Chemical or Dirty Bomb Terror Attack Likely by 2030, U.K. Warns


(Bloomberg) -- The U.K. plans to bolster its stockpile of nuclear weapons to counter growing threats around the world, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced as he unveiled a radical overhaul of defense and foreign policy.

Under a blueprint for the next decade, the U.K. will cut troop numbers, tanks and some fighter jets, according to a person familiar with the matter, while bolstering its arsenal of nuclear missiles potentially by more than 40%.

The first stage of the plans is contained in a 100-page report which Johnson’s officials are billing as the most wide ranging re-evaluation of the U.K.’s security and place in the world since the end of the Cold War.

In it, the government warns the country is under threat from rogue states, terrorists and even big tech companies, arguing that British military capabilities and international strategies must be reshaped in response.

The decision to bolster the U.K.’s nuclear capability calls time on the gradual disarmament that marked the end of the Cold War amid an assessment other countries are “increasing and diversifying their nuclear arsenals” involving “novel nuclear technologies,” the report said.

“We remain committed to maintaining the minimum destructive power needed to guarantee that the U.K.’s nuclear deterrent remains credible and effective against the full range of state nuclear threats from any direction,” the document said.

Key points in Johnson’s defense plan
  • The maximum limit to the number of nuclear warheads the U.K. maintains will rise to 260 from 180
  • Military bases will be revamped in Kenya, Oman, Singapore, Cyprus, Gibraltar and Germany so forces can respond more quickly - with a focus on the Indo-Pacific region
  • Plans to develop the next generation of naval vessels, including Type 32 frigates, and to build warships in Scotland will go ahead while at least 48 Lockheed Martin F-35 combat aircraft will be added by 2025.
  • Work on developing the Future Combat Air System for the RAF and delivering upgraded Typhoon radars will also continue
  • According to a person familiar with the matter, ministers will next week set out plans to cut the British army by 10,000 personnel, alongside a reduction of 77 tanks and 760 Lockheed Martin Warrior fighting vehicles
  • The Royal Air Force will see a reduction of 24 Eurofighter Typhoon jets, 13 Lockheed Hercules transport planes and Queen Elizabeth II’s four remaining VIP jets, the person said
  • The Navy will lose two specialist submarine-hunting frigates well as 13 minehunters which are due to be replaced by drones, the person said

As the U.K. moves to a higher dependence on technology, traditional capability will be cut back or phased out. A plan for defense capability, including reductions to troop numbers, is set to be announced next week, according to a person familiar with the plans.

The document warns that the world is facing a risk of terrorism involving unconventional weapons, too.

“The main sources of terrorist threat are from Islamist and Northern Ireland-related terrorism and far-right, far-left, anarchist and single-issue terrorism,” the report says. “It is likely that a terrorist group will launch a successful CBRN attack by 2030.” CBRN is an abbreviation for chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear.

Even so, the former head of Britain’s overseas intelligence agency MI6, Alex Younger, said the threat of a so-called dirty bomb isn’t imminent. “I’m not aware of any information that has it as an imminent issue but clearly it has got to stay factored in,” he told BBC radio Tuesday.

The policy framework spans overseas aid, cyber warfare, the future of the armed forces, and addressing climate change. For Johnson, it’s a chance to tell the world how he sees post-Brexit Britain’s role in the global order developing over the next decade.

Activist Britain

In the report, Johnson outlined a new activist approach to international relations on issues such as climate change and democracy as he makes clear he regards the Indo-Pacific as increasingly the geopolitical center of the world, especially with the growing clout of China.

Johnson intends to visit India at the end of April on his first trip overseas since Britain left the European Union trade and market regime as part of a plan to deepen defense, diplomatic and trade relations with India, Japan, South Korea and Australia.

“We must be willing to change our approach and adapt to the new world emerging around us,” Johnson said in the foreword to the so-called integrated review. “Open and democratic societies like the U.K. must demonstrate they are match-fit for a more competitive world.”

The report said China’s increasing power and international assertiveness are likely to be “the most significant geopolitical factor” of the next decade.

“Open, trading economies like the U.K. will need to engage with China and remain open to Chinese trade and investment, but they must also protect themselves against practices that have an adverse effect on prosperity and security,” it said.

China Battles

Johnson’s approach to China risks a further battle with his own Conservative Party colleagues, who have taken an increasingly hawkish line on dealing with the nation. By describing China as a “systemic threat” while denouncing Russia under Vladimir Putin as an “active threat,” Johnson’s report risks angering some Tories.

Describing Saudi Arabia as a “close ally” is also likely to dismay those who have called for the end to unrestricted arms sales after the U.S. said Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the murder of columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

The report also contains a commitment to restore foreign aid spending to 0.7% of national income “when the fiscal situation allows” after Johnson’s own Conservative Party colleagues threatened to take him to court to block the reduction in foreign aid spending.

The review says British troops will serve overseas “more often and for longer” in the “new frontiers” of space and cyber-warfare and assist other nations in countering “non-state challenges,” including those from terrorists.



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