Trident

The United Kingdom has possessed nuclear armaments since 1952 and presently deploys a nuclear weapon system comprising four Vanguard class nuclear-powered submarines - home-ported at Faslane in Scotland, US Trident II (D5) missiles, and a stockpile of up to 180 warheads, manufactured and maintained at the Atomic Weapons Establishments (AWE) at Aldermaston and Burghfield, near London, and stored at Coulport, near Faslane, Scotland. Generally referred to as ‘Trident’ – or the political euphemism ‘independent deterrent’ – this nuclear-weapons system came into service during the 1990s, with an expected 30 year service life, b...

The United Kingdom has possessed nuclear armaments since 1952 and presently deploys a nuclear weapon system comprising four Vanguard class nuclear-powered submarines - home-ported at Faslane in Scotland, US Trident II (D5) missiles, and a stockpile of up to 180 warheads, manufactured and maintained at the Atomic Weapons Establishments (AWE) at Aldermaston and Burghfield, near London, and stored at Coulport, near Faslane, Scotland. Generally referred to as ‘Trident’ – or the political euphemism ‘independent deterrent’ – this nuclear-weapons system came into service during the 1990s, with an expected 30 year service life, based on policies that entailed ‘continuous-at-sea-deterrence’ (CASD) patrols and regular refits. In 2007, despite disarmament commitments undertaken in accordance with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and deep reductions in the Russian and US strategic arsenals from their cold war levels, the Labour government of Tony Blair decided to procure a replacement fleet of up to 4 new submarines to carry British nuclear weapons into the 2050s. Even prior to the debate and parliamentary vote in March 2007, the government had authorized billions of pounds for upgrading warhead design and testing facilities at Aldermaston, including a new ‘Orion’ laser and supercomputer.

The Acronym Institute published an in depth analysis of the roles and options relating to UK nuclear weapons in the context of Britain’s security, legal and international priorities in our 2006 report “Worse than Irrelevant: Britain’s Nuclear Weapons in the 21st Century”. This provided discussion of the political and technical questions facing decision-makers, and called for a comprehensive security and defence review, noting that the choice would have significant budgetary, security and proliferation ramifications for Britain and the international non-proliferation regime for the future.

Following the May 2010 General Election, Britain’s Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition rushed through a ‘Strategic Defence and Security Review’ (SDSR) which took as its starting point the “need for a minimum effective nuclear deterrent as the ultimate means to deter the most extreme threats”. Placing emphasis on the requirement to get ‘value for money’, the Coalition government announced that deployed submarines would each carry 40 rather than 48 warheads, the numbers of operational missiles would be reduced, and only 120 warheads in the stockpile would be ‘operationally available’. It was also decided that the Main Gate decision on the acquisition plans and number of submarines would be delayed until 2016. In the meantime however, the Coalition continues to announce contracts and commit public money to Trident replacement projects.  This is despite differences of opinion between the Conservatives, who support like-for-like replacement, and the Liberal Democrats, who favour 'stepping down the nuclear ladder' by scrapping CASD and reducing the number of submarines. Recently moreover, several high profile figures - including the Conservative Chair of the Commons Defence Select Committee James Arbuthnot - have questionned Trident renewal and the logic of nuclear deterrence and criticised the government for failing to participate in a widely attended international conference on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons.  From publications and meetings in parliament to high profile public debates, the Acronym Institute has remained at the forefront of questioning the utility and relevance of nuclear weapons for Britain's security.

20 October 2014

The British government has just published amendments updating a treaty that goes to the heart of the UK's special relationship with the US.

They relate to the Mutual Defence Agreement (MDA) first signed in 1958, which, according to the government, enables the UK and the US "...

2 October 2014

Britain’s nuclear bomb factories have been reprimanded by two government watchdogs for breaking safety rules on radioactive waste.

AWE, the private consortium that operates Trident nuclear weapons facilities at Aldermaston and Burghfield in Berkshire for the Ministry of Defence...

22 September 2014

In the run up to Scotland’s vote on independence, pundits predicted that independence could lead to the end of the U.K.’s nuclear weapons program. Most of the attention was focused on the need to relocate British nuclear submarines, currently stationed in Scotland, in the event of a...

22 April 2013

The Spring 2013 edition of Proliferation in Parliament offers a review of news, debates and developments in the UK Parliament and Government on issues relating to nuclear weapons, disarmament and proliferation.  It is published in mid-April 2013 as parliamentarians return...

15 January 2013

The Winter 2012-2013 edition of Proliferation in Parliament offers a review of news, debates and developments in the UK Parliament and Government on issues relating to nuclear weapons, disarmament and proliferation.  It is published in January 2013 following the Christmas...

11 September 2012

This is the Summer 2012 edition of the Acronym Institute newsletter Proliferation in Parliament.  It offers a review of news, debates and developments in the UK Parliament and Government on issues relating to nuclear weapons, disarmament and...

Dr Rebecca Johnson
16 July 2013

The government's Trident Alternatives Review" (TAR), an edited version of which was made public Tuesday 16 July failed to resolve the fundamental differences between the Conservative and Lib Dem coalition partners over nuclear policy.  Undertaken in...

20 October 2014

On 16th October, the British government finally published the amendments made to the 1958 US-UK Mutual Defence Agreement (MDA) prior to its updating and renewal in the summer of 2014.

The MDA was first adopted by the governments of the UK and the USA to enable...

Dr Rebecca Johnson, Jaine Rose
8 August 2014

Rolling out a seven mile knitted pink peace scarf between the Atomic Weapons Establishment complexes at Aldermaston and Burghfield on Nagasaki Day may sound crazy. It isn't as insane as letting the UK government spend another £100 billion on building a new nuclear...

Dr Rebecca Johnson
27 March 2014

The attached PDF is Dr Rebecca Johnson's evidence to the UK House of Commons Defence Select Committee enquiry on Deterrence in the Twenty-First Century.  Orginally submitted in September 2013, the evidence is now able to published following the March 2014 publication of the Defence...

22 October 2014
Angus Robertson: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence, pursuant to the Answer of 22 January 2014, Official Report, column 222W, on the Atomic Weapons Establishment, what the conclusions and recommendations are of the investigation into shortfalls in policing standards and...
15 October 2014

Angus Robertson MP: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence, with reference to the Answer of 14 January 2013, Official Report, column 601W, on Trident, how much his Department has spent to date on studies of whether to refurbish or replace the existing ...

Author(s): House of Commons Defence Select Committee
27 March 2014

Read below the Conclusions and Recommendations of the House of Commons Defence Select Committee Enquiry into Deterrence in the twenty-first century, published in March 2014.  The full report is available to view on the House of Commons website.

Introduction...

Author(s): UK Govt Cabinet Office
16 July 2013

In 2011,the UK Prime Minister & Deputy Prime Minister jointly commissioned the Cabinet Office to conduct a focused review into alternative (nuclear) systems and postures to the UK's current Trident nuclear weapons system. The attached document is the resulting, unclassified version of...

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