A newly created elite group of British cross-party parliamentarians dedicated to multilateral nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation (aptly titled the Top Level Group of UK Parliamentarians for Multilateral Nuclear Disarmament and Non-Proliferation) was officially launched today with a meeting in Westminster. Former Defence Secretary Des Browne is the group’s convener.
Drawing inspiration from America’s Four Horsemen, the British group seeks to secure the world from nuclear dangers. Their plans include reducing nations’ reliance on nuclear weapons and advocating for the CTBT. Yet perhaps their most valuable aspiration is the group’s hope to create a unified European voice.
In an event hosted by the Carnegie Endowment last month, Des Browne introduced this mission as part of his goal for the group: “We hope to bring Europe together. As I say, every country in Europe has its Gang of Four, but they’re operating broadly separate from each other.” In the press release announcing their launch, the group stated that they hope to “provide an authoritative European voice to back up the position of U.S. President Barack Obama.”
Such an enterprise could provide U.S. politicians and lawmakers with a clear window into the European stance on key issues. As the press release explains: “The group has also tasked itself with ensuring that politicians in the U.S., of all political persuasions, are in no doubt of their allies’ positions on extended deterrence, tactical nuclear weapons, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty.”
The issues of extended deterrence and tactical nuclear weapons have fueled an intense debate in Washington over the future of U.S. nuclear deployments in Europe. Withdrawal of U.S. tactical nukes from Europe would go a long way toward promoting global nuclear reductions, but this possibility has run into numerous obstacles.
Despite strong indications that the tactical deployments are unwanted and unnecessary, critics of withdrawal argue that our European allies want the nukes. They argue that withdrawal would lead to anxiety and even proliferation as the Europeans would begin to doubt the credibility of the U.S. nuclear umbrella. And the critics have plenty of anecdotes from their own meetings with Europeans to support this view.
On the other hand, Des Browne at Carnegie articulated his strong personal view that tactical nuclear weapons could be discarded without undercutting anyone’s strategic defense. He also expressed his confidence that the United States could withdraw its tactical nuclear deployment from Europe smoothly without prompting some sort of extended deterrence crisis, provided that the United States properly engaged diplomatically with Europe in the process.
The UK group’s pursuit of a unified European voice should help to clarify these types of conflicting messages The U.S. political process and future of nuclear reductions are in great need of a clear and coherent message from U.S. allies. The UK group has spotted this problem and seems poised to ameliorate it.