The UK Nuclear Horn: Daniel 7

Nuclear Notebook: How many nuclear weapons does the United Kingdom have in 2021?

By Hans M. Kristensen, Matt Korda, May 11, 2021

Editor’s note: The Nuclear Notebook is researched and written by Hans M. Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project with the Federation of American Scientists, and Matt Korda, a research associate with the project. The Nuclear Notebook column has been published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists since 1987.

Of all the nuclear weapon states, the United Kingdom has moved the furthest toward establishing a minimum nuclear deterrent. The United Kingdom has a stockpile of approximately 225 nuclear warheads, of which up to 120 are operationally available for deployment on four Vanguard-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs). This estimate is based on publicly available information regarding the size of the British nuclear arsenal, conversations with UK officials, and analysis of the nuclear forces structure. The SSBNs, each of which has 16 missile tubes, constitute the United Kingdom’s sole nuclear platform, and submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) comprise its sole nuclear delivery system. The United Kingdom is the only nuclear weapon state that operates a posture with a single deterrence system (Table 1).

The United Kingdom’s nuclear posture

Carrying approximately 40 warheads, one of the four SSBNs is deployed at sea at all times in what is called a Continuous At-Sea Deterrent (CASD) posture. Two of the submarines remain in port and can be deployed on short notice, while the fourth remains in overhaul and could not be quickly deployed, if at all. The patrol SSBN operates at “reduced alert;” that is, its capability to fire its missiles is measured in days, rather than a few minutes (as during the Cold War). Its missiles are also kept in a “detargeted” mode—target coordinates are stored in the submarine’s launch control center instead of in the navigational system of each missile.

To safeguard against the degradation of its nuclear command, control, and communications in wartime, the United Kingdom uses a system of handwritten letters to command its submarines in the event an adversarial strike incapacitates the country’s leadership. On their first day in office, the Prime Minister is expected to offer preplanned instructions regarding the United Kingdom’s nuclear response, which are said to include options like “Put yourself under the command of the US, if it is still there,” “Go to Australia,” “Retaliate,” or “Use your own judgment” (Norton-Taylor 2016).

British SSBNs, which carry out secondary tasks such as scientific data collection while on patrol, are based in southwestern Scotland at the Naval Base Clyde at Faslane, which has access to the Irish Sea. Nonoperational warheads are stored at the Royal Naval Armaments Depot (RNAD) at Coulport, approximately three kilometers west of the base.

The United Kingdom’s nuclear weapons stockpile

Unlike the United States, the United Kingdom has not declassified the history of its nuclear weapons stockpile size. Over the past two decades, however, the United Kingdom has made several declarations about reducing the sizes of its nuclear inventory and operationally available warheads. In 2006, the UK government announced that they would be “reducing the number of operationally available warheads from fewer than 200 to fewer than 160” (Ministry of Defence 2006, 17). It is believed that around that time, the UK nuclear stockpile included 240 to 245 nuclear warheads. In May 2010, Foreign Secretary William Hague declared, “[f]or the first time, the government will make public the maximum number of warheads that the United Kingdom will hold in its stockpile—in [the] future, our overall stockpile will not exceed 225 nuclear warheads” (Hague 2010, col. 181). The Ministry of Defence subsequently revealed that these reductions to a 225-warhead ceiling had already been completed by May 2010 (UK Ministry of Defence 2013).

Later that year, in October 2010, the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) declared that the United Kingdom would “reduce the number of warheads onboard each submarine from 48 to 40; reduce our requirement for operationally available warheads from fewer than 160 to no more than 120; reduce our overall nuclear weapon stockpile to no more than 180; [and] reduce the number of operational missiles on each submarine” (HM Government 2010, 38). In June 2011, the Secretary of Defence announced to parliament that some of these proposed changes had already been implemented: “at least one of the VANGUARD class ballistic missile submarines (SSBN) now carries a maximum of 40 nuclear warheads” (Fox 2011).

In its 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review, the UK Government reaffirmed its plans to cut the size of the nuclear arsenal. By this point, the number of operationally available nuclear warheads had already been reduced from fewer than 160 to no more than 120, and all Vanguard- class SSBNs “now carry 40 nuclear warheads and no more than eight operational missiles” (Fallon 2015). The 2015 strategic review restated that the overall size of the nuclear stockpile, including non-deployed warheads, was expected to decrease to no more than 180 by the mid-2020s (HM Government 2015, 34). Despite these stated intentions, it is believed that throughout the decade the overall size of the UK nuclear stockpile remained constant, at approximately 225 nuclear weapons in total. Warheads removed from service during this time were put into storage, but not dismantled.

In its 2021 Integrated Review, the UK Government suddenly reversed decades of gradual disarmament policies and announced a significant increase in the upper limit of the United Kingdom’s nuclear inventory, up to no more than 260 warheads (HM Government 2021, 76). This decision joins the United Kingdom together with China and Russia as the three members of the so- called P5 NPT countries to increase the sizes of their nuclear stockpiles. In clarifying statements, UK officials noted that the target of 180 warheads promised in the 2010 and 2015 SDSRs “was indeed a goal, but it was never reached, and it has never been our cap,” stating that 225 remained the cap even after the 2015 SDSR explicitly declared that “we will reduce the overall nuclear weapon stockpile to no more than 180 warheads” (Liddle 2021; HM Government 2015, 34). In a speech to the Conference on Disarmament, foreign minister James Cleverly stated that the 260 warheads “is a ceiling, not a target, and is not our current stockpile” (Cleverly 2021).

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Because the United Kingdom has not declassified the history of its nuclear weapons stockpile size, illustrating how the stockpile has fluctuated over the years comes with considerable uncertainty. Based on documents previously published by the British government, statements made by government officials, and analysis of the British nuclear weapons force structure over the years. Figure 1 displays our estimates for the overall size of the United Kingdom’s nuclear arsenal between 1953 and 2025.

The degree to which the Johnson’s government’s policy change will affect the United Kingdom’s targeting requirements remains to be seen; however, the Integrated Review states that the stockpile increase comes in response to “the evolving security environment, including the developing range of technological and doctrinal threats” (HM Government 2021, 76). After publication of the review, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace explained this included Russian ballistic missile defenses: “We have to . . . maintain a credible deterrent to reflect and review what the Russians and others have been up to in the last few years. We have seen Russia invest strongly in ballistic missile defense. They have planned and deployed new capabilities. That means if [the UK deterrent is] going to remain credible, it has to do the job . . . . A quite clear study of how effectively warheads work and how they reenter the atmosphere means you have to make sure they’re not vulnerable to ballistic missile defense. Otherwise they no longer become credible” (Wallace 2021).

It is notable that while Russia is singled out as “the most acute direct threat to the UK,” the Integrated Review also includes what appears to be a subtle—but clear—nuclear threat against Iran, despite the fact that Iran does not have nuclear weapons: After assuring that “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),” the document states that “[t]his assurance does not apply to any state in material breach of those non-proliferation obligations” (HM Government 2021, 77).

In addition to the warhead cap increase, the Integrated Review also reversed longstanding transparency practices and stated that the United Kingdom will “no longer give public figures for our operational stockpile, deployed warhead or deployed missile numbers” (HM Government 2021, 77). This is a mirror image of the Trump administration’s abrupt decision to keep the nuclear stockpile number secret after nearly a decade of relative transparency under the Obama administration (Kristensen 2020).

To increase its overall stockpile, the UK will likely bring warheads previously retired for dismantlement back into the stockpile. Under the UK Atomic Weapons Establishment’s (AWE) Stockpile Reduction Program, warhead disassembly is undertaken at AWE Burghfield. According to the Ministry of Defence,

The main components from warheads disassembled as part of the stockpile reduction programme have been processed in various ways according to their composition and in such a way that prevents the warhead from being reassembled. A number of warheads identified in the programme for reduction have been modified to render them unusable whilst others identified as no longer being required for service are currently stored and have not yet been disabled or modified (UK Ministry of Defense 2013).

These reserve warheads are either stored at the Royal Naval Armaments Depot Coulport or at AWE Burghfield. It is unclear how many stored warheads could be quickly reconstituted in light of the UK Government’s recent decision to raise its warhead ceiling; however, it is possible that a few dozen warheads could be returned to the stockpile over the coming years.

Nuclear modernization and the UK sea-based deterrent

Despite decades of nuclear weapons reductions, the United Kingdom—with broad parliamentary support—has committed to replacing its current fleet of Vanguard-class SSBNs with brand-new boats. The new Dreadnought-class SSBNs are expected to enter service in the early 2030s and have a service life of at least 30 years (Mills 2020). The four boats will be named Dreadnought, Valiant, Warspite, and King George VI (UK Ministry of Defence 2019).

The Dreadnought-class SSBNs will have new “Quad Pack” Common Missile Compartments that are being designed in cooperation with the US Navy to also equip the United States’ new Columbia-class SSBNs. Each “Quad Pack” Common Missile Compartment holds four launch tubes, and each Dreadnought-class SSBN will have three Quad Packs onboard for a planned total of 12 launch tubes—a reduction from the 16 launch tubes currently carried by the UK’s Vanguard-class submarines. Technical problems and quality control issues have resulted in the delayed delivery of the missile launch tubes for the Common Missile Compartment; however, in April 2020 the first four tubes were delivered and have since been welded into the first UK Quad Pack (UK Ministry of Defence 2020a). In July 2020, two more missile tubes were received by the submarine building facility at Barrow-in-Furness, meaning that half of the tubes required for the lead Dreadnought boat have now been delivered and are in the process of being integrated into the pressure hull (UK Ministry of Defence 2020a).

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The United Kingdom’s nuclear deterrent relies heavily on American nuclear infrastructure, to the point where its own independence has long been in question. The United Kingdom does not own its own missiles, but has title to 58 Trident SLBMs from a pool of missiles shared with the United States Navy. The UK Government is also participating in the US Navy’s current program to extend the service life of the Trident II D5 (the life-extended version will be known as D5LE) missile to the early 2060s (Mills 2021).

