Ainslie’s archive

IssueAugust - September 2022
News by Trish Whitham

In August, the Nuclear Information Service (NIS) will be unveiling the first digitised documents from the research archive of the late Scottish CND co-ordinator John Ainslie (see his obituary in PN 2600 – 2601). As well as taking part in campaigning and direct action in support of disarmament, John was ‘an authoritative and internationally respected nuclear researcher’ (the Guardian).

Among other things, John’s archive gives a fascinating insight into how British military strategists developed plans to target Russia with nuclear weapons, including the famed Moscow Criterion.

Mass Death Assist

It also sheds light on the Mutual Defence Agreement (MDA) between the UK and the US, which allows co-operation on the development of nuclear weapons. The MDA is a formal treaty (currently renewed every 10 years) which contains ‘arrangements for the transfer of special nuclear materials and non-nuclear components of nuclear weapons’, according to researcher Peter Burt.

The MDA is due for renewal in December 2024, when, Burt argues, the British government will try to push the treaty through with minimal parliamentary oversight.

John Ainslie argued that renewing the MDA would not be compatible with Britain’s commitments under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

John argued in his 2006 report, The Future of the British Bomb, that the MDA ‘constrains’ British nuclear forces because it says that ‘the information and material provided by the US can only be used for mutual defence purposes’.

John pointed out that the MDA would therefore prevent the UK using its nuclear forces ‘in a situation where the US was opposed to their use’.

In the lead-up to the likely renewal of the MDA in 2024, NIS will advocate for parliamentary scrutiny of the agreement.

John’s archive consists of hundreds of documents relating to the UK’s nuclear weapons programme that he collected over several decades from a wide range of sources, including official US and UK government files, activist correspondence, civil society reports, academic studies, photos, newsletters and media articles.

NIS, a research group promoting public awareness and debate on the costs and risks of the UK’s nuclear weapons programme, hopes that providing this platform for John’s work will allow a better understanding of British nuclear decision-making, and ensure the nuclear past – and all its dangers – is not forgotten.

The Ainslie Archive will be presented as a collection in the NIS website library and will be available from August. There are currently around 1,000 documents uploaded and work will continue, as funds allow, to complete the archive.

Topics: Nuclear weapons