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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 44, March 2000

Michael Douglas Appeals for British Leadership on Nuclear Disarmament
By Nicola Butler and Lorna Richardson

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Global Security and Non-Proliferation, whose launch in January was reported in Disarmament Diplomacy 43, hosted a meeting on March 20, at which the renowned actor and producer Michael Douglas appealed for "statesmanship on the nuclear issue" and help from British Parliamentarians to prevent the unravelling of three key treaties: the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. Mr Douglas, speaking in his capacity as a UN Messenger for Peace, addressed a packed audience of MPs, Peers and journalists in the Grand Committee Room of the Houses of Parliament.

This unusual meeting was chaired by Malcolm Savidge MP, Convener of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Global Security and Non-Proliferation. It was organised by the Acronym Institute, which facilitates the All-Party Group, following an invitation from Scilla Elworthy (of the Oxford Research Group), who met Mr Douglas during a disarmament meeting in Atlanta, USA. In addition to Michael Douglas and Dr Elworthy, the meeting was addressed by Foreign Office Minister Peter Hain MP, and the frontbench spokespeople from the Conservative and Liberal-Democrat Parties, Cheryl Gillan MP and the Right Honourable Menzies Campbell Q.C. MP.

Michael Douglas and Dr Elworthy both made strong pleas for Tony Blair to show his commitment to non-proliferation by personally attending the upcoming NPT Conference in New York. They also called on him to take the lead in initiating multilateral negotiations on nuclear disarmament. Peter Hain, the Minister currently designated to lead the British delegation to the NPT, outlined the Government position, describing the perceived proliferation threats and underlining the steps already undertaken, such as increasing transparency, reducing nuclear warheads and placing Trident on a "reduced state of readiness". He said that Britain was in a "particularly good position" to support the arms control and non-proliferation treaties and said, "we have made no secret of our extreme disappointment that the US Senate voted against ratification" of the CTBT.

Ms Gillan harked back to the Conservative Party's record on defence issues during the 1980s and early 1990s, claiming that nuclear weapons had kept the peace, and offered support to the United States in any defence-related or nuclear plans they might have. Mr Campbell, who is also a vice-convener of the All-Party Group, endorsed the call for the Prime Minister to show the seriousness of Britain's commitment to multilateral non-proliferation and disarmament by attending the opening of the NPT Conference in person, noting that "other heads of state would be bound to follow suit". Having accepted the utility of nuclear deterrence during the Cold War years, he said, it was clear that multilateral negotiations were now needed to prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons completely. In a follow-up editorial in The Guardian, Mr Campbell argued "What better way for Mr Blair to endorse a truly ethical foreign policy than taking on the challenge of nuclear disarmament"?

Mr Douglas' passionate appeal for British leadership followed the US Senate's rejection of CTBT ratification and ambitious American plans for Star Wars-type ballistic missile defences that would weaken and could destroy the ABM Treaty. During the meeting, questions were raised about Britain's attitude towards US missile defence plans, which revealed divisions between the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign Office. A Conservative questioner quoted the Defence Secretary, Geoffrey Hoon, as telling Channel 4 News that Britain would be "sympathetic" to US requests to upgrade and use the radar base at RAF Fylingdales in Yorkshire, which is earmarked in US plans as an essential component of the proposed National Missile Defence (NMD) system. By contrast, Peter Hain told the meeting that he was concerned about a "potential conflict of interests" between US plans and the ABM regime, a pillar of strategic security. Later he told the BBC Newsnight television programme that he did not like the idea of "a Star Wars programme, limited or unlimited".

On the following day, Michael Douglas, Malcolm Savidge MP and Dr Elworthy met with the Foreign Secretary, the Rt. Hon. Robin Cook, and held a further one-to-one meeting with Peter Hain. He also spoke to a small gathering of NGOs organised by BASIC and the Oxford Research Group. Apart from the odd snide editorial in The Times and the London Evening Standard, the media coverage of Michael Douglas's role in raising concerns about non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament was generally good, and gave front page and significant media coverage to these important issues in ways that have been sadly lacking in the British media for many years.

The next meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Global Security and Non-Proliferation will take place on April 11, with speakers Rebecca Johnson, Director of the Acronym Institute, and Professor John Simpson, Director of the Mountbatten Centre, University of Southampton. The discussion will focus on "Challenges to the NPT in the run-up to the 2000 Review Conference".

Nicola Butler is the Acronym Institute's Senior Analyst. Lorna Richardson is the Acronym Institute's Administrator.

© 2000 The Acronym Institute.

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