Text Only | Disarmament Diplomacy | Disarmament Documentation | ACRONYM Reports
back to the acronym home page
WMD Possessors
About Acronym

British Policy

Trident Renewal, Highlights of Acronym Institute Coverage

The UK Trident System

Back to the Main Page on the UK

The UK is currently a nuclear weapon state. It has four Trident nuclear-armed submarines, equipped with Trident II D5 missiles manufactured by Lockheed Martin. The missiles carry warheads that are built and maintained by the UK's Atomic Weapons Establishments, but that are believed to be based closely on the design for the US (Trident) W76 warhead. UK nuclear weapons are assigned to NATO.

The UK has a close cooperative relationship with the US on defence policy, especially on nuclear weapons policy where it is heavily dependant upon the US for assistance with designing, operating and maintaining its nuclear forces. The UK receives help from the US with "design, development and fabrication capability" for its nuclear weapons under the 1958 US-UK Mutual Defence Agreement. It procures US Trident missiles under the terms of the 1963 Polaris Sales Agreement (as amended for Trident).

UK Vote on Trident Renewal, March 14, 2007

Government White Paper on Trident - Worse than Irrelevant? December 4, 2006

The government's White Paper on Trident replacement published on Monday December 4, proposes that Britain spend billions of pounds on a new generation of submarine-based nuclear weapons for the next 50 years, either Son of Trident or Trident-lite, its slightly-reduced sibling.

See also:


In June 2006, Chancellor Gordon Brown gave his backing to Trident replacement. In his annual Mansion House speech to the City of London on June 21, the Chancellor said that Britain must be: "strong in defence in fighting terrorism, upholding NATO, supporting our armed forces at home and abroad, and retaining our independent nuclear deterrent."

This speech provoked a storm of media coverage of the Trident replacement issue and much discussion in Parliament.

In the House of Commons, Prime Minister Tony Blair announced that a decision would be taken "this year" and that the government would publish a White Paper setting out its decision-making on the future of British nuclear weapons.

On 30 June 2006, the Defence Committee published its report The Future of the UK's Strategic Nuclear Deterrent (eighth report of Session 2005-06, HC 986).

The Report made a number of important recommendations including that:

  • the UK will need to examine whether the concept of nuclear deterrence remains useful in the current strategic environment and in the context of the existing and emerging threats to the security of the country.
  • the MoD should explain its understanding of the purpose and continuing relevance of nuclear deterrence now and over the lifetime of any potential Trident successor system
  • before any decisions on the future of the deterrent are made, it will be important to consider whether the possession of nuclear weapons enhances the UK's international influence and status and whether this contributes to the justification for retention of a strategic nuclear capability.

The report followed a Committee inquiry, which took written and oral evidence from a number of experts including Dr Rebecca Johnson.

Full text of the Conclusions and Recommendations is available at: http://www.acronym.org.uk/docs/0606/doc09.htm. Full text of the report is available at: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200506/

Legality of a decision to replace Trident

In December 2005, the prestigious Matrix Chambers (London) published an important legal opinion on "The Maintenance and Possible Replacement of the Trident Nuclear Missile System". In this opinion, Rabinder Singh QC and Professor Christine Chinkin (LSE) concluded that the replacement of Trident was "likely to constitute a breach of article VI of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty".

In an earlier legal opinion, Rabinder Singh QC and Professor Christine Chinkin also concluded that "it is strongly arguable that the renewal of the Mutual Defence Agreement" - a special arrangement between the US and Britain for exchanging nuclear information, technology and material - "is in breach of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty".

Further information about both of these legal opinions is available at: http://www.acronym.org.uk/uk/mda.htm.

Coverage in Disarmament Diplomacy

Official Documents and Analysis

See also: previous Acronym Institute Coverage of UK Nuclear Policy.

Back to the Top of the Page

© 2007 The Acronym Institute.