The UK has made an unprecedented intervention into a US Congress debate in support of a new warhead for Trident missiles. A letter from the UK’s Defence Secretary, Ben Wallace, urged Congress to support spending on the W93 warhead. Wallace argued that US support for the new warhead programme would be ‘critical’ to allowing the UK to upgrade its nuclear warheads, which would, in Wallace’s view, ensure ‘the long-term viability of the UK’s nuclear deterrent and therefore, the future of NATO as a nuclear alliance.’
This intervention is made in support of President Trump in his conflict with many in the US Congress. The US already has two nuclear warheads it can use on Trident missiles and this controversial step fits in with Trump’s decision to take the US out of a number of arms control/reduction treaties. The proposed new warhead is thought to be far more powerful than the current W76 warhead – itself six times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb.
This sorry episode further demonstrates not only the UK government’s complete lack of commitment to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty under which it is obliged to disarm its nuclear weapons; it also shows that in supporting Trump’s efforts to speed up work on the warhead in an attempt to lock in funding before the next US election and a potential Biden presidency, it reveals its desperation to secure US support for its floundering Trident replacement project.
It also further reveals the dependence of the UK on the US for its supposedly independent nuclear weapons system. It is increasingly clear that the future of Trident replacement is decided in Washington and not Westminster. This is an unacceptable situation and our parliamentarians – who should determine our nuclear weapons policy – need to reassert their authority. The Mutual Defence Agreement (MDA) between the UK and the US which has been in place since 1958, and enshrines our nuclear dependence on the US, will come up for renewal in 2024. We must ensure that when it does, the relationship is subjected to a fundamental rethink. We must ensure that Britain is a country which furthers the cause of nuclear disarmament and not one which hinders it.