'VISION OF A WORLD WITHOUT WEAPONS'
The Times – 21 April 1995
Your correspondents (March 21, 29, April 11, 17) quote the Non-Proliferation Treaty as if it commits the signatories to nuclear disarmament by itself. It does not.
The preamble to the treaty states that nuclear disarmament should occur "pursuant to" (that is, in conformity with) "a treaty on general and complete disarmament". Article VI similarly commits the signatories "to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control" (my italics).
However, the size of Britain's minimum deterrent has never been related to the size of Soviet or American arsenals. Clearly, as a new system Trident must still be able to threaten unacceptable retaliation at the end of its 30-year lifetime, not just at the beginning.
The "significant enhancement" of capability (mentioned by previous correspondents) which it offers over Polaris caters for the potential development of counter-measures throughout this long period. It in no way involves us in the nuclear arms race previously conducted by the superpowers with their tens of thousands of warheads.
The treaty's vision of general and complete disarmament will never become reality until all men are able to live together without the need for conventional weapons. In that event, nuclear forces would also be redundant. Yet, it is obvious that abandoning all nuclear weapons in an un-reformed world would be a recipe for disaster: in a conventional war the former nuclear powers would immediately race to reacquire the bomb. The first to succeed would then use its monopoly, as in 1945.
Fortunately, neither Article VI nor the preamble requires a nuclear-free world to be achieved before general and complete disarmament. It is only the nuclear arms race which is to be ended at an early date and this, indeed, has happened. Britain's proposed Trident fleet neither contravenes the NPT, nor will it lead to the spread of nuclear weapons to any other country that its opponents care to name.
Dr JULIAN LEWIS
Policy Research Associates