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November 24, 2010

UK students protest for second time this month

UK students protest for second time this month

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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

At least three hundred students gathered outside the gates of Cardiff University.

Mass-walkouts took place today in cities throughout the United Kingdom, as students campaigned against rising tuition fees and government cuts.

Protests took place for the second time in as many weeks in places such as Aberystwyth, Cambridge, Southampton, Liverpool, and Brighton. Events included a ‘study-in’ at the Edinburgh Liberal Democrat headquarters, a 10am protest in Trafalgar Square attended by thousands, and a ‘dress in red’ march in Manchester.

In Cardiff, at least a hundred students rallied outside the main gates of Cardiff University‘s main building, in an event organised by a group named Actions Against Cuts Cardiff, with the support of a member of the National Union of Students executive committee. Occupations of university buildings have also begun in Birmingham, Plymouth, and the Royal Holloway.

In London, students are infuriated by what they say is London South Bank University‘s decision to ban anti-cut related meetings from their campus earlier this month. One student described it as “undemocratic and scandalous” as, according to the students, they were forced out of their booked room by security guards, and prevented from partaking on any on-campus meetings — but South Bank University maintains that it was a “misunderstanding” due to a double-booked room. Dr. Phil Cardew, Pro Vice-Chancellor of LSBU, maintained that “freedom of speech lies at the very heart of the higher education community whether it is academic, political or social debate”, and that “the students were encouraged to continue their discussions in the Students Union”.

A police van was vandalised in Trafalgar Square.

Not all the demonstrations were peaceful. Central London saw two officers injured as the police attempted to hold back the protesters, a police van attacked and vandalised, and three arrests were made. Police, keen to make sure that the 30 Millbank occupation was not repeated, were out in force, clashing with students in Cambridge, where two arrests were made, and kettling protesters of up to a thousand, according to protest organisers, as dusk approached.

The group that organised the protests, the “National Campaign Against Fees And Cuts” (NCAFAC), told students in the run-up to the protests to not “be afraid of blocking traffic if you have enough people”. On their blog, they stated that “[they] would like to see university students planning to march around their campus, bursting into lecture theatres and spreading the word”, a move that would breach many University codes of conduct. When contacted by Wikinews, the group did not respond to requests for clarification.

Universities are facing more than £900m ($1.4bn) cuts in the next three years. This protest comes as, earlier this month, 50,000 students and lecturers took to the streets in a National Union of Students organised rally, which culminated in the violent occupation of the Conservative Party campaign headquarters at 30 Millbank. In Westminster, a student suspected of throwing a fire extinguisher off the headquarters’ roof pleaded guilty in court today, under the charge of violent disorder, and will appear in Southwark Crown Court at a later date for sentencing, the maximum of which is five years imprisonment. Some protesters involved in the 30 Millbank occupation led an ‘energising meeting’ in Cardiff yesterday, prior to today’s demonstration.

Many students do not understand the reasoning behind the cuts. The Trotskyist student group, Cardiff University Socialist Students, wonder why, compared to the “£120 billion the government throws away every year on evaded, avoided and uncollected taxes”, the “few billion” required to pay tuition fees is “tiny”. The group also advocates cutting the Trident nuclear deterrent in order to pay for fees, and wonder why the vice-chancellor of the university was awarded a 4% pay rise (to £275k p.a.) compared to last year, whilst during the economic recession.

Last week, three hundred sixth-formers marched in Finchley, Margaret Thatcher’s old constituency, throwing shirts at the local Tory headquarters, echoing the phrase “They ripped the shirts of our backs”. Lower income college students are hit badly by the budget cuts, as plans to abolish Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA), the up-to £30 a week subsidy for 16-19 year-old full-time students with household incomes of £30,810 or less.

The protests were primarily organised on the popular social networking site, Facebook. One Facebook user said earlier this week that the protests were “a perfect opportunity for students to show how disappointed we are with Nick Clegg”, who was advised by security officers earlier to desist from cycling from his home in Putney to Downing Street over fears that he could be pounced upon by angry students en route.



