Letters: British nuclear doctrine rejected

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Sir: I sat in the International Court of Justice while it ruled that the threat or use of nuclear weapons was illegal under international law. From a British point of view, the ruling was even more significant. It was a specific and direct rejection of British nuclear doctrine ("World closer to banning the bomb", 9 July).

In ruling that "the threat or use of nuclear weapons would generally be contrary to the rules of international law applicable in armed conflict", it added that because of current state of international law, it could not "conclude definitely whether the threat or use of nuclear weapons would be lawful or unlawful in an extreme circumstance of self-defence in which the very survival of a state would be at stake".

This directly rules out British policy behind the deployment of its nuclear weapons. According to Malcolm Rifkind, Trident has been deployed to protect Britain's "vital interests". The 1996 Defence White Paper states Britain's nuclear arsenal is deployed "in the defence of our supreme national interests". This is a far cry from "an extreme circumstance of self-defence in which the very survival of a State would be at stake". Moreover, the Court also reminded Britain and the other nuclear weapons states that they are under a legal obligation "to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control".

It is surely now time that the UN Conference on Disarmament started this process, and that Britain's nuclear weapons were placed on the table as part of multilateral disarmament negotiations.

EDDIE GONCALVES

Information Officer

Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament

London N7

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