Blair: 'Trident replacement is vital for Britain's security
JAMES KIRKUP POLITICAL EDITOR scotsman 5 december
- Blair states Britain's nuclear capability could be used against rogue states
- Labour party may need Tory support to back Trident overhaul spending
- Concession to cut the number of nuclear warheads by a fifth to 160
"It is not utterly fanciful to imagine states sponsoring nuclear terrorism from their soil. We know this global terrorism seeks chemical, biological and nuclear devices. It is not impossible to contemplate a rogue government helping such an acquisition." Tony Blair
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BRITAIN would be prepared to use nuclear weapons against countries who allowed their own nuclear technology to fall into the hands of terrorists, Tony Blair said yesterday
The Prime Minister made the threat as he declared the government's intention to spend as much as £20 billion replacing the Trident nuclear deterrent with a new submarine-based weapons system.
The decision will be put to a Commons vote in February, when the government is likely to have to rely on Conservative support to overcome what could be a substantial Labour rebellion.
In a pre-emptive concession to his own party's sceptics, the Prime Minister yesterday announced that the government is willing to cut Britain's holding of nuclear warheads by a fifth, to 160 devices.
The Ministry of Defence also said it would look at reducing the number of missile-carrying submarines from four to three. Ministry officials concede that a decision to cut the Trident flotilla could have employment implications for the navy base at Faslane on the Clyde, where the submarine programme supports 6,500 jobs directly and another 5,000 indirectly.
While the government is prepared to make concessions to the critics on the precise form of the nuclear weapons system, Mr Blair made it clear that he would not compromise on the basic decision to keep Britain a nuclear-armed power for the next generation.
Confronting head-on his Labour opponents who argue a nuclear weapons system is not relevant to the security threats of the 21st century, Mr Blair made it clear Britain would be willing to launch a retaliatory nuclear strike on "state sponsors" of nuclear terrorism.
"It is not utterly fanciful to imagine states sponsoring nuclear terrorism from their soil. We know this global terrorism seeks chemical, biological and nuclear devices. It is not impossible to contemplate a rogue government helping such an acquisition," Mr Blair told MPs.
"It is true that our deterrent would not deter or prevent terrorists. But it is bound to have an impact on governments that might sponsor them."
Citing national security, the government refuses to discuss the precise circumstances under which it would use nuclear weapons, but the white paper setting out the government's argument for replacing Trident contains an even more explicit warning.
"We make no distinction between the means by which a state might choose to deliver a nuclear warhead, whether, for example, by missile or sponsored terrorists," the white paper says.
"Any state that we can hold responsible for assisting a nuclear attack on our vital interests can expect that this would lead to a proportionate response."
Mr Blair's Commons announcement came after a Cabinet meeting yesterday morning at which no dissent was expressed. Some reports have suggested that ministers including Margaret Beckett, the Foreign Secretary, are opposed to a new deterrent, but Mrs Beckett last night insisted she supported the decision.
In the Commons, David Cameron, the Conservative leader, also offered to support the renewal of Trident and the submarines to carry it, which is expected to take 17 years from full authorisation to operational readiness.
The Liberal Democrats have not stated a clear position on Trident, and Sir Menzies Campbell, their leader, yesterday called for a final decision to be delayed until 2014, something the government says would be impractical and expensive.
Without direct criticism from the main opposition parties, doubts about the new weapons programme were expressed by Labour back-benchers and the nationalist parties.
Gavin Strang, a former Labour Cabinet minister, said that replacing Britain's weapons would "weaken our efforts to persuade other countries to stay non- nuclear".
Defence policy is reserved to Westminster, but the government's decision yesterday triggered another clash between Labour and the Scottish Nationalists.
Jack McConnell, the First Minister, had appeared to equivocate about replacing Trident, but last night he said: "I agree with the decision of the UK government to maintain the UK's independent nuclear deterrent and I fully support the associated commitment to further reduce the number of nuclear warheads."
Nicola Sturgeon, SNP deputy leader, said Mr McConnell's statement "underlines how out of touch he is with the people of Scotland - he has now received his orders from London and is duly complying to the letter".