The Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) is dismayed to read a weekend article in the Guardian / Observer that the UK Government has committed itself to buying a new generation of Trident nuclear warheads to replace the current programme, based on US defence technology. NFLA are particularly concerned that the decision was revealed in the United States by US military officials before any official announcement has been made by the UK Government. (1)
These warheads will cost billions of pounds as part of a programme that could cost as much as £205 billion. (2) The National Audit Office (NAO) has just reported that the costs of the current Trident replacement programme are already considerably over budget as well – over £1.35 billion was quoted in the NAO report. (3)
The announcement at the Pentagon also shows that Trident is hardly an ‘independent’ nuclear deterrent, given the UK is almost completely beholden to US technology for the replacement programme. It shows some disrespect for Parliament that such an important and expensive policy announcement has not been given in the House of Commons and thoroughly discussed over 2 months since the general election.
The W93 sea-launched warhead is US technology, and there has been no previous public indication to date that the UK plans to share or purchase such missiles. This announcement in the Pentagon is clearly embarrassing to the UK Government, but shows that, as it has for most of the past five decades, the UK’s nuclear weapons programme can only exist with the complete support of the US military.
NFLA agree with the public comments made by the Nuclear Information Service (NIS) in the Observer article that the UK is now so reliant on US technical knowledge and assistance for its nuclear weapons programme that it is almost impossible for it to diverge from any development path the US decides to take. This could lock the UK into the exorbitant costs of US technical development with little effective control should such costs increase exponentially.
It also diverges from the UK’s legal steps towards promoting nuclear disarmament under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation (NPT) Treaty. With the five-yearly review of the NPT starting at the end of April, it looks clear that the UK is moving in the completely opposite direction in developing new nuclear weaponry.
NFLA has been instrumental in working with Mayors for Peace and the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) to encourage Councils to show their support for multilateral nuclear disarmament through passing resolutions on backing the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). To date over 230 towns, cities and counties around the world have passed such resolutions, including Manchester City Council, Edinburgh City Council, Renfrewshire Council, Fife Council, Norwich City Council, Oxford City Council, East Ayrshire Council and Hebden Royd Town Council. (4)
It is expected the required 50 states will formally ratify the TPNW by the end of 2020, making it a new cornerstone in a renewed bid for global nuclear disarmament. It is therefore ever more disappointing that the UK is joining with the US in building new nuclear weapons with likely more destructive yields.
NFLA calls on the UK Government to make an urgent announcement to Parliament on this matter and hold an emergency debate. NFLA also argue that the expected Strategic Defence Review later this year should also look at positive ways to encourage moves for a more enlightened defence policy. This should question the ongoing effectiveness of developing new nuclear weapons at a time when the large majority of states seek a totally different direction towards multilateral disarmament – which still remains the official government policy.
NFLA Steering Committee Chair, Councillor David Blackburn said:
“It is very disappointing to see major decisions made on UK defence policy being announced by American military officials in Washington DC, rather than in the Houses of Parliament. It would look like the UK is now completely beholden to expensive American technology and there is little real evidence of an ‘independent’ deterrent, as it requires the technical knowhow of US defence companies. NFLA calls on this matter to be brought urgently to Parliament for discussion and proper debate. Key defence decisions should be announced there, not at the Pentagon. There is also a real need for a reconsideration of defence policy that takes into account ways to truly bring about multilateral nuclear disarmament. £205 billion is an awful lot of money for Trident replacement – it should be discussed in detail by our own national Parliament.”
Ends – for more information please contact Sean Morris, NFLA Secretary, on 00 44 (0)161 234 3244.
Notes for Editors:
(1) Guardian / Observer, 22nd February 2020
(2) Guardian, 17th July 2016
(3) National Audit Office, 10th January 2020, Managing infrastructure projects on nuclear-regulated sites
(4) ICAN Cities Appeal list of Councils who have passed resolutions supporting the TPNW