Proliferation or Peace?*
This is an edited version of the 2007 Annual Lecture of the David Davies Memorial
Institute of International Studies (DDMI). The lecture was delivered by John
Gittings on 25 April 2007 at the University of Wales Aberystwyth. John Gittings is
a distinguished journalist, having been China specialist and foreign leader writer at
the Guardian between 1982 and 2003. His most recent book, which has received
considerable acclaim, is The Changing Face
of China: From Mao to Market (2005).
A podcast of the lecture and the question-and-answer period is available at: www.
The DDMI was founded in 1951 to commemorate and carry forward Lord Davies’s
project of creating a just and peaceful world through international cooperation, law
and organisation. The Institute’s Annual Lecture is an important vehicle for raising
public awareness of challenges to peace and security, disseminating new ideas and
approaches to academic and non-academic audiences, and for engaging with
and developing normative themes that guided Lord Davies. The 2007 Annual Lecture
did all these things, and I am delighted to see it published here.
Professor Nicholas J. Wheeler, Director,
David Davies Memorial Institute of
The British government decision on ‘Trident renewal’ forms part of a much wider rebuff
to the non-proliferation and peace agenda. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty risks
being discredited at its next review in 2010; new nuclear powers are setting the pace for
others; another ‘war’ is being threatened which will last ‘for generations’. There
no post-Cold War peace dividend, and the chance to make up for lost time has been missed.
War, not peace, is once again seen as the universal default mode.
It is now clear that traditional arguments in favour of peace and nuclear disarmament
are never going to succeed. The view that one ‘cannot predict the unpredictable’, used to
justify the Trident decision, will always result in decisions being reached on a worst-case
scenario. New arguments need to be developed with a broader appeal based not only on
strategic calculation but on a compelling alternative world view.
Looking both forward and back into history we have to rediscover peace, not war,
as humanity’s central concern. Just as the test of the good ruler in ancient China was to
maintain peace within the four corners of the kingdom, so today modern states have a
shared obligation to exercise good governance across the globe. The effort to reshape
our common goals will require a sustained exercise in the re-education of elites, and the
mobilisation of multitudes.
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse stalked the world during the Cold War, inspiring
many references in film, literature and cartoon books before a few years of
respite when their shadow seemed to recede. Now they are back again, sweeping
down towards us with the severe determination portrayed by Albrecht Dürer in his
grim woodcut. Their names today are only slightly different from those in the Book of
Revelation and the message of final catastrophe is the same: instead of Pestilence, War,
Famine and Death we must now contemplate the possible, or likely, consequences
of Pandemic, Terror, Climate Change – and Nuclear Proliferation.
It is hard enough for our collective human consciousness to comprehend one
apocalyptic scenario, let enough four. Naturally enough, we are preoccupied most of
all by those threats which have visible and immediate consequences: the effects
of terrorism and the bloody results of the war against it have the deepest impact.
Increasingly we are alarmed by global warming which seems to be changing the
daily climate in which we live. We have also become more aware of the one and a
half billion – a quarter of the world’s population – mired in hopeless poverty whose
plight fuels the perceived threats of terrorism and uncontrollable migration. Nuclear
proliferation and its likely consequences are more remote and we, or the media, tend
to focus on specific actors – North Korea and Iran – rather than on the entire stage.
There was far more public disquiet in Britain, whether measured in column inches
or media debate, over the Iraq War, the environment and globalisation than over the
renewal of the UK’s nuclear weapons capability.
Trident and after
The decision in principle to renew Britain’s nuclear weapons for a period of up to
50 years was taken in the space of four months (December 2006 – March 2007) not
with a bang but in a whisper, as though not only the government but the general
public preferred not to contemplate the logic behind it or its implications for the
future too closely. The chronology of the great non-debate on ‘Trident renewal’,
In the run-up to the 2005 election the Prime Minister Tony Blair said that he
was committed in principle to retaining Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent, but
that the decision was ‘a long way off’.2 The new parliament was told that such
a decision would not be taken without ‘an open and continual discussion in this
House and elsewhere’.3 Silence ensued. A year later the Commons Defence
Committee said it was ‘surprised and disappointed’ that the Ministry of Defence
had refused to cooperate with its enquiry into the future of Trident.4 Downing Street
now said that decisions would be taken ‘in due course’ while Gordon Brown, the
Prime Minister-in-waiting, declared that the nuclear deterrent should be retained for
Six months later, on 4 December 2006, a fully fledged White Paper
endorsing ‘Trident renewal’ was tabled. The cabinet was only asked to approve its
publication two and a half hours in advance.6
In an accompanying statement Tony Blair said he hoped that there would be a
‘proper debate’ in the country, but there was no encouragement for this from the
government. The Ministry of Defence declined to engage in debate, on the grounds
that what had been published was a White, not a Green Paper, while both No. 10
Downing Street and the Labour Party apparatus steered clear of the subject in their
presentation of current policy questions. Defence was not one of the ‘big issues’
documented in detail on the Downing Street website and described as ‘currently
being addressed by Tony Blair and the government’. The ‘Let’s Talk’ feature on the
Labour Party’s website, which urged members and supporters to engage in debate
on a variety of issues, did not mention Trident or defence. Although there was considerable
disquiet among a significant number of Labour MPs and Labour Party
members, their objections were muffled: the Party’s ‘Britain in the World’ policy
commission only received eight submissions on the subject.7
An exchange of letters between Tony Blair and President Bush, just days after the
White Paper, confirmed US support for the modernisation of the British deterrent:
the letters did not mention the need for parliamentary approval.8 This came three
months later, on 14 March 2007, after a four-and-a-half-hour debate in the Commons,
with the votes of the Conservative opposition saving the government from defeat.
Trident renewal occupied parliament for less than one-tenth of the time that had
been spent in debating the hunting of foxes with dogs.9
It is hard to assess what the British public made of all this in the absence of any
significant debate, but the small number of opinion polls that were conducted suggest
the following conclusions: if people are asked whether Britain should keep
its nuclear weapons as long as other countries have them, the majority will answer
yes.10 If people are asked whether Britain should renew Trident at a cost of many
billions of pounds, the majority will answer no.11 If people are simply asked whether
Britain should renew its nuclear deterrent or not, opinion will be equally divided.12
Public opinion, on the evidence, is not fully or coherently formed – with one
exception. If a poll on Trident is conducted in Scotland where the Trident nuclear
submarine fleet is based, the answer will always be a resounding no, however the
question is phrased.13
Yet however unsatisfactory the process, circumstances had at least obliged the
British government to make a sustained case in favour of the retention of nuclear
weapons. This was the result partly of technological circumstance – the need to plan
ahead for the replacement of the submarines which carry the Trident missile. More
significantly the weight of opposition to nuclear weapons particularly within the government’s
own party would have made a decision in secret politically untenable – and
was partly defused by the granting of a parliamentary vote. Finally, the outgoing
Prime Minister appears to have been determined to hasten the decision as part of his
‘legacy’. The fact remains that none of the other four major nuclear powers has set
out the argument so fully, and by doing so the British government has revealed an
underlying rationale which is usually concealed.
The British case for ‘Trident renewal’, while invoking the shadowy threat of
terrorists armed with nuclear weapons, and referring to the equally hazy danger
of ‘nuclear blackmail’, relies ultimately on two propositions which are probably
shared by all existing nuclear powers today. The first is the assumption of nuclear
exceptionalism: that is, that
there are special circumstances or reasons applying to
Britain, but not to any would-be nuclear state, which justify the retention of such
weapons. The second, only lightly veiled, is the assumption of nuclear permanence:
that is, that these weapons are here to stay and will never be got rid of. To be fair
to the British Prime Minister, he made both issues very clear, yet neither aroused
significant national debate.
(1) Nuclear exceptionalism. In its simplest form, this amounts to placing heavy,
indeed exclusive, reliance on the fact that Britain was one of the nuclear weapons
powers in existence when the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty was signed, and was
therefore regarded as a ‘Nuclear Weapon State Party’ (NWS) within the meaning
of the treaty. (The usual formulation that the NPT ‘recognised’ Britain as a nuclear
power merely means that the treaty recognised the reality that Britain, along with
the US, France, the Soviet Union and China, had nuclear weapons. Without such
‘recognition’ there would have been no treaty.) Thus, during the Trident debate, all
questions about the legality of nuclear weapons, or the hypocrisy of possessing nuclear
weapons while saying that other countries should not have them, were routinely
rebutted with the assertion that the NPT had ‘recognised’ Britain as an NWS.14
More broadly, Britain is seen to have a special role to play on the world stage
which would be diminished without possession of the full attributes of modern-day
power, which implicitly include nuclear weapons. This was set out with unusual
clarity by the Prime Minister – indeed he invited the British public to enter into a
debate on the subject, in a speech two months before the Trident vote which the
media largely ignored.
