On 11th June, Warwick University's Politics and International Studies department (PAIS) hosted a meeting in collaboration with BASIC entitled 'The Future of Nuclear Weapons: Between Disarmament and Proliferation'. The event, which brought together experts from diverse backgrounds and with significant experience on these issues, consisted of two roundtable discussions on the future of Trident and British nuclear weapons policy and prospects for non-proliferation and disarmament in the Middle East.
Despite the Cold War ending over twenty years ago, nuclear weapons continue to be highly valued by the US and Russia- which have over 90% of the world’s nuclear weapons- and the seven other nuclear possessor states. All of these states are investing heavily to modernise their nuclear arsenals and these weapons still have high salience in national security strategies.
In the UK, the debate on replacing and modernising the country’s nuclear weapon system is expanding (with the arrival of the government Trident Alternative’s Review due out next week). Public opinion shows a significant opposition to the need for billions to be spent on replacing Trident. For those who support maintaining Trident, particularly those occupying positions of power, the idea of doing away with it strikes a blow at their self-identity and conception of what it means to be British. In the face of an unpredictable future, Trident’s supporters argue that it provides security and certainty. Yet nuclear weapons are not the currency of international status and power they once were and the majority of the world has devalued them. Britain is in a good position to consider alternative security policies that don't rely on Trident and advance efforts for a nuclear weapons free world, relying on alternative means to be an influential force on the world stage.
As one of the three sponsors, alongside Russia and the US, of the resolution on the establishment of a Middle East Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone (WMDFZ), the UK has a responsibility to convene negotiations on this subject between states in the region. The creation of a WMDFZ would give a substantial boost to efforts to lift the global nuclear shadow. Since 2010, the world has eagerly awaited the ‘Helsinki Conference’ on the establishment of the WMDFZ, yet talks remain at an impasse with key participants—including Israel, Iran and Egypt—yet to begin substantive discussions. Israel cites a need for security guarantees before it joins negotiations. Egypt, along with the Arab League, point to Israel's nuclear arsenal as a serious threat to regional security. Yet, if the three co-sponsors of the proposed conference on a WMDFZ were to expend political capital on the venture, and treat all sides fairly and in accordance with their international treaty obligations, a breakthrough could still be possible.
Click below to read the full conference report.