Additionally, the current UK warhead, which is called Holbrook, is believed to be highly similar to the United States’ W76-0 warhead—so similar that it has appeared in the US Department of Energy’s “W76 Needs” maintenance schedule (Kristensen 2006). As part of its Nuclear Warhead Capability Sustainment Programme, the United Kingdom is currently refurbishing its warheads for incorporation onto the US-supplied Mk4A aeroshell, which is an upgraded version of the Mk4 that includes an improved MC4700 Arming, Fuzing, and Firing (AF&F) system. UK officials have suggested that “the Mk4A programme will not increase the destructive power of the warhead;” however, the new AF&F system reportedly includes new technology that significantly increases the system’s ability to conduct hard-target kill missions (Norton-Taylor 2011; UK Ministry of Defence 2016; Kristensen, McKinzie, and Postol 2017).

These warhead upgrades are taking place at the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) facility at Aldermaston, from where the warheads are transported on trucks north to the Royal Naval Armaments Depot (RNAD) Coulport, near Glasgow. Warhead scheduled for dismantlement are shipped to AWE Burghfield eight kilometers (4.8 miles) northeast of Aldermaston. The UK disarmament group Nukewatch has tracked these transports and assesses that by the end of 2020, two SSBNs had been loaded with Mk4A-upgraded warheads (Nukewatch 2020).

In February 2020, the UK defence secretary announced the start of a new warhead program to eventually replace the current warhead (UK Ministry of Defence 2020b). The announcement was preempted by the commander of US Strategic Command, who leaked during Senate testimony that the United States’ W93/Mk7 program “will also support a parallel Replacement Warhead Program in the United Kingdom” (Richard 2020). In April 2020, the UK defence secretary sent a letter to US members of Congress, lobbying them in support of the new warhead and describing it as “critical . . . to the long-term viability of the UK’s nuclear deterrent” (Borger 2020). The UK Ministry of Defence subsequently suggested that just like the similarities between the current US and UK warheads, the UK’s replacement warhead will be very similar to the US W93: “It’s not exactly the same warhead but . . . there is a very close connection in design terms and production terms” (Lovegrove 2020).

Concerns and issues for the future

The increasing costs and poor management of the United Kingdom’s nuclear complex have long been sources of frustration. The 2015 SDSR suggested that the costs of building the four new submarines would be £31 billion, an increase of £6 billion from 2011 estimates (HM Government 2015, 36, 2011, 10). The UK Government also set aside a contingency fund of £10 billion to cover possible cost overruns. In December 2020, the UK Ministry of Defence reported to Parliament that approximately £8.5 billion had been spent on the program as of March 2020, of which £1.6 billion had been spent over the previous 12 months (UK Ministry of Defence 2020a). Altogether, the National Audit Office (NAO) reported in 2018 that the Ministry of Defence was facing an “affordability gap” of £2.9 billion in its military nuclear spending between 2018 and 2028 (National Audit Office 2018, 36).

In addition to these longstanding cost concerns, in 2020 both the NAO and the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee published reports indicating that three crucial nuclear infrastructure projects would be delayed between 1.7 and 6.3 years, with costs increasing by over £1.3 billion due to poor management (National Audit Office 2020, 21; Committee of Public Accounts 2020, 3). One of these infrastructure projects is MENSA, a new warhead assembly and disassembly facility at Aldermaston that has been delayed by six years and overspent by 146 percent (National Audit Office 2020, 4). Other critical nuclear projects—such as Pegasus, for handling enriched uranium components, and Hydrus, for conducting hydrodynamic-radiographic experiments—have been plagued by similar issues (Plant 2020).

In a bid to resolve some of these issues related to management and oversight, in November 2020 the Ministry of Defence announced a renationalization of the Atomic Weapons Establishment, which had previously been government-owned but contractor-operated via a consortium led by Lockheed Martin (Wallace 2020).

The Another future concern for the United Kingdom’s nuclear deterrent lies with the prospect of Scottish independence. Naval Base Clyde, where the United Kingdom’s SSBNs are ported, is in Scotland, at Faslane on the Gare Loch. A 2013 Scottish government white paper clearly stated that if Scotland voted for independence the following year, “we would make early agreement on the speediest safe removal of nuclear weapons a priority. This would be with a view to the removal of Trident within the first term of the Scottish Parliament following independence” (Scottish Government 2013, 14). Although Scotland narrowly voted to remain part of the United Kingdom, it is increasingly likely that the United Kingdom’s decision to exit the European Union—a decision opposed by the majority of Scotland—could soon trigger another referendum. Although several potential relocation candidates have been identified by external analysts—such as HM Naval Base Devonport in Plymouth—the costs and logistics involved with relocating the United Kingdom’s SSBN force would be prohibitive and could prompt the UK Government to reconsider its current plans to modernize its nuclear deterrent (Chalmers and Chalmers 2014; Norton-Taylor 2013).

The British nuclear horn enters the fray: Daniel 7

Boris Johnson’s March 16 speech before the British Parliament was reminiscent, at least in tone, to that of Chinese President Xi Jinping in October 2019, on the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Republic of China.

The comparison is quite apt if we remember the long-anticipated shift in Britain’s foreign policy and Johnson’s conservative Government’s pressing need to chart a new global course in search for new allies – and new enemies.

Xi’s words in 2019 signaled a new era in Chinese foreign policy, where Beijing hoped to send a message to its allies and enemies that the rules of the game were finally changing in its favor, and that China’s economic miracle – launched under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping in 1992 – would no longer be confined to the realm of wealth accumulation, but would exceed this to politics and military strength, as well.

In China’s case, Xi’s declarations were not a shift per se, but rather a rational progression. However, in the case of Britain, the process, though ultimately rational, is hardly straightforward. After officially leaving the European Union in January 2020, Britain was expected to articulate a new national agenda. This articulation, however, was derailed by the COVID-19 pandemic and the multiple crises it generated.

Several scenarios, regarding the nature of Britain’s new agenda, were plausible:

One, that Britain maintains a degree of political proximity to the EU, thus avoiding more negative repercussions of Brexit;

Two, for Britain to return to its former alliance with the US, begun in earnest in the post-World War II era and the formation of NATO and reaching its zenith in the run up to the Iraq invasion in 2003;

Finally, for Britain to play the role of the mediator, standing at an equal distance among all parties, so that it may reap the benefits of its unique position as a strong country with a massive global network.

A government’s report, “Global Britain in a Competitive Age”, released on March 16, and Johnson’s subsequent speech, indicate that Britain has chosen the second option.

The report clearly prioritises the British-American alliance above all others, stating that “The United States will remain the UK’s most important strategic ally and partner”, and underscoring Britain’s need to place greater focus on the ‘Indo-Pacific’ region, calling it “the centre of intensifying geopolitical competition”.

Therefore, unsurprisingly, Britain is now set to dispatch a military carrier to the South China Sea, and is preparing to expand its nuclear arsenal from 180 to 260 warheads, in obvious violation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The latter move can be directly attributed to Britain’s new political realignment which roughly follows the maxim of ‘the enemy of my friend is my enemy’.

The government’s report places particular emphasis on China, warning against its increased “international assertiveness” and “growing importance in the Indo-Pacific”. Furthermore, it calls for greater investment in enhancing “China-facing capabilities” and responding to “the systematic challenge” that China “poses to our security”.

How additional nuclear warheads will allow Britain to achieve its above objectives remains uncertain. Compared with Russia and the US, Britain’s nuclear arsenal, although duly destructive, is negligible in terms of its overall size. However, as history has taught us, nuclear weapons are rarely manufactured to be used in war – with the single exception of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The number of nuclear warheads and the precise position of their operational deployment are usually meant to send a message, not merely that of strength or resolve, but also to delineate where a specific country stands in terms of its alliances.

The US-Soviet Cold War, for example, was expressed largely through a relentless arms race, with nuclear weapons playing a central role in that polarizing conflict, which divided the world into two major ideological-political camps.

Now that China is likely to claim the superpower status enjoyed by the Soviets until the early 1990s, a new Great Game and Cold War can be felt, not only in the Asia Pacific region, but as far away as Africa and South America. While Europe continues to hedge its bets in this new global conflict – reassured by the size of its members’ collective economies – Britain, thanks to Brexit, no longer has that leverage. No longer an EU member, Britain is now keen to protect its global interests through a direct commitment to US interests. Now that China has been designated as America’s new enemy, Britain must play along.

While much media coverage has been dedicated to the expansion of Britain’s nuclear arsenal, little attention has been paid to the fact that the British move is a mere step in a larger political scheme, which ultimately aims at executing a British tilt to Asia, similar to the US ‘pivot to Asia’, declared by the Barack Obama Administration nearly a decade ago.

The British foreign policy shift is an unprecedented gamble for London, as the nature of the new Cold War is fundamentally different from the previous one; this time around, the ‘West’ is divided, torn by politics and crises, while NATO is no longer the superpower it once was.

Now that Britain has made its position clear, the ball is in the Chinese court, and the new Great Game is, indeed, afoot.

—The writer is a journalist and Editor of The Palestine Chronicle. He is the author of five books. http://www.ramzybaroud.net

Why is the UK Nuclear Horn Growing: Daniel 7

Why is the United Kingdom raising its nuclear stockpile limits?

By Matthew Harries, April 2, 2021

On March 16, the United Kingdom announced it was significantly raising a self-imposed cap on its overall nuclear stockpile, from a previous target of 180 warheads by the mid-2020s to a new cap of 260. The decision was outlined in the United Kingdom’s Integrated Review, a landmark strategic update, which also said the country will no longer declare the size of its operational warhead stockpile (previously 120), or the numbers of warheads and operational missiles deployed on submarines (previously 40 and no more than 8, respectively). A previous review in 2015 had left open the possibility of a future change in nuclear posture, although the vaguely phrased caveat was not much noticed at the time.

In essence, the United Kingdom is now reserving the right to deploy configurations of warheads on its ballistic-missile submarines that add up to significantly more nuclear explosive power than the previous limits allowed. An initial blanching of faces—and dismay about the reversal of two decades of progress towards a smaller and more transparent UK arsenal—has given way to the obvious question: Why?

