Global Security Newswire
Daily News on Nuclear, Biological & Chemical Weapons, Terrorism and Related Issues
Statesmen to Scrutinize British Nuke Modernization Plans
The United Kingdom's future plans for modernizing its nuclear forces is due to undergo review by an autonomous panel of prominent former high-level British defense officials, diplomats, scientists and politicians, the London Guardian reported today (see GSN, Dec. 10, 2010).
The coalition government of Prime Minister David Cameron previously postponed until 2015 finalizing the specific size and configuration of a planned nuclear force to replace the United Kingdom's current Trident deterrent, which relies on four Vanguard-class ballistic-missile submarines.
The review commission would be led by former Labor Party Defense Secretary Des Browne, former Conservative Defense Secretary Malcolm Rifkind and former Liberal Democrats defense spokesman Menzies Campbell.
"This is the first time in a very long time that we have had a wholesale review of nuclear weapons policy," Campbell said of the panel. "It is high time it was subjected to rigorous analysis."
The panel would also count among its ranks former General Staff Chief Charles Guthrie, former Ambassador to the United Nations Jeremy Greenstock and former Astronomer Royal and Royal Society President Martin Rees.
Each of the former officials has an "open mind" on whether a British nuclear deterrent is necessary today, as well as delivery mechanisms for a potential next-generation nuclear force, the Guardian quoted a source as saying.
The British government's determination to fund a modernization effort through its main defense budget -- a departure from past policy -- makes it critical to conduct an outside assessment of the plan, said Browne, who was serving when the then-Labor Party government opted in 2006 to replace its nuclear deterrent.
"No one has debated the impact of this on the rest of expenditure on defense," said Browne, who also criticized the modernization plan's exclusion from a strategic defense review.
British American Security Information Council Research Director Ian Kearns, who suggested the panel, said it would offer an "open-minded look at the issue from first principles. … Should the U.K. be a nuclear power at all and if it should, is Trident the only or best way to go about it?"
"What more can and should the government be doing to promote global nuclear disarmament in a world of growing proliferation risks?" he said.
"Given the government's decision to delay Trident renewal until after the next election, there is an important opportunity before the country for a fresh and in-depth debate. This commission will provide a focal point for that debate," Kearns added.
The United Kingdom had yet to establish a deadline for settling on a design of a next-generation ballistic-missile submarine, the modernization plan's "initial gate," according to defense officials (Richard Norton-Taylor, London Guardian, Feb. 9).
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