The attached exchange of letters and emails between myself and the MOD arose from my personal concern (as a former Executive officer of a Polaris missile carrying submarine) as to whether the Commanding Officer (CO) of a Trident missile carrying submarine could be placed in legal jeopardy should they be called upon to fire. My reasons being:
(a) The legality of HMG general policy for nuclear weapons is highly questionable at best – even for self defence (c.f. documents 1-6) and so complying with an order to fire requires the CO to make a positive and personal decision that the order is a legal one. It is not sufficient merely to carry out because it is authenticated correctly as having been authorised by the Prime Minister.
(b) The advice provided on the Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC) to military commanders is specifically misleading in one critical area regarding Additional Protocol 1 (AP1) to The Geneva Conventions applying to the protection of civilians. (c.f. documents 7-10)
At the end of the exchange any doubts I might have had as to whether my concerns are justified have been dispelled. MOD have avoided answering my questions and responded with flat statements of policy and assertions of legality. In only one instance do they drop this line of response and admit that the Reservation HMG placed on AP1 is based not on the fact that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) led negotiators stated that AP1 did not apply to nuclear weapons but that nuclear weapons (or any weapons for that matter) were not discussed in the negotiations (c.f. Document 8). The Reservation is based on a highly specious ‘assertion’ or ‘opinion’ and is then presented to military commanders in the manual on LOAC as if it is a hard fact coming out of the AP1 negotiations.
Commander R Forsyth RN (retired)
1 December 2018
For the full document see the pdf here Correspondence between Cdr R Forsyth & MOD_Dec 2017 – Nov 2018