Article excerpt

Byline: By James Lyons

BRITAIN needs a new generation of nuclear weapons to stand up to rogue states, Tony Blair warned yesterday.

The PM wants to spend pounds 25billion replacing ageing Trident submarines. And he insists that failing to build them will compromise security.

Blair told MPs new threats are emerging all the time, as he set out his plans in the Commons.

Communist dictator Kim Jong-il recently tested an atomic bomb in North Korea, while Iran is pursuing a nuclear programme in defiance of the United Nations.

Britain must not be put at risk of blackmail from those with a finger on the atomic button, the PM said.

He insisted the country must be able to retaliate if rogue states hand atomic secrets to terrorists planning a "dirty" bomb.

Blair said: "It is not utterly fanciful ... 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's true our deterrent would not deter or prevent terrorists. But it's bound to impact on governments who might sponsor them."

It would be "unwise and dangerous" to leave the UK without a deterrent, he added.

Defence experts say that means new nuclear subs are needed.

Blair was speaking after a special Cabinet meeting in No10 to rubber-stamp the plans.

They will safeguard the future of the Faslane base on the Clyde, where 6500 work, for decades.

Four Vanguard subs which patrol the oceans armed with Trident missiles are based there. The oldest, launched in 1992, will have to be withdrawn by the mid-2020s.

Alternatives such as nucleararmed planes or land-based rocket silos were ruled out as too costly and prone to attack.

At pounds 15-25billion, the new subs are cheapest, with costs spread over 15 years from 2012.

Defence chiefs say they will take 17 years to develop and a decision is needed next year.

Blair has promised a Commons vote in March in one of his final battles with Labour MPs.

But the issue split his party with devastating consequences in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) heyday in the 1980s.

And 40 per cent of backbenchers now oppose a new weapons system, according to a poll.

For some, it is a moral question but others are simply worried about the huge price tag.

Ex-ministers Charles Clarke and Peter Kilfoyle are against the move but Gordon Brown has given it strong public backing.

Blair announced one in five of the warheads used to arm Trident missiles will be dumped in a bid to see off a rebellion.

That will take the UK arsenal from around 200 to just under 160.

First Minister Jack McConnell last night backed the plans.

McConnell has been accused of dodging questions about Trident.

But he said: "In an uncertain world, I believe in multilateral, not unilateral, disarmament. These decisions allow Britain to maintain a deterrent in the future and, therefore, the choice of further multilateral disarmament should global circumstances allow it.

"To do otherwise would be to deny future generations the option of having an independent deterrent.

It is impossible to state now, with any certainty, the level of threat in 10, 20 or 30 years."

But SNP leader Alex Salmond claimed he could use environment powers to stop a Trident replacement being housed in Scotland.

He said: "The parliament could become a focus on opposition to Trident being replaced.

"Then there is the prospect of Scotland being independent, and clearly that would mean ordering the Trident replacement out of Scotland. Perhaps that's something Mr Blair would do well to consider."

The Lib Dems want to delay the decision until 2014 and cut the number of warheads. …