[T]he combination of hard and soft power is still the right course for our country,
indeed more so than ever ... There are two types of nations similar to ours today.
Those who do war fighting and peacekeeping and those who have, effectively,
except in the most exceptional circumstances, retreated to the peacekeeping
alone. Britain does both. We should stay that way.15
A week later Mr Blair’s imminent successor Gordon Brown went out of his way in a
BBC interview to endorse the same concept, linking it more clearly to the possession
of nuclear weapons. Britain must be prepared, he said, ‘to use hard power as well as
soft power, by not resiling from the need in certain circumstances to both threaten
and use the military power we have’ – a not very coded reference to the government
policy of refusing to rule out the pre-emptive threat or use of nuclear weapons.16
Little has changed, it seems, in 50 years, since Harold Macmillan argued that
Britain needed to test the hydrogen bomb so that we would possess the same ‘massive
weapon’ as the US and the Soviet Union, and then be able to ‘discuss [with
them] on equal terms’.17
In the same spirit, Russian President Vladimir Putin insists that ‘it is impossible
to discuss many issues, including international security issues, without Russia,
which is a nuclear power’.18
Acquiring nuclear weapons was an important element
in General de Gaulle’s ambition to restore France’s greatness – and the French
example helped spur China in the same direction. Mao Zedong argued in 1960
that ‘money, steel and atom bombs’ were the key to gaining respect. ‘Since France
exploded two atom bombs and we don’t even have one, it is understandable for
de Gaulle to look down upon us.’19 More recently President Chirac has described
the French nuclear programme as a matter of national pride – ‘the very image of what
our country is capable of producing when it has set itself a task and holds to it’.20
As for the United States, nuclear weapons are seen as an indispensable part of
the country’s claim to possess, as described by its National Security Council, ‘unprecedented
– and unequalled – strength and infl uence in the world’.21
(2) Nuclear permanence. In his statement in support of the White Paper, Tony
Blair declared that:
In the early 21st century, the world may have changed beyond recognition, since
the decision taken by the Attlee Government over half a century ago. But it is
precisely because we could not have recognised then, the world we live in now,
that it would not be wise to predict the unpredictable in the times to come.22
In similar terms, Tony Blair observed immediately before the House of Commons
debate that ‘although it is impossible to predict the future, the one thing that is
certain – as I said in my statement – is the unpredictability of it’.23 The Ministry
of Defence put it concisely: ‘The future is uncertain: accurately predicting events
over the period 2020 to 2050 is extremely hard.’24 Tony Blair’s Foreign Secretary
Margaret Beckett told the House of Commons in similar terms that one could not be
sure whether or not nuclear weapons would be used ‘at least for the next 50 years’.
In view of such uncertainty, she said, ‘the Government believe that maintaining
a minimum nuclear deterrent remains a premium worth paying on an insurance
policy for our nation’.25
The argument that nuclear weapons are an insurance against the unpredictable
was supported by the Conservative opposition for whom Liam Fox closed
We cannot predict the future. The nature of the threat that we face has changed
quickly from the cold war to a range of other threats, and it could change quickly
again. The onus is not on those of us who wish to retain a deterrent, but on those
who want to scrap it to tell us why they believe that they can predict the risks
that we will face in half a century’s time.26
Long-term predictions are made regularly by the British and other governments
over a whole range of vital issues – current examples include climate change,
population trends and energy requirements – taking into account both probability
and cost-benefit factors, but questions of global strategy appear to be excluded.
This removes the necessity to offer a balanced assessment of the relative risks and
advantages of deciding not to renew Trident (which would still mean that Britain
retained an operational nuclear deterrent for another 17 years). Such an assessment
would involve, for example, weighing up the credibility of any scenario in which
British nuclear weapons could be used to deter a ‘nuclear terrorist’ attack, or in
which a state such as Iran or North Korea would threaten to launch a nuclear-tipped
missile against Britain, rather than simply assert that such eventualities, however
improbable, must be ‘insured’ against at any cost. It would also involve making
a realistic calculation of the possible positive benefits of a British move towards
eventual nuclear disarmament on the broader non-proliferation process, rather than
simply asserting on the basis of Cold War experience that it could not possibly
have any beneficial effect – indeed, according to Tony Blair, that ‘the reverse [would
be] the case’.27
How does the assertion that we cannot ‘predict the unpredictable’ square with
the statement by Margaret Beckett that Britain was not ‘committing ourselves irreversibly
to maintaining a nuclear deterrent for the next 50 years, no matter what
others do and no matter what happens in the rest of the world’?28 Her assurance
may be interpreted in part as an attempt to appease parliamentary critics in her own
party. A similar assurance to the 2007 NPT Preparatory Committee also sought to
present the British decision in a more favourable light. Margaret Beckett sounded an
even more positive tone in a speech in June 2007, two days before she was replaced
as Foreign Secretary, when she spoke of her vision of ‘a world free from nuclear
weapons’.29 Even if such statements are taken at face value, they are at odds with
the assumption that the future is too uncertain to be safely predicted, or at least set
an extremely high threshold for the abandonment of such a assumption. It would
arguably be necessary for the rest of the world to have proceeded almost all the way
to nuclear disarmament before Britain could ‘predict’ that it was safe to do likewise.
Short of such a remote eventuality, invoking an unpredictable future implies that
nuclear weapons are here to stay indefinitely. (The only other possibility would be
if the government were faced with an overwhelming budgetary crisis – but this has
not deterred spending on nuclear weapons in the past.)
There is little doubt that the US, Russia, France and China hold the same view and
differ from Britain only in not having been obliged to state it so openly. All maintain,
in lukewarm statements to the relevant UN bodies, a theoretical commitment to eventual
nuclear disarmament. As the Russian delegate told the UN First Committee,
his government assumed ‘by and large’ that total elimination of nuclear weapons
was possible, while warning that this could only be achieved ‘through a gradual
and phased movement forward without artifi cially leaping ahead’.30 China routinely
says it supports the intermediate measures for nuclear disarmament proposed at
the 2000 NPT Conference, but stresses it will only consider implementation of
them ‘at an appropriate time and under appropriate conditions’.31 France regularly
affirms its commitment to nuclear disarmament, but focuses on measures which
should be taken to prevent further proliferation by others and the need for the US
and Russia to take the lead since they possess ‘incomparably greater numbers of
Such commitments to eventual nuclear disarmament are necessary to fulfil nominally
the obligation of the five major nuclear weapon powers to head in that direction
under Article VI of the NPT Treaty – but how to get there is another matter. It
is this reluctance to move from the general to the particular which has long aroused
the cynicism of the non-nuclear weapons states. And it is rare for any of the nuclear
weapon powers to address themselves to this credibility gap except in the most
general of terms.
An unusual exception was the speech by US Ambassador Christina Rocca to the
2006 UN Conference on Disarmament in which she addressed at length the question
‘[how can we create] the environment necessary to complete the process of nuclear
disarmament?’33 The objective of all states, she said squarely, should be to create
international situation ‘in which it is no longer necessary for anyone to rely upon
nuclear weapons for security’. This sounded promising: were we about to hear a
senior US spokesperson suggest putting all nuclear power under international control,
or did she have in mind the more limited but still ambitious task of establishing
foolproof systems of inspection of national weapons systems?
The disappointing answer was that Ambassador Rocca contemplated nothing
more specific than a better world one day in which ‘the lessening of international
tension and the strengthening of international trust [would make] it possible’ for
nations to give up their nuclear weapons voluntarily. Multilateral institutions might
at best impose ‘consequences’ (Ambassador Rocca avoided the word ‘sanctions‘) for
violations of nuclear-denying ‘norms’ (she avoided the word ‘treaties‘). There was
no mention either of verification, even though Washington’s UK ally had submitted a
three-part paper on the subject to the 2005 Review Conference.34 Ambassador Rocca
merely suggested that it is up to sovereign states to behave appropriately, perhaps
offering ‘some sort of assurances’ that their nuclear and other WMD capabilities
would not be reconstituted in the future. This is a dream world of sweetness and light
where, we may suppose, all nations like eating apple pie: an international environment
in which nuclear disarmament can be postponed till human nature has changed.
