The 60th anniversary of the 1958 Mutual Defense Agreement (MDA) between the United States and the United Kingdom was celebrated in June with a special event hosted by the Department of Energy (DOE) and NNSA at its headquarters in Washington, D.C. Leaders in nuclear security from the United States welcomed their United Kingdom counterparts and spoke to the past, present, and future of this important bilateral treaty.
Allowing for the sharing of defense information between the two nations, the MDA has led to decades of cooperation and collaboration – to the immense benefit of both countries.
The MDA declares that the United States and the United Kingdom made this agreement “…considering that their mutual security and defense require that they be prepared to meet the contingencies of atomic warfare; considering that both countries have made substantial progress in the development of atomic weapons…recognizing that their common defense and security will be advanced by the exchange of information…”
“It’s an agreement like no other. It’s comprehensive, long-lived, and resilient. In many ways, no better example exists of the special relationship between the U.S. and the UK,” said Stephen Lovegrove, Permanent Secretary for the UK Ministry of Defence. Lovegrove continued, “The vital importance of a sustained and interdependent commitment to the deterrence, and to even closer partnership, is as great now as it was in 1958.”
Secretary of Energy Rick Perry echoed the sentiment, asserting, “We stand firmly on the strength of our friendship. … The MDA stands on the time-honored truth that to avoid war, we must be prepared. It affirms that as long as there is tyranny in the world, democracies must have the tools they need to deter that aggression.”
Thanks to the MDA, formal relationships have deepened while bonds of trust and respect have grown between communities of engineers and scientists with common interests, recognizing the value of diverse ideas and approaches.
DOE Undersecretary for Nuclear Security and NNSA Administrator Lisa Gordon-Hagerty served as master of ceremonies and spoke to the history behind the partnership.
The MDA itself was an extension of a deep friendship between our two nations that found full expression during the two world wars. The alliance, forged on the battlefields, in the skies, and on the seas, also existed in our laboratories."
“The MDA itself was an extension of a deep friendship between our two nations that found full expression during the two world wars. The alliance, forged on the battlefields, in the skies, and on the seas, also existed in our laboratories,” said Gordon-Hagerty.
Much of the groundwork for the MDA was laid in the years preceding the Manhattan Project, while Britain was striving to develop its own secret atomic weapons program under the code name Tube Alloys. Over 150 British scientists soon joined the budding U.S. Nuclear Security Enterprise, diligently working to harness the energy locked inside an atom. They supported world-changing research, including that of Ernest Lawrence in Berkeley, California and Edward Teller in Los Alamos, New Mexico.
In the wake of the war, a hiatus on scientific collaboration descended with the passing of the Atomic Energy Act in 1946. Over a decade later, an amendment allowed for the MDA to be officially signed and a new era of partnership began. In 1959, annual, “Stocktake” meetings to review the progress and objectives of the relationship were initiated and joint technical working groups were established. These forums for U.S.-UK collaboration and information exchange continue to this day.
At the June anniversary event, a “Leadership and Legacy” panel featured esteemed former leaders in nuclear security led by moderator Peter Fanta, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Matters at the U.S. Department of Defense.
Former NNSA Administrator Thomas D’Agostino reflected on what makes the MDA possible: “The work that has been going on over the last 60 years…has solved some incredibly challenging problems. We wouldn’t have been able to do that if we didn’t have deep trust…trust allowed us to disagree, sometimes significantly disagree, on technical approaches to problems. But because that trust was so deep, we were always able to get through those tough times and do it in a way where both sides understood where they were coming from.”
D’Agostino was joined by former Principal Deputy Administrator Madelyn Creedon and former UK Ministry of Defence Chief Scientific Advisor Vernon Gibson.
The directors from all three U.S. weapons labs also came together for a special panel, “Leaders in Science.” Moderated by Senior Vice President for Savannah River Nuclear Solutions, Wallis Spangler, the director’s panel described the strength in partnering with the UK to meet the enduring nuclear challenge.
William Goldstein, Director of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory shared what he feels makes the MDA so successful: “The key ingredient is the common purpose, together with diversity of perception, and the openness to a variety of opinions and approaches. That’s the way that we’re able to take the most advantage of this agreement.”
Stephen Younger, Director of Sandia National Laboratories, explained why it is so important to have that openness: “When you have a relatively small community, and it’s a closed community, it can have an echo-chamber effect…and one of the real advantages of working with the Atomic Weapons Establishment is that you have an alternative perspective, an independent perspective.”
Terry Wallace, Director of Los Alamos National Laboratory, pointed out the practicality of sharing research endeavors with our trusted partner, “You’re talking tens of millions, maybe a hundred million dollars and being able to exercise that together not only reaps the benefit of the scientific exchange, but also a relatively scarce resource,” said Wallace.
Secretary Perry aptly captured the heart and vision of the MDA, saying, “It has been said many times that the United States and the United Kingdom share a special relationship, and our nuclear defense cooperation is one of the pillars of that relationship. The MDA has been central to our shared nuclear security goals, as well as nonproliferation research activities, and we look forward to continuing this vital partnership for decades to come .”