The UK's stockpile of nuclear warheads will not exceed 225, Foreign Secretary William Hague announced yesterday.
Mr Hague told the Commons the time was right to be "more open" about the overall number of warheads held in the nuclear arsenal. He said the move was a "significant step" and reflected the coalition deal to play a full part in the international Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference taking place in New York.
Mr Hague told MPs the maximum number of operationally available warheads in the UK stockpile remained at 160. He added that the UK's nuclear declaratory policy on the circumstances in which nuclear missiles would be used would be reviewed.
Mr Hague, making his first Commons speech as Foreign Secretary, said: "For the first time the Government will make public the maximum number of nuclear warheads the United Kingdom will hold in its stockpile. In future our stockpile will not exceed 225 nuclear warheads. This is a significant step forward on previous policy, which was to publish only the warheads classed as operationally available, the maximum number of which will remain at 160.
"We believe the time is right to be more open about the nuclear weapons we hold and we judge this will further assist in building the climate of trust between nuclear and non-nuclear weapons states which has been lacking in recent years and contribute to efforts to reduce the number of nuclear weapons worldwide."
Mr Hague said the disclosure posed no threat to national security and followed similar announcements by the United States and France. The declaratory policy would be re-examined as part of the planned root-and-branch review of defence strategy.
"The purpose of our nuclear weapons is to deter attack and the United Kingdom has long been clear that we would only consider using them in extreme circumstances of self-defence, including the defence of our Nato allies. This country has been deliberately ambiguous over the precise circumstances of use, although we have offered some assurances to non-nuclear-weapons states.
"However, the time is right to look again at our policy, as the US has done in their recent nuclear posture review, to ensure that it is fully appropriate for the political and security context in 2010 and beyond."
The international nuclear conference takes place at a time when tensions are high over Iran's nuclear ambitions. Prime Minister David Cameron yesterday vowed to "ratchet up" pressure on Tehran by backing stronger sanctions.
Mr Hague told the Commons: "While much of our immediate concern about nuclear proliferation is concentrated in the Middle East, technological advances and the blurring of the line between civil and military applications of nuclear technology pose an urgent and critical threat to global security."Reuse content