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Gorbachev attacks Labour’s ‘rush to deploy nuclear missiles’ until 2050

Sir, I want to express my concern over the intention of Tony Blair’s Government to replace the British nuclear arsenal with a new generation of nuclear weapons.

This is happening in an alarming setting: the process of reducing the nuclear arms of the US and Russia has stalled; the negotiations on these issues are virtually frozen. Prominent US political leaders — George Shultz, Henry Kissinger, William Perry and Sam Nunn — have expressed concern over this situation and made specific proposals toward ridding the world of nuclear weapons; President Putin has urged George Bush to negotiate a new agreement to replace the START Treaty.

There is a real danger of proliferation of nuclear weapons. A few days ago, IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei stated that the agency can provide no assurance as to the absence of undeclared nuclear activities in 30 countries that have not signed safeguards agreements, adding that many states have been slow to conclude and ratify the additional protocol on more effective control.

Under such circumstances, the UK Government’s rush to deploy nuclear missiles whose service life would extend until 2050 is, to say the least, astonishing. The Treaty on NonProliferation of Nuclear Weapons commits the nuclear power to effective measures of nuclear disarmament. In fact, the entire structure of that treaty, which is already under considerable strain, rests on that commitment.

The decision to deploy new nuclear missiles would be in contradiction to the spirit of the agreements that helped to end the Cold War. At the time, the United Kingdom supported the US-Soviet accords on cuts in strategic, intermediate-range, and tactical nuclear weapons, which have by now resulted in reducing nuclear arsenals by almost two thirds, and pledged that it would be ready to join the process of nuclear reductions at an appropriate moment. Yet the Government’s arguments in support of the proposed replacement contain no mention of that promise. The statement President Reagan and I made in 1985, that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought”, was in effect a declaration of the need to rid humankind of nuclear weapons. Today it has an even greater urgency. In a world of new threats and challenges, nuclear weapons do not solve real security problems; indeed, reliance on them is becoming increasingly dangerous. Whatever technical measures are taken to prevent nuclear weapons falling into the hands of terrorists or rogue elements and to prevent a nuclear war breaking out as a result of technical failure or accident, such a possibility will be present so long as nuclear weapons exist.

A responsible course of action for the Government would be to postpone the decision on the future of the UK nuclear arsenal at least until the next review conference of the NonProliferation Treaty in 2010.


Chairman of the Board of

Green Cross International