The Chilcot Inquiry Report Won’t Reveal The Real Reason Why The UK Invaded Iraq With The USA
“Did Britain have to invade Iraq? No, but if we had not, when the Mutual Defence Agreement came up for renewal in 2004 would John Bolton have recommended to President George Bush that Britain was worthy of another ten years of nuclear supplies “in light of our previous close co-operation”?
2006: Trident: We’ve Been Conned Again
The independent British nuclear deterrent is a myth – whatever else it may be, it is not independent. That reality, laid bare as never before in US presidential directives published on our website, renders meaningless the government’s suggestion that it is time to renew “our” nuclear arsenal.
For decades, American presidents have been authorising US weapons-makers to ship vital bomb components to Britain. George Bush Sr was one of them: in July 1991, for example, he signed a five-year directive ordering the United States department of energy to “produce additional nuclear weapons parts as necessary for transfer to the United Kingdom”.
These are the final pieces in a jigsaw which exposes simple facts that British leaders have long known but a generation of Thatcherite consensus has obscured: we cannot and do not make our own nuclear weapons; we are not a true nuclear power; we are mere clients of the US.
Our present Trident submarine-launched nuclear missile system reaches the end of its shelf-life in the 2020s and we are told that, if it is to be replaced, work has to start soon. As the debate begins, supporters of a new generation of British weapons of mass destruction say we must have a bomb of our own so that we will always be equipped to face a crisis such as that of 1940. “Something nasty may turn up,” is their bottom line.
We now know, however, that British weapons are so dependent on the US that this 1940 argument is a nonsense. In that year, we stood alone and the United States remained neutral. We would not have had a bomb in our arsenal because the Americans would have refused to help us make it, and would certainly not have given us one there and then. The truth behind the pro-renewal argument is that our defence in any future 1940 scenario depends not on us having a nuclear deterrent with a Union Jack on it, but on us having the US on our side.
The declassified National Security directives uncovered in the archives of Presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and George Bush Sr leave no doubt about this dependency. The most recent available instruction is Bush’s, quoted above, but the names of Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski appear on earlier versions of this annual update to the US nuclear stockpile plan.
Governments here, however, have always stressed that the bombs on top of the Trident missiles were truly British – their answer to the criticism that Trident, as Denis Healey once put it, was a “rent-a-rocket, Moss Bros missile”. Yet even when Healey spoke, more than 20 years ago, there was no shortage of evidence to contradict the official line. The Conservative government itself had to admit that there were never any “identifiably British” Trident missiles in the US navy store where British submarines loaded up. The words “Royal Navy” were only painted on the missiles for test-firing, to make good publicity pictures.
Documents obtained by the Natural Resources Defence Council, a non-governmental organisation in the US, show that for 45 years the UK has been given blueprints of many US weapons to help build bombs for Royal Navy missile submarines and RAF bombers. For decades, too, all Brit-ish nuclear testing was done in the US, and access to the Nevada test site is still essential to the UK programme.
Today the factory at Aldermaston in Berkshire that makes the bombs – and uses US equipment to do so – is actually owned by the Lockheed Martin Corporation of Bethesda, Maryland, while the submarine maintenance base in Plymouth is largely the property of Dick Cheney’s old firm, Halliburton.
The transatlantic links date back at least to 1958, when a “mutual defence agreement” between Dwight Eisenhower and Harold Macmillan allowed the US to send Britain everything except complete nuclear weapons. Even in the years 1946 to 1958, when US nuclear support for Britain was supposedly cut off by Congress, the British were trading uranium ore for details of how to build factories to make nuclear weapons.
In 1962, as Macmillan set off to accept John F Kennedy’s offer of Polaris missiles, the chief of Britain’s nuclear bomber force wrote that the prime minister was travelling to “defend a myth”. Macmillan’s Sir Humphrey, Robert Scott, wrote that the deal would put Britain in America’s pocket for a decade. His words were echoed four decades later when Admiral Raymond Lygo, the former head of nuclear programmes for the Royal Navy and chairman of British Aerospace, explained last year that any successor to Trident would “continue to tie the UK to US policy”.
This past week, along with other experts, I gave evidence to the Commons defence committee on the issue of replacing Trident. I heard Sir Michael Quinlan, now retired from the civil service but widely regarded as the doyen of British nuclear strategists, say there were two issues at stake: independence of procurement and independence of operation. He argued that, although we had no independence of procurement, we could use the weapons independently.
This is moving the goalposts. For generations governments have tried to prevent the public knowing how much nuclear weapons kit the UK gets from the US, so that they could sustain the myth that our deterrent was home-made. Now, suddenly, it doesn’t matter if the missiles aren’t British. Take a step back. Imagine for a moment that France imported its nuclear missiles from China. Who would then believe in French independence?