Strategic analysts have been closely examining the text of the Integrated Review for clues to a changed deterrence policy and have seized on remarks by the UK defense secretary referring to improved Russian missile defenses. This explanation, if true, would be consistent with the traditional driver of UK nuclear requirements: the so-called Moscow Criterion, under which the United Kingdom believes it must have the ability to hold the Russian capital—a defended target—at serious risk. Additional strategic factors, including a broader range of targets, and the potential need to respond to limited nuclear use, have also been floated.

Other analysts have insisted that the new cap is designed to permit a bulge in the warhead stockpile for practical, rather than strategic, reasons, and that the accompanying change in doctrine is only window dressing. More skeptical observers suspect the United Kingdom’s real motivation is political, to make a general statement of post-Brexit toughness towards the world at large, send a message of nuclear buy-in towards the United States, or simply put the opposition Labour Party on the spot.

A definitive judgment is hard to reach. It is plausible that several of these factors were at play simultaneously. Nuclear decision-making is often complicated and rarely a matter of pure strategy. That said, changing the United Kingdom’s nuclear policy for primarily programmatic or political reasons, without urgent strategic justification, would be a serious misstep. So, too, would be a strengthening of the salience of UK nuclear weapons without a thorough examination of how they fit into the country’s security strategy and broader national ambitions.

Parliament should press the UK government to explain its nuclear policy changes more clearly, so there can be a properly informed debate on their merits, balanced against their costs—and so some of the more troubling explanations can be ruled out.

Chevaline redux? After a week of speculation following the Integrated Review’s release, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace appeared on a prominent Sunday talk show and, when pressed, implied that improvements in Russian missile defenses mean the British arsenal must grow in order to remain credible. He repeated the reference in Parliament at the launch of another, defense-specific white paper. There are at least two ways of interpreting these remarks.

The more dramatic reading of Wallace’s comments would be that the United Kingdom is at something resembling a second “Chevaline” moment. This would signify that an imminent or anticipated boost in Russian missile defenses will make UK nuclear warheads, delivered by Trident II D-5 submarine-launched ballistic missiles, significantly less likely to get through to their targets. Such a dynamic, at least in basic terms, led the United Kingdom to develop the Chevaline front-end system in the 1970s, in response to the belief that the Polaris missile system’s ability to reach Moscow was being degraded. Chevaline emerged from a long project to upgrade Polaris, and comprised so-called “penetration aids,” including dummy warheads and chaff to confuse missile defenses, plus better protection for the genuine warheads. The United Kingdom replaced Polaris in the 1990s with the Trident II D-5, which has multiple independently targetable warheads. The United Kingdom does not comment publicly about its countermeasures to missile defenses, but the UK’s penetration-aid expertise presumably still stands.

If the missile defense-dependent explanation is true, Wallace—unlike his ministerial forbears, who kept the Chevaline project out of the public eye for more than a decade—must have decided that the more ambiguous phrasing of the Integrated Review needed to be clarified with reference to a specific threat. In this scenario, the hypothetical response would appear to rest on sheer weight of warhead numbers boosting the probability that enough would get through, rather than (as far as we know) on a new or additional Chevaline-like penetration solution. That said, Wallace’s interestingly worded comment on TV that “a quite clear study of effectively how warheads work and how they re-enter the atmosphere means that you have to make sure they’re not vulnerable to ballistic missile defense” might be read not just as a rationale for more warheads, but as a clue to the United Kingdom’s motivations in procuring a replacement class nuclear warhead and re-entry vehicle, in parallel with the proposed US W93/Mk7 program, to replace the current version.

An authoritative assessment of future Russian missile defenses and their capability vis-à-vis UK Trident probably cannot be made using only open sources. The area defenses surrounding Moscow, including the nuclear-capable endoatmospheric Gazelle and exoatmospheric Gorgon interceptors (the latter now retired), have been crucial in setting requirements for UK nuclear capabilities in the past. In recent years, Russia has been upgrading those systems and investing in others. The US Defense Department has assessed that Russia’s forthcoming A-235 (successor to the current A-135 Moscow defenses) and S-500 systems will have “future potential” against submarine-launched ballistic missiles.

There will always be deep skepticism that any defensive system, Russian or otherwise, could be capable of thwarting a full-scale intercontinental-range ballistic-missile attack. But it would be a brave analyst who, without access to the government’s internal deliberations at the very highest level, declared with full confidence now that Russian missile defenses are not at least one trigger for the United Kingdom’s new policy. Notably, conservative former officials from the United States, including Franklin Miller and Marshall Billingslea, have in recent days lent credence to this explanation.

Running the numbers. Yet, even sticking to purely military rationales, a different interpretation of Wallace’s answer on stockpile numbers could be that Russian missile defenses are one part of a changing calculus, but not the sole ingredient.

The Integrated Review—and, upon close listening, the rest of Wallace’s televised comments—hinted at several other things going on. The United Kingdom might be thinking about the practicalities of deterring not just Russia but also China, North Korea, and possibly Iran, all at the same time—“the full range of state nuclear threats from any direction,” as the review puts it. Wallace, for his part, talked about what “the Russians and others” have been up to. China is working on its own ballistic missile defenses, and the US Defense Department has also claimed “future potential” vis-à-vis submarine-launched ballistic missiles for China’s HQ-19 system and its future midcourse interceptor.

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The Integrated Review also cites “doctrinal threats” in the same sentence as announcing the warhead cap increase, which could imply a reaction to the prospect of Russia threatening limited nuclear use, with the United Kingdom boosting its ability to respond in kind. More broadly, it could also reflect a concern that the United Kingdom’s adversaries envisage a broader range of scenarios for nuclear use or coercion than it does itself—but following others down that path would be a concerning move. UK official language also makes repeated reference to Russia’s new offensive weapons, rather than only defensive systems. And in the longer term, the United Kingdom might also be worried about nuclear submarines becoming more vulnerable, which could at least theoretically explain the review’s reference to enemies seeking a “first-strike advantage.”

The relationship of all these factors to warhead numbers and their deployment is not linear, and it should not simply be assumed that more warheads deter more. But they could all create pressure for a larger arsenal.

In basic theoretical terms, aiming more warheads at a defended target could be one way of increasing the probability of sufficient numbers getting through. Another way that does not necessarily require more nuclear warheads—and one where, via Chevaline, the UK has experience—could be to introduce more complicated countermeasures.

Deploying more weapons on a single submarine, something permitted by the United Kingdom’s removal of loading limits, might allow more targets to be held credibly at risk, especially if some of those targets became better defended. A bigger stockpile overall might give the United Kingdom a better chance of having two boats at sea capable of a retaliatory strike, rather than one.

Additional warheads, whether on one deployed submarine or two, might provide more confidence that a first, limited, exchange could be conducted while holding back enough for subsequent large-scale use. In this scenario, the United Kingdom could use nuclear weapons in limited numbers, potentially using low-yield variants, while keeping more warheads in reserve for a strategic exchange. If this were to be part of the explanation, it would parallel the 2018 US Nuclear Posture Review, which provided for the introduction of a US low-yield Trident warhead variant, the W76-2, a capability the United Kingdom already possesses but which it has de-emphasised in recent years.

Lastly, more flexibility in submarine loadings might leave an adversary less certain of how many weapons it would be getting rid of, were it to strike first.

All a ruse? Plug some or all of these ingredients into the calculations of military planners, and it is not difficult to see how the answer might be that the United Kingdom needs—or at least it would feel more comfortable with—a bigger nuclear arsenal. And yet there is also a school of thought, among political types and wonks alike, that all this close reading gives the government too much credit. In this view, analysts are failing to see the political forest for the strategic trees—starting with the fact that an increased cap does not necessarily mean the United Kingdom will actually build more warheads.

The nuclear increase on paper does not need to be followed through on in practice, wrote New Statesman political editor Stephen Bush, because it was designed to hook opposition leader Sir Keir Starmer into talking about the Labour Party’s weak spot (nuclear weapons) rather than the government’s (cuts to foreign aid). ITV News political editor Robert Peston is similarly skeptical that new warheads will be built, and quotes former UK government ministers who think it is all about looking either unpredictable in the eyes of enemies or, more broadly, seized with post-Brexit dynamism. An even livelier rumor, mentioned in Parliament by Defence Committee Chair Tobias Ellwood, has also been circulating to the effect that the United Kingdom raised its cap for reasons to do with its “purchase” of new warheads from the United States.

A subset of military experts, meanwhile, think we are all being taken for a ride: The nuclear establishment actually needs a cap for more prosaic reasons, such as a temporary bulge when the next-generation warheads come in and old ones wait to be dismantled. (The UK government says those warheads will have a “very close connection, in design terms and in production terms” to the new US W93 warhead, but will not simply be bought off the shelf). By wrapping this up in strategic language the government is putting on a “rope trick,” according to one senior former defense official, to distract from the real explanation. This idea has popped up in Parliament, too.

It is not clear why the arrival of a new warhead more than a decade from now—technically out of the timeframe of the Integrated Review—would require an immediate cap increase. And if that were the specific reason, the government could always have said so. Still, a lower warhead cap likely means less practical breathing space in the cycle of maintaining, upgrading, and deploying the existing stockpile, so it could well be the case that programmatic factors more immediate than the arrival of the replacement warhead contributed to upward pressure on the UK arsenal. A realization that the target of going down to 180 warheads by the mid-2020s would be challenging to meet for practical reasons might have contributed to putting the idea of a cap adjustment on the table from the start.

Speaking as an author of some of the detailed strategic musings about the United Kingdom’s announcement, and a colleague and mentee of others, it is uncomfortable to suspect that researchers might be being suckered into giving academic cover to political or bureaucratic theater. But these explanations are not mutually exclusive, nor do they make it pointless to analyze the strategic aspects of UK policy. In the first place, policy change often has not one cause but several. Second, memories of the specific reasons for policy change sometimes fade over time, even as the effects take on a life of their own.

Multiple causality? Put yourself in the prime minister’s shoes, and imagine someone—for whatever reason—suggests the option of increasing the warhead cap. Well, you ask: what are the pros? The Ministry of Defence might say an increase will give us more firepower and flexibility to deal with a range of nasty events that might happen in the next decade or so, facing more enemies who are upgrading their capabilities. You might be told, too, that the Atomic Weapons Establishment says it will make their life easier.

