What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is mine too

Sorry, KOW readers, I’ve been so busy writing these last weeks that I have not had much energy for blogging. And when I do surface it always seems to be to remark upon wikileaks. But really this new revelation causes me to wonder: has the United States gone completely mental? According to the Telegraph, ‘US agrees to tell Russia Britain’s nuclear secrets‘:

Information about every Trident missile the US supplies to Britain will be given to Russia as part of an arms control deal signed by President Barack Obama next week. Defence analysts claim the agreement risks undermining Britain’s policy of refusing to confirm the exact size of its nuclear arsenal.

I try not to be naive about the special relationship, I really do. I am aware, too aware, of its profound asymmetry. But I really don’t comprehend the strategic logic here. It just seems demented. What the hell?


30 thoughts on “What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is mine too

  1. Madhu says:



    I think the strategic “logic” is “a deal at any cost.”

    I try not to say too many negative things about US foreign policy on this blog out of some sense of, well, I don’t know, odd internet blog decorum, but you know what? We treat our allies terribly and lavish aid monies on reprobates.

    I am thoroughly sick of it.

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  3. Madhu says:

    I don’t have time right now to explain why I am reminded of the following but I am reminded….

    Helene is touched by the book of Elizabethan poems with pages edged in gold, sent from all at Marks & Co., in addition to letters sent from employees Megan Wells, Bill Humphries, and Frank Doel in a show of appreciation for her generosity. She downplays the food parcel she sent on Easter with “greetings from America—faithless friend that she is, pouring millions into rebuilding Japan and Germany while letting England starve” in the postwar 1950s.

    (I guess it’s self-explanatory.)


    Anyway, that’s my impressionistic emotional response to the blog post. I’m not going to be any kind of scholar of this stuff, that’s for sure!

    Uh, the reprobates comment does not apply to the above quote.

    I’m thinking of our current aid policies which I absolutely, generally loathe.

  4. Formerly Grant says:

    That is one of the inherent problems of getting such weapons from abroad. Of course I have to wonder why more official objections weren’t raised.

  5. Hmmm – I’m not entirely convinced of the earth shattering nature of this revelation. As Chalmers says, we already declare how much we’ve got. That’s access to 58 missiles, fewer than 160 warheads, with a maximum of 48 warheads deployed on continuous patrol, if you’re a passing Russian spy.

    Knowing that we’ve got that lot, and knowing roughly what the destructive yield of each warhead is, does very little to help you undermine our second strike capability. Far nuttier than that would be any decision that made it harder to get the boomers out to sea undetected…. hmmm…

  6. The Faceless Bureaucrat says:

    With the Special Relationship to be augmented by the stitch up with France, the UK can just about forget about secrets, control, or influence. In the long run, it’ll be cheaper than being a real country anyway.

  7. Michael says:

    hmm… maybe Obama is just not that into you. I remember someone who really loved the British people. George W. Bush. Bust of Churchill in the oval office. Tony Blair as “#1” on speed dial… yeap… the good ‘ol days.

    But then I also remember that the British really hated W. Never a nice thing to say in the news paper. Endless gnashing of teeth about how ‘lopsided’ the special relationship is, Blair as the ‘poodle’. Boy, folks in London couldn’t wait until someone ‘smart’ finally came into office, boy oh boy! I heard about it every time I went into a pub. Boy that George Bush. He is dumb he is. Looks like a monkey he does. Har Har Har.

    Then that smart guy came. Figured out pretty quick that the British, indeed all of Europe, wasn’t really pulling its weight in the world. The United States can’t afford nostalgia for the good ‘ol days. The “smart” thing to do is get what you can, while you can. No need for sappy Texans who get teary eyed when they read Colonel Tim Collins speech to the troops when you can get an almost symbolic, insignificant, reduction in strategic nukes. That little business involving grandpa didn’t help things.

    WikiLeaks again tells us something we already know. Obama doesn’t like you. But then you don’t like you either.

  8. David Betz says:

    @Michael, ‘WikiLeaks again tells us something we already know. Obama doesn’t like you. But then you don’t like you either.’

    Welcome to the Age of Loathing.

  9. davidbfpo says:

    From The Daily Telegraph story: ‘the US agreed to hand over the serial numbers of Trident missiles it transfers to Britain.

