chapter  10
54 Pages

UK Nuclear Weapons and the Strategic Arms Limitations Talks 1969–1973

There were two interrelated issues of fundamental importance for the UK nuclear weapons programme during the US and Soviet strategic nuclear arms control negotiations that eventually began in 1969: anti-ballistic missile (ABM) controls and no-transfer of strategic delivery systems, materials or components. These may be defined as provisions in a US-Soviet bilateral agreement that either prohibited Anglo-American nuclear co-operation under the 1958 Mutual Defence Agreement and/or the 1963 Polaris Sales Agreement or imposed serious constraints on such co-operation; and ABM deployments that might inhibit the ability of UK missiles to reach their targets in the Soviet Union. The main issue that appears to have been at stake for the UK was continued US freedom to transfer nuclear delivery systems. However, we now know that the considerations being given to the Polaris Improvement Programme in the same time frame as SALT meant that the UK also required and received other technical assistance from the US that was critical to the success of this programme. At various times during SALT I the Soviet Union tried to limit, constrain or prevent both the quantitative and qualitative expansion of the British deterrent. Failing that, Soviet negotiators tried implicitly or explicitly to have UK forces taken into account in the numerical ceilings on Strategic Nuclear Delivery Vehicles (SNDVs) negotiated with the US. It is also clear that although the US kept the rest of its NATO allies briefed through the North Atlantic Council in Brussels, the UK had preferential treatment in both the detail and quality of briefings on the progress of the SALT negotiations and insights into US negotiating objectives. Nor at any time did the UK have any discussions with the French on SALT/ABM issues even though they shared similar concerns – ABM effectiveness and unsolicited inclusions of their force in the numerical ceilings set out in a bilateral agreement between the super-powers.