UK Trident programme

UK Trident programme

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The UK Trident programme is the United Kingdom's Trident missile
Trident missile
The Trident missile is a submarine-launched ballistic missile equipped with multiple independently-targetable reentry vehicles . The Fleet Ballistic Missile is armed with nuclear warheads and is launched from nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines . Trident missiles are carried by fourteen...

-based nuclear weapons programme
Nuclear weapons and the United Kingdom
The United Kingdom was the third country to test an independently developed nuclear weapon, in October 1952. It is one of the five "Nuclear Weapons States" under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which the UK ratified in 1968...

. Under the programme, the Royal Navy
Royal Navy
The Royal Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Founded in the 16th century, it is the oldest service branch and is known as the Senior Service...

 operates 58 nuclear-armed Trident II D-5 submarine-launched ballistic missile
Submarine-launched ballistic missile
A submarine-launched ballistic missile is a ballistic missile capable of delivering a nuclear warhead that can be launched from submarines. Modern variants usually deliver multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles each of which carries a warhead and allows a single launched missile to...

s and around 200 nuclear warheads on 4 Vanguard-class
Vanguard class submarine
The Vanguard class are the Royal Navy's current nuclear ballistic missile submarines , each armed with up to 16 Trident II Submarine-launched ballistic missiles...

 ballistic missile submarine
Ballistic missile submarine
A ballistic missile submarine is a submarine equipped to launch ballistic missiles .-Description:Ballistic missile submarines are larger than any other type of submarine, in order to accommodate SLBMs such as the Russian R-29 or the American Trident...

s from Clyde Naval Base
HMNB Clyde
Her Majesty's Naval Base Clyde is one of three operating bases in the United Kingdom for the Royal Navy...

 on Scotland's west coast. At least one of these submarines is always on patrol as a continuous at-sea deterrent, armed with up to 16 Trident missiles and around 48 nuclear warheads, although each submarine can carry up to 192 nuclear warheads with 12 warheads per missile. This is to be reduced to 8 missiles per boat, with a total of 40 warheads per boat, as a result of the 2010 Strategic Defence Review
Strategic Defence Review
The Strategic Defence Review was a British policy document produced by the Labour Government that came to power in 1997. Then Secretary of State for Defence, George Robertson, set out the initial defence policy of the new government, with a series of key decisions designed to enhance the United...

 

'Trident' entered service in 1994. Since the 1998 Strategic Defence Review
Strategic Defence Review
The Strategic Defence Review was a British policy document produced by the Labour Government that came to power in 1997. Then Secretary of State for Defence, George Robertson, set out the initial defence policy of the new government, with a series of key decisions designed to enhance the United...

, the UK's nuclear deterrent is based entirely on submarine-launched missiles, as these are seen as the most reliable method of delivery.

Description


Each of the four Vanguard-class ballistic missile submarine
Ballistic missile submarine
A ballistic missile submarine is a submarine equipped to launch ballistic missiles .-Description:Ballistic missile submarines are larger than any other type of submarine, in order to accommodate SLBMs such as the Russian R-29 or the American Trident...

s may carry up to 16 Trident II D-5
Trident missile
The Trident missile is a submarine-launched ballistic missile equipped with multiple independently-targetable reentry vehicles . The Fleet Ballistic Missile is armed with nuclear warheads and is launched from nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines . Trident missiles are carried by fourteen...

 submarine-launched ballistic missile
Submarine-launched ballistic missile
A submarine-launched ballistic missile is a ballistic missile capable of delivering a nuclear warhead that can be launched from submarines. Modern variants usually deliver multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles each of which carries a warhead and allows a single launched missile to...

s (SLBMs), with each missile capable of carrying up to 12 independently targetable
Multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle
A multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle warhead is a collection of nuclear weapons carried on a single intercontinental ballistic missile or a submarine-launched ballistic missile . Using a MIRV warhead, a single launched missile can strike several targets, or fewer targets redundantly...

 nuclear warheads.