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Even if we don’t actually build the things, you might be advised, raising the cap will make the United Kingdom look tough in the eyes of the Russians, for once, rather than boasting about tiny reductions in the nuclear arsenal and occasionally holding votes about whether to get rid of it. More nukes might even help show the Americans that the United Kingdom is serious. Your political advisers might note (perhaps not in the same breath, for propriety’s sake) that it is a perfect trap for Labour, always divided on Trident and still branded with former leader Jeremy Corbyn’s support for unilateral disarmament.

Ok, you ask, what are the cons? The Foreign Office says it will annoy disarmament enthusiasts and non-nuclear-weapon state parties to the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Ho hum. The Ministry of Defence might admit that it might add to what is rapidly becoming a rather worrying global arms race—but that the United Kingdom didn’t start the race, after all, and alone can’t stop it. Previous governments cared about making those disarmament announcements, but what difference did it make to UK nuclear rivals? Right, you say: Let’s do it.

This is only a hypothetical sketch, and given how closely held previous British nuclear decisions have been kept, the full nature of the deliberations is unlikely to be made public for at least 30 years, if ever. But the sketch is designed to show why searching for a single cause might—assuming this is not, in fact, Chevaline round two—miss the point.

Lasting effects. However tedious it might sound to some, rolling back two decades of disarmament policy could cause additional damage to the nonproliferation regime, to the UK’s multilateral credentials, and to the long-term prospects of nuclear disarmament.

This new policy is not just a messaging problem among the usual suspects who would be critical whatever the government did. It is an embarrassment for UK diplomatic allies that have been doing their best to persuade more radically inclined non-nuclear states to keep the faith in incremental reductions, and to states such as Norway which have worked with the United Kingdom in researching verification approaches to future arms control. It fits poorly with the Biden administration’s emphasis on nuclear diplomacy, and although the change must have been briefed in Washington without drawing fatal opposition, it might be disruptive to US plans for a productive (or at least non-destructive) Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference, tentatively scheduled for August of this year.

The supporters of the policy change will point out that the United Kingdom’s new cap leaves it below France as the smallest of the NPT’s recognized nuclear powers. Still, if the deterrence boost is not actually as big as the government suggests, the diplomatic costs could outweigh the benefits. And those costs were largely incurred the moment the United Kingdom announced the revised cap, regardless of whether the extra warheads ever get built.

Supporters might also argue that this is an opening bid for future arms control talks which leaves the United Kingdom a more realistic negotiating buffer. But that case has not yet been made by the British government, which provides in the Integrated Review little more than platitudes about its commitment to arms control and disarmament, and no concrete vision for future negotiations.

Perhaps more importantly, these kinds of policy shifts—whatever the original cause—tend to take on a life of their own. Just look at the United Kingdom’s nuclear history. The country ended up with ballistic missiles on nuclear submarines in the 1960s not because the Ministry of Defence took a blank sheet of paper and decided that was what it wanted, but because the air-launched missile it had expected to buy from the Americans, Skybolt, got cancelled, and then-Prime Minister Harold Macmillan persuaded then-President John F. Kennedy to sell the United Kingdom the submarine-launched Polaris instead. From then on, Britain’s nuclear doctrine was influenced by the capabilities it had and could afford—a perfectly respectable doctrine in intellectual terms, but not necessarily one generated from first principles.

The political and practical reasons for the Integrated Review’s decision may well be forgotten in ten or twenty years, and the United Kingdom will be left with a policy that says that it reserves the right to build a bigger arsenal because it is needed to deter a broader and more demanding range of threats. Whether or not the decision had a single strategic rationale, it could have long-lasting strategic effects.

Where does the United Kingdom go from here? A good first step would be for Parliament to push the government to rule out—if it can—the damaging suspicion that all this is a programmatic blip dressed up in strategic clothing. As discussed above, there are reasons to doubt the theory. But if it were true, it would be a damning indictment of successive UK governments’ management of the nuclear enterprise. Indeed, the United Kingdom’s defense-nuclear infrastructure is under obvious strain, with a new warhead assembly-and-disassembly facility badly delayed and over budget, and a project to build a new enriched-uranium handling facility suspended after initial plans went awry. If factors such as these contributed to the cap increase, blaming the worsening security environment would be irresponsible, causing needless diplomatic damage.

More broadly, Parliament should examine the decision-making process that led to this outcome. If it is often the job of nuclear planners to explore worst-case scenarios and lobby for increased capability, then it is the job of political leaders and other officials to place them in a broader context. Where did the proposal for an increased stockpile cap come from? Where did the proposal for reduced operational transparency come from? Which elements of the United Kingdom’s military leadership were consulted, and what did they say? What kind of consultations were held with allies, including the United States? How did nuclear policy decision-making interact with the process of drafting the Integrated Review?

Lastly, Parliament should test the assumptions that underpin the new policy. Which “doctrinal threats” are of most concern to the United Kingdom, and why do they require a change in its available nuclear destructive power? Does the United Kingdom, which used to refer explicitly to a sub-strategic role for Trident, believe in limited nuclear retaliation as a kind of warning shot? If so, why would this not invite further escalation? Are there other sub-strategic purposes for UK nuclear forces? Is a strengthened nuclear arsenal intended to compensate for cuts to the UK’s large-mass conventional military forces?

There are good cross-party reasons for a closer Parliamentary look at the nuclear establishment, from the deterrent’s supporters and detractors alike. In the past year, we have learned that the United Kingdom is building a replacement warhead; that the replacement program is strongly dependent on the United States; and that the Atomic Weapons Establishment will be renationalized to deal with chronic problems. Meanwhile, the government is making the case that nuclear weapons are newly relevant to international security and is reversing 20 years of British declaratory policy to focus much more clearly on deterrence, rather than disarmament.

Against this background, it is not good enough to greet the Integrated Review’s nuclear bombshell with a smirk and a confident assertion about the “real” reason for the change. It is time to ask difficult questions, starting but not ending with the most basic one: why?

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Jenny Agutter fan
April 2, 2021 at 9:52 am

As I read somewhere, the British Empire ended but British imperialism didn’t.

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The UK Horn Continues to Grow: Daniel 7

April 2021

By Kingston Reif and Shannon Bugos

In a significant departure from an earlier pledge, the United Kingdom announced in March that it will raise the ceiling on its nuclear warhead stockpile by more than 40 percent above its previous target and would no longer publish information about the number of warheads it maintains in an operational status.

The HMS Vengeance returning to its homeport on the River Clyde in Scotland in 2007. Vengeance is one of four Vanguard-class nuclear-armed submarines operated by the British Royal Navy. (Photo: Tam McDonald/MOD)

The decision prompted concern around the world and raised questions about the UK’s commitment to its nuclear disarmament obligations under Article VI of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

London will raise the ceiling on its overall stockpile to 260 warheads by the middle of the decade, according to an integrated review of security, defense, development, and foreign policy published March 16. The new ceiling is a 44 percent increase above the level of 180 warheads that was first announced in the UK’s 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review and reiterated again in 2015. (See ACT, December 2015; November 2010.)

The UK currently has about 195 nuclear warheads, of which 120 are operational, according to an estimate by researchers at the Federation of American Scientists. The UK deploys its entire nuclear arsenal aboard four Vanguard-class submarines, each of which is armed with Trident II D5 submarine-launched ballistic missiles. At least one submarine is always at sea on deterrence patrol. London maintains that a submarine on patrol would require several days’ notice to launch a missile.

The integrated review attributed the change in the warhead stockpile to “the evolving security environment, including the developing range of technological and doctrinal threats” and cited “risks to the UK from major nuclear armed states, emerging nuclear states, and state-sponsored nuclear terrorism.” But the document did not provide further detail about these threats.

UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab justified the plan to increase the warhead stockpile as “the ultimate insurance policy against the worst threat from hostile states” in an interview with the BBC.

UK Defense Minister Ben Wallace told the BBC on March 21 that the change is a response to what “the Russians and others have been up to in the last few years,” specifically citing Russian investments in ballistic missile defense and new offensive capabilities.

The integrated review also states that the UK will “no longer give public figures for our operational stockpile, deployed warhead or deployed missile numbers” as such “ambiguity complicates the calculations of potential aggressors, reduces the risk of deliberate nuclear use by those seeking a first-strike advantage, and contributes to strategic stability.”

The Johnson government’s decision to increase the warhead stockpile was controversial within the UK.

Keir Starmer, the head of the Labour Party, said the plan “breaks the goal of successive prime ministers and cross-party efforts to reduce our nuclear stockpile. It doesn’t explain, when, why, or for what strategic purpose.”

Foreign governments also criticized the new direction in policy.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on March 18 that “this move is at odds with London’s many statements about its commitment to obligations to promote nuclear disarmament under the NPT.”

“The British leadership’s decisions underscore the urgent need to directly involve U.S. nuclear allies in the efforts to reduce and limit nuclear weapons, which Russia never ends to point out,” she said.

Asked about the UK decision to grow its nuclear stockpile, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told German broadcaster Deutsche Welle, “We don’t want nuclear weapons arsenals to grow. If you don’t want that to happen, you can’t expand them.”

Stéphane Dujarric, spokesman for UN Secretary-General António Guterres, raised similar concerns in a March 17 press briefing. “[W]e do express our concern at the UK’s decision to increase its nuclear weapons arsenal, which is contrary to its obligations under Article VI of the NPT,” he said. “It could have a damaging impact on global stability and efforts to pursue a world free of nuclear weapons.”

But Dujarric walked his remarks back the next day, saying that “we’re not expressing a legal opinion” but rather the view that the UK “announcement is not consistent with the disarmament commitments…all nuclear-weapon states have undertaken.”

A spokesperson for UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on March 16 that the NPT “doesn’t require us to reduce the number of warheads. All of our actions are consistent with our nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty obligations.”

“The 260 figure is a ceiling, not a target,” the spokesperson added. “We will continue to keep this under review in the light of the international security environment and make adjustments as appropriate.”

