Letter to Commadore Carolyn Stait from 10 Scottish Lawyers Against Trident
Commadore Carolyn Stait OBE
HM Naval Base Clyde
13 September 2007
Dear Commodore Stait
We are a group of Scottish lawyers who share significant concerns about the presence of the Trident nuclear weapon system in Scotland. As mentioned in our letter of 31 August, we would very much welcome meeting with you to discuss these concerns. We are sorry that you are unable to meet with us when we attend the base this afternoon and should be very grateful if you could instruct the officer in charge of the base to meet with us.
Our concerns are fourfold:
Questionable legality The legality of nuclear weapons is, at the very least, questionable under international law. Many legal experts consider international law does not permit even the possession of nuclear weapons, let alone their use.
We are unhappy that the UK Government should pursue a defence policy whose legality is so doubtful. We believe that the UK should set an example to the world of nuclear disarmament, not rearmament. We fail to understand why the international community should prohibit countries such as North Korea from developing nuclear weapons at a time when the UK is contemplating renewing its weapons.
Unpopularity The majority of Scots do not support the retention of weapons of mass destruction in Scotland. An ICM opinion poll carried out in January 2007 found that almost two thirds of Scots opposed the plan to replace Trident, regardless of cost. We do not believe that Scots should have these deadly and possibly illegal weapons based in their country. Their continued presence here could cause a constitutional crisis in our relations with Westminster.
Humanitarian law We agree with the Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice (1996) that the threat or use of nuclear weapons would generally be contrary to the rules of international law, and in particular the principles and rules of international humanitarian law.
Although the court was unable to conclude whether the use of such weapons might be lawful in an extreme circumstance of self-defence, where the very survival of the State would be at state, we are concerned that the UK Government has not fully explained the situation in which it might use such weapons. Its White Paper (Cmd 6994) says that it would use nuclear weapons only ‘in extreme circumstances’, in defence of the UK or Nato allies. Other government statements have suggested that nuclear weapons might be used to defend ‘our vital interests’ and it is not clear what these might be.
The use of nuclear weapons is governed by the principles of international humanitarian law and no state can claim exemption from them. A cardinal principle of international humanitarian law is discrimination. States must never make civilians the object of attack and must consequently never use weapons that are incapable of distinguishing between civilian objects and military targets. We find it impossible to understand how the use of nuclear weapons could be restricted in this way.
Morality We share with many others, including academics and church people, the belief that the use of nuclear weapons of mass destruction is morally repugnant. We cannot envisage any circumstances where it would be appropriate for the UK to use such weapons.
We appreciate that, as a member of the armed forces, you are carrying out government policy in maintaining the Faslane base. However we believe you should understand the concerns that many lawyers have about the use of these weapons. We will be calling on the Government and the Scottish Executive to remove these weapons from Scottish soil, but in the meantime would very much welcome the chance to discuss matters further with you or the officer in charge of the base.
We look forward to hearing from you.
on behalf of Rosemary Connor, Dan Fenn, Andrew Gibson, William Henderson, Irene Henery, Frances McCartney, Nick McKerrell, Graeme Pagan, Nicola Smith and Lynn Welsh
cc Rt Hon Des Browne MP, Secretary of State for Defence
Alex Salmond MSP, First Minister of the Scottish Government