During a patrol, the submarine is required to remain silent for three months and is allowed to make contact with the base only in a dire emergency. The submarine navigates using mapped contour lines of the ocean floor and patrols a series of preplanned "boxes" measuring several thousand square miles. A 1000 m aerial trails on the surface behind the submarine to pick up incoming messages. Intelligence
Intelligence (information gathering)
Intelligence assessment is the development of forecasts of behaviour or recommended courses of action to the leadership of an organization, based on a wide range of available information sources both overt and covert. Assessments are developed in response to requirements declared by the leadership...

 is constantly relayed to the vessel, giving details of shipping movements and potentially hostile aircraft or submarines in the area.

Most of the crew never know where they are and no one on board would know which targets were selected. Most of the weapons have a yield of 80-100 kilotons but some are only 10-15 kilotons.

Some have multiple warheads and some have only a single small device, as the Prime Minister
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is the Head of Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom. The Prime Minister and Cabinet are collectively accountable for their policies and actions to the Sovereign, to Parliament, to their political party and...

 may feel constrained if the response were to be massively disproportionate to the threat. This system is very similar to the US Navy
United States Navy
The United States Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the seven uniformed services of the United States. The U.S. Navy is the largest in the world; its battle fleet tonnage is greater than that of the next 13 largest navies combined. The U.S...

's 14 Ohio-class SSBNs
Ohio class submarine
The Ohio class is a class of nuclear-powered submarines used by the United States Navy. The United States has 18 Ohio-class submarines:...

 which each carry 24 Trident D5s armed with up to eight W76
W76
The W76 is a United States thermonuclear warhead. It was manufactured from 1978-1987, and is still in service .The W-76 is carried inside a Mk-4 re-entry vehicle. U.S...

 or W88
W88
The W88 is a United States thermonuclear warhead, with an estimated yield of 475 kiloton , and is small enough to fit on MIRVed missiles. The W88 was designed at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in the 1970s. In 1999 the director of Los Alamos who had presided over its design described it as...

 nuclear warheads.

History


The Trident missile agreement was reached in 1982 as a modification of the Polaris Sales Agreement
Polaris Sales Agreement
The Polaris Sales Agreement was an agreement between the United States and the United Kingdom which formally arranged for the Polaris missile system to be provided to the UK to maintain its independent nuclear deterrent. The arrangement had been set up in principle as a result of the Nassau Agreement...

. Its future was secured the following year when the Conservative
Conservative Party (UK)
The Conservative Party, formally the Conservative and Unionist Party, is a centre-right political party in the United Kingdom that adheres to the philosophies of conservatism and British unionism. It is the largest political party in the UK, and is currently the largest single party in the House...

 government comfortably won the general election
United Kingdom general election, 1983
The 1983 United Kingdom general election was held on 9 June 1983. It gave the Conservative Party under Margaret Thatcher the most decisive election victory since that of Labour in 1945...

, keeping out of power the Labour
Labour Party (UK)
The Labour Party is a centre-left democratic socialist party in the United Kingdom. It surpassed the Liberal Party in general elections during the early 1920s, forming minority governments under Ramsay MacDonald in 1924 and 1929-1931. The party was in a wartime coalition from 1940 to 1945, after...

 opposition which had pledged in its election manifesto to cancel the programme should it win the election.

At the time it was envisaged the entire project; four submarines, the missiles, new facilities at Coulport
Coulport
Coulport is a village on the east side of Loch Long, Argyll and Bute, Scotland.It is 5 miles north-north-west of Cove on the Rosneath peninsula. It marks the end of the B833 shore road, although the village can also be reached by a high-quality but unclassified access road directly from...

 and Faslane and a 5% contribution to Trident research and development, would cost £5 billion. The option for a fifth submarine was discussed at the time.

