Government announces intention to maintain the UK's Nuclear Deterrent
4 Dec 06

The Prime Minister has today, 4 December 2006, signalled the Government's intention to maintain Britain's nuclear deterrent beyond the 2020s.

HMS VANGUARD launches a Trident II D5 missile during a Demonstration and Shakedown Operation (DASO) on 10 Oct 05 [Picture: LA(Phot) Ray Jones].
HMS VANGUARD launches a Trident II D5 missile during a Demonstration and Shakedown Operation (DASO) on 10 Oct 05
[Picture: LA(Phot) Ray Jones]

The Government's proposals for maintaining the deterrent have been published today in a white paper (see Related Links >>>). They will receive a vote in Parliament in the early part of next year.

An exhaustive review of possible future nuclear threats and deterrent options has shown that renewing the Trident system, by replacing the existing submarines and extending the life of the Trident missiles, is the best and most cost-effective way to maintain our ability to deter future nuclear threats to the UK.

The Secretary of State for Defence, Des Browne said:

"It is the job of Government to strike a balance between working towards a safer world, and protecting the security of the UK and its citizens, both now and in the future. The UK's security situation has changed since the end of the Cold War, but while the threat has changed, it has not gone away.

"The number of countries equipped with nuclear weapons has continued to grow. We cannot rule out the possibility that at some point in the next fifty years Britain could face a new nuclear threat. To decide now to run down our deterrent would be taking a huge gamble with Britain's future security. A gamble I am not prepared to take."

As part of the Government's ongoing commitment to working towards disarmament, the Prime Minister also announced a further 20 per cent reduction in the number of nuclear warheads. We have already reduced our operationally available stockpile to less than 200 and today's decision will see that number reduced to less than 160.

The procurement costs of renewing the Trident system will average around £1 billion per annum during 2012-2027, which is comparable to what the current system cost, and less than 0.1 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The investment required to maintain our deterrent will not come at the expense of the conventional capabilities our Armed Forces need.

HMS VANGUARD [Picture: Lt Stuart Antrobus RN] . Opens in a new window.
[Picture: Lt Stuart Antrobus RN]

The Foreign Secretary, Margaret Beckett, said:

"This decision to retain our deterrent at minimum levels is fully compatible with all our international legal obligations. We remain committed to working for a world free of nuclear weapons. I am pleased that it has been possible to take further practical steps in this direction in this White Paper. The UK now has the smallest arsenal of the five recognised nuclear weapons powers. And the UK now accounts for only one per cent of the global stockpile of nuclear weapons."

Three possible future scenarios are identified in the white paper that could develop over the coming decades: the re-emergence of a strategic nuclear threat; the emergence of new nuclear powers that could threaten British vital interests; and the deliberate equipping of terrorist groups with nuclear weapons by a state sponsor. To be effective the UK's deterrent must be able to operate independently, be immune from pre-emptive action and reach the territory of any potential aggressor. The most credible and cost-effective method of delivering this remains the minimum independent nuclear deterrent provided by a submarine based deterrent system. A full analysis of potential future nuclear threats and deterrent options is set out in the White Paper, and accompanying factsheets. (see Related Links >>>) .

Britain has maintained an operational nuclear deterrent since 1956. Today's decision allows for this to continue beyond the 2020s, potentially into the 2050s. Since 1969 there has been a nuclear armed British submarine continuously at sea somewhere in the world's oceans. Uniquely among the nuclear weapons states recognised under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Britain has reduced its deterrent to a single nuclear weapons system: the Trident D5 missile on board four Vanguard class submarines.

The first of the current Vanguard fleet, HMS Vanguard, was launched in 1992 and the second, HMS Victorious, in 1994. The submarines have a design life of 25 years. A successor to Vanguard is expected to take 17 years to develop from the concept phase through to final operational deployment, so a decision is needed now if we are to maintain continuous deterrence patrolling. The first new submarine needs to be operational by the time HMS Victorious leaves service in 2024.


The Future of the United Kingdom’s Nuclear Deterrent: Defence White Paper 2006 (Cm 6994)

At the 2005 General Election the Labour manifesto made a commitment to retain the UK’s independent nuclear deterrent. Even with an extension to their lives, the Vanguard class submarines are likely to start leaving service from the early 2020s. We estimate that it will take around 17 years to design, manufacture and commission a replacement submarine. So we need to take decisions now on whether to retain this capability in the longer term.

Presented to Parliament by The Secretary of State for Defence and The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

By Command of Her Majesty
December 2006 - Cm 6994