In March 2021 the UK Government integrated review of Security and Defence announced the intention of the UK government to increase the UK’s nuclear stockpiles from 195 to 260 nuclear warheads. In this post I will argue that this would cause a decrease in nuclear security throughout the world.
In November 2020 the UK government announced its intentions to increase government spending by £16.5 billion over four years. In March 2021 the Integrated review announced details of where this spending would be spent, including an increase of the number of nuclear warheads from an estimated 185, of which 120 are operational, to a cap of 260. The increase scraps a 2010 government plan to “reduce our total stockpile to no more than 180 by the mid 2020s”. The reasons for the reversal are unclear but seems to reflect fears of growing Chinese and Russian military capabilities, with UK secretary of defence specifically mentioning Russian investments in ballistic nuclear missile defence. The increase in both arms funding and nuclear warheads seem to align with the UK prime minister Boris Johnson’s vision for a post-Brexit ‘Global Britain’ to be a major player on the world stage.
- The biggest risk I see is the triggering of a new nuclear arms race. The UK ratified the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1970. The Treaty requires countries that have nuclear weapons to disarm, and those that don’t have them not to get them. By so flagrantly breaking the terms of the treaty, Britain signals that it is ok for other countries to break the terms, and may risk a new new nuclear arms race and era of international law-breaking. A counter-argument to this claim is that China and Russia have already engaged in a nuclear expansion program - possibly a nuclear arms race has already began, the UK is just responding, and Russian and Chinese nuclear expansion has already rendered the NPT effectively void.
- Risk of nuclear launch false alarms does not seem to increase. The UK’s nuclear weapons launch platform is four Vanguard-class submarines. Though the number of warheads is increasing, the number of launch platforms isn’t, so the risks of it wrongly appearing that the UK has launched a nuke probably doesn’t increase.
- Risks of accidental detonation, stealing, sabotage, leakage etc may be slightly increased due to having an increased number of warheads.
Some research on nuclear winter suggests that 100 Hiroshima- sized nuclear detonations would be enough to destroy the majority of human life on earth.Under such a model, it makes no sense for any country to have more than 100 warheads. Though the increase in warheads is negligible compared to the thousands of warheads owned by Russia and the USA, any increase in the numbers of ready to launch warheads can be seen as taking humanity closer to extinction through nuclear winter.
Some useful first actions for a campaign could be:
- Researching UK public opinion on nuclear weapons.
- Researching the history of the UK anti-nuclear movement. Establish a base rate for how often anti-nuclear campaigns have achieved their stated aims, and what worked in the past.
- Collating a list of UK anti-nuclear pressure groups, and getting their opinion on such a political campaign.
UK government docs
UK government docs (past policy)
Interview with UK Defence Secretary (Mentions warheads 0.755)