It is particularly bizarre to hear this vision set out by the United States which generally
regards the world as a very evil place.
So Britain’s decision to renew Trident has highlighted two more general questions
for the world at large: first, must we now learn to live with the bomb, accepting that
it is highly unlikely that any nuclear power will ever voluntarily give up its weapons,
and second, can some nuclear powers claim to be more legitimate than others?
These questions are all the more urgent and in need of debate as we face what
thoughtful observers refer to as the threat of a ‘nuclear tipping point’: the moment
when the world may be plunged into a new round of proliferation.35
The nuclear tipping point
We talk readily of an environmental crisis as we see the everyday consequences of
climate change; we are alarmed by the spread of HIV/AIDS, bird fl u and drugresistant
TB, and discuss the emergence of a global health crisis; we read the news
of bombings in New York City, Bali, Baghdad, Kabul, Madrid, London and Algiers
and nervously contemplate a terrorism crisis. But do we understand that the world
also faces a nuclear crisis? During the Cold War decades we had no doubt that we
faced one: if the term is used now, it applies narrowly to Iran, or North Korea, or to
the hypothetical ‘terrorist bomb’. Yet if we are prepared to listen, there are plenty
of warnings from statesmen and strategists who believe that we are approaching a
new ‘nuclear tipping point’.
‘The world is facing a nuclear crisis’, said former president Jimmy Carter in 2000
before the quinquennial review of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The treaty
must be ‘reconfirmed and subsequently honoured by leaders who are inspired to act
wisely and courageously by an informed public’. He referred especially to the need
to adopt a Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty, to conclude negotiations on a Fissile
Material Cut-Off Treaty, to reduce reliance on nuclear arsenals, adopt a policy of
‘no-fi rst-use’, and refrain from new missile defence systems which could undermine
the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.36
The 2000 NPT Review produced, on paper, an encouraging commitment by the
permanent fi ve nuclear powers to move forward on nuclear disarmament, as part of
the agreed 13-step programme for implementation of Article VI of the treaty. This
tentative commitment had entirely dissipated within the next fi ve years: we may
note the election of George W. Bush and the impact of 9/11. The 2005 Review was
a total failure: the permanent five nuclear powers were unwilling even to reaffirm
the 2000 decision as a basis for further work, and there was no fi nal document from
the conference. This was actually considered a better outcome than to have a communiqué
which simply watered down previous commitments. A few months later,
the UN World Summit made no mention of nuclear proliferation or nuclear disarmament
in its final declaration, also judging that this would be too divisive.
The major nuclear powers did their best to minimise the extent of the failure of
the 2005 Review Conference: thus Christopher Ford, US special representative for
nuclear non-proliferation, argued that the lack of agreement on a final document
was not such a disaster because at least the participants had been able to ‘discuss
some key issues’.37 However, the British minister responsible for disarmament, Kim
Howells, fi nally admitted that it was ‘disappointing’.38 UN Secretary-General
Annan was in no doubt and warned, in his fi nal statement on the subject before
stepping down, that the 2005 failure was a ‘terrible signal’ for the future.
The world [stands] at a crossroads ... One path ... can take us to a world in which
the proliferation of nuclear weapons is restricted and reversed through trust, dialogue
and negotiated agreement. The other leads to a world in which a growing
number of States feel obliged to arm themselves with nuclear weapons, and in
which non-State actors acquire the means to carry out nuclear terror.
The international community seems almost to be sleepwalking down the
Are we still sleepwalking? There is a comforting view around that the world
has, after all, not headed down the road of nuclear proliferation as fast as many
anticipated: President Kennedy’s prediction that there would be between 15 and 25
nuclear powers by the year 1975 is often cited, with the reassuring comment that
so far we are still only at nine.40
Yet we should note that three of these have been
added in the last decade – an increase of 50 per cent. Comfort is also drawn from
the widespread theory of the ‘nuclear taboo’ which is supposed to have kept the
(nuclear) peace throughout the Cold War. Nuclear-power leaders were no doubt
inhibited at some times and to some extent, both by the awful responsibility of
being the fi rst since 1945 to use such weapons and by the pressure of adverse public
opinion. But if the taboo was and is so reliable, why should there be such apprehension
today over further proliferation?41
In addition, if there is a nuclear tipping
point it will by definition only be perceived after it has tipped, and it will then be
too late The situation today, both in specific areas of proliferation and on the global
nuclear scene, does not inspire confidence in the status quo:
North Korea. North Korea is
now a de facto nuclear power, whatever may
be achieved through the shaky, six-power agreement reached in February 2007
through which it will, in theory, halt its nuclear programme. ‘It is still not clear’, The
Economist said editorially,
‘that Mr Kim intends ever to give up his bombs’.42 That
is putting the best face upon the deal. In the reliable judgement of leading Chinese
strategists – who know Pyongyang better than anyone else (and have a worse opinion
of Pyongyang too) – North Korea has been determined for several decades to
become a nuclear power. We have to ‘cop[e] with a nuclear North Korea’, says Zhang
Liangui, professor at the Chinese Communist Party School: the situation now requires
us either to ‘accept the facts and recognise North Korea’s nuclear power status’ or
seek regime change at the risk of war.43
Iran. Iran has become the lightning
conductor for everyday discussion of the
nuclear crisis, as if its putative (though not yet proved) nuclear aspirations dwarfed
every other concern we might have. In April 2007 a senior US defence offi cial, Eric
Edelman, justified his government’s plans to install missile defences in Poland and
the Czech Republic almost entirely as a response to a hypothetical Iranian ballistic
missile threat by the year 2015.44
It is as hard to construct a plausible scenario
Iranian ‘nuclear blackmail’ as it was in the case of China in 1964 when Beijing’s
fi rst nuclear test was widely portrayed as an immediate threat to South-East Asia. Yet
Iran does indeed give cause for deep concern and illustrates some of the intractable
issues raised by nuclear proliferation.
First, it shows how nuclear aspirations can become a matter of national pride –
just as they have in previous cases, from Britain onwards – and therefore how much
more difficult it becomes to reverse a decision once taken to go down the nuclear
route. Let us recall the way in which President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad announced
in April 2007 that his country is now capable of enriching uranium on an industrial
scale. ‘With great honour’, he said, ‘I declare that as of today our dear country has
joined the nuclear club of nations.’45
Second, Iran presents a dilemma which will be posed by more countries as, in
an age of diminishing energy reserves, there is increasing resort to nuclear fuel. The
problem, as so often pointed out, is that the technology of enrichment of uranium for
peaceful purposes can be adapted to make bombs. There are plenty of good ideas on
how to avoid this, by establishing some form of international control and supply of
fissile material. Yet such a system presupposes that the nuclear powers either have
the strength and unity to impose it upon the rest of the world, or that they will agree
to submit their own fissile stocks to international control: neither is remotely likely.
Any alternative proposal, which requires a potential nuclear fuel consumer such as
Iran to be dependent on an external source of supply, while exempting the NWS from
scrutiny or control, is likely to be rejected as discriminatory.46
Third, nuclear renunciation by Iran implies a pre-existing level of international
harmony, and trust in the good intentions of the existing nuclear powers, which is
inconceivable in the Middle East today. Only under such circumstances could there
be the remotely realistic prospect of Tehran following the example of South Africa
in 1991 or Libya in 2001. Yet the annual call by IAEA Director-General Mohamed
ElBaradei for a diplomatic effort to rid the Middle East of all weapons is ignored as
frequently as it is made.47 Misguided or not, Iran may well be tempted to accept a
window of vulnerability until it has acquired the necessary nuclear chips to put on
the table. In so doing it would be following the examples of North Korea, and China
before it, which suggest that it is safer to possess a nuclear weapons capability rather
than a nuclear weapons potential.
There are other disturbing trends on the global nuclear scene which taken together
justify our fears of an impending ‘nuclear crisis’:
1. A greater willingness to contemplate the pre-emptive use of nuclear weapons,
as set out, for example, in the 2005 US ‘Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations’.
This includes the possible resort to nuclear weapons as a ‘demonstration of
US intent and capability to use nuclear weapons to deter adversary WMD use’.48
The Trident White Paper expressed in similar terms the British government’s
argument against a policy of no-first-use: this was best summarised by the Sun
newspaper which reported, under the headline ‘Britain’s nuke terror vow’, that
‘Britain [will] launch a nuclear strike on a rogue state to sink a terror plot.’49
2. A corresponding loss of interest, never very strong anyway, in the concept of
no-first-use. Only China still declares for the record that it will not use nuclear
weapons first, and some Chinese strategists have cast doubt on the strength of
3. Continued modernisation and miniaturisation of nuclear weapons which blurs
the distinction between strategic and tactical use and increases the temptation
to take pre-emptive action.
