United Kingdom and weapons of mass destruction

United Kingdom and weapons of mass destruction

The United Kingdom is one of the five official nuclear weapon states under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and has an independent nuclear deterrent. The United Kingdom renounced the use of chemical and biological weapons in 1956 and subsequently destroyed its general stocks.

Nuclear weapons

The United Kingdom has four "Vanguard" class submarines armed with nuclear-tipped Trident missiles. The principle of operation is based on maintaining deterrent effect by always having at least one submarine at sea, and was designed for the Cold War period. One submarine is normally undergoing maintenance and the remaining two are in port or on training exercises. It is believed that British ballistic missile submarine patrols are coordinated with those of the French. [ [http://www.thebulletin.org/article_nn.php?art_ofn=nd01norris] ]

Each submarine carries up to 16 Trident II D-5 missiles, which can each carry up to twelve warheads. However, the British government announced in 1998 that each submarine would carry only 48 warheads (halving the limit specified by the previous government), which is an average of three per missile. However one or two missiles per submarine are probably armed with fewer warheads for "sub-strategic" use causing others to be armed with more.

The British-designed warheads are thought to be selectable between 0.3 kilotons, 5-10 kt and 100 kt; the yields obtained using either the unboosted primary, the boosted primary, or the entire "physics package". The United Kingdom has purchased the rights to 58 missiles under the Polaris Sales Agreement (modified for Trident) from the United States Navy's "pool". These missiles are fitted with United Kingdom-built warheads and are exchanged when requiring maintenance. Under the agreement the United States was given certain assurances by the UK regarding the use of the missiles, however the United States does not have any veto on the use of British nuclear weapons. [Citation | url=http://www.mod.uk/NR/rdonlyres/E2054A40-7833-48EF-991C-7F48E05B2C9D/0/nuclear190705.pdf | title=Freedom of Information request about the UK nuclear deterrent | author=Assistant Director (Deterrence Policy) | date=19 July 2005 | publisher=Ministry of Defence | id=21-06-2005-094719-001 | accessdate=2006-05-23]

The United Kingdom is one of the five "Nuclear Weapons States" (NWS) under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which the UK ratified in 1968. The United Kingdom has not run an independent development programme since the cancellation of the Blue Streak missile programme in the 1960s, buying U.S. delivery systems and fitting British warheads instead (Polaris Sales Agreement).

The UK permits the U.S. to deploy nuclear weapons from its territory, the first having arrived in 1954. [Citation | url=http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/news/19991020/04-51.htm | title=History of the Custody and Deployment of Nuclear Weapons: July 1945 through September 1977 | author=Hans M. Kristensen | date=February 1978 | publisher=U.S. Department of Defence | accessdate=2006-05-23] During the 1980s nuclear armed USAF Ground Launched Cruise Missiles were deployed at RAF Greenham Common and RAF Molesworth. As of 2005 it is believed that about 110 tactical B61 nuclear bombs are stored at RAF Lakenheath for deployment by USAF F-15E aircraft.Citation | title=U.S. Nuclear Weapons in Europe | url=http://www.nrdc.org/nuclear/euro/euro.pdf | author=Hans M. Kristensen | date=February 2005 | publisher=Natural Resources Defense Council | accessdate=2006-05-23]

In March 2007, the UK Parliament voted to renew the country's Trident nuclear submarine system at a cost of £20bn. [Citation | url=http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/politics/6448173.stm | title=Trident plan wins Commons support | date=March 14 2007 | publisher=BBC | accessdate=2006-05-23] In July 2008, "The Guardian" claimed that the decision had already been made to replace and upgrade Britain's nuclear warhead stockpile at a cost of £3bn, extending the life of the warheads until 2055. [ [http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/jul/25/nuclear.weaponstechnology Britain plans to spend £3bn on new nuclear warheads] , Guardian, 25 July 2008]

Chemical weapons

The UK was a signatory of the Hague Conventions (1899 and 1907) which outlawed the use of poison gas shells, but omitted deployment from cylinders probably because it had not been considered.

However, during the First World War, in retaliation to the use of chlorine by Germany against British troops from April 1915 onwards, the British deployed chlorine themselves for the first time during the Battle of Loos on 25 September 1915. By the end of the war, poison gas use had become widespread on both sides and by 1918 a quarter of artillery shells were filled with gas and the British had produced around 25,400 tonnes of toxic chemicals.

The British used a range of poison gases, originally chlorine and later phosgene, diphosgene and mustard gas. They also used relatively small amounts of the irritant gases chloromethyl chloroformate, chloropicrin, bromacetone and ethyl iodoacetate. Gases were frequently mixed, for example "white star" was the name given to a mixture of equal volumes of chlorine and phosgene, the chlorine helping to spread the denser but more toxic phosgene. Despite the technical developments, chemical weapons suffered from diminishing effectiveness as the war progressed because of the protective equipment and training which the use engendered on both sides. See Use of poison gas in World War I.

