Letter: Britain's deterrent

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The Independent Online
Sir: Recently released cabinet papers do not show - as Sheila Jones claims (letter, 5 January) - that 'Britain offered to scrap its nuclear missiles' during the Cuba crisis of 1962. The 60 American Thor missiles in question were sent back to the US the following year anyway: at no stage did Britain propose giving up its own nuclear arsenal.

Not for the first time, Stephen Pullinger (letter, 4 January) seeks to relate the size of Britain's minimum strategic deterrent force to proposed reductions in the gigantic overkill capacity of the superpowers. He wants our Trident warhead totals to be frozen at, then drastically reduced from, the present Polaris totals, and cites political change in Russia as making Britain's need for a deterrent seem 'increasingly far-fetched'.

Had anyone predicted in 1987 that the Soviet Communist party would be banned within five years, that would indeed have seemed fantastical. Yet Trident will have to serve as Britain's nuclear deterrent not just for five years but for the next 35. As such, it will need the flexibility to cope with unforeseen political and technical developments - and still constitute a minimum deterrent by the end of that long period.

Within six years of the deployment of Polaris, it became necessary to increase the number of warheads to their present total. That Chevaline project added a further 60 per cent to the cost of the original system. Trident will carry a maximum of 128 warheads on the single boat which can be relied on always to be at sea.

By contrast, if Start 2 is eventually implemented, Russia's strategic nuclear warheads will decline in a decade from 10,000 to 3,000. As a sign of political goodwill this is welcome, but as a change in the physical threat posed to this country should Russian democracy fail, it will make no difference whatsoever.

Yours faithfully,

JULIAN LEWIS

Deputy Director

Conservative Research

Department

London, SW1

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