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Scottish Independence May Impact U.S. Trident Missile Program

The U.S. Trident ballistic missile program could be seriously impacted if Scotland chooses to evict British nuclear-armed submarines from its territory following a vote in favor of secession from the United Kingdom, an international relations expert was expected to argue on Tuesday in Washington (see GSN, March 12).

The governing Scottish National Party has called for a vote on independence from the United Kingdom as soon as 2014. It hopes to then order London to remove the Trident submarine-launched missiles and nuclear warheads stored at the Coulport weapons depot and the four ballistic missile submarines home ported at the nearby Faslane naval base. Such a move would be likely to have serious implications for British strategic deterrent as there are no other readily available sites in the country where the nuclear weapons could be relocated, the Scotsman reported.

"In the absence of a suitable option for rebasing the submarines in England or Wales, the United Kingdom's Royal Navy must consider a range of alternatives -- including disarmament," the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said in advertising the Tuesday seminar in Washington with St. Andrews University professor William Walker.

Additionally, as the United Kingdom and the United States are assumed to have long collaborated on developing and maintaining Trident weapons, plans to modernize the nuclear-ready ballistic missile could be seriously impacted if London ceases to be a user of the U.S.-manufactured technology (see GSN, April 4, 2011).

"I think that the Americans are only just waking up to what Scottish independence might mean for the future of the U.K.'s nuclear deterrent," Walker said.

"They need to know what the future of Trident is in the U.K., not just for defense reasons, but also because the two countries are working together on replacing Trident, and obviously, if the U.K. is no longer part of that it will have implications for the project," he continued.

In its November 2009 white paper on secession, the Scottish government declared that an independent Scotland "would become a non-nuclear weapons state."

"The U.K.'s nuclear deterrent would not continue to be based in an independent Scotland and a Scottish government would need to work in partnership with the rest of the United Kingdom to ensure an appropriate transition and relocation," the white paper states.

Walker, though, said an independent Scotland could come under heavy lobbying from the United Kingdom and the United States to strike some sort of deal on housing the deterrent.

"It is possible that a new Scottish government would come to a compromise in the face of severe pressure from Washington and London, but it is hard to predict," Walker said.

The Scottish National Party, though, has signaled it would be unwilling to consider a compromise on the matter following a vote for independence (David Maddox, Scotsman, April 2).

NTI Analysis

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    The James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies has created a series of 3D models of ballistic and cruise missiles for the Nuclear Threat Initiative.

  • Submarine Proliferation Resource Collection

    Oct. 21, 2013

    The submarine proliferation resource collection is designed to highlight global trends in the sale and acquisition of diesel- and nuclear-powered submarines. It is structured on a country-by-country basis, with each country profile consisting of information on capabilities, imports and exports.

Country Profile

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United Kingdom

This article provides an overview of the United Kingdom’s historical and current policies relating to nuclear, chemical, biological and missile proliferation.

Learn More →