Royal Navy security guards the Trident submarine HMS Vigilant in Scotland.
Jeff J Mitchell | Getty Images
LONDON – Britain has changed its defense policy which may allow it to use nuclear weapons in response to “emerging technologies”.
The country’s 111-page Integrated Defense Review, released Tuesday, contained a subtle line on when Britain “retains the right” to use nuclear weapons.
It is said that Britain could use nuclear weapons if other countries use “weapons of mass destruction” against them. These weapons include “emerging technologies that may have similar effects” such as chemical, biological or other nuclear weapons.
Some UK newspapers report that “emerging technologies” include cyberattacks citing defense insiders, but the report does not specifically say so. The UK government did not immediately respond to a CNBC request for comment.
Tom Plant, director of the think tank at the Royal United Services Institute, told CNBC: “I would not interpret it to mean that cyber attacks are recorded in isolation, no.”
He added that “the understanding of what is emerging technology in government is not evenly distributed – cyber is definitely not” emerging “, it has emerged quite substantially.”
In any event, Plant believes the language shift is significant.
“I think it’s an indication that in the future there is the potential for combinations of technologies and behaviors to come together that create new risks – that might not arise from developing a technology on its own – that are incredibly difficult to predict and that there is at least the possibility that one or more of these as-yet-unknown emerging challenges could compete with weapons of mass destruction in the threat they pose, “he said.
The UK’s nuclear program, known as Trident, was founded in 1980 and currently costs the UK around £ 2 billion (US $ 2.8 billion) a year.
The Integrated Defense Review confirmed that the UK is allowing a self-imposed limit on its nuclear weapons supply of 260, abandoning the previous limit of 225 warheads and the current reduction target of 180 by the mid-2020s.
“This reverses Britain’s policy of rigorous post-Cold War nuclear reductions and contradicts previous assurances that the UK’s existing nuclear deterrent replacement program would not increase the number of nuclear warheads in use,” Plant wrote in a blog post.
He added that the changes are being presented in response to a changing international security environment.
“The government paints a picture of a world with increasing international competition and increasing threats from Russia, China, North Korea and Iran,” said Plant. “In his opinion, British opponents are increasing the variety and quantity of their nuclear capabilities and viewing nuclear weapons as a means of coercion, deterrence and even warfare.”
While the UK appears to be expanding the scenarios in which it could use nuclear weapons, US President Joe Biden campaigned that the “only purpose” of nuclear weapons should be to deter or take revenge on another nuclear attack.
The Integrated Defense Review also outlined a new “bias” toward the Indo-Pacific region.
“By 2030, we will be looking closely at the Indo-Pacific as the European partner with the broadest and most integrated presence in support of mutually beneficial trade, common security and values,” the document reads.
Britain is said to be making the foray into the Indo-Pacific region in part in response to “geopolitical and geoeconomic changes,” including China’s global “power and assertiveness” and the region’s growing importance for “global prosperity and security.”
The report covers partnerships with countries such as India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.