UK Defence Needs and International Nuclear Disarmament Responsibilities

Report finds: No current or foreseeable threat and no military use – nuclear weapons debate overdue but now critical

The inquiry into the UK’s Defence Needs and International Nuclear Disarmament Responsibilities was carried out for NET by Connect Communications, an award-winning, independent political communications agency. The report is based on written submissions and a series of interviews with current and past Defence Secretaries and Ministers, academics, think tanks, campaign groups and other defence policy stakeholders. The report has found:

  • “For now and foreseeable future no nuclear threat to UK” (in the words of Rt Hon Sir Malcolm Rifkind MP, former Defence and Foreign Secretary).
  • The relevance of keeping nuclear weapons vis-à-vis current and foreseeable future UK security threats is either non-existent or negligible.
  • There is an urgent need for a wider and more informed public and Parliamentary debate on nuclear weapons – and especially whether they do or do not contribute to UK’s security – but the multilateral versus unilateral nature of debate is anachronistic, inaccurate and unhelpful. (The report lists 10 “unilateral” disarmament actions by Governments since 1990.)


Download: The UK’s National Defence Needs and International Nuclear Disarmament Responsibilities (pdf)


The report comes to 16 “consensus” conclusions and makes the following  five specific  recommendations based on these:

1. The next Strategic Defence and Security Review, which formally begins after the next General Election, should take a more rigorous needs-based approach, reflecting more clearly and separately on both the likelihood and the impact of risks to the UK’s security, as well as its foreign policy requirements and responsibilities.

2. UK Government should focus on utilising its world diplomatic skills, rather than its world military reach, to reduce its security threats and promote disarmament including:

  • attending international conferences on nuclear weapons, such as that hosted by the Mexican Government in February 2014
  • helping secure definitive progress at P5 meeting in China later this year
  • by publicly supporting a Nuclear Weapons Convention
  • by taking further independent action as appropriate


3. Having signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty, the UK Government should seek an independent legal opinion on whether the proposed modernisation of the Trident nuclear weapons delivery system is outside its legal obligations.

4. There should be a much deeper and wider public and parliamentary debate about whether to retain and modernise UK nuclear weapons in current circumstance of no external threat and given:

  • the risks they themselves create (of proliferation and accident)
  • their expense (at a time of austerity and prioritisation)
  • the fact the majority of the UK’s European neighbours and NATO allies have concluded that they do not need to possess nuclear weapons to guarantee their security
  • the alternative approaches that might be taken towards reducing any possible future nuclear threat (e.g. diplomacy, conflict prevention, and trade).


5. The UK’s defence procurement decisions, including the Main Gate decision regards the successor to Trident currently planned for 2016, can only – and must – follow on from the conclusions to the next Defence and Security Review.

Madeline Held MBE, Chair of the Nuclear Education Trust Board, said:

‘Despite the wide range of contributors, there was a remarkable consensus on many issues:  that the UK’s defence policy and procurement decisions should be more rigorously evidence-based; that the raison d’être of nuclear weapons has decreased since the end of the Cold War; and that progress on international nuclear disarmament is a necessary and desirable goal, for which there are concrete opportunities for success.’

‘In the vastly different security landscape of the 21st century,  the time is ripe for serious public and Parliamentary debate on the issue of whether or not the UK needs nuclear weapons and in particular whether it should modernise its Trident fleet.’

‘Such a debate is overdue but now critical. This country has a decision to make in 2016 and it should do so based on a thorough look at reality now – an age of globalisation, regional conflicts and terrorism as well as other pressing concerns such as austerity,  poverty, and climate change.’ 

Read the full report here and the supporting evidence here; view a presentation on the report here and accompanying press release here. Read the report of the launch here and for further information, contact us here.

Press reviews of the report and the launch:

Contributers to UK Defence Needs and Nuclear Disarmament Responsibilities are listed below:

Anonymous, broadsheet foreign correspondent
Rt Hon James Arbuthnot MP, Defence Select Committee Chair
Rt Hon Nick Brown MP, former Chief Whip
Lord Des Browne of Ladyton, former Defence Secretary
Peter Burt, Nuclear Information Service
Rt Hon Sir Menzies Campbell MP, former Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesperson
Professor Michael Clarke, Royal United Services Institute
Jeremy Corbyn MP, Chair Parliamentary Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament
Rear Admiral John Gower on behalf of Defence Secretary, the Rt Hon Philip Hammond MP
Sir Nick Harvey MP, former Defence Minister
Dr Kate Hudson, Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament
Paul Ingram, BASIC
General Sir Mike Jackson, former Chief of General Staff (Defence)
Dr Rebecca Johnson, Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy
Sean Morris, Nuclear Free Local Authorities
Paul Nowak, Trade Union Congress
Dr Dan Plesch, Director of Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy, SOAS
Rt Hon Sir Malcolm Rifkind MP, former Defence and Foreign Secretary
Alison Seabeck MP, Shadow Defence Minister
Admiral Lord West, former Defence Minister