Bildet viser Storbtiannias statsminister Boris Johnson i halvfigur som gestikulerer med hendene i været. I bakgrunnen fire menn i marineuniformer. Photo: NTB Scanpix

SUBMARINE VISIT: UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson visits the HMNB Clyde in 2019, where he was given a tour of one of the country's four nuclear-powered submarines of the Vanguard class, which is based there and equipped with Trident D5 nuclear missiles. 

Britain’s Inward Facing Nuclear Politics

Published: 25 May 2021

Boris Johnson’s government decided to increase its nuclear stockpile from 180 nuclear warheads to 260. Taking a closer look at this decision in new op-ed, NUPI’s senior researcher Paul Beaumont argues that to make Britain’s nuclear weapon policy make sense, you need to look inwards not outwards.

Conducting a major review of its armed forces during the Corona crisis last month, Britain laid out its security strategy for the 21st century. Despite the British economy’s current Corona and Brexit induced woes, Boris Johnson’s government decided to increase its nuclear stockpile from 180 nuclear warheads to 260. Or more precisely, it announced that it would lift the self-imposed limit, such that it could increase its stockpiles by 80 should it desire. 

Taking a closer look at this decision in new op-ed published in Forsvarets forum, NUPI’s senior researcher Paul Beaumont argues that to make Britain’s nuclear weapon policy make sense, you need to look inwards not outwards.

While Britain’s defence posturing speaks gravely about worsening global security environments, even if one accepts at face value these new threats, it is far from clear what strategic purpose these additional weapons would or could serve, even if one believes in nuclear deterrence.

Instead, Britain’s new nuclear policy is better understood as a symbolic gesture performed mainly for domestic consumption. Indeed, those looking for a strategic rationale for increasing Britain’s stockpile can keep looking; sensible observers should strike it up as another symptom of Britain’s dysfunctional domestic politics and long-term identity-crisis.

Paul Beaumont is a Senior Research Fellow at NUPI and the author of the book Performing Nuclear Weapons: How Britain Made Trident Make Sense, which will go on sale on 24th May. The book conducts a discourse analysis of the stories Britain has told about its nuclear weapons from Thatcher to Blair. The first chapter of the book will be available on open access.