BASIC-BITS Research Report 98.5
ISBN: 1 874533 35 0

Nuclear Futures

Western European options for nuclear risk reduction

Martin Butscher, Otfried Nassauer & Stephen Young


4. Chapter Four: Nuclear Co-Operation


4.1. US-UK Nuclear Co-operation

Since the 1950s, the UK nuclear programme has been closely linked with the US programme. Nuclear co-operation between the two countries is conducted under the 1958 Agreement for Co-operation on the use of Atomic Energy for Mutual Defence Purposes. This agreement provides for the exchange of classified information concerning nuclear weapons to improve the recipient's "design, development and fabrication capability".1

The Mutual Defence Agreement provides the basis for co-operation including British use of the Nevada Test Site; joint work at Lawrence Livermore, Los Alamos, and Sandia National Laboratories; the sale of US Trident missiles to Britain; and extensive US assistance with all aspects of the British nuclear weapons programme. In addition there is a US-UK Polaris Sales Agreement that has been amended to cover arrangements for Trident.


4.2. Ongoing US-UK Co-operation

To facilitate exchanges of information between the US and the UK, the UK runs Atomic Co-ordinating Offices in London and Washington. There are currently five UK personnel stationed in the US under the 1958 Agreement. In addition, three Atomic Weapons Establishment employees are in the US on short-term appointments, and a further 15 British personnel are there as part of the Polaris Sales Agreement as amended for Trident.2 There are also four US employees in the UK as part of the Polaris Sales Agreement, as amended for Trident.3

In 1958, a Joint Atomic Information Exchange Group (JAIEG) was established in the US. Its remit is to review and determine the transmissibility of all properly sponsored exchanges of information on nuclear weapons between the various US agencies, including the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy, and other nations and regional defence organisations, including the UK, France, NATO, and NATO member states. The JAIEG is part of the US Defense Special Weapons Agency (formerly the Defense Nuclear Agency).

Information is exchanged in a variety of ways, including Joint Working Groups (JOWOGs) and Exchanges of Information by Visit and Report (EIVRs). A number of Joint Working Groups currently operate under the terms of the 1958 Mutual Defence Agreement. These exchange technical information on a comprehensive list of subjects:

Radiation Simulation and Kinetic Effects Technology
Energetic Materials
Test Monitoring
Nuclear Materials
Warhead Electrical Components and Technologies
Non-Nuclear Materials
Nuclear Counter-Terrorism Technology Facilities
Nuclear Weapons Engineering
Nuclear Warhead Physics
Computational Technology
Aircraft, Missile and Space System Hardening
Laboratory Plasma Physics
Manufacturing Practices
Nuclear Weapon Accident Response Technology
Nuclear Weapon Code Development
Nuclear Weapon Environment and Damage Effects.4

In addition, separate arrangements are in place for exchanges under the Polaris Sales Agreement, as amended for Trident. The Joint Steering Task Group operates under this agreement, supported by the Trident Joint Re-Entry Systems Working Group and the Joint Systems Performance and Assessment Group.5

Clearly, co-operation with the US is underway on all aspects of the British nuclear programme.


4.3. UK-French Nuclear Co-operation


Active co-operation in the field of nuclear weapons between the UK and France came to wider public attention when President Chirac and Prime Minister Major held their annual Franco-British Summit on 29-30 October 1995. The furore over French nuclear testing was then the backdrop to ongoing UK-French discussions on nuclear weapons co-operation. Major expressed support for the French tests as the two leaders agreed on a wide-ranging series of defence and foreign policy co-operation measures, with enhancement of the Anglo-French nuclear relationship as the centrepiece. These were announced in a documents called "Global Partners", "Background Note on Defence Co- operation" and "Joint Statement on Nuclear Co-operation". The Joint Statement reads:

We have talked about nuclear co-operation, and noted considerable convergence between our two countries on nuclear doctrine and policy.

We do not see situations arising in which the vital interests of either France or the United Kingdom could be threatened without the vital interests of the other also being threatened.

We have decided to pursue and deepen nuclear co-operation between our two countries. Our aim is mutually to strengthen deterrence, while retaining the independence of our nuclear forces. The deepening of co-operation between the two European members of the North Atlantic Alliance who are nuclear powers will therefore strengthen the European contribution to overall deterrence.

