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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 47, June 2000

UK NPT Paper on Disarmament

'Systematic and progressive efforts to reduce nuclear weapons globally: a food for thought paper,' submitted by the United Kingdom to the 2000 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, NPT/CONF.2000/23, May 4, 2000.


The United Kingdom's goal is the global elimination of nuclear weapons. The present paper is intended to give a preliminary indication of what the United Kingdom believes will be entailed in pursuing systematic and progressive efforts to achieve this. …

Nuclear-weapon states party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty

Each of the [NPT] nuclear-weapon states…clearly has a key role to play… But their nuclear forces vary considerably in size. …

The United Kingdom recognizes that, aware of their particular situation, the Russian Federation…and the United States have been negotiating bilaterally since the late 1960s to control and reduce their nuclear forces. With the end of the Cold War there has been a decisive shift from control to reduction…

A crucial strand in any systematic and progressive effort to reduce nuclear weapons globally must be a continuation of these efforts by the Russian Federation and the United States. In particular, it is important that:

  • START II and its Protocol should enter into force soon, along with the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty related agreements reached in New York in September 1997;
  • Both states should pursue to a successful conclusion their discussions on a START III Treaty and on the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, as set out in their Joint Statement of June 20, 1999.
The United Kingdom recognizes that the heavy responsibilities which fall to the Russian Federation and the United States…do not in any way diminish the responsibilities that also fall on the smaller nuclear-weapon states… They can each make an important contribution to the overall effort by:
  • Keeping their forces at minimum levels;
  • Accepting that in due course they will need to join the larger nuclear-weapon states in negotiations about their nuclear weapons.
In addition, even before that moment is reached. There are clearly steps that all five of the nuclear-weapon states could usefully take to:
  • Minimize the risk of any accidental, unauthorized or mistaken use of nuclear weapons…;
  • Address their total; holdings of warheads, including short-range (for example, by being more transparent about them…);
  • Deal with fissile material issues (for example, by being transparent about their current holdings…and, as far as possible, about the past production of fissile material for all purposes, identifying any fissile material surplus to their defence needs, placing it under international verification as soon as possible and, in the case of surplus weapons-grade fissile material, considering disposition arrangements for it);
  • Pursue the consideration of the issue of security assurances to the non-nuclear-weapon States Parties.
Non-nuclear-weapon states party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty

The 182 non-nuclear-weapon states party…have already made an invaluable contribution to the achievement of nuclear disarmament. … [T]heir continued commitment…remains vitally important. Fortunately, in the vast majority of cases, the commitment of these states is not in doubt. In many cases it has been further reinforced by additional commitments to treaties establishing nuclear-weapon-free zones and by a willingness to accept additional safeguards obligations…

There have, however, been some very regrettable instances of non-nuclear-weapon states party…falling short of the high standard set by most of them. … The United Kingdom does not claim to have easy solutions to such problems, but is determined to work with others to deal with them as effectively as possible. Specific approaches have been devised in relation to Iraq and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea… But there is clearly room for more thought on generic approaches to such problems. …

States not party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty

The problem of the four remaining states not party…is another serious challenge… The United Kingdom recognizes that Cuba has signed the Treaty of Tlatelolco on a regional nuclear-weapon-free zone, and has in practice placed its nuclear facilities under…safeguards. The other three non-parties - India, Israel and Pakistan - have yet to undertake similar measures. These states have made clear that they are firmly convinced that their security positions do not yet permit them to adhere to the Non-Proliferation Treaty in the only way they can, as non-nuclear-weapon states. Nevertheless, the United Kingdom believes that this objective remains of fundamental importance and that in the meantime it is essential that these states exercise the maximum of restraint…

Underlying political issues

While it is clear…that every kind of state can make important and immediate contributions in the nuclear sphere itself, it is also clear that what happens in the nuclear sphere is not divorced from underlying political realities. The world would be a better place if nuclear weapons were not still judged to be necessary, but the conditions for complete nuclear disarmament do not yet exist. …

In noting these points about underlying political issues, the United Kingdom is not trying to make excuses for any state not making progress on the nuclear issues themselves. It is simply drawing attention to the reality that progress on these issues is likely to be very dependent on progress in the wider political sphere… Ultimately, to achieve the global elimination of nuclear weapons it will be necessary to create the conditions in which no state believes them necessary for its security.

Related security issues

There are a number of related security issues that will be important in pursuing this goal.

One is what happens in relation to other weapons of mass destruction… Progress towards eliminating nuclear weapons is clearly going to be easier if the Chemical Weapons Convention secures universal adherence and compliance, and if an effective protocol to the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention is rapidly concluded, adhered to by all and complied with by all. …

Another complicating factor in the search for nuclear elimination is the developing capability of some countries in the ballistic missile field. … So continued efforts to control and reduce the spread of ballistic-missile capabilities must be another crucial element in systematic and progressive efforts to reduce nuclear weapons globally.

The best solution would be to achieve a world in which the underlying political tensions that give rise to a sense of insecurity on the part of states have disappeared. In such a world, all states would need to be fully committed to the rule of international law. International rules of law go hand-in-hand with impartial, non-political arms control compliance systems. …"

© 2000 The Acronym Institute.

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