Christian allegations about secret nuclear weapons substantiated
The allegation by Christians and others that the British government is actively planning to develop and deploy another generation of British nuclear weapons after the existing Trident submarine system is decommissioned have been substantiated this weekend.
The Sunday Times reports that Britain has been secretly designing a new nuclear warhead in conjunction with the Americans.
As reported by Ekklesia, the news comes just two weeks after demonstrations by Christians outside the Ministry of Defence in London alleging that the Government was developing a new generation of nuclear weapons.
Reports suggest that the government has been pushing ahead with the programme while claiming that no decision has been made on a successor to Britainís Trident nuclear deterrent.
Before last year's general election British church leaders wrote an open letter urging that the next Government spell out the conditions under which it might forego a replacement of Trident.
Since the general election the Methodist church in particular has been amongst those calling for an open public debate about a replacement for Trident.
The Prime Minister has continually insisted that no decision has been made.
But work on a new weapon by scientists at the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston in Berkshire has apparently been under way since Tony Blair was re-elected last May, and is now said to be ahead of similar US research.
The aim is to produce a simpler device using proven components to avoid breaching the ban on nuclear testing. Known as the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW), it is being designed so that it can be tested in a laboratory rather than by detonation.
ìWeíve got to build something that we can never test and be absolutely confident that, when we use it, it will work,î one senior British source said last week.
The secret programme to build a new warhead in close co-operation with the Americans is estimated to have cost nearly £10 billion.
Developing a new weapon would also, according to expert advice from Cherie Boothís Matrix chambers, be a material breach of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
The Catholic church has been amongst many bodies which has recently urged the UK to uphold the integrity of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.
The office of Lord Goldsmith, the attorney-general, refused to comment on whether it had been asked for legal advice by No 10.
The controversy is set to ignite this week with an embarrassing report by the Foreign Policy Centre (FPC), set up under Blairís patronage, calling for Trident to be scrapped and not replaced.
On Tuesday the defence select committee will take evidence from experts, most of whom are expected to say that there is no need for a new nuclear deterrent.
The FPC report says that Britainís independent deterrent is an illusion. The missiles are stored in the United States and have to be collected by a British submarine before it goes on patrol.
Aldermaston is run by a consortium headed by Lockheed Martin, a US company, and there are 92 Americans working there, including the managing director and four of his senior managers.
ìThe UK should cease to try to keep up appearances and adopt a policy based on the reality that it is not an independent nuclear power,î the FPC report concludes. ìTrident should not be replaced and should be phased out now.î
Blair has been widely expected to publicly decide on Tridentís replacement before he steps down. ìIt is a huge decision for the country and it will probably be done in a far more open way than the decisions have been taken before,î he said last month.
But as he spoke, work was well advanced at Aldermaston on designs for the RRW. The US Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore nuclear laboratories began a competition to produce an RRW last May. But Washington sources say the British have been designing their own Reliable Replacement Warhead and ìare now ahead of the Americansî.
One possible way to avoid breaching the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is for Blair to announce that the new deterrent will have fewer warheads. We currently have about 200.
The history of Britainís nuclear deterrent is a long and not particularly glorious one. In the 1940s Churchill gave up trying to develop Britainís own atomic bomb and sent scientists to collaborate with the Americans.
Harold Wilsonís 1964 Labour government came to power having rejected Polaris in its manifesto but carried on with it anyway. A decade later Labour secretly pushed through the Chevaline programme to develop a new Polaris warhead.