British nuclear weapons: Do we really need them?

The interest of nuclear weapons in the UK has been revived due to the rise of Corbyn who does not believe in nuclear weapons, and because of MPs voting to renew trident at a cost of billions which could have been used to fund the NHS, or help the most vulnerable people in our society. Ultimately, the threat of North Korea and other hostile states trying to acquire nuclear weapons has fast streamed the nuclear weapons debate at the front of British political debate.

Ask a normal British person about whether we need nuclear weapons and the automatic answer would be: no.

Yet there are disagreements ‘between nuclear analyst, and the debate remains unresolved’[1].  Nuclear weapons are an excellent option for countries in unstable regions of the world such as the Middle East or South Asia as it still holds considerable power.

Nuclear weapons background

A nuclear weapon is ‘an explosive device that derives its destructive force from nuclear reactions, either fission (fission bomb) or from a combination of fission and fusion reactions (thermonuclear bomb)’[2].

Throughout history, nuclear weapons has only been ‘used twice both during the closing days of World War 2’[3] on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, both located in Japan.

Globally around 30,000 nuclear weapons are held by various countries with more than one thousand five hundred of them ready to launch at a moment’s notice’[4] according to Greenpeace.

There are two types of nuclear weapons, one is the atomic bomb and the other is the hydrogen bomb. The atomic bomb ‘produces their explosive energy purely through nuclear fission reaction’[5] while the hydrogen bomb ‘ produce energy through nuclear fusion reactions, and can be over a thousand times more powerful than fission bombs’[6].


Having nuclear weapons gives any nation the ultimate deterrence system against any hostile state.


This is why the leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-Un, spends much of his nation’s resources to build all the requirements of a nuclear weapon as this protects North Koreas sovereignty. This is also the reason why David Cameron was a supporter of nuclear weapons as it was Britain’s ‘ultimate insurance policy’[7].


‘A country may want nuclear weapons because it lives in fear of its adversaries’ present or future conventional strength’[8] and this could be the ultimate reason why Pakistan and North Korea has nuclear weapons because both countries want to deter India and the USA, respectively, from ever thinking of a ground invasion.  The same could be applied to Britain and its enemies most notably, North Korea and Russia.


PJ Crowley, a former US Assistant Secretary of State, points out that the US and North Korea ‘came close to … conflict in 1994, when Pyongyang refused to allow international inspectors into its nuclear facilities’[9], but yet again diplomacy won because both nations were deterred from each others capabilities.


‘Mutually assured destruction is enough to cause diplomacy to rule the day’[10].



There is always a chance of miscalculation and this makes the deterrence system useless. In the climate of tension that we are living on today, blunders will happen and this can very easily lead to nuclear warfare.

For example, in 1983 a Russian warning centre wrongly ‘detected incoming missiles from the US’[11] and had it not been for Stanislav Petrov taking the decision that this was a false alarm then this would have most definitely led to world war lll.

Nuclear weapons don’t work against terrorist groups as they don’t have a specific state that they operate so ‘there are serious difficulties with nuclear deterrence’[12].


It is safe to say that Kim Jong Un wants nuclear weapons in order to increase his nations status. North Korea was considered as a small state that is poor but now ‘nations pay close attention to their wishes and actions’[15].

Most nations would not want to fight a nation that has nuclear weapons which gives armed nations ‘the power and status they want’[16] and considering that Britain is not the power it used to be, nuclear weapons is a good option to maintain their influence.

The reason why nations build nuclear weapons is to ‘enhance its international standing’[17].  Since 1945, no nuclear weapons have been used then it could be interpreted that nuclear weapons are ‘almost entirely of symbolic, not practical, importance’[18].

High Maintenance

Creating nuclear weapons is very costly and to maintain and renew these weapons are even more costly.

Take the USA for example; they have not created any nuclear weapons since the end of the Cold war, yet Gronlund, a senior scientist and Co-Director of the UCS Global Security Programme, estimated that the cost of ‘refurbishing their 2,000 nuclear submarines will be $2 million each’[19].

‘According to the Congressional Budget Office, the United States spends an estimated $34.8 billion per year to maintain, operate, and upgrade its nuclear weapons arsenal’[20].

This is one of the reasons why Jeremy Corbyn is opposed to nuclear weapons because he ‘does not think spending £100 billion on Trident’[21] is necessary and believes the Trident system is ‘obsolete’[22].

This type of money could be used to invest in the economy, NHS, schools etc which will have a more positive effect on our society. The only nations that are able to fund their nuclear weapons programme are the USA, and to a lesser extent China, as they both have the economic might and advanced technology to do so.

Balance of power:

The balance of power has been maintained even though there has been nuclear proliferation vertically. A balance of power is preferred due to the checks and balances it provides.

Humphrey, ‘who was chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Disarmament since 1955’[23], talked about how the ‘”balance of power” is less horrible than an “imbalance of terror”’[24].

