The US Defence Secretary has effectively admitted that the UK’s Trident nuclear weapons system is not independent.
British cheerleaders for Trident like to call it “Britain’s independent deterrent”. Critics of Trident point out that it is dependent on US technology. Its supporters dismiss this argument. They will be disappointed that their friends in the US government are not more careful with their wording.
Ash Carter, US Defence Secretary, encouraged the British Parliament to renew Trident in an interview with the BBC. He said:
“We’re very supportive of it [Trident] and of course we work with the United Kingdom. We’re actually intertwined on this programme, mutually dependent. We want to have the programme for our own purposes; the UK wants to have it for its purposes. We’re partners in this.”
Asked by the interviewer if this meant that the US could “turn it off”, Carter stumbled over his words slightly, scratching his nose and saying:
“Well it doesn’t get down to – Of course, we have independent authorities to fire but we are dependent upon one another industrially. We depend upon the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom depends upon us. That’s part of the special relationship.”
That’s far short of an outright “no” to the question and perilously close to a “yes”.
Disappointingly (but unsurprisingly), much of the media coverage of Carter’s interview has focused simply on his call for the UK to renew Trident, rather than his comments about dependence. Headlines have tended to refer to his initial argument for Trident renewal. He said:
“I think that the UK’s nuclear deterrent is an important part of the deterrent structure of NATO, of our alliance with the United Kingdom and helps the United Kingdom to continue to play that outsized role on the global stage that it does. Because of its moral standing and its historical standing, it’s important to have the military power that matches that standing.”
What a sad illustration of the attitudes of the powerful: a belief that moral standing is enhanced by maintaining the ability to kill millions of people.