Trident replaced the previous system of 4 Resolution-class
Resolution class submarine
The Resolution-class submarine armed with the Polaris missile was the United Kingdom's primary nuclear deterrent from the late 1960s to 1994, when they were replaced by the Vanguard-class submarine carrying the Trident II.-Background:...

 submarines each carrying 16 Polaris A3
UGM-27 Polaris
The Polaris missile was a two-stage solid-fuel nuclear-armed submarine-launched ballistic missile built during the Cold War by Lockheed Corporation of California for the United States Navy....

 missiles (known as A3T) with 3 ET.317
ET.317
The ET.317 was a nuclear weapon of the British Armed Forces, developed for the British version of the UGM-27 Polaris missile....

 warheads (not MIRVed), latter upgraded by the Chevaline
Chevaline
Chevaline was a system to improve the penetrability of the British Polaris missile warheads. Devised as an answer to the improved Soviet defences around Moscow, the system was intended to increase the probability that at least one warhead would penetrate the city's anti-ballistic missile defences,...

 programme to A3TK with a limited MIRV capability.

The current Vanguard-class submarines were built at what is now BAE Systems Submarine Solutions in Barrow-in-Furness
Barrow-in-Furness
Barrow-in-Furness is an industrial town and seaport which forms about half the territory of the wider Borough of Barrow-in-Furness in the county of Cumbria, England. It lies north of Liverpool, northwest of Manchester and southwest from the county town of Carlisle...

, Cumbria
Cumbria
Cumbria , is a non-metropolitan county in North West England. The county and Cumbria County Council, its local authority, came into existence in 1974 after the passage of the Local Government Act 1972. Cumbria's largest settlement and county town is Carlisle. It consists of six districts, and in...

, the only submarine yard in the United Kingdom. The previous Resolution-class submarines were constructed at Barrow and at Cammell Laird
Cammell Laird
Cammell Laird, one of the most famous names in British shipbuilding during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, came about following the merger of Laird, Son & Co. of Birkenhead and Johnson Cammell & Co. of Sheffield at the turn of the twentieth century.- Founding of the business :The Company...

 in Birkenhead
Birkenhead
Birkenhead is a town within the Metropolitan Borough of Wirral in Merseyside, England. It is on the Wirral Peninsula, along the west bank of the River Mersey, opposite the city of Liverpool...

 (now closed).

Trident has been the UK's sole nuclear weapons system since the retirement of the WE.177
WE.177
WE.177 was the last air-delivered tactical nuclear weapon of the British Armed Forces. There were three versions; WE.177A was a boosted fission weapon, while WE.177B and WE.177C were thermonuclear weapons...

 tactical nuclear weapon following the 1998 Strategic Defence Review
Strategic Defence Review
The Strategic Defence Review was a British policy document produced by the Labour Government that came to power in 1997. Then Secretary of State for Defence, George Robertson, set out the initial defence policy of the new government, with a series of key decisions designed to enhance the United...

.

UK nuclear policy


The principle of operation was designed for the Cold War
Cold War
The Cold War was the continuing state from roughly 1946 to 1991 of political conflict, military tension, proxy wars, and economic competition between the Communist World—primarily the Soviet Union and its satellite states and allies—and the powers of the Western world, primarily the United States...

 period and is based on maintaining deterrent effect by always having at least one submarine at sea. One submarine is normally undergoing maintenance and the remaining two are in port or on training exercises. The missiles were "detargetted" in 1994 in time for the maiden voyage of the first Vanguard-class SSBN. This means that the warheads are no longer aimed at specific targets but await coordinates that can be received from HQ, programmed into their on board computers and fired within a 15 minute time frame.

The final decision on firing the missiles is the responsibility of the British Prime Minister, and each holder of this office is required to write personal letters of last resort
Letters of last resort
The letters of last resort are four identically-worded, hand written letters written by the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom to the four captains of the four British ballistic missile submarines...

 to the commanders of the four Trident missile-carrying submarines. A letter to the commanding officer is locked in the captain's safe of each vessel and, in the event of the submarines irrevocably losing contact with the base due to nuclear war, the decision to fire is handed over to the commander of the submarine.

