Britain is lifting the limit on the number of Trident nuclear warheads it can store by more than 40%, Boris Johnson announced Tuesday, ending 30 years of gradual disarmament since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The increased limit, from 180 to 260 warheads, is contained in a leaked copy of the Integrated Defense and Foreign Policy Review, seen by The Guardian. It paves the way for a controversial £ 10bn rearmament in response to perceived threats from Russia and China.
The review also warns of the “realistic possibility” of a terrorist group “launching a successful CBRN. [chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear] attack by 2030 ”, although there are few additional details to support this assessment.
It includes a personal commitment from Johnson, as a last-minute addition to the foreword, to restore foreign aid spending to 0.7% of national income “when fiscal conditions permit,” following fierce criticism of cuts in the relief to Yemen and other places.
The 100-page document says that the increase in the nuclear warhead limit is “in recognition of the evolving security environment” and that there is “an evolving range of technological and doctrinal threats.”
Activists warned that the UK was at risk of starting a “new nuclear arms race” at a time when the world is trying to pull itself out of the Covid pandemic. Kate Hudson, general secretary of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), said: “With the government short of cash, we do not need a huge and money-wasting spending on weapons of mass destruction.”
The compromise is one of the most notable in the Integrated Review, a post-Brexit historical review of foreign and defense policy, which also includes:
A clear statement that Russia under Vladimir Putin represents an “active threat” but nuanced language about China, described as posing a “systemic challenge” in a way unlikely to please the conservative hawks on the party’s back benches.
A commitment to launch an additional sanctions regime that gives the UK “powers to prevent those involved in corruption from freely entering the UK or funneling money through our financial system” for the first time.
An aspiration for the UK to be a “soft power superpower” with praise for the BBC as “the world’s most trusted broadcaster” despite Downing Street boycotting the station last year. The British monarchy is also cited as a contributor.
The review began in the wake of the 2019 general elections and aims to help define the prime minister’s vision of “global Britain” and shape the future strategic direction, after leaving the EU, until 2030.
It contains only a handful of passing references to the bloc, arguing instead for an “Indo-Pacific tilt” in which the UK deepens defense, diplomatic and trade relations with India, Japan, South Korea and Australia in opposition. to China.
“We will be the European partner with the broadest and most integrated presence in the Indo-Pacific,” the review reads, though it argues that investing in cyber warfare capabilities and deploying the new Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier to the region later this year will help send a message to Beijing.
But it is the commitment to significantly increase the cap on the number of nuclear warheads that is the most significant development, after the UK promised to reduce stocks after the end of the cold war.
Britain has far fewer warheads in stock than Russia, estimated at 4,300, the United States at 3,800, or China, which has around 320. But each warhead the UK possesses is estimated to have an explosive power of 100 kilotons. The atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima at the end of World War II was about 15 kilotons.
“A minimal, credible and independent nuclear deterrent, assigned to NATO defense, remains essential to ensure our security and that of our allies,” reads the UK review in a section explaining the context of increasing reserves. .
Stewart McDonald, the defense spokesman for the Scottish National Party, who opposes the Trident’s renewal, accused the government of being committed to an outdated defense policy: “Let the prime minister stand up and defend the international rules-based system before to announce in the same breath that the United Kingdom plans to violate its commitments to the international non-proliferation treaty is incredible ”.
China’s lobbyists said they believed the review did not go far enough. A spokesman for the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China said Beijing should not have been omitted from the list of countries involved in hostile state activities.
“This is despite repeated Chinese state-backed cyberattacks against UK targets and attempts by Chinese government agents to intimidate and threaten UK residents on British soil, and in stark contrast to Russia, Iran and other authoritarian states that have also targeted the UK, ”added the spokesperson.
More details of the plans for the armed forces will be included in an official defense command document to be released on Monday. That is expected to confirm a cut in the size of the British army to 72,500, not mentioned in the review document, and investments in killer drones without a pilot.
One idea not mentioned above is a tentative proposal to create a citizen volunteer force – a “civilian reservist cadre” – potentially to work alongside the military in response to future crises on the scale of the pandemic.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism