UK seeks to renew pact with US on nuke data exchange, warhead design

Trident I C-4 missile (Photo from

Trident I C-4 missile (Photo from


Arms, History, Military, NATO, Nuclear, Politics, Protest, SciTech, Security, UK, USA

London and Washington are eyeing renewal of a 1958 pact which would allow the two countries to share sensitive nuclear-related data, including warhead design and the exchange of material crucial in nuke production and stockpiling, British media report.

The 1958 pact is the Mutual Defense Agreement (MDA) – a document
praising close interaction while designing new nuclear warheads,
as well as manufacturing materials. While seeking to prolong it,
as it was done back in 2004, Whitehall however does not seem to
be planning to take it to the British parliament.

“A debate on the renewal of the MDA would be used by some as
an opportunity to raise wider questions concerning the possible
renewal of the nuclear deterrent, the future of the [UK’s] Atomic
Weapons Establishment and our obligations under the nuclear
non-proliferation treaty,”
argues internal paper of British
Ministry of Defence (MoD). The paper was obtained by the Guardian
through a Freedom of Information request.

A debate on the issue could only take place if Commons committees
demand greater parliamentary and public insight into issues
involved, whereas debate requests from individual MPs have been

In the US the MDA agreement is incorporated into the law, but in
Britain it has no legal status.

The pact between the two countries regarding joint development of
new nuclear warheads is expected to be signed in a “discreet
in Washington within the next weeks, reports the

British Royal Navy Vanguard class Trident Ballistic Missile Submarine (Reuters/David Moir)

Meanwhile, American officials will be visiting the AWE, which is
responsible for the design, manufacture and support of warheads
for the UK’s nuclear deterrent, to discuss the agreement details.
The documents prepared for this visit cite “enhanced
regarding “nuclear explosive package
design and certification”
with “possible development of
safer, more secure, warheads,”
as well as “maintenance of
existing stockpiles” of nuclear weapons.

The slightly censored paper also refers to a 2006 letter written
by then-British PM Tony Blair to American President George Bush,
containing a plea to help Britain maintaining its “nuclear
delivery system,”
which helped to start replacing British
fleet nuclear missile submarines.

MDA vs Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons

For decades the two major NATO allies have been acting as if they
never signed the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear
Weapons (NPT) that entered into force in 1970.

The Article One of the NPT prohibits all signatory countries to
pass a nuclear weapon, as well as direct or indirect control over
it, “to any recipient whatsoever.”

The MoD maintains that the MDA pact does not contradict the
Non-Proliferation Treaty because physical “movements under
the MDA do not involve nuclear weapons or devices,”
an MoD
briefing paper drawn up for ministers said.

“None of it is permissible in my view. For 40 years the US
and Britain have completely ignored that because it doesn’t suit
David Lowry, former director of the European
Proliferation Information Centre, however told WhoWhatWhy news

A Trident II, or D-5 missile (Reuters)

“If Iran and North Korea had signed a similar agreement for
the transfer of nuclear weapons technology, the UK and US would
be branding them pariah nations and screaming for the toughest of
international sanctions to be imposed,”
Peter Burt of
Nuclear Information Service, the man who shared the papers with
the Guardian, said.

Keeping alive the MDA agreement signed in the high noon of the
Cold War is the “worst kind of two-faced hypocrisy,”
demonstrating the world that neither the US nor UK respect the
Non-Proliferation Treaty, said Burt.

By renewing the MDA, “the UK and US are setting a dreadful
example to the rest of the world,”
Burt maintains, as
“seriously undermining the credibility of international efforts
to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons.”

“The close collaboration between the US and UK over their
nuclear arsenals remains not only a breach of the spirit and
letter of the NPT but a huge symbolic roadblock to
commented to WhoWhatWhy general secretary of
the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, Kate Hudson.

“It is a useful barometer to ask: would the US or UK tolerate
other states doing the same? Of course the answer is ‘No’,”

she said in May.

Special nuclear relations?

During WWII America and Great Britain were drudging the Manhattan
Project in harness, then London attempted independent nuclear
project, but after years of splashing money came to the decision
that nuke cooperation with the US would be cheaper and less

In 1958, London and Washington signed the MDA, which allowed the
US to get its hands on Britain’s civil-energy plutonium
stockpile. Ever since the special relations in the nuclear arms
sphere has always been tight.

Over the years London gave up the idea to keep up with the
nuclear arms race of the United States and the USSR.

In 2013, authors from the Royal United Services Institute
concluded that “collaboration between the two countries under
the MDA has evolved to the extent that the boundary between the
design and construction of UK and US warheads has blurred.”

According to WhoWhatWhy estimates, cooperation with the US saved
a lot of money of British taxpayers. For example France, a
possessor of truly independent nuclear weapons infrastructure,
spends on nuclear deterrence twice as much as the UK.

But it all that has been reached at the expense of technological

Today Britain does not possess the nuclear triad, resting content
with the naval component of the nuclear deterrence forces.

Britain possesses four SSBN Vanguard-class submarines – Vanguard,
Victorious, Vigilant, and Vengeance – carrying 16 missiles with
nuclear warheads each. Though the SSBNs are UK-built, their
primary weapon is American-made Trident II ballistic missiles.

Though UK is due to have 64 Trident II missiles, in reality they
were given just 58, of which at least 10 have already spent for
operational readiness tests.

In 2010, the British government announced plans to reduce the
number of operational missiles on each submarine from 12 to
eight, so it cannot be excluded that the currently-deployed
submarines carry no more than half of the missiles they are
supposed to.

This returns us to the bare fact that British nuclear deterrence
capability resides in total dependence of the present state of
the nuclear deterrence of the US. London has no choice but to go
cap-in-hand and bum nukes from Washington – or ultimately lose
its nuclear power status.

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