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U.K. Could Reduce Nuclear Deterrent, Defense Secretary Says

(Jul. 14) -A British Vanguard-class ballistic missile submarine, shown docked at a naval base in Scotland in 2007. The United Kingdom yesterday indicated it would consider making cuts to its strategic nuclear deterrent (Maurice McDonald/Getty Images). (Jul. 14) -A British Vanguard-class ballistic missile submarine, shown docked at a naval base in Scotland in 2007. The United Kingdom yesterday indicated it would consider making cuts to its strategic nuclear deterrent (Maurice McDonald/Getty Images).

The United Kingdom would weigh reducing the size of its nuclear-armed submarine fleet in accordance with a government effort to reign in spending, British Defense Secretary Liam Fox said yesterday (see GSN, July 9).

Fox said during an address to a London think tank that any potential defense spending cuts must not result in a less-capable military, the Associated Press reported.

"These are tough economic times, but ... I am determined to ensure the U.K. retains robust and well-equipped armed forces capable of intervening abroad where necessary to protect our security," the defense secretary said.

The United Kingdom's strategic forces consist of four Vanguard-class ballistic missile submarines and fewer than 200 Trident nuclear weapons. A government proposal to modernize the country's nuclear deterrent by replacing the four submarines is estimated to cost more than $30 billion.

British treasury head George Osborne has directed nearly all government agencies to find ways to reduce their budgets by 25 percent.

Fox said a planned analysis of potential cost-savings for the nuclear fleet modernization scheme would "cover the program time table, submarine numbers, numbers of missiles, missile tubes and warheads, infrastructure and other support costs" (Associated Press/Boston.com, July 13).

The secretary said the government would look into technological avenues that could permit the elimination of one submarine while retaining the capability to always have one nuclear-armed vessel at sea, BBC News reported.

Downing Street would decide whether to reduce its Vanguard submarine forces in four or five years, Fox said.

"We would have to look at what technology was available and what risks we were taking as we come to make that decision on the fourth submarine sometime in 2014/15," Fox said.

A strategic forces review would examine whether the Trident nuclear system could be retained "while reducing the cost of the successor submarine and ballistic missile systems, including by shifting the balance between financial savings and operational risks," he said.

The United Kingdom's submarine-based nuclear deterrent has been criticized as too costly, with some urging for a change to a surface-to-surface missile system or doing away with the system altogether (BBC News, July 13).

Almost 75 percent of polled British politicians, business executives, journalists and scholars believe the country should look for a less-expensive nuclear system or eliminate its deterrent, Reuters reported.

The poll by YouGov on behalf of the Chatham House think tank found that almost one-third of the opinion setters wanted the country to retire its existing nuclear forces when their operational usefulness ends in 2024.

YouGov also surveyed 2,500 normal British voters. While 29 percent favored replacing the deterrent with new submarines, 30 percent wanted a less-costly deterrent and 20 percent supported getting rid of British nuclear forces.

London projects that it would take roughly 17 years to develop and construct replacements to the four nuclear-armed submarines. Senior coalition government members from the Conservative Party favor retaining the Trident nuclear system while the junior partner Liberal Democrats have called for a less-costly alternative (Peter Griffiths, Reuters, July 13).

Note to our Readers

GSN ceased publication on July 31, 2014. Its articles and daily issues will remain archived and available on NTI’s website.

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