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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

The Future of Britain's WMD

Dan Plesch

March 2006

First published in 2006 by
The Foreign Policy Centre
49 Chalton Street
London NW1 1HY


© Dan Plesch 2006

All rights reserved
ISBN: 1 903558 84 0

To the memory of Robin Cook who worked with me to publish this report and with thanks to Jim Devine MP for helping me complete the research.

"Dan Plesch documents in an impressive forthcoming report that all levels of the Trident system depend on US cooperation."

Rt Hon Robin Cook PC MP, the Guardian 29 July 2005

About the Author

Dan Plesch is the author of the Beauty Queen’s Guide to World Peace, Research Associate of the Centre for International Studies at SOAS, University of London , a Senior Research Fellow at Keele University and Senior Associate of the Foreign Policy Centre. Previously he was Senior Research Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute and from 1987 to 2001 the founding director of the British American Security Information Council in Washington DC . In 2003 he was the Department of Constitutional Affairs Independent Advisor on the guidance for implementing the FOIA in the Ministry of Defence and Foreign Office. His studies on nuclear weapons policy have included expert evidence to the United States Senate and contributions to the Pugwash Conferences on World Affairs.


Chris Bellamy, Professor of Military Doctrine and Strategy at the Royal College of Military Science, Martin Butcher of Physicians for Social Responsibility in Washington and John Pike of kindly reviewed the draft prior to publication and I am most grateful for their assistance. I would like to thank John Ainslie, General Sir Hugh Beach, Sandra Butcher, General George Lee Butler, Nicola Butler, Nigel Chamberlain, Frank Cook MP, Paul Flynn MP, David Lowry, Commander Robert Green, Rebecca Johnson, Di McDonald, Tom Milne, Robert S. Norris and his colleagues at the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Oxford Research Group, Greenpeace, William Peden, Tariq Rauf, Angus Robertson MP, the late Professor Sir Joseph Rotblat, Alan Simpson MP, Llew Smith, William Walker and many others for their contributions over the years to the body of knowledge presented in this report and without whose efforts much of it would never have seen the light of day.


The views in this paper are not necessarily those of the Foreign Policy Centre.

We must beware, lest the Stone Age return upon the gleaming wings of science.
Winston Churchill

Executive summary

This report discusses the successor to Britain ’s Trident nuclear missile system. It examines British dependence on the United States and concludes that most of the discussion on the replacement is based on the false premise that the UK has an independent nuclear weapon. To support this conclusion, the report reviews the history of Britain ’s involvement with nuclear weapons from 1940 to the present day to show a sixty-year-old pattern of British dependence on the US for Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD ).

The report also concludes that Trident should not be replaced and should be phased out now, as neither Trident nor any US-supported successor would meet the ‘1940 requirement’ for a system that the nation can rely on if it stands alone as in 1940. Back in the Second World War, the British government concluded it could not be a nuclear power without US support. Half a century later, the dependence remains decisive: President George Bush Snr ordered his officials to ‘produce additional nuclear weapons parts as necessary for transfer to the United Kingdom ’ (page 14). For fifty years, successive governments have concluded that Britain cannot afford an independent nuclear deterrent. An independent system is not an option.

The nuclear relationship will continue ‘to tie the UK to US policy’ according to Admiral Raymond Lygo, former Chairman of British Aerospace and d irector of s trategic s ystems modernisation for the Royal Navy (Page 26). Not replacing Trident is essential for Britain to reclaim freedom of action for the twenty first century, for a Trident replacement may be expected to last until 2060.

The UK should renew the multilateral disarmament agenda which achieved so much in the 1980s and 1990s. It is unrealistic to consider that the world can continue indefinitely with uncontrolled nuclear armaments and not see a nuclear war.

The government should also address a number of technical questions on Britain ’s WMD and associated technologies:

  1. How can the WMD operated by Britain be used should the United States withdraw its support or act preventively?
  2. Were any reassurances required by the Bush Administration before it renewed the US-UK Mutual Defence Agreement in 2004 concerning the direction of British defence and civil nuclear policy?
  3. How near to production is the US-assisted nuclear weapon the Conservative government tested and developed after Trident and cancelled in October 1993?
  4. How much of the spending at Aldermaston is on equipment and services from US companies?




Perspectives on possessing Weapons of Mass Destruction 2
Weapons of Mass Destruction in the world today5

A history of American support for Britain’s Weapons of Mass Destruction

Nuclear explosive materials .9
Nuclear warhead design and construction.9

Trident and its possible successor

The Trident warheads 15
Trident missile and submarine system16
Firing Trident 17
Present US support for UK WMD 21
The debate so far on a successor to Trident 22
President Bush’s support for UK WMD25
Future nuclear systems26
US plans for new missiles and submarines 28

Conclusions and recommendations




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