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February 18, 2009

Two nuclear submarines collide in the Atlantic Ocean

Two nuclear submarines collide in the Atlantic Ocean

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A port bow view of the British nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine HMS Vanguard (SSBN-50) approaching the harbor entrance. The vessel is accompanied by two civilian tug boats. Port Canaveral, Florida, USA

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The Nuclear ballistic missile submarines Triomphant, from France, and HMS Vanguard, of the British Royal Navy, collided deep under the middle of the Atlantic Ocean in the middle of the night between February 3 and 4, despite both vessels being equipped with sonar. The collision caused damage to both vessels but it did not release any radioactive material, a Ministry of Defence (MOD) official confirmed Monday.

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said nuclear security had not been breached. “It is MOD policy not to comment on submarine operational matters, but we can confirm that the U.K.’s deterrent capability was unaffected at all times and there has been no compromise to nuclear safety. Triomphant had struck ‘a submerged object (probably a container)’ during a return from a patrol, damaging the sonar dome on the front of the submarine,” he said.

A French navy spokesman said that “the collision did not result in injuries among the crew and did not jeopardise nuclear security at any moment.” Lack of communication between France and other members of NATO over the location of their SLBM deterrents is believed to be another reason for the crash.

According to Daily Mail, the vessels collided 1,000ft underwater in the Bay of Biscay (Golfe de Gascogne; Golfo de Vizcaya and Mar Cantábrico), a gulf of the North Atlantic Ocean. It lies along the western coast of France from Brest south to the Spanish border, and the northern coast of Spain west to Punta de Estaca de Bares, and is named for the Spanish province of Biscay, with average depth of 5,723 feet (1,744 m) and maximum depth is 9,151 feet (2,789 m).

Each submarine is laden with missiles powerful enough for 1,248 Hiroshima bombings, The Independent said.

It is unlikely either vessel was operating its active sonar at the time of the collision, because the submarines are designed to “hide” while on patrol and the use of active sonar would immediately reveal the boat’s location. Both submarines’ hulls are covered with anechoic tile to reduce detection by sonar, so the boats’ navigational passive sonar would not have detected the presence of the other.

Lee Willett of London’s Royal United Services Institute said “the NATO allies would be very reluctant to share information on nuclear submarines. These are the strategic crown jewels of the nation. The whole purpose of a sea-based nuclear deterrent is to hide somewhere far out of sight. They are the ultimate tools of national survival in the event of war. Therefore, it’s the very last thing you would share with anybody.”

First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Jonathon Band GCB, ADC of the United Kingdom, the most senior serving officer in the Royal Navy, said that “…the submarines came into contact at very low speed. Both submarines remained safe. No injuries occurred. We can confirm the capability remains unaffected and there was no compromise to nuclear safety.”

“Both navies want quiet areas, deep areas, roughly the same distance from their home ports. So you find these station grounds have got quite a few submarines, not only French and Royal Navy but also from Russia and the United States. Navies often used the same nesting grounds,” said John H. Large, an independent nuclear engineer and analyst primarily known for his work in assessing and reporting upon nuclear safety and nuclear related accidents and incidents.

Map of the Côte d’Argent, Aquitaine, France (French for the Silver Coast, a touristic name given to a section of the French Atlantic coast).

President of the Royal Naval Association John McAnally said that the incident was a “one in a million chance”. “It would be very unusual on deterrent patrol to use active sonar because that would expose the submarine to detection. They are, of course, designed to be very difficult to detect and one of the priorities for both the captain and the deterrent patrol is to avoid detection by anything,” he said.

The development of stealth technology, making the submarines less visible to other vessels has properly explained that a submarine does not seem to have been able to pick out another submarine nearly the length of two football pitches and the height of a three-story building.

