The UK will increase the cap on its nuclear warhead stockpile by more than 40 per cent, prime minister Boris Johnson revealed as part of his foreign and defence policy review on Tuesday.
Moscow described the British plans – which ends decades of gradual disarmament since the fall of the Soviet Union – as a serious blow to arms control.
“We are very sorry that Britain has chosen the path of increasing the number of nuclear warheads,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov. “This decision will harm international stability and strategic security.”
Russia said it would take Downing Street’s move into account when working on its own military planning, the RIA state news agency reported the country’s foreign ministry as saying on Wednesday.
The UK had previously been committed to cutting its stockpile to 180 Trident programme warheads by the mid-2020s. However, the review by Mr Johnson’s government said the policy would now be to increase capacity to 260 warheads.
Increasing the stockpile would be a violation of international law, campaigners and experts have warned – pointing to the UK commitment to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.
Mr Johnson’s review also stated that the UK reserves the right to withdraw assurances that it will not use nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear armed state “if the future threat of weapons of mass destruction ... or emerging technologies that could have a comparable impact makes it necessary”.
British foreign secretary Dominic Raab claimed the UK’s stockpile of Trident programme warheads were the “ultimate insurance policy” against threats from hostile states.
Asked why the government wanted to end three decades of gradual disarmament, Mr Raab told the BBC: “Because over time, as the circumstances change and the threats change, we need to maintain a minimum credible level of deterrent.
“Why? Because it is the ultimate guarantee, the ultimate insurance policy against the worst threat from hostile states.”
The Labour opposition criticised the plans to increase the size of the stockpile, though the party supports the renewal of Trident nuclear programme in general.
Labour leader Keir Starmer said the plan “breaks the goal of successive prime ministers and cross-party efforts to reduce our nuclear stockpile,” adding that Mr Johnson had failed to explain the “strategic purpose” behind the move.
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