4. The spread of ballistic missile technologies and the development of missile
5. The maintenance of nuclear weapon systems at a high state of readiness, with
many warheads on ‘hair-trigger alert’.
6. The proliferation of nuclear energy programmes which could produce weapons-usable
material: 40 states have the capability to build a bomb.51
In the light of this pessimistic, but also realistic, survey of the current situation
(shared by many sadder and wiser retired politicians and generals today), what are
the prospects for the future of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty which – as
described by the British government – is the ‘corner-stone of the non-proliferation
and nuclear disarmament regime’? While the treaty itself, having been extended
indefinitely in 1995, cannot actually expire, a failure of the 2010 Review Conference
following that of the 2005 Review could lead to a terminal loss of confidence in the
regime, taking us in turn much nearer to the nuclear tipping point.
At the 2007 Preparatory Committee for the 2010 Review, there was at least
rhetorical agreement between the nuclear and non-nuclear states on the need for
concerted action to prevent the collective collapse of the treaty. To translate this
wish into reality will require, as Kofi Annan warned shortly before leaving offi ce,
‘progress on both fronts – non-proliferation and disarmament – at once’.52 Effectively
this means reaching agreement between those who put non-proliferation
first and those putting disarmament first (that is, between the NWS and the NNWS)
on a balanced package which will include significant items from both agendas.
Such a package could include the following.
1. On the non-proliferation front, agreement to work towards:
(a) universal adherence to the IAEA additional protocol;
(b) restrictions on the behaviour of states who withdraw from the treaty;
(c) nuclear fuel to be supplied solely by an international fuel-service regime;
(d) effective enforcement mechanisms against nuclear proliferators.
2. On the disarmament front, agreement to work towards:
(a) extension of international controls over those nuclear states outside the
(b) ratification of the Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty;
(c) conclusion of a verifiable Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty;
(d) acceptance of the principle of no-first-use.53
Given the lack of past progress on most of these items, and strong opposition
to most of them on one side or the other, success at the 2010 Review remains very
doubtful: if even a minimum agreed consensus cannot be achieved, then the NPT
will be judged to have failed terminally. In this context, the British decision of March
2007 represents a lost chance to alter the prevailing atmosphere for the better by
an act of ‘constructive non-renewal’ (or at least ‘constructive postponement’ of
decision to renew).54
We may conclude reluctantly that established wisdom in favour of the nuclear
status quo will always prevail if the debate is confi ned to the level of defence
strategy and prediction. Guarding against the worst-case scenario will always win the
argument, such as it may be. Governments will be willing to run a much greater risk
of war rather than countenance taking much smaller risks for peace. The objection
may be made that the latter type of risk, however small, would result in devastation
if it turned into reality – yet the same is true for the former, and larger, risk. It is also
instructive to translate the general proposition into specific scenarios: how easily, for
example, can we conceive of a situation where (a) Britain is threatened by a nuclear
terrorist who is identifiable in advance; (b) the terrorist in question is ‘sponsored’
by a ‘rogue nuclear state’; (c) the rogue state in question can also be identifi ed with
certainty in advance; and (d) Britain can effectively deter the threatened action by
either using or threatening to use nuclear weapons against such a state. A variety of
more credible scenarios can be constructed based on the continued spread of nuclear
weapons, the potential escalation of conventional into nuclear confl ict in a number
of international fl ashpoint situations (starting, but not confi ned to, the Middle East),
plus the ever present danger of accidental nuclear war which will grow as the weapons
in existence multiply.55
Faced with an inherent – and in political terms comprehensible – bias in favour
of the nuclear status quo, we therefore need to enlarge the argument to transcend
strategic calculation and to situate defence and nuclear weapons within a much
broader agenda of good governance and human security. And we need to mobilise
public opinion, by peace education and by better use of the media, so that nuclear
proliferation will be as great a concern as global warming.
It is by no means a new concept that a world at peace can only be a world that is
well governed. The emperor, wrote the Chinese historian Sima Qian 2000 years ago,
must ensure that ‘all the common people prosper’. He inspects the four corners of
his realm and insists on complete bureaucratic propriety:
In far-off, remote places, serious and decorous administrators work steadily, just
and loyal ... Tasks are done at the proper season, all things fl ourish and grow; the
common people know peace and have laid aside weapons and armour; kinsmen
care for each other, there are no robbers or thieves.56
This was the idealised view of what the Chinese called the mandate of heaven –
the compact between the supreme ruler and his people which only held good if
he could ensure peace and prosperity. There was an element of ambiguity in this
equation: the passage quoted above refers to the first Qin emperor, often portrayed
as China’s most bloodthirsty ruler. To what extent warfare was ‘disesteemed’ (the term
used by historian John K. Fairbank) in dynastic China is still a matter of debate.57
Yet the prevailing version of ancient history as an interminable sequence of war
and conflict, and the exaltation of martial virtues in historically more recent times, has
obscured the reality that for most societies at most times war was seen as perverse,
and peace as part of the natural order which kings and potentates had a supreme
obligation to deliver to their people. Here too there is ample room for debate, but the
traditional view of an overwhelmingly martial antiquity has been effectively challenged.
58 Without necessarily reading
the Iliad as a pacifist tract, we cannot fail to
grasp that Homer regards war as bringing ‘boundless sorrow’ to humankind. Eight
out of the ten scenes on the Shield of Achilles show a society at peace, not war.59
Today, as globalisation breaks down the confines of the nation-state, a new
obligation is imposed on governments to provide human security and good governance
not just, or even principally, within states, but across the whole world. The
reasons for doing so are based on collective interest as well as morality. Now it is the
international community as a whole, not a single Chinese emperor, who comes to
realise that all the common people must prosper if there is to be peace ‘across the four
seas’. Especially since the end of the Cold War the invisible connections between
inequality, deprivation, exploitation, hunger, migration, environmental degradation,
militarisation, arms expenditure, conflict and war are much more clearly seen. Indeed
in the early 1990s there were great expectations that the proceeds of a muchhoped-
for ‘peace dividend’ would be spent for the benefit of humankind. However,
the peace dividend has been unachieved or squandered, renewed pessimism has set
in, and issues of war and peace have become disconnected again from the effort to
satisfy global human needs.
Already in 1987 an international conference of Soviet and Western scholars had
called for a ‘new way of thinking’ which would take the world ‘beyond war’. ‘The
most important message’, said the organisers, ‘is that changes in human values, modes
of thinking, and visions of the future are needed for us to live more sustainably and
harmoniously – indeed to survive – in an interdependent world.’60
The optimism engendered by the end of the Cold War was manifest in the
first Human Development Report, issued by the United Nations Development Programme
(UNDP) in 1991:
The world community can establish a global compact for human development –
one that puts people at the centre of every issue ... Most of the additional costs
could be met from cuts in military spending. If industrial countries were to reduce
their military spending by 3% a year, this could provide $25 billion a year. And if
developing countries merely freeze their [military] expenditure at current levels,
this would save potential future increases of over $10 billion a year.61
In 1995 the Commission of Global Governance headed by Sir Shridath Ramphal
called for a ‘new global ethic’. It urged that the concept of ‘security’ should ‘accommodate
the full range of insecurities that so grievously affl ict human society as to
compel the attention of all’. The world needed a new system of global governance
that ‘responds to threats to the security of people and threats to the security of the
planet – in short, [threats to] to human security’.62
Yet even as these hopes were being expressed they were already being dashed
by events. Armed conflicts within states were increasing, and insofar as the industrial nations had reduced
arms expenditure, very little of this was applied to social
development. The World Social Summit in 1995 produced only a timid call for ‘the
appropriate reduction of excessive military expenditures ... taking into consideration
national security requirements’.63 Far from this happening, world defence
began to rise again in the late 1990s.
