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Trident Replacement debate in Britain
Full text of Blair’s speech


Published 5 December 2006

On Monday 4th December 2006, British Prime Minister Tony Blair published a "White Paper" setting out the options for the replacement of the British Trident nuclear weapons system. The full speech to parliament is reproduced here.

Blair’s Trident statement in full:

With your permission, Mr Speaker, I shall make a statement about the
government’s decision to maintain the United Kingdom’s independent
nuclear deterrent.

There are many complex technical, financial and military issues to be
debated in respect of this decision. But none of them obscure or
alter the fundamental political judgment at the crux of it.

Britain has had an independent nuclear deterrent for the last half
century. In that time the world has changed dramatically, not least
in the collapse of the Soviet Union, the original context in which
the deterrent was acquired.

Given that this change has occurred, the question is whether it is
wise to maintain the deterrent in the very different times of today.

The whole point about the deterrent is not to create the
circumstances in which it can be used but on the contrary to try to
create circumstances in which it is never used.

Necessarily, therefore, any analysis of what role it could play in a
situation that is hypothetical, will always be open to the most
strenuous dispute.

Ultimately, this decision is a judgment, a judgment about possible
risks to our country and its security; and the place of the deterrent
in thwarting those risks.

The government’s judgment, on balance, is that though the Cold War is
over, we cannot be certain in the decades ahead that a major nuclear
threat to our strategic interests will not emerge; that there is also
a new and potentially hazardous threat from states such as North
Korea which claims already to have developed nuclear weapons or Iran
which is in breach of its non-proliferation duties; that there is a
possible connection between some of those states and international
terrorism; that it is noteworthy that no present nuclear power is or
is even considering divesting itself of its nuclear capability
unilaterally; and that in these circumstances, it would be unwise and
dangerous for Britain, alone of any of the nuclear powers, to give up
its independent nuclear deterrent.

Notice that I do not say that the opposite decision is unthinkable;
or that anyone who proposes it is pacifist or indifferent to our
country’s defence.

There are perfectly respectable arguments against the judgment we
have made. I both understand them and appreciate their force. It is
just that, in the final analysis, the risk of giving up something
that has been one of the mainstays of our security since the War, and
moreover doing so when the one certain thing about our world today is
its uncertainty, is not a risk I feel we can responsibly take.

Our independent nuclear deterrent is the ultimate insurance. It may
be, indeed hopefully is the case that the eventuality against which
we are insuring ourselves, will never come to pass.

But in this era of unpredictable but rapid change, when every decade
has a magnitude of difference with the last, and when the
consequences of a misjudgement on this issue would be potentially
catastrophic, would we want to drop this insurance and not as part of
a global move to do so, but on our own? I think not.

However, what will happen from today, will be a very full process of
debate. It is our intention, at the conclusion of that process in
March of next year, to have a vote in this House.

We will make arrangements during the process to answer as fully as
possible any of the questions that arise. And of course, I am sure
the Defence Select Committee, at least, will want to examine the
issue carefully.

The White Paper, which we publish today, goes into, not merely the
reasons for the decision, but also a technical explanation of the
various options and tries to cover in some detail all potential lines
of dispute or inquiry.

I hope therefore that we can focus on the decision itself not the
process. Let me now turn to some of the key questions.

First, the reason this decision comes to us now, is that if in 2007
we do not take the initial steps toward maintaining our deterrent,
shortage of time may prevent us from being able to do so.

Necessarily we can only form this view based on estimates, but these
are from the evidence given to us by our own experts, by the industry
that would build the new submarines and the experience of other
nuclear states.

Our deterrent is based on four submarines. At any one time, one will
be in dock undergoing extensive repair and maintenance, usually for
around four years.

The other three will be at sea or in port for short periods. But at
all times at least one will be on deterrent patrol, fully armed. The
submarines are equipped with Trident D5 missiles, that are US
manufactured but maintained with our close technical and scientific
collaboration.

The operation of the system is fully independent - a missile can be
fired only on the instructions of the British prime minister.

The current Vanguard submarines have a service life of 25 years. The
first boat should leave service in 2017. We can extend that for five
years. In 2022, that extension will be concluded and in 2024 the
second boat will also end its extended service life.

By this time, we will only have two Vanguard submarines. This will be
insufficient to guarantee continuous patrolling.

The best evidence we have is that it will take us 17 years to design,
build and deploy a new submarine. Working back from 2024, that means
we have to take this decision in 2007. Of course, all these timelines
are estimates, but they conform to the experience of other countries
with submarine deterrents as well as our own.

Secondly, we have looked carefully at the scope of different options.
The White Paper sets them out. Aircraft with cruise missiles - but
cruise missiles travel at subsonic speeds and building the special
aircraft would be hugely expensive.

