John Gittings

After Trident
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International Relations, 21:4,  December 2007, pp. 387-410.

After Trident:

Proliferation or Peace?*

John Gittings

Introduction

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.

aber.ac.uk/~inpwww/research/DDMI/DavidDavies.htm.

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

International Studies

Abstract

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 has been

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’,

is instructive.1

 

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

‘the long-term’.5

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

the debate:

 

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

nuclear weapons’.32

 

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 an

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 Kofi

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

latter path.39

 

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 for

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

this commitment.50

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

defence systems.

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

NPT;

(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 the

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.

 

Good governance

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 spending

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

one!

 

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 World

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

Scientists’’ Doomsday 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 announcement

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 of peace

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 well put

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

Henry Kissinger.90

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 years

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 on the

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

intractable.

 

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

and disturbing:

 

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.

 

Notes

* 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 the

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,

column 196.

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 – by

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

May 2007).

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, column 309.

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 2006.

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 2004.

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 April 2007.

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? 409

49 The Sun, 7 February 2007.

50 Shen Dingli (see note 43) has suggested that ‘if China’s conventional forces are devastated, and if

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 of Uncertainty’,

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, 6(1), 2001.

58 See Nathan Spiegel, War and Peace in Classical Greek Literature (Jerusalem: Mount Scopus

Publications, 1990); Gerard Zampaglione, The Idea of Peace in Antiquity (Notre Dame, IN:

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 York: Oxford

University Press, 1991), p. 10.

62 Sir Shridath Ramphal (co-chairman, Commission on Global Governance), ‘Peace in our Global

Neighbourhood’, Peace and Confl ict Studies, 3(1), June 1996, available at: www.gmu.edu/academic/

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,

chapter 9.

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: Berghahn

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

December 1998.

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, 2006),

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 – An

Overview’, UN Department for Disarmament Affairs, Occasional Paper No. 9, November 2004.

78 For the conventional measurement of governance, see Daniel Kaufmann et al., ‘Governance

Matters V: Governance Indicators for 1996–2005’, World Bank Policy Research Working Paper,

September 2006.

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 Printing

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, TN:

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 Human

Potential for Peace (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006); Johan Galtung, Peace by Peaceful

Means (Oslo: International Peace Research Institute, 1996); Gregor, A Natural History of Peace;

Oliver Richmond, The Transformation of Peace (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2005); Jonathan Schell,

The Unconquerable World (London: Allen Lane, 2004); Lawrence S. Wittner, Towards Nuclear

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, 2004).

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. 3,

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.