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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).

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