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More Nuclear Warheads

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DerekC

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The fundamental purpose of our nuclear weapons is to preserve peace, prevent coercion and deter aggression. A minimum, credible, independent nuclear deterrent, assigned to the defence of NATO, remains essential in order to guarantee our security and that of our Allies. In 2010 the Government stated an intent to reduce our overall nuclear warhead stockpile ceiling from not more than 225 to not more than 180 by the mid-2020s.

However, in recognition of the evolving security environment, including the developing range of technological and doctrinal threats, this is no longer possible, and the UK will move to an overall nuclear weapon stockpile of no more than 260 warheads.

To ensure that our deterrent is not vulnerable to pre-emptive action by potential adversaries, we will maintain our four submarines so that at least one will always be on a Continuous At Sea Deterrent patrol. Our submarines on patrol are at several days’ notice to fire and, since 1994, we do not target our missiles at any state. We remain committed to maintaining the minimum destructive power needed to guarantee that the UK’s nuclear deterrent remains credible and effective against the full range of state nuclear threats from any direction.
So we need more nuclear warheads “in recognition of the evolving security environment, including the developing range of technological and doctrinal threats”. And we are going to announce that we might use the weapons first, against a non-nuclear-armed state.

I seem to recall that we are committed to a gradual reduction as a signatory to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, and we spend a lot of time trying to prevent other countries from acquiring these things.

Have the inmates really now taken over the asylum? Oh no, there is a logical reason - it might go down well with Conservative voters, alongside the reduction in foreign aid.

Does anybody else care? Can anybody talk me out of finding this the most depressing news for a long time?
 
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birchesgreen

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A problem we have is that the Trident warhead is ageing and the US have had problems making new ones with increased cost implications, one theory with our announcement of more nukes is that it will encourage the US not to cancel any development work on new warheads.
 

DarloRich

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So we need more nuclear warheads “in recognition of the evolving security environment, including the developing range of technological and doctrinal threats”. And we are going to announce that we might use the weapons first, against a non-nuclear-armed state.

I seem to recall that we are committed to a gradual reduction as a signatory to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, and we spend a lot of time trying to prevent other countries from acquiring these things.

Have the inmates really now taken over the asylum? Oh no, there is a logical reason - it might go down well with Conservative voters, alongside the reduction in foreign aid.

Does anybody else care? Can anybody talk me out of finding this the most depressing news for a long time?
There is a lot of hyperbole here. Do I think we need more warheads? Doubtful. Do we need some? Absolutely. After all how much pause do you think the ability for our country to turn an aggressors country in to glass brings? Deterrence works. Its hard to push around someone carrying the biggest stick.

The only mention of first strike is this :

Independent: Mr Johnson’s review also stated that the UK reserves the right to withdraw assurances that it will not use nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear armed state “if the future threat of weapons of mass destruction ... or emerging technologies that could have a comparable impact makes it necessary”.
https://www.independent.co.uk/news/...uclear-weapons-uk-boris-johnson-b1818339.html

Which is not quite what you have suggested above. I would also take with a vast lorry load of salt the comments of the Russians. They are working on new nuclear weapons!

A problem we have is that the Trident warhead is ageing and the US have had problems making new ones with increased cost implications, one theory with our announcement of more nukes is that it will encourage the US not to cancel any development work on new warheads.


There is a political game going on with the UK trying to pressure the US into committing to a new missile system to replace the ageing trident. While our deterrence is independent ( and it is despite what clown towners might think) it is interdependent on the US missile system. Our missiles come from a common pool with the American missiles. I read an interesting article on this recently but now cant find it which focused on the political machinations going on to get the new missile approved and subsequent to that the construction of our new submarines. Without that American commitment we don't have a deterrence system.

BTW - The warheads on our missiles are British
 
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ainsworth74

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And we are going to announce that we might use the weapons first, against a non-nuclear-armed state.
That's not what the Integrated Review on Tuesday said:

The UK will not use, or threaten to use, nuclear weapons against any non-nuclear weapon state party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons 1968 (NPT). This assurance does not apply to any state in material breach of those non-proliferation obligations. However, we reserve the right to review this assurance if the future threat of weapons of mass destruction, such as chemical and biological capabilities, or emerging technologies that could have a comparable impact, makes it necessary.

