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On 4 December 2006, the Government launched a White Paper pledging to renew or replace the UK’s Trident nuclear weapons system. The paper outlines four options for doing this and will be debated in Parliament in 2007. You can read the White Paper by clicking here

I am unimpressed with the options put forward by the Government and have outlined my own views in more detail, below, concluding that the UK should give up Trident or, at the very least, disarm it.

Compass, the think tank for the democratic left, has also launched a campaign to 'Rethink Trident', including a petition to support a statement on trident (which broadly reflects my views on this issue), drawn up by a committee of academics, prominent politicians from all parties, faith leaders, leading authors and poets, musicians and celebrities: Please click here to go to the Compass campaign page.



Topical issues...


My view on Trident


Current Threats

Future Threats

International Concerns

Legal case

Options I would consider




The Prime Minister told the House of Commons on 4 December that retaining nuclear weapons beyond 2020 (when the current Trident submarine based system becomes obsolete) will be the ‘ultimate insurance’[1] against future events, therefore ensuring the long-term security of the UK.

I entirely disagree with this view.  I believe the future, whilst impossible to foretell, can still be shaped and influenced by the decisions that are taken today.  Actions have effects, as we have seen with the disastrous invasion of Iraq and the negative impact this has had on global security.  Here, therefore, is a chance for the UK to lead by example and promote global stability by choosing not to have nuclear weapons indefinitely.

In my view, replacing Trident is the wrong decision for three main reasons:

  1. The threat we face today, and in the immediate future, is one totally immune to the deterrent of nuclear weapons, thereby making the case for renewal unconvincing.

  2. Maintaining a nuclear weapons system beyond 2020 so that the UK can be protected against potential future threats would signal that nuclear weapons are an essential part of a nation’s security.  This would cause more countries to want a similar 'deterrent' and run the risk of causing the spread of nuclear weapons.

  3. To renew Trident would go against the non-proliferation treaties we have signed and weaken any international condemnation of other states obtaining nuclear weapons.

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Current Threats

The Terror attacks on the World Trade Centre in 2001, and the July 7th bombings in London, show that nuclear weapons are a non-existent deterrent to the forces of non-state terrorism that we face today.  Terror networks, by their nature consist of loosely connected groups spanning countries and global regions.  This makes them difficult to detect and, unlike the Soviet Union, means they do not offer a fixed target of sufficient size to make a nuclear strike militarily effective or morally justifiable.  Tony Blair himself said at Prime Minister’s Questions in October 2005 that “I do not think that anyone pretends that the independent nuclear deterrent is a defence against terrorism”[2].  Well, we agree there at least!

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Future Threats

The Prime Minister uses the example of a “new and potentially hazardous threat from states such as North Korea, which claims to have developed nuclear weapons already, or Iran, which is in breach of its non-proliferation duties”[3].  I do not apologise for, or defend, these regimes.  But I do believe that renewing Trident would be a means of escalating the very threat which the Prime Minister intends to protect the UK from.

If the Prime Minister maintains that these states are a strategic threat to the UK and an independent nuclear weapons system is the only means to counter this threat, then why should states in the regions of those countries not pursue their own nuclear weapons as well?  Renewing Trident could, therefore, begin a new era of nuclear proliferation.  In my view this is the fundamental flaw in the Government’s argument for renewal.  A new nuclear arms race in unstable regions of the world would be a terrible scenario.  It would increase the likelihood of a nuclear confrontation and also the chances of terrorists obtaining nuclear weapons for their own means.  Surely limiting nuclear weapons must be the primary objective to ensure global security not embarking on a strategy which runs the risk of proliferating them!

The Government argues that there is ‘no evidence or likelihood’ that other nuclear states would disarm if the UK gave up its own nuclear weapons. However, I believe this is a self-fulfilling prophecy of stalemate.  As long as no country is willing to make the first move no state’s position will change.  I believe we should lead by example in not renewing Trident rather than reinforce the status quo and send a message to other countries that nuclear weapons are an integral part of a nation’s defences.

As Kofi Annan states

“the more that those states that already have [nuclear weapons] increase their arsenals, or insist that such weapons are essential to their national security, the more other states feel that they too must have them for their security”[4]

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International Concerns

Renewing Trident would also harm the international institutions designed to prevent proliferation.  The Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) of 1970 formalised an agreement between the five nuclear powers of the time (France, UK, USA, USSR and China) and the rest of the world.  It made it clear that non-nuclear states would not develop nuclear weapons if the five nuclear powers decommissioned their arsenals.  If Trident is renewed or replaced then the UK would be in contravention of this Treaty (see next section for more detail). 

This is hardly the message we should be sending at this time.  Kofi Annan has stated clearly how the unilateral action of the UK and USA in Iraq did massive damage to the UN saying, this month, that the UN “hasn't healed yet, and we feel the tension still in this organisation as a result of that [the war in Iraq].”[5]  In light of this damage, now, more than ever, is the time to bolster and reinforce international treaties and institutions so that a world future can be built on consensus and cooperation.

Tony Blair himself has recognised the importance of even handedness:

“We will not win the battle against global extremism unless we win it at the level of values as much as force.  We can only win by showing that our values are stronger, better and more just than the alternative.  That also means showing the world that we are even-handed, fair and just in our application of those values.”[6]

Here is a time when Mr Blair must practice what he has preached!

