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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Doctrine and Policy

Prime Minister Clement Richard Attlee wrote in a Cabinet Memorandum "International Control of Atomic Energy" on 05 November, 1945, that "I start with the following general thesis. The advent of the atomic bomb presents us with a new situation, in that there is now a weapon of transcendent power against which there can be no real defence. Its use in war can only lead to mutual destruction and the collapse of civilisation. It is therefore imperative that the powerful nations of the world should plainly recognise this fact, and abandon all out-of-date ideas of power politics Avhich, though they may for a time produce an uneasy equilibrium, are bound in the end to lead to a violent clash of interests, and to war. The only hope for the world is that we should all lay aside our nationalistic ideas, and strive without reservation to bring about an international relationship in Avhich war is entirely" ruled out. "

In order to remain a world nuclear power, Britain decided in 1945 to create a weapons programme with the aim of producing atomic bombs, using plutonium as the fissile material in the bombs. Until 1945, Britain had collaborated with the Americans but the latter passed an act in 1946 forbidding information on weapons being passed to another country. The United States Government was resolved not to disclose detailed information about the practical industrial application of atomic energy until satisfactory safeguards against its use for destructive purposes had been devised. On 03 October 1952, the first British atomic test was carried out aboard a ship moored off the north west coast of Australia.

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Francis Pym) stated 24 January 2016 : "For good or ill, we live in a world where nuclear weapons exist. We seek increasingly to control them in various ways, but we cannot disinvent them. The fact of their existence is built into the entire structure of security and deterrent 673 balance between East and West. Horrendous though the instruments are, that structure and balance have made a crucial contribution to keeping the peace in the NATO area for half a lifetime now, and they have kept peace, not just nuclear peace. I think we sometimes allow the comfortable-sounding word "conventional", which has settled into the vocabulary of defence debate, to blur our memory of what non-nuclear war was like. In the six years from 1939 that "conventional" war took its immense toll of something like 50 million lives. The scars of that remain today. NATO needs to deter all kinds of military aggression. The Alliance's nuclear armoury is part of an interlocking system of comprehensive deterrence, not just a counter to the Soviet nuclear armoury. This armoury is vital if the Alliance is to present to a would-be aggressor, before he starts any aggression at all against NATO, a clear chain of terrible risk."

According to the July 1998 Strategic Defense Review [SDR], in current circumstances, nuclear forces continue to make a unique contribution to ensuring stability and preventing crisis escalation. They also help guard against any possible re-emergence of a strategic scale threat to British security. The Review confirmed that in a changing and uncertain world, Britain continues to require a credible and effective minimum nuclear deterrent based on the Trident submarine force. This has provided Britain's only nuclear system since the withdrawal of the last of the RAF's free-fall nuclear bombs earlier this year, performing both the strategic and sub-strategic role. Britain's Trident force provides an operationally independent strategic and sub-strategic nuclear capability in support of NATO's strategy of war prevention and as the ultimate guarantee of British national security.

On 21 February 2000 the Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon) stated "Britain's minimum nuclear deterrent is a necessary element of the security of this country, particularly while large nuclear arsenals and risks of proliferation remain. That was a key conclusion of the Government's strategic defence review. When we are satisfied that sufficient progress has been made to allow us to include British nuclear weapons in negotiations without endangering our security interests, we shall do so. .. The purpose of deterrence is to deter those who might be tempted to attack this country's security interests, and the retention of nuclear weapons is designed to deter any such aggression. That is the purpose of deterrence; that is why the United Kingdom has an independent nuclear deterrent; and that is why the Government, subject to what I set out earlier, will retain that deterrent."

Paragraph 105F of the International Court of Justice's Advisory Opinion on the legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons, given in July 1996, states thatThere exists an obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control". The UK had already signed and ratified the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) in 1968. Article VI of the NPT commits all Parties to the Treaty to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control".

At the 2000 NPT Review Conference the United Kingdom, together with other participating countries, gave an unequivocal undertaking to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals leading to nuclear disarmament to which all states are committed under Article VI of the NPT. At the Review Conference the UK, together with other participating countries, also agreed to the establishment in the Conference of Disarmament of an appropriate body with a mandate to deal with nuclear disarmament.

Jeremy Corbyn used his first Labour conference to set out the new direction of the party. UK opposition leader will continue to fight for nuclear disarmament, in spite of opposition from senior members of his own party. Corbyn used his first keynote speech at the Labour Party conference 29 September 2015 to reiterate his position that spending 100 billion pound (US$152 billion) on replacing the Trident weapons system is wrong.

"I don't believe that 100 billion pound (US$152 billion) spent on a new generation of nuclear weapons taking up a quarter of our defense budget is the right way forward. I believe Britain should honor our obligations under the non-proliferation treaty and lead in making progress on international nuclear disarmament, he said.

"But in developing our policy through the review we must make sure that all the jobs and skills of everyone in every aspect of the defense industry are fully protected and fully utilized so that we gain from this, we don't lose from this," he said at the Brighton summit.

On 23 November 2015 the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) 2015 was published. This was informed by a refreshed National Security Risk Assessment undertaken for the National Security Council. The White Paper confirmed the Government’s commitment to maintaining the UK’s independent nuclear deterrent, for as long as the global security situation demands. Minister of State for Defence Procurement Philip Dunne stated "Although we have unilaterally reduced our nuclear warhead stockpile since our declaration to do so in SDSR 2010 – so that now our submarines carry 40 rather than 48 warheads on patrol – no other nuclear state has followed suit during this decade. In fact, far from it. Russia is embarked on a programme of modernisation of its nuclear submarine fleet, North Korea has tested both its missiles and its warheads, Iran only recently agreed to place its programme on hold and subject to international verification."

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