Independent nuclear deterrent? Britain must keep Trident, say US generals

The British Royal Navy's submarine HMS Victorious arrives at Brest ©
Britain must maintain Trident nuclear submarines to deal with modern-day threats, a group of US generals says. British MPs will vote on Monday whether to renew the nuclear arsenal after Prime Minister Theresa May hastily ordered a ballot.

The generals, including retired four star air force generals and US Navy admirals, made their intervention in a joint letter to the Times on Friday.

Our own experience for over 50 years makes clear that ballistic missile submarines remain the cornerstone of a nuclear deterrent,” they said.

The combined deterrent forces of the US and UK make the horrific possibility of nuclear conflict considerably less likely.

This is why every US Administration from both parties since 1958 has valued the UK’s independent deterrent, and we urge the UK to continue its vital contribution to transatlantic security,” the officials said.

A decision on whether to continue Britain’s policy of maintaining a 24-hour at-sea deterrent could be taken as early as next year.

Some estimates put the costs of the project at more than £41 billion and the timescale for building the submarines at up to 12 years. Other estimates place the total cost in excess of £200 billion (US$267 billion).

The US generals’ intervention carries a whiff of irony, however, as questions hang over just how independent Britain’s nuclear arsenal is from US control.

The Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy at London’s SOAS University recently claimed Trident is far from independent - and hasn’t been for decades.

Its study found although there may be “other reasons for investing in Trident,” preserving “an independent nuclear weapons capability to meet unforeseen worst case threats is not one of them.

A 2014 cross-party report made similar claims, pointing out that Trident is “dependent on the United States for many component parts of the guidance and re-entry vehicle, and for the Trident ballistic missile system itself.

The study claimed that without US technical support Britain’s nuclear weapons would cease to be viable within a matter of months.

On Thursday, newly-installed Prime Minister Theresa May spoke to US President Barack Obama on the phone. He congratulated her on her new role and pledged to “protect and deepen” the “special relationship.”

Asked how the US feels about May’s appointment of controversial, American-born former London Mayor Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary, a White House spokesman told the Independent the special relationship “transcends any single personality.

We’re confident we can do this work and we’ll pursue it irrespective of specific personalities,” the spokesman added.

Johnson, who is known for his post-colonial gaffes, was criticized in 2015 for claiming Obama wanted the UK to remain in the EU because, as a person of Kenyan descent, the US leader had an “ancestral dislike of the British empire.”