Each submarine carries up to 16 Trident II D-5 missiles, each of which can contain up to twelve warheads (i.e. a potential of 192 warheads); the British government announced in 1998 that each submarine would carry no more than 48 warheads total (without indicating how the warheads would be divided among the missiles). While this number is half the limit specified by the previous government, it represents a 50% increase in capacity over the Trident's predecessor, the Polaris A3TK Chevaline.

The United Kingdom has purchased the rights to 58 Trident missiles under the Polaris Sales Agreement
Polaris Sales Agreement
The Polaris Sales Agreement was an agreement between the United States and the United Kingdom which formally arranged for the Polaris missile system to be provided to the UK to maintain its independent nuclear deterrent. The arrangement had been set up in principle as a result of the Nassau Agreement...

 (modified for Trident) from a jointly maintained "pool". These missiles are fitted with UK-built warheads and are exchanged when requiring maintenance. Under the terms of the agreement, the United States does not have any veto on the use of British nuclear weapons.

While the British government states the warheads used in the UK Trident system were "designed and manufactured in the UK at the Atomic Weapons Establishment
Atomic Weapons Establishment
The Atomic Weapons Establishment is responsible for the design, manufacture and support of warheads for the United Kingdom's nuclear deterrent. AWE plc is responsible for the day-to-day operations of AWE...

 (AWE), Aldermaston", declassified U.S. Department of Energy
United States Department of Energy
The United States Department of Energy is a Cabinet-level department of the United States government concerned with the United States' policies regarding energy and safety in handling nuclear material...

 documents indicate the warhead system was involved in non-nuclear design activities alongside the U.S. W76 nuclear warhead
W76
The W76 is a United States thermonuclear warhead. It was manufactured from 1978-1987, and is still in service .The W-76 is carried inside a Mk-4 re-entry vehicle. U.S...

 fitted in some US Navy Trident missiles.

The National Audit Office
National Audit Office (United Kingdom)
The National Audit Office is an independent Parliamentary body in the United Kingdom which is responsible for auditing central government departments, government agencies and non-departmental public bodies...

 noted that most of the warhead development and production expenditure was incurred in the US. The U.S. President authorised the transfer of nuclear warhead components to the UK between 1991 and 1996. This has led the Federation of American Scientists
Federation of American Scientists
The Federation of American Scientists is a nonpartisan, 501 organization intent on using science and scientific analysis to attempt make the world more secure. FAS was founded in 1945 by scientists who worked on the Manhattan Project to develop the first atomic bombs...

 to speculate that the UK warhead may share design information from the W76; a practice encouraged by the 1958 US-UK Mutual Defence Agreement
1958 US-UK Mutual Defence Agreement
The 1958 US–UK Mutual Defence Agreement is a bilateral treaty between the United States and the United Kingdom on nuclear weapons cooperation.It was signed after the UK successfully tested its first hydrogen bomb during Operation Grapple. While the U.S...

.

Cost


The total acquisition cost of the Trident programme was £9.8 billion, or £14.9 billion at 2005 prices, 38% of which was incurred in the U.S. In 2005/2006, annual expenditure for running and capital costs was estimated at between £1.2bn and £1.7bn and was estimated to rise to £2bn to £2.2bn in 2007/2008, including Atomic Weapons Establishment
Atomic Weapons Establishment
The Atomic Weapons Establishment is responsible for the design, manufacture and support of warheads for the United Kingdom's nuclear deterrent. AWE plc is responsible for the day-to-day operations of AWE...

 costs. Since Trident became operational in 1994, annual expenditure has ranged between 3% and 4.5% of the annual defence budget, and was expected to increase to 5.5% of the defence budget by 2007/2008.

