Letter: Defence estimates fail to quantify military threats

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Sir: The Defence White Paper appears to have omitted crucial information regarding British government policy on the strategic nuclear deterrent. As a result, the casual reader may be reassured by HMG's declaration that the 'full capacity of the Trident system will not be used' and that each submarine will carry no more than 128 warheads - but may also be interested to know that the White Paper does not reveal that at present each Polaris boat carries no more than 48 warheads.

The reader might then be curious to know why Britain would need more warheads than at present. It might be because (i) the Ministry of Defence has discovered lots of new targets since the Cold War ended, in which case could ministers please say where they might conceivably be? Or (ii) the MoD is worried that more of our warheads may be shot down by new anti-ballistic missile defences. (These new missile defences may be deployed by Russia, thanks to America's sharing of its Global Protection Against Limited Strikes technology.) However, on 30 June, Archibald Hamilton, the Defence minister, in a Written Parliamentary Answer said that nothing would be done in connection with GPALS that would 'undermine the effectiveness of our deterrent'.

So why do we need to increase our strategic nuclear arsenal at all? Especially when Britain is committed, under Article VI of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, to cease the nuclear arms race; a fact that is curiously missing from the White Paper's section on nuclear proliferation.

Yours faithfully,


Executive Director

International Security

Information Service

London, W1