The US/UK Warhead Deal

In is important to note that the missiles on the UK nuclear weapon submarines are not British but are leased from the US. Indeed the UK does not have the facility to remove the missiles from its four Vanguard class boats– that needs to be done at King’s Bay in Georgia. The delivery and targeting software is US made. The Trident warheads – the actual nuclear bombs – have been manufactured and assembled at the Aldermaston/Burghfield complex in Berkshire but the design is American, although the evidence suggests that some design elements have depended on collaboration between US and UK nuclear weapon engineers. Not a sniff of “taking back control” on this one. The UK describes its Trident system as an “independent nuclear deterrent”. The description is false.

There is therefore nothing new or surprising about the announcement by the Pentagon of a UK/US deal to supply Britain with new warheads. What is less often remarked upon is the fact that this promised deal, and the history of the UK dependence on US warhead technology, amount to a blatant breach of Article 1 of the Nuclear-Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which states that “Each nuclear-weapons state (NWS) undertakes not to transfer, to any recipient (underline added), nuclear weapons, or other nuclear explosive devices, . .”. In nine weeks time diplomats from across the world will gather for the once-in-five-years NPT Review Conference. This Review takes place at a critical juncture for nuclear disarmament. The world is faced with the dismantling of key nuclear arms control frameworks, the ongoing modernisation of nuclear arsenals, and the indications that new states will seek to acquire their own nuclear weapons.

At the review these five nuclear-armed states will seek to represent themselves as the mature and responsible custodians of nuclear security. This is the opposite of the truth. Article V1 of the Treaty states that : Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.

In 2017, the majority world adopted the necessary treaty, its called the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, (TPNW) so why is it boycotted by the nuclear-armed states, and why has no significant progress has been made on Article V1 since the NPT’s’s entry into force in 1968? Currently we are going backwards.

The TPNW, a treaty “on general and complete disarmament” already exists and is tailor-made to slot into that gap in the NPT. The TPNW has been signed by 80 states and already ratified by 35. With 50 ratifications it will enter into force and put nuclear weapons in the same pariah category as chemical weapons and landmines. The nuclear-armed state in which you and I are currently stuck has two contradictory responses to the TPNW. On the one hand it sneers at it as a Utopian irrelevance and on the other it claims that it threatens the stability of the arms control and disarmament regime. Along with the other big 5 the UK will want no talk of the TPNW at the NPT conference. This is why we need Scottish parliamentarians to attend the Review Conference as civil society representatives, to make our support for the TPNW visible and articulate. If you want more evidence of the urgency of this check out the stance of the three candidates for the Labour leadership, who feel themselves compelled to parade their virility by parroting the mantras of delusion that bolster the UK’s sacred slaughter system. We can do so much better.

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