Top Level Group offers differing approaches to nuclear disarmament

Yesterday's formal launch of the Top Level Group on nuclear disarmament saw a range of approaches to Britain's role.

Yesterday marked the formal launch of the Top Level Group of UK Parliamentarians for Multilateral Nuclear Disarmament and Non Proliferation (TLG).  The TLG has committed itself to “taking a lead on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation,” and making tangible progress on these issues throughout Europe and the U.S.

The talks brought together input and opinions from senior defence figures representing decades of experience on national security matters. Former Chief of the Defence Staff, Lord Guthrie set the tone for the meeting with his  warning that “nuclear weapons, probably after climate change, are the greatest threat to the human race.”

In large part, discussion focused on the issue of multi-lateral disarmament with Malcolm Rifkind, former Secretary of Defence and Foreign Affairs, emphasising that though there has been much progress in the area of disarmament, there is still a need for continued and sustained multilateral disarmament, especially by Russia and the US, as they are in possession of 95 per cent of the world’s nuclear weapons. Tying into Rifkind’s commentary, discussion focused on the Trident renewal program, and the impact the continuation of that program would have on world wide efforts to disarm. Michael Ancram, a Conservative opponent of Trident renewal stated:

“I voted against Trident two years ago because a renewed Trident (is) not a credible deterrent in 25 years time.”

On the other hand, the impact of not renewing the Trident contracts were also considered with Lord Robertson, former Secretary of Defence and NATO Secretary General, telling Left Foot Forward that the need to maintain continuous ‘at sea’ patrols and the potential job loss and broken contract costs of not renewing the Trident program necessitated the renewal of Trident. Lord Robertson was also concerned by the potentially “more vulnerable”  nature of Trident alternatives.

Baroness Williams, the Prime Minister’s Representative on Non-Proliferation and Disarmament, said the prospects are good for Russian-American agreement on the START treaty this year, but that the matter of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty before the US Congress is a greater question mark. She stressed the importance of reaching real agreements on fissile material stockpiles and said that it was this issue that could prove the real stumbling block. Intriguingly, she noted however that if these goals are aligned by May of next year “something very real could happen with regard to Britain’s own contribution to the negotiations.”

Adam Ingram, former Armed Forces Minister and the longest serving defence minister in British history, favoured a party political debate at the next general election over defence issues so that these important matters “don’t get frozen out of the debate”.  He suggested that such a discussion could even focus on Labour and Conservative differences over Trident renewal at the time of the general election.

Lastly, former Defence Secretary Des Browne warned against emphasising the cost element of the nuclear disarmament debate. Speaking to Left Foot Forward, he stressed instead the moral and political case for changing public opinion and the political debate around nuclear weapons. He suggested that attention should be focused on examining the need for continuous patrols as well as the broader importance of winning the public argument for moving towards a world free of nuclear weapons. Mr. Browne remained strongly opposed to non-Trident renewal alternatives for fear that they would require new nuclear weapons development programmes although he did not address, when asked, the question of the UK’s existing nuclear weapons development programme at Aldermaston.

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