The Vanguard submarines which carry the Trident D5 missiles were built with a 25-year life expectancy. Plans have been announced to replace the four vessels as they reach the age of 25 (possibly to be extended to 30) years. Trident's D5 missiles, leased from the USA, are expected to continue in service until at least 2042 following an upgrade. Costs are uncertain, depending on whether the replacement programme buys four completely new-design craft, modifies the design of the Astute SSN to carry four D5 missiles, or simply acquires four new Vanguard class submarines.

It is also uncertain whether the replacement programme will buy three hulls or four. Four hulls would guarantee "continuous at-sea deterrence". Three hulls would present a risk that continuity could be stretched.

Numbers



While the theoretical capacity of the four Vanguard-class submarines is 64 missiles and 768 warheads, only 58 missiles were leased and some have been expended in test firings. The UK leases the missiles but they are pooled with the Atlantic squadron of the USN Ohio SSBNs at King's Bay, Georgia
Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay
Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay is a base of the United States Navy located adjacent to the town of St. Marys in Camden County, Georgia, in southeastern Georgia, and not far from Jacksonville, Florida. The Submarine Base is the U.S. Atlantic Fleet's home port for U.S. Navy Fleet ballistic missile...

 (previously the UK maintained its Polaris missiles).

The number of warheads is significantly less than originally intended, due to a changed strategic situation, i.e. the demise of the USSR. Currently there are fewer than 200 warheads, and the number is anticipated to fall close to 160 in the near future. This is also, in part, due to the service pattern. One vessel is always on patrol, one to two are in port or on training exercises and one is undergoing maintenance.

In the Strategic Defence Review
Strategic Defence Review
The Strategic Defence Review was a British policy document produced by the Labour Government that came to power in 1997. Then Secretary of State for Defence, George Robertson, set out the initial defence policy of the new government, with a series of key decisions designed to enhance the United...

 published in July 1998, the British government stated that once the Vanguard submarines became fully operational (the fourth and final one, Vengeance
HMS Vengeance (S31)
HMS Vengeance is the fourth and final of the Royal Navy. Vengeance carries the Trident ballistic missile, the UK's nuclear deterrent....

, entered service on 27 November 1999), it would "maintain a stockpile of fewer than 200 operationally available warheads." The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) has estimated the figure as about 165, consisting of 144 deployed weapons plus an extra 15% as spares. Spares are usually needed within the supply chain, including the maintenance workshops.

At the same time, the government indicated that warheads "required to provide a necessary processing margin and for technical surveillance purposes" were not included in the "fewer than 200" figure. However, as recently declassified archived documents on Chevaline make clear, the 15% excess (referred to by SIPRI as for spares) is normally intended to "provide the necessary processing margin" and "surveillance rounds do not contain any nuclear material" being completely inert. These surveillance rounds are used to monitor deterioration in the many non-nuclear components of the warhead, and are best compared with inert training rounds. The SIPRI figures correspond accurately with the official announcements and are likely to be the most accurate. The Natural Resources Defense Council
Natural Resources Defense Council
The Natural Resources Defense Council is a New York City-based, non-profit, non-partisan international environmental advocacy group, with offices in Washington DC, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Beijing...

 speculates that a figure of 200 is accurate to within a few tens. In 2008 the National Audit Office
National Audit Office (United Kingdom)
The National Audit Office is an independent Parliamentary body in the United Kingdom which is responsible for auditing central government departments, government agencies and non-departmental public bodies...

 stated that the UK stockpile was of fewer than 160 operationally available nuclear warheads.

Basing



"Trident" is based at HMNB Clyde
HMNB Clyde
Her Majesty's Naval Base Clyde is one of three operating bases in the United Kingdom for the Royal Navy...

, in western Scotland. This comprises two facilities, a submarine berth at Faslane and ordnance depot at RNAD Coulport.

Politics


According to the British House of Commons
British House of Commons
The House of Commons is the lower house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, which also comprises the Sovereign and the House of Lords . Both Commons and Lords meet in the Palace of Westminster. The Commons is a democratically elected body, consisting of 650 members , who are known as Members...

