Lifting cap on nuclear warheads is ultimate insurance policy, says Raab

Emma Bowden, Patrick Daly and Gavin Cordon, PA
·5-min read

The Foreign Secretary has defended plans to lift the cap on the UK’s stockpile of nuclear warheads, claiming it represents the “ultimate insurance policy” against threats from hostile states.

Dominic Raab said it was important to maintain a “minimum credible level of deterrent” amid reports Boris Johnson is set to raise the cap on Britain’s stockpile of Trident nuclear warheads in the Integrated Review.

The Government’s review of security, defence, development and foreign policy will increase the limit from 180 to 260, according to a leaked copy obtained by the Guardian – ending three decades of gradual disarmament.

The newspaper said that it paves the way for a £10 billion rearmament in response to perceived threats from Russia and China.

HM Naval Base Clyde
The cap on Britain’s stockpile of Trident nuclear warheads will reportedly be raised (James Glossop/The Times/PA)

Asked why the Government would want to increase the amount, the Foreign Secretary told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Because over time as the circumstances change and the threats change, we need to maintain a minimum credible level of deterrent.

“Why? Because it is the ultimate guarantee, the ultimate insurance policy against the worst threat from hostile states.”

Elsewhere, the review is said to warn there is a “realistic possibility” that a terrorist group will launch a successful chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear (CBRN) attack by 2030.

The Prime Minister will set out the findings of the year-long survey – billed as the most radical reassessment of Britain’s place in the world since the end of the Cold War – in the Commons on Tuesday.

It is expected to include the creation of a new state-of-the-art counter-terrorism operations centre to streamline the response of police and the intelligence agencies in the event of an attack.

There will also be a new “situation centre” in the Cabinet Office similar to the White House situation room where former president Barack Obama was able to watch the US special forces operation to kill Osama bin Laden in real time.

Boris Johnson
The Prime Minister will set out the findings of the year-long survey in the Commons on Tuesday (Peter Morrison/PA)

The 100-page document argues that the increase in the nuclear warheads cap is “in recognition of the evolving security environment” and the “developing range of technological and doctrinal threats”, the Guardian said.

“A minimum, credible, independent nuclear deterrent, assigned to the defence of Nato, remains essential in order to guarantee our security and that of our allies,” the review, entitled Global Britain in a Competitive Age, says.

The review states that Russia under Vladimir Putin represents an “active threat”, however the language on China is more measured, saying Beijing poses a “systemic challenge”.

Reacting to the review, Sir Alex Younger, former head of MI6, said Russia was “implacably hostile” to the UK and its allied countries, while China represented a “generational threat”.

He told BBC R4’s Today programme: “There’s no doubt that China represents the generational threat and the reason for that is that the idea that China will become more like us as it gets richer, or as its economy matured, is clearly for the birds.

“That’s not going to happen. On the contrary I expect China’s Communist Party to double down on its ideology in the future.

“There’s going to be an ideological divergence between us in the future, that’s going to generate rivalry and reduce trust.”

According to The Times, which has also obtained a leaked copy, it says the UK will “not hesitate” to defend its values and will increase the protection of critical infrastructure, such as the national grid, transport and water supplies.

However, in a section likely to alarm Tory hawks, on China it also argues that the UK will need to pursue a positive economic relationship including “deeper trade links and more Chinese investment”.

Elsewhere, it marks a strategic “tilt” towards the Indo-Pacific region, reflecting the view of ministers that it is increasingly becoming the “geopolitical centre of the world”.

The shift will be underlined by the deployment of the HMS Queen Elizabeth carrier strike group to the region on its maiden operational mission later this year.

It is also said to include a personal commitment from Mr Johnson to restore foreign aid spending to 0.7% of national income “when the fiscal situation allows” following criticism of cuts to support for Yemen and other countries.

In a statement, Mr Johnson is expected to argue that while Nato remains the bedrock of UK security in the Euro-Atlantic region, the country can no longer rely on an “increasingly outdated international system” to protect its interests.

At a time when some countries are seeking to undermine the open and liberal international order which emerged following the Cold War, he is expected to say the UK needs to use “all the tools at our disposal” to ensure a world where democracies can still flourish.

He is expected to tell MPs: “I am profoundly optimistic about the UK’s place in the world and our ability to seize the opportunities ahead.

“The ingenuity of our citizens and the strength of our Union will combine with our international partnerships, modernised armed forces and a new green agenda, enabling us to look forward with confidence as we shape the world of the future.”

The publication comes after the Prime Minister announced in November a £16.5 billion increase in defence spending over the next four years, focusing on the future battlefields of space and cyber.

However, military chiefs have made clear the investment in new technologies will mean cuts to some “industrial age” capabilities, to be set out in a further paper by the Ministry of Defence next week .

The Army is expected to be the biggest loser, with troop numbers expected to be slashed by more than 10,000, while its fleet of Challenger 2 main battle tanks is expected to be reduced by a third and the Warrior infantry fighting vehicle retired altogether.