Trident contradicts UK non-proliferation stance

The failure of the five recognised nuclear powers to make progress with disarmament is undermining prospects of containing the spread of atomic weapons around the world, MPs warned in a report published today.

The House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee urged the five powers - Britain, the US, Russia, China and France - to step up efforts to secure "decisive movement" towards disarmament at a key conference in 2010.

The committee said that Britain has the best arms control record of the five nuclear states, but warned that its decision to renew Trident was perceived around the world as a contradiction of its non-proliferation stance.

And it urged the Government to allow MPs a debate on the renewal of the ageing deterrent system when the project reaches "initial gate" stage later this year.

The cross-party committee welcomed Prime Minister Gordon Brown's announcement that the new Trident submarines will carry fewer warheads than the current vessels, but urged the Government to explain to Parliament how it has arrived at its assessment of the UK's "minimum nuclear deterrent".

"The decision to renew the UK's Trident system is perceived by some foreign states and some among the British public as appearing to contradict the Government's declared commitment to strengthening the international nuclear non-proliferation regime," said today's report, entitled Global Security: Non-Proliferation.

"We recommend that the Government should intensify its public diplomacy work better to explain the reasons for the Trident renewal decision and to give greater prominence to its work for multilateral nuclear disarmament and arms control."

The report said the five recognised nuclear states had "widely varying records" on nuclear disarmament and arms control.

Without decisive movement, there is a risk that the 2010 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference in New York will fail, during a critical period for the international community's efforts to restrain the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea, warned the committee.

The Government should go into next year's review with the aim of reaching agreement on a concrete plan to take the multilateral disarmament process forward through measures like a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and negotiations on a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty.

Committee chairman Mike Gapes said: "The critical threats to international peace and stability posed by the recent actions of North Korea and Iran's continuing nuclear ambitions are some of the vital issues which must be addressed at the NPT Review Conference next year.

"Although we think that the UK has the best record among them, my committee concludes that the five recognised nuclear powers are often perceived as a group by the non-nuclear weapons states, and that, as such, the group is seen collectively to have failed to live up to its nuclear disarmament commitments.

"We further conclude that this undermines prospects for containing nuclear proliferation. We therefore believe that the renewed talks on nuclear disarmament which have been launched recently by Presidents (Barack) Obama and (Dmitry) Medvedev could greatly aid progress at the 2010 conference and hope that they come to speedy fruition.

"We call on all five of the recognised nuclear weapons states to commit to further progress on nuclear disarmament."

Mr Gapes also said the committee was "unconvinced" that US plans for a ballistic missile defence (BMD) system based in sites in the Czech Republic and Poland would add to European security.

"We urge that BMD in Europe should be developed, if at all, as a joint system between the US, Nato and Russia," he said.

"We repeat the call that we made in a report two years ago for the Government to schedule a full parliamentary debate on ballistic missile defence."