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Yesterday Boris Johnson announced a 40% increase in Britain’s nuclear arsenal.
Today the arsenal stands at around 200 nuclear warheads. Each is about 8 times the power of the Hiroshima bomb which killed over 200,000 people. That’s a killing capacity of hundreds of millions. How can Johnson conceivably justify that arsenal, never mind increasing it?
A key question being asked across media and parliament is: Is it legal?
The answer is a resounding No. Increasing Britain’s nuclear arsenal contravenes our legal obligations under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which Britain ratified in 1970. The Treaty requires countries that have nuclear weapons to disarm, and those that don’t have them not to get them. There is no way in which increasing a nuclear arsenal is legitimate under the Treaty.
But it’s not just new warheads that are illegal, it’s the whole Trident replacement project as well. When Blair’s government was first pursuing Trident replacement in 2005, Matrix Chambers gave a legal opinion which found that the replacement of Trident would be a material breach of the Treaty because it requires ‘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.’
So not only are additional warheads illegal, but Trident replacement is illegal, and the failure to disarm our existing nuclear weapons contravenes the Treaty.
Bizarrely, British governments always assert their unflinching commitment to the NPT, and the Integrated Review is no exception. It states: ‘We are strongly committed to full implementation of the NPT in all its aspects, including nuclear disarmament’.
Sadly, that’s just not true. Indeed our government – with all its Review’s talk of the ‘rules-based order’, the super soft power of the BBC, its leadership in diplomacy – completely ignores the Treaty, and its decision this week has fired a Trident missile through any pretence at fulfilling its legal obligations. It has racheted up global tensions, presumably to reinforce Johnson’s image of a ‘global Britain’,