“The modus operandi of most submarines, particularly ballistic-missile submarines, is to operate stealthily and to proceed undetected. This means operating passively, by not transmitting on sonar, and making as little noise as possible. A great deal of technical effort has gone into making submarines quiet by reduction of machinery noise. And much effort has gone into improving the capability of sonars to detect other submarines; detection was clearly made too late or not at all in this case,” explained Stephen Saunders, the editor of Jane’s Fighting Ships, an annual reference book (also published online, on CD and microfiche) of information on all the world’s warships arranged by nation, including information on ship’s names, dimensions, armaments, silhouettes and photographs, etc.

According to Bob Ayres, a former CIA and US army officer, and former associate fellow at Chatham House, the Royal Institute of International Affairs, however, the submarines were not undetectable, despite their “stealth” technology. “When such submarines came across similar vessels from other navies, they sought to get as close as possible without being detected, as part of routine training. They were playing games with each other – stalking each other under the sea. They were practising being able to kill the other guy’s submarine before he could launch a missile.Because of the sound of their nuclear reactors’ water pumps, they were still noisier than old diesel-electric craft, which ran on batteries while submerged. The greatest danger in a collision was the hull being punctured and the vessel sinking, rather than a nuclear explosion,” Ayres explained.

Submarine collisions are uncommon, but not unheard of: in 1992, the USS Baton Rouge, a submarine belonging to the United States, under command of Gordon Kremer, collided with the Russian Sierra-class attack submarine K-276 that was surfacing in the Barents Sea.

In 2001, the US submarine USS Greeneville surfaced and collided with Japanese fishing training ship Ehime Maru (えひめ丸), off the coast of Hawaii. The Navy determined the commanding officer of Greeneville to be in “dereliction of duty.”

The tenth HMS Vanguard (S28) of the British Royal Navy is the lead boat of her class of Trident ballistic missile-capable submarines and is based at HMNB Clyde, Faslane. The 150m long, V-class submarine under the Trident programme, has a crew of 135, weighs nearly 16,000 tonnes and is armed with 16 Trident 2 D5 ballistic missiles carrying three warheads each.

It is now believed to have been towed Monday to its naval base Faslane in the Firth of Clyde, with dents and scrapes to its hull. Faslane lies on the eastern shore of Gare Loch in Argyll and Bute, Scotland, to the north of the Firth of Clyde and 25 miles west of the city of Glasgow.

Vanguard is one of the deadliest vessels on the planet. It was built at Barrow-in-Furness by Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering Ltd (now BAE Systems Submarine Solutions), was launched on 4 March, 1992, and commissioned on 14 August, 1993. The submarine’s first captain was Captain David Russell. In February 2002, Vanguard began a two-year refit at HMNB Devonport. The refit was completed in June 2004 and in October 2005 Vanguard completed her return to service trials (Demonstration and Shakedown Operations) with the firing of an unarmed Trident missile.

“The Vanguard has two periscopes, a CK51 search model and a CH91 attack model, both of which have a TV camera and thermal imager as well as conventional optics,” said John E. Pike, director and a national security analyst for http://www.globalsecurity.org/, an easily accessible pundit, and active in opposing the SDI, and ITAR, and consulting on NEO’s.

File:Triomphant img 0394.jpg

Scale model of the Triomphant (S 616), on display at the Musée de la Marine in Paris
(Image missing from commons: image; log)

“But the periscopes are useless at that depth. It’s pitch black after a couple of hundred feet. In the movies like ‘Hunt for Red October,’ you can see the subs in the water, but in reality it’s blindman’s bluff down there. The crash could have been a coincidence — some people win the lottery — but it’s much more possible that one vessel was chasing the other, trying to figure out what it was,” Pike explained.

Captain of HMS Vanguard, Commander Richard Lindsey said his men would not be there if they couldn’t go through with it. “I’m sure that if somebody was on board who did not want to be here, they would have followed a process of leaving the submarine service or finding something else to do in the Navy,” he noted.

