The UK's nuclear weapons policy
The UK's nuclear weapons policy was set out in detail in the 1998 Strategic Defence Review (SDR).Strategic Defence Review
In that document, the Government said that it is 'committed to the goal of the global elimination of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. We will work to create conditions in which even a minimum level of nuclear deterrence is no longer necessary. Until then, Britain will maintain the minimum level of nuclear deterrent necessary to prevent the possibility of major war in Europe. At the same time, we will work to remove the risk of proliferation of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons world-wide, while maintaining a robust defensive capability to protect British interests in the event of their use.'
'The Government's General Election Manifesto therefore promised to retain Trident as the ultimate guarantee of the United Kingdom's security while pressing for multilateral negotiations towards mutual, balanced and verifiable reductions in nuclear weapons. When we are satisfied with progress towards our goal of the global elimination of nuclear weapons, we will ensure that British nuclear weapons are included in negotiations.'
The threshold for any potential use of the UK's nuclear weapons remains as high as ever. Indeed, since the end of the Cold War, we and our NATO allies have made it clear that the circumstances in which any use of nuclear weapons might have to be contemplated are extremely remote. The fundamental role of the UK's nuclear weapons is political, not military and we have repeatedly stated that we would only consider their use in extreme circumstances of self-defence. We would not use our weapons, whether conventional or nuclear, contrary to international law.
UK actions to aid progress towards verifiable global nuclear disarmament
The UK remains firmly committed to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). It is the corner stone of the non-proliferation regime. We are recognised as a Nuclear Weapons State under the NPT and are justly recognised as the most forward-leaning of the Nuclear Weapons States. This Government has taken a large number of actions to promote nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.
Since 1997, among other measures, we have:
- Reduced our operationally available stockpile to fewer than 200 warheads, which represents a reduction of more than 70% in the potential explosive power of the deterrent since the end of the Cold War. We now have a truly minimum deterrent;
- Reduced the readiness of our nuclear forces. Only a single Trident submarine is now on deterrent patrol, carrying 48 warheads. The submarine on patrol is normally on several days 'notice to fire' and its missiles are de-targeted;
- Withdrawn the RAF's freefall nuclear bomb, leaving Trident as the only nuclear system (all other systems held in Cold War have been withdrawn e.g. Lance). We are the only nuclear power that has so far been prepared to take such an important step on the route to nuclear disarmament;
- Dismantled the last Chevaline warhead in April this year (2002);
- Signed and ratified the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT);
- Been more transparent about our nuclear and fissile material stockpiles;
- Placed fissile material no longer required for defence purposes under international safeguards.
- Placed the reprocessing of spent fuels from the defence Chapelcross reactor under international safeguards. All enrichment and reprocessing facilities in the United Kingdom are now liable to international inspection.
- Begun a national historical accounting for fissile material produced;
- Begun a programme to develop UK expertise in verifying the reduction and elimination of nuclear weapons internationally; and
- Released information regarding the circumstances of the seven 'accidents' involving UK nuclear weapons which have taken place since 1966 (and a similar incident which occurred in 1960).
In addition to the national measures set out above, we are heavily engaged internationally and in particular have also:
- Promoted the entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT): the Secretary of State gave a speech to this effect in November 2001 in New York;
- Continued to press for negotiations to begin at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva of a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty, which is generally agreed to be the next international step towards the goals of nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament;
- Agreed an Additional Protocol to our safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA) and EURATOM as part of a world-wide effort to strengthen international safeguards arrangements. Until this enters into force alongside those of our European allies, we continue to make the appropriate voluntary declarations;
- Signed and ratified the relevant protocols to the Treaty of Raratonga (South Pacific Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone);
- Signed and ratified the relevant protocols to the Treaty of Pelindaba (African Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone); and
- Continued to work with the other NWS to agree a Protocol to the Treaty of Bangkok (Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone).
The UK warmly welcomes the signing by President Bush and President Putin of the Treaty of Moscow in May this year. Under this Treaty both the US and Russia have committed themselves to making significant reductions in their strategic nuclear arsenals.
It is an agreement to the benefit of all and a sign of the growing friendship between the US and Russia. This can only enhance world security and stability and has been widely welcomed as a significant and positive move.
In the immediate future, a key priority is a verifiable, legally binding convention banning the future production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices (a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty). This is an essential step towards global elimination of nuclear weapons, and the Government is prepared to enter into immediate negotiations for such a treaty in the Conference on Disarmament.
There are no current plans for any replacement for Trident, and no decision on any possible successor system would be needed for several years. In line with the policy set out in the SDR, we intend to maintain a minimum capability to design and produce a successor to Trident should this prove necessary.
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