But skeptics warned that London will need to do more to assuage concerns ahead of the NPT review conference, now scheduled to take place in August after being postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. (See ACT, November 2020.)

“The UK will need to clarify how it plans to contribute to and lead on nuclear disarmament amidst these changes in the stockpile number,” said Heather Williams, a Stanton Nuclear Security Fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and lecturer at King’s College London.

The change in policy comes as London lobbies Washington to move forward with development of a newly designed, high-yield submarine-launched ballistic missile warhead, the W93.

The current warhead for the UK’s Trident ballistic missiles is believed to be based on the U.S. W76 warhead. Adm. Charles Richard, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, said in February 2020 that the UK has “a parallel replacement warhead program,” although London is responsible for the design and production of its warhead fleet.

The Guardian reported in August that Wallace sent a letter to Congress in April 2020 encouraging funding for the W93. “Congressional funding in [fiscal year 2021] for the W93 program will ensure that we continue to deepen the unique nuclear relationship between our two countries, enabling the United Kingdom to provide safe and assured continuous-at-sea deterrence for decades to come,” he wrote.

Congress in December appropriated the Trump administration’s request of $53 million in fiscal year 2021 to accelerate work on the W93, although not without controversy. (See ACT, January/February 2021.)

The British Nuclear Horn Joins the US-China Fray: Daniel 7

Nuclear Weapons Blazing: Britain Enters the US-China Fray

Ramzy Baroud 29 Mar 2021

Boris Johnson’s March 16 speech before the British Parliament was reminiscent, at least in tone, to that of Chinese President Xi Jinping in October 2019, on the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Republic of China.

The comparison is quite apt if we remember the long-anticipated shift in Britain’s foreign policy and Johnson’s conservative Government’s pressing need to chart a new global course in search for new allies – and new enemies. 

Xi’s words in 2019 signaled a new era in Chinese foreign policy, where Beijing hoped to send a message to its allies and enemies that the rules of the game were finally changing in its favor, and that China’s economic miracle – launched under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping in 1992 – would no longer be confined to the realm of wealth accumulation, but would exceed this to politics and military strength, as well.

In China’s case, Xi’s declarations were not a shift per se, but rather a rational progression. However, in the case of Britain, the process, though ultimately rational, is hardly straightforward. After officially leaving the European Union in January 2020, Britain was expected to articulate a new national agenda. This articulation, however, was derailed by the COVID-19 pandemic and the multiple crises it generated. 

Several scenarios, regarding the nature of Britain’s new agenda, were plausible:

One, that Britain maintains a degree of political proximity to the EU, thus avoiding more negative repercussions of Brexit;

Two, for Britain to return to its former alliance with the US, begun in earnest in the post-World War II era and the formation of NATO and reaching its zenith in the run up to the Iraq invasion in 2003; 

Finally, for Britain to play the role of the mediator, standing at an equal distance among all parties, so that it may reap the benefits of its unique position as a strong country with a massive global network.

A government’s report, “Global Britain in a Competitive Age”, released on March 16, and Johnson’s  subsequent speech, indicate that Britain has chosen the second option.

The report clearly prioritizes the British-American alliance above all others, stating that “The United States will remain the UK’s most important strategic ally and partner”, and underscoring Britain’s need to place greater focus on the ‘Indo-Pacific’ region, calling it “the centre of intensifying geopolitical competition”.

Therefore, unsurprisingly, Britain is now set to dispatch a military carrier to the South China Sea, and is preparing to expand its nuclear arsenal from 180 to 260 warheads, in obvious violation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The latter move can be directly attributed to Britain’s new political realignment which roughly follows the maxim of ‘the enemy of my friend is my enemy’. 

The government’s report places particular emphasis on China, warning against its increased “international assertiveness” and “growing importance in the Indo-Pacific”. Furthermore, it calls for greater investment in enhancing “China-facing capabilities” and responding to “the systematic challenge” that China “poses to our security”.

How additional nuclear warheads will allow Britain to achieve its above objectives remains uncertain. Compared with Russia and the US, Britain’s nuclear arsenal, although duly destructive, is negligible in terms of its overall size. However, as history has taught us, nuclear weapons are rarely manufactured to be used in war – with the single exception of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The number of nuclear warheads and the precise position of their operational deployment are usually meant to send a message, not merely that of strength or resolve, but also to delineate where a specific country stands in terms of its alliances.

The US-Soviet Cold War, for example, was expressed largely through a relentless arms race, with nuclear weapons playing a central role in that polarizing conflict, which divided the world into two major ideological-political camps.

Now that China is likely to claim the superpower status enjoyed by the Soviets until the early 1990s, a new Great Game and Cold War can be felt, not only in the Asia Pacific region, but as far away as Africa and South America. While Europe continues to hedge its bets in this new global conflict – reassured by the size of its members’ collective economies – Britain, thanks to Brexit, no longer has that leverage. No longer an EU member, Britain is now keen to protect its global interests through a direct commitment to US interests. Now that China has been designated as America’s new enemy, Britain must play along.

While much media coverage has been dedicated to the expansion of Britain’s nuclear arsenal, little attention has been paid to the fact that the British move is a mere step in a larger political scheme, which ultimately aims at executing a British tilt to Asia, similar to the US ‘pivot to Asia’, declared by the Barack Obama Administration nearly a decade ago. 

The British foreign policy shift is an unprecedented gamble for London, as the nature of the new Cold War is fundamentally different from the previous one; this time around, the ‘West’ is divided, torn by politics and crises, while NATO is no longer the superpower it once was. 

Now that Britain has made its position clear, the ball is in the Chinese court, and the new Great Game is, indeed, afoot. 

—Ramzy Baroud is a journalist and the Editor of The Palestine Chronicle. He is the author of five books. His latest is “These Chains Will Be Broken: Palestinian Stories of Struggle and Defiance in Israeli Prisons” (Clarity Press). Dr. Baroud is a Non-resident Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Islam and Global Affairs (CIGA) and also at the Afro-Middle East Center (AMEC). His website is http://www.ramzybaroud.net

Troubling trends with the Russian Nuclear Horn: Daniel 7

Responding to Troubling Trends in Russia’s Nuclear Weapons Program

Peter Brookes

Among a number of international contenders, including China and North Korea, Russia is arguably the country that is most actively developing new nuclear weapons and delivery systems.

With at least six strategic projects unveiled in recent years, including a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), three hypersonic vehicles, a nuclear-powered underwater drone, and a nuclear-powered cruise missile, Russia poses a number of new challenges for the United States, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and international security.

These Russian weapons developments are especially troubling considering Moscow’s malign behavior, from its annexation of Crimea and actions in Eastern Ukraine to its involvement in the civil war in Syria and its use of chemical weapons in assassination attempts at home and abroad.

Indeed, The Heritage Foundation’s 2021 Index of U.S. Military Strength judges that “Russia remains the primary threat to American interests in Europe and is the most pressing threat to the United States,” describing Russia as “aggressive in its behavior and formidable in its growing capabilities.”1

Important for American interests, the Russian threat has a strong strategic—or nuclear weapon—component.

Indeed, according to the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR):

While Russia initially followed America’s lead and made similarly sharp reductions in its strategic nuclear forces, it retained large numbers of non-strategic nuclear weapons. Today, Russia is modernizing these weapons as well as its other strategic systems. Even more troubling has been Russia’s adoption of military strategies and capabilities that rely on nuclear escalation for their success. These developments, coupled with Russia’s seizure of Crimea and nuclear threats against our allies, mark Moscow’s decided return to great power competition.2

Moreover, according to a 2020 assessment by the National Defense University’s Institute for National Strategic Studies (INSS):

Russia has nearly completed modernizing its entire strategic nuclear arsenal and has also introduced or stated its intent to develop several nontraditional nuclear systems (so-called exotic weapons) that are important, from Moscow’s vantage, to pose a credible retaliatory threat to the United States.3

While some experts understandably question the utility of some of these nontraditional or “exotic” weapons systems, including whether they will ever be successfully fielded, militarily significant, or affect the existing strategic balance, these weapons developments should be taken seriously.

These new nontraditional or exotic weapon systems include the hypersonic vehicle-carrying Sarmat ICBM, the Avangard hypersonic boost-glide vehicle (HGV), the Tsirkon sea-launched hypersonic cruise missile, the Kinzhal air-launched hypersonic ballistic missile, the Burvestnik nuclear-powered cruise missile, and the Poseidon nuclear-powered underwater drone.

Not only are these weapons potential threats, they also are arguably a signal of Russia’s continuing commitment to the primacy of its nuclear forces as an element of its defense policy, its ongoing drive for military innovation, as well as an effort at diversifying and deepening its strategic forces and military threat.

It might also be argued that the development of these new strategic systems is an effort to enhance Russia’s status as a great power and increase its capability to exert political-military power abroad on competitors and potential foes through deterrence, threats, and coercion.

More broadly, these novel nuclear-capable weapons, as part of great-power competition, could, according to INSS, “have important effects on U.S. extended deterrence relationships, prospects for further nuclear proliferation, and the future of the global nonproliferation regime.”4

Lastly, these nontraditional strategic systems will also possibly enhance the political power of Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin by demonstrating to its citizens its continued and growing commitment to the security of the homeland from potential enemies.

Accordingly, in response, the United States should:

• Continue to make the development of missile defense capabilities a U.S. and NATO defense priority, including the development and deployment of counter-hypersonic capabilities and space-based sensors;

• Increase, alongside U.S. allies and partners, deterrence against Russia’s conventional and hybrid threats to NATO and Europe in order to reduce the chances of open conflict and escalation;

• Fund U.S. nuclear modernization for the purposes of providing political–military assurance to allies and maintaining U.S. direct and extended strategic deterrence capabilities, thereby reducing the risk of Russian provocations and international adventurism; and

• Engage Russia in substantive diplomatic and security dialogues about these new strategic weapon systems as soon as possible for reasons of strategic stability, nuclear risk reduction, and potential arms control.

Russian Nuclear Weapons Developments

Russia has long placed a high priority on its nuclear arsenal, especially since the end of the Cold War, when its conventional forces began to diminish in capability in comparison to NATO’s conventional forces.

