Brief to PM - why we don't need more Trident warheads


1. The UK is one of three official Depositaries for the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT). In addition to administrative duties, UK is required to set high standards of conformity. The Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development & Foreign Policy appears to be in breach of the letter of the NPT and definitely in breach of the spirit.

2. One 100kt Trident warhead is sufficient to physically destroy hundreds of thousands of people along with the infrastructure of a small State. It would also inflict generations of  radiation effects  on all its neighbours. The previous limit of 180  warheads was sufficient to kill millions of people and cause such devastation as would lead to a nuclear winter and extinction of multiple lifeforms. An additional 80 achieves no more than doubling up on this and ensuring any surviving life forms are extinguished

3. It may be that the Government envisages using low yield (5 - 10kt) warheads against chemical and biological threats - even from NPT signatories. While these may be slightly less than Hiroshima’s blast and radiation effects – still being experienced 75 years later – their use could well trigger a nuclear exchange between third parties whose effects would be totally disproportionate to the reason for using them and replicate delivery of several 100kt warheads.

4. The threat of use of nuclear weapons in the past has not prevented non-nuclear warfare e.g. Korea and Vietnam. There is no reason to suppose that it would deter cyber or chemical/biological attacks or any other form of non-nuclear warfare.

5. The increase in warheads undermines the UK commitment to Article VI of the NPT and so significantly weakens the Treaty. I.e. ‘The haves can have more with impunity but not you’ is not a good message.

6. The implication that UK may use nuclear weapons to counter non-nuclear attacks may encourage non-nuclear weapon States to provide themselves with nuclear weapons to have similar enhanced protection. 

7. The ‘Global Reach’ military ambitions of the recent Integrated Review exceeds the capability available, even after implementing its recommendations, because of the extreme cost of nuclear weapons. 

8. Nuclear weapons are a very blunt Cold War era instrument entirely inappropriate for nuanced reaction to say Russian incursions in the Baltic or China in the Pacific. Neither country would seriously consider that UK would actually launch a nuclear attack against them and so would proceed knowing we lacked the conventional force to oppose.

9. UK professes to be a ‘rules based’ society. The targets at which a nuclear war head could be lawfully fired and arguably be compliant with current international laws are limited to mid ocean or uninhabited desert - provided there is no prevailing wind. 

10. The US Biden administration is contemplating reducing nuclear weapons and to be used on a ‘sole use’ and not first use basis i.e. only to deter/retaliate to a nuclear weapon attack. The UK policy of ‘deliberate ambiguity’ which, by denying nothing, embraces all, will conflict with the US. The  risk is that technical/political support for UK Trident might be withdrawn. The US is so deeply embedded in UK Trident, from supply of missiles, warheads, targeting procedures and the launch system, that it has the means to render UK Trident inoperable if it so wishes.