Britain to scale back Trident nuclear program

British submarine HMS Vengence returns to Faslane Submarine base on the river Clyde December 4, 2006
Britain wants to scale back its Trident nuclear deterrent program by cutting the number of missile-carrying submarines from four to three, Foreign Secretary David Miliband said.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown will formally announce his readiness to scale back Trident when he speaks to the U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday afternoon, Brown’s office at 10 Downing Street confirmed. The decision is part of Britain’s long-term goal of nuclear non-proliferation around the world, Miliband said late Tuesday outside the United Nations. “President Obama has injected new drive into the effort to meet the goals of the non-proliferation treaty, which is a world free of nuclear weapons, and our prime minister, Gordon Brown, is determined that Britain plays its full part in those discussions,” Miliband said. By saying that Britain wants to reduce the number of submarines, Brown will show he is thinking in practical terms about Britain’s role in global disarmament, Miliband said. Miliband rejected suggestions that the move is intended to save money.

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“Defense, and nuclear defense especially, is long-term questions, not short-term financial issues,” Miliband said. “The math does not work that three are three-quarters of the cost of four. It’s a much more complex exercise.” Nuclear opponents welcomed the news of Brown’s scheduled announcement, saying the reduction in submarines is a step in the right direction. “This will support the current global initiatives towards the elimination of all nuclear weapons, led by President Obama and backed by leaders and nations around the world,” said Kate Hudson, who heads the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Britain has maintained a nuclear arsenal since 1956, with at least one nuclear-armed submarine somewhere at sea continuously since 1969. The Trident program involves U.S.-made Trident missiles able to launch from British submarines and fitted with nuclear weapons. Then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher proposed the Trident program in 1979 as a way to replace Britain’s obsolete Polaris strategic nuclear missile, according to the Margaret Thatcher Foundation. In 2006, the British government approved plans to update Trident, and a new generation of submarines is due to be ready to replace the Vanguard Class submarines by 2024. But the program, which is expected to cost about 20 billion ($29 billion), has been heavily criticized by anti-nuclear campaigners