Proliferation Press

A webpage devoted to tracking and analyzing current events related to the proliferation of WMD/CBRN.

British Parliament to Vote on Revamping Nuclear Deterrent: Passage Certain, Legacy Unsure

Posted by K.E. White on March 13, 2007


(Read earlier coverage from Proliferation Press, and read this excellent Q&A on the Trident issue from the Guardian)


Britain's Trident SystemIs Britain adding fuel to a looming nuclear weapons race? A race that not only includes nuclear aspirants, but already established nuclear powers?

That is what many British statesmen believe. And Prime Minister Tony Blair may witness his worst Labour rebellion coming over his controversial stand on Britain’s nuclear deterrent.

The British periodicals are abuzz with news of the growing Labour revolt against Prime Minister Tony Blair’s plan to revamp Britain nuclear deterrent–sea-based nuclear warheads on Trident submarines.

From The Independent:

Government whips have mobilised to stop more Labour MPs joining the revolt against the replacement of the £65bn Trident missile system – after the Deputy Leader of the Commons announced yesterday he was quitting in protest.

Nigel Griffiths, a long-term ally of Gordon Brown, said he was resigning ” with a heavy heart but a clear conscience”. Meanwhile, whips were urgently calling in Labour MPs and warning them not to allow Tony Blair to be humiliated by having to depend on the Tories to win a vote tomorrow.

Prime Minister Tony Blair

While Blair’s proposal will undoubtedly pass—with solid conservative support—the battle over whether to revamp Britain’s nuclear deterrent presents illustrates well the various positions on nuclear weapons.

Liberal Democrats and rebel Labour backbenchers find the nuclear revamping a dangerous signal to send to the world. While Britain works to convince Iran and North Korea that it is in their interest to give up their nuclear programs, Britain (along with America) is updating their own.

This is particularly embarrassing since the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty commits the recognized nuclear states (America, Russia, Great Britain, France, and China) to work towards eventual disarmament.

The Scottsman sheds light on this legal issue:

The anti-nuclear lobby has questioned the legality of any decision to replace Trident, arguing that the international Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) – to which Britain is a signatory – forbids the construction of new weapons.

Lord GoldsmithBut the government rejects those arguments, insisting in a white paper last year that “retention of a nuclear deterrent is fully consistent with our international legal obligations,” including Article 6 of the NPT.

That clause commits signatories to take “effective measures” to end the nuclear arms race and bring about nuclear disarmament, and ministers argue that that does not prohibit replacing existing weapons.

Officials have privately confirmed to The Scotsman that ministers took legal advice from Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney General, when drawing up the white paper. But the Ministry of Defence, the Foreign Office and the Attorney General’s office all refused to say what Lord Goldsmith had advised about the legality of replacing Trident.

British Prime Minister Blair issued a December 20006 statement in favor of the Trident system. It reads in part:

There are perfectly respectable arguments against the judgment we have made. I both understand them and appreciate their force. It is just that, in the final analysis, the risk of giving up something that has been one of the mainstays of our security since the War, and moreover doing so when the one certain thing about our world today is its uncertainty, is not a risk I feel we can responsibly take.

Our independent nuclear deterrent is the ultimate insurance. It may be, indeed hopefully is the case that the eventuality against which we are insuring ourselves, will never come to pass.

But in this era of unpredictable but rapid change, when every decade has a magnitude of difference with the last, and when the consequences of a misjudgement on this issue would be potentially catastrophic, would we want to drop this insurance and not as part of a global move to do so, but on our own? I think not.

Maintaining our nuclear deterrent capability is also fully consistent with all our international obligations.

We have the smallest stockpile of nuclear warheads amongst the recognised nuclear weapons states, and are the only one to have reduced to a single deterrent system. Furthermore, we have decided, on expert advice, that we can reduce our stockpile of operationally available warheads to no more than 160, which represents a further 20% reduction.

In the early 21st century, the world may have changed beyond recognition, since the decision taken by the Attlee Government over half a century ago. But it is precisely because we could not have recognised then, the world we live in now, that it would not be wise to predict the unpredictable in the times to come.

That is the judgment we have come to. We have done so according to what we think is in the long-term strategic interests of our nation and its security and I commend it to the House.


Instead it is the debates around two broad after-effects of this plan.


  1. Will the Labour rebellion hurt or help the party in the next election? (And what will happen to the Trident program if Gordon Brown is safely installed in 10 Downing Street)
  2. Will this action jeopardize attempts to put global arms control back on the global agenda, let alone containing worrisome nuclear projects?


While tomorrow will reveal the Parliament vote, it will take years to answer those questions above.

4 Responses to “British Parliament to Vote on Revamping Nuclear Deterrent: Passage Certain, Legacy Unsure”

  1. Scooby, Naturally. said

    It’s definitely still March 12th here. Are you in a different time zone now…?

  2. The blog does seem to be set to a strange time zone.

    I hadn’t thought of it because two of the British articles were March 13–I guess because Great Britain is four hours ahead of Washington, DC time.

    How go the Scooby snacks?

  3. Scooby, Naturally. said

    SO good 🙂

  4. Idetrorce said

    very interesting, but I don’t agree with you

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