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Britain being dragged along, says think tank


Nuclear warning over US stance

by  Ian Bruce


The Herald, Glasgow,   3  December 2001 

Centre for Research on Globalisation (CRG),  globalresearch.ca,  7 December 2001

Britain risks being dragged towards development and potential first strike use of tailor-made nuclear "bunker-buster" weapons on the coat-tails of an increasingly aggressive US military stance, a controversial analysis claims this week.

The 82-page study, drawn up by the British American Security Information Council, an independent think-tank based in London and Washington, calls for the urgent restoration of full parliamentary scrutiny of the UK's strategic nuclear policy.

It says traditional Whitehall secrecy and lack of public accountability mean that access to information on atomic weapons and their possible use is more difficult to obtain under the current Labour government than it was even under the Tory administrations of Margaret Thatcher or John Major.

It also claims Labour has quietly abandoned the UK's 50-year-old policy of "no -first-use" of nuclear weapons to enable it to fall in line with America's determination to retain the right to launch pre-emptive attacks to prevent a biological or chemical repeat of September 11. The report, due to be published on Wednesday, highlights Britain's total reliance on the US for supply and servicing of the Trident D5 intercontinental ballistic missiles used by the Royal Navy's four Vanguard-class nuclear submarines based at Faslane on the Clyde.

It also examines the increasingly close co-operation between scientists at the UK's Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston in England and the three main US laboratories responsible for the design, testing and maintenance of warheads and their future development to meet emerging threats.

"The biggest change in Labour Party thinking on nuclear weapons has been the abandonment of the no-first-use policy. This was discussed before Labour came to power, but was quietly dropped after the 1997 election," the study says.

"Similarly, although committed to strengthening security assurances to non -nuclear weapon states while in opposition, the Labour government has signalled that the use of nuclear weapons to deter chemical or biological threats has not been ruled out, following the US line of deliberate ambiguity.

"The so-called sub-strategic role for Trident has been particularly linked with deterrence of these threats."

That option, fashionable after the end of the cold war, left Britain with a (pounds) 10bn submarine deterrent and no clear enemy to justify the expense, envisages fitting smaller, highly-accurate tactical warheads to the Trident missiles as a reduced but still credible and flexible response to likely threats.

The war in Afghanistan has meanwhile accelerated work on options for "low -yield" nuclear warheads designed specifically to penetrate and destroy deep cave complexes impervious to even the most powerful conventional bombs. These could be used not only to wipe out terrorist boltholes in remote mountain areas, but also to target underground chemical, biological and nuclear state -run facilities in Libya, Iran and Iraq. An influential nuclear lobby in Washington is pushing for the restoration of tailor-made atomic weapons as the heart of US strategic policy rather than the move towards

surgical strikes with precision-guided high explosives. Adoption of that course would, the report says, have profound implications for Britain and Nato. It would also probably signal a restart of underground nuclear tests and could trigger a new arms race.

The UK's four Trident missile boats are dedicated to Nato, with the only "independent" national use of their firepower reserved for response to a direct attack on Britain itself.

Nato's supreme allied commander in Europe is always a US general, and British deterrent patrols are already tied in to the overall US strategic nuclear attack blueprint, known as the "single integrated operational plan".

If Labour disagreed with US policy, the future of the UK deterrent would be doubtful and current plans to keep the four missile boats in service for 30 years with a secret option for a 12-year extension would be in jeopardy.

It might also cost Britain membership of the official "nuclear club" which makes up the permanent five-nation section of the UN's security council, and drastically reduce Downing Street's role and influence in world affairs.

The Basic report sees this as "a collision course", but argues that Britain has been presented with a unique opportunity to further the cause of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.

The Trident boats could be converted to carry large numbers of conventionally -armed Tomahawk cruise missiles instead of the 48 nuclear warheads which make up the usual patrol payload.

Basic's analysts say Britain should use its influence to coax the US to abandon its resistance to binding international treaties regarded as a threat to its place as the world's only superpower, and to join Russia and France in a joint effort towards enforceable reductions in nuclear weaponry.

Mark Bromley, one of the co-authors of the Basic study, said yesterday: "Designing so-called low-yield weaponry lowers the threshold for their use.

"The British taxpayer is entitled to know what the UK government's position is on this and the future of Trident as a whole."

Copyright,  The Herald    2001. 

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