British Integrated Into the US Nuclear Trigger?

by Carl Osgood

UK nuclear targeting is tightly integrated with that of the US through a UK liaison cell at US Strategic Command headquarters in Omaha, Nebraska. The history of this coordination stretches well back into the 1960's, with agreements between the US and UK on the coordinated use of nuclear weapons, were war to break out between NATO and the Warsaw Pact. According to one researcher, with the UK Trident force formally declared to NATO, detailed target planning for NATO, involving the UK cell, is also conducted at Stratcom. "The purpose of the UK presence at Stratcom, is therefore to coordinate and 'de-conflict' NATO and US nuclear targeting plans as they affect UK nuclear forces and avoid possible duplication and fratricide in nuclear war plans."

What might this mean for the current British drive for thermonuclear World War III? The British Empire not only has a puppet in the White House, whose finger is on the nuclear button, but they also are deeply integrated into the US nuclear planning and force infrastructure, going way back.

The history: A formal relationship began with the Mutual Defense Agreement, signed in 1958 by President Eisenhower and Prime Minister Harold MacMillan. The Brits had been interested in their own nuclear weapons arsenal before that, of course, even before their involvement in the Manhattan Project. Winston Churchill had authorized Britain's own atomic weapons program, dubbed "Tube Alloys," in 1943. After the war was concluded, however, they were shut out of further US nuclear weapons development by an act of Congress known as the McMahon Act. In 1947, the Atlee government made the decision to develop a British bomb, though it apparently was not public knowledge until May 1949. By the early 1950's British strategic doctrine resembled something like Eisenhower's "New Look," that is, with an overwhelming reliance on atomic weapons overkill in place of large conventional forces.

Britain successfully tested its own hydrogen bomb in 1957, which provided the impetus for renewed cooperation with the United States. The 1958 agreement led to the sharing of warhead designs between the two countries and the decision of the UK to adopt a variation of a US design for its own production of hydrogen bombs. The 1958 agreement was followed by the 1963 Polaris Sales Agreement, which allowed the UK to acquire the US Polaris submarine-launched ballistic missile system, which eventually replaced air-delivered weapons. This agreement has been updated at least twice, to allow the UK to acquire the Trident system, which replaced the Polaris system in the US Navy in the 1980's with the Ohio-class submarines. In return, the British agreed to commit their nuclear deterrent to NATO, except in the case of an extreme national emergency.

Under these agreements, there is a review every 18 months of the US-UK nuclear cooperation involving senior officials from both countries, and there is more frequent interaction between the US and UK nuclear weapons laboratories and defense bureaucracies that takes place via a range of Joint Working groups. The MDA was last renewed in 2004, for another 10 years, and was apparently the subject of some urgency, as Blair signed the amendment extending the agreement well before he informed his full cabinet. President G.W. Bush, in a statement to Congress announcing the renewal said: "The United Kingdom intends to continue to maintain viable nuclear forces... I have concluded that it is in our interest to continue to assist them in maintaining a credible nuclear force."

Under the current arrangements, the UK doesn't actually own its Trident missiles, but rather, has the rights to access a common pool of missiles, said to number about 150, held at the US Strategic Weapons Facility at the Kings Bay Submarine Base in Georgia. There are four Vanguard-class ballistic missile submarines, with one on patrol at all times. Each sub has 16 missile tubes and is capable of carrying up to 192 warheads, but reportedly they go on patrol with only 48 warheads. The warheads are said to be similar to the US W76 design, and have a yield of about 100 kilotons.

The Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) at Aldermaston is responsible for all aspects of the UK's nuclear weapons program, including assembly and packaging of warheads, but it has been said in House of Commons reports that there would be no UK nuclear weapons program without the support of the US. The AWE has described the MDA as "vitally important" and a "cornerstone of life for our nuclear weapons community."

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