UK changes policy to use nuclear weapons in response to emerging technology


Royal Navy security personnel stand guard on the Trident submarine HMS Vigilant in Scotland.

Jeff J Mitchell | fake images

LONDON – The UK has changed its defense policy, which may allow it to use nuclear weapons in response to “emerging technologies”.

The country’s 111-page Integrated Defense Review, released Tuesday, included a subtle line about when the UK “reserves the right” to use nuclear weapons.

It says the UK could use nuclear weapons if other countries use “weapons of mass destruction” against it. Such weapons include “emerging technologies that could have a comparable impact” to chemical, biological, or other nuclear weapons.

Some British newspapers report that “emerging technologies” include cyberattacks, citing defense experts, but the report does not say so explicitly. The UK government did not immediately respond to a request for comment from CNBC.

Tom Plant, director of the think tank at the Royal United Services Institute, told CNBC: “I would not interpret that as including cyberattacks in isolation, no.”

He added that “the understanding of what constitutes emerging technology in government is not evenly distributed – cyber is definitely not ’emerging’, it has emerged quite substantially.”

Either way, Plant thinks the language change is significant.

“I think it is an indicator that there is a possibility in the future that combinations of technologies and behaviors will be combined that create emerging risks, that perhaps would not arise through the developments of any technology in isolation, that are incredibly difficult to predict. and that there is at least the possibility that one or more of these emerging yet unknown challenges could rival weapons of mass destruction in the threat they pose, “he said.

Trident Tactics

The UK’s nuclear program, known as Trident, was established in 1980 and now costs the UK around £ 2bn ($ 2.8bn) a year to operate.

The Integrated Defense Review confirmed that the UK is allowing a self-imposed limit on its nuclear weapons arsenal to increase to 260, abandoning the previous limit of 225 warheads, as well as the current reduction target of 180 by the mid-2020s. .

“This reverses the UK’s course of consistent post-Cold War nuclear reductions and runs counter to previous assurances that the UK’s existing nuclear deterrent would not increase the number of nuclear warheads in service,” Plant wrote in a blog post.

He added that the changes are presented as a reaction to a changed international security environment.

“The government paints a picture of a world with increasing international competition and increasing threats from Russia, China, North Korea and Iran,” Plant said. “In his view, the adversaries of the United Kingdom are increasing the variety and quantity of their nuclear capabilities, and see nuclear weapons as a means of coercion, deterrence and even war.”

While the UK appears to be expanding the scenarios in which it could use nuclear weapons, US President Joe Biden said in his election campaign that the “sole purpose” of nuclear weapons should be to deter or retaliate against another nuclear attack.

Indo-Pacific tilt

The Integrated Defense Review also outlined a new “tilt” toward the Indo-Pacific region.

“By 2030, we will be deeply committed to the Indo-Pacific as the European partner with the broadest and most integrated presence in support of mutually beneficial trade, shared security and values,” the document reads.

It says the UK will enter the Indo-Pacific region in part in response to “geopolitical and geo-economic changes”, including China’s global “power and assertiveness”, as well as the region’s growing importance to “prosperity and global security “.

The report references partnerships with countries such as India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.

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