The follow-up to the Social Summit in 2000, and the ten-year review in 2005,
were equally cautious. The eradication of poverty was portrayed as dependent on
debt relief, good governance, land reform, education and health care, but only in
parenthesis on the diversion of the huge funds still being expended on armaments.64
When these sensitive issues were raised there was no consequential action. The UN
Millennium Declaration of 2000 set out the brave aim ‘to strive for the elimination of
weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear weapons, and to keep all options
open for achieving this aim, including the possibility of convening an international
conference to identify ways of eliminating nuclear dangers’.65 This proposal became
the subject of an annual resolution to the UN First Committee, as part of
a text calling for the reduction of nuclear dangers. Its force was at first diminished
by the fact that it was introduced by new nuclear entrant India. A simpler resolution
tabled by Mexico in 2005, although passed without diffi culty, attracted fi ve negative
votes, the US, UK, France, Israel and Poland, plus abstentions from many European
countries. (Poland and Israel joined the abstentions in 2006, leaving the three
major nuclear powers in splendid isolation.) It may safely be predicted that this
conference will never be held.66
There is much to be gained from the much richer picture of the components of
society and conflict which the concepts of good governance and human security
offer, yet they lose much of their meaning if divorced from global issues of peace and
war. We need to question now whether we have not paid a price for this shift away
from the causes of interstate conflict to an emphasis on intra-state security and development.
It leads too easily to the assumption that relationships between nations
are doomed to continue to be dominated by considerations of national security and
national interest in the traditional sense, and reliant in the last resort on the continued
use or threatened use of force.
Veteran campaigners for nuclear disarmament in the 1960s and 70s will probably
remember the literally minded Marxist argument, usually raised by an objector at
the back of the crowd, that ‘we have to get rid of capitalism before we can abolish
the bomb’. Now we face the argument that we have to get rid of poverty, inequality
and oppression first, with global warming more recently added to the list. Yet
who knows which is more likely to occur in the next 50 years – environmental or
nuclear catastrophe; and of course a nuclear catastrophe would also be an environmental
Development and aid packages should not merely patch up the wounds left by
confl ict and war: they should be targeted to prevent those wounds being created. The
example of Iraq should be considered where between 1991 and 2003 the policies
adopted by the international community made a second war more rather than less
likely. Sanctions came first, humanitarian aid a poor second. The result, as noted
by Hans Von Sponeck (former UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq), was that
‘the civilian population [was held] accountable for the acts of armament of their
Government and therefore became a tool for the punishment of innocent people
for something they had not done’, while the relatively limited aid only ensured
the survival of Saddam Hussein and his ruling group.67 It would have been both
more humane and much shrewder to kill Saddam’s regime not by bombs but by
kindness, flooding the country with international aid to reduce the leverage power
of his elites.68
The same strategy should have been adopted in North Korea, instead of the
grudging drip-feed of aid which kept Kim Jong Il’s elite healthy but the rest of his
people barely alive. In 2007 the World Food Program reported that donations to
its current programme of food aid amounted to less than 20 per cent of the US $102
million required.69 Similarly, aid shortfalls have been regularly reported in post-war
Afghanistan: in May 2006 the World Food Program warned that ‘due to a critical
shortage of funds and resources, WFP will soon be forced to abandon plans to
provide around 2.7 million of the poorest and most vulnerable Afghans with vital
food aid to help them through the winter’.70
This failure of the rich and developed nations to provide adequate aid and support
for countries and peoples who are poor and disadvantaged is not confined to these
headline cases As the Human
Development Report for 2003 observed:
The global community, often led by the United Nations, has set many development
goals since the first Development Decade of the 1960s – and has a history
of many failures. For example, in the Alma Ata Declaration of 1977 the world
committed to health care for all people by the end of the century. Yet in 2000
millions of poor people died of pandemic and other diseases, many readily preventable
and treatable. Similarly, at the 1990 Summit on Children the world committed
to universal primary education by 2000. But that target was also missed.
And the failures should serve as reminders of past neglect to follow through on
solemn global pledges.71
It is acknowledged that there have been some dramatic improvements in the past
four decades (particularly in East Asia), and in many areas key indicators such as
child mortality and life expectancy have significantly improved.72 There is more emphasis
now on human development which may ensure that some mistakes are not
repeated. Yet overall the developed world has failed, and continues to fail, to come
up to the mark. The UN’s review of the Millennium Development Goals in 2006,
nearly halfway through the period in which they were to be achieved, found that
the absolute number of people across the world suffering from chronic hunger
continued to increase, and that the target of halving the number without access to
basic sanitation and clean drinking water by 2015 was unlikely to be achieved.73
Nearly 50 years after the first ‘Development Decade’ was proclaimed, we need
to ask whether the persistence of global poverty and inequality does not reflect a
systemic failure in the developed world’s economic and political structures rather
than merely an unfortunate inability to find appropriate ways of tackling the problem.
While this failure may be partly explained by inequalities in the world trading
system, by the commitment to high consumption in the rich countries, and by the
deterioration of the environment, the priority assigned to military expenditure, including
the maintenance of extremely expensive advanced weapons systems, also
plays a significant part. ‘Just the increase [by the rich countries] in defence spending
since 2000’, the UNDP pointed out in its 2005 Human Development Report, ‘would
be suffi cient to reach the ... UN target of spending 0.7% [of gross national income]
on aid. Spending on HIV/Aids represents three days of military spending.’74
The countries receiving aid also have a responsibility to reduce their arms purchases,
as do their suppliers – often from the same countries which provide the aid.
In sub-Saharan Africa, military expenditure rose by 47 per cent during the late 1990s,
while life expectancy fell to 46 years.75 Multilateral organisations such as the
Bank and the IMF should be less hesitant about linking the provision of aid to the
reduction of military budgets: although the ‘security sector’ as it is now called has
received more attention since the 1990s, they are still reluctant to do so, claiming that
this would amount to involvement in internal politics.76 This is a bizarre argument
when conditionality is applied in so many other sensitive areas. If donors insist that
water should be privatised, or that bureaucracies should be less corrupt, why not ask
for military spending to be cut?
Disarmament and development, military security and human security, are interrelated
problems which need to be tackled together (the report of a UN group of
government experts on this subject in 2004 had disappointingly little impact).77
Above all, we have to recognise the shared obligation of all nations, but particularly
those with dominant military and economic power, to address more convincingly
worldwide inequality, injustice, and militarisation – the root causes of
insecurity, confl ict and terrorism. The majority of rich and developed nations would
return much lower scores for ‘good governance’ if their collective failure to meet
their global obligations were taken into account.78
Mobilising for peace
A century ago, the great Austrian peace activist Bertha von Suttner began her Nobel
Peace Prize acceptance speech with these words:
The stars of eternal truth and right have always shone in the firmament of human
understanding. The process of bringing them down to earth, remoulding them
into practical forms, imbuing them with vitality, and then making use of them,
has been a long one.79
That long process continues, and in many respects the task of bringing down to
earth the star of peace, one of the brightest in the firmament, and lodging it in our
here-and-now existence, is even harder than it was in the first decade of the twentieth
century. Bertha von Suttner’s central and driving argument was that if we want
peace we should prepare for peace. Instead we have experienced a century of preparation
for war, and of actual wars (both hot and cold) on a global scale which
have paved the way for more (and worse) conflict. Peace has been a contested issue
throughout the twentieth century, and at each reversal it has lost ground.
Yet recent research helps us to understand more clearly the extent to which the
peace campaign of the 1950s and 60s generated pressure upon ruling elites which
contributed towards the Partial Test-Ban Treaty and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation
Treaty. This was not the only factor in the moves towards partial détente. Dangerous
episodes such as the Cuban crisis (the full danger of which was concealed from the
general public) generated a more sober appreciation, and the prospect of nuclear
proliferation – in particular the impending Chinese bomb – also drove diplomacy.
Yet the pressure of public opinion was much greater than acknowledged at the
time. As President Eisenhower said privately in 1958, thermo-nuclear weapons
are tremendously powerful but not ‘as powerful as is world opinion today’.80
What was it that gave the ban-the-bomb movement enough traction to tug
the military–industrial juggernaut off course? The nuclear arms race and fears of
nuclear war over Korea or the Taiwan Straits contributed to public unease but none
provided a mobilising trigger as powerful as the fate of the Japanese fishing vessel
the Lucky Dragon and the death of its engineer Aikichi Kibiyama after the boat
strayed into the Bikini Atoll testing area. The effect of nuclear test fallout on our
‘children yet unborn’ was too powerful an image to be dissolved by any amount of
propaganda that fallout was good for you, or at least not bad for you (as in the title
of a 1955 US civil defence pamphlet: ‘Radioactivity is nothing new ... the whole
world is radioactive’).81
In the 1980s the flagging disarmament movement was
revived by the spread of tactical nuclear weapons in Europe which had their own
visible symbolism in the bases, the silos, the domes and the convoys, though
nothing again would quite have the impact of ‘strontium 90 in our milk’.
