The Future for UK Defence, Diplomacy and Disarmament – 50 Proposals for a More Peaceful World

MAJOR REPORT – THE FUTURE FOR UK DEFENCE, DIPLOMACY AND DISARMAMENT – LAUNCHED IN HOUSE OF LORDS TODAY TUESDAY 21ST MAY

SURVEY OF LEADING OPINION FORMERS – POLITICIANS AND EXPERTS – MAKES 50 PROPOSALS TO REDUCE INTERNATIONAL TENSIONS AND RESTART A PROCESS BACK TOWARDS NUCLEAR DISARMAMENT

The Future for UK Defence, Diplomacy and Disarmament – 50 Proposals for a More Peaceful World

SPEAKERS

  • Rt Hon Dame Margaret Beckett MP, former Foreign Secretary
  • Richard Foord MP, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson on Defence
  • Dave Doogan MP, former SNP Spokesperson on Defence
  • Hywel Williams MP, Plaid Cymru Spokesperson on Defence
  • Deolinda Eltringham, Peace, Security and Defence Working Group, the Green Party
  • Baroness Christine Blower, Patron, Nuclear Education Trust

The key question in the current context of military conflict and rising geo-political tension is: how can the UK help get the world back on a path to nuclear disarmament rather than the current trend which is towards global nuclear rearmament? This is the focus of a survey of defence and foreign affairs opinion makers commissioned by independent charity the Nuclear Education Trust (NET). The report, written by Dr Tim Street, is being launched in the House of Lords on Tuesday, 21 May.

NET’s survey sought views on a series of statements in the UK Government’s Integrated Review Refresh of 2023. The forty-two responses reflected a range of opinion and included Parliamentarians (across all six main political parties); respected think tanks (for example RUSI and Scientists for Global Responsibility); academics (from universities including Bradford, King’s College London, Glasgow, and York); and civil society organisations (such as British Pugwash and ICAN).

The report – which runs to more than 60 pages – includes chapters on global security trends; managing the UK’s major power relations; the nuclear arms control and disarmament regime; the UK’s global role and responsibilities; UK nuclear weapons policy; and UK defence and nuclear weapons spending. As expected, there were several areas of agreement and some disagreement. 

A common view amongst respondents was that, as long as Russia’s war against Ukraine continues, the possible use of nuclear weapons by President Putin will remain and fears of a new Cold War will grow. For many, the potential for progress on arms control and disarmament is thus low given the tension and distrust between the major powers. In fact, all of the five main nuclear weapons states are moving in the opposite direction and modernising their nuclear arsenals.

Despite this – or indeed because of this – the report includes 50 positive proposals that the UK could take to build confidence and defuse tension between the nuclear powers. These include:

  • Improve the democracy, transparency and accountability of UK international policy-making, including via more Parliamentary debates and public engagement.
  • Encourage the Defence Select Committee to hold inquiries into the rising costs and risks involving the UK’s nuclear weapons programme.
  • Invest more resources in UK diplomatic capabilities, including conflict prevention and resolution.
  • Seek to create a truly multipolar world order based on international law, human security, and a strengthened United Nations.
  • Convene a summit of European states to explore options for regional security systems which are compatible with a European nuclear weapons free zone.
  • Ensure there are regular meetings of the nuclear weapon states —China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States as recognised by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty – to discuss nuclear risk reduction measures and provide information to the public on these meetings.                      
  • Invest political capital in reviving multilateral nuclear arms control and disarmament processes.
  • Advocate for all nuclear weapons states to commit to a No First Use nuclear weapons policy.      
  • Reverse the nuclear warhead cap increase and return to the previous goal of reducing the UK’s total number of warheads to 180.
  • Prepare plans for how the UK can diverge from Washington on international policy, especially if a future US President pursues a more aggressive and unilateralist approach.

Baroness Christine Blower, Patron of the Nuclear Education Trust and host of the launch event, said:

“In the current challenging context, it might seem counterintuitive to raise the issue of nuclear disarmament. But if not now, when?  Already the Doomsday Clock is at its closest point to midnight for 50 years. Quite simply if we don’t start in earnest a debate about how to get back on a path towards nuclear disarmament rather than the current trajectory towards nuclear re-armament it may be too late.

“For too long any debate about nuclear weapons has been binary – too polarised.  For or against. Multilateral vs unilateral.  In the words of my colleague former Defence Secretary Lord Browne this is ‘very stale’. Those who are concerned about where the world is heading – whether from a cautious or critical position – have largely been absent from what little political, public and media debate there is. This should change.”

Dr Tim Street, the author of the report, said:

“Our report shows how the UK can act responsibly by prioritising diplomacy, peace-building, and disarmament. The world needs a positive alternative vision to escape the current predicament of unending wars, militarism, and nuclear threats. Our report shows that there is no shortage of ideas for what the steps back on the path to nuclear disarmament could be. 

“In fact, NET’s new report includes more than 50 proposals for a more peaceful world, which are informed by contributor’s responses to our survey. Central to these proposals is the argument that, to help the world step back from the precipice, and avoid conflicts involving the major powers escalating up to nuclear war, the UK must act as a nation amongst nations, not beholden only to the US, but building wider partnerships—in Europe and beyond.”

Steve Barwick, Chair of the Nuclear Education Trust,  concluded:

“We will all have views on which next steps back towards nuclear disarmament are the best ones for the UK to take but what is certain is that doing nothing is not an option. Whether you are for or against nuclear weapons, you should be concerned about where nuclear rearmament is taking us.”

“Discussion regarding the future for defence, diplomacy and disarmament should intensify in the next 12 months given the UK General Election and US Presidential Election will take place. There will inevitably be choices for the next Government to make on defence and foreign affairs policy as geo-political circumstances change. Hopefully the report’s findings and recommendations will be helpful. A dark, dystopian future of more and more nuclear weapons is not inevitable: taking steps towards nuclear disarmament is both possible as well as necessary. “