Gorbachev hits out against plans to modernize British nuclear arsenal

Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev in a letter to The Times newspaper has hit out what he calls the British government's “astonishing” intention to replace its ageing nuclear deterrent.

Gorbachev wrote that a decision to replace the Trident missile would “be in contradiction to the spirit of the agreements that helped to end the Cold War”.

The former president sent a letter to The Times newspaper calling on British Prime Minister Tony Blair's government to postpone a decision on the future of Britain's nuclear system at least until 2010, when the next review conference of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is due to take place.

Gorbachev says a joint statement from him and former US president Ronald Reagan in 1985 that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought” was “a declaration of the need to rid humankind of nuclear weapons”.

According to ‘The Times’ it is quite unusual for a former head of State to send an unsolicited letter, but this is a welcome addition to the debate that is currently gripping the country.

“This is a subject that I think has caught lots of our readers attention and the public in general on the question of nuclear weapons and should we be really preparing for another generation of the armament. So Gorbachev’s views are really important on that because he is considered by many people in this country as the man who helped end the Cold War and ended really the need for this type of weapons,” says Richard Beeston, Diplomatic Editor, The Times.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair unveiled plans in December to modernize Britain’s nuclear arsenal – a decision that has led to much opposition in the country. Thousands of people joined a national demonstration just over 2 weeks ago. One of the main messages was ‘No Trident" – warning that replacing the nuclear deterrent could provoke a new arms race.

Kate Hudson, Chair, Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament says: “As Kofi Annan said if some countries need nuclear weapons for their security, other countries will come to the same conclusion. And I think that Mr Gorbachev is very right to highlight the need for global steps for nuclear disarmament. We‘ve heard similar positions from Mr Kissinger in the US – so there’s definitely an orientation going on from senior world political figures towards nuclear disarmaent and we just wish Tony Blair took notice of that.”

 According to CND, only a small number of people support Mr Blair on the issue with over 70 percent of people in Britain either not wanting to replace Trident at all or at least wanting a decision to be delayed.

But those who are pro-Trident believe there is no reason to wait. 

“Over the next few years who knows what is going to happen. But we need a firm mandate to renew Trident. It’s not something you do with enthusiasm – it’s a nuclear weapon system! But given the ambiguities of Iran, Pakistan, North Korea – which might be solved in due course – I think we should have the option to renew,”  says Eric Joyce, Labor MP.

Gorbachev’s letter comes less than a week before MPs are set to debate and vote on whether or not to replace the old nuclear missile system.