So the policy is we would not use, or threaten to use, nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear state which is a party to the NPT. That list in full of states that are not party to the NPT:
  1. India
  2. Pakistan
  3. Israel
  4. North Korea
  5. South Sudan
Of those five, three have nuclear weapons (North Korea, India and Pakistan), one is ambiguous but you'd have to be crackers not to think they have them (Israel) and I struggle to see a scenario in which would ever need to threaten or use nuclear weapons on the remaining state (South Sudan) unless they developed or acquired nuclear weapons! The assurance is also removed from any non-nuclear state who is in material breach of the NPT which doesn't seem a particularly unreasonable position to take as does the position of being open to reviewing that assurance in light of changing circumstances particular with regards to chemical and biological weapons (something which we clearly have the capacity to produce ourselves but don't maintain useable stockpiles thereof so the only available deterrent on a similar scale is nuclear weapons) or with regards to someone coming up with something new. I will accept the latter is more muddy than perhaps would be nice however.

So I'm not convinced that we're suddenly changing our posture with regards to the use of nuclear weapons particularly with respect to first use or use against non-nuclear weapon states. But perhaps I've missed something in the Integrated Review or elsewhere?

I seem to recall that we are committed to a gradual reduction as a signatory to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, and we spend a lot of time trying to prevent other countries from acquiring these things.

We are and whilst increasing the available stockpile is a step in the wrong direction I wouldn't lose sight of the where we are on our journey in terms of nuclear disarmament compared to the other NPT recognised nuclear weapon states. We are (and will continue to be) the only member of the five that has a single nuclear weapon system and we have (and will continue to have) the smallest stockpile of warheads. There's far more work to be done by Russia and the US (both still possess thousands of warheads) on nuclear disarmament than there is by us! I also suspect that our position as trying to encourage others to continue the journey towards a nuclear free world isn't wholly undermined by our increase for the simple reason that the justification given does, to me, hang together.

Again from the Integrated Review:

We have previously identified risks to the UK from major nuclear armed states, emerging nuclear states, and state-sponsored nuclear terrorism. Those risks have not gone away. Some states are now significantly increasing and diversifying their nuclear arsenals. They are investing in novel nuclear technologies and developing new ‘warfighting’ nuclear systems which they are integrating into their military strategies and doctrines and into their political rhetoric to seek to coerce others. The increase in global competition, challenges to the international order, and proliferation of potentially disruptive technologies all pose a threat to strategic stability. The UK must ensure potential adversaries can never use their capabilities to threaten us or our NATO Allies. Nor can we allow them to constrain our decision-making in a crisis or to sponsor nuclear terrorism.

Now, personally, I'm not convinced (even as someone who believes we maintain the nuclear deterrent) that responding to the above necessarily requires increasing the available warheads from not more than 225 (the pre-2010 stockpile) so moving to not more than 260 I'm dubious about. But I can see the logic in ditching the target of not more than 180 which was set back in 2010. The world has, sadly, gotten more unstable since 2010 (back in 2010, for instance, Russia wasn't seen as the problem it now is, that only really got started up again post Ukraine civil war in 2014). Certainly Russia is modernising their existing weapons capabilities (new ballistic missile submarines, new ground and sub launched ballistic missiles are all entering or have entered service) and is claiming to have developed or be developing all sorts of new and interesting nuclear weapons systems (nuclear powered torpedoes and cruise missiles, a hypersonic glide vehicle able to evade convention defences, etc) though I think a hefty dose of salt should be applied to those claims! Plus China similarly is taking steps to improve their nuclear weapons capabilities including new ground and sea based ballistic missiles and a new ballistic missile submarine (though their stockpile is only a hundred or so warheads larger than ours so the scale is clearly smaller).

We are, and remain, signatory to the NPT but there is a certain element of tilting at windmills going on at the moment and I'm not sure that the UK increasing the total available warhead stockpile by less than a hundred really registers as much more than a drop in the ocean sadly.

Can anybody talk me out of finding this the most depressing news for a long time?