We have instructed our Joint Nuclear Commission to take this forward.6

In November 1993, the existence of the Joint Nuclear Commission referred to above was made public by Malcolm Rifkind. The Commission meets at the level of senior civil servants from Foreign and Defence Ministries. It was established in November 1992, formalised and made permanent in July 1993. Rifkind defined the Commission's purpose as being "to strengthen the specific European contribution to the deterrence which underpins the collective security of the whole Alliance [NATO]''.7

The Commission is the main basis for UK-French nuclear co-operation, but there are other elements. The present Secretary of State for Defence, George Robertson, told the House of Commons that his department has,

regular contacts with members of the French Armed Forces and French officials on defence nuclear matters. These include meetings of the Franco-British Joint Nuclear Commission, biannual staff talks and visits to the United Kingdom on an ad-hoc basis.8


4.4. Ongoing UK-French Co-operation

Most of the activities of the Joint Nuclear Commission remain classified. The Labour Government, despite occasionally criticising their Conservative predecessors for excessive secrecy in this area, has refused to divulge many details of the work of the Commission or to place any of its reports in the House of Commons Library. Despite this, some details are known of the Commission's discussions, principally because of French government background briefings to the media.

Early discussions in the Joint Nuclear Commission centred on drawing up a comparison of French and British approaches to deterrence, nuclear doctrines and concepts, anti-missile defences, arms control, and non-proliferation. In particular, during 1993 there was a deep comparison of the deterrence doctrines of the two countries which, according to one French participant, showed that there were no insurmountable differences between the two nations' approaches. Indeed, at the end of 1993, Rifkind was able to say publicly that there "are no differences between France and the United Kingdom on the fundamental nuclear issues".9

This level of political co-operation is built on increasing practical co-operation between the two nations. An excellent example of such links is the new company Thomson Marconi Sonar (TMS) created and owned by the French Thomson-CSF company and GEC Marconi in the UK. This company supplies, among other things, the sonar system for the UK Vanguard-class submarines of the UK Trident fleet.

In 1994, the Joint Nuclear Commission studied the European contribution to deterrence and, despite the UK decision to abandon the ASLP, sources say that agreement was reached on the 'utility' of an air launched missile component to deterrence. (On ASLP, see Chapter 3.3 on p.19.) At the 1994 Chartres Anglo-French Summit, defence ministers held talks on nuclear issues, although they did not feature much in the main discussions between Major and Mitterrand. The two countries also used the opportunity to co-ordinate their approach to the renewal of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. At a press conference, Major and Mitterrand agreed that, "Nuclear deterrence is at the base of European security. A European security policy without nuclear deterrence would be a feeble policy indeed".10

Since 1995, discussing how deterrence can face the new security challenges has been the main order of business. In particular, how should Europe answer perceived emerging threats from new countries developing weapons of mass destruction?

There is confusion over whether talks have been held concerning the possibility of combined or co-ordinated missile submarine patrols. According to media reports, this was discussed in the 1992-1993 period, but then nothing more was heard of the subject for some time. At a press briefing at the 1995 Summit, UK officials said that no such co-operation was possible while France remained outside the NATO integrated military structure, as the UK Trident is allocated principally to NATO. At the time it seemed likely that France would soon rejoin the structure, but this move was ruled out at the July 1997 NATO Summit in Madrid. Notwithstanding, in January 1998 the French Defence Minister Alain Richard was quoted as saying that discussions concerning joint submarine patrols were ongoing.11 Confusingly, in a written answer to a question by Robert Key, MP, on January 22, UK Secretary of State for Defence George Robertson stated that there "have been no discussions on the issue of joint UK/French deterrent patrols."12 Thus, the status of the proposal is unclear.


4.5. Co-operation Between UK and French Nuclear Weapons Laboratories

Research co-operation between French and British nuclear weapons laboratories has begun to come to light over the last few years, although details are still very sparse. This co-operation has also included the Americans.

In the context of the Anglo-French Defence Research Group (AFDRG) there are thirteen working groups which co-ordinate the two countries' military research efforts. Working Groups relevant to nuclear co-operation include: WG03 - Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Defence; WG07 - Energetic Materials; WG10 - Nuclear Blast Effects; and WG13 - Directed Energy Technology. There may be more, but available evidence does not establish a nuclear connection for other working groups. Furthermore French and British scientists regularly visit each other's facilities.

In May 1995, the UK MoD submitted a memorandum to the House of Commons Defence Select Committee which stated that technical discussions had been held with France on such questions as hydrodynamics experiments, laser plasma physics, computer simulation and possible arrangements for peer review. These discussions have involved a number of reciprocal visits.13

The frequency of contacts between French and British nuclear weapons scientists has remained roughly stable since 1993. (See Table One below). However, while in 1993-1995 these visits were split between the sites at Aldermaston and Burghfield, in recent years they have been concentrated at Aldermaston. It appears that early contacts examined both operational and research and development aspects of nuclear weapons. Since 1995, there appears to be an increasing emphasis in the relationship on nuclear weapons research and development, perhaps particularly because of co-operation on stockpile stewardship in a post-nuclear testing environment.


