Letter: Number of warheads on Trident boats

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Sir: The signing of the Start 2 agreement provides an opportunity for the Government to declare its intention not to increase the number of UK strategic nuclear warheads. Current plans to deploy up to 128 warheads per Trident boat should be revised down to 48 per boat (as at present apply to the Polaris boats).

The ministerial justification for this potential increase is the need to overcome improved Russian missile defences around Moscow. This rationale, first annunciated at the height of the Cold War, should be challenged. Targeting Moscow is far less of a priority since the collapse of the centralised Communist state. Moreover, a scenario in which the UK might confront Russia and be prepared to contemplate using its weapon of last resort appears increasingly far-fetched.

Instead of ministerial hints that the full capacity of Trident will not be deployed, the Government should state explicitly how many warheads are actually to be carried. Initially, this should be no more than 48 per boat. Trident can then be entered into the Start 3 process, on the important proviso that the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty remains adhered to. This could allow further reductions, possibly down to single-warhead missiles and a total inventory of about only 50 warheads.

The onus should now be on the Government to justify why it still wants more than that number; why the capability to destroy a dozen enemy cities is not a sufficient deterrent. A continued refusal to join the Start process, along with an expansion of strategic warheads, run contrary to the spirit, if not the letter, of Britain's obligations, under Article VI of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, to cease the nuclear arms race and to negotiate disarmament.

Yours faithfully


Executive Director

International Security

Information Service

London, WC2

30 December