Letter: The need to end nuclear testing

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The Independent Online
Sir: Nuclear testing will no doubt figure on the agenda for the Prime Minister's forthcoming visit to Washington. Strangely, the United States and the UK seem to be at odds over the issue.

In October 1992 the US declared a moratorium on testing until 1 July 1993, coupled with a plan for a complete cessation by 1996 under a comprehensive test ban (CTB) treaty. The positions of France and Russia are similar to that of the US. China's position is unclear.

Britain's recent position, in contrast with that of successive governments up to the Eighties, is that we wish to continue testing beyond 1996 in order to ensure 'the safety of future weapons systems' (though what that means, given that ministers also say the safety of Trident is already assured, is difficult to understand). In any case, Britain may not have much option. All our tests take place in the US - so no US testing means no British testing.

More positively, it is widely

held in the international community that an effective global non- proliferation regime depends inter alia on our living up to our

commitment in the 1968 Non- Proliferation Treaty of 'seeking to achieve the discontinuance of all test explosions of nuclear weapons for all time'. More than 150 states have acceded to that treaty. But there remain serious proliferation risks which will undoubtedly be lessened if Britain supports the US, France and Russia in further restraints on testing. Now is also the right time to resume active negotiations for a CTB treaty.

As former government servants who assisted successive British governments with their aim of preventing the spread of nuclear weapons, we urge the Government to declare now an indefinite suspension of British testing. We are convinced that it would be in Britain's best interest to do so.

Yours sincerely,

JOHN THOMSON, Ambassador to the UN, 1982-87; MICHAEL PALLISER, Permanent Under Secretary, FCO, 1975- 82; ANTHONY PARSONS, Ambassador to the UN, 1979-92; JOHN EDMONDS Ambassador to the CTB negotiations, 1978-80

The Athenaeum Club

London, SW1

16 February