Wednesday, 9 December 2020
Questioning Trident warhead replacement legality
Letter sent to the Guardian newspaper today: Your defence editor’s revelations that the incoming Biden administration is expected to take “critical look” at next-generation nuclear warhead for Trident submarines (“US nuclear warhead standoff 'has significant implications for UK',” 9 December2020; https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2020/dec/08/us-nuclear-warhead-standoff-has-significant-implications-for-uk) raises several important security issues. In a written ministerial answer on 11 March this year, defence minister Jeremy Quin told Green MP Caroline Lucas that: “the Defence Nuclear Organisation and Atomic Weapons Establishment will deliver the UK's replacement warhead.” He added that “This is consistent with our approach to our current warhead and we will continue to be fully compliant with our obligations under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).” (https://questions-statements.parliament.uk/written-questions/detail/2020-03-03/24309) This assertions is open to debate, as Article 1 of the NPT prohibits the transfer of nuclear explosive devices ( eg a nuclear warhead) "directly or indirectly to any recipient whatsoever,” including between nuclear-armed allies such as the US and UK. The minister concluded saying: “the replacement warhead is not required until at least the late 2030s, and the programme to deliver it will be subject to the Government's major programme approvals and oversight. We are withholding specific information about cost and in-service dates for the purposes of safeguarding national security.” This is surely not good enough for elected parliamentarians in the UK, a newly independent democracy hailed by prime minister Johnson, to be kept in the dark. The UK Parliament should, as is the US Congress, be fully furnished with costs and other details of the joint Trident warhead production program at Los Alamos national nuclear laboratories. The Foreign and Development Office should also provide MPs (and indeed the MOD!) with its legal advice on the compatibility of Trident warhead replacement with the provisions of the NPT.