Today, unconventional weapons, including nuclear forces, play an important role in the evolving great-power competition involving the United States, Russia, and China; potential arms races; and possible shifts in the strategic balance of global power.

Indeed, according to the National Defense University’s Strategic Assessment 2020:

Weapons of mass destruction (WMD)—nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons and the means to deliver them—are an important feature of the global security environment and a key element of Great Power competition. For Russia and China, WMD contribute to multiple goals: conflict deterrence at the strategic and regional levels; regime survival; coercion of rival states; and, potentially, as an adjunct to conventional forces to support operations. U.S.–Russia competition in nuclear weapons has been constrained in recent decades by various arms control agreements, but the erosion of this regulatory regime in the context of deteriorating bilateral relations could create new competitive pressures.5

According to the Pentagon’s 2018 NPR, “Most concerning are Russia’s national security policies, strategy, and doctrine that include an emphasis on the threat of limited nuclear escalation, and its continuing development and fielding of increasingly diverse and expanding nuclear capabilities.”6

In addition, the NPR states: “Russia considers the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to be the principal threats to its contemporary geopolitical ambitions. Russian strategy and doctrine emphasize the potential coercive and military uses of nuclear weapons.”7

To this end, in an early 2018 national address to the Russian Federal Assembly, Putin unveiled five new nuclear weapons delivery systems, admonishing listeners at home and abroad: “Russia still has the greatest nuclear [weapon] potential in the world, but nobody listened to us…. Listen [to us] now.”8

Unquestionably in an act of brazen intimidation toward the United States, one part of a provocative video presented at the address showed a missile conducting a strike on what appears to be Florida, the official state of residence of then-President Donald Trump.9

“Any use of nuclear weapons against Russia or its allies, any kind of attack, will be regarded as a nuclear attack against Russia, and in response, we will take action instantaneously no matter what the consequences are,” Putin said. “Nobody should have any doubt about that.”10

According to the Director of National Intelligence’s (DNI) 2019 annual threat assessment to Congress on this issue:

Russian President Vladimir Putin used his annual address in March 2018 to publicly acknowledge several of these weapons programs, including a new ICBM designed to penetrate US missile defense systems; an intercontinental-range, hypersonic glide vehicle; a maneuverable, air-launched missile to strike regional targets; a long-range, nuclear-powered cruise missile; and a nuclear-powered, transoceanic underwater vehicle.11

The following year, in another presidential address to the Federal Assembly, Putin announced an additional new nuclear-capable weapons system, a sea-launched hypersonic cruise missile, bringing the total to six new potentially strategic systems available to Russian forces in the coming years.12

Indeed, according to Putin in late 2019, Russia has modernized 82 percent of its nuclear air–sea–land triad, noting that “our equipment must be better than the world’s best if we want to come out as the winners.”13 In reference to a possible all-out, nuclear conflict, Putin’s use of the word “winners” is noteworthy. He added: “[W]e will continue to create other promising missile systems” to further deter possible enemies.14 One analysis assesses that the modernization of Russian strategic forces adds to the “uncertainty” about Russia’s intentions and nuclear strategy.15

Indeed, all of these new weapons seem to indicate a deep and continuing Russian concern about U.S. missile defense and are purposed with overcoming air and missile defenses in an effort to preserve Russia’s strategic deterrence.16

But these novel weapons, according to one analysis, also indicate that Russian nuclear doctrine goes beyond strategic deterrence and in the direction of regional warfighting with an “escalate to de-escalate” strategy and possibly even having an element of psychological “terror” at the idea of their use (such as the Poseidon).17

Of course, the production, testing, and deployment of new Russian strategic systems are likely to be affected by the usual challenges of fielding new systems. At the current time, the process is also likely to be influenced by the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the Russian defense industry.18

While all of these weapons pose unique challenges, the hypersonic weapons (HSWs) are particularly vexing because of their reported velocity, maneuverability, and expected reduction in reaction time allowed the defending forces.

The New Russian Nuclear-Capable Weapons

Most of the system capabilities described in this section are from Russian open sources, meaning that data, such as velocity or range, could be exaggerated for a number of purposes, including the development of threat perception among potential foes, such as the United States.

The Tsirkon Hypersonic Cruise Missile. The Tsirkon is a sea-launched, hypersonic, dual-capable cruise missile with a reported speed of Mach 9 and a range of more than 1,000 kilometers (km), according to a media source citing a senior Russian officer.19

The cruise missile reportedly may be launched from submarines and surface ships against land targets and sea targets.20 Its expected mission is to destroy enemy aircraft carriers, missile defense systems, and command-and-control centers.21

Flying the low-level, maneuverable flight profile of a cruise missile at many times the speed of sound with either potentially conventional or nuclear warheads makes the Tsirkon a daunting challenge for defending adversary air defenses and missile defenses.

Putin has warned that Russia might deploy such hypersonic nuclear-capable missiles on submarines near U.S. waters.22 The Tsirkon entered testing in 2015 and was test-launched most recently in November 2020.23

The Avangard Hypersonic Boost-Glide Vehicle. Another newly developed Russian HSW designed to destroy or counter U.S. air and missile defenses—and assure a second-strike capability—is the intercontinental-range, dual-capable, hypersonic, boost-glide vehicle, the Avangard.24 This HGV is reportedly capable of traveling up to Mach 27.25

Proclaimed operational by Russia’s Ministry of Defense in December 2019, the Avangard is launched—or boosted—initially aboard an ICBM.26 At the ICBM’s flight apogee, the maneuverable HGV is released en route to its target.27

The Avangard is expected to be carried aboard the silo-based SS-19 ICBM initially, and the Russian Ministry of Defense claims that it entered service in December 2019 with a unit in the southern Ural Mountains.28 Eventually, the Avangard will be paired with the Sarmat next-generation heavy ICBM.29

Capable of using a conventional warhead, the Avangard can also reportedly carry a two-megaton nuclear warhead.30 It reportedly can be used as a first-strike or second-strike weapon against a variety of targets, including missile defense sites, missile silos, and high-value command-and-control complexes.31

The Kinzhal Hypersonic Ballistic Missile. Similarly, Russia is deploying the Kinzhal, an air-launched, dual-capable hypersonic ballistic missile capable of targeting both land targets and sea targets with either conventional or nuclear warheads.32 The missile can reportedly fly up to Mach 10.33

The Kinzhal is reportedly based on the land-based Iskander short-range ballistic missile.34 It can be carried aloft aboard the Tu-22 Backfire bomber and the MiG-31 Foxhound fighter.35 The missile is believed to be operational with a number of MiG-31 aircraft specially outfitted to carry the Kinzhal.36

The total range of the system, which includes the range of its launch platform, is expected to be 2,000 km, making the Kinzhal a regional threat to both land targets and maritime targets, including missile and air defense systems and aircraft carriers.37

The Sarmat Heavy ICBM. The Sarmat is a next-generation, silo-based, liquid-fueled heavy ICBM currently in development and intended to replace the aging SS-18 Voyevoda ICBM.38 Reportedly capable of carrying 20 warheads, its mission is nuclear strike as well as serving as the boost vehicle for the Avangard.39 With a reported throw weight (potential payload) of 10 tons, its warhead will likely carry multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles (MIRVs) along with countermeasures to evade potential missile defense intercepts.40

With an expected range of 16,000 km, this counterforce weapon will conceivably be able to attack the United States via either the North Pole or South Pole.41 A southern approach would reportedly allow the ICBM to avoid U.S. early warning radars and missile defense installations in Alaska and California.42

Some portion of the Sarmat arsenal is also expected to be tasked with carrying the Avangard HGV to intercontinental distances. The Sarmat could be capable of carrying three to five hypersonic boost-glide vehicles.43

Though possibly overly optimistic, according to Russian military sources, the Sarmat is expected to conduct flight tests sometime in 2021 and enter service with Russia’s Strategic Missile Forces in 2022.44

The Burvestnik Cruise Missile. The Burvestnik is a nuclear-powered, nuclear-armed subsonic cruise missile, which, due to its unique propulsion plant, could theoretically have “unlimited range.”45 According to one analysis, the “military objective of the Burevestnik is to evade missile defense, follow untraditional flight paths, and be able to strike any target with little warning,” including a retaliatory strike.46

The controversial program is not yet operational, and reportedly has suffered a number of setbacks in research and development, including a possible fatal testing explosion in summer 2019 that may have released radioactive fallout into the atmosphere.47

The ground-based missile is also controversial in that its nuclear power plant could shed radioactive material en route to its target, possibly endangering those living below and along its flight path, potentially causing collateral damage for innocents.

The Poseidon Underwater Drone. Russia is also developing the Poseidon, an autonomous, nuclear-powered, nuclear-capable underwater drone that will be carried aboard specially configured submarines currently under development.48

Potentially targeting a variety of military and counter-value targets, including large coastal cities, major naval bases, and port facilities, the Poseidon reportedly will use a subsurface nuclear explosion to create a tsunami-like wave to swamp its objectives.49

Estimates vary widely among experts, but the drone might carry a nuclear warhead ranging from two megatons to a fantastical 100 megatons.50 While unconfirmed, the Poseidon may employ a cobalt bomb that creates long-lived radioactive contamination, leaving its target uninhabitable for a lengthy period.51

The Poseidon reportedly has a range of 10,000 km, which gives it significant stand-off capability against both American coasts.52 Russia will reportedly deploy a total of 32 Poseidon aboard two submarines with the Northern Fleet and two submarines with the Pacific Fleet.53

Expected to be primarily purposed as a retaliatory second-strike—or even third-strike—weapon that would challenge U.S. and allied anti-submarine forces, it is reportedly set to be in service by 2027.54

Political–Military Challenges

While some national security and foreign policy experts understandably question the utility and capability of some of these new or exotic Russian weapons systems, the United States and NATO, among others, should take these military developments seriously for a number of reasons.

Broadly speaking, these nontraditional weapons constitute a unique and evolving political–military threat primarily to American, NATO, allied, and others’ national security interests, potentially affecting U.S. direct deterrence in defense of the homeland, as well as some allies’ perceptions of U.S. political–military assurances and extended deterrence.

