Scottish letter to Secretary of State for Defence

Dear Secretary of State for Defence,

Seeking a solemn declaration that British Nuclear Weapons will never be usedto launch an indiscriminate and/or disproportionate attack.

We are a small group of very concerned people living in Edinburgh and Lothians who have gathered together to seek considered assurance from you.

Accordingly, as a local group of citizens that believes wholeheartedly in and wishes to promote the rule of International Humanitarian Law, we have been engaged in researching into the many commitments to which HMG has entered and the obligations it has undertaken, along with the other States in the international community.

In particular, we have made ourselves aware of the provisions of the First Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions (1977) in general, and of Chapter II of Part IV in particular, which deal with the general protection against the effects of armed hostilities and most especially the protection of the civilian population.

We note that this Additional Protocol to the four Geneva Conventions of 1949 was signed by the Crown on behalf of our country as long ago as 12th December 1977. It was eventually ratified on 20th January 1998 and came into force in the United Kingdom on 20th July 1998.

In particular, we draw your attention to the provisions of Article 51 (Protection of the civilian population) and Article 55 (Protection of the natural environment), which set out clear and essential limitations on the rights of States and others to launch attacks which may be foreseen to cause disproportionate, unnecessary or excessive harm to civilian lives and objects, or the natural environment, not justified by the anticipated military advantage alone.

We are all only too well aware of the lack of progress made by the UK Government as a signatory of the Non Proliferation Treaty in reducing its nuclear weapons. And we are as well aware of the dreadful and fearsome power of thermo-nuclear weapons, even of a relatively small yield capacity, to wreak unparalleled destruction and carnage, most especially if and when used in such a fashion that their extraordinary and awesome explosive, incendiary and especially radioactive effects are allowed to impact upon populated places. We are, of course,  similarly aware of the hypothetical simulations and scenarios in which the use of a submarine-launched nuclear ballistic missile in a remote place such as Antarctica might take place. These might include using only one missile fitted with only a single warhead, with a reduced low-yield configuration against a specific military target, such as another submarine, in an isolated place many hundreds, if not thousands, of miles from any population centres.

Equally, however, we are aware that it is the declared policy position of your administration that the Government will in fact maintain at sea  at all times, and capable of firing all its missiles, at least one of our Nuclear Ballistic Missile Submarines (SSBN), armed with the Trident II D5 missile system. Furthermore, that the Government have declared that that said boat, whilst potentially capable of carrying up to 16 such missiles, will carry half that number (8); and that each such vessel will carry up to 40 warheads in total rather than the 192 (16×12) theoretical maximum.

Basing our knowledge only on published open-source materials, we understand that in practice this means that each boat has 8 missiles (of the UGM-133A variety, as manufactured by the Lockheed-Martin Corporation at their Space Systems Division, based in Sunnyvale, California), each of which has been fitted with 5 x Mk4A type independently targetable re-entry vehicles (MIRV). Each of these MIRVs is now armed with a thermo-nuclear warhead (manufactured and maintained at the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston, Berkshire and finally assembled at the near-by Royal Ordnance Factory at Burghfield,) based on the current US W76-1 warhead design and which, unless specifically modified, has a design explosive nuclear yield equivalent to 100kt of TNT or high explosive.

As residents of Edinburgh and the Lothians we are sharply aware of the UK’s nuclear weapons. Faslane and Coulport are only some 70 miles away and convoys carrying nuclear warheads regularly pass through our district. Knowing this, we can envisage the whole chain of humanitarian consequences involved in nuclear weapons, from the devastation resulting from uranium mining, the threat of radiation poisoning to our own locality and the massive humanitarian disaster that would be caused by the detonation of even one of these weapons.

Once the “at sea” patrol boat has made itself “ready to fire”, this provides the Government with the immediate ability to launch, with a further preparation time of under an hour, an attack, or several attacks, with a combination of up to 40 warheads.

Of those 40 warheads as above mentioned each independently has an explosive yield between 6 and 7 times greater than that which devastated Hiroshima in 1945. That single atomic attack resulted in the immediate deaths of about 75,000 civilians, and in the following weeks and months the deaths of a further 70 – 75,000 Japanese citizens. Many thousands more people have since succumbed to premature death, caused by cancers and genetic defects, as a direct result of their or their parent’s exposure to the fall-out radiation .

Given this truly fearsome and terrifying destructive capacity, we hope that you can agree with us on the especial need, for those with their “finger on the trigger”, to solemnly and sincerely affirm, declare and demonstrate their willingness and intention to fully comply with, the legal limitations and constraints upon them in the exercise of such appallingly frightening destructive potential.

We therefore ask you to read and, on behalf of the Government  to sign the attached Trident Weapons Declaration

This is so that our minds may be put at rest regarding our fear that the fact of the possession of, and  stated willingness in certain deliberately unspecified circumstances to use, our so-called “independent nuclear deterrent”, does not also necessarily imply any willingness or intent, to use the said weapons in any manner in breach of the obligations and commitments of international humanitarian laws we as a nation have taken on .

Yours sincerely,

The above letter has been signed and sent by 17 residents of Edinburgh and the Lothian area of Scotland, who are unable to participate in the Picat Project directly on account of the different court system in Scotland but are keen to support Picat by communicating the concerns of many Scots to the UK Secretary of Defence.

The letter can be downloaded by others in Scotland who also wish to assist in  efforts to rid the UK of nuclear weapons. The letter can also be adapted and used by people outside Scotland and sent to MPs at Westminster with the request that MPs contact the Attorney General to demand consent for the legality of Trident to be heard by a UK court, as sought by the Picat Project.