The Triomphant is a strategic nuclear submarine, lead ship of her class (SNLE-NG). It was laid down on June 9, 1989, launched on March 26, 1994 and commissioned on March 21, 1997 with homeport at Île Longue. Equipped with 16 M45 ballistic missiles with six warheads each, it has 130 crew on board. It was completing a 70-day tour of duty at the time of the underwater crash. Its fibreglass sonar dome was damaged requiring three or four months in Drydock repair. “It has returned to its base on L’Ile Longue in Brittany on Saturday under its own power, escorted as usual by a frigate,” the ministry said.

A Ballistic missile submarine is a submarine equipped to launch ballistic missiles (SLBMs). Ballistic missile submarines are larger than any other type of submarine, in order to accommodate SLBMs such as the Russian R-29 or the American Trident.

The Triomphant class of strategic missile submarines of the French Navy are currently being introduced into service to provide the sea based component (the Force Océanique Stratégique) of the French nuclear deterrent or Force de frappe, with the M45 SLBM. They are replacing the Redoutable-class boats. In French, they are called Sous-Marin Nucléaire Lanceur d’Engins de Nouvelle Génération (“SNLE-NG, literally “Device-launching nuclear submarine of the new generation”).

They are roughly one thousand times quieter than the Redoutable-class vessels, and ten times more sensitive in detecting other submarines [1]. They are designed to carry the M51 nuclear missile, which should enter active service around 2010.

Repairs for both heavily scraped and dented, missile-laden vessels were “conservatively” estimated to cost as much as 55m, with intricate missile guidance systems and navigation controls having to be replaced, and would be met by the French and British taxpayer, the Irish Independent reported.

Many observers are shocked by the deep sea disaster, as well as the amount of time it took for the news to reach the public. ”Two US and five Soviet submarine accidents in the past prove that the reactor protection system makes an explosion avoidable. But if the collision had been more powerful the submarines could have sunk very quickly and the fate of the 250 crew members would have been very serious indeed,” said Andrey Frolov, from Moscow’s Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies.

“I think this accident will force countries that possess nuclear submarines to sit down at the negotiating table and devise safety precautions that might avert such accidents in the future… But because submarines must be concealed and invisible, safety and navigation laws are hard to define,” Frolov said, noting further that there are no safety standards for submarines.

Map showing the location of the Bay of Biscay in the North Atlantic Ocean bordered on France and Spain.

The unthinkable disaster – in the Atlantic’s 41 million square miles – has raised concern among nuclear activists. “This is a nuclear nightmare of the highest order. The collision of two submarines, both with nuclear reactors and nuclear weapons onboard, could have released vast amounts of radiation and scattered scores of nuclear warheads across the seabed,” said Kate Hudson, chair of Britain’s Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

“This is the most severe incident involving a nuclear submarine since the Russian submarine RFS Kursk K-141 explosion and sinking in 2000 and the first time since the Cold War that two nuclear-armed subs are known to have collided. Gordon Brown should seize this opportunity to end continuous patrols,” Hudson added. Despite a rescue attempt by British and Norwegian teams, all 118 sailors and officers aboard Kursk died.

“This reminds us that we could have a new catastrophe with a nuclear submarine at any moment. It is a risk that exists during missions but also in port. These are mobile nuclear reactors,” said Stephane Lhomme, a spokesman for the French anti-nuclear group Sortir du Nucleaire.

Nicholas Barton “Nick” Harvey, British Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament for North Devon has called for an immediate internal probe. “While the British nuclear fleet has a good safety record, if there were ever to be a bang it would be a mighty big one. Now that this incident is public knowledge, the people of Britain, France and the rest of the world need to be reassured this can never happen again and that lessons are being learned,” he said.

SNP Westminster leader Angus Robertson MP for Moray has demanded for a government statement. “The Ministry of Defence needs to explain how it is possible for a submarine carrying weapons of mass destruction to collide with another submarine carrying weapons of mass destruction in the middle of the world’s second-largest ocean,” he said.