While unlikely to shift the strategic balance with the United States and NATO, these novel systems diversify the Russian conventional and unconventional threat to American and allied national security interests, especially in regard to the hypersonic threat.

These new weapons also expand Russian nuclear first-strike and second-strike options, strengthening Moscow’s strategic deterrent posture, potentially providing Russia with greater freedom of action internationally, which would be of significant consequence.

If fielded, these advanced armaments will also likely increase the perception of Russia’s military capabilities among competitors, rivals, and neighboring and other states, improving Moscow’s ability to deter, dissuade, or deny any attempts at influence, coercion, or aggression.

The U.S. and its allies will also need to pose, and answer, questions about the potential transformational threat from these weapons on transatlantic security and the possible political and military policy responses by the United States, NATO, and other American allies and partners.

For instance, the Russian development and deployment of these new strategic weapons will arguably have a negative psychological and political effect on the NATO alliance and Europe, which are both concerned about the regional security environment, especially as regards nuclear matters.

In addition, even with the extension of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, these new weapons systems may give Russia added clout in any future arms control negotiations with the United States.

There is a potential domestic angle as well. Being on the cutting edge of new military capabilities, the deployment of novel nuclear-capable systems arguably enhances Russia’s political pride and the regime’s self-image at home, potentially strengthening the Kremlin’s grip on political power.

Operational Risks. Designed to evade or overcome U.S. missile defenses and re-establish Russia’s sense of strategic stability, these new nontraditional weapons, especially the HSWs, all pose potential operational risk to U.S. forces and American interests at home and abroad.55

Due to a number of reasons, the HSWs are a good example of the concern about the evolving Russian nuclear threat. For example, these weapons fly at tremendous speed within the atmosphere, reducing the potential reaction time of a defending adversary.

As Air Force General John Hyten, then-Commander of Strategic Command, noted in 2019, while the United States might have 30 minutes before an ICBM strikes the United States from Russia, it could be half that time with an HSW.56

As a result, these high-speed weapons could complicate and significantly curtail the timeline of the defender’s decision-making process, increasing the “the risk of miscalculation or unintended escalation in the event of a conflict.”57

Besides their high speed, these dual-capable HSWs are also maneuverable, creating trajectory and targeting uncertainties in comparison to ballistic missile systems which follow a predictable path to its target.58 According to one analysis: “In contrast to ballistic missiles, which also travel at hypersonic speeds, hypersonic weapons do not follow a parabolic ballistic trajectory and can maneuver en route to their destination, making defense against them difficult.”59

A defense dilemma also arguably exists for the U.S. and its allies with the Poseidon and Burvestnik systems due to their stated long-range ability to launch from inside friendly, protected territory or waters, and potentially unpredictable travel profiles (such as course, altitude, and depth) en route to the target.

As such, there are clearly challenges for U.S. and allied forces defending their homelands and interests against these novel weapons—from detection and tracking to engagement.

While the U.S. is developing theater-range, conventionally armed HSWs for offensive purposes, there is currently no dedicated missile or air systems to counteract HSWs.60 The best current option is to strike these weapons or their platforms, using kinetic or non-kinetic options (such as precision strikes or cyber operations) “left of launch” before they are fired at their targets. This requirement, of course, can create significant intelligence and warning challenges.

Fortunately, the U.S. is making additional efforts to address some of these challenges, especially regarding HSWs. For instance, because HSWs have a less distinguishable infrared signature and fly at lower altitudes than ballistic missiles, the Pentagon and U.S. defense industry are developing a low-Earth-orbit satellite constellation capable of detecting and tracking HSWs throughout the entirety of their flight.61

In addition, since current missile defense systems are purposed with targeting ballistic missiles, some U.S. defense firms were reportedly looking at refining or building on existing missile defense systems to address the hypersonic threat.62 The Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency was also reported to be working on a hypersonic missile defense interceptor as late as 2020.63

Theoretically, HGVs and their launch vehicles may be vulnerable to missile defenses at points along their flight paths, including in the ascent, glide, late-glide, and terminal phases of flight.64

Of course, while the Russians are spending time, effort, and financial resources on these new strategic weapons systems, it is possible that some of these systems will never become operational or be produced in significant numbers to be militarily significant, remaining a novelty.

This outcome, not unusual in weapons development, could end up being due to any number of factors, including flawed design or engineering, development or production costs, or mismatched doctrine or operational need, among others.

Lastly, though a system such as the Burvestnik may not be operationally deployed, the research and development phases—even if unsuccessful—can lead to new technologies that may aid other Russian weapons systems that are under development or yet to come.

Recommendations for the U.S.

In response to these developments in Russia’s nuclear arsenal and posture, the United States should:

• Continue to make the development of missile defense capabilities a U.S., NATO, and allied defense priority, including the development and deployment of counter-hypersonic capabilities and space-based sensors. In light of the emerging Russian nontraditional conventional and nuclear threats, the Administration, Congress, and allies should work together to advance U.S. and NATO missile defense systems to detect, track, and defeat a variety of missile threats, including the emerging Russian dual-capable hypersonic threat. A failure to do so will provide Russia with an asymmetric hypersonic missile advantage that will give Russia political–military leverage and hold NATO forces at risk. Discussions should also be conducted with other missile defense–capable allies, such as Japan, which might be threatened by Russian HSWs. Since detection and tracking are critical to deterrence and defense against HSWs, appropriate priority must also be given to the development and deployment of U.S. space-based sensors.

• Increase,with allies and partners, deterrence against Russia’s conventional and hybrid threats, especially to NATO and Europe, in order to reduce the chances of escalation of aggression and open conflict. Russian ambitions abroad must be deterred across the range of international engagement, including diplomatically, economically, informationally, or militarily—or any combination thereof. While Russia’s seemingly ambitious nuclear policy is related to its concerns about NATO’s conventional superiority, Russia must first be deterred on the ladder of escalation well before open conflict erupts. In addition, burden sharing—whether economic, diplomatic, on defense spending or otherwise—must be distributed equitably among the NATO allies and is critical to this joint deterrence, dissuasion, and denial effort. Moreover, the Pentagon must again emphasize anti-submarine warfare in order to address threats such as the Poseidon, among other subsurface threats.

• Fund U.S. nuclear modernization to provide political–military assurance to allies, and to ensure U.S. direct and extended strategic deterrence capabilities, thereby reducing the risk of Russian provocation and international adventurism. While some progress has been made, U.S. nuclear forces are long overdue for replacement, with many systems dating back to the 1970s. A failure to introduce replacement systems quickly enough could result in gaps in the U.S. strategic deterrent, especially with the introduction of new Russian nuclear-capable weapons. Such a development is unacceptable. As an adjunct to this, in response to increased Russian nuclear challenges, NATO must reaffirm its commitment to remaining a nuclear alliance and maintain U.S. tactical nuclear weapons and capabilities in Europe.

• Engage Russia in substantive diplomatic and security dialogues about these new strategic weapons systems as soon as possible for reasons of strategic stability, nuclear risk reduction, and potential arms control. Both sides must pursue political–military efforts aimed at strategic stability and nuclear risk reduction. Russia’s new nuclear-capable weapons must be included in any new talks or negotiations, including arms control discussions. The New START extension covers Sarmat and Avangard, but allows Russia to continue developing its other destabilizing systems unchecked. Washington should also look to other capitals, especially in Europe but also in Asia (such as Tokyo), for consultation and help with influencing and pressuring Russia to come to the table for substantive talks on these new weapons.

Conclusion

It is unclear at this time whether all or some of these new Russian strategic weapons will ultimately be fielded, due to a number of factors—from the challenging development of novel technologies to potential defense budgetary constraints during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The most likely nuclear-capable weapons that Russia will field are the new Sarmat ICBM, due to the need to replace an aging strategic system, and the various HSWs as an emerging key technology among the great powers and their potential impact on future warfare.

Russia is arguably less likely to field the Burvestnik cruise missile and the Poseidon underwater drone—or, if deployed, only in small numbers—due to their likely limited military utility, complex engineering, and expense. Nonetheless, the potential undersea threat of Poseidon warrants U.S. expanded undersea sensors and anti-submarine warfare capacity.

Of course, these new systems demonstrate to the Russian people that under Putin’s leadership Russia is committed to ensuring the country’s national security, and is continuously thinking about how to improve it through defense innovation and modernization.

To foreign observers, the dramatic, public unveiling of these weapons is meant to send an unmistakable message: Putin’s Russia is a dynamic, advanced, global military power that will be able to protect and advance its national interests against any foe, but especially the United States.

The new weapons also signal a significant emphasis on strategic systems as central to Russia’s defense plans, doctrine, and policy, showing little change in Moscow’s questionable confidence that its conventional forces are able to meet its security needs in Europe—or even Asia (for example, in China).

Indeed, according to the DNI’s 2019 annual threat assessment to Congress, “We assess that Russia will remain the most capable WMD adversary through 2019 and beyond, developing new strategic and nonstrategic weapons systems.”65 Russia’s nontraditional strategic systems support that assessment.

These novel nuclear-capable weapons complicate U.S. and allied defense planning and policy, and must be addressed in the short term to bolster American and allied security, reducing the chances of misunderstanding, misperceptions, and mistakes that could lead to crisis and conflict.

Peter Brookes is Senior Research Fellow for Weapons of Mass Destruction and Counter Proliferation in the Center for National Defense, of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy, at The Heritage Foundation.

Babylon the Great’s Greatest Nuclear Threats

Cyber Terrorism, North Korea and Iran Nuclear Weapons Top ‘Critical Threats’ to U.S.: Poll

BY DAVID BRENNAN ON 3/22/21 AT 8:01 AM EDT

Americans of all political persuasions consider cyber attacks the greatest national security threat, according to a new Gallup poll, though there remain deep partisan divisions on a host of other existential threats to the U.S.

Gallup polled 1,021 nationally-representative adults between February 3 and 18 via telephone interviews, with a 4 percent sampling error.

