`Eurobomb' unites CND and Whitehall

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Defence Correspondent

For the first time, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and the British government have found a nuclear issue they seem to agree on. An MEP's suggestion that British and French nuclear forces be brought into a common European system of deterrence has enraged both.

The chairman of the European Parliament's Foreign Affairs and Security Committee yesterday asked it to endorse the "Eurobomb", a move likely to anger Britain and anti-nuclear groups, which say it will breach the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). A report by Juan Abel Matutes of Spain on progress towards implementing a common foreign and security policy said that "without a common defence policy and a common system of deterrence the Union will never be able to implement a common foreign and security policy".

It is clear the deterrence referred to is nuclear. Although there is no question of handing nuclear weapons to non-nuclear-weapons states, putting the British and French nuclear arsenals at the disposal of a European military alliance might still violate the NPT, renewed in perpetuity last year.

Michael Ryder, a diplomat in the British delegation to the EU in Brussels, confirmed in response to inquiries about the issue last month that Article 1 of the treaty "prohibits nuclear- weapons states from transferring to any recipient whatsoever nuclear weapons, or the control over them ... The establishment of a European nuclear force would therefore entail a breach of the Non-Proliferation Treaty."

The British deterrent forms part of Nato's nuclear forces but is also a national "weapon of last resort". Britain is happy to commit its nuclear forces to Nato but is unlikely to favour committing them to any European structure, as it does not wish to join one anyway.

Janet Bloomfield, the head of CND, said: "A European nuclear deterrent should not form part of a common foreign and security policy ... even the British government believes that a European nuclear deterrent would be contrary to Article 1 of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty." A CND spokesman added: "We're in favour of a common foreign and security policy. But not with a nuclear component."

Mr Ryder's letter set out the British position, that any major war in Europe "would involve Nato directly and therefore involve Nato nuclear assets and Nato strategy. Britain believes that this will remain the ultimate guarantee of Europe's security."

The dispute coincides with a meeting in London of MPs from the Western European Union [the European pillar of Nato] to discuss European security arrangements before the EU Inter-Governmental Conference next month. John Major is to address the gathering today.