In an interview, Bull argued that ‘a balance of power is an important source of security in a divided and anarchic world’[25] which is why Britain does need nuclear weapons. Waltz, was in agreement with Bull, by further adding to his comments that ‘the spread of nuclear weapons will further help to maintain peace’[26].

Taking into consideration the absence of a major war, whilst the number of nuclear states with nuclear weapons increasing, then we can presume that the balance of power has effectively worked.

Andrei Lankov of Kookmin University in Seoul ‘told the UK’s Guardian newspaper there was “very little probability of conflict”’[27] due to both sides cancelling each other out in terms of nuclear capabilities.

This further highlights the importance of nuclear weapons for Britain to maintain its influence against other nuclear states such as Russia or North Korea.

Multi-polar world:

The world has become increasingly dangerous and the tension keeps rising every year in flashpoints such as the Middle East and the south Chinese sea.

The reason for this can be attributed to the rise of a multi-polar state in world politics. The Chinese are emerging as the next superpower with the Indians also emerging, add to this the revived Russians under Putin and the already established Americans, then we can see we have various states trying to gain the upper hand and this will inevitably lead to confrontation in one way or another.

This will mean that ‘nuclear weapons (will) almost certainly be worthless … and indeed constitute a far greater potential danger than advantage’[28] as Walker said during his BBC interview.

This was echoed by Bob Dodge, who is President of PSR-LA, and PSR Security Committee co-chair, who said ‘nuclear weapons are the greatest threat to our humanity’[29].

Any attack on key regions, such as the Korean Peninsula, ‘in the current context could quickly spiral into a wider war’ and with Kim Jung Un and Trump as leaders of their nations, nuclear weapons have become useless in terms of scare tactics as both leaders have endorsed using nuclear weapons against each other.

Nuclear energy

Nuclear weapons have led to other technological advances which society has reaped the rewards of and nuclear weapons can be broken down and used as energy.

For example, nuclear energy ‘provides a relatively clean source of energy that is used to power hundreds of thousands of homes around the world’[30].

‘While nuclear energy does have some emissions, the plant itself does not give off green house gasses’[31] and studies have shown ‘that what life-cycle emissions that the plants do give off are on par with renewable energy sources such as wind power’[32].

‘Less uranium is needed to produce the same amount of energy as coal or oil (and) … uranium is less expensive … which lowers the cost’[33].

Terrorist influence

With nuclear weapons being developed to be used in small scale fighting there will always be a danger that terrorist groups such as ISIS and Al Qaeda will have a hand on them.

‘These organisations have little fear of reprisals and can use these nuclear bombs in a cavalier manner against major cities for frivolous reasons’[34] and ‘a terrorist group with a nuclear weapon could cause immense and immediate damage’[35].

With the rise of terrorist groups and activities in unstable states such as Pakistan there is a chance that these terrorist groups will have their hands on a nuclear device.

So does Britain need nuclear weapons?


Analysis: BBC’s Hesan Khursand in Brussels


Since the end of World War 2 Britain has been on the decline militarily and economically[36] so nuclear weapons are a good alternative for Britain to maintain its influence.

But looking at nuclear weapons on a purely factual basis, Britain’s nuclear weapons are beneficial to maintain its influence in the world. The ‘international politics is a self-help system’[37] therefore it is every country for itself hence Britain’s need for a nuclear weapon.

On a strategic level, nuclear weapons offer a very comprehensive deterrent against enemy forces which should be enough of a reason for any country to acquire nuclear weapons which is why North Korea and Iran[38] want nuclear weapons. Having a nuclear weapons will ensure Britain’s survival if it comes into conflict with a hostile state.

With the rise of a multi-polar world, tension has progressively increased in flashpoints in the Middle East[39], Africa and Asia and having a nuclear weapon reduces the chances of war between Britain and her enemies even though tensions keep rising.

Also, in order to combat the growing influence of Russia in the east of Europe, Britain will require its nuclear weapons in order to keep the balance of power even though there is a strong US presence in Europe.

To Nuclear or not to Nuclear that’s the question

Jeremy Corbyn has always maintained his view that there should be a ‘nuclear free world’[40] and the cost of renewing trident, which stands at £25 billion has also raised eyebrows. But Michael Fallon, ex defence secretary, said that it is ‘a price well worth paying to keep this country safe’[41].

The debate around nuclear weapons will be debated for the foreseeable future, and the debate about Britain having nuclear weapons will continue until the future.  However, Britain having nuclear weapons will undoubtedly make it safer, whilst maintaining its influence on the world stage.





 [Accessed 14 Dec. 2017]


–          Kenneth Waltz, “The Spread of Nuclear Weapons: More May Better,” Adelphi Papers, Number 171 (London: International Institute for Strategic Studies, 1981). Available at:

[1] OUPblog. (2009). Do nuclear weapons make the world a safer place? | OUPblog. Available at: [Accessed 19 Dec. 2017].

[2] (2017). Nuclear weapon. Available at: [Accessed 19 Dec. 2017].

