Britain’s Nuke Increase Is In Breach Of Its NPT Obligations

16 March 2021 — Moon of Alabama

Less than a month ago the British government chided Iran to ‘come back into compliance‘ with the nuclear deal:

“I don’t think that we should be sending a signal that we are going to overlook this non-compliance or just brush it under the carpet,” James Cleverly, Britain’s junior foreign minister who covers the Middle East and North Africa, told the BBC.

“This is in Iran’s hands, they are the ones breaching the conditions of the JCPOA, they are the ones that can do something about this, and they should come back into compliance,” he said.

In fact it is the U.S. and its European proxies, including Britain, which are not in compliance with the JCPOA. Iran has exceeded some technical limits of the nuclear deal. But it is allowed to do so under §26 and §37 of the deal as the other parties are not in compliance with their duties under the deal.

It is also Britain which is now threatening to break another nuclear treaty:

Britain is lifting the cap on the number of Trident nuclear warheads it can stockpile by more than 40%, Boris Johnson will announce on Tuesday, ending 30 years of gradual disarmament since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The increased limit, from 180 to 260 warheads, is contained in a leaked copy of the integrated review of defence and foreign policy, seen by the Guardian. It paves the way for a controversial £10bn rearmament in response to perceived threats from Russia and China.

The UK has signed the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) as a nuclear weapon state. Britain, by increasing its stockpile of nuclear weapons, is now in breach of Article VI of the treaty:

Article VI

Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.

In previous communication to other NPT states Britain has explicitly linked the number of nuclear warheads it has to its Article VI obligation. In a speech to the UN 2015 Review Conference of the NPT Baroness Anelay, Minister of State at the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office, said:

Madam President, the United Kingdom remains firmly committed to step-by-step disarmament, and our obligations under Article Six. We announced in January that we have reduced the number of warheads on each of our deployed ballistic missile submarines from 48 to 40, and the number of operational missiles on each of those submarines to no more than eight.

This takes our total number of operationally available warheads to no more than 120. And this will enable us to reduce our overall nuclear warhead stockpile to not more than 180 by the mid 2020s.

The UK has argued to be in compliance with its Article VI obligations because it was reducing the number of nuclear warheads. It thus can not claim to be in compliance with the treaty when it increases that number.

The just published Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy which introduces the British policy change argues on page 76 that the higher numbers are necessary:

The UK’s independent nuclear deterrent has existed for over 60 years to deter the most extreme threats to our national security and way of life, helping to guarantee our security and that of our Allies.

Some states are now significantly increasing and diversifying their nuclear arsenals. They are investing in novel nuclear technologies and developing new ‘warfighting’ nuclear systems which they are integrating into their military strategies and doctrines and into their political rhetoric to seek to coerce others. The increase in global competition, challenges to the international order, and proliferation of potentially disruptive technologies all pose a threat to strategic stability.

In 2010 the Government stated an intent to reduce our overall nuclear warhead stockpile ceiling from not more than 225 to not more than 180 by the mid-2020s. However,

in recognition of the evolving security environment, including the developing range of technological and doctrinal threats, this is no longer possible, and the UK will move to an overall nuclear weapon stockpile of no more than 260 warheads

Technological threats against the British nukes are possible but what please are ‘doctrinal threats’?

The UK has at all times one nuclear submarine with nuclear armed missiles at sea. That is its sole nuclear deterrence element that could be endangered by new technological threats, for example swarms of armed submerged drones. But putting more nuclear warheads onto that one submarine at sea will not make that submarine more safe or change the technological threat level. It is the wrong solution to a potentially upcoming problem.

This ‘ambiguity’ is also bad:

While our resolve and capability to do so if necessary is beyond doubt, we will remain deliberately ambiguous about precisely when, how and at what scale we would contemplate the use of nuclear weapons. Given the changing security and technological environment, we will extend this long-standing policy of deliberate ambiguity and no longer give public figures for our operational stockpile, deployed warhead or deployed missile numbers.

The hiding of such numbers can lead to miscalculations on the opponent’s side and is as such a destabilizing element. It does not increase national security but potentially endangers it.

The UK is intentionally breaching the Non-Proliferation Treaty and increasing its nuclear stockpile. It is also the UK which is following illegal U.S. sanctions on Iran despite their incompatibility with the JCPOA.

Why then should Iran, or any other country, be expected to stay within the negotiated framework of the NPT and JCPOA?

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