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British government to publish proposals for new nuclear missile arsenal

British government to publish proposals for new nuclear missile arsenal

British Prime Minister Tony Blair is to lay out plans Monday for a new multibillion pound nuclear deterrent, a move expected to be among his last major acts as prime minister _ and one likely to cause friction in his governing Labour party.
Blair's Downing Street office said he would publish a proposal paper and outline for lawmakers the government's preferred option for replacing Britain's current nuclear submarine-based defense system.
Britain's fleet of four nuclear-powered submarines, which are each capable of carrying up to 16 nuclear-armed Trident missiles are expected to end their operational life by 2024.
Though some legislators had urged the government to try and extend the life of the current fleet and delay a decision, both Blair and his expected successor _ Treasury chief Gordon Brown _ pledged to deliver a recommendation to lawmakers by the end of this year.
Blair's official spokesman, who speaks on condition of anonymity in line with government rules, said a special Cabinet meeting would be convened Monday to approve the text of the proposal paper.
Lawmakers will be asked to vote on the proposal by March 2007, allowing three months for debate.
Experts said Blair appeared certain to back a plan to build a new nuclear submarine fleet. Land or air based defenses were ruled out, as military advisers had decided they were too susceptible to attack.
Dr. Lee Willetts, head of the maritime studies program at the Royal United Services Institute, a London-based military think tank, said the submarine option was also likely to be the most cost effective.
"It appears likely the government has ruled out an option of not replacing at all the nuclear deterrent, having concluded that the world is no safer now than when Trident was first deployed," Willetts said. "The most likely outcome is to opt for a new submarine fleet."
Britain's first Trident submarine, the HMS Vanguard, went on a maiden patrol in December 1994.
Opponents of a replacement system _ including nuclear disarmament campaigners _ claim the new fleet is likely to cost as much as 76 billion pounds (US$150.6billion; euro113billion). Willetts said Britain's previous investment in submarine technology meant the figure would more likely be around 30 billion pounds (US$59.4 billion; euro44.5billion).
Anti-nuclear campaigners have claimed that in building any new nuclear deterrent, Britain will provide an effective green light to Iran and North Korea to seek to acquire and stockpile nuclear weapons.
Kate Hudson, chairwoman of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament lobby group, said Tehran and Pyongyang would see Blair's decision as a vindication of their own aspirations.
Beyond five formally declared nuclear weapons states _ the United States, Russia, China, France and Britain _ four others are known or thought to have such arms. They are India, Pakistan, Israel and, following its October missile test, North Korea.
Lobbyists and legislators have complained that in setting out his preference to retain a nuclear deterrent, Blair has already pre-empted the planned parliamentary debate on the issue.
Labour lawmaker John Trickett said he expected several legislators to rebel against Blair, but acknowledged that the plan would likely be carried with support from the main opposition Conservative party.
"There should not be a predetermined outcome on a decision of this magnitude. There is more than one alternative to Trident replacement and there should be a full debate on each one," Trickett said.
Blair's former Home Secretary Charles Clarke has said he favored an option to extend the life of the current fleet _ allowing more time to agree a solution to Britain's future nuclear weapon capabilities.


Updated : 2021-10-19 11:53 GMT+08:00