' Defence Select Committee, the original purpose of Trident was to discourage aggression against the UK, its allies and its interests from the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

 and the Warsaw Pact
Warsaw Pact
The Warsaw Treaty Organization of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance , or more commonly referred to as the Warsaw Pact, was a mutual defense treaty subscribed to by eight communist states in Eastern Europe...

.

Opposition


The Trident system received significant opposition during its development. The most visible opposition has stemmed from the more general use of nuclear weapons, and also from Trident's status under international law
International law
Public international law concerns the structure and conduct of sovereign states; analogous entities, such as the Holy See; and intergovernmental organizations. To a lesser degree, international law also may affect multinational corporations and individuals, an impact increasingly evolving beyond...

. Trident is also seen by some, such as the Scottish National Party
Scottish National Party
The Scottish National Party is a social-democratic political party in Scotland which campaigns for Scottish independence from the United Kingdom....

, as a sticking point in relations between the Scottish Parliament
Scottish Parliament
The Scottish Parliament is the devolved national, unicameral legislature of Scotland, located in the Holyrood area of the capital, Edinburgh. The Parliament, informally referred to as "Holyrood", is a democratically elected body comprising 129 members known as Members of the Scottish Parliament...

 and Westminster, since the submarines which carry the missiles are based at HMNB Clyde
HMNB Clyde
Her Majesty's Naval Base Clyde is one of three operating bases in the United Kingdom for the Royal Navy...

 in Scotland.

Former Vulcan
Avro Vulcan
The Avro Vulcan, sometimes referred to as the Hawker Siddeley Vulcan, was a jet-powered delta wing strategic bomber, operated by the Royal Air Force from 1956 until 1984. Aircraft manufacturer A V Roe & Co designed the Vulcan in response to Specification B.35/46. Of the three V bombers produced,...

 squadron commander and current vice-president of CND
Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament
The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament is an anti-nuclear organisation that advocates unilateral nuclear disarmament by the United Kingdom, international nuclear disarmament and tighter international arms regulation through agreements such as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty...

 Air Commodore Alastair Mackie has referred to Trident as Britain's 'stick-on hairy chest'.

Activism


Several groups have taken action against Trident, including the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament
Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament
The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament is an anti-nuclear organisation that advocates unilateral nuclear disarmament by the United Kingdom, international nuclear disarmament and tighter international arms regulation through agreements such as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty...

 and Trident Ploughshares
Trident Ploughshares
Trident Ploughshares is an activist anti-nuclear weapons group, founded in 1998 with the aim of "beating swords into ploughshares" . This is specifically by attempting to disarm the UK Trident nuclear weapons system, in a non-violent manner...

, a group set up specifically to oppose the Trident system. In 2006 a year-long protest at Trident's base at Faslane, named Faslane 365
Faslane Peace Camp
Faslane Peace Camp is a permanent peace camp sited alongside Faslane Naval base in Argyll and Bute, Scotland. It has been occupied continuously, in a few different locations, since 12 June 1982...

, was initiated with the aim of blockading the base every day for one year. As of 26 January, 50 groups had taken part in blockades, leading to 474 arrests.

Trident Ploughshares describes their opposition as follows:
We believe that the use or threatened use of nuclear weapons is totally immoral and irresponsible and that the Trident system is illegal under international law. Our disarmament action is necessary since the UK government has to date shown no signs of any intention to dismantle the system. As citizens we have both a right and a duty to uphold international humanitarian law. The UK’s Trident nuclear weapons system is based on 4 submarines which carry between 12 and 16 missiles, each of which can deliver a number of 100 kiloton warheads to individual targets - mass destruction on an unimaginable level.

Scottish politics



A number of Scottish political parties, such as the Scottish National Party
Scottish National Party
The Scottish National Party is a social-democratic political party in Scotland which campaigns for Scottish independence from the United Kingdom....