Can we imagine a mobilising trigger in the future which would revitalise public
opinion on behalf of nuclear disarmament? Let us hope it does not require the
operation of an actual nuclear trigger, either by accident or design. It is not hard to
construct a scenario based, for example, on the results of a pre-emptive strike against
Iran’s nuclear programme. There is also the continuing risk of a nuclear launch as a
result of accident or misinterpretation of data, and the unpredictable consequences
of an incident, real or anticipated, of nuclear terrorism. Short of such disasters which
no one wants to happen, we have to fi nd other ways of educating and mobilising
public opinion as effectively against nuclear catastrophe as has been achieved in
recent times against environmental catastrophe.
Why are we reluctant to treat the two on the same footing? The most obvious factor
is that there is no visible by-product of nuclear proliferation – no tsunamis, droughts
or melting icebergs for which it may be blamed. Deeper down there is a perception
that the nuclear threat is to an extent dated: a preoccupation, one might even say,
of those older peaceniks who marched with SANE or CND.
The media treatment of the news that the minute hand of the Bulletin of Atomic
Clock has been moved forward from seven to fi ve minutes to
midnight is instructive. This was reported, in the words of the BBC, as the result of
‘climate change being added to the prospect of nuclear annihilation as the greatest
threats to humankind’.82
Yet the opening paragraph of the Doomsday Clock
from the Bulletin stated that:
North Korea’s recent test of a nuclear weapon, Iran’s nuclear ambitions, a renewed
U.S. emphasis on the military utility of nuclear weapons, the failure to adequately
secure nuclear materials, and the continued presence of some 26,000 nuclear
weapons in the United States and Russia are symptomatic of a larger failure to
solve the problems posed by the most destructive technology on earth.
While the Bulletin described global warming as ‘a dire threat to human civilisation
that is second only to nuclear weapons’, it continued to emphasise that ‘by far the
greatest potential for calamity lies in the readiness of forces in the United States and
Russia to fi ght an all-out nuclear war’.83
How then can we reinstate peace and disarmament as dominant issues in public
and media concern? If this were simple to achieve, it would have been done long ago.
As Thomas Hardy said, ‘war makes rattling good history: but peace is poor reading’,
or, to quote Kenneth Boulding, one of our leading peace theorists, ‘The greatest
enemy of peace is the perception that it is dull.’84 Serious work in the field
studies (and there is plenty of it) gets less attention than the voluminous writings of
war studies, and it is often harder to find in the bookshops.85 Peace, I regret to say
from my experience as a national newspaper’s chief foreign leader-writer for ten
years, does not grab many headlines. There was never a problem in writing editorial
comment on the wars and conflicts of the 1990s, yet even with a sympathetic editor
and colleagues, it was much harder to find a place for UN reform, non-proliferation,
human development, etc. Fortunately on most Sundays and all public holidays there
was less competition for space, and leaders on these worthy subjects were welcome
then – although I sometimes wondered how many readers would want to read about
global governance on a British Bank Holiday.
Putting peace back on the popular agenda, in a neo-Cold War climate where
terrorism and conflict have become the default mode of discourse, will require a
more explicit and coordinated effort bringing together the academic world of peace
research and conflict resolution, the NGO world of governance and human security,
the relatively weak pro-UN/internationalism lobby, and the more radical sections
of the media. Such an objective may be taken for granted at the David Davies
Memorial Institute, where ‘engaging in public education activities’ is the top priority
item of its mission statement, and at an increasing number of other institutions, but
much more still needs to be done. In conclusion, here are some areas for discussion
and action which I believe could help to raise the profile of peace:
1. We need to restore the imbalance between war and peace studies, intensify
peace research, and promote peace education particularly in school curricula.
Important research being done into the sources of human conflict has to be
translated into more accessible forms. Is peace simply the absence of war, or is
it as Spinoza said ‘a virtue, a state of mind’?86 The question has been
by John Burton: are conflicts due to inherent human aggressiveness, or rather to
‘the emergence of inappropriate social institutions and norms that reasonably
would seem to be well within human capacities to alter’?87 Such an enquiry
involves challenging popular stereotypes such as the view of nature as ‘red in
tooth and claw’ and the assumption that human societies are more often at war
than at peace. It means delving far back through history to examine the evolution
of peace and violence, and the study of peaceful cultures to learn what makes
them peaceful as well as why they have failed to endure.
2. We need to recapture the history of the Cold War from the revisionist approach
which claims that the West shared no blame for its crises, and downplays the
degree of risk involved: the nuclear threats, alarms, accidents and near catastrophes
of that period should be part of our historical consciousness rather
than air-brushed out of the record. It is easy to dismiss the nuclear threats issued
during the Cold War as mere bluff, yet if that were so what purpose would have
been served in making them? Robert McNamara has recalled that ‘we came within
a hair’s breath of war with the Soviet Union on three different occasions’,88 and
yet in fi lm and literature and print, the dramas of the Cold War remain far less
vivid than those of the Second World War. McNamara’s comment should put a
qualifying gloss on the theory of the ‘nuclear taboo’ which has gained ground in
post-Cold War academic studies: even the strongest taboo may be broken, and
once would have been enough.
3. We need to take seriously the warnings of those who may be regarded as ‘nuclear
Cassandras’: senior former political and military leaders who have seen the system
working – or failing to work – from the inside, but whose fears for the future
are disregarded. In the words of General Lee Butler, once head of US Strategic
Air Command, the leaders of the nuclear weapons states today ‘risk very much
being judged by future historians as having been unworthy of their age ... of
reigniting nuclear arms races around the world, of condemning mankind to
live under a cloud of perpetual anxiety’.89
Those who have seen the light include some surprising figures. In March
2007 a bipartisan study group at the Global Security Institute in Washington
warned: ‘Current efforts by the administration to stem proliferation fail precisely
because they do not uphold the principal bargain of the non-proliferation treaty –
a clear commitment to nuclear disarmament in exchange for non-proliferation’.
The GSI group endorsed a recent op-ed article calling for new efforts to
achieve the goal of ‘a world free of nuclear weapons’: it is a sign of the times
that the article had been published in the Wall Street Journal and co-signed by
4. We need to educate the public in the relative order of magnitude expressed in
our budgets for war preparation and budgets for peaceful development, using
statistics in support of peace and disarmament in the same way they are now
deployed on behalf of the environment. A sixth of the world’s population subsists
on the equivalent of less than one US dollar a day: including them, more than
half lives on less that two dollars a day. Three million children are living with
HIV/AIDS and four million more have died of it since the epidemic began. In a
world where global military spending reached one trillion US dollars in 2003,
10 per cent more in real terms than at the peak of the Cold War, the problem
needs to be stated in starker terms. When we support the call for the doubling of
development aid to meet the Millennium Goals, we should also be demanding a
halving in military expenditure – it is very doubtful whether one can be achieved
without the other.
5. We need to rescue the internationalist values of the United Nations from the cynicism
and despair into which they have been cast by the way that its authority
has been flouted or undermined or proved deficient. Let us recall a now forgotten
document, Secretary-General Boutros-Ghali’s Agenda for Peace, written
on the instructions of a special summit of the Security Council in 1991. It urged
that the new opportunity offered by the end of the Cold War to achieve the ‘great
objectives’ of the UN Charter ‘must not be squandered. The Organization must
never again be crippled as it was in the era that has now passed.’91 Yet ten
later, the follow-up Brahimi Report commissioned by Kofi Annan admitted
that the UN had ‘repeatedly failed to meet the challenge’ of protecting people
from war, and that it could ‘do no better today’.92 This is not a judgement
UN, whatever its organisational shortcomings, but on the member states which
have failed to bolster its authority or who have fl outed it. We should not abandon
core issues such as reform of the Security Council or the establishment
of a permanent peacekeeping force merely because they have so far appeared
If these five recommendations sound a shade starry-eyed, what better place to
make them than in a memorial lecture for David Davies, who argued between the
wars so passionately in favour of the League of Nations and for the establishment
of an international police force. Lord Davies said that he was writing not for the ‘wise
and prudent’ but for the ordinary person, and he believed strongly that public opinion
must be enlisted in the struggle for peace.93 We can still learn from him not always
to be too wise and prudent in our deliberations, and to address our arguments to
the public as much as to the specialist audience.
Davies’s metaphor for the collapse of civilisation which, writing at the end of the
1920s, he feared would result from the recurrence of world war, is both prescient
How thin and meagre is the partition which divides sheer barbarism from modern
civilisation! The one is as far removed from the other as the basement of a
New York skyscraper is from its roof-garden, but it only requires a bomb of suffi
cient magnitude to shatter the entire edifice.
