BRITAIN is expecting to come under pressure from the United
States to reduce its independent nuclear deterrent in line with the
deep cuts ordered by Presidents Bush and Boris Yeltsin at their
summit meeting in Washington earlier this week.
But although government officials privately concede that the
pressures are likely to grow in coming months, Malcolm Rifkind, the
British defense secretary, has indicated that the government is
determined to nearly triple the warhead capacity aboard its fleet
of missile-firing submarines.
British strategic analysts say the country's planned fleet of
four Trident submarines will give it a nuclear capability well
beyond any conceivable defensive need, now that the threat of
international communism has receded.
Professor Laurence Martin, director of the Royal Institute of
International Affairs and a leading authority on nuclear strategy,
said:"Russia and the United States are moving into a world in
which they are de-emphasizing the need for nuclear weapons.
"There will be a problem over whether Britain, as one of
America's foremost allies, can go on maintaining a deterrent with
no really plausible utility."
Professor Martin added: "The Americans, who are supplying the
Trident missiles, are now talking about collaborating with our
former target, and that poses further serious questions."
Britain finds itself out on a limb in relation to this week's
Bush-Yeltsin agreement to slash their nuclear arsenals by
two-thirds over 10 years partly because of the long lead time
required to build nuclear submarines, and partly because of
domestic economic problems.
The existing fleet of four Polaris missile-firing submarines is
being phased out. But HMS Vanguard, the first of four Trident
submarines, was launched as recently as last March.
The full fleet is unlikely to be in service until the turn of
IN addition, the submarines are being built in British
shipyards, and the government is reluctant to modify the Trident
order because that would mean the loss of thousands of jobs in a
shipbuilding industry that has been under severe pressure for more
than a decade. If, for example, the government decided not to build
a fourth Trident submarine, up to 4,000 jobs would be lost.
Mr. Rifkind greeted the news of the Bush-Yeltsin arms agreement
with a brief broadcast statement indicating that work on the
Trident fleet would go ahead on schedule.
Defense officials said Britain had been fully consulted before
the summit. The officials maintained that the deal struck in
Washington would have little impact on Britain's independent
nuclear deterrent. …