The U.K. plans to bolster its stockpile of nuclear weapons to counter growing threats around the world, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced as he unveiled a major overhaul of defense and foreign policy.
Under a blueprint for the next decade, the U.K. will cut troop numbers, tanks and some fighter jets, according to a person familiar with the matter, while increasing its arsenal of nuclear warheads potentially by more than 40%.
The first stage of the plan is contained in a 100-page report which Johnson’s officials are billing as the most wide ranging re-evaluation of the U.K.’s security and place in the world since the end of the Cold War. More details on the future of the British armed forces will be set out next week.
In Tuesday’s report, the government warned the U.K. is under threat from rogue states, terrorists and even big tech companies, arguing that British military capabilities and international alliances must be reshaped in response.
The decision to bolster the U.K.’s nuclear capability immediately proved controversial, calling time on the gradual disarmament that marked the end of the Cold War. Officials believe the move is necessary because other countries are “increasing and diversifying their nuclear arsenals,” deploying “novel” technologies, according to the document.
“We remain committed to maintaining the minimum destructive power needed to guarantee that the U.K.’s nuclear deterrent remains credible and effective against the full range of state nuclear threats from any direction,” the document said.
Leader of the opposition Labour Party Keir Starmer told Johnson U.K. had broken the goal of successive governments to reduce the nuclear stockpile without explaining “when, why or for what strategic purpose.”
Later, Johnson’s spokesman Jamie Davies denied the point made by many MPs in Parliament that the U.K. could be in breach of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. It “doesn’t require us to reduce the number of warheads,” Davies told reporters in London.
Key points in Johnson’s defense and foreign policy review
|The maximum limit to the number of nuclear warheads the U.K. maintains will rise to 260 from 180U.K. foreign policy will tilt toward Indo-Pacific regionA chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear attack by terrorists is “likely” over the next 10 yearsMilitary bases will be revamped in Kenya, Oman, Singapore, Cyprus, Gibraltar and Germany so forces can respond more quickly — with a focus on the Indo-Pacific regionPlans to develop the next generation of naval vessels, including Type 32 frigates, and to build warships in Scotland will go ahead while at least 48 Lockheed Martin F-35 combat aircraft will be added by 2025.According to a person familiar with the matter, ministers will next week set out plans to cut the British army by 10,000 personnel, alongside a reduction of 77 tanks and 760 Lockheed Martin Warrior fighting vehiclesThe Royal Air Force will see a reduction of 24 Eurofighter Typhoon jets, 13 Lockheed Hercules transport planes, while the Navy will lose two specialist submarine-hunting frigates well as 13 mine-hunters, the person said
The policy framework spans overseas aid, cyber warfare, the future of the armed forces, and addressing climate change. For Johnson, it’s a chance to tell the world how he sees post-Brexit Britain’s role in the global order developing over the next decade.
In the report, Johnson outlined a new activist approach to international relations on issues such as climate change and democracy as he makes clear he regards the Indo-Pacific as increasingly the geopolitical center of the world, especially with the growing clout of China.
“There is no question China will pose a great challenge for an open society such as ours,” Johnson told Parliament. “But we will also work with China where that is consistent with our values and interests, including building a stronger and positive economic relationship and in addressing climate change.”