UK Nuclear Weapons Program – 2024 Edition

The UK government made this statement during a January debate. It’s a decent brief summary of the program:

The key point is that every day since April 1969, there has been at least one nuclear-armed Royal Navy submarine at sea, helping to keep the United Kingdom safe—the whole of the United Kingdom. In January 1980, when the House debated the successor programme to Polaris, which led to Trident—the title of this debate—the Secretary of State for Defence, Lord Pym, boiled down the Government’s position to one essential point. While acknowledging the “horrendous” nature of nuclear weapons and regretting that we could not “disinvent” them, he concluded that Britain needed to be a nuclear power because of what it would contribute to NATO’s strategy of deterrence and, through that, to our own national security.

Essentially, that has been the position of every UK Government since then. The renewal of the nuclear deterrent was approved by an overwhelming majority of 355 votes in this House in 2016, and it remains this Government’s position today. In 1980 the debate was framed by the cold war, but in 2024 the threats facing our country have multiplied and become far more complex. The number of nuclear states has grown, while Putin’s aggression and intransigence have set back the prospect of nuclear disarmament more broadly. Russia still holds around 6,000 warheads, and we face a much more assertive, nuclear-armed China. North Korea remains hellbent on honing its nuclear capabilities at the expense of the wellbeing of its own people, while Iran has repeatedly violated its international nuclear obligations and has enriched uranium far beyond what it needs for civilian purposes.

Significantly, our competitors are investing in novel nuclear technologies, including new warfighting nuclear systems, to integrate into their military strategies and doctrines. If we measure the need for an effective nuclear deterrent by the number of nuclear-armed states overtly working against the UK’s national interest, it is clear that the need to deter has never been greater. Let us not forget that a credible nuclear capability is about more than merely countering nuclear threats; it is about deterring all of the most extreme threats to our nation. That is why the Government are investing in upgrading our nuclear infrastructure to support the next generation Dreadnought-class submarines and replacement warheads. These will be some of the most advanced nuclear systems ever built, which sends a clear message to any would-be adversary.

Four Dreadnought submarines will replace the Vanguard-class submarines that have maintained our nuclear deterrent since 1992. They will give us an independent, continuous at-sea nuclear deterrent well into the second half of the century, and progress is on track to deliver the first of the Dreadnought submarines into service in the early 2030s. At £31 billion, it is correct to say that the estimated cost of the programme is significant, but we cannot develop this type of world-leading capability on the cheap, and we must also weigh that against the terrible cost of war, which is what the nuclear deterrent deters from happening

President Rao on Nuclear Weapons Tests

From this 2004 interview:

SG: But that is something on which in history there is still a question mark and let’s not wait for your book. Is it true that we came close to testing but we did not under American pressure?

PV: Oh, this is something which I have answered several times. This secret will perish along with me. It will never come out of my mouth. It’s for you and lots of books have been written. All off the mark. Some a little less off, some very much off.

SG: So, when will be the right time for history to know what exactly happened?

PV: No, they will never know. It’s from me and it will not come from you. You can go on approximating.

SG: But why must you not make it part of the record of history? Lots of time has gone by now.

PV: I am under an oath. An oath for me is something very sacred. It’s not like cabinet papers being circulated in advance.

China and United States on Nukes

During a recent UNGA meeting, representatives from China and the United States had an exchange concerning China’s nuclear weapons program.

United States:

Turning to China, we stand by our statements that the People’s Republic of China is undertaking a significant expansion and modernization of its nuclear forces. We assess that it will increase its production of nuclear warheads to 1,500 by 2035. China’s lack of transparency as to the size and composition of its nuclear stockpile makes it difficult to gauge its intentions. In addition, it continues to rebuff substantive bilateral engagement on risk reduction with the United States. That destabilizing uncertainty extends to other areas. The People’s Republic of China is also developing new nuclear-fuel cycle capabilities to include plutonium production and reprocessing facilities that are very likely to support its nuclear force expansion. Notably, it is building two CFR-600 fast-breeder nuclear reactors, which are optimized for the production of weapon-grade plutonium. It has made the choice to start up the breeder reactors using HEU fuel rather than MOX fuel. Using HEU fuel as the reactor fuel enables the production of weapon-grade plutonium in the reactor core. Each year, each of the People’s Republic of China’s CFR-600 reactors could produce enough plutonium for dozens of nuclear warheads.


I will be very brief. The representative of the United States, in exercising the right of reply, once again anticipated that by 2035, China’s nuclear capability will develop further. Moreover, she questioned China’s intent in developing its nuclear capabilities. Those areall groundless projections, and I would therefore like to state a few facts. China’s nuclear policy is highly transparent, and China has always explicitly revealed its intentions in that regard. China remains steadfast on a path of peaceful development and abides by its nuclear strategy of self-defence. It is also the only country among the five nuclear Powers to commit to refraining from being the first to use nuclear weapons. China has always advocated that the nuclear Powers should all be committed to refraining from using nuclear weapons. They should sign and ratify all the relevant treaties, honour their commitments to refraining from targeting any country with their nuclear weapons or formulating a nuclear deterrence policy against any country, with a view to avoiding accidents and any unauthorized launch of nuclear weapons. China feels compelled to ask the representative of the United States whether her country is willing to undertake the same commitment with regard to refraining from being the first to use nuclear weapons. We believe that kind of transparency would be very meaningful.