, Scottish Green Party
Scottish Green Party
The Scottish Green Party is a green party in Scotland. It has two MSPs in the devolved Scottish Parliament, Alison Johnstone, representing Lothian, and Patrick Harvie, for Glasgow.-Organisation:...

, Scottish Socialist Party
Scottish Socialist Party
The Scottish Socialist Party is a left-wing Scottish political party. Positioning itself significantly to the left of Scotland's centre-left parties, the SSP campaigns on a socialist economic platform and for Scottish independence....

 and Solidarity
Solidarity (Scotland)
Solidarity is a political party in Scotland, launched on September 3, 2006 as a breakaway from the Scottish Socialist Party in the aftermath of Tommy Sheridan's libel action...

, have policies opposing the use of Trident missiles at Faslane in Scotland. Some members and ex-members of those parties, such as Tommy Sheridan
Tommy Sheridan
Tommy Sheridan is a Scottish socialist politician. He has had various prominent roles within the socialist movement in Scotland and is currently one of two co-convenors of the left-wing Scottish political party Solidarity....

, have taken part in blockades of the base there.

In addition to more general anti-nuclear feeling, some see Trident as symbolic of differences in political opinion between Scotland and the rest of the UK - for example, in a major House of Commons
British House of Commons
The House of Commons is the lower house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, which also comprises the Sovereign and the House of Lords . Both Commons and Lords meet in the Palace of Westminster. The Commons is a democratically elected body, consisting of 650 members , who are known as Members...

 vote the majority of Scottish MPs voted against upgrading the system, while a substantial majority of English MPs, Welsh MPs and Northern Irish MPs voted in favour.

Legality


On 8 July 1996 the International Court of Justice
International Court of Justice
The International Court of Justice is the primary judicial organ of the United Nations. It is based in the Peace Palace in The Hague, Netherlands...

, the highest court of the United Nations
United Nations
The United Nations is an international organization whose stated aims are facilitating cooperation in international law, international security, economic development, social progress, human rights, and achievement of world peace...

, handed down an advisory opinion
Advisory opinion
An advisory opinion is an opinion issued by a court that does not have the effect of adjudicating a specific legal case, but merely advises on the constitutionality or interpretation of a law. Some countries have procedures by which the executive or legislative branches may certify important...

 that stated that the threat or use of nuclear weapons would in most cases violate various articles of international law
International law
Public international law concerns the structure and conduct of sovereign states; analogous entities, such as the Holy See; and intergovernmental organizations. To a lesser degree, international law also may affect multinational corporations and individuals, an impact increasingly evolving beyond...

, including the Geneva Conventions
Geneva Conventions
The Geneva Conventions comprise four treaties, and three additional protocols, that establish the standards of international law for the humanitarian treatment of the victims of war...

, the Hague Conventions
Hague Conventions (1899 and 1907)
The Hague Conventions were two international treaties negotiated at international peace conferences at The Hague in the Netherlands: The First Hague Conference in 1899 and the Second Hague Conference in 1907...

, the UN Charter, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Universal Declaration of Human Rights
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a declaration adopted by the United Nations General Assembly . The Declaration arose directly from the experience of the Second World War and represents the first global expression of rights to which all human beings are inherently entitled...

.

On 19 December 2005 Rabinder Singh
Rabinder Singh (barrister)
Sir Rabinder Singh , styled The Hon. Mr Justice Singh, is an English High Court judge of the Queen's Bench Division, formerly a barrister, a founding member of Matrix Chambers and a legal academic.-Early life and education:...

 QC
Queen's Counsel
Queen's Counsel , known as King's Counsel during the reign of a male sovereign, are lawyers appointed by letters patent to be one of Her [or His] Majesty's Counsel learned in the law...

 and Professor
Professor
A professor is a scholarly teacher; the precise meaning of the term varies by country. Literally, professor derives from Latin as a "person who professes" being usually an expert in arts or sciences; a teacher of high rank...