    Professor Malcolm Chalmers said: “This appears to be significant because while the UK has announced how many missiles it possesses, there has been no way for the Russians to verify this. Over time, the unique identifiers will provide them with another data point to gauge the size of the British arsenal.”

    Duncan Lennox, editor of Jane’s Strategic Weapons Systems, said: “They want to find out whether Britain has more missiles than we say we have, and having the unique identifiers might help them.”

    While the US and Russia have long permitted inspections of each other’s nuclear weapons, Britain has sought to maintain some secrecy to compensate for the relatively small size of its arsenal.

    As a complete outsider this appears rather strange. Currently there is no Anglo-Russian agreement on inspections of each other’s nuclear weapons. Nor am I convinced that there is such a close inspection regime in any US-Russian treaty. One where each side can inspect that closely to note unique identifiers – possibly as simple as a bar-coded label.

    Note the article refers to ‘Trident missiles’ and not the warhead(s) themselves – which of course the UK maintains are 100% British.

    Unless of course the Russians expect one day an international treaty, which includes the UK and includes a very close, if not intrusive inspection regime – for missiles and warheads.

  10. Jason Fritz says:

    Professor Betz – I think this looks worse than it really is, in typical Telegraph fashion. Cameron’s government has already starting telling the public at large what it holds and the treaty only calls for observation of the Tridents while they are in US hands. As mentioned, you make your own warheads, so no one knows the yields of each missile. Everyone knows how many you can deploy, we just don’t know how much bang they create. More of my thoughts here: http://tachesdhuile.blogspot.com/2011/02/much-ado-about-nuclear-nothings.html

    • Formerly Grant says:

      As far as I can figure* the main complaint is that the U.S is doing something that might infringe on U.K sovereignty and also that the U.S is doing this with Russia.

      *Things like this really pound in the differences in American and U.K thought.

    • Jason Fritz says:

      I’m an American, so obviously I can only guess as to UK opinions on this. This has been U.S. policy since the Reagan administration and is not new for the New START (according to our Department of State at least). The question really is: did HMG know and/or condone this? Was it part of the Trident II sales agreement since that was happening with and after START I/II negotiations? The missiles are randomly drawn from U.S. stocks so are part of U.S. stocks before they’re sent overseas. Per START (and common sense) they must be accounted for. What is the other option? Missiles with specific serial numbers disappear? The Russians will be able figure out where they go if they don’t just assume we’re hiding them somewhere. The nature of the agreement (both the 1958 Mutual Defense and from what I can tell the 1963 Polaris Sales Agreement) permits this to happen either actively or passively based on the terms of the transaction.

      I’m also curious why the FCO has been so silent on this. Oddly silent.

    • David Betz says:

      Yes, this is indeed the point. It is no secret that by and large Britons are ambivalent about Trident. But if you’ve a secret shared with your BFF which said BFF blabs about when it is convenient for them it rather suggests there’s not actually that much to the partnership.

    • Michael says:

      The “special relationship” defies realist rationalities for a couple of reasons: One, the US public genuinely believes that having the “Commonwealth” on board with a military adventures is something like the ‘good house keeping seal of approval’. Second the militarises of Commonwealth seem to operate in a perpetual state of underfunding. The result is that the UK/CAN/AUS/NZL actually have a lot more influence over American Foreign policy than they should have. Up until recently that was fine.

      Perhaps the Commonwealth were “junior partners” (a wholly inadequate way of describing the relationship, especially since CAN/AUS funding for their militaries, to say nothing of NZL, really merited them being moved from partner to the mail room!) but they were at the table. The current POTUS doesn’t seem to feel that affection. Perhaps it is the whole torturing grandpa thing, or perhaps it is the release of the very much alive Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi (Note to self: never trust an NHS doc with telling you how long you have left to live, especially if large oil contracts are at stake!). In either case the lesson is the same: to all of those who wanted anyone but W- be careful what you wish for.

    • Charles says:

      The mail room? Come on, we could be a personal assistant, I’m sure! While Aus (obviously where I’m from) has been happy to go anywhere the US has gone, we only seem to go in very limited numbers (an acknowledgement of our relationship, not complete support) – which at home, everyone seems to think is more than enough. Do you know how embarrassing it was for me to read about our PM KRudd telling the NATO countries that they have to pull their weight in Afghanistan? I don’t think he knew how little troops we actually have there, which is the reason we’ve dodged the high casualty rate.

