London: British Defence Secretary John Reid on Tuesday rejected suggestions that terrorism has rendered Britain's nuclear weapons “redundant,” as the government faces a decision on whether to renew its nuclear arsenal.
Reid told a parliamentary committee that Britain — scene of apparent suicide bombings in July which left more than 50 dead — needed a variety of capabilities to meet a range of potential threats.
The British government is likely to decide before 2010 whether to replace its Trident submarine-launched nuclear-tipped ballistic missile system, which comes up for renewal in around 15 years.
While acknowledging that nuclear weapons — a holdover from the Cold War — are no deterrent against individual terrorists, Reid said they still had a place in modern warfare.
“It is equally true that you can't use special forces to deter a nuclear attack. That does not mean to say that special forces are redundant,” he told the House of Commons defence committee.
“We face a range of threats at this moment — running from individual acts of terrorism through to nuclear threats. We need a range of responses that include special forces right through to nuclear threats (weapons).”
He said that the nuclear deterrent review would start from the position that as long as there was a the potential for a nuclear-armed enemy state, Britain would have to retain a nuclear capability.
“That is the assumption we have at the moment and it is that assumption that we will assess against an analysis of what might be future threats,” he said.
Reid added that Britain had reduced its nuclear weapons to an “absolute minimum,” while countries such as India and Pakistan have been acquiring them.
“Probably more worrying, some countries have been trying to develop nuclear weapons by deceiving the world, not complying with their obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, for instance in Iran,” he said.
Britain has four Trident submarines in service: HMS Vanguard, Victorious, Vigilant and Vengeance. They each have 16 multiple warhead nuclear missiles with a range of 12,000 kilometres (7,500 miles).
If ministers do decide to replace Trident, Reid said, they would have to choose whether to stick with a purely submarine-based deterrent or utilise land or air based systems.