David Cameron is due to secretly renew the Mutual Defence Agreement (MDA) on nuclear cooperation between the US and the UK writes Ellen Graubart

Britain is increasing its cooperation with the US over the design of nuclear warheads, exposing the fake independence of the UK’s ‘independent nuclear deterrent’.

Using documents disclosed after a Freedom of Information (FOI) request The Guardian reported in June that a renewal and stepping up of the 1958 Mutual Defence Agreement (MDA) between the US and the UK is expected to be signed in a few weeks in a “discreet” ceremony in Washington.

MDA is a bilateral treaty between the US and the UK on nuclear weapons cooperation, signed after the UK tested its first hydrogen bomb during Operation Grapple. The treaty, which acts to facilitate extensive cooperation on the development of nuclear weapons by the two countries and is regarded as essential in the UK for maintaining its nuclear weapons’ programme, is renewed every ten years. It was last extended to 2014, and is now due for renewal.

On previous occasions this treaty has been secretly agreed by the government and then rushed through the parliamentary process without democratic oversight or debate, and the signs are that this action is about to be repeated.

June 2004, Nigel Chamberlain coordinated the drafting of the BASIC (British American Security Information Council) report US-UKnuclear weapons collaboration under the Mutual Defence Agreement: Shining a torch on the darker recesses of the ‘special relationship’. His report exposed the formalised exchange of classified nuclear information, advanced technology and a range of materials including plutonium, enriched and highly enriched uranium and tritium.

Chamberlain and his team had hoped that the report would promote parliamentary scrutiny and media investigation into the planned renewal of the MDA before the end of the year – but although 51 MPs supported an Early Day Motion (EDM) stating that the MDA ‘undermines’ UK and US commitments to the NPT, and called for a debate – this did not affect the government’s decision to renew the agreement.

In fact the Labour Government acted rapidly and without any parliamentary scrutiny – just before the 2004 Summer Recess– to make sure that it was extended for a further ten years.

CND maintains that the terms of the MDA are in contravention of the UK’s legal commitments as signatories to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). According to a 2004 legal advice paper by Rabinder Singh QC and Professor Christine Chinkin, it is strongly arguable that the renewal of the Mutual Defence Agreement is in breach of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), as it implies “continuation and indeed enhancement of the nuclear programme, not progress towards its discontinuation”.

By having such a direct involvement in Britain’s nuclear weapons technology, the US exercises significant leverage over the UK’s foreign and defence policy. Although the UK governmentclaims that the Trident nuclear weapons system is independent, it is both technicallyand politicallydependent on the United States, largely due to the Mutual Defence Agreement [MDA) which established an agreement between both countries to exchange classified information to develop their respective nuclear weapon systems.

Rather than working together to get rid of their nuclear weapons, the UK and the US are collaborating on further building up their nuclear arsenals.

Parliamentary CND is writing to the Defence Select Committee asking them to demand a debate on the renewal of the MDA. They insist that the government:

  •  should be held accountable for its actions
  •  answer as to why they are contravening their legal obligation to work towards disarmament
  •  should not be allowed to push through a highly sensitive treaty extension without any debate
  •  should not be renewing an agreement with the US that is designed to maintain both countries’ nuclear weapons production capabilities.

The government has refused requests from individual MPs to allocate time for a debate on MDA. The papers released (which were drawn up at the time of the last renewal of the MDA in 2004) make it clear that Whitehall was against having a debate in parliament about the pact. The matter does not have to be debated or voted on in parliament. An internal MoD paper says :

“A debate on the renewal of the MDA would be used by some as an opportunity to raise wider questions concerning the possible renewal of the nuclear deterrent, the future of AWE and our obligations under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty”

As in the past, most MPs seem to be unaware of the need for open and democratic debate on the renewal of MDA, both inside and outside Parliament. At the moment it appears certain that David Cameron will follow in the footsteps of Tony Blair and the previous Labour Government by ensuring that the UK-US Mutual Defence Agreement is put in place again for the next ten years.

Ellen Graubart

Ellen Graubart was born in India of American parents and came to London from Virginia as a teenager to study art. She lives and works as an artist in Hackney. She is a member of Counterfire, Stop the War and Hackney Palestine Solidarity Campaign.