U.S.-British Talks Spotlight Uncertainty in Both Nuclear Arsenals

Global Security Newswire Staff
April 2, 2014, 10:35 a.m.

The United King­dom’s nuc­le­ar weapons ar­sen­al is cru­cially de­pend­ent on U.S. ac­tions, as a key bi­lat­er­al agree­ment is up for re­new­al, re­ports the Lon­don Guard­i­an.

At is­sue is the so-called Mu­tu­al De­fense Agree­ment, first signed in 1958. Work on the latest ex­ten­sion of the pact was on­go­ing on both sides of the At­lantic as of earli­er this year, ac­cord­ing to the news­pa­per’s De­fence and Se­cur­ity Blog. The agree­ment is key be­cause it en­ables the Brit­ish mil­it­ary to take ad­vant­age of nuc­le­ar-weapons work con­duc­ted in the United States, in­clud­ing the shar­ing of data, test res­ults and the use of U.S. test fa­cil­it­ies.

Brit­ish politi­cians have pre­vi­ously as­sured the pub­lic that the coun­try’s stock­pile of Tri­dent war­heads is re­li­able for an­oth­er two dec­ades or so. However, the blog quotes a Roy­al United Ser­vices In­sti­tute re­port con­clud­ing that “a lim­ited un­der­stand­ing of war­head aging” makes pre­cise es­tim­ates dif­fi­cult.

In es­sence, the U.K. ar­sen­al “will de­pend more upon ex­tern­al rather than in­tern­al factors,” the Lon­don-based think tank’s ana­lys­is con­cludes.

“Chief amongst these ex­tern­al factors will be the U.S. war­head pro­gram, which provides many key com­pon­ents of the U.K. ar­sen­al,” ac­cord­ing to the think tank.

In oth­er words, how the U.S. nuc­le­ar com­plex pro­ceeds in main­tain­ing and mod­ern­iz­ing Wash­ing­ton’s ar­sen­al could af­fect the U.K. de­terrent force.

“The U.K. may have no more luck pre­dict­ing the fu­ture of the U.S. pro­gram than it does the re­li­ab­il­ity of its own ar­sen­al,” the think tank re­port reads. “The U.S. pro­gram is cur­rently in flux, and is likely to re­main so for the fore­see­able fu­ture.”

Re­pla­cing the war­heads would take roughly 17 years and cost the equi­val­ent of ap­prox­im­ately $6.65 bil­lion at today’s prices, ac­cord­ing to the Guard­i­an art­icle. Bri­tain plans to re­duce its stock­pile of 225 Tri­dent war­heads to 180 or less, with up to 120 op­er­a­tion­ally avail­able for the coun­try’s Van­guard sub­mar­ine fleet, the blog quotes a 2010 Stra­tegic De­fence and Se­cur­ity Re­view as say­ing.

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