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Britain and the European Union

This page covers developments concerning nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction in Britain and the European Union.

British Nuclear Policy & Trident Renewal

The 'Initial Gate' decision on whether to proceed with the next stage of procuring a replacement for the UK's Trident nuclear weapons system - originally due to have been taken in September 2009 - was finally announced on 18 May 2011. It gave the green light for the next stages of procurement to be undertaken (up to 15% of the budget) and revealed that when inflation is taken into account the price tag for the new submarine programme is likely to be £25 billion - almost double the £11-14 billion estimate announced in 2006. Alongside the Initial Gate announcement came the news that, in line with the Coalition Agreement under which it was agreed that the Liberal Democrats could continue to make the case for alternatives, an 18-month study to review the “costs, feasibility and credibility of alternative systems and postures” would be undertaken.

In its October 2010 Strategic Defence & Security Review (SDSR), the Coalition government announced that it would be delaying the 'Main Gate' decision on Trident by four years to 2016, thereby pushing back the the date that the first new submarine wll come into service to 2028. However, despite this delay being championed by many as a success for the Liberal Democrats, it is clear that the work of replacing the existing submarines has already begun and in November 2011 it was revealed that £2billion has been spent on new projects for UK nuclear weapons, well in advance of the Main Gate decision. Moreover, a 3 August 2011 report by the Defence Select Committee - a cross-party group of MPs - criticised the government for its “rushed” and “badly done” SDSR which prompted Shadow Defence Secretary Jim Murphy to say “events have exposed the mismatch between policy ambition and the resources provided by ministers". Commenting on the report, Guardian Security Editor Richard Norton-Taylor identified the “reluctance to question Defence Secretary Liam Fox's determination to replace the Trident fleet of nuclear missile submarines” as a particular problem.

In addition, the revelation in October 2010 of BAE Systems locking in funding for aircraft carriers has caused questions to be raised over the contracts for Trident replacement, particularly the need to avoid ‘no get-out’ clauses in Trident initial and main gate contracts that would make replacement irreversible regardless of national security needs, international disarmament developments or other UK financial priorities and needs. The November 2010 signing of the UK-French Declaration on Defence and Security Co-operation also casts further doubt of the UK government's commitment to fulfilling its disarmament obligations under the NPT.

Acronym Analysis and reporting

Recent Disarmament Documentation

Conference on Trident and International Law: Scotland's Obligations

This conference on Trident and International Law was organised in Edinburgh by the Acronym Institute, Trident Ploughshares and the Peace and Justice Centre. A bookof the conference entitled 'Trident and International Law: Scotland's Obligations' is now available via Amazon here.

Proliferation in Parliament

A selection of questions and debates on nuclear and missile defence issues from the UK Parliament.

Summer 2011

Spring 2011

Autumn 2010

Summer 2010

Summer 2009

Previous editions of Proliferation in Parliament are available at

Nuclear Non-Proliferation News

A digest of UK and international news stories relevant to UK and NATO nuclear weapons issues.

Edition 15, Summer 2011 - International News

Read the overview here

1) Arms control & missile defence
2) The existing regime: NPT implementation, CTBT entry into force & fissile materials negotiation
3) UK Trident renewal
4) Proliferation Challenges and Updates
i) Iran
ii) North Korea
iii) Potential New Proliferators: Syria and Myanmar (Burma)
iv) India & Pakistan
5) Other disarmament news

Edition 14, Spring 2011 - International News

The Acronym Institute’s International Nuclear Weapons  & Non-Proliferation News, comprises a digest of news on global nuclear weapons policy issues as well as wider disarmament developments and proliferation challenges. Read the overview of the Spring 2011 edition here

1) Nuclear crisis in Japan
2) Proliferation Challenges and Updates
i) Iran
ii) North Korea
iii) India & Pakistan
iv) Israel
v) Myanmar/Burma
vi) Syria
3) New START
4) NATO nuclear policy
The United Kingdom
Prospects for nuclear disarmament
Other News

Edition 13, Spring/Summer 2010 - International News

Read the overview here

  1. Nuclear Disarmament Assessments
  2. NPT Review Conference
    US Nuclear Developments
  3. Agreement on New START
  4. US Nuclear Posture Review
  5. Nuclear Security Summit
  6. Obama assessed one year on
  7. Continuing controversy: Missile Defence & Space
  8. NATO Nuclear Weapons
    Proliferation Challenges

