End of Cold War leaves UK as Europe's nuclear store

CHRISTOPHER BELLAMY

Defence Correspondent

Britain now has more nuclear weapons on its territory than any European state apart from Russia, following confirmation by Ukrainian officials yesterday that 90 per cent of the warheads on their soil had been returned to Russia, heir to the former Soviet Union.

But in spite of that, the number of nuclear weapons in Europe has reduced dramatically in the past decade and arms control experts yesterday hailed the return of the Ukrainian weapons to Russia as a great success.

Defence ministers from the United States, Russia and Ukraine watched yesterday as a nuclear missile silo was blown up at the military base of Pervomaisk, 180 miles south of Kiev, in a ceremony underlining the success of the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks (Start), in spite of the disintegration of the Soviet Union.

The Ukrainian Defence Minister, Velery Shmarov, described the destruction of the underground silo - once home to six SS-19 Stiletto intercontinental ballistic missiles, each able to carry six nuclear warheads for 7,000 miles - as an "important political event". The ceremony concluded a two- day visit to Ukraine by the US Defence Secretary, William Perry, and the Russian Defence Minister, General Pavel Grachev. The presence of defence ministers from two superpowers was highly significant. General Grachev had blown up a US missile silo in October

But the ceremony was delayed four hours after poor weather meant that the ministers' aircraft had to be diverted to an airfield farther from the missile site. The plane slid off the icy runway on landing, but no one was hurt.

Following the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991, the spectre of several nuclear-armed states arose. The Lisbon protocol of 1992 committed the former Soviet republics where nuclear weapons were based - Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan - to returning them to Russia.

Ukraine, a country with about the same population as Britain, had 176 intercontinental ballistic missiles on its territory when the Soviet Union disintegrated. These could carry up to 1,200 warheads. Yesterday's announcement that 90 per cent of the warheads had been returned to Russia would leave Ukraine with about 120 - fewer than Britain or France.

All the 18 missiles in Belarus and 66 from Kazakhstan have been returned to Russia. Ukraine"s 176 missiles were the greatest worry, because Ukraine was believed to be the only country with the necessary expertise to maintain a working nuclear arsenal.

"It's a remarkable achievement," said Colonel Terry Taylor of the London-based International institute for Strategic Studies. "There was a great deal of tension when the Soviet Union broke up in 1991 - it's a great success story.

"Three states that could have been nuclear states are now non-nuclear states, and they have acceded to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty".

Britain and the US have provided financial and technical help to disarm the former Soviet republics, including the provision of specially designed rail cars and advice on nuclear weapons security.

Although the Soviet Strategic Rocket Forces - who were responsible for nuclear missiles - were among the most efficient branches of the Soviet military, they suffered, like the rest, when the Soviet Union broke up.

Furthermore, the Soviet Union had never planned to withdraw its missiles from Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan. The warheads have been withdrawn with help from the West, although the larger missiles are having to be destroyed in situ because they are difficult to transport.

The MoD yesterday refused to confirm the exact number of warheads still held in Britain. "We've always kept the number of warheads secret," said a department spokesman. The US and Russian nuclear stockpiles have been made public under the Start nuclear weapons treaty. Britain and France, which have not entered into any nuclear disarmament treaties, have kept their nuclear arsenals under wraps.

However, informed estimates put the number of British warheads - including those for the new Trident submarine-launched missiles, first deployed a year ago, and the Polaris missiles they are replacing, free-fall bombs and nuclear depth-charges - at fewer than 300. Another 90 US nuclear warheads are believed to be on British soil, as against 1,500 a decade ago. That puts Britain just ahead of France and Ukraine.

The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) said yesterday France could have up to 500 nuclear warheads, although it probably has fewer. The US is also estimated to have 245 warheads left in Germany, 40 in Italy and 10 each in Belgium, the Netherlands and Greece. Ten years ago the figures were nearly 4,000 for Germany, 550 for Italy and 164 for Greece.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
fashionHealth concerns and 'pornified' perceptions have made women more conscious at the beach
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Ojo Onaolapo celebrates winning the bronze medal
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Rock band Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s
musicLed Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmHe was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
Sport
Van Gaal said that his challenge in taking over Bobby Robson's Barcelona team in 1993 has been easier than the task of resurrecting the current United side
footballA colourful discussion on tactics, the merits of the English footballer and rebuilding Manchester United
Life and Style
Sainsbury's could roll the lorries out across its whole fleet if they are successful
tech
Travel
The shipping news: a typical Snoozebox construction
travelSpending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Arts and Entertainment
Smart mover: Peter Bazalgette
filmHow live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences
Environment
Neil Young performing at Hyde Park, London, earlier this month
environment
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Project Coordinator

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: The Organisation: The Green Recrui...

Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

£350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

Embedded Linux Engineer

£40000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Embedded Sof...

Senior Hardware Design Engineer - Broadcast

£50000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Working for a m...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

Will Gore: Outside Edge

The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz