combatants and civilians even in the gravest of situations – and of the armed forces not simply ‘following orders’ but taking personal responsibility for their actions – has been established since the 1940s. It is simply appalling that in 2008, when the UK faces no nuclear threat, we are still discussing committing the biggest possible breaches of both the Geneva Convention and the Nuremburg Principles. We should instead be taking the opportunity to make progress towards nuclear disarmament, as required under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.’

‘The Human Button’ is broadcast on BBC Radio 4 at 20:00 on Tuesday 2 December and again on Sunday 7 December at 17:00.


Notes to Editors:For further information and interviews please contact Ben Soffa, CND’s Press Officer, on 0207 7002350 or 07968 420859

The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) is one of Europe’s biggest single-issue peace campaigns, with over 35,000 members in the UK. CND campaigns for the abolition of all nuclear weapons everywhere.