United Kingdom Announces Nuclear Weapon Buildup
March 14 , 2021 (EIRNS)—The Guardian, citing Whitehall sources, reported the shocking news on March 12 that the Boris Johnson government plans to increase the number of warheads in the British nuclear stockpile from the current level of 180. The U.K.’s stockpile of nuclear weapons peaked at about 500 in the late 1970s, but had been gradually decreasing ever since as the perceived threat from the Soviet Union and now Russia had been assumed to be decreasing.
The full reasons for the anticipated move are not yet clear but it comes amid speculation it is designed to help persuade the U.S. to co-fund aspects of a Trident replacement warhead for the 2030s. Its costs, too, are uncertain. “If they are tearing up decades of progress in reducing numbers, it will be a slap in the face to the 190 other members of the [Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty] treaty, and will be regarded as a shocking breach of faith,” said David Cullen, the director of the Nuclear Information Service.
The New York Times first reported about a year ago that the Trump administration had included in its budget request funds for the development of a new warhead, the W93, to replace the W76 currently deployed on Trident submarine-launched ballistic missiles. The same New York Times report also quoted Adm. Charles Richard saying that the development of the W93 would also support a warhead replacement effort for the U.K.
But it isn’t just Britain’s nuclear forces that are going to get a boost. A few hours after the Guardian article appeared, the Telegraph posted an article reporting that Britain’s military is to get an £80 billion upgrade to include upgrades for the conventional forces as well, including the modernization of the army’s fleet of Challenger tanks as well as new frigates for the Royal Navy. The boost will also include the acquisition of so-called suicide drones which can loiter over a battlefield and then dive down on targets from above as they find them. Turkey supplied such weapons to Azerbaijan, which used them very effectively in last fall’s war against Armenia.
These moves form part of a major rethink of Britain’s defense, foreign policy and security outlook, with results to be revealed in two government documents over the coming fortnight, the Telegraph reports. The first, the U.K. Integrated Review, will be published on March 16. It will map out what the Prime Minister’s “Global Britain” vision means in practice, including a tilt to the Indo-Pacific. The second, the Defense Command Paper, will come out March 22. It will reveal a major modernization plan for the Armed Forces, seen as long overdue by defense chiefs.
The Telegraph also reports that there is a geopolitical component to the plan to increase the number of nuclear warheads in the U.K. stockpile: China’s “swelling” nuclear stockpile. Sam Armstrong, of the Henry Jackson Society foreign policy think tank, said: “The world is an increasingly dangerous place and this increased nuclear deterrent tells us all we need to know about where the long-term threat from China is heading.”