Proliferation Press

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

Posts Tagged ‘Britain’

Britain’s Nuclear Future—And Nuclear Payment to Australia’s Aboriginals

Posted by K.E. White on January 15, 2010

With the Iraq War fallout, Britain has been forced to reassess its military posture. The Financial Times offers an aged—but still—fantastic panel discussion on Britain’s military future.

For this blog, David Davis’ contribution on Britain’s nuclear arsenal merits particular note:

In January, Field Marshal Lord Bramall, former chief of the defence staff, General Lord Ramsbotham and General Sir Hugh Beach described it as “virtually irrelevant” and argued for the funds behind it to be used to provide the army “with what they need to meet the commitments actually laid upon them”.

I do not agree with this argument. It seems to me perverse that we have a nuclear deterrent when we face one or two hostile nuclear powers, both with stable (albeit unpleasant) governments, but abandon it when we have a proliferation of relatively unstable nuclear antagonists.

But that does not mean we should squander money on an upgrade. The reason we decommissioned the cheaper air-dropped WE177 nuclear bombs in the 1990s and kept Trident was because the Trident system was designed to survive an all-out Soviet attack with sufficient power to retaliate. That threat is much reduced, and the bigger threat is of one or two probably inaccurate nuclear weapons from a rogue state…

Is Davis right? Are nuclear weapons useful tools to deter or punish terrorist actions? Or does preventing nuclear terrorism require nuclear-armed nations to reduce or disarm their stockpiles?

Note that the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council also represent the only five legally recognized nuclear-armed states under the NPT. Would one of the P-5 disarming, however small their arsenal may be, help reinforce international norms against proliferation?

Whatever the answers, by avoiding it Davis fails to prove the worth of a U.K. nuclear deterrent.

P.S. Britain and Australia have completed decontaminating and returning aboriginal lands used for 1950s nuclear tests.

Posted in Britain, Nuclear Weapons | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Britain Risks Losing Its Nuclear Deterrent

Posted by K.E. White on March 19, 2009

Britain might lose its nuclear deterrent owing to construction delays in revamping  UK submarine forces. It’s a good thing PM Brown is talking about cutting back their nuclear forces. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, British nuclear forces are in American hands.

From Bloomberg:

The U.K. risks losing its nuclear weapons deterrent if its plan to build a new generation of Trident nuclear submarines falls behind schedule as many other defense projects have, a panel of lawmakers said today.

The Public Accounts Committee, including members of Parliament from the three main parties, said the submarine program is still in the “concept phase” and needs critical decisions by next September to remain on time. The Ministry of Defense plans to begin building the ships before the design is complete to maintain its schedule, the report said.

“The department’s timetable for completing the design and build process for the replacement of the submarines is extremely tight,” Edward Leigh, a Conservative member of Parliament who leads the committee, said in a statement in London. Its track record on delivering projects on time “is not exemplary.” 

And from BBC News:

“Our programme to have a renewed nuclear deterrent will depend on yet to be taken decisions by the US on the dimensions of the successor missile,” he said.

“The MoD is taking steps to reduce the risk of a new missile not fitting in our submarines but there is no guarantee it will.”

But the MoD said there was no doubt that missiles and missile components in future submarines would be compatible.

Defence procurement minister Quentin Davies said the UK’s ability to maintain the submarine deterrent on a continuous basis was not in doubt.

Gordon Brown said earlier this week that he was prepared to include the UK’s nuclear arsenal in multilateral arms control talks. 

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Brown Gets ‘Brownie Points’ on Disarmament, Signals Willingness to Cut Britain’s Nuclear Forces

Posted by K.E. White on March 17, 2009

British Prime Minister Gordon BrownSummary: Symbolic, Diplomatic and—most importantly—practical reasons lay behind Brown’s openness to cutting, but not scrapping, Britain’s nuclear forces.