Michael Thomas Hancock, CBE, a Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament for Portsmouth South and a City councillor for Fratton ward, and who sits on the Commons defence committee, has called on the Ministry of Defence Secretary of State John Hutton to make a statement when parliament sits next week.

“While I appreciate there are sensitive issues involved here, it is important that this is subject to parliamentary scrutiny. It’s fairly unbelievable that this has happened in the first place but we now need to know that lessons have been learnt. We need to know for everyone’s sakes that everything possible is now done to ensure that there is not a repeat of the incident. There are serious issues as to how some of the most sophisticated naval vessels in the seas today can collide in this way,” Mr. Hancock said.

Tory defence spokesman Liam Fox, a British Conservative politician, currently Shadow Defence Secretary and Member of Parliament for Woodspring, said: “For two submarines to collide while apparently unaware of each other’s presence is extremely worrying.”

Meanwhile, Hervé Morin, the French Minister of Defence, has denied allegations the nuclear submarines, which are hard to detect, had been shadowing each other deliberately when they collided, saying their mission was to sit at the bottom of the sea and act as a nuclear deterrent.

“There’s no story to this — the British aren’t hunting French submarines, and the French submarines don’t hunt British submarines. We face an extremely simple technological problem, which is that these submarines are not detectable. They make less noise than a shrimp. Between France and Britain, there are things we can do together….one of the solutions would be to think about the patrol zones,” Morin noted, and further denying any attempt at a cover-up.

France’s Atlantic coast is known as a submarine graveyard because of the number of German U-boats and underwater craft sunk there during the Second World War.



Related news

  • “U.S. Nuclear submarine collides with Japanese tanker” — Wikinews, January 9, 2007

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  • Wikipedia-logo-v2.svg HMS Vanguard and Le Triomphant submarine collision
  • Wikipedia-logo-v2.svg Major submarine incidents since 2000
  • Wikipedia-logo-v2.svg HMS Vanguard (S28)
  • Wikipedia-logo-v2.svg Triomphant (S 616)

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May 4, 2007

Party supporting Scottish independence from UK wins elections

Party supporting Scottish independence from UK wins elections

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Friday, May 4, 2007

Debating chamber in Scottish Parliament building
Image: Pschemp.

The Scottish National Party (SNP), which supports Scottish independence from the UK, has pulled off a historic, albeit narrow, victory in yesterday’s Scottish elections.

In the third Scottish election since the opening of the Scottish Parliament in 1999, the left of centre SNP beat the ruling Labour Party by a single seat. It won 47 seats, while Labour won 46, down from the current 50.

It is the first time since the parliament opened that Labour has been beaten, and the first time in fifty years that they have not had a majority of Scottish constituency seats in any election.

SNP leader Alex Salmond declared: “Scotland has changed for good and forever.” He added that the Labour Party had “lost the moral authority to govern Scotland.”

The current First Minister of Scotland, Jack McConnell of Labour said: “While I recognise that the SNP are the largest party by the narrowest of margins, Alex Salmond must himself recognise that he does not have a majority in the Scottish Parliament or anywhere near a majority of the vote.”

It is believed that many factors caused the Labour vote to slump and the SNP vote to rise, including the war in Iraq and the renewal of Trident, which are both unpopular in Scotland.

The election also raises a serious dilemma for the Labour party’s Gordon Brown, a Scotsman widely tipped to succeed Tony Blair as the next prime minister of the United Kingdom. Brown is vehement in his support of the Union, and is a Westminster (London parliament) MP for Kirkcaldy. An SNP government in Scotland will find itself facing the very Labour party it beat in power in London.

Turnout was up 2% on the last Scottish election.

Controversy

The election was highly controversial, not least for having three separate systems, running in tandem –

  • A constituency vote, which was “first past the post”, and for a candidate.
  • A regional list vote, which was additional member system, and was for a party.
  • A local authority (council) vote, which was Single Transferable Vote, and in which parties could field more than one candidate in a ward.

