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The Future of Britain's WMD

[Cover of The Future of Britain's WMD]

Dan Plesch

March 2006

Download Future of Britain's WMD (190 kilobyte PDF)

This report discusses replacing Britain's Trident nuclear missile system. It examines British dependence on the United States and concludes that most of the discussion on the replacement is based on the false premise that the UK has an independent nuclear weapon. To support this conclusion the report reviews the history of Britain's involvement with nuclear weapons from 1940 to the present day to show a sixty-year-old pattern of British dependence on the US for WMD.

The report recommends that Trident should not be replaced and should be phased out now, as neither Trident nor any US-supported successor would meet the '1940 requirement' for a system that the nation can rely on if it stands alone as in 1940. Back in the Second World War the British government concluded it could not be a nuclear power without US support. Half a century later the dependence remains decisive. President George Bush Snr ordered his officials to 'produce additional nuclear weapons parts as necessary for transfer to the United Kingdom' (page 14). For fifty years successive governments have concluded that Britain cannot afford an independent nuclear deterrent. An independent system is not an option.

The nuclear relationship will continue 'to tie the UK to US policy' as Admiral Raymond Lygo, former Chairman of British Aerospace and director of strategic systems modernisation for the Royal Navy put it. Not replacing Trident is essential for Britain to reclaim the freedom to act according to its own interests during the twenty-first century, for a Trident replacement will be expected to last until 2070.

With greater freedom of action to work closely with the US, the EU and other partners the UK should act to renew the multilateral disarmament agenda which achieved so much in the 1980s and 1990s. Supporters of nuclear weapons used to argue for a 'Twin Track' of arms and arms control, of multilateral as opposed to unilateral disarmament. Now, there is no international programme of arms control and disarmament. It is unrealistic to consider that the world can continue indefinitely with uncontrolled nuclear armaments and not see a nuclear war. The UK should join the many other countries, notably South Africa, who are working to reduce and remove nuclear and other armaments.

The government should also address a number of technical questions on Britain's WMD and associated technologies:

1. How can the WMD operated by Britain be used should the United States withdraw its support or act preventively?

2. Were any reassurances required by the Bush Administration before it renewed the US-UK Mutual Defence Agreement in 2004 concerning the direction of British defence and civil nuclear policy?

3. How near to production is the US-assisted nuclear weapon the Conservative government tested and developed after Trident, and later cancelled in October 1993?

4. How much of the spending at Aldermaston is on equipment and services from US companies?