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Back to the 80s?

In 1980 Margaret Thatcher gave the go ahead for the programme to replace Polaris with Trident. She also allowed President Reagan to base US Ground Launched Cruise Missiles (GLCM) at Greenham Common. Today we appear to have slipped back to the dangerous world of 35 years ago. David Cameron is preparing to authorise a new submarine-based nuclear weapon system which will replace Trident.  Now Philip Hammond, speaking on the Andrew Marr show, has said that the UK might be willing to accept American GLCM.

GLCM and other Intermediate Range nuclear weapons were particularly destabilising during the Cold War. One of the biggest achievements that has ever been made in nuclear arms control was the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty signed by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987. This removed several types of Russian and American nuclear weapon, including GLCM. 


In 2014 the US government said that Russia was developing GLCM in breach of the INF treaty. However America’s claims appear to be exaggerated. Russia is engaged in a major modernisation of its nuclear forces, as are the US, UK, France and China. (source)  The latest Bulletin of Atomic Scientist report on Russian forces notes that the country is developing a new GLCM (SS-26).  However, the projected range of the new missile (300 kms) is less than that specified in the INF treaty (500 - 5500 kms).  Russia’s Strategic Rocket Forces are working on a lighter version of the SS-27 ICBM. Reducing the weight is likely to shorten the missile’s range, but there is no firm evidence that the range will be short enough to put the new missile in the category prohibited by the INF treaty.  The Bulletin article points out that Russia’s extensive plans for nuclear modernisation are under threat because of economic constraints.

The latest US report on compliance was published on 5 June 2015.   Pavel Podvig, a leading expert on Russia’s nuclear forces, suggests that the only new concern in this year’s document appears to be that Russia may have tested a Submarine Launched Cruise Missile from a platform which has wheels and so is technically a GLCM. (source)

When the latest compliance report was published the Associated Press said that the US government were considering a number of options in response to Russia’s perceived breach of the INF Treaty. (source)   These include “counterforce” attacks on Russian missiles and “countervailing strike capabilities”.  In December Pentagon official Brian McKeon said that “counterforce” involved the deployment of American GLCM in Europe. A second official, Robert Scher, said in April that they would consider targeting not just any new Russian missiles but other military targets, as a response to a breach of the INF treaty.

Andrew Marr repeatedly questioned Philip Hammond about Britain’s role in any such plans, when he interviewed the Foreign Minister on Sunday 8 June. Marr asked – “If the British government decided it was appropriate for American intermediate missiles to come back to Europe, would we have some of them here?”  Hammond replied –“That is a hypothetical question. We’d have to look at the case. We work very closely with the Americans. That would be a decision we would make together, if that proposal was on the table.” 

Hammond’s statement was picked up in Monday’s newpaper headlines. The Telegraph said “US nuclear weapons may be sited in Britain again” and the Metro announced the “return of the cruise missile”.

The last thing the world needs is Philip Hammond stoking up the embers of a new Cold War. Most nations in the world want to see a genuine move towards a ban on nuclear weapons. We don't want to rush back to living every day on the brink of nuclear Armageddon.


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