I don't think so. It is depressing and it is concerning. As I said before I'm someone who supports the maintenance of the UK nuclear deterrent and I think it's depressing that we're increasingly a stockpile full stop let alone beyond the pre-2010 level of 225 (if the decision had been to cancel the reduction to 180 and return to 225 of the pre-2010 era that would have been depressing but far less so than actively increasing it beyond that level). I suppose the only thing I would say is that I don't personally see it necessarily as being Boris doing a spot of willy waving and playing to the base. Certainly in regards to Tory voters the polling suggests that he doesn't need to do that right now!
 

birchesgreen

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The warheads are indeed British made but to a US design. Well with some changes, obviously nowadays they'll have massive union flag branding on the side.
 

DarloRich

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The warheads are indeed British made but to a US design. Well with some changes, obviously nowadays they'll have massive union flag branding on the side.


the Government say the warheads are designed in the UK. OBVIOUSLY they will have to retain common parts like the guidance systems and reentry shields to fit into the common missile. For this reason i am sure "our" warhead is similar to the American one for the simple reason it has to fit onto the same missile.
 

TheEdge

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The warheads are indeed British made but to a US design. Well with some changes, obviously nowadays they'll have massive union flag branding on the side.

The British warheads are not just the US ones with "Made in the UK" written on the side in crayon. They were designed and built by AWE at Aldermaston, but as @DarloRich says they will obviously share some commonality with the US warheads as they need to fit on the same missile.

So the policy is we would not use, or threaten to use, nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear state which is a party to the NPT. That list in full of states that are not party to the NPT:
  1. India
  2. Pakistan
  3. Israel
  4. North Korea
  5. South Sudan

That NPT line could basically be translated as "we reserve the right to nuke North Korea if we need to", I cant see the other four in any sensible scenario becoming a target of the UK forces. Unless there ends up being a proper regional war between India and Pakistan but then I'd imagine it would be a UN peacekeeping style mission.

As to Russia they seem to be up to all sorts of mischief. Not only have we got confirmed things like the T-14 and Borei subs and various other developments but there are semi secret or "leaked" systems and developments. The Dead Hand system still exists and has possibly been updated and then a few years ago they accidently (course not) allowed the press to catch sight of plans for salted nuclear weapons, which are disturbing.
 

DarloRich

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That NPT line could basically be translated as "we reserve the right to nuke North Korea if we need to", I cant see the other four in any sensible scenario becoming a target of the UK forces. Unless there ends up being a proper regional war between India and Pakistan but then I'd imagine it would be a UN peacekeeping style mission.

Dunno - South Sudan could be wrong uns ;) (more likely they haven't singed NPT barbecue a) they are new and b) haven't got a pot to piddle in )

I cant see North Korea becoming a target either unless they have fired weapons at us. We simply aren't going to risk China getting upset and starting the dominoes falling. Even if the North Koreans attack South Korea is any rational UK leader going to trade London for Seoul or Pyongyang? Is any rational ( thank god!) US leader going to trade San Francisco for the same cities? Would you? I wouldn't.

While we all know that is unlikely the key to nuclear restraint is the thought, however small, that someone might make that trade.
 

TheEdge

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Dunno - South Sudan could be wrong uns ;) (more likely they haven't singed NPT barbecue a) they are new and b) haven't got a pot to piddle in )

I cant see North Korea becoming a target either unless they have fired weapons at us. We simply aren't going to risk China getting upset and starting the dominoes falling. Even if the North Koreans attack South Korea is any rational UK leader going to trade London for Seoul or Pyongyang? Is any rational ( thank god!) US leader going to trade San Francisco for the same cities? Would you? I wouldn't.

While we all know that is unlikely the key to nuclear restraint is the thought, however small, that someone might make that trade.

Oh no I doubt there ever will be a reason to first strike Pyongyang. But that ambiguity means there is the ability to do it, a threat in being if you want. Frankly I believe if Pyongyang ever did something over the top China will come down on them like a ton of bricks. I'm sure Beijing would rather keep the trade money flowing from the West than enter into a full on nuclear peninsula war over the Koreas.
 

