Cabinet to discuss UK nuclear deterrent for the first time tomorrow

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The Labour Party's 2005 election manifesto read "We are committed to retaining the independent nuclear deterrent”. Although there have been reports that planning and design work on replacement vessels and new designs of nuclear war heads has been proceeding for some years, the first Cabinet meeting to consider this pledge will take place tomorrow.

No Cabinet papers have been circulated before the meeting at which it is said there will be a “first run round the issues”. A further Cabinet meeting is to be held prior to the publication of a White Paper just before Christmas. The principle of retaining a nuclear deterrent will be put to the vote in the House of Commons next year and, although it may split the Labour Party, is likely to be carried with the support of the Conservative opposition.

It is reported that some Cabinet Ministers have reservations about the prudence of maintaining the nuclear deterrent when the apparent threats are from saboteurs and suicide bombers. They also have doubts about the legality of adding to the stock of nuclear warheads contrary to the spirit of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and about the way that the decision is being pushed through without consultation with the Labour Party. Among those with doubts are the Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett, Hilary Benn, Minister of State for International Development, and Peter Hain, Secretary of State for Wales and Northern Ireland.

The only other European country with nuclear capability is France. Prime Minister Blair and Chancellor Brown are agreed on the need to retain a nuclear deterrent. Their reasons include keeping the country's seat at the top table of international politics.

The Trident missile system is carried in four nuclear-powered Vanguard class submarines, the first of which was commissioned in August 1993. The current Trident system cost £12.6 Bn to introduce at 1996 prices, and requires £280m a year to maintain.

Replacements for the smaller nuclear-powered w:attack submarines are under construction and will be armed with Tomahawk missile tactical missile systems. The atomic weapons establishment at Aldermaston is reported to be developing tactical nuclear weapons, smaller and of shorter range than Trident suitable for firing using the same type of launcher as Tomahawks.

"UK Foreign Secretary Beckett breaks ranks over Trident" — Wikinews, October 30, 2006