Gordon Brown signaled his openness to cutting Britain’s nuclear forces as part of a multilateral effort at disarmament. In his speech, Checks Against Delivery, sets the stage for an ambitious agenda at 2010 Nonproliferation Treaty Conference: strengthening treaty accountability, reducing fissile material, cutting nuclear armaments and enacting a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty and ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

In particular, Brown suggested that Britain could keep an effective nuclear deterrent with 12, not 16 missile tubes. And he signaled a general openness to cutting the number of UK nuclear warheads.

While not reversing Britain’s commitment to a nuclear deterrent, this is a considerable shift: just two years ago, Tony Blair—relying on Conservative votes—obtained £20billion to fund new nuclear-armed submarines.

So what’s behind the move? And is it really much of a nuclear shift?

The move has symbolic importance: Britain, a leading proponent of nuclear disarmament has been hampered by its refusal to cut their own deterrent. Such a shift grants Britain a bit more diplomatic heft when criticizing the Iranian nuclear program. Brown might also be trying to pressure Russia and the United States to commit to a meaningful disarmament agreement, perhaps sensing that President Obama could put arms control back on the global agenda.

From Brown’s speech: “I know from President Obama and the new US administration that America shares with us the ultimate ambition of a world free from nuclear weapons.”

From Times On-Line: HMS Vanguard, which was launched in 1992, is one of four British submarines capable of carrying up to 16 Trident ballistic nuclear missiles with up to eight warheads. At least one of the submarines is on patrol at any time.

From Times On-Line: HMS Vanguard, which was launched in 1992, is one of four British submarines capable of carrying up to 16 Trident ballistic nuclear missiles with up to eight warheads. At least one of the submarines is on patrol at any time.

But let’s not forget Brown’s domestic constituency. While the British public supports a British nuclear deterrent, they are soundly against paying to keep it credible.

Sources of Interest

Here’s the Guardian’s report on Brown’s speech. And here’s a PDF of the speech in full.

This 2006 report on the British nuclear force, Worse Than Irrelevant by Rebecca Johnson, Nicola Butler and Stephen Pullinger is worth reading. It seems to be part of Gordon Brown’s playbook and suggests where he might go from here.

And January’s Economist shows—in condensed form—how little bang Britain gets for the nuclear buck:

Plainly, Britain’s military resources do not match its commitments. Three ex-generals have said that Britain’s “unusable” nuclear weapons should be scrapped. But Sir Jock reckons that any money saved would almost certainly go back to the Treasury, not the conventional forces.

On December 11th the government announced a delay of one or two years in building big new aircraft carriers, and the deferral of a new family of armoured vehicles. Even so, insiders say there is still a £3.7 billion ($5.2 billion) hole in the budget for military equipment over the next four years and procurement costs are still rising. The bill for the 20 biggest weapons projects is now £28 billion, or 12%, over budget.

Heavy spending on kit for the navy and air force leaves little for the army; one source says it will receive less than 10% of all spending on defence equipment between 2003 and 2018. The government notes, however, that better-protected transport vehicles and other things are being rushed in separately using the Treasury’s reserve funds; the force in Afghanistan is now the best-equipped that Britain has fielded (though it still trains with old kit).

How much should Britain spend on defence? At around 2.6% of GDP, its defence budget is high by European standards but below America’s 4% (see chart 2). Defence spending has lagged behind other government expenditure (see chart 3). One general says: “You cannot have a first-division army, navy and air force—and a nuclear deterrent—for £34 billion a year.”

Posted in Arms Control | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Speigel Surveys Economic Challenges Facing World Governments

Posted by proliferationpr on February 11, 2009

Speigel surveys the global impact of the economic crisis, contrasting the challenges facing the United Kingdom, France and Russia and China. While at times perhaps alarmist, I—an American who watches US media coverage on the economic crisis equating to coverage on Obama’s stimulus plan and TARP retooling—appreciated this concise, international economy primer.