The three systems, along with difficulties with electronic counting meant that maybe as many as one hundred thousand ballot papers were “spoiled”. In addition, there was also huge problems with the postal vote.

Due to the extensive computer problems, votes had to be cancelled early on Friday morning, and postponed to later in the day.

Many other problems beset the election, with a helicopter from the Western Isles constituency being held up by fog, and a boat carrying ballot papers from the Isle of Arran, breaking down in the Firth of Clyde.

Other parties

In addition to the SNP and Labour, the other parties results’ were as follows –

  • Conservative and Unionist – 17 members.
  • Liberal Democrats – 16 members.
  • Scottish Greens – 2 members.
  • Independent – 1 (Margo MacDonald, formerly of the SNP)

The Scottish Socialist Party, Solidarity and the Scottish Senior Citizens Unity Party were all wiped out.

In order to establish a majority in the Scottish Parliament, the SNP must form a coalition with one or more of these parties. The Liberal Democrats, who were in coalition with the Labour party in the first two terms of the Scottish parliament, are a possibility.

Other parties that campaigned for seats in Holyrood included the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), the British National Party (BNP), the Scottish Unionist Party, the Scottish Socialist Labour Party, the Christian Peoples Alliance and the Scottish Christian Party.

Gains and losses

The Scottish National Party, while not gaining the landslide it had wished for, made breakthroughs in Glasgow (Govan), Edinburgh (Edinburgh East) and also took both seats in Dundee.

The Liberal Democrats gained seats in Dunfermline West, but their losses mean the number of seats they hold is unchanged.

Wales and England

While the Scottish election was going on, the Welsh were also having their election for the Welsh Assembly. Plaid Cymru gained a seat from Labour at Llanelli. The Conservatives had their best showing since the Assembly began.

The final results show that the membership for the new assembly will be:-

Labour 26 -4 Plaid Cymru 15 +3 Conservatives 12 +1 Liberal Democrats 6 – Independent 1 –

In England, the elections were more minor, dealing only with local authorities. However they can be an important indicator of how battleground seats might go in the General Election, expected in 2-3 years time. The Conservatives made the greatest gains, but did not make the breakthrough in Northern England that they would have hoped. The Liberal Democrats did not make the advances that they had hoped, and stayed at more or less the same level. Elsewhere, Cornish regionalists Mebyon Kernow gained an extra seat bringing their total to seven, and the Eurosceptic United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) and Liberal Party (not to be confused with the Liberal Democrats) gained seats in several areas of England.

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December 4, 2006

Blair to announce plans for UK nuclear defence today

Blair to announce plans for UK nuclear defence today

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Monday, December 4, 2006

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair is at 3:30pm to present a White Paper in the House of Commons today indicating the Government’s plans to replace the Trident missile system with a similar system but on a reduced scale. The speech is called : Statement: Trident – The Future of the UK Nuclear Deterrent.

The Trident defence system was developed as Britain’s response to the Cold War which ended with the collapse of the USSR in December 1991. The first Trident submarine went on patrol in December 1994.

The present system consists of Trident ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads carried by four Vanguard class nuclear powered submarines. The main issue is about the replacement of the submarine fleet.

There is to be debate about the proposals. Supporters who include the majority of the main opposition party, argue that because of the proliferation of nuclear weapons and threats from countries such as Iran and North Korea, Britain must have a nuclear defence capability. Opponents including at least one Cabinet Minister and several Labour back benchers, say that the system is an inappropriate response to the present threats to national security, terrorism, energy shortage and climate change and that there are better ways of spending the money. The Liberals advocate delay in making the decision. Fifteen Anglican bishops have denounced the possession of such a weapon as ‘evil’.

Alex Salmond, leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP), said that although Scotland had no power to stop the replacment of the Trident weapons system, it had a host of powers to protect the environment. He promised that if the UK government went ahead with the Trident project, the SNP would propose to use those powers to stop it proceeding in Scotland. There are two establishments in Scotland, at Faslane and Rosyth, providing services to the nuclear submarine fleet.

