Select Committee on Defence Eighth Report


Decisions on the future of the UK's strategic nuclear deterrent are likely to be required during the course of the current Parliament. The Government has promised a free and open debate on the issue before any decisions are taken. To date, it has offered no explanation of the nature of the decisions that are required. Nor has it sought to clarify the timetable within which those decisions would need to be taken and implemented. This report seeks to encourage and inform the public debate by examining the strategic context and timetable for decision-making.

Decisions on the future of the nuclear deterrent will be taken, for the first time, outside the international political and military context of the Cold War. The ending of that conflict transformed our security environment and changed our security needs.

The UK will need to examine whether nuclear deterrence remains relevant in the current strategic environment. We must take into account the nature of the threats currently facing our country and examine how those threats could evolve over the lifetime of any potential Trident successor. And we must consider whether, and in what ways, retention of a strategic nuclear deterrent capability might assist the UK in addressing those threats.

Before any decisions on the future of that deterrent are made, it will be important to address the extent to which the possession of nuclear weapons enhances the UK's international influence and status and whether such a reason adds significantly to the justification for retention of a strategic nuclear capability.

It will also be essential to decide what level of dependence upon the United States the UK is willing to accept in any possible Trident successor. We must consider the potential policy implications of any technical dependencies upon the US and the differing concepts of independence adopted by the UK and France.

We welcome the Government's promise of a full and open debate in Parliament, and in the country at large, on the future of the UK's strategic nuclear deterrent. But the Ministry of Defence has refused to participate in our inquiry. We are surprised and disappointed by this refusal.

A genuine and meaningful debate is only possible with the active participation of the Ministry of Defence (MoD). The public should know what decisions will be required, when they must be taken and implemented, and what factors are driving consideration of the issue now. We call upon the MoD to engage fully in our forthcoming inquiries into the future of the UK's strategic nuclear deterrent. We hope the MoD will make a substantive response to this report and that it will address openly the issues we have raised.

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Prepared 30 June 2006