A new world war, waged with the weapons which ‘applied’ science has now
placed at the disposal of man, may easily produce the wholesale annihilation of
man within the space of a few months ... Internationally we walk along the edge
of a precipice.94
We are still walking on the edge of that precipice, and are threatened by vastly
more powerful weapons that could destroy humanity not within months but within
days – or even hours.
* I am grateful to four anonymous International Relations readers for their
helpful comments, and to the
David Davies Memorial Institute for giving me the opportunity to explore this theme.
1 Strictly speaking, what is to be ‘renewed’ or replaced is not the Trident missile system but
Vanguard-class submarines carrying the system which will start being withdrawn from service in
the early 2020s. However, the commonly used phrase ‘Trident renewal’ is not entirely inaccurate.
The US Trident missiles on which Britain depends are likely to be phased out by 2042, while it
is said that the new submarines whose construction is planned will remain operational till 2055.
The consequent need for a successor to Trident was the subject of an exchange of letters between
Tony Blair and George Bush in December 2006: see further note 8.
2 Tony Blair, interview on BBC Newsnight, 20 April 2005.
3 John Reid, Defence Secretary, in foreign affairs and defence debate, Hansard,
18 May 2005,
4 House of Commons Defence Committee, The Future of the UK’s Strategic Nuclear Deterrent: The
Strategic Context (Norwich:
The Stationery Offi ce, June 2006).
5 Downing Street briefi ng, 22 June 2006; Gordon Brown, Mansion House speech, 21 June 2006.
6 The Future of the United
Kingdom’s Nuclear Deterrent: Defence White Paper 2006 (Norwich: The
Stationery Offi ce, December 2006). The limited role of the cabinet was revealed – reluctantly –
the Prime Minister’s spokesman at the morning press briefi ng on 4 December.
7 Ann Black, constituency member of National Executive Committee, website report on February
2007 National Policy Forum, available at: www.annblack.com/npf_Feb2007.htm (accessed 1
8 Exchange of letters between the Prime Minister and the President, 7 December 2006, published on
the 10 Downing Street website on 19 December when – a few days before Christmas – they attracted
little media attention.
9 The government won the main vote by 409 to 161: 95 Labour backbenchers had voted for an amendment
to delay the decision. If the Conservatives had voted for, instead of against, this amendment,
the government would have been defeated.
10 Populus poll for The Times, results published 13 December 2006.
11 Mori poll conducted for Greenpeace, question 2, results published 24 October 2005.
12 Mori poll as above, question 1.
13 ICM for Scottish CND, conducted on 26–29 January 2007.
14 The White Paper addressed the charge of hypocrisy as follows: ‘The NPT recognised the UK, the
US, France, Russia and China as nuclear weapon States and established other signatories as nonnuclear
weapon States.’ In fact the treaty contained no such list, but defi ned the NWS as a state
‘which has manufactured and exploded a nuclear weapon or other nuclear explosive device prior
to January 1, 1967’. This avoided any mention of China – the treaty was signed by Taiwan (Republic
of China) and the People’s Republic did not accede until 1992.
15 Tony Blair, speech of 12 January 2007, Plymouth.
16 Gordon Brown, BBC interview, 19 January 2007.
17 Quoted in Lawrence S. Wittner, Resisting the Bomb, 1954–1970 (Stanford,
CA: Stanford University
Press, 1997), p. 163.
18 Vladimir Putin, press conference after G8 summit, RIA Novosti, 11 June 2004.
408 INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS 21(4)
19 Mao Zedong, talk to Algerian delegation, 17 May 1960.
20 Jacques Chirac, speech at L’Ile Longue, 19 January 2006.
21 National Security Council, The
National Security Strategy of the United States of America, issued
by the White House, 1 June 2002.
22 Tony Blair, parliamentary statement on Trident, Hansard, 4 December
2006, column 21.
23 Tony Blair, Hansard, 14 March 2007, column 277.
24 Defence White Paper 2006,
Fact Sheet 1.
25 Margaret Beckett, Hansard,
14 March 2007, column 310.
26 Liam Fox, Hansard, column 395.
27 Tony Blair, Hansard, column 279.
28 Margaret Beckett, Hansard,
29 Statement by UK Ambassador John Duncan to First Preparatory Committee for Eighth NPT Review
Conference, Vienna, 30 April 2007; Margaret Beckett, ‘A World Free of Nuclear Weapons?’, address
to the Carnegie International Non-Proliferation Conference, Washington DC, 25 June 2007.
30 ‘Statement by the Russian Representative on Item “Nuclear Weapons”’,10 October
31 Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Fact Sheet on Nuclear Disarmament, issued
27 April 2004.
32 ‘Statement by the Head of the French Delegation’, NPT Review Preparatory Committee, Vienna,
8 May 2007.
33 Ambassador Christina Rocca, Statement to the Conference on Disarmament, ‘Creating the Environment
Necessary for Nuclear Disarmament’, Geneva, 6 February 2007.
34 ‘Verifi cation of Nuclear Disarmament: Final Report of Study into the Verifi cation of Nuclear
Warheads and their Components’, UK working paper submitted to the NPT, New York,
18 April 2005.
35 See Kurt M. Campbell, Robert Einhorn and Mitchell Reiss (eds), The Nuclear Tipping Point: Why
States Reconsider their Nuclear Choices (Washington DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2004).
36 Jimmy Carter, ‘A Nuclear Crisis’, Washington Post, 23 February 2000.
37 Christopher A. Ford, ‘The NPT Review Process and the Future of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation
Regime’, remarks at the NPT Japan seminar, Vienna, 6 February 2007.
38 Kim Howells, Statement to the Conference on Disarmament, 22 February 2007.
39 ‘Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s Address to the Conference on Disarmament’, Geneva,
21 June 2006.
40 President Kennedy, press conference, 21 March 1963, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United
States: John F Kennedy, 1963 (Washington
DC: US Government Printing Offi ce, 1964), p. 280.
See further, Peter R. Lavoy, ‘Predicting Nuclear Proliferation: A Declassifi ed Documentary Record’,
Strategic Insights, 3(1), January
41 See further Nina Tannenwald, ‘Stigmatizing the Bomb: Origins of the Nuclear Taboo’, International
Security, 3(4), Spring 2005,
pp. 5–49. Kurt Campbell has suggested that there may also be
an ‘enduring taboo against discussing latent nuclear ambitions in polite company’ which inhibits
recognition of the new dangers of nuclear proliferation, ‘Nuclear Proliferation beyond Rogues’,
Washington Quarterly, 26(1), 2003, p. 8.
42 ‘How to Get a Handle on the Axis’, The Economist, 12 April 2007.
43 Zhang Liangui, ‘Coping with a Nuclear North Korea’, in China Security (Washington DC:
World Security Institute, Autumn 2006), p. 8. Another specialist, Shen Dingli (Institute of International
Studies, Fudan University), suggests that if North Korea can acquire as few as 10–20 nuclear
warheads, this will force the US to accept it as a de facto nuclear nation, ‘North Korea’s Strategic
Signifi cance’, China
Security, Autumn 2006, p. 29.
44 ‘Special Department of Defense news briefi ng with Secretary Edelman’, Defenselink (Washington
DC: Pentagon), 3 April 2007.
45 ‘Iran defi es UN to Join Nuclear Club’, The Independent, 10
46 E.g. the proposal for an IAEA-administered fuel bank, with nuclear materials provided by, for
example, the US and Russia, for supply to countries such as Iran. For this and other proposals see
further ‘Spotlight on the New Nuclear Framework’, IAEA Bulletin, 48(1).
47 ElBaradei repeated his call for a Middle East nuclear-free zone, including Iran and Israel, when he
met King Abdullah II of Jordan on 15 April 2007. See further Rene Wadlow, ‘Middle East Nuclear-
Weapon Free Zone: A Serious Start?’, Newropeans Magazine, 16 May 2007.
48 Cited in Hans M. Kristensen, ‘The Role of U.S. Nuclear Weapons: New Doctrine Falls Short of
Bush Pledge’, Arms Control
Today, September 2005.
AFTER TRIDENT: PROLIFERATION OR PEACE?
49 The Sun, 7 February 2007.
50 Shen Dingli (see note 43) has suggested that ‘if China’s conventional forces are devastated,
Taiwan takes the opportunity to declare de jure independence, it is inconceivable
that China would
allow its nuclear weapons to be destroyed by a precision attack with conventional weapons, rather
than use them as a true means of deterrence’, China Security, autumn
2005, p. 13.