Related news

  • “Britain to replace Trident nuclear missile system” — Wikinews, November 24, 2006
  • “Cabinet to discuss UK nuclear deterrent for the first time tomorrow” — Wikinews, November 22, 2006
  • “Beckett breaks ranks over Trident” — Wikinews, October 30, 2006

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November 24, 2006

Britain to replace Trident nuclear missile system

Britain to replace Trident nuclear missile system

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Friday, November 24, 2006

Britain currently deploys 4 Vanguard class submarines, each armed with 16 Trident II D-5 missiles carrying up to 12 nuclear warheads apiece.

The British Cabinet decided that Britain will retain its nuclear deterrent by replacing the Trident missile system carried on submarines, in its first meeting on the subject yesterday. The case for considering land-based and airborne systems made by former Defence Minister Geoff Hoon was rejected.

The Cabinet agreed that three or four new submarines should be built to carry the new missiles, but the number of nuclear warheads to be carried by each vessel will be decided at a later date. The existing fleet of four Vanguard class submarines, even if refitted, is due for decommissioning by 2024 at the latest. The time for design and construction is expected to be 17 years, so there is a need for an early decision. Chancellor Gordon Brown is reported as being keen to get construction started as soon as possible, in order to retain the skills of the existing workforce.

Some Cabinet Ministers thought to oppose the replacement of Trident, who worried that there might be a breach of Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty or who had concern that the Labour party had not been consulted sufficiently. They include Margaret Beckett and Peter Hain, who, until recently, was a member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. The Cabinet Ministers expressed themselves content to carry out consultation and have a debate in Parliament in February.

Some 200 Members of Parliament have demanded that Parliament debate alternatives. It was agreed that a white paper for this purpose would be published before Christmas and a period of consultation would follow. Parliament would be asked to vote on the Cabinet’s proposal—not to choose between alternative systems, but to support the Cabinet’s choice “in principle.” Although the Government, with Conservative support, is most likely to get approval for its plan, Jack Straw, Leader of the House, has announced that the vote will be whipped.

Related news item

“Cabinet to discuss UK nuclear deterrent for the first time tomorrow” — Wikinews, November 22, 2006

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November 22, 2006

Cabinet to discuss UK nuclear deterrent for the first time tomorrow

Cabinet to discuss UK nuclear deterrent for the first time tomorrow

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Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The Labour Party’s 2005 election manifesto read “We are committed to retaining the independent nuclear deterrent”. Although there have been reports that planning and design work on replacement vessels and new designs of nuclear war heads has been proceeding for some years, the first Cabinet meeting to consider this pledge will take place tomorrow.

No Cabinet papers have been circulated before the meeting at which it is said there will be a “first run round the issues”. A further Cabinet meeting is to be held prior to the publication of a White Paper just before Christmas. The principle of retaining a nuclear deterrent will be put to the vote in the House of Commons next year and, although it may split the Labour Party, is likely to be carried with the support of the Conservative opposition.

It is reported that some Cabinet Ministers have reservations about the prudence of maintaining the nuclear deterrent when the apparent threats are from saboteurs and suicide bombers. They also have doubts about the legality of adding to the stock of nuclear warheads contrary to the spirit of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and about the way that the decision is being pushed through without consultation with the Labour Party. Among those with doubts are the Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett, Hilary Benn, Minister of State for International Development, and Peter Hain, Secretary of State for Wales and Northern Ireland.

The only other European country with nuclear capability is France. Prime Minister Blair and Chancellor Brown are agreed on the need to retain a nuclear deterrent. Their reasons include keeping the country’s seat at the top table of international politics.

The Trident missile system is carried in four nuclear-powered Vanguard class submarines, the first of which was commissioned in August 1993. The current Trident system cost £12.6 Bn to introduce at 1996 prices, and requires £280m a year to maintain.