      In our relationship we’ve maintained that some things best remain for our eyes only, and it appears that this is the best policy to have. While I cannot imagine any situation where we would disclose sensitive US information to third-parties in order to close a deal, it does seem more than likely that the US would happily divulge information of ours. Pity, I really thought we had something special going on, but I guess it can be easily read in John Howard’s and G.W. Bush’s memoirs: One mentions the special relationship and how close they are, whereas the other just wants to talk about blowing shit up. I’ll let you decide who’s who.

    • Michael says:

      The thing is I suspect that the affection was real between Howard/Blair/Bush. And I’m sure the ‘special relationship’ will remain well past this current ebb. But it is really impossible not to notice that Obama is a closet realist with a “pay-to-play what-have-you-done-for-me-lately?” ethos that seems to go well beyond US region “American Classic” DVDs to the PM and a iPod full of his own speeches to the Queen.

    • Charles says:

      I think the special relationship only goes as far as we all speak english (or some version of it). The special relationship deal reminds me of the Secretary of State’s line ‘We have no closer friend and ally than (insert country here)’ – wherever they go that line comes out and floats around for a while, and I can’t help but think the same goes with the relationship between the PM’s and the President.

  11. Difficult to see what the real objection is here. As others have noted, the UK has been relatively transparent about its nuclear holdings. We have 160 operationally deployed warheads out of a total stockpile of 225 (to be reduced to 180). Up to 48 warheads deployed aboard the single SSBN at sea (to be reduced to 40). We purchased the rights to 58 Trident D5 missile bodies, down to 50 by 2006 after test firings. We even know how many missiles each sub picked up from Kings Bay upon being commissioned into the Navy and how many each sub has test fired at the Canaveral firing range courtesy of answers to parliamentary questions. We know that each boat can accommodate 16 missiles but each sub has generally only deployed with 12-14.

    If you were in Moscow negotiating a strategic nuclear arms reduction treaty with the US and a significant number of one of the most potent missiles ever developed and deployed by the US was being shared with the UK from a common pool (i.e. the UK does not have its own subset of missiles with a Union Jack on them. They are periodically taken from and returned to the US Trident D5 stockpile), you would probably want to know some specific details about how many missiles, when transfers take place, and possibly further details about the missiles involved if relevant to wider US-Russia missile data exchanges.

    One can understand how the UK would be a little annoyed if the US agreed to supply a new category of data to Moscow under New Start relating to UK deployed Trident D5s without consultation, but it still begs the question, what does it matter? We are not in a nuclear arms race, confrontation, or period of prolonged hostility with Russia. UK nuclear forces were always of marginal relevance to the Soviet Union compared to US strategic weapons both in CONUS and forward deployed in Western Europe, and they are of marginal relevance today. UK ‘minimum deterrence’ policy remains continuous deployment of a single fully-armed sub at several days notice to fire. Data about the specific missiles deployed appears to have little bearing on this.

  12. Gunrunner says:

    The State Dept finally responds.

    “A State Department spokesman called a British newspaper’s report that the U.S. offered to disclose British nuclear secrets in order to secure support for the New START treaty ‘bunk.'”


    Well, I’m convinced.

    The State Dept certainly has a history of honesty, oh, wait, given the Obama administration’s horrible treatment of the UK thus far, perhaps I am not so convinved.

  13. The Faceless Bureaucrat says:

    As I alluded to in my earlier comment, perhaps this is just another branch that the UK is hitting on its way down the influence tree. There certainly is a lot of grist for the mill that churns out glum, nostaglic commentary. Take, for instance, this from the Telegraph of last week, Tuesday:

    Tired old Britain has put its feet up and withdrawn from the world. By Simon Heffer [http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/columnists/simonheffer/8296759/Tired-old-Britain-has-put-its-feet-up-and-withdrawn-from-the-world.html]

    …At the simplest level, the amount of influence we can exert as a power depends on our ability to back it up with force of arms, and the will to use them if necessary. We have no such force of arms. Perhaps the defence cuts, which still seem to have been so reckless in their conception and so wasteful of expertise and commitment, were deliberately designed to confirm the final surrender of our will to be a player on the world stage. We have for a long time been in the second rank of nations, but the way this Government and its predecessor have behaved, we are about to enter the third.

    Self-loathing, indeed.

  14. Pericles says:

    What we are seeing in the UK is the slow decline and death of Blair and Thatcher-style muscular liberal internationalism (we can’t afford it). It’s not quite the end of the world as Heffer portrays it however, and self-loathing is not required.

