UK-Norway nuclear disarmament verification initiative workshop

Speech by Sir Nick Harvey, Minister for the Armed Forces.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
Sir Nick Harvey


Ladies and gentlemen, it is a great pleasure to welcome you to London today to this international workshop on nuclear disarmament verification.

For the last five years the United Kingdom and Norway have been working together, one nuclear weapon state, one non-nuclear weapon state, looking at the challenges associated with verifying the dismantlement of nuclear warheads.

This workshop brings technical experts and policy officials from the UK and Norway together with those from 12 non-nuclear weapons states and the USA.

Over the next three days we will share with you the progress we have made and, hopefully, learn from you as we investigate avenues for further work.

This collaboration between Norway and the UK has been groundbreaking.

We have built up a unique level of trust.

This workshop is about increasing awareness, understanding and trust between all of us here.

It is about proving we can create partnerships that make an active contribution to nuclear disarmament and meaningful progress under the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

UK commitment

Despite notable challenges over the last 40 years, the NPT has succeeded in limiting the spread of nuclear weapons.

But large arsenals remain and nuclear proliferation continues.

We need to redouble our collective efforts and take tangible steps towards a safer more stable world in which countries with nuclear weapons feel able to relinquish them.

The United Kingdom is committed to the long-term goal of a world without nuclear weapons, and we believe that the NPT is the best vehicle for creating the conditions to achieve this.

Progress should be made not just on disarmament, but across the other pillars of the NPT too, non-proliferation and peaceful access to nuclear power.

In Britain, the coalition government has announced a series of unilateral measures to scale down our nuclear deterrent.

This is something Britain has done on a number of occasions since the end of the Cold War.

This latest action includes reducing the number of warheads aboard each submarine to a maximum of 40; reducing the number of operational missiles in the Vanguard class submarines to no more than eight and reducing the number of operational warheads to no more than 120.

This programme has commenced and we expect completion across the fleet by 2015.

On current plans, the subsequent reduction in our total stockpile of nuclear warheads to no more than 180 will be completed by the mid 2020’s.

These are meaningful reductions and confirm Britain’s place as the most forward leaning, progressive and transparent nuclear weapon state in the P5 and with the smallest declared arsenal.

Sustainable disarmament

While we will do what we can on our own, we are clear that sustainable disarmament can only be achieved through a multilateral process.

That is the approach of both the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties that make up the UK’s coalition government.

So our focus now is on continuing to press for progress on multi-lateral disarmament and tackling the technical and practical challenges that disarmament poses.

Sustainable disarmament needs to be mutual, it needs to be balanced and it needs to be verifiable.

Countries will need to not only disarm, but also be seen to disarm.

Indeed, NPT Article VI calls for disarmament ‘under strict and effective international control’.

Any future disarmament process would need to be underpinned by a verification regime that can provide confidence that nuclear disarmament has taken place and that non-proliferation objectives have been met.

We must work now to ensure that the practical challenges are surmountable and we have the technical foundation necessary to make progress.

That is what this workshop is all about.

Trust and verification

Britain is very grateful to Norway for the commitment it has shown towards the work we are undertaking together.

One of the most important and enduring lessons of our initiative is that building trust and confidence will be essential to implementing an effective verification regime.

And that, we have found, does not always come naturally in an area traditionally so shrouded in secrecy.

There are of course real non-proliferation obligations and national security interests that both have to be protected.

But that shouldn’t hold us back.

We have worked hard at breaking down barriers.

This is not just about a technical understanding of the challenges of warhead dismantlement, it is about cultural understanding too.

By that I mean putting yourself in another’s shoes, a nuclear weapons state being sensitive to how a non-nuclear weapons state will approach issues and vice-versa.

For example, a non-nuclear weapons state may want to see every last corner of a facility to ensure that there are no weapons being concealed, but without the understanding how this full access could give away proliferative information.

Understanding is required.

At the moment the UK Norway Initiative is unique, but it needn’t be, and it shouldn’t be.

We have proven that all states parties to the NPT are able to make an active contribution to their Article VI disarmament obligations through verification research, whilst fulfilling their obligations to non-proliferation under Articles I and II.

This workshop will demonstrate just how complex and how difficult it is to develop a credible regime.

It is important to stress that the UK Norway Initiative does not yet have the ‘verification solution’.

There is plenty of work still to be done.

This is true not only in the area of dismantlement verification that we have been concentrating on, but on the wider disarmament process too.

There are other areas ripe for further collaborative and independent research and development and these represent opportunities for all states.

We hope this workshop will provide you with the ideas and understanding to help you identify some of these areas and to start your own projects perhaps.

The UK and Norway stand ready to offer guidance to states wishing to fulfil their NPT obligations.

This workshop is the first time we have had the opportunity to elaborate on the whole project, and we are delighted each of you are here today.

We are of course grateful to our colleagues at the Atomic Weapons Establishment for the role they are playing and look forward to the dinner they are hosting tonight.

The UK will be hosting a confidential expert-level meeting of the P5 early next year, this will be the first time that the P5 have met to focus on verification.

What is discussed here will be fed directly into that.

So the next few days will provide you with the opportunity to learn from our experience.

It gives you the chance to challenge our conclusions.

And it enables you to contribute to the international effort of disarmament.


Ladies and gentlemen, we live in uncertain times, we live in an inter-connected and networked world.

It doesn’t matter which club you belong too, or how much you can afford to spend on your defences, no country, no matter how powerful, can hope to protect its national security by acting alone.

We need to act together, not just to tackle existing threats, but to build for the future.

That is the vision of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and that has to be the vision that we seek to achieve.

That is what we are working towards here.

Building the trust, understanding and know-how to ensure that when called upon we have the capability to achieve this vision for real.

Updates to this page

Published 7 December 2011