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UK's NPT Obligations

leftThe Foreign Secretary, David Milliband, writes in his letter  that, if all states “live up to both the letter and the spirit of the obligations” under the Nuclear Non- Proliferation Treaty (NPT) “the vision can become a reality”.

I agree. But what is the United KingdomÂ’s record of living up to its own NPT obligations, to which it signed up 40 years ago this month, after protracted negotiations at the UN?

Article VI of the NPT requires all signatories to “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to the cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date”.

Yet, as was confirmed in a written reply a year ago by the Defence Secretary, Des Browne (Hansard, 16 May 2007, column 620w), not one UK nuclear weapon or warhead has been withdrawn from operational service as a result of multilateral disarmament negotiations in the 40 years of the NPT. Moreover, at present none of BritainÂ’s nuclear arsenal features in any nuclear disarmament negotiations.

The Foreign Secretary, David Milliband, writes in his letter that, if all states “live up to both the letter and the spirit of the obligations” under the Nuclear Non- Proliferation Treaty (NPT) “the vision can become a reality”.

I agree. But what is the United KingdomÂ’s record of living up to its own NPT obligations, to which it signed up 40 years ago this month, after protracted negotiations at the UN?

Article VI of the NPT requires all signatories to “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to the cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date”.

Yet, as was confirmed in a written reply a year ago by the Defence Secretary, Des Browne (Hansard, 16 May 2007, column 620w), not one UK nuclear weapon or warhead has been withdrawn from operational service as a result of multilateral disarmament negotiations in the 40 years of the NPT. Moreover, at present none of BritainÂ’s nuclear arsenal features in any nuclear disarmament negotiations.

In another written answer, Mr Miliband’s junior ministerial colleague, Dr Kim Howells, stated that it is not possible to define precisely the timescale implied by the phrase “at an early date”. (Hansard, 22 February 2007, column 820W)

Last year I undertook some research at the National Archives in Kew into the UK negotiating record of the NPT. One paper available shows that on January 23, 1968, Fred (later Lord) Mulley, as the UK Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, addressed the 358th plenary meeting of the 18-nation Committee on Disarmament (ENDC) in Geneva (the predecessor committee to the current Committee on Disarmament), explaining why nations should sign up to the newly negotiated NPT, he told ministerial delegates: “As I have made clear in previous speeches, my Government accepts the obligation to participate fully in the negotiations required by \ Article VI and it is our desire that these negotiations should begin as soon as possible and should produce speedy and successful results. There is no excuse now for allowing a long delay to follow the signing of this treaty.”

While no definition was given for “a long delay”, I feel sure that, had it been suggested in 1968 no British nuclear weapons would be negotiated away in the first 40 years of the NPT’s existence, that would have provoked a diplomatic outrage.

So it is no good pointing fingers at Iran over alleged non-compliance with its NPT obligations, when the UK is in manifest breach of its own obligations.

Dr David Lowry, Former director, European Proliferation Information Centre - Letter in the Times