So, what about independence of operation? Could Britain fire Trident if the US objected? In 1962 the then US defence secretary, Robert McNamara, said that the British nuclear bomber force did not operate independently. Writing in 1980, Air Vice-Marshal Stewart Menaul said it definitely could not be used without US authorisation. Today former naval officers say it would be extremely difficult. The many computer software programs, the fuse, the trigger, the guidance system as well as the missiles are all made in America.
Let us say that Britain wanted to fire Trident and the United States opposed this. What would happen? For one, the entire US navy would be deployed to hunt down Red-White-and-Blue October; it would know roughly where to look, starting from the last position notified to the US and Nato while on normal patrol. Meanwhile, the prime minister would be trying to find a radio that was not jammed, hoping that none of the software had a worm and that the US navy wouldn’t shoot the missiles down with either its Aegis anti-missile system or the self-destruct radio signal that is used when missiles are test-fired.
From the moment of a breach with Washington, moreover, every Trident submarine sailing down the Clyde would find a waiting US escort. In months the software would be out of date, Lockheed Martin and Halliburton would fly home, taking much equipment with them, and no spare parts would be available. As Quinlan put it: “We would be in shtook.”
The British people believe that an independent bomb exists. They don’t know that this insurance policy is valid only when Washington feels like it. And the premiums are high: in return for this dodgy insurance, Britain must follow the US line.
Did Britain have to invade Iraq? No, but if we had not, when the Mutual Defence Agreement came up for renewal in 2004 would John Bolton have recommended to his president that Britain was worthy of another ten years of nuclear supplies “in light of our previous close co-operation”?
Forty years ago Peter Cook lampooned Macmillan’s pretence at an independent bomb. Harold Wilson argued before, during and after he left office that Britain’s nuclear weapons were not independent. Recently Robin Cook, previewing my own work in what was his last article, affirmed that all aspects of Trident are dependent upon the US. Yet academics, journalists and politicians still use the words “independent nuclear deterrent” with gravitas rather than derision.
Confidence tricks work best on people who want to believe in them, and the British elite and much of the public are desperate to believe that Britain’s bomb gives them great-power status. Instead Britain gets the worst of all worlds: weapons that can’t be used when the chips are down and a US-led policy that rejects disarmament in favour of pre-emptive war. And now, with Trident becoming obsolete, the government wants to renew the deal – behind the old, dishonest mask of independent deterrence.
At the Commons defence hearing, MPs voiced the opinion that voters wanted a British bomb for the simple reason that the French had one. Informed that ever since Charles de Gaulle the French have regarded Britain as a US vassal because of our nuclear dependence, they were unmoved. The voters would not see it that way, protested one MP. Well, perhaps it is time the voters were told the truth.
In an editorial written just before his death in July 2005, Robin Cook, who had served previously as Blair’s foreign secretary, raised questions about the expensive building and upgrading of facilities at the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston, to which the government committed substantial additional funds well before any debate or decision on the future of British nuclear weapons. He said, “Down at Aldermaston they are spending hundreds of millions of pounds of your money on a refit of the production line for nuclear warheads. We are assured this does not mean that any decision has been made to replace the Trident nuclear system. Dear me no, the investment is merely intended to keep open our options.” The full article:
Down at Aldermaston they are spending hundreds of millions of pounds of your money on a refit of the production line for nuclear warheads. We are assured this does not mean that any decision has been made to replace the Trident nuclear system. Dear me no, the investment is merely intended to keep open our options.
If we want to exercise the option of producing more weapons, we are told we must make up our minds in this parliament. This is not because Trident is in imminent danger of going out of service. The British submarines can keep on diving and surfacing for another two decades. The problem is that it will take that long to order, build and commission another expensive fleet to replace them.
This is an excellent opportunity for Tony Blair to prove that he is a real moderniser. It is a fixed pole of his political pitch that he represents a clean break from old Labour. It was the Wilson government of the 60s that built, launched and named the Polaris fleet. It was Jim Callaghan who first struck the Trident deal with President Carter, eccentrically in a beach hut on Guadeloupe. There could not be a more convincing way for Tony Blair to break from the past and to demonstrate that he is a true moderniser than by making the case that nuclear weapons now have no relevance to Britain’s defences in the modern world.
The justification for both Polaris and Trident was that we faced in the Soviet Union a great, hostile bear bristling with nuclear claws. The missiles were put on submarines precisely because the ocean bed was the only place they could hide from Russian firepower. But those are calculations from a long-vanished era. The Soviet Union has disintegrated, its satellites are our allies in the European Union, and the west is now sinking large funds into helping Russia to defuse and dismantle the warheads that we once feared.
