Future of Britain’s nuclear weapons

ORG has consistently carried out research on issues relating to the global problem of nuclear weapons, and facilitated dialogue with policy makers on how to move towards a nuclear weapons-free world. Our emphasis has always been on the human dimension of decision-making, to understand the structures, processes and individuals, in order to affect positive change at its root. Since our foundation in 1982, a core goal has been to clarify who makes the decisions, and how, in order both to help ensure that policy-making on nuclear weapons becomes more transparent and democratically accountable, and to engage decision-makers in face-to-face dialogue with their nuclear adversaries and with critics of their nuclear policies, in a shared consideration of the problem from a global perspective.

In December 2004, ORG held a residential consultation for a group of military and civilian policy-makers, academics and independent experts at Charney Manor on “The Future of British Nuclear Weapons: Who will decide?”, supported by a grant from the Polden-Puckham Charitable Foundation. The Government had recently announcement that a decision on whether to replace or renew the UK’s current strategic nuclear weapons system, Trident, would need to be taken before the 2010 general election, and we judged it timely to begin to revive a debate on the future of Britain’s nuclear weapons which had lain dormant for a number of years.

In 2005, ORG formed a strategic alliance with three other UK-based peace and security NGOs and secured initial funding from the Ploughshares Fund (US) for a year-long collaborative project entitled “Beyond Trident”. The consortium combined the complementary skills of the four organisations involved – Oxford Research Group, the Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy, the British American Security Information Council, and the WMD Awareness Programme – behind a common short-term aim: to ensure that the impending decision on the future of Trident would be taken in the context of a full, open and informed democratic debate. The longer term aim of all four organisations is to help steer British defence policy towards one in which nuclear weapons are no longer deemed necessary, and a recognition that national and international security will be better served by demonstrating good faith towards full implementation of the agreed "practical steps for the systematic and progressive efforts to implement Article VI of the Non-proliferation Treaty".

In March 2006, ORG published Current Decisions Report No. 28, The Future of Britain’s Nuclear Weapons: Experts Reframe the Debate, with contributions from ten eminent politicians and other experts, as part of the Beyond Trident project. The report coincided with the House of Commons Defence Select Committee inquiry into the “The Future of the Strategic Nuclear Deterrent: The Strategic Context”, to which ORG, Acronym and BASIC each submitted separate written evidence. Malcolm Savidge of ORG and Rebecca Johnson of Acronym were also called to give oral evidence in front of the Committee.

The Dulverton Trust given ORG a grant to host a follow-up Charney Manor residential consultation in March 2007. This was to allow members of the UK government and other senior politicians to hear the perspectives, in an off-the-record environment, of representatives from key regions on the significance and ramifications of the British decision on maintaining its nuclear weapons force. Other recent and foreseeable events relating to nuclear weapons proliferation, namely, the nuclear test by North Korea; nuclear developments in Iran; and the worldwide expansion of civil nuclear power as a response to climate change, were critically examined with the help of academics and other experts. The meeting looked at prospects for the nuclear non-proliferation regime, and explored how the international community could best handle a world of many more latent and actual nuclear-weapon states.

This consultation was followed by a conference held at the Royal United Services Institute in London, at which some of the consultation participants presented papers and engaged in discussion with an invited audience. One of the speakers was Farhang Jahanpour, and ORG have now published an edited version of his talk on Iran's Nuclear Programme and Regional Security.


Replacing Trident: Who will make the decisions and how?
Nick Ritchie, August 2006

The Future of Britain’s Nuclear Weapons: Experts Reframe the Debate
CDR 28, edited by Professor Ken Booth and Dr. Frank Barnaby, March 2006