British Prime Minister Gordon Brown signalled Wednesday at the U.N. General Assembly that he is prepared to scale back the country's Trident submarine nuclear deterrent as part of a "global bargain" to reduce the world's nuclear arsenal.
"If we are serious about the ambition of a nuclear-free world we will need statesmanship, not brinkmanship," he said.
Brown is expected to flesh out details of his statement on Thursday at the Security Council, in a special session on nonproliferation and disarmament convened by President Barack Obama. The United States is the current chair of the council.
In his address to the four other permanent members and the 10 rotating non-permanent members, Brown is expected to announce that Britain could scale back the planned 20-billion-pound ($33-billion) Trident modernization program from four submarines to three.
A subcommittee, including Britain's relevant government ministers, the chiefs of staff and the heads of the intelligence agencies, is expected to be instructed to come forward with detailed recommendations by the end of the year.
The future of Britain's nuclear arsenal has become a hot topic of debate as concerns over the country's public finances have escalated - borrowing has soared as tax revenues have plummeted during the recession and spending has spiked to pay for unemployment benefits and the bailout of the banks. Cutting the number of submarines could save billions over the coming years.
However, Brown dismissed suggestions that his initiative was motivated by the need to save money.
"Obviously there are cost implications in every decision, but that is not what is uppermost in our mind," he told listeners on a phone-in on the British Broadcasting Corp.'s Radio Five Live station.
Liam Fox, a Conservative Party lawmaker, said there was "nothing new" in what Brown is planning, and noted that in December 2006 the government had said it would look at having three submarines.
He said the Conservatives, favourites to win next year's general election, would back the plan so long as Britain can maintain continuous-at-sea patrols.
In his address to the General Assembly, Brown highlighted the nuclear issue as one of five priorities for the international community, together with the economy, climate change, terrorism and poverty.
"Global problems can only be mastered through global solutions," he said.
The presence of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi at Thursday's Security Council meeting - Libya is one of the current rotating members - could make it difficult for Brown in the wake of bitter words over the release of the Lockerbie bomber Abdel Baset al-Megrahi.
Al-Megrahi, a former Libyan intelligence agent, is the only man convicted in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, that killed 270 people - most of them American. Although al-Megrahi has always claimed innocence, he was found guilty by a special Scottish court in 2001 and sentenced to serve at least 27 years in prison.
He was released last month on compassionate grounds after being diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer, a decision that disgusted U.S. families of the victims and drew outrage from the U.S. government.
In his opening remarks to the General Assembly, Brown managed a side-swipe on the Libyan leader, who earlier described the Security Council as the "terror council" for failing to prevent or intervene in dozens of wars around the world since its creation in 1945.
"I stand here to reaffirm the United Nations Charter, not to tear it up. I call on every nation to support its universal principles," Brown told the General Assembly.