And for those eager for India updates, the nation is responding to declining economic growth with a bank bailout plan of their own.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Brown and Zardari Talk Terrorism

Posted by proliferationpresswm on September 19, 2008

An interesting (if two-day old) Guardian report on anti-terrorism talks between President Zardari and Prime Minister Brown:

It is thought that Zardari outlined to Brown Pakistan’s plan to combat terrorism, which included a proposal to set up a dedicated cell inside the Pakistani high commission in London to help track British Pakistanis suspected of extremism. Most of the known terror plots in the UK have had some connection to Pakistan and often involved a visit there for training.

Zardari sought Brown’s help in promoting the idea of an anti-terror conference of Pakistan, Afghanistan and its neighbours Iran, China, Russia and India, along with Britain and the US as observers.

The idea is to reach a consensus among the countries most directly affected by the extremists based in Pakistan and Afghanistan, in an attempt to claim the ownership of the anti-terror fight as an indigenous struggle. A Zardari aide said: “We want to broaden the base for this war, to stop it being seen as … George Bush’s crusade. Otherwise, it just won’t wash at home.”

Posted in Britain, Diplomacy, Pakistan | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Irish Nuclear-Free Zone? Ministers Make Joint Appeal Against British Nuclear Energy Plans

Posted by K.E. White on February 3, 2008

From BBC News:

Social Development Minister Margaret Ritchie and Irish Environment Minister John Gormley made a joint call.

They are concerned about proposals to include nuclear power as a means of reducing the UK‘s carbon footprint.

“It is bad enough having a nuclear threat off our shores. We should not contemplate having one within our shores,” Ms Ritchie, SDLP, said.

“The shift back towards a nuclear power energy policy in Great Britain greatly concerns me, especially given its close proximity.

Quick Historical Note: The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) came out of a 1958 Irish proposal that aimed to freeze nuclear weapons proliferation.

Posted in Britain, Ireland, Northern Ireland, NPT, Nuclear, nuclear energy | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

New M15 Chief Jonathan Evans Warns of Child Terrorists

Posted by K.E. White on November 5, 2007


Jonathan EvansA disturbing trend is noted by today’s Guardian:

Children in the UK as young as 15 and 16 have been implicated in “terrorist-related” activity as extremists “methodically” target them to help their aims, the head of MI5 said today.

In his first public speech since becoming MI5’s director general in April this year, Jonathan Evans, an expert in Islamist extremism, said terrorists’ increasing use of children was a worrying development.

Mr Evans, who also warned that Russia’s “unreconstructed” attempts to spy on the UK were tying up resources, said: “As I speak, terrorists are methodically and intentionally targeting young people and children in this country. They are radicalising, indoctrinating and grooming young, vulnerable people to carry out acts of terrorism.”

The MI5 director general said the country’s rightful concern to protect children from exploitation needed to be extended to cover violent extremism.

Speaking more generally, he said the UK’s greatest security threat continued to be al-Qaida, which was conducting a “deliberate campaign against the United Kingdom” and there was “no sign of it reducing”.

“I not think that this problem has yet reached its peak,” he added. Speaking to newspaper editors at a hotel in Manchester, Mr Evans said that when his predecessor, Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, made a similar speech this time last year she said MI5 had identified 1,600 supporters of terrorism who were a “direct threat to national security and public safety”.

BBC News also reports on Evans’ speech, adding this:

BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner said the speech contained the message that MI5 needed the public’s help.

“It’s about tackling the ideology at grass roots. They can only really tackle the symptoms. They can’t go up to people and say, ‘Do you follow al-Qaeda?'”

Shiraz Maher, a former member of radical Muslim group Hizb ut-Tahrir, said the recruitment of young people by militant groups was a reality.

Youth initiatives, including football training and anti-drugs schemes, were being used to groom “impressionable and idealistic” young people, he told BBC Radio 4’s The World at One programme.

Posted in Britain, Great Britain, Jonathan Evans, M15, Terrorism | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »