The ‘Teutates’ agreement was signed by David Cameron and President Sarkozy in November and presented as an exercise in military economy. We were told that we and the French have similar needs in the ‘stewardship’ of our nuclear arsenals, and that sharing research facilities will save expensive duplication. What was not stressed was that this treaty commits both nations to undertake a 50-year programme of cooperation on nuclear weapons technology at a new hydrodynamics research facility known as EPURE at Valduc in France, where conditions for underground nuclear testing can be simulated and the terms of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty neatly bypassed.
Teutates or Toutatis was a Celtic god of war, and someone at the FCO or MoD with a classical education (or perhaps a good acquaintance with Asterix the Gaul?) has displayed a cynical sense of humour in the choice of name. It is really asking too much to expect us to believe in the stewardship story.
If both governments are investing in cutting-edge technology and employing a new generation of nuclear scientists, they are effectively opening the way for the next generation of nuclear war-heads: “one of the aims of the joint programme is to ensure both parties maintain expertise in the technical fields of warhead physics – an area of growing concern in the nuclear weapons arena as scientists with experience of warhead design and explosive nuclear testing grow old and retire” (Nuclear Information Service briefing note Nov 2010, http://nuclearinfo.org/home). Although both countries will retain the right to continue to conduct “sensitive work” in support of their own national programme in a secure environment, a statement from the Elysée spoke of creating a “climate of trust between teams conducive to scientific debate and challenge, to preserve the long-term quality and motivation of nuclear weapons scientists” [ibid].
Of course Britain and the US have been cooperating over nuclear weapons design and construction for year (ever since the US-UK Mutual Defense Agreement of 1958) and there has apparently been much discussion about the implication of Teutates on US-UK collaboration. In fact there has also been French-American collaboration and, according to Liam Fox’s statement to parliament (Nov 2nd), “There has been keen discussion for some time about whether the relationship should be trilateral, given the cost of the programmes, but the decision has been taken that for the moment, the double bilateral relationship will continue.”
All of which suggests a very cosy relationship between the three Western nuclear weapons states, none of whom have the slightest intention of fulfilling their obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty. A fifty-year agreement to invest huge sums of money in the very latest nuclear weapons technology does not sound as if either France or Britain are “planning negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date” (article VI, NPT).
In fact it makes it clear that the current generation of politicians is happy to lock both countries into their prized status as ‘nuclear powers’ beyond the lifetime of all involved, and one is entitled to ask the question “why?” The text of the treaty has been “placed in the libraries of both the House of Commons and the House of Lords” (which is apparently the full requirement for ratification under parliamentary procedure in this country) and I have written to Wimbledon MP Stephen Hammond enclosing a copy of the NIS briefing and asking whether MPs will have the opportunity for debate. It is essential that the implications of the Treaty are fully understood by MPs and the wider public; a very useful seminar was convened last month by the UK and French members of Abolition 2000 to discuss ways forward.