LONDON, March 14 (Reuters) - Britain's parliament is expected to approve a new nuclear arsenal on Wednesday but Prime Minister Tony Blair may have to rely on opposition votes to push his plans through.
Blair is due to step down in the next few months and is convinced Britain needs to renew its nuclear deterrent, despite deep-rooted opposition within his Labour Party which could see scores of Labour lawmakers voting against him. The government argues Britain must keep atomic weapons because potential threats from Iran, North Korea or nuclear terrorists mean abandoning them now could be a costly mistake -- even if there is no current threat.
Britain's nuclear arsenal is the smallest among the five U.N. Security Council permanent members who are legally recognised as nuclear states under the non-proliferation treaty.
It consists of four British-built Vanguard-class submarines that carry 16 U.S.-supplied Trident long-range missiles, armed with British-built nuclear warheads. The submarines are due to go out of service in about 2024.
The government wants to spend up to 20 billion pounds ($39 billion) on three or four nuclear-armed submarines to replace them, saying it must act quickly to have a replacement ready in time.
A deep hostility to nuclear weapons runs through the Labour Party, which espoused unilateral nuclear disarmament until the late 1980s.
Nigel Griffiths, deputy leader of the lower house of parliament and a member of Blair's government, and Jim Devine, a ministerial aide, have resigned in protest at replacing Trident.
The erstwhile Mistress of the Seas indeed. British Labour generally makes most of our Democrats look like agents of extreme reaction.