British Prime Minister Gordon Brown says his government is willing to cut the number of nuclear submarines to support US President Barack Obama's nuclear disarmament initiative.
Britain has announced that it will cut its fleet of nuclear submarines as part of global disarmament efforts. The government says keeping the UK's nuclear deterrent is 'non-negotiable', but Gordon Brown said London was prepared to reduce the fleet of Trident missile-carrying submarines from four to three.
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said the move was aimed at halting the spread of nuclear weapons and reducing existing stockpiles.
"President Obama has injected new drive into the effort to meet the goals of the non-proliferation treaty which is a world free from nuclear weapons. Prime Minister Gordon Brown is determined that Britain plays its full part in those discussions," Miliband said.
"We've already reduced our warheads by about 75 percent since the end of the Cold War," he added, "and he wants to make clear that – as the multilateral negotiations proceed, we're ready to look if it's technically possible at moving from four submarines to three."
Britain's move comes ahead of next year's review of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty aimed at limiting the spread of nuclear weapons around the globe. It follows the a decision by the US and Russia to work on a successor to the landmark Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) which in 1991 bound both former Cold War enemies to implement deep cuts in their nuclear arsenal.
Critics say it's 'one down - three to go'
The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) has welcomed the proposal but says the ultimate goal should remain total disarmament. CND Chair Kate Hudson thinks President Obama needs even more support if he's to speed up worldwide nuclear disarmament.
"It's a good first step. But we very much see it as one down – three to go," she said. "We're very positive about the fact that Prime Minister Brown is showing support for President Obama's global disarmament initiative, but we feel that cutting Britain's nuclear submarine fleet by one is not really sufficient."
Britain's existing fleet of four Trident nuclear submarines is due to be updated, and replacing four with three is the basis of Gordon Brown's proposal. But that won't actually cut Britain's nuclear submarine capability by 25 per cent.
"The proposition doesn't suggest reducing the actual war heads," Kate Hudson of the CND points out. "So the idea would be that you're trying to do the same job now with three submarines that you were previously doing with four."
The move is certain to save money as the UK looks for ways to bring down its huge national debt levels. The British government had estimated the cost of replacing its Trident nuclear fleet at between 15 and 20 billion pounds (22 million euros) while opponents warn that it will be far more.
The government however insists that while it will save money by only replacing three of the four submarines, that is not the prime motivation behind the decision.