Britain commits to nuclear expansion in defiance of non-proliferation treaty

What is behind the renewed imperialist drive to war?

Proletarian writers

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Britain is increasing its nuclear stockpile for the first time since the cold war. The notion that this somehow represents ‘compliance‘ with the Non-Proliferation Treaty will be seen in Russia and China for what it really is – staggering hypocrisy and the launching of an aggressive arms race.

Proletarian writers

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Britain is to lift the cap on the number of nuclear warheads it can stockpile to 260 – an increase of over 40 percent. 

The move was announced as part of a ‘security and defence’ review and will reverse a decades-long trend in the reduction of nuclear weapons. The review declared Russia to be an “active threat” to Britain and stated that China poses a “systematic challenge”.

In a brazen piece of doublespeak, prime minister Boris Johnson claimed that Britain had not turned its back on nuclear disarmament – and called upon China to commit to reducing its nuclear arsenal!

“We’re committed to nuclear arms reduction, and indeed we believe that China should be brought into strategic nuclear arms reduction,” he said. 

Earlier, in February, the British government had likewise implored Iran to “come back into compliance” with the nuclear deal that had been ripped up in 2018 by the USA.

“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,” said James Cleverly, Britain’s junior foreign minister for the middle east and north Africa.

“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.”

However, it is the USA and its European allies (including Britain) that are breaching the Iran deal by placing sanctions on the country whilst it was in full compliance with the deal’s terms.

In fact, the JCPOA agreement specifically states that Iran has the right to exceed the limits set by the deal if sanctions continue to be placed on it.

Meanwhile, as a nuclear weapons state, Britain is a signatory to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). Article VI obligates our government 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”.

Previous governments have linked reductions in Britain’s nuclear stockpile to compliance with the NPT. In 2015, the British delegation to the NPT review conference stated:

“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.”

Britain today may claim to be living up to the NPT’s obligations, but when it has previously argued that compliance is dependent upon reducing its total stockpile of nuclear weapons its present stance is exposed as a barefaced lie, and will undoubtedly be interpreted as such by Russia, China and the wider international community.

Russia and China in particular understand that this drive to rearmament is directed mainly at them and will have no option but to respond in kind. The consequence will inevitably be a greater proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Government hedging its nuclear bets

The security and defence review also emphasised intentional ambiguity in its statements about the circumstances and extent to which British authorities might permit the use of nuclear weapons.

“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 longstanding policy of deliberate ambiguity and no longer give public figures for our operational stockpile, deployed warhead or deployed missile numbers.”

This ambiguity can’t help adding to a general atmosphere of tension and war preparedness, and further increase the risk that these weapons will actually be used. This is also made more likely by Washington’s present focus on developing ‘mini’ nukes that it sees as being more ‘acceptable’ to the general public.

As communists, our goal is naturally complete global nuclear disarmament. What sane person views with equanimity the possibility of humanity wiping itself (and much of life on earth) out by the use of such devastating firepower?

However, until the day that imperialism ceases to exist, we will continue to support the right of all those targeted by the imperialists to develop their own nuclear weapons capabilities in order to preserve their independence and their right to self-determination.

The continued aggression of the imperialist powers proves that they will settle for nothing less than total domination of the people and resources of the planet.