    • Formerly Grant says:

      Well let’s use this thought experiment. What if the U.K is declining in importance to the U.S and internationally? How much (if anything) can actually be done about that? Some things that influence American thought, like Russia, are outside the U.K’s control but are there any areas that the U.S needs the U.K on?

    • Charles says:

      The UK themselves may be feeling less important, hence the recent visit to Aus of their Foreign Minister and Defence Minister (or whatever they call them), to try and shore up relations and show that they know Aus still exists. First time this has happened for over 20 years, and seems to be part of a greater British Commonwealth revamp…

  15. David Betz says:

    You know whatever the chops of this curious story I just noted that the original Telegraph report now has 3500 comments attached to it. Obviously some nerve has been touched.

  16. davidbfpo says:

    I have sought an observer’s views on this issue and it may help.

    I think the Telegraph article displays considerable ignorance of the context in which the Geneva report was written:

    a. The problem that the US and Russia were wrestling with in Geneva was how to implement an effective technical verification system for each other’s strategic missile inventories within the new START treaty. The astonishing aspect of this is the transparency they were proposing to show to each other. They were discussing how to verify by on-site inspections the initial declarations both are to make once the New START Treaty is in force, and to organise the follow-on inspections / accounting activities to identify which missiles have been destroyed and new ones added so that both have a rolling inventory of the others strategic capabilities.

    b. If you look at Article XI.3 of New START you will see that the parties have the right to conduct inspections to confirm the data supplied by the other side on relevant operational and storage facilities to confirm its accuracy.

    c. Article XIII makes the UK the sole exception to the prohibition in the Treaty to the transfers of “strategic nuclear arms subject to the Treaty to Third Parties”.

    d. In START 1 there would have had to be something to cover the current UK Trident situation. It was public knowledge at that point that the UK was planning to store the majority of its non-operational Trident missiles alongside US ones in the USN’s storage and refurbishment facility at Kings Bay on its Eastern seaboard. This store was to be operated on the basis that the UK and US had joint ownership of the missiles in the store. Both the UK and the US would draw an appropriate number of missiles from it at the start of a Trident submarine commissioning process, and return them to the store when it decommissioned for refit.

    e. In part this was because UK Ordnance Board rules meant that Coulport would have had to be expanded geographically to store all the UK’s non-operational Trident missiles as had been the case with Polaris. Trident D5 had much greater explosive potential that the smaller Polaris and the Board rules mandated a much greater distance between the individual bunkers. Also, this meant that UK missile uploads would always have the latest US modifications at the start of a commission and the RN would thus be in line technically with the USN.

    f. This situation had to be accommodated within the New Start verification provisions as they covered both non-operational and operational nuclear capabilities. There would have to be a system for “tagging” individual US and Russian missiles as part of the process for exchanging databases and facilitating the on-site verification process built into the new Treaty.

    g. What para. 13 of the WikiLeaks agreed statement implies is that under new START the US will inform Russia of the number of UK owned missiles at Kings Bay and their movement in and out of the US base over time. To facilitate verification of this, all Trident missiles will now have “unique identifiers” (i.e. tags), and therefore the Russian Federation will be able to trace the movement of specific missiles between the US and UK and back again, and be assured that the US is not increasing its own inventory by repatriating UK missiles.

    h. The number of missiles purchased by the UK is in the public domain, as is the number of those test-fired from the Florida range at the start of a commission. The only Russian uncertainty over the UK situation might be how many missiles are in operational submarines and how many stored at Faslane against the unserviceability of specific missiles loaded into individual SSBNs.

    i. At no point in the Geneva material is there any discussion of operational and reserve Trident warhead numbers and yields (Although the total was declared in a statement in June of last year – 225 if I recall correctly – while a Summer 2009 government statement (The Road to 2010) implied that normally the submarines only carry 12 missiles in their 16 tubes and have a total of up to 48 warheads in each submarine making not more than 160 operational at any one time). Nor do I see this agreement between the US and the Russians as revealing any UK secrets – after all the missiles are externally identical to the US ones which the US is being transparent about as far as Russia is concerned. All that is happening is that they are having a number attached to each Trident missile produced which merely enables Russia to know how many nominally UK owned missiles are at Kings Bay, and therefore how many are either in UK SSBNs or at Coulport.

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