DarloRich

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Oh no I doubt there ever will be a reason to first strike Pyongyang. But that ambiguity means there is the ability to do it, a threat in being if you want. Frankly I believe if Pyongyang ever did something over the top China will come down on them like a ton of bricks. I'm sure Beijing would rather keep the trade money flowing from the West than enter into a full on nuclear peninsula war over the Koreas.

Agreed - it is just not in the interests of China to allow their wayward "friend" to cause too much trouble. A bit of sabre rattling is OK as it diverts the attention of the other large powers away from what China are up to in relation to their economic and soft power expansion. Too much is bad for business!
 

ainsworth74

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I don't think we (or I suppose more accurately Japan, South Korea and the US) have much to worry about in terms of North Korea launching a first strike against anyone in particular. My (non-expert) view is that the North Korean leadership see them as very much being a hedge against forced regime change by an outside actor rather than a method of enforcing their will by violence on outside states. I think it's telling for instance that the North Korean programme kicked into high gear during the peak of the 'War on Terror' in the early 2000s. Indeed North Korea was a member of Bush's "Axis of Evil" announced in January 2002! If I'm the dictator of North Korea and the US is clearly in a very interventionist mood including invading Iraq in March 2003 then having nuclear weapons as a hedge against enforced regime change seems sensible. Would the US have invaded Iraq and seen Saddam executed if he had had nuclear weapons? I think it's doubtful. A lesson reinforced in March 2011 with the intervention in Libya during which Gadhafi ended up being killed in a drainage pipe with bayonet inserted into his rear.

The worry, for me, with North Korea's nuclear weapons is what happens if the Kim regime collapses? Who has control of the weapons? What if North Korea shatters into a some warlord ruled hellhole (considering the importance and power of the military it is not beyond imagination that some enterprising Generals will try and carve out their own little enclaves) will one of them decide to nuke another? Sell the weapons to the highest bidder? As long as the Kim's are in charge there isn't really anything to worry about from North Korea's nuclear weapons as it would be extremely counter to their own personal interests to use them.

I think the sad reality is that it's probably in everyone's interest to throw the North Korean people under the bus of the brutal regime they live under as to do anything else would just be too costly in any combination of lives or money whether you're China, South Korea, Japan, the United States or anyone else.
 

TheEdge

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The worry, for me, with North Korea's nuclear weapons is what happens if the Kim regime collapses? Who has control of the weapons? What if North Korea shatters into a some warlord ruled hellhole (considering the importance and power of the military it is not beyond imagination that some enterprising Generals will try and carve out their own little enclaves) will one of them decide to nuke another? Sell the weapons to the highest bidder? As long as the Kim's are in charge there isn't really anything to worry about from North Korea's nuclear weapons as it would be extremely counter to their own personal interests to use them.

The other big variable with North Korea is what actually works? There have been several times where Scud-style mobile missile launch systems have been paraded, the footage has been watched and rewatched by analysts and the verdict was "thats most likely a plywood mock up". They have warheads but can they practically deliver them? Yields appear to be similar to those of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs, so while devastating they are not the MIRV style doomsday weapons of other nuclear states. The same applies to their conventional ground forces kit. They may have functional modern developments of T-64 and T-72 tanks. Their Air Force pilots have laughably small number of hours flying per year.
 

notlob.divad

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The worry, for me, with North Korea's nuclear weapons is what happens if the Kim regime collapses? Who has control of the weapons? What if North Korea shatters into a some warlord ruled hellhole (considering the importance and power of the military it is not beyond imagination that some enterprising Generals will try and carve out their own little enclaves) will one of them decide to nuke another? Sell the weapons to the highest bidder? As long as the Kim's are in charge there isn't really anything to worry about from North Korea's nuclear weapons as it would be extremely counter to their own personal interests to use them.
I think if that happened in the current climate you would find the Chinese border very rapidly redrawn in the vicinity of the 38th parallel, and very little anyone else would do to stop it. The future stability of the USA's outreach program directly facing China across a land border may lead to different set of tensions in the region, but fundamentally the world would give tacit approval for any action because as you allude the consequence of anything else would be much wider reaching.
 
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