No other credible nuclear threat has stepped forward to replace the Soviet Union as a rationale for the British nuclear weapons system. To be sure, two or three other nations have emerged with a crude nuclear capability, but none of them has developed the capacity or the motivation to attack Britain.
It is not easy to see what practical return Britain ever got out of the extravagant sums we invested in our nuclear systems. None of our wars was ever won by them and none of the enemies we fought was deterred by them. General Galtieri was not deterred from seizing the Falklands, although Britain possessed the nuclear bomb and Argentina did not. But the collapse of the cold war has removed even the theoretical justification for our possessing strategic nuclear weapons.
However, the spirit of the cold war lives on in the minds of those who cannot let go of fear and who need an enemy to buttress their own identity. Hence the vacuum left by the cold war has been filled by George Bush’s global war on terror. It is tragically true that terrorism, partly as a result, is now a worse threat than ever before.
But nuclear weapons are hopelessly irrelevant to that terrorist threat. The elegant theories of deterrence all appear beside the point in the face of a suicide bomber who actively courts martyrdom. And if we ever were deluded enough to wreak our revenge by unleashing a latter-day Hiroshima on a Muslim city, we would incite fanatical terrorism against ourselves for a generation.
Investment in a new strategic nuclear system would be worse than an irrelevance. It would be an extravagant diversion of resources from priorities more relevant to combating terrorism. Trident cost us more than £12.5bn – roughly half the whole defence budget for a year. Even if its successor did not have a higher price tag, it could not be bought without cutting back on the conventional capacity of our armed forces. It will be more difficult this time to find the funds for a new nuclear weapons system without those cuts being painful, because the defence budget as a percentage of GDP is now much less than the level that accommodated the Polaris and Trident programmes.
Our army is already shedding both troops and tanks. Yet Britain’s most valuable role in global stability is the professional, experienced contribution of our soldiers to peacekeeping missions, which earns us much more goodwill round the world than our nuclear submarines prowling the seas. The world would be less stable and Britain would be less secure if we were to trade in even more of those army units for son-of-Trident. It is not just peaceniks who would oppose such a choice. I suspect a clear majority of the officer corps would vote against diverting the defence budget into another generation of nuclear weapons.
It is not as if the large sums that would be required to keep us in the nuclear game would buy us an independent weapon. Dan Plesch documents in an impressive forthcoming report that all levels of the Trident system depend on US cooperation. The missiles are not even owned by us, but are leased from the Pentagon in an arrangement that Denis Healey once dubbed as “rent-a-rocket”. Renewing our collaboration with the US on nuclear weapons will deepen the bonds between Downing Street and the White House, at the very time when the rest of the nation longs for a more independent stance.
It is therefore against Britain’s national interests to replace Trident. It is also against our international obligations, notably the commitment in the non-proliferation treaty to proceed in good faith to nuclear disarmament.
To be fair, New Labour has so far had a decent record on progress towards this objective. In the past decade Labour has scrapped Britain’s other nuclear weapons, signed up to the test ban treaty and reduced the alert status of our submarines by several days. But these positive steps will be reversed if we now charge off in the opposite direction by ordering a brand-new nuclear system.
There is a chasm too wide for logic to leap, between arguing that Britain must maintain nuclear weapons to guarantee its security, and lecturing Iran et al that the safety of the world would be compromised if they behaved in the same way.
Despite the current anxieties over proliferation, more nations have given up nuclear weapons over the past generation than have developed them. Brazil and Argentina negotiated a treaty to terminate their rival nuclear programmes. Ukraine and other former Soviet states renounced the nuclear capacity they inherited. South Africa, post-apartheid, abandoned its nuclear programme and dismantled its weapon capacity.
None of those countries regards itself as any less secure than before. Nor need we, if our leadership can find the courage to let Trident be the end of Britain’s futile and costly obsession with nuclear-weapon status. http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2005/jul/29/labour.politicalcolumnists
Labour’s 2005 election manifesto stated: “We are also committed to retaining the independent nuclear deterrent.” But can this system be called independent when so much of it is, as modern business-speak would have it, sourced in America? The deterrent is carried in four Vanguard-class submarines that although designed and built in Britain, incorporate many US components and reactor technology: http://www.newstatesman.com/node/152880
* The delivery system is the Trident D-5 missile, which is designed and made in the United States.
* The firing system is also designed and made in the US.
* So is the guidance system.
* The computer software is American.
* The warhead design is based on the US W-76 bomb.
