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Beyond Trident

Legality of any decision to replace Trident

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In December 2005, the prestigious Matrix Chambers (London) published an important legal opinion on "The Maintenance and Possible Replacement of the Trident Nuclear Missile System". In this opinion, Rabinder Singh QC and Professor Christine Chinkin (LSE) concluded that:

(1) The use of the Trident system would breach customary international law, in particular because it would infringe the "intransgressible" requirement that a distinction must be drawn between combatants and non-combatants.

(2) The replacement of Trident is likely to constitute a breach of article VI of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

(3) Such a breach would be a material breach of that treaty.

The full text of the legal opinion is available at: http://www.acronym.org.uk/docs/0512/doc06.htm.

See also: UK Trident Replacement a 'Material Breach' of the NPT, Disarmament Diplomacy, Issue No. 81.

Renewal of the 1958 US - UK Mutual Defence Agreement

In 2004, the US and the UK agreed to extend the 1958 Mutual Defence Agreement, which covers nuclear co-operation on all aspects of warhead design and maintenance. The decision was rushed through the UK parliament, without debate or vote, using an arcane parliamentary device known as Ponsonby's rule.

In an authoritative legal opinion, Rabinder Singh QC and Professor Christine Chinkin concluded that "it is strongly arguable that the renewal of the Mutual Defence Agreement" - a special arrangement between the US and Britain for exchanging nuclear information, technology and material - "is in breach of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty".

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© 2006 The Acronym Institute.