It found that cyber attacks topped a list of 11 national security concerns, with 82 percent of respondents citing it as a “critical threat” to American interests. The poll results come as President Joe Biden’s administration mulls its response to Russia’s large-scale cyber attack last year, which compromised a host of federal agencies and U.S. companies.

The majority of both Republicans (81 percent) and Democrats (82 percent) fear the potential impact of future cyber attacks. Russia, China, Iran and North Korea are all sources of concern for national defense officials, and all have shown ability and willingness to attack U.S. targets.

Other top “critical threats” according to respondents are North Korean nuclear weapons (77 percent), potential Iranian nuclear weapons (75 percent), international terrorism (72 percent), and the global spread of infectious diseases (72 percent).

Less, but still significantly, worrying threats among the majority of respondents were the economic power of China (63 percent consider it a “critical threat) and climate change (58 percent).

Gallup said the results were fairly similar to those of past years, though noted concern rising about China’s economic power (up 17 points from 46 percent in 2019) and the spread of infectious diseases (up nine points from 63 percent in 2016).

But as with recent foreign policy polls, the latest Gallup research showed striking partisan disagreement on some of the key threats facing the U.S.

Remnants of former President Donald Trump’s foreign policy positions are still visible in Republican sentiment. Gallup found that Republicans are more likely than Democrats to be worried about Iran’s nuclear program (83 percent versus 68 percent), China’s economic power (78 percent versus 52 percent), and illegal immigration (75 percent versus 20 percent).

On the other hand, Democrats are more concerned than their right-wing compatriots about future pandemics (82 percent versus 61 percent) and climate change (86 percent versus 27 percent).

The two sides are closely aligned on their concerns over North Korean nuclear weapons (77 percent of Republicans and 76 percent of Democrats), international terrorism (72 percent for both sides), and cyber terrorism (81 percent of Republicans and 82 percent of Democrats

Russian Horn angry over planned expansion of British nuclear weapons

Russia angry over planned expansion of British nuclear weapons | Now

Thelma Binder

Russia’s ambassador to the United Kingdom on Saturday reacted angrily to a British decision to expand the country’s nuclear arsenal from 215 to 260. In conversation with LBC Andre Kellin has accused the UK government of violating the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

According to the NPT, which has been in force since the 1970s, countries with nuclear weapons must reduce their stakes. The United Kingdom, like Russia, signed the international treaty after the fall of the Soviet Union’s Cold War superpower.

On Tuesday, however, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that he wanted to strengthen the UK’s nuclear arsenal for the first time since the end of the Cold War. The head of the British government wants to stop the Russians and North Koreans.

The British already had more than the self-imposed ceiling of 180 warships. Johnson has raised that ceiling to 260, which has come under criticism both domestically and abroad.

The United Kingdom disagrees with this criticism. A spokesman for the country said, “Nuclear deterrence is an important part of the UK view of their role in the world.”

Colin enjoys the unpleasant surprise of British action. According to the Russian ambassador, the political relationship between the British and the Russians was “as good as dead”.

‘United Kingdom rejects goodwill’

According to Kelin, the Russians have repeatedly offered to talk to the British about things like digital espionage. The United Kingdom is said to have rejected all Russian diplomatic approaches.

According to Kelin, Russia’s twin agent Sergei Skribal’s poisoning in 2018 is behind British operations. Moscow continues to deny all involvement in the assassination attempt on the Scribes.

In October, the United Nations ratified the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Neither the United Kingdom nor Russia has signed the agreement. This also applies to the major powers in the Netherlands and the United States and China.

UK changes the nuclear rules: Daniel 7

U.K. Changes Nuclear Strike Rules Over Cyber, Chemical and Bioweapon Attacks

By David Brennan On 3/16/21 at 10:51 AM EDT

The U.K. has said it plans to change nuclear strike rules and expand its nuclear arsenal for the first time in decades following a broad defense review.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson informed parliament of the review on Tuesday, ending three decades of de facto disarmament by the British armed forces. The U.K. will now expand its nuclear arsenal, which is currently the fifth largest in the world.

The 100-page report, titled “Global Britain in a Competitive Age,” is the product of an integrated review of security, defense and foreign policy designed to refocus British policy in the face of perceived threats from Russia, China, and other adversaries.

The review is the foundation for a proposed £10 billion investment in Britain’s armed forces, which drew condemnation from disarmament campaigners.

Johnson announced on Tuesday that the cap on Britain’s Trident submarine-launched ballistic nuclear missiles arsenal is to be lifted from 180 to 260 warheads; representing a more than 40 percent increase.

The review also says the U.K. will change its nuclear weapons rules to meet the threat of states inflicting devastating cyber, biological or chemical weapons attacks against its population.

The review says that the U.K. will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against any non-nuclear weapon state that is party to the 1968 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. Current non-signatories are North Korea, India, Israel, Pakistan, and South Sudan.

But any signatory state that breaches the treaty will not be protected by that assurance, The Times reported.

The review says the U.K. “reserves the right to review this assurance if the future threat of mass destruction, such as chemical and biological capabilities, or emerging technologies that could have a comparable impact, makes it necessary.”

An unnamed defense source told The Times that the review takes into account the danger of a “cyber 9/11.” The source added: “You don’t need to drop a nuclear bomb on someone if you can cut off their food supplies. We’ve come a long way since the Second World War—now you can just turn off people’s phones and the internet.”

The U.K. is currently among the nations that have refused to commit to a “no first use” policy on nuclear weapons. Then-Defense Secretary Michael Fallon said in 2017 the U.K. would not commit to such a stance so that potential enemies would not be able to predict British military operations.

The review particularly notes the threats from Russia, China, and non-state terrorist groups. To address the latter, Johnson said the U.K. will also establish a new Counter-Terrorism Centre and build a new bunker underneath the prime ministerial residence at 10 Downing Street in London.

The review noted the “realistic possibility” of a successful chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear attack by a terrorist group by 2030, though did not provide any more detail on how the conclusion was reached according to a copy leaked to The Guardian.

The nuclear expansion is “in recognition of the evolving security environment,” which includes cyberspace; “an increasingly contested domain, used by state and non-state actors” where serious damage can be done to British infrastructure and nationals. The report reasserted the plan to create a national cyber force based in the north of the country.

Russia, China, Iran, North Korea and others are all concerns for the U.K. in the cyber sphere. The 2017 WannaCry cyber attack, for example, badly affected National Health Service systems.

On China, the review was relatively moderate. “China’s growing international stature is by far the most significant geopolitical factor in the world today,” it read. The relatively soft language will be a disappointment to China hawks in the U.K. who are pressing Johnson to take a tougher line on Beijing despite possible trade and diplomatic fallout.

“The fact that China is an authoritarian state, with different values to ours, presents challenges for the U.K. and our allies,” the report read. “China will contribute more to global growth than any other country in the next decade with benefits to the global economy.”

The report was more scathing of Russia, which has been accused of several chemical weapons attacks in the U.K. in recent decades and a widespread campaign of meddling in British democracy.

The U.K. has been at the forefront of sanctions efforts against Moscow for such covert actions, despite huge amounts of Russian money—reportedly much of it laundered—in the British economy and reported Russian influence within the ruling Conservative Party via wealthy donors.

Russia, the report said, is the most “acute threat to our security.” It added: “Until relations with its government improve, we will actively deter and defend against the full spectrum of threats emanating from Russia.”

This file photo shows the British HMS Vigilant nuclear-armed submarine on April 29, 2019 in Faslane, U.K. James Glossop – WPA Pool/Getty Images

UK To Increase Nuclear Stockpile: Daniel 7

UK To Increase Nuclear Stockpile: Reports

London, (UrduPoint / Pakistan Point News – 16th Mar, 2021 ) :Britain is to announce an increase to its nuclear weapons stockpile as part of a wide-ranging review of security, defence and foreign policy, two newspapers said on Monday.

The Guardian and The Sun said in their online editions that the country would look to raise the number of warheads from 180 to 260 by the middle of the decade.

Both dailies said details were contained in a leak they had seen of the government’s long-awaited Integrated Review, due to be published on Tuesday.

The review is also said to state clearly that Russia under President Vladimir Putin poses an “active threat” but describes China as providing a more “systemic challenge”.

London has increasingly locked horns with both Moscow and Beijing in recent years, on issues ranging from espionage and cyber-attacks to human rights.

Britain’s Trident nuclear programme is a thorny political issue domestically, with repeated calls for it to be scrapped, given global moves towards disarmament after the end of the Cold War.

Opponents for its abolition include the main opposition Labour party and the Scottish National Party (SNP). Britain’s nuclear submarine fleet is based in the west of Scotland.

The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) called the reports “shocking” given the pressures of the global coronavirus pandemic and climate change.

“We don’t want any more nuclear weapons. In fact, we don’t want any,” it added.

The executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), Beatrice Fihn, accused Britain of “pushing for a dangerous new nuclear arms race”.

She said it was “irresponsible, dangerous and violates international law”, adding: “This is toxic masculinity on display.

” – Strategic ’tilt’ – Prime Minister Boris Johnson is due to set out the conclusions of the year-long review — entitled “Global Britain in a Competitive Age — to parliament on Tuesday.

His Downing Street office billed the 100-page report as the government’s “most comprehensive articulation of a foreign policy and national security approach” in decades.

It comes as London looks to reposition itself post-Brexit, rebranding itself “Global Britain” and eyeing new opportunities beyond the European Union.

Johnson’s office said the recommendations included a strategic “tilt” towards the Indo-Pacific region, given its increasing importance in global geopolitics.

Britain has already applied for partner status at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), while Johnson is due to make his first post-EU visit to India in April.

Other key areas the review will address include plans for the military to adopt cutting-edge technologies such as drones and artificial intelligence.

There will also be a new focus on space and cyber, as well as a revamp of Britain’s ability to respond to security threats with the creation of a White House-style situation room.

A new Counter-Terrorism Operations Centre is also proposed.

The review is said to be a response to a changing world in which Britain “cannot rely solely on an increasingly outdated international system”.

It will stress the continuing importance of alliances, including with NATO, but set out a new foreign policy of “increased international activism… to shape a more open international order in which democracies flourish”.