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U.K. Needs Entire Nuke Sub Fleet, Defense Chief Says

(Feb. 23) -A British ballistic-missile submarine leaves Faslane Naval Base in 2009. The United Kingdom could not reduce the fleet of four nuclear-armed vessels without undermining its deterrent,  Defense Secretary Liam Fox said (Jeff Mitchell/Getty Images). (Feb. 23) -A British ballistic-missile submarine leaves Faslane Naval Base in 2009. The United Kingdom could not reduce the fleet of four nuclear-armed vessels without undermining its deterrent, Defense Secretary Liam Fox said (Jeff Mitchell/Getty Images).

British Defense Secretary Liam Fox has ruled out reducing the number of submarines that carry the nation's nuclear-armed missiles, BBC News reported yesterday (see GSN, Feb. 9).

The United Kingdom's nuclear-tipped Trident missiles are deployed on four Vanguard-class vessels, at least one of which is at sea at all times.

A planned $30 billion modernization program for the deterrent could replace all four submarines with new vessels. A final decision on the plan is not expected until around 2016.

Then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown said in 2009 he would support reducing the submarine fleet to three vessels as a cost-saving measure and to promote international arms control efforts. Fox last summer suggested backing for such a cut, but only if it would not undermine the nation's safety, BBC reported.

However, Fox more recently told BBC Scotland documentary producers that "at the moment the assessment is we need four.

"If you reduce the number you take an increased risk in your ability to deploy that deterrent at all times," the defense secretary said. "So at the moment the technology says four. That's something that can always be kept under review."

The coalition government in London remains intent on cutting the number of nuclear warheads in its arsenal, said Fox, adding that the replacement submarines would be loaded with a smaller number of weapons.

The government's late 2010 Strategic Defense and Security Review called for drawing down the number of warheads on today's Vanguard-class vessels from 48 to 40, according to prior reports. That would result in a reduction of the country's arsenal of operationally ready nuclear weapons from 160 to 120.

The United Kingdom would see its entire strategic arsenal reduced from 225 nuclear weapons to a maximum of 180 warheads by the middle of the next decade.

As long as nuclear proliferation remains a reality, the United Kingdom must have its own arsenal, Fox said.

"We have rogue regimes like North Korea who are actually trying to develop nuclear weapons," he said. "We are seeing other countries potentially trying to develop nuclear weapons. And we cannot gamble with Britain's future security."

Critics are not swayed by the government's case for retaining the deterrent.

"It's a weapon system which is unjustifiable," said Scottish National Party defense spokesman Angus Robertson. "We can never use it. It's immoral, it's illegal, and frankly, we should be spending our money on more important things" (BBC News, Feb. 22).

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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