  9. Iranian dispute continues
  10. Nuclear North Korea: Tensions mount
  11. Israeli nuclear weapons in the spotlight
  12. Nuclear dealings: India & Pakistan
  13. New Proliferators
  14. In Other News

Edition 12, Autumn/Winter 2009-2010 - International News

Read the overview here

1. Preparing the way for nuclear disarmament
2. Progress stalls at CD
3. Prospects for the NPT  
4. US nuclear spending and delayed posture review
5. START Follow-on
6. Contradictory signals on missile defence
7. New IAEA Director-General and increased pressure on Iran
8. North Korea
9. India & Pakistan
10. In other news
11. People

Edition 11, Autumn/Winter 2009-2010 - British News

  1. Trident Renewal: Developments and Concerns
    1.1 Letters on Trident Replacement / Reductions
    1.2 Gordon Brown Announces a Possible Reduction in the Number of Trident Submarines
    1.3 Reactions to Brown’s Announcement
    1.4 Blockade of Aldermaston Atomic Weapons Establishment
  1. UK Nuclear Weapons Infrastructure and Safety Issues
    2.1 Planning Applications
  1. Launch of New “Top Level” Cross-Party Group
  1. SNP Party Conference – Trident and Scottish Independence
  1. Calls for the UK to take Further Disarmament Steps
  1. Chilcot Inquiry on the Iraq War
  1. People
    7.1 Baroness Catherine Ashton appointed first EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
    7.2 Remembering friends

Edition 10, Summer 2009


British News

International News

Previous editions of Nuclear Non-Proliferation News are available at:

Key Documents


On March 14, 2007, the UK Parliament had its first debate and vote on renewal of Britain's nuclear weapon system, Trident. Whilst Tony Blair's government won the vote, it was forced to rely on the support of the Conservatives. Despite this 88 Labour MPs voted against the motion and the government was forced to make important concessions on future parliamentary scrutiny and decision-making on Trident.

In response to a proposed amendment from former Labour Minister John Denham MP, Blair was forced to confirm that "... it is always open to us to come back and look at these issues. He [Denham] is right to suggest that when we get to the gateway stage-between 2012 and 2014-when we let the main contracts for design and construction, it will always be open to Parliament to take a decision."

Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett also specified, "Further decisions will in any case be needed on the precise design of the submarines, on whether we need four or three, on whether to renew or replace the warhead, and on whether to participate in any American programme to develop a successor to the D5 missile... As I have said, this Government will ensure that there are regular reports to Parliament as the programme proceeds, and we will give the Select Committee our full co-operation as it maintains its regular scrutiny of these issues."

UK Defence Secretary Speech to the Conference on Disarmament, February 2008

Secretary of State for Defence Des Browne has renewed the UK Government's commitment to "have a world free of nuclear weapons" and proposed to "host a conference for technical experts from all five recognised nuclear states, to develop technologies for nuclear disarmament". Browne's speech to the Conference on Disarmament draws on then Secretary of State for Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs Margaret Beckett's speech in June 2007 calling for a World Free of Nuclear Weapons.

Acronym Institute Analysis and Reporting on the Trident Vote

For more information on the UK's Vote and the Government White Paper on Trident see the Acronym Insitute's webpage on Trident .

See also: previous Acronym Institute Coverage of UK Nuclear Policy.

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European Union (2006 & before)

For coverage of negotiations between the EU3 and Iran, see our Iran page at:

Europe's Space Policies and their relevance to the EU's Security and Defence Policy (ESDP), 2006

The following study, written by Rebecca Johnson on behalf of the Acronym Institute and ISIS-Europe, with research assistance from Stephen Pullinger and Aline Dewaele, was commissioned in 2006 by the European Parliament Directorate-General for External Policies of the Union.

"The study analyses Europe's space programmes and argues for an effective European Space Policy to manage the civil-military interface and national-regional interests to enable Europe to benefit from a more effective coordination of technologies and assets for the purpose of enhancing European and international security, while preventing destabilising developments, such as the testing, deployment or use of anti-satellite weapons or weapons in and from space.

Articles and Publications

EU Strategy against Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction

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