Table One
French Scientific Visits to UK Nuclear Facilities

Financial Year Aldermaston Burghfield Cardiff Foulness
1993-1994 4 3 0 0
1994-1995 3 1 0 1
1995-1996 4 3 0 1
1996-1997 8 0 0 0
April 1997
to 21 Jan. ’98
6 0 0 0

Source: House of Commons, Official Report, 26 January 1998, Col. 29.

The information that the UK government has been prepared to release concerning visits by British personnel to France is less specific. The only information that has been given to the House of Commons concerns visits to French facilities by personnel from Atomic Weapons Establishments. No breakdown as to which establishments these personnel were from was given. Further, although visits to facilities of both the Commisariat a l'Energie Atomique (CEA) and the Delegation Generale de l'Armement (DGA) are recorded, there is no specific information given as to which sites were visited. (See Table Two below.)

Table Two
UK Scientific Visits to French Nuclear Facilities

Financial Year CEA DGA
1996-1997 12 3
April – December 1997 10 2

Source: House of Commons, Official Report, 12 January 1998, Col.136.

Despite the lack of information, it is possible to see from this that the level of co-operation between nuclear weapons lab personnel is significant. There are reciprocal visits on average once every two weeks.


4.6. US-French Co-operation

In 1961 a nuclear co-operation agreement was signed by the US and France.14 However, it was not as far reaching as the US agreement with the UK. It was not until 1985 that the French agreement was amended to include information exchanges concerning weapon design, development, and fabrication. Unlike the British agreement, these exchanges are limited to the purpose of optimising the "safety and security of the recipient's nuclear activities or installations".15

However, this is far from the full story of French-US nuclear weapons co-operation. The extent of co-operation between the two began to come to light in an article by Richard Ullman in Foreign Policy in 1989.16 Ullman conducted extensive interviews with US and French officials and politicians on the US-French relationship, and provided an overview of US-French co-operation.

His primary revelation was the co-operation through the practice of giving 'negative guidance'. French scientists would consult their colleagues in the US concerning nuclear weapons developments, and when the US scientists were able to tell that their French counterparts were making an error, they would tell them they had made a mistake. One of the weapons developed by this method was the neutron warhead that France used with the never-deployed Hades short-range missile. Reliable sources have confirmed that this relationship continued until at least the mid-1980s and may continue today.

As early as the late 1950s and through the 1960s, the US assisted French nuclear weapons design with the sale of high power computers. France has also purchased supercomputers from the US for nuclear weapons work, notably a Cray 1S, a Cray X/MP 416, and two Control Data Cyber 860s in 1987. France purchased Cray T3 computers to carry out simulation of nuclear explosions in 1996, and will follow this buy with two further computer purchases in 2001 and 2005, as part of the PaSEN (formerly PALEN) programme. (See Chaper 4.7 on p. 28 below).

US archives reveal that the US assisted France with a wide range of subjects including missile design, safety of nuclear materials, and gaseous diffusion technology. It should be noted that, from the very beginning, this co-operation was a two-way process. France provided a variety of information to the United States, notably in recent years when data from the last series of French nuclear tests was supplied to the US. This continued a tradition of co-operation on testing results which has existed since 1960. Nonetheless, co-operation between the US and France has been less extensive than that with the UK.

In 1996, the US and France signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) on Co-operation Concerning Nuclear Safety and Security. The MOA is far more explicit than previous agreements between the US and France. A section on Stockpile Stewardship authorises co-operation on "theoretical, numerical and experimental simulation methods". A section entitled "Nuclear Safety and Security" covers exchange of information on aspects of nuclear weapons design including research, development, testing, fabrication, transportation and disassembly of the nuclear and explosive components. It also establishes an agreement on "use of facilities" and "long term visits or assignments of technical personnel to participate in joint projects".17

Enhanced nuclear co-operation between the US and France also opens new opportunities for co-operation between Britain and France. In the past, this was restricted by the 1958 US-UK Mutual Defence Agreement, which requires US consent before the UK can communicate any information acquired under the Agreement to a third party and vice versa. With enhanced official US-French co-operation, it seems likely that US consent has also been given to increased information transfers between the UK and France.

There is now no obstacle to three-way co-operation, or for one of the parties to act as a conduit for information transfer to another. Data from the three nuclear weapons programs can therefore be pooled, enhancing resources for weapons designers from all three countries.


4.7. Current Projects

With the signing of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the focus of US, UK, and French nuclear co-operation is now stockpile stewardship - maintaining nuclear arsenals without testing. Stockpile stewardship is also a major component of the 1996 MOA between the US and France.


France's Pr‚paration a la Limitation des Experimentations Nucleaires (PALEN) programme was originally designed to reduce the number of nuclear tests conducted. It is now intended to develop the means and techniques necessary to maintain the credibility of France's nuclear deterrent in a post-test environment, and as such the programme has renamed Programme de Simulation des Essais Nucl‚aires (PaSEN).