After the war, the Royal Air Force dropped mustard gas on Bolshevik troops in 1919, and Winston Churchill, secretary of state for war and air, suggested that the RAF use it in Iraq in 1920 during a major revolt there. Historians are divided as to whether or not gas was in fact used. [ [http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/war/iraq/britain_iraq_07.shtml] Dead link|date=March 2008]

The UK ratified the Geneva Protocol on 9 April 1930. During World War II there was an expectation that Germany would use chemical weapons, and all civilians were issued with gas masks. The British had themselves started manufacturing mustard gas again in 1938. Churchill himself planned to counter a German invasion in 1940 with mustard gas and extensive preparations were made including equipping otherwise militarily useless training aircraft with dispensers. By the end of the war they had as much as 60,000 tonnes of chemical weapons, including 14,000 tonnes of captured German weapons. The British were unaware of the existence of nerve agents until they captured German stocks late in the war. The wartime chemical stockpile was greatly reduced by the end of the 1940s, mainly by sea dumping, Fact|date=October 2007 with captured German stocks disposed of in Operation Sandcastle over 1955-56.

Nevertheless UK started developing its own nerve agent weapons after the war, recruiting several German scientists to help them. The British invented a new agent, VX in 1949, but never manufactured it (although the United States did), preferring to stay with sarin. Development of weapons and countermeasures was centred on the research establishment at Porton Down. In 1950 the Ministry of Supply acquired a Royal Air Force base, RAF Portreath, in Cornwall to be developed into its manufacturing facility. It was deliberately sited in a relatively remote part of the UK, well away from population centres to limit the casualties should a serious accident occur. Renamed Chemical Defence Establishment (CDE) Nancekuke, it was the site of a pilot production factory for sarin. The factory produced about 20 tonnes of the agent during its two years of operation.

The UK government renounced chemical and biological weapons in 1956 and destroyed most of its stocks of these weapons, and closed the pilot plant. It nevertheless continued to manufacture small quantities of a variety of chemical agents for use in its defensive programme (e.g. testing suits, medical countermeasures etc). CDE Nancekuke also manufactured (non-WMD) irritant gases, and nerve gas simulants for training, until the 1970s. In 1976 the government announced the closure of the site, and over the next four years the work and stocks of agents were transferred to Porton Down. It was returned to the RAF in September 1980.

The UK signed the Chemical Weapons Convention on 13 January 1993 and ratified it on 13 May 1996.

Many ex-servicemen have complained about suffering long term illnesses after taking part in tests on nerve agents. It was alleged that before volunteering they were not provided with adequate information about the experiments and the risk, in breach of the Nuremberg Code of 1947. Alleged abuses at Porton Down became the subject of a lengthy police investigation called Operation Antler, which covered the use of volunteers in testing a variety of chemical weapons and countermeasures from 1939 until 1989. An inquest was opened on 5 May 2004 into the death on 6 May 1953 of a serviceman, Ronald Maddison, during an experiment using sarin. His death had earlier been found by a private MoD inquest to have been as a result of "misadventure" but this was quashed by the High Court in 2002. The 2004 hearing closed on 15 November, after a jury found that the cause of Maddison's death was "application of a nerve agent in a non-therapeutic experiment".

Biological weapons

During World War II, British scientists studied the use of biological weapons, including a test using anthrax on the Scottish island of Gruinard which left it contaminated and fenced off for nearly fifty years, until an intensive four-year programme to eradicate the spores was completed in 1990. They also manufactured five million linseed-oil cattle cakes with a hole bored into them for addition of anthrax spores between 1942 and mid-1943. These were to be dropped on Germany using specially designed containers each holding 400 cakes, in a project known as Operation Vegetarian. It was intended that the disease would destroy the German beef and dairy herds and possibly spread to the human population. Preparations were not complete until early 1944. Operation Vegetarian was only to be used in the event of a German anthrax attack on Britain. [Changing Direction: British Military Planning for Post-war Strategic Defence, 1942-47 by Julian Lewis]

Offensive weapons development continued after the war into the 1950s with tests of plague, brucellosis, tularemia and later equine encephalomyelitis and vaccinia viruses (the latter as a relatively safe simulant for smallpox).

In particular five sets of trials took place at sea using aerosol clouds and animals.

* Operation Harness off Antigua in 1948-1949.
* Operation Cauldron off Stornoway in 1952. The trawler "Carella" accidentally sailed through a cloud of pneumonic plague bacilli ("yersinia pestis") during this trial. It was kept under covert observation until the incubation period had elapsed but none of the crew fell ill. [cite news| url=http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/main.jhtml?view=DETAILS&grid=P8&xml=/health/2005/09/20/nplag19.xml| title=Trawler steamed into germ warfare site and no one said a word| publisher=Daily Telegraph| date=2005-09-20]
* Operation Hesperus off Stornoway in 1953.
* Operation Ozone off Nassau in 1954.
* Operation Negation off Nassau in 1954-5.

The programme was cancelled in 1956 when the British government renounced the use of biological and chemical weapons. It ratified the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention in March 1975.

The defensive biological programme remains strong, for example with £32 million allocated in 2002 for the acquisition of 20 million smallpox vaccination doses.Fact|date=October 2008

ee also

*British Armed Forces


External links

* [http://www.fas.harvard.edu/~hsp/bulletin/cbwcb48.pdf FAS bulletin]
* [http://www.nti.org/e_research/profiles/UK/index.html The Nuclear Threat Initiative on the United Kingdom]
* [Churchill's Anthrax Bombs - A Debate by Julian Lewis and Professor RV Jones
* http://www.julianlewis.net/local_news_detail.php?id=9]
* [http://www.nuclearfiles.org/menu/key-issues/nuclear-weapons/basics/nuclear-stockpiles.htm Nuclear Files.org] Current information on nuclear stockpiles in the United Kingdom

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