51 In 1996 the Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty named 44 NWS and other nuclear-capable states
whose ratifi cation is required for the treaty to enter into force.
52 Kofi Annan, lecture at Princeton University (New York: UN Department of Public Information,
28 November 2006).
53 For further discussion of the future of the NPT, see Yale Law School, ‘Change the Non-proliferation
Regime?’ Open Argument
2(1), October 2006.
54 On the concept of ‘constructive non-renewal’, see further Ken Booth, ‘The Certainty
paper presented to a Greenpeace/WMD Awareness Programme seminar on ‘Trident Replacement:
The Tipping Point?’, 12 December 2006.
55 Predictions of nuclear war by accident or design are unfashionable these days. We should recall
that during the Cold War period government leaders regularly reassured the public that the chances
of such a war were minimal while betraying much greater concern in private.
56 Sima Chien, Records of
the Historian, trans. Yang Hsien-yi and Gladys
Yang (Hong Kong:
Commercial Press, 1974), p. 171. The quotation comes from an inscription erected by the fi rst
Qin emperor himself.
57 ‘Warfare was disesteemed in this imperial orthodoxy of the Han bureaucrats, and the disesteem was
given an ethical basis that has colored Chinese thinking ever since.’ John K. Fairbank, ‘Introduction:
Varieties of the Chinese Military Experience’, in Frank A. Kierman and John K. Fairbank (eds),
Chinese Ways in Warfare (Cambridge,
MA: Harvard University Press, 1974), p. 6. For a strong
critique of the ‘myth of Chinese pacifi sm’ implied by this approach, see Ralph Sawyer, ‘Chinese
Warfare: The Paradox of the Unlearned Lesson’, American Diplomacy,
58 See Nathan Spiegel, War
and Peace in Classical Greek Literature (Jerusalem:
Publications, 1990); Gerard Zampaglione, The Idea of Peace in Antiquity (Notre
University of Notre Dame Press, 1973); Hans van Wees, Greek Warfare Myths and Realities
(London: Duckworth, 2004), part 1, ‘War and Peace’.
59 W. H. Auden’s suggestive poem contrasts Homer’s placid scenes with apocalyptic images of twentiethcentury
confl ict and oppression, The
Shield of Achilles (New York: Random House,1955).
60 Anatoly Gromyko and others, Breakthrough:
Emerging New Thinking (New York: Walker Publishing
Company, 1988), p. 6.
61 UNDP, Human Development
Report 1991: Financing Human Development (New
University Press, 1991), p. 10.
62 Sir Shridath Ramphal (co-chairman, Commission on Global Governance), ‘Peace in our Global
and Confl ict Studies, 3(1), June 1996, available
pcs/ramphal.htm, p. 1 (accessed 1 May 2007).
63 World Summit for Social Development, ‘Copenhagen Declaration on Social Development’,
March 1995, Part C, Commitments, 9g.
64 Reduction of military expenditure was clause 139 out of 156 in the commitments agreed by the
special Social Summit follow-up session of the General Assembly, ‘Resolution on Further Initiatives
for Social Development’, 1 July 2000. Military expenditure was not mentioned in the report
of the Commission on Social Development which met on 10–11 February 2005 to review ten years
of progress since the Social Summit.
65 UN General Assembly resolution, ‘United Nations Millennium Declaration’, 8 September 2000,
66 The resolution calling for ‘a conference to identify ways of eliminating nuclear dangers in the
context of nuclear disarmament’ was passed by the General Assembly on 8 December 2005 by a
vote of 128 in favour to 5 against (France, Israel, Poland, United Kingdom, United States), with 40
abstentions. The corresponding vote on 6 December 2006 was 128 to 3, with 44 abstentions.
67 H. C. von Sponeck, A Different
Kind of War: The UN Sanctions Regime in Iraq (Oxford:
Books, 2006), p. 273.
68 Among those arguing that sanctions did not work was The Times columnist
Simon Jenkins who
suggested that the West should ‘lift economic sanctions, fl ood the country with money, bankers,
journalists and consultants and see what happens next’, ‘Stone Age Strategy’, The Times, 18
410 INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS 21(4)
69 ‘WFP concerned about Food Shortfall in DPRK’, ReliefWeb (www.relief
web.int), 28 March 2007.
The World Food Program led the international community in supplying food aid to North Korea from
1994 onwards, but regularly reported shortfalls in donor supplies. Foreign aid has declined by 50 per
cent since 2002: Bruce Klingner, ‘South Korea’s Growing Isolation’, Asia Times, 5 August 2006.
70 WFP press release, ‘Millions of Afghans Face Bleak Winter without Food Aid’, Kabul,
24 May 2006.
71 UNDP, Human Development
Report 2003: Millennium Development Goals: A Compact among
Nations to End Human Poverty (New
York: Oxford University Press, 2003), pp. 29–30.
72 Human Development Report
2003, pp. 2–3, 30.
73 United Nations, The Millennium
Development Goals Report 2006 (New York: UN,
pp. 5, 18.
74 Larry Elliott, ‘UN Spells out the Stark Choice: Do More for World’s Poor or Face Disaster’,
The Guardian, 8 September 2005.
75 Oxfam press release, ‘Governments Are Sacrificing Development Goals for Arms Exports’,
22 June 2004.
76 Nicole Ball, ‘Transforming Security Sectors: The IMF and World Bank Approaches’, Confl ict,
Security, and Development,
I(1), 2001, p. 45.
77 UN General Assembly, ‘The Relationship between Disarmament and Development in the Current
International Context’, 23 June 2004. See also Richard Jolly, ‘Disarmament and Development –
Overview’, UN Department for Disarmament Affairs, Occasional Paper No. 9, November
78 For the conventional measurement of governance, see Daniel Kaufmann et al.,
Matters V: Governance Indicators for 1996–2005’, World Bank Policy Research Working Paper,
79 Bertha von Suttner, ‘The Evolution of the Peace Movement’, Nobel lecture, 18 April 1906.
80 Lawrence S. Wittner, Resisting
the Bomb: The Struggle against the Bomb, 1954–1970
(Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1997), p. 160.
81 US Civil Defense Administration, Facts About Fallout (Washington DC: Government
Offi ce, 1955).
82 ‘Climate Resets “Doomsday Clock”’, BBC News, 17 January 2007.
83 ‘5 Minutes to Midnight’, Bulletin of Atomic Scientists’
Board Statement, 17 January 2007.
84 Thomas Hardy as quoted in Thomas Gregor (ed.), A Natural History of Peace (Nashville,
Vanderbilt University Press, 1996), p. xi; ‘Boulding to Conclude Peace Lecture Series’, The Record
(University of Texas), no. 38, 1 March 1977.
85 Recent works include David P. Barash, Approaches to Peace: A Reader in Peace Studies (New
York: Oxford University Press, 2000); Herbert Blumberg et al., Peace Psychology: A Comprehensive
Introduction (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 2007); Douglas P. Fry, The
Potential for Peace (New York:
Oxford University Press, 2006); Johan Galtung, Peace
Means (Oslo: International
Peace Research Institute, 1996); Gregor, A
Natural History of Peace;
Oliver Richmond, The Transformation
of Peace (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2005); Jonathan
The Unconquerable World (London:
Allen Lane, 2004); Lawrence S. Wittner, Towards
Abolition: The Struggle against the Bomb III (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2003).
86 Spinoza, Tractatus Theologico-Politico, quoted in Donald Tuzin, ‘What is Peace?’, in Gregor,
Natural History, p. 4.
87 John Burton, ‘Conflict Resolution: The Human Dimension’, International Journal of Peace
Studies, 3(1), January 1998.
88 Interview in The Fog of
War, directed by Errol Morris (Sony Classics,
89 General Lee Butler, address to Canadian Network Against Nuclear Weapons, 11 March 1998,
available at: www.tridentploughsharesorg/article763 (accessed 1 May 2007).
90 Bipartisan Security Group, letter of 17 January 2007, Global Security Institute Newsletter, no. 1,
2007; George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger and Sam Nunn, ‘A World Free of Nuclear
Weapons’, Wall Street
Journal, 4 January 2007.
91 An Agenda for Peace, report of Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, introduction, para.
adopted by Security Council, 31 January 1992.
92 ‘Report of the Panel on United Nations Peace Operations’, part 1, presented to UN General
Assembly, 21 August 2000.
93 David Davies, The Problem
of the Twentieth Century (London: Ernest Benn,
1930), pp. viii, 533.
94 Davies, The Problem, pp.1–2.