The British prime minister has “kudos” that leaders of nations like New Zealand and the Netherlands do not have because the UK possesses an independent nuclear deterrent, according to a British defence analyst.
UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is meeting U.S. President Joe Biden and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese in the port of San Diego in California—home of the U.S. Navy’s Pacific fleet—on Monday to sign the AUKUS security pact between the three countries.
Under the AUKUS deal Australia will be provided with a “nuclear-powered submarine capability,” and Britain, the United States, and Australia “will develop and provide joint advanced military capabilities to promote security and stability in the Indo–Pacific region.”
Tim Ripley, a defence analyst and author of “Little Green Men: The Inside Story of Russia’s New Military Power,” pointed out that unlike the deal which allows the Royal Navy to use U.S. Trident nuclear missiles in their submarines, Australia would not be given the tools for an independent nuclear deterrent.
Ripley said Britain decided to build its first atom bomb in 1947 and he said the foreign secretary at the time, Nye Bevan, later told a Labour Party conference audience that without nuclear weapons they would “send a foreign secretary, whoever he may be, naked into the conference chamber.”
Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent was originally provided by the UK’s own submarine-launched Polaris missile system, but in the early 1980s former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s government agreed a deal with the United States for the supply of Trident missiles for British Vanguard-class submarines, which are similar to the U.S. Navy’s Ohio class.
In 2006 the then-Prime Minister Tony Blair gave the green light to the so-called Trident renewal programme, which would see the missiles retained but in four new Dreadnought-class submarines.
UK PM Has ‘Ability to Blow the World Up’
Ripley told The Epoch Times: “It’s seen as a weapon of last resort, a weapon that moves you from being just an average country to a leading player. You have the ability to blow the world up that the prime minister of the Netherlands doesn’t have. So you have kudos and prestige in a way that the prime minister of New Zealand doesn’t have.”
He said there was also an “industrial argument” that “new nuclear energy power is a key technology, it sets your industry and industrial base above everybody else.”
“Then you’ve got the actual nuclear deterrent argument itself, that you deter anybody else using nuclear weapons against you. That was the classic thing in the Cold War, the four-minute warning, and the only way to stop it was to have mutual assured destruction,” Ripley added.
The Dreadnought submarines are being designed and built at BAE Systems’s shipyard in Barrow-in-Furness in the north of England, and the first vessel is due to enter service in the early 2030s.
BAE Systems employs 10,000 people in Barrow and elsewhere in the submarine-building programme.
Downing Street has confirmed Sunak will make an announcement on Monday about the integrated defence and security review, which has been updated in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The Times of London reported on Friday that Sunak would announce the injection of another £5 billion into the cost of building four new Dreadnought-class submarines that would eventually replace the current Vanguard-class subs that maintain Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent.
The Royal Navy’s four Dreadnought submarines—only one of which would be at sea at any one time—are in contrast with the U.S. Navy’s 18 Ohio-class submarines and another 60 Virginia-class submarines, all of which will eventually be equipped with nuclear warheads.
Not Just Left-Wing Quering £50 Billion Price Tag
Ripley said the arguments against spending such vast sums of money on the Trident renewal programme were not restricted to left-wing politicians such as Jeremy Corbyn, who viewed nuclear weapons as “completely immoral.”
He said there were many people, even within the British armed forces, who think the “astronomical” cost involved is not worth it, especially when it comes at the cost of properly funding the British Army and the RAF and the rest of the Royal Navy.
Referring to the money being pumped into the Dreadnought programme, Ripley said, “£5 billion would buy you an awful lot of tanks and artillery shells for the army.”
Ripley also said the term independent nuclear deterrent was not completely accurate.
He said: “If a submarine is at sea and some crisis unfolds and the British prime minister says fire a missile at Moscow, then it is independent. But if Britain and the United States fell out over something and the United States wanted to take its revenge on Britain for invading Suez or whatever it is, then they can say ‘you can’t get any more missile technology’ from us.”
“So the independent bit is not quite completely as end-to-end independent as the French are. There is American involvement in the long-term sustainment of the British nuclear deterrent, but not at the point of firing,” Ripley added.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has been arguing for a multi-billion-pound hike in his budget, and defence minister James Heappey said there had been “robust” clashes between the Ministry of Defence and the Treasury.
Sophia Gaston, head of foreign policy and UK resilience at the Policy Exchange think tank, wrote on Twitter on Friday that the “unusual convergence” of Sunak’s summit with France’s President Emmanuel Macron, along with the AUKUS signing, the independent review, and the defence budget announcement was not a “coincidence.”
She wrote: “It tells a story that the UK delivers on commitments, is ambitious but practical, prioritises relationships & balances them. Plus, AUKUS central to IP [Indo-Pacific] ’tilt’.”
The so-called Indo–Pacific tilt comes amid growing concern over Chinese military spending and aggression towards Taiwan and other countries in the South China Sea.
Ripley said that while Russia was a more pressing concern for Britain than China, in Washington the Chinese threat was considered the greater in the long-term.
He said: “The Chinese military build-up is the preeminent issue for the United States, military and political and diplomatic and economic. They are absolutely obsessed by it. It runs through almost everything they do.”
“But the problem with the Chinese thing is how do you have a military confrontation with a country that stocks all your supermarkets?” Ripley added.
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