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The Future of the UK's Co-operative Nuclear Relationships

Hugh Chalmers and Malcolm Chalmers
Occasional Papers, 4 June 2013
Proliferation and Nuclear Policy, Trident, UK, Proliferation and Nuclear Policy, UK Defence
Britain's nuclear capability has been shaped by a longstanding co-operative relationship with the US and, more recently, France. These arrangements may be unlikely to expand in the future

The UK’s current nuclear force has been profoundly shaped by its longstanding co-operative relationship with the US. The resumption of nuclear co-operation in 1958 (shortly after the first test of a UK hydrogen bomb) enabled the UK to contain the costs of maintaining a nuclear force by drawing upon this relationship, which it has since expanded to cover many elements of its nuclear force. Meanwhile, this relationship with the US has also been joined by a nascent nuclear relationship with France.

The UK will soon face a number of decisions relating to the future form of its nuclear force and how this force will be supported. As the outcome of these decisions will inevitably be shaped by the pressure to cut costs, this Occasional Paper discusses whether the UK might seek to mitigate this pressure by significantly expanding its nuclear relationships.

It is important to note that these relationships are not dictated purely by financial considerations; rather, they are also sensitive to a number of doctrinal, political and technical dynamics. This paper therefore outlines the UK’s existing nuclear relationships and explores the dynamics that have shaped them, before discussing how the UK might approach nuclear cooperation in the future. There could be financial incentives for expanding the UK’s nuclear relationships into the areas of its nuclear force that do not currently draw heavily on co-operative arrangements – such as the design, manufacture and integration of nuclear submarines and their components, and the upkeep of supporting infrastructure and UK-based expertise. However, this paper argues that these relationships are unlikely to expand significantly beyond the piecemeal development of existing arrangements.

About the Authors

Hugh Chalmers is a Research Analyst within RUSI’s Nuclear Analysis Programme. 

Professor Malcolm Chalmers is Research Director at RUSI, and leads its work on nuclear-policy issues. 

Malcolm Chalmers
Deputy Director-General

Professor Malcolm Chalmers is Deputy Director-General of the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI). His research is focused on UK... read more

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