[3] profile, V. (2017). Nuclear Weapons Pros and Cons. Available at: [Accessed 19 Dec. 2017].

[4] Greenpeace International. (2007). The vital statistics. Available at: [Accessed 19 Dec. 2017].

[5] New Internationalist. (2008). Nuclear weapons – the facts. Available at: [Accessed 19 Dec. 2017].

[6] ibid

[7] Stone, J. (2015). David Cameron has said that he would use nuclear weapons. The Independent. Available at: [Accessed 14 Dec. 2017].

[8] Waltz, K. (1981). The Spread of Nuclear Weapons, Number 171 London: International Institute for Strategic Studies. Available at: [Accessed 5 Nov. 2017].

[9] BBC News. (2017). North Korea-US tension: Should you worry?. Available at: [Accessed 14 Dec. 2017].

[10] (2017). 16 Pros and Cons of Nuclear Weapons. Available at: [Accessed 19 Dec. 2017].

[11] BBC News. (2017). Man ‘who saved the world’ dies at 77. Available at: [Accessed 19 Dec. 2017].

[12] Thomas R. Rochon, Mobilizing for Peace The antinuclear Movements in Western Europe. (California: Princeton Uni Press, 1988)

[13] BBC News (2018). Koreas agree military talks to defuse border tension. Available at: [Accessed 14 Dec. 2017]

[14] ibid

[15] Green Garage. (2017). 7 Biggest Pros and Cons of Nuclear Weapons. Available at: [Accessed 11 Dec. 2017].

[16] ibid

[17] Waltz, K. (1981). The Spread of Nuclear Weapons, Number 171 London: International Institute for Strategic Studies. Available at: [Accessed 5 Nov. 2017].

[18] Andrew Heywood, Global Politics. (Basingstoke: Macmillan Publishers, 2011), 278

[19] Union of Concerned Scientists. (2013). How Much Does it Cost to Create a Single Nuclear Weapon?. Available at: [Accessed 19 Dec. 2017].

[20] (2017). 16 Pros and Cons of Nuclear Weapons. Available at: [Accessed 19 Dec. 2017].

[21] Wintour, P. (2015). Jeremy Corbyn: I would never use nuclear weapons if I were PM. the Guardian. Available at: [Accessed 16 Dec. 2017].

[22] ibid

[23] View, S. (2017). To what extent do nuclear weapons support international peace?.Studentzview. Available at: [Accessed 19 Dec. 2017].

[24] Hubert H. Humphrey,“US. Defence and Disarmament Policies” a speech on the floor of the United State Senate, June 4, 1959, in Congressional Record, pp. 8864, 8865.

[25] Hedley Bull, “Arms Control and the Balance of Power”, in Arms and Arms Control, ed. Ernest Lefever (London: Thames and Hudson,1962),36

[26] Kenneth Waltz, “The Spread of Nuclear Weapons: More May Better,” Adelphi Papers, Number 171 (London: International Institute for Strategic Studies, 1981). Available at:

[27] BBC News. (2017). North Korea-US tension: Should you worry?. Available at: [Accessed 14 Dec. 2017].

[28] Jenonne Walker, Security and Arms Control in Post-Confrontation Europe (Oxford: Oxford Uni Press,1994)

[29] Simon, E. (2017). International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons wins 2017 Nobel Peace Prize | PSR. Available at: [Accessed 19 Dec. 2017].

[30] (2017). 16 Pros and Cons of Nuclear Weapons. Available at: [Accessed 19 Dec. 2017].

[31] Asaff, B. (2017). Advantages and Disadvantages of Nuclear Energy | LoveToKnow. LoveToKnow. Available at: [Accessed 5 Dec. 2017].

[32] ibid

[33] ibid

[34] Shah, A. (2011). Pros and Cons of Nuclear Weapons – List of Facts and Debate | Green World Investor. Available at: [Accessed 9 Dec. 2017].

[35] (2017). 16 Pros and Cons of Nuclear Weapons. Available at: [Accessed 19 Dec. 2017].

[36] Graphics, W. (2017). World War I Centenary: Decline of the U.K.. The Wall Street Journal. Available at: [Accessed 22 Dec. 2017].

[37] POPULAR SOCIAL SCIENCE. (2018). Neorealism in International Relations – Kenneth Waltz. [online] Available at: [Accessed 10 Jan. 2018].

[38] Library, C. (2017). Iran’s Nuclear Capabilities Fast Facts. CNN. Available at: [Accessed 19 Dec. 2017].

[39] BBC News. (2017). Syria: The story of the conflict. Available at: [Accessed 12 Dec. 2017].

[40] Tambini, J. (2017). Jeremy Corbyn on nuclear weapons: What is Jeremy Corbyn’s policy on nuclear weapons?. Available at: [Accessed 19 Dec. 2017].

[41] Withnall, A. (2017). Who in the world has nuclear weapons – and does Britain need its own?. The Independent. Available at: [Accessed 19 Dec. 2017].