Letter from David Owen to the Trident Commission:
There is one thought I would like to submit to the Commission. I have been told by a reliable source in the US that the Department of Defense is designing a new air launched Cruise missile for its new bomber which will have a nuclear warhead and that warhead could probably be usable on a sub launched missile as well. (1)
We know that after the election of May 2015 any new UK Prime Minister would be expected to meet with President Obama to reaffirm understandings over nuclear policy. (2) At that stage it would be appropriate to raise with the President how the UK could contribute to his long term aim of ridding the world of nuclear weapons. One way, of course, would be to discuss a possible relaxation of the previous UK requirement for continuous deployment of Trident submarines and perhaps a reduction from four to three in the number of UK SSBNs. Another subject for discussion could be how the US could help reduce the cost of the UK designing and building a nuclear warhead suitable to be placed on sub launched Cruise missiles. As the Commission will know there have been inhibitions hitherto on the transfer of nuclear warhead technology, but it may well be that President Obama might be ready to consider going to Congress to relax such restrictions in the context of a phased abolition of all nuclear weapons.
As far as one can understand little progress has been made over the last year by the Obama Administration to implement the US nuclear posture review which is required to bring real changes to targeting plans, budgets etc. This review could be a suitable vehicle for raising questions as to how the US can facilitate nuclear weapon states wanting to contribute to the eventual abolition of nuclear weapons and doing so in a cost effective way without breaching any proliferation agreements or restrictions.
(1) The program is part of the official Air Force research budget and documented in what are called the “R-1”. A brief description along with a link to the official document is as follows:
“The Long Range Stand Off (LRSO) effort will develop a weapon system to replace the Air Force’s Air Launched Cruise Missile (ALCM), operational since 1986. The LRSO weapon system will be capable of penetrating and surviving advanced Integrated Air Defense Systems (IADS) from significant stand off range to prosecute strategic targets in support of the Air Force’s global attack capability and strategic deterrence core function. LRSO FY2013 funding supports completion of the Analysis of Alternatives (AoA) to compare the operational effectiveness, cost, and risks of proposed materiel solutions as well as Milestone A preparation activities.”
(2) On the 7th December 1950 Prime Minister Attlee on a visit to Washington to discuss use of nuclear weapons in the context of the Korean War had a private word with President Truman. After which the President said that they had agreed that neither would use nuclear weapons without consulting the other. This was in accord with the agreement reached by Churchill and Roosevelt during the war. Acheson then Deputy Secretary of State said the President alone had the duty and power under the McMahon Act passed in January 1948 and Congress would not accept any change in that respect.
In the US memorandum for the record, of which the sole copy was retained in Secretary of State Marshall’s office, the President recalled that the British and American governments ” had always been partners in this matter and that he would not consider the use of the bomb without consulting with the United Kingdom. The Prime Minister asked whether the agreement should be put in writing, and the President replied that it would not be in writing, that if a man’s word wasn’t any good it wasn’t made any better by writing it down. The Prime Minister expressed his thanks” (a) FRUS, Vol VII 1950 pp 1462-5 (b) Acheson, Present at the Creation pp.481,484. (c) Renwick Fighting with Allies p.116