Replacements for the smaller nuclear-powered w:attack submarines are under construction and will be armed with Tomahawk missile tactical missile systems. The atomic weapons establishment at Aldermaston is reported to be developing tactical nuclear weapons, smaller and of shorter range than Trident suitable for firing using the same type of launcher as Tomahawks.

Related news item

“UK Foreign Secretary Beckett breaks ranks over Trident” — Wikinews, October 30, 2006

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October 30, 2006

UK Foreign Secretary Beckett breaks ranks over Trident

UK Foreign Secretary Beckett breaks ranks over Trident

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Monday, October 30, 2006

Margaret Beckett, British Foreign Secretary

Despite commitments already made by the British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Chancellor Gordon Brown to replace the Trident missile system and the Royal Navy’s Vanguard class submarines, Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett is calling for a public debate on the decision.

The Prime Minister has committed to holding a debate in Parliament over the issue.

Beckett told the Sunday Times that it was the Cold War that prompted the Trident programme but that the security situation now is very different.

Though Trident is not due for replacement for 20 years, Tony Blair has promised that there will be decision on Trident this year, due to the long lead time for design and construction. The costs involved may be between 10 and 25 billion pounds.

Beckett said that the public should be informed and should think about the issue themselves.

Her opinion will be welcomed by back bench Labour MPs who are concerned that any opposition to replacing Trident will be suppressed.

Beckett has also taken an independent line before, on Iraq, by expressing ‘regrets’ over the war and saying she did not disagree with General Sir Richard Dannatt, who said that British troops in Iraq were provoking trouble.

Sources

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February 3, 2006

Pentagon\’s Quadrennial Defense Review released

Pentagon’s Quadrennial Defense Review released

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Friday, February 3, 2006

The Pentagon released its findings from its Quadrennial Defense Review today. This review focuses mainly on defining and identifying weak points in United States defenses, and prescriptions for improvements in those areas.

This review, known as the Quadrennial Defense Review because Congress requires it every four years, does not alter the Pentagon’s approach in Iraq. It also leaves intact the Defense Department’s broader strategy for keeping the U.S. military big enough to fight other major conflicts.

The plan proposes a 4.8% boost to the Department of Defense budget, eliminates no major weapons programs and includes an 8 percent overall increase for weapons (to US$84 billion) for the budget year starting Sept. 30. This review excludes the Energy Department’s nuclear weapons programs.

Overall, there was an emphasis on finding ways to adopt a more indirect approach to the war on terror; a shifted emphasis from performing tasks to enabling other countries to perform. Some of the specific proposals include:

  • Expansion of special operations forces by 15%; the Army’s Green Berets and the Navy SEAL commandos, for example, who are trained in specialized warfare skills that are often utilized covertly in cooperation with the armed forces of small countries.
Relevant to this expansion, the Marines are establishing a special operations force for the first time, with an initial goal of preparing 2,600 Marines.
  • An increase by 3,700 (or about one-third) of psychological warfare and civil affairs units. These are in heavy demand in Iraq and Afghanistan because of their role working with local civilian authorities to build trust and influence perceptions of U.S. forces.
  • Building new partnerships in the “War on Terror” by increasing time spent training other armies, navies and air forces, particularly in places, where U.S. troops have not traditionally operated. This in turn, will call for an increased mastery of other languages and better knowledge of foreign cultures.
  • More officers serving stints in foreign militaries to better develop long-term relationships and regional expertise.
  • The creation by the Navy, of a force of small boats that can be utilized in inland waterways abroad to help countries build their own maritime forces to combat terrorists.

Other highlights include:

  • A proposed 10 percent reduction in the fleet of Minuteman III land-based nuclear missiles, from 500 to 450 missiles. Also, the conversion of some nuclear missiles on Trident submarines to non-nuclear missiles within two years. The Pentagon did not specifically state how many are to be converted.
  • A five-year, $1.5 billion program to develop medical countermeasures for bioterrorism threats.

Sources

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