The French nuclear simulation programme is intended to guarantee both the safety and reliability of its current nuclear weapons and those that replace them, along with assuring the long-term reliability of its deterrence policy. Simulation will allow evaluation of the effects of ageing on the weapons and help to maintain the lifetime of the weapons.18 Simulation will be used, together with data from the last French testing campaign, to complete the warheads for the ASMP Plus missile and for the M51 missile.19 The first warhead to be developed entirely without testing will be the version of the TNN for the M51 missile, otherwise known as TNO (see above). The French National Assembly Defence Budget report for 1997 stated that,

a transfer of expertise is planned between those older staff who have participated in tests, and those younger ones who have only worked with simulation programmes. The success of the transfer of expertise is one of the key points of our simulation programme. A failure, if it happened, would only become detectable in around fifteen years time, by which time it would be irreparable and unchangeable.20

France is building a number of new facilities for stockpile stewardship including a Megajoule laser, which will be located at Barp, in Gironde, for research in the thermonuclear field. The Megajoule laser will allow nuclear fusion of very small quantities of material in order to measure the physical processes at work. The first tests of the Megajoule laser are not expected until 2006.21

Recent analysis of the National Assembly report concerning nuclear waste at French nuclear weapons establishments shows that it is likely that scientists at Moronvilliers, in Champagne, have been conducting hydrodynamic or hydro-nuclear explosive laboratory experiments at the plant. France is also building the AIRIX radiographic machine at Moronvilliers, which will study the non-nuclear functioning of the weapons, with the help of experiments in which the nuclear materials will be replaced by inert material. AIRIX is expected to be operational in 1999, operating on one axis with the second axis of analysis becoming available in 2003. 22

The 1996 US-French MOA gives US and French scientists extensive access to each other's laboratories, so US scientists will have access to both the AIRIX and the Megajoule laser. In return, French scientists will be able to use US facilities such as the Nevada Test Site and the proposed National Ignition Facility. The National Assembly noted in 1997 that although the two programmes are currently on an equal footing, the US programme will begin to pull ahead of France from early next century for budgetary reasons.

The United Kingdom

In 1996, the UK Ministry of Defence reported that the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty had necessitated changes in the way in which it sustained,

confidence both in our underwriting of in-service weapons and in our ability to develop new warheads which may be required in the future... we are now looking to a further enhancement of 'above ground' experiments and computer simulation to provide the necessary confidence.23

In 1994, MoD Assistant Chief Scientific Adviser (Nuclear) Tony Quigley told the House of Commons Defence Committee that the MoD was "talking actively with the Americans, and with the French... on how to co-operate effectively in the use of... [stockpile stewardship] facilities".24 This work includes above ground experiments involving the use of explosives but no nuclear yield, lasers, or computer simulations.25

In 1995, the MoD reported its capabilities:

we have for many years employed a range of techniques such as above ground experiments, work with lasers and computer simulation in addition to underground testing to underwrite the safety and reliability of our weapons stockpile. In the absence of testing we intend to develop our experimental techniques and facilities in such areas, and also to exploit the large quantities of data that we have acquired from past underground testing and other work. These will be progressive developments, undertaken in continuing co-operation with the United States, which will contribute to the safe stewardship of Trident throughout its service life as well as to sustaining capabilities to meet future requirements. We have also had some discussions with the French authorities on issues related to nuclear weapons stewardship...26

One US project that will be of particular interest to the UK is the SLBM Warhead Protection Program (SWPP), a collaboration between the US Navy and the Department of Energy.27 The SWPP was established to "maintain the capability to jointly develop replacement nuclear warheads for the W76/Mk4 and W88/Mk5 should new warheads be needed in the future".28 Given that the UK Trident warhead is thought to be based on the US W76/Mk4, the UK is likely to be following this programme closely.


4.8. Conclusion

The extent of nuclear co-operation between the US, France, and the UK on stockpile stewardship indicates the commitment by all of these governments to retain their nuclear weapons programmes for the near future.

Of the two European nuclear-weapon states, France has by far the more ambitious programme. Despite ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, it plans to build a number of new facilities and aims to develop and deploy at least two further nuclear warheads over the next decade. The UK is investing less in stockpile stewardship, but is clearly keen to work with the US and France. It presumably wants to keep its options open, either to extend the life of its existing Trident warhead or for the development of a replacement or an upgrade for Trident in the future.

These programmes highlight the difference between the stated goal of the European nuclear-weapon states to make systematic and determined efforts to reduce nuclear weapons globally, and their actual intentions to retain their own nuclear arsenals in the long term.

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