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Legal case

The key issue surrounding the legality of renewing trident is Article 6 of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)).  Philippe Sands QC, of Matrix Chambers, provided a legal opinion to Greenpeace in November 2006 and states:

“Article VI can be seen to impose the following obligations:

i) To undertake to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures to end the nuclear arms race at an early date;

ii) To undertake to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to nuclear disarmament;

iii) To undertake to pursue negotiations in good faith on a treaty for general and complete disarmament.”[7]

The opinion goes on to state that Article 6 would be breached if a signatory to the NPT acts in a way which would ‘render the attainment of the objective of nuclear disarmament remote or impossible’[8];

The Government has made clear that the principle reason for maintaining Trident is due to the uncertainty of the future global situation, stating:

‘The debate about the future of the UK’s nuclear deterrent is less about the security position now than about the extent to which we can be confident about the nature of the risks and threats to our defence and security interests that we might face over the next 20-50 years.’[9]

It is impossible to predict the shape of events 20-50 years in the future, whenever this prediction is attempted.  Therefore, in accepting that this unpredictability is sufficient grounds to maintain Trident, by extension the UK Government is saying that it will never be in a position to give up its nuclear weapons because it will never be in a position to predict global events 50 years into the future. 

Philippe Sands QC states:

“If this inability to predict future risks forms the basis of the Government’s policy on upgrading or replacing Trident, we will never be in a position to rule out the need for a nuclear deterrent.   Essentially the argument is one for permanent retention…

…this amounts to a de facto acceptance that the UK will never fully disarm.  In our opinion, this can only negate the good faith with which the UK is required to negotiate in order to achieve precisely the aim that its policy will never permit: complete nuclear disarmament by the UK and other states.”[10]

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Options I would consider


For the reasons stated above I would be in favour of this option.  However, recognising the divisive nature of this debate I would also see merit in implementing the following compromise option:

Virtual arsenal

This option would not replace Trident when it reaches the end of its life but retain the technology and facilities in the UK so that simple nuclear weapons can be produced at relatively short notice.  The Government states that this would be costly, the time to reproduce weapons would be too long and should a crisis emerge, the act of creating a weapon would escalate that crisis further.

However, I support the view of the British American Security Information Council (BASIC) which believes the Government could ‘deploy a nuclear deterrent (within weeks or months)’[11].  This option would also bring the UK into compliance with the NPT.  Further, to use nuclear weapons legally, that is in a proportionate and necessary manner, the very existence of the UK state needs to be in jeopardy.  In my view, if a crisis is at this very grave stage already, the re-creation of a nuclear capability would not escalate it much further. 

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The Prime Minister states that ‘the primary responsibility of any government is to ensure the safety and security of its citizens’[12] I absolutely agree, but believe that renewing Trident will not achieve this objective.  Renewal runs the risk of proliferation which is a much more real threat to global security, increasing the chances of a nuclear confrontation and the possibility of a terrorist group obtaining nuclear weapons.

We cannot predict the future in 20-50 years time but we can influence it by the decisions we make today.  In my view, this should be done by putting all of our energies into securing international consensus on disarmament and non-proliferation, and leading by example through not renewing our nuclear weapon system.  As Kofi Annan states in his last official speech as UN Secretary General:

“…no nation can make itself secure by seeking supremacy over all others.  We all share responsibility for each other's security, and only by working to make each other secure can we hope to achieve lasting security for ourselves.”[13]

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[1] House of Commons Hansard HC Deb 4 December 2006 c21

[2] House of Commons Hansard HC Deb 19 October 2005 c841

[3] House of Commons Hansard HC Deb 4 December c21

[4] Kofi Annan speaking at the UN 60th anniversary event, London, January 2006.  Taken from the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) Alternative White Paper on Trident Replacement, 1 December 2006,

[5] Kofi Annan interview with Lyse Doucet of the BBC, first broadcast 4 December 2006-12-19. Click here to go to source

[6] Tony Blair, A Global Alliance for Global Values, Foreign Policy Centre pamphlet, September 2006.  Taken from p.11, ‘Decisions over the future of British Nuclear Weapons’, the alternative Green Paper from the British American Security Information Council (BASIC).

[7] Philippe Sands QC and Helen Law, Matrix, Gray’s Inn London, ‘The United Kingdom’s Nuclear Deterrent: Current and Future Issues of Legality’, Advice to Greenpeace, 13 November 2006, paragraph 30 p14.

[8] Philippe Sands QC and Helen Law, Matrix, Gray’s Inn London, ‘The United Kingdom’s Nuclear Deterrent: Current and Future Issues of Legality’, Advice to Greenpeace, 13 November 2006, paragraph 31 p14.

[9] House of Commons Defence Committee, Ninth Special Report of Session 2005-06, The Future of the UK’s Strategic Nuclear Deterrent: the Strategic Context: The Government Response to the Committee’s Eighth Report of Session 2005-06 (HC 1558: 26 July 2006), [13].  Taken from Philippe Sands QC and Helen Law, Matrix, Gray’s Inn London, ‘The United Kingdom’s Nuclear Deterrent: Current and Future Issues of Legality’, Advice to Greenpeace, 13 November 2006, paragraph 84 p32.

[10] Philippe Sands QC and Helen Law, Matrix, Gray’s Inn London, ‘The United Kingdom’s Nuclear Deterrent: Current and Future Issues of Legality’, Advice to Greenpeace, 13 November 2006, paragraphs 85 and 86 p32

[11] ‘Decisions over the future of British Nuclear Weapons’, the alternative Green Paper from the British American Security Information Council (BASIC) p.4

[12] The Future of the United Kingdom’s Nuclear Deterrent, Ministry of Defence White Paper, p5

[13] Kofi Annan speech at the Truman Presidential Museum and Library in Independence, Missouri, 11 December 2006-12-19

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