Jump to search Jump to main navigation Jump to main content Jump to footer navigation

Global Security Newswire

Daily News on Nuclear, Biological & Chemical Weapons, Terrorism and Related Issues

Produced by
NationalJournal logo

U.K. Defends Nuclear Security Following BBC Report

British officials defended their methods of assuring control of the nation's nuclear arsenal yesterday after the BBC reported that submarine commanders might not need an encrypted launch code provided by the prime minister to launch nuclear missiles, Agence France-Presse reported (see GSN, Sept. 5).

Military officers in France, Russia and the United States must receive such a code, called a Permissive Action Link, from the highest level of government before they can arm the nuclear weapons under their command.

"We're satisfied that robust arrangements are in place for political control of the use of the U.K.'s strategic deterrent and these controls are tested and audited," said a British Defense Ministry spokesman.

The spokesman refused to answer questions relating specifically to the BBC report.  "We don't discuss the detailed arrangements," he said.

The Defense Ministry said in a statement to the BBC that PAL safeguards "found in other systems are not relevant" because a significant number of personnel on-board British Trident-class submarines must cooperate to fire a nuclear weapon.  British nuclear warheads are carried solely by submarine-launched missiles.

"Launching a Trident missile from a submarine is a complex activity.  Prior to launch, the command-and-control structure on board the submarine would need to be satisfied that the prime minister has issued instructions to launch nuclear weapons," said the statement.

"A coordinated effort involving key individuals from the boat's company of 150 is required to launch the missile," the statement added.

"U.K. nuclear weapons are designed first and foremost to be secure and safe.  A rigorous system of processes ensures the safety and thoroughness of the operating system for the U.K. nuclear deterrent," it said (Agence France-Presse/Google News, Nov. 15).

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.

NTI Analysis

  • Keynote Address at the Arms Control Association's Annual Meeting

    Oct. 23, 2014

    NTI Vice Chairman Des Browne delivered the keynote address at the Washington-based Arms Control Association's annual meeting, covering a range of nuclear policy issues.

  • Ukraine Must Not Become a New Berlin Wall

    March 13, 2014

    On Friday, March 14, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov meet to discuss the crisis in Ukraine. Five statesmen from Germany, Poland, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States call for the urgent formation of a Contact Group of Foreign Ministers to address the crisis and more broadly, create a new approach to building mutual security in the Euro-Atlantic region.