* The warheads are produced by Aldermaston, which is owned US firm Lockheed Martin and primarily uses US technology.
* Vital nuclear explosive parts are imported, we now know, from the US, as are some non-nuclear parts.
* The warhead factory is a copy of a facility at Los Alamos, New Mexico.
* The submarine maintenance base is also 51 per cent owned by Halliburton of the US.
The United Kingdom has begun to debate whether to replace the current Trident nuclear weapons system, which will cease to be operational in the early 2020s, or to become the first acknowledged nuclear-weapon state to comply fully with Article VI of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) by eliminating the British arsenal.
A decision is expected sometime in this parliament, (deferred until after the May 2015 general election) in 2010. Just before last year’s general election, the government of Tony Blair announced that it would need to consider a follow-on to Trident, but it sought to portray the decision as essentially technical—whether to extend the life of the current submarines or build new platforms.
The government’s attempt to slip the decision through quietly failed, and a contentious debate about the future of British nuclear weapons and nonproliferation policy has now been kindled. Politicians and retired military officers are taking sides, the grassroots peace movement is mobilizing, and members of parliament are demanding to participate in the decision-making.
Blair has made clear that he believes the United Kingdom should retain “the independent nuclear deterrent.” Yet, his defense secretary, John Reid, has tried to reassure members of parliament that no decision has been taken on any replacement and that the government would “listen to” their views. However, there was no commitment to either a debate or vote on the matter in parliament. http://www.armscontrol.org/act/2006_04/CoverStoryUKnuclear
2008: USA sub builders to plug yard skills gap
18 Americans are arriving in Barrow to help BAE. They include six designers who have already arrived, and who will work with BAE, Thales, Rolls Royce and Ministry of Defence staff on designs for future subs including planned, giant Son of Trident vessels. Twelve engineers from Electric Boat, set to arrive in January, will work on the Astute-class boats Ambush and Artful, now in build.
On the design side, BAE has to work with the USA on any future Trident missile sub because the top secret missiles and missile compartments are American technology and are designed and made by US firms. http://www.nwemail.co.uk/news/1.269227
The Government is planning to upgrade its stockpile of nuclear warheads, it has been reported.
A senior Ministry of Defence official told a private gathering of arms manufacturers that the decision to replace the warheads had already been taken, according to documents released under the freedom of Information Act. In June last year David Gould, the then chief operating officer at the Defence Equipment and Support Organisation, made the announcement at a future deterrent industry event. He said: “This afternoon we are going to outline our plan to maintain the UK’s nuclear deterrent. “The intention is to replace the entire Vanguard class submarine system. Including the warhead and missile.”
The statement is in contradiction to previous assertions made by ministers. They have always denied that there are plans to replace the warheads as part of the upgrade of the Trident nuclear system, and insisted that no decision would be made until the next parliament, probably sometime after 2010.
Kate Hudson, chair of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, said: “It is a disgrace that the MoD is secretly telling the defence industry one thing, whilst ministers are saying quite the opposite in Parliament.” http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/2456478/Britains-nuclear-warheads-will-be-upgraded-document-suggests.html
The government has sold its last remaining shares in the Aldermaston Atomic Weapons Establishment in Berkshire to an American company. The move means Britain no longer has any stake in the production of its Trident nuclear warheads. Opposition MPs have criticised the sale, but the Ministry of Defence said Britain’s “sovereign interests” had been protected. The fee paid by California-based Jacobs Engineering has not been disclosed. The sale of British Nuclear Fuels’ stake means Jacobs has control of one third of Aldermaston’s operating company, AWE Management. The other two thirds were already in private hands. They are split equally between American defence giant Lockheed Martin and the British plc Serco. Aldermaston is responsible for the production of warheads for the Trident nuclear deterrent programme and its planned replacement Trident2.
2015: Trident Nuclear Weapons – Armageddon On Our Doorstep
The current Trident nuclear weapons system comprises four nuclear powered Vanguard-class submarines, which are homeported at Faslane naval base northwest of Glasgow. These are equipped with Trident II D5 missiles leased from the US, fitted with warheads that are manufactured at the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) Aldermaston and Burghfield, near London. The majority of the UK’s declared 225 warheads – those that are not being deployed on board the submarines or refurbished by AWE – are stored at a naval arms depot at Coulport, on the Scottish coast about 6 miles from Faslane. Trident nuclear weapons are regularly transported through Scottish lochs and seas and between Faslane and Coulport. Convoys of armoured vehicles carrying warheads frequently travel on public roads, including motorways, between AWE Burghfield and Coulport. http://www.acronym.org.uk/directory/proliferation-challenges/nuclear-weapons-possessors/united-kingdom/scotlandfaslane