A surface ship equipped with Trident - but a far easier target. A
land-based system with Trident - but in a small country like the
United Kingdom immensely problematic and also again an easier target.

There is no real doubt on this score: if you want an independent
nuclear deterrent, for a nation like the UK, a submarine-based one is
best.

It is also our only deterrent. In the 1990s we moved to Trident as
our sole nuclear capability.

Of the other major nuclear powers, the US has submarine, air and land-
based capability. Russia has all three capabilities and has the
largest number of nuclear weapons.

France has both submarine and air launched capability and has a new
class of submarines in development the last of which is due to come
into service in 2010. China has a smaller number of land based
strategic nuclear weapons but is working on modernising its
capability including a submarine based nuclear ballistic missile.

We will continue to procure some elements of the system, particularly
those relating to the missile, from the US. But, as now, we will
maintain full operational independence. The submarines, missiles,
warheads, and command chain are entirely under British control, and
will remain so after 2024. This gives British prime ministers the
necessary assurance that no aggressor can escalate a crisis beyond UK
control.

A new generation of submarines will make maximum use of existing
infrastructure and technology. The overall design and manufacture
costs - of 15-20 billions - are spread over three decades; are on
average 3% of the defence budget; and are at their highest in the
early 2020s.

As before, we will ensure that the investment required will not be at
the expense of the conventional capabilities our armed forces need.
It is our intention that the procurement and building will, as now,
be done by British industry, with thousands of British, highly-
skilled jobs involved.

However, we will investigate whether, with a new design, we can
maintain continuous patrol with a fleet of only three submarines. A
decision on this will be made once we know more about the submarines’
detailed design.

No decisions are needed now on the warhead. We can extend the life of
the D5 Trident missile to 2042. After that, there will be the
opportunity for us to participate in any new missile design in
collaboration with the US, something which will be confirmed in an
exchange of letters between myself and the President of the USA.

Maintaining our nuclear deterrent capability is also fully consistent
with all our international obligations.

We have the smallest stockpile of nuclear warheads amongst the
recognised nuclear weapons states, and are the only one to have
reduced to a single deterrent system. Furthermore, we have decided,
on expert advice, that we can reduce our stockpile of operationally
available warheads to no more than 160, which represents a further
20% reduction.

Compared with previous plans, we will have reduced the number of such
weapons by nearly half.

So, inexorably, we return to the central judgment: maintain our
independent nuclear deterrent or not? It is written as a fact by many
that there is no possibility of nuclear confrontation with any major
nuclear power. Except that it isn’t a fact. Like everything else
germane to this judgment, it is a prediction.

It is probably right. But certain? No, we can’t say that.

The new dimension is undoubtedly the desire by states, highly dubious
in their intentions, like North Korea and Iran, to pursue nuclear
weapons capability.

Fortunately, Libya has given up its WMD ambitions and has played a
positive role internationally; the notorious network of A Q Khan, the
former Pakistani nuclear physicist has been shut down. But
proliferation remains a real problem.

The notion of unstable, usually deeply repressive and anti-democratic
states, in some cases profoundly inimical to our way of life, having
a nuclear capability, is a distinct and novel reason for Britain not
to give up its capacity to deter.

It is not utterly fanciful either to imagine states sponsoring
nuclear terrorism from their soil. We know this global terrorism
seeks chemical, biological and nuclear devices. It is not impossible
to contemplate a rogue government helping such an acquisition.

It is true that our deterrent would not deter or prevent terrorists.
But it is bound to have an impact on governments that might sponsor
them.

Then there is the argument, attractive to all of us who believe in
the power of countries to lead by example, as we seek to do in
climate change and did in debt relief, that Britain giving up its
deterrent, would encourage others in the same direction.

Unfortunately there is no evidence that any major nuclear power would
follow such an example - on the contrary.

And, as for the new, would-be nuclear powers, it really would be
naïve to think that they would be influenced by a purely British
decision. More likely, they would construe it as weakness.

Finally, there is one other argument: that we shelter under the
nuclear deterrent of America.

Our co-operation with America is rightly very close. But close as it
is, the independent nature of the British deterrent is again an
additional insurance against circumstances where we are threatened
but America is not.

These circumstances are also highly unlikely but I am unwilling to
say they are non-existent.

In the end, therefore, we come back to the same judgment. Anyone can
say that the prospect of Britain facing a threat in which our nuclear
deterrent is relevant, is highly improbable. No-one can say it is
impossible.

In the early 21st century, the world may have changed beyond
recognition, since the decision taken by the Attlee Government over
half a century ago. But it is precisely because we could not have
recognised then, the world we live in now, that it would not be wise
to predict the unpredictable in the times to come.

That is the judgment we have come to. We have done so according to
what we think is in the long-term strategic interests of our nation
and its security and I commend it to the House.

From the BBC website. Posted by Abolition 2000 Europe, 4th Dec 2006


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