F11: Towards a World Free of Nuclear Weapons

Federal Policy Committee
Mover: Baroness Jolly (Shadow Secretary of State for Defence)
Summation: Neil Stockley (Chair of the Policy Working Group)


  1. Reaffirms the Liberal Democrats’ commitment to pursue the global elimination of nuclear weapons, seeking to ensure that nuclear weapons are never used, and ultimately put beyond use.
  2. Believes that, as a nuclear weapons power, a permanent member of the UN Security Council and a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the UK has a responsibility to seek reinvigorated initiatives in international diplomacy to achieve nuclear disarmament.
  3. Recognises the duty of HM Government to maintain a UK defence and security policy that can:
    1. Protect its population, and that of its dependent overseas territories, from attack.
    2. Help to protect the UK’s allies and partners, particularly in pursuit of its legal responsibilities through formal alliance structures such as NATO and through other treaty obligations.
  4. Reaffirms that the Liberal Democrat goals of peace and security are best advanced by working actively and constructively through alliances, partnerships and international institutions, including the European Union, the United Nations, NATO and the Commonwealth, within a framework of international law.

Conference also:

  1. Notes that the immediate security challenges the UK faces, in common with its allies, are: combatting terrorism, the growth of cyber warfare and instability; and conflict in North Africa and the Middle East.
  2. Recognises that the international environment has become much less stable over recent years, including the increasingly aggressive foreign policy of the Russian Federation, turmoil in the Middle East, China’s growing military power, and North Korea’s continuing pursuit of nuclear weapons.
  3. Believes that the nuclear weapons states need to make progress on negotiating disarmament measures, strengthening the framework for the long-term elimination of nuclear weapons and making progress on wider nuclear security issues.

Conference concludes that:

  1. A commitment to a strong NATO, especially in Europe, should be the highest priority for the UK’s defence policy, particularly if the UK was to leave the European Union and EU defence cooperation deepens.
  2. The UK should maintain a cost-effective minimum nuclear deterrent while seeking to kickstart new multilateral talks that will reinvigorate the drive to reduce nuclear stockpiles and operational weapons, and de-emphasise the relevance of nuclear weapons in national and global security.
  3. The current external risks to the UK do not justify maintaining the UK nuclear deterrent in the same hair-trigger posture as during the Cold War and which the current Trident/Vanguard system of four submarines operating as a Continuous At-Sea Deterrent (CASD) was designed to address.

Conference further believes that:

  1. A submarine-based delivery system remains the safest, most defendable, and least detectable platform and should be used to provide the UK’s minimum nuclear deterrent.
  2. The current CASD posture could be safely discontinued without threatening the UK’s security.

Conference proposes that the UK Government should:

  1. Work to regain momentum in the disarmament and control of nuclear weapons, primarily through its role in the ‘P5 process’ and in three key areas:
    1. A concerted effort to build a regime for de-alerting nuclear weapons.
    2. Strengthening the legal framework for arms control and disarmament, including pressing for the ratification and implementation of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), pushing for a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty and implementing a protocol for naval fuels with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and removing surplus fissile material from military stocks.
    3. Developing new verification and transparency measures.
  2. Engage with the UN Open-Ended Group and the process focussed on the humanitarian consequences of using nuclear weapons and work to link their activities with the P5 process.
  3. Work through the P5 process and after careful pre-consultation with the UK’s NATO allies to:
    1. i) Declare its intention to end CASD and adopt a medium-readiness responsive posture that provides minimum deterrence by maintaining armed patrols, without continuous at-sea deployment, (which we believe currently will require three submarines).
    2. ii) Provide the option of moving to a low-readiness responsive posture, or having no nuclear weapons at all, should significant nuclear disarmament take place.

Conference further proposes that the next Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), in 2020/21, should:

  1. Consider how best to deliver operationally a medium-readiness responsive posture while maintaining a credible minimum deterrent, including an examination of how many submarines would be required to fulfil this.
  2. Investigate the feasibility of other lower-readiness posture options that could be employed, including a ‘zero option’ under which the UK would not field a nuclear capability.
  3. Investigate the impact of a medium-readiness posture on the schedule for maintaining and replacing the current Vanguard fleet.
  4. Scrutinise the evolving costs of the Dreadnought Programme, the replacement class of submarines for the Vanguard fleet.
  5. Consider the impact of changing technology on the replacement class of submarines for the Vanguard fleet.

Conference therefore welcomes and approves Policy Paper 127, Towards a World Free of Nuclear Weapons, as a statement of Liberal Democrat policy on nuclear weapons.

Applicability: Federal.