The Special Relationship between the U.S. and Britain has many facets, but at its core is close cooperation in the military and intelligence realms. And at the heart of our military cooperation is the U.S.–U.K. Mutual Defence Agreement.
Signed in 1958, and renewed every 10 years—most recently in 2004—the agreement provides for Anglo–American collaboration in nuclear technology. It provides the legal basis for the transfer to Britain of U.S.-made Trident II missiles—the launch platform for Britain’s nuclear deterrent—and for the much broader sharing of nuclear information between the two countries.
Because the agreement concerns exceptionally sensitive information and technologies, it imposes extremely tight security controls on both parties. Article V(c) of the 1958 agreement states:
Except as may be otherwise agreed for civil uses, the information communicated or exchanged, or the materials or equipment transferred, by either Party pursuant to this Agreement shall be used by the recipient Party exclusively for the preparation or implementation of defense plans in the mutual interest of the two countries.
Thus, neither the U.S. nor the U.K. can pass on anything either one acquires from the other. Article VII of the 1958 agreement explains how this requirement affects the U.S.’s negotiations with other nations:
Nothing in this Agreement shall be interpreted or shall operate as a bar or restriction to consultation or cooperation in any field of defense by either Party with other nations or international organizations. Neither Party, however, shall communicate classified information or transfer or permit access to or use of materials, or equipment, made available by the other Party pursuant to this Agreement to any other nation or international organization unless authorized to do so by such other Party, or unless such other Party has informed the recipient Party that the same information has been made available to that nation or international organization.
This means that the U.S. cannot pass on anything it receives from the U.K. to Russia unless the U.K. has authorized the U.S. to do so, or unless the U.K. has informed Russia that Russia has direct access to this information.
Does New START comply with these terms? The Daily Telegraph has reported:
Washington lobbied London in 2009 for permission to supply Moscow with detailed data about the performance of U.K. missiles. The U.K. refused, but the U.S. agreed to hand over the serial numbers of Trident missiles it transfers to Britain.
This allegation raises a number of disturbing questions. Did the U.K. agree to the transfer of the serial numbers (known in New START as “unique identifiers”)? Did the U.K. agree that the U.S. could, as it is required to do under the terms of New START, inform Russia of the “location of the transferred [missiles]”? For obvious reasons, this information is classified and thus subject to the controls of the 1958 agreement. Or has the U.K., as is its option under the 1958 agreement, made this information available to Russia directly? Most explosively, did the U.S., after Britain refused to allow the transfer of “detailed data” about its missiles, go ahead and transfer this data anyway?
Right now, there is no way to know the answers to any of these questions. But if New START is incompatible with the 1958 agreement, the treaty would be an explosive breach of a fundamental and longstanding U.S. treaty obligation. The Senate has a clear obligation to consider this question.