 Christine Chinkin
Christine Chinkin
Christine Chinkin is a Professor of International Law at the London School of Economics and Political Science and theWilliam W. Cook Global Law Professor at the University of Michigan Law School. She is a member of the four person United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict created by...

, a colleague of Cherie Blair
Cherie Blair
Cherie Blair , known professionally as Cherie Booth QC, is a British barrister working in the legal system of England and Wales. She is married to the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Tony Blair; the couple have three sons and one daughter...

 at Matrix Chambers
Matrix Chambers
Matrix Chambers is a barristers’ set situated at Gray’s Inn, London. It was founded in April 2000 by 22 barristers from 7 different chambers.Matrix was founded shortly before the implementation of the Human Rights Act in October 2000...

, handed down a legal opinion
Legal opinion
In law, an opinion is usually a written explanation by a judge or group of judges that accompanies an order or ruling in a case, laying out the rationale and legal principles for the ruling....

 at the request of Peacerights which specifically addressed

"whether Trident or a likely replacement to Trident
British replacement of the Trident system
The British replacement of Trident is a proposal to replace the existing Vanguard class of four Trident ballistic-missile armed submarines with a new class designed to continue a nuclear deterrent after the current boats reach the end of their service lives...

 breaches customary international law
Customary international law
Customary international law are those aspects of international law that derive from custom. Along with general principles of law and treaties, custom is considered by the International Court of Justice, jurists, the United Nations, and its member states to be among the primary sources of...

"


Drawing on the ICJ opinion, Singh and Chinkin argued that:

"The use of the Trident system would breach customary international law, in particular because it would infringe the "intransgressible" [principles of international customary law] requirement that a distinction must be drawn between combatants and non-combatants."


In addition, Singh and Chinkin argued:

"The replacement of Trident is likely to constitute a breach of article VI of the NPT
Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty
The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, commonly known as the Non-Proliferation Treaty or NPT, is a landmark international treaty whose objective is to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology, to promote cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy and to...

...[and that] [s]uch a breach would be a material breach of that treaty."


On 25 January 2007, Des Browne
Des Browne
Desmond Henry Browne, Baron Browne of Ladyton is a British Labour Party politician who was the Member of Parliament for Kilmarnock and Loudoun from 1997 to 2010...

, UK Defence Minister
Secretary of State for Defence
The Secretary of State for Defence, popularly known as the Defence Secretary, is the senior Government of the United Kingdom minister in charge of the Ministry of Defence, chairing the Defence Council. It is a Cabinet position...

, defended the use of Trident:
"I do not believe it makes sense to say that nuclear weapons are inherently evil. In certain circumstances, they can play a positive role - as they have in the past. But clearly they have a power to do great harm," he said.
"Are we prepared to tolerate a world in which countries which care about morality lay down their nuclear weapons, leaving others to threaten the rest of the world or hold it to ransom?"

Replacement



The British replacement of Trident is a programme replacing the existing Trident weapons system based on four Vanguard class submarine
Vanguard class submarine
The Vanguard class are the Royal Navy's current nuclear ballistic missile submarines , each armed with up to 16 Trident II Submarine-launched ballistic missiles...

s each armed with 16 Trident II submarine-launched ballistic missiles. The government has begun planning a new submarine-based system but there is some opposition to this programme - from those who want to take the opportunity for full nuclear disarmament. Proposals to replace the Trident system were passed by the House of Commons by a majority of 248 on the 14 March 2007. However, the US are extending the life of their Trident submarines to 30–40 years and Professor Richard Garwin
Richard Garwin
Richard Lawrence Garwin , is an American physicist. He received his bachelor's degree from the Case Institute of Technology in 1947 and obtained his Doctor of Philosophy from the University of Chicago in 1949, where he worked in the lab of Enrico Fermi.Garwin is IBM Fellow Emeritus at the Thomas J...

, a US nuclear weapons expert and advisor to three US presidents, has advised British MPs that the same could be done in the UK saving £5 billion and allowing time for a rethink of British nuclear strategy.