Official Launch of the Top Level Group

Official Launch of the Top Level Group, Thursday 29 October, 2009

Senior Parliamentarians Urge UK Leadership on Multilateral Disarmament

29 October 2009, London – Today in Westminster a top level group of former Ministers and Chiefs of defence and senior parliamentarians will launch a cross party effort to promote British leadership of multilateral disarmament.

All the group’s members share the vision of a world free of nuclear weapons and have come together at this critical time in international diplomacy to help achieve that end. This unique group will be launched formally in parliament before an international gathering attended by several Ambassadors, a former UN Under-Secretary General for Disarmament Affairs, and senior figures from the field of nuclear diplomacy.

According to the group’s convener, former Defence Secretary Des Browne MP:

“There appears to be a growing consensus that a world without nuclear weapons is the sort of world we want to live in. That thinking has coalesced around President Obama’s Prague speech but has its roots in the Shultz, Perry, Nunn and Kissinger initiative and Margaret Beckett’s speech to the Carnegie Endowment.

The ambitions of those of us who are now joining together to add energy to this agenda is to manage down the salience of nuclear weapons to defence and, at the same time, to manage down the number of nuclear weapons.

I believe that changing the military strategies of countries who possess nuclear weapons and the defensive alliances that they are involved in, is a necessary precursor to the change and not a consequence of it. However, we must understand that it is necessary to persuade countries that they can do that and at the same time remain secure. This is at the top of our agenda.”

All the members of this group believe in a world free from nuclear weapons but agree that this can only be achieved incrementally.

Representing a major scaling up of cross-party UK political presence on these topics, the Top Level Group will promote a better quality of parliamentary debate through a series of upcoming debates in the House of Commons and the House of Lords, meetings with individuals key to making policy decisions and coordinating parliamentary activities with their counterparts across Europe.

Such debates, planned public outreach, and a coordinated presence at key meetings and conferences over the coming months will build upon the stated goals of the UK government. It will also provide an authoritative European voice to back up the position of US President Barack Obama.

The group has also tasked itself with ensuring that politicians in the US, 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.

At a time when the new German government is promoting the removal of US nuclear weapons from Europe, these voices increasingly will be influential.Furthermore the group provides an opportunity to reinforce the view that multilateral nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation is a critical global issue. Particularly when seen in the context of the 2010 Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference. It will provide a unique momentum to both domestic and international advocacy, building upon high-level statements from former officials and ministers in the US, UK, France, Germany, Italy and Norway.

TLG Member and Chair of the Defence Select Committee, James Arbuthnot MP stressed the timeliness of the group’s efforts:

“Nuclear proliferation is the greatest risk we face. We have vastly dangerous technology in a world which is politically less stable than it was.  We simply must give fresh impetus to a drive to reduce that risk by ensuring that proliferation is first slowed and then reversed.”

The group believes that in order for the multilateral nuclear disarmament agenda to be credible and achievable, the 2010 Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference has to be a success, particularly after the perceived failure of the 2005 NPT Review Conference.

According to TLG member Sir Menzies Campbell MP:

“This is a debate in which Britain needs to play a part. The accumulated experience of our group will inform and direct that debate.”

Podcasts of the Event

Formal Section

Introduction, The Rt Hon Des Browne MP

Comment, General The Lord Guthrie of Craigiebank

Comment, The Rt Hon Malcolm Rifkind MP

Comment, Baroness Williams of Crosby

Q&A Section (by question)

First Question, What specific steps can the UK Government take in the context of the 2010 NPT Review Conference?

Second Question, What are the implications of Trident renewal to the UK Government position on  a nuclear weapons free world?

Third Question, What plans do the Top Level Group have for building relationships with the US Senate?; What progress can be made on a Fissile Material Cut Off Treaty?

Fourth/Fifth Question, What steps are needed other than abolishing nuclear weapons for a stable and nuclear weapons free world?; Have we reached a point where people have changed their thinking?; Are their other authoratative voices in Europe?

Sixth/Seventh Question, Will reform of the UN Security Council provide impetus for getting to Zero?; How does the increasing development of civilian nuclear power affect disarmament efforts?

Eighth/Ninth Question, Will the Top Level Group try to ensure this issue retains its cross-party support during a general election campaigning period?; Nuclear Weapons Free Zones, globally and specifically in the Middle East region

Tenth Question, What plans do the Top Level Group have for engagement across European capitals?

Eleventh Question, To what extent will the Top Level Group seek to engage with the public on this matter?


For further information please contact Shata Shetty on shettys@parliament.uk or by phone on 0207 219 0930.