The first sign of Great Britain producing a weapon of mass destruction surfaced in the 1940s, however it was not until October 1952 when an independent nuclear weapon, appropriately named ‘Hurricane’, was publicly tested. Since then, Britain has collected a stockpile of over 220 warheads but only a British nuclear service named the ‘Trident Nuclear Programme’, has control over them. They have recently announced plans to lower this number due to the strong stance held by Britain on nuclear non-proliferation outside of nuclear states.
Britain, under Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, supported and signed the ‘Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons’ (NPT) and ratified all international non-proliferation treaties and regimes. Although Great Britain had signed the NPT, up until 2010 there had been no official statement on British uses of nuclear weapons. The Strategic Defence and Security Review in 2010 stated and assured the public that Great Britain ‘will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapon state parties to the NPT.’ However, despite this the review states that Britain would use nuclear weapons in ‘the most extreme circumstances of self-defence.’
Britain has worked cooperatively with countries, firstly in the development of nuclear weapons and then to stop the spread of those armaments for countries who are not part of the NPT. Within those countries, the United States has held a ‘special’ place. Since the early 1940s, Great Britain and the United States worked together on the ‘Manhattan Project’ in which Britain helped with the scientific research into the atomic bomb and in addition, helped fund part of the project. Both countries have signed the ‘Quebec Agreement’ as well as share a ‘Mutual Defence Agreement.’ Both these agreements entitle them to sharing security measures and any new scientific data discovered on nuclear activity and the weapons thus then created. The agreements also state that the two countries will never use nuclear agents on each other and not use third party involvement without consent from the other. The U.S allowed Britain to use the Nevada test site and more recently have joined together to conduct nuclear experiments, testing their existing weapons.
A statement given by the Minister of State at the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office at the UN 2015 Conference on the Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons acknowledged that Britain ‘have continued’ and ‘will continue…ground-breaking verification work…with the United States.’ Thus, the ‘special relationship’ with the U.S regarding nuclear weapons continues to the present day.
By Katie Doherty
http://www.un.org/en/conf/npt/2015/statements/pdf/GB_en.pdf accessed 15/11/16
http://www.nti.org/learn/countries/united-kingdom/nuclear/ accessed 15/11/16
http://www.un.org/en/conf/npt/2005/npttreaty.html accessed 15/11/16