The UK prime minister Boris Johnson has said UK plans to increase its nuclear arsenal by 40%, but China should be brought into international efforts to reduce the world stockpile of nuclear weapons.
Speaking on Tuesday, as the British government published its Integrated Review of Security, Defense, Development and Foreign Policy, the UK prime minister highlighted China as posing a “great challenge” to Britain.
The policy would change the number of warheads the UK can possess from 180 to 260. Trident warheads are loaded onto ballistic missile submarines as part of the UK’s nuclear deterrence strategy, and at least one nuclear-armed sub is always on patrol.
This is UK’s first nuclear arsenal increase since the end of the Cold War. However, speaking to lawmakers, Johnson claimed that the UK had not turned its back on nuclear disarmament.
“We’re committed to nuclear arms reduction, and indeed we believe that China should be brought into strategic nuclear arms reduction,” he stated.
Johnson’s plan sees the UK shift its interests towards the Indo-Pacific region as the world’s “geopolitical and economic centre of gravity” moves east. The PM added that while there was internationally “deep concern over China’s mass detention of the Uighur people,” Johnson was keen to maintain cordial relations with Beijing and protect trade between the two states.
“We will also work with China where that is consistent with our values and interests, including building a stronger and positive economic relationship and address climate change,” Johnson noted.
The UK PM said the plan was a “new chapter” in UK history in which the country is now “open to the world, free to tread our own path.”
The new UK defense and foreign policy strategy came under considerable scrutiny on Tuesday morning.
Kate Hudson, the general secretary of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, told the Guardian that it was senseless of the cash-strapped government to pursue “grandiose, money-wasting spending on weapons of mass destruction.”
Labour leader Keir Starmer said there was “no obvious strategic purpose” behind Johnson’s decision to reverse years of nuclear disarmament.
The UK foreign secretary Dominic Raab defended the decision, describing it as the “ultimate insurance policy” against threats from hostile states.
Activists and commentators have accused Boris Johnson of turning his back on disarmament after his government signaled that it would drastically increase the limit placed on the UK’s nuclear stockpile.
According to the Guardian, a 100-page security review inked by the government states that the increase in the nuclear warheads cap is a response to “the evolving security environment” and “the developing range of technological and doctrinal threats” to the country.
Russia was deemed an “active threat” to the UK, while China was described as posing a “systematic challenge.” The document also warned that there is a “realistic possibility” that a terrorist group will carry out a chemical, biological or nuclear attack by 2030.
Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project, part of the Federation of American Scientists, said it was “deeply” disappointing to see Britain “end its nuclear weapons reduction policy and instead join the nuclear arms race by increasing its nuclear weapons stockpile.”
Others reacted to the news by demanding that the UK government explain how allowing for an increase in the nuclear stockpile would keep the country safer.
“Say goodbye to life on earth if they let ONE of those off,” read one of many disapproving comments.
Although billed as necessary to ensure Britain’s safety, the Trident program has been regularly criticized as needlessly expensive and poorly managed. In October, a Navy officer responsible for his submarine’s nuclear missiles reportedly showed up for duty drunk during a port call in the U.S.