UK to modernize nukes


Richard Moore

Original source URL:

UK nuclear weapons plan unveiled

Tony Blair has told MPs it would be "unwise and dangerous" for the UK to give up
its nuclear weapons.

The prime minister outlined plans to spend up to £20bn on a new generation of 
submarines for Trident missiles.

He said submarine numbers may be cut from four to three, while the number of 
nuclear warheads would be cut by 20%.

Mr Blair said although the Cold War had ended the UK needed nuclear weapons as 
no-one could be sure another nuclear threat would not emerge in the future.

Submarine system

The options of changing to a land-based, or air-based nuclear weapons system had
been considered and ruled out.

Instead the system would remain one based on a fleet of submarines which carry 
the Trident missiles, each of which can be fitted with a number of nuclear 

Mr Blair said between £15bn and £20bn would be spent on new submarines to carry 
the Trident missiles. The submarines would take 17 years to develop and build, 
and would last until about 2050.

He said the UK would also join the US programme to extend the life of the 
Trident missiles until 2042 - and would then "work with" the US on successor 

A decision on the nuclear warheads themselves "is not needed now", Mr Blair 
said, although the white paper said a decision would be needed in the next 

'Nuclear terrorism'

Mr Blair, who faces some opposition within the Labour Party to the plans, said 
there were "perfectly respectable" arguments about giving up nuclear weapons.

But he said he had to make a judgement about the country's security and the 
consequences of misjudgement would be "potentially catastrophic".

He denied that Britain was under an obligation to disarm under the nuclear 
non-proliferation treaty and pointed out that new threats were posed by states 
like North Korea.

"In these circumstances it would be unwise and dangerous for Britain, alone of 
any of the nuclear powers, to give up its independent nuclear deterrent."

He also said "it is not utterly fanciful" to "imagine states sponsoring nuclear 
terrorism from their soil".

MPs will vote on the plans in March after a period of debate, he said.

Conservative leader David Cameron said his party agreed with Mr Blair's position
"on substance and on timing".

"It is a vital matter for our national security but it requires a long-term 
approach. I hope we can work together on this issue for the good of the 
country," he told Mr Blair.

But Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell said proper consideration of 
all relevant factors could only be made if the decision was postponed until 

Security or legacy?

He added: "Why is this decision being pushed through his own Cabinet, and 
through Parliament, just as the prime minister is about to leave Downing Street?
Is this about Britain's interests or about his legacy?"

Sir Menzies wants the number of UK warheads halved to 100 - a move he said could
help kickstart multilateral disarmament.

Among Labour MPs who oppose replacing Trident former minister Michael Meacher 
asked: "How can this proposal really be justified in an utterly different 
post-Cold War environment?"

He argued that the move would restrict conventional defence spending, undermine 
the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and would take money away from the fights 
against terrorism, climate change and "long term energy insecurity".

A group of 28 Labour MPs, headed by Gordon Prentice, have written to the general
secretary of the Labour Party asking for "wider and deeper consultation" among 
party members and affiliated organisations.

And Kate Hudson, from the anti-nuclear pressure group, CND, said she was "very 
very disappointed" with Mr Blair's announcement.

"He talked vaguely about reducing the number of submarines and warheads but it 
is not clear what that would mean," she said.

"I am sure many Labour MPs will be extremely angry because it is clear the prime
minister has set out a pre-determined timetable."

Published: 2006/12/04 20:53:30 GMT


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