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UK Nuclear Arsenal Plan Slammed as 'Irresponsible, Dangerous' Violation of International Law

"As the world wrestles with the pandemic and climate chaos, it beggars belief that our government is opting to increase Britain's nuclear arsenal."

An unarmed Trident II missile is fired during an exercise off the California coast. (Photo: Ronald Gutridge/U.S. Navy/Flickr/cc)

A unarmed Lockheed Martin Trident II D5 submarine-launched ballistic is fired from the USS Nebraska off the California coast on March 26, 2008. (Photo: Ronald Gutridge/U.S Navy/Flickr/cc)

In a move that peace campaigners say violates Britain's disarmament commitment under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday unveiled a plan that would increase the size of the nation's nuclear arsenal by up to 40%.

"A decision by the United Kingdom to increase its stockpile of weapons of mass destruction in the middle of a pandemic is irresponsible, dangerous, and violates international law."
—Beatrice Fihn, ICAN

The integrated defense review—entitled Global Britain in a Competitive Age—describes the Conservative-led government's vision for post-Brexit Britain's role in the world over the next decade.

Under the 2010 Strategic Defense and Security Review (pdf), the U.K. had previously planned to reduce its nuclear stockpile to not more than 180 warheads by the mid-2020s. However, the latest review states the policy has changed "in recognition of the evolving security environment, including the developing range of technological and doctrinal threats," and now "the U.K. will move to an overall nuclear weapon stockpile of no more than 260 warheads." 

Britain's nuclear arsenal consists entirely of Trident II D-5 submarine-launched ballistic missiles manufactured by Lockheed Martin in Sunnyvale, California. The missiles—which can each carry as many as 12 independently targeted thermonuclear warheads—are carried by the Royal Navy's four Vanguard-class submarines.

Anti-nuclear activists argue Britain's planned nuclear expansion is a violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), under which signatories must commit to gradual disarmament and to which successive British administrations have adhered.

"A decision by the United Kingdom to increase its stockpile of weapons of mass destruction in the middle of a pandemic is irresponsible, dangerous, and violates international law," Beatrice Fihn, executive director of the Geneva-based, Nobel Peace Prize-winning International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), said in a statement.

"While the majority of the world's nations are leading the way to a safer future without nuclear weapons by joining the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, the United Kingdom is pushing for a dangerous new nuclear arms race," added Fihn, referring to the landmark accord ratified earlier this year by over 50 nations—but none of the world's nine nuclear powers

Noting last month's agreement between the United States and Russia to extend the New START Treaty by five years, Kate Hudson, general secretary of the U.K.'s Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, told the Financial Times that "ratcheting up global tensions and squandering our resources is an irresponsible and potentially disastrous approach." 

"As the world wrestles with the pandemic and climate chaos, it beggars belief that our government is opting to increase Britain's nuclear arsenal," Hudson added.

The Scottish National Party (SNP), which governs the part of Britain where the nation's nuclear arsenal is based, also condemned the government's planned proliferation.

"Renewing Trident nuclear weapons was already a shameful and regressive decision, however, increasing the cap on the number of Trident weapons the U.K. can stockpile by more than 40% is nothing short of abhorrent," SNP defense spokesperson Stewart McDonald told The Independent.

McDonald added that "it speaks volumes of the Tory government's spending priorities that it is intent on increasing its collection of weapons of mass destruction—which will sit and gather dust unless the U.K. has plans to indiscriminately wipe out entire populations—rather than address the serious challenges and inequalities in our society that have been further exposed by the pandemic."

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