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UK to Lengthen Cap on Nuclear Warhead Stockpile

UK to Lengthen Cap on Nuclear Warhead Stockpile

April 2021

By Kingston Reif and Shannon Bugos

In a necessary departure from an earlier pledge, the UK announced in March that this would well well well raise the ceiling on its nuclear warhead stockpile by better than 40 percent above its outdated aim and would no longer post information about the selection of warheads it maintains in an operational house.

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The HMS Vengeance returning to its homeport on the River Clyde in Scotland in 2007. Vengeance is one of four Vanguard-class nuclear-armed submarines operated by the British Royal Navy. (Photo: Tam McDonald/MOD)The decision triggered concern across the sector and raised questions about the UK’s dedication to its nuclear disarmament obligations below Article VI of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

London will raise the ceiling on its total stockpile to 260 warheads by the guts of the final decade, in accordance to an constructed-in evaluation of safety, defense, vogue, and international policy revealed March 16. The brand new ceiling is a 44 percent expand above the level of 180 warheads that used to be first announced within the UK’s 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Overview and reiterated once more in 2015. (See ACT, December 2015; November 2010.)

The UK currently has about 195 nuclear warheads, of which 120 are operational, in accordance to an estimate by researchers at the Federation of American Scientists. The UK deploys its entire nuclear arsenal aboard four Leading edge-class submarines, every of which is armed with Trident II D5 submarine-launched ballistic missiles. No no longer up to one submarine is continuously at sea on deterrence patrol. London maintains that a submarine on patrol would require several days’ eye to open a missile.

The constructed-in evaluation attributed the factitious within the warhead stockpile to “the evolving safety environment, including the rising range of technological and doctrinal threats” and cited “risks to the UK from most necessary nuclear armed states, rising nuclear states, and say-sponsored nuclear terrorism.” Nonetheless the doc did no longer present additional detail about these threats.

UK International Secretary Dominic Raab justified the opinion to expand the warhead stockpile as “the final insurance coverage policy in opposition to the worst chance from hostile states” in an interview with the BBC.

UK Defense Minister Ben Wallace told the BBC on March 21 that the factitious is a response to what “the Russians and others had been up to within the outdated couple of years,” namely citing Russian investments in ballistic missile defense and new offensive capabilities.

The constructed-in evaluation also states that the UK will “no longer give public figures for our operational stockpile, deployed warhead or deployed missile numbers” as such “ambiguity complicates the calculations of doable aggressors, reduces the chance of deliberate nuclear use by those in quest of a first-strike help, and contributes to strategic stability.”

The Johnson government’s decision to expand the warhead stockpile used to be controversial for the duration of the UK.

Keir Starmer, the top of the Labour Celebration, acknowledged the opinion “breaks the target of successive prime ministers and depraved-birthday celebration efforts to reduce our nuclear stockpile. It doesn’t conceal, when, why, or for what strategic cause.”

International governments also criticized the new direction in policy.

Russian International Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova acknowledged on March 18 that “this circulation is at odds with London’s many statements about its dedication to obligations to promote nuclear disarmament below the NPT.”

“The British management’s decisions underscore the urgent want to straight involve U.S. nuclear allies within the efforts to reduce and restrict nuclear weapons, which Russia never ends to level out,” she acknowledged.

Requested about the UK decision to grow its nuclear stockpile, German International Minister Heiko Maas told German broadcaster Deutsche Welle, “We don’t desire nuclear weapons arsenals to grow. In case you don’t desire that to happen, you’re going to be ready to’t expand them.”

Stéphane Dujarric, spokesman for UN Secretary-Common António Guterres, raised comparable concerns in a March 17 press briefing. “[W]e conclude issue our concern at the UK’s decision to expand its nuclear weapons arsenal, which is contrary to its obligations below Article VI of the NPT,” he acknowledged. “It’s going to like a detrimental impression on international stability and efforts to pursue an international freed from nuclear weapons.”

Nonetheless Dujarric walked his remarks help the following day, pronouncing that “we’re no longer expressing a appropriate opinion” but reasonably the survey that the UK “announcement is rarely any longer consistent with the disarmament commitments…all nuclear-weapon states like undertaken.”

A spokesperson for UK Top Minister Boris Johnson acknowledged on March 16 that the NPT “doesn’t require us to reduce the selection of warheads. All of our actions are consistent with our nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty obligations.”

“The 260 resolve is a ceiling, no longer a aim,” the spokesperson added. “We can continue to preserve this below evaluation within the sunshine of the international safety environment and salvage adjustments as acceptable.”

Nonetheless skeptics warned that London will want to conclude more to assuage concerns earlier than the NPT evaluation conference, now scheduled to prefer situation in August after being postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. (See ACT, November 2020.)

“The UK will want to make clear the plan in which it plans to contribute to and lead on nuclear disarmament amidst these adjustments within the stockpile number,” acknowledged Heather Williams, a Stanton Nuclear Security Fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Skills and lecturer at King’s College London.

The synthetic in policy comes as London lobbies Washington to circulation forward with vogue of a newly designed, high-yield submarine-launched ballistic missile warhead, the W93.

The contemporary warhead for the UK’s Trident ballistic missiles is believed to be based mostly totally mostly on the U.S. W76 warhead. Adm. Charles Richard, commander of U.S. Strategic Recount, acknowledged in February 2020 that the UK has “a parallel replacement warhead program,” although London is responsible for the plan and production of its warhead lickety-split.

The Guardian reported in August that Wallace despatched a letter to Congress in April 2020 encouraging funding for the W93. “Congressional funding in [fiscal year 2021] for the W93 program will ensure that we continue to deepen the distinctive nuclear relationship between our two countries, enabling the UK to present glean and warranted continuous-at-sea deterrence for many years to attain,” he wrote.

Congress in December appropriated the Trump administration’s quiz of $53 million in fiscal 12 months 2021 to flee work on the W93, although no longer without controversy. (See ACT, January/February 2021.)

UK to Lengthen Cap on Nuclear Warhead Stockpile – Palms Control Today