Plans to increase the number of warheads available to the nuclear submarine fleet based on the Clyde could breach international law, experts have said.
The UK Government announced in March that it plans to increase a cap on missiles from 180 to 260 as part of its recent defence review.
Labour has questioned whether the increase is really necessary at a time public finances are under pressure from covid while anti-nuclear campaigners have said Boris Johnson risks starting a “new nuclear arms race”.
The decision to go for a 40 per cent increase in missiles, which will be based on submarines operating out of the Royal Navy complex on the Clyde, has also been described as an “abhorrent” by the SNP.
Now a legal opinion by two academics at the London School of Economics has concluded it is inconsistent with the UK Government’s support for the Treaty on Non-Proliferation, which is supposed to limit the increase of nuclear warheads around the world.
The review by Professor Christine Chinkin, a long-time consultant for the UN, and Dr Louise Arimatsu, a former fellow at the NATO Cyber Defense Centre, concludes the increase constitutes a breach of article six of the treaty.
The academics were commissioned to examine the Tory Government pledge by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND).
Scotland has been home to the UK’s fleet of nuclear armed submarines since the 1960s, despite fierce opposition from both the SNP and Scottish Greens.
The Nationalists have vowed to remove nuclear weapons from the Faslane naval base if voters ever back independence at a future referendum.
CND general secretary Kate Hudson said: “The increase in the UK’s nuclear arsenal has been exposed to intense criticism nationally and internationally, including from the United Nations.
“Thanks to the work of highly respected academic experts, we now know it is illegal under international law.
“Everything points to the decision costing tens of billions of pounds. During this pandemic, there are other urgent uses for public money.
“The decision breaks with the gradual nuclear reductions implemented by successive governments going back nearly 30 years and is at odds with the decision by Presidents Biden and Putin to continue bilateral nuclear reductions.”
An MOD spokeswoman said: “Maintaining the UK’s nuclear deterrent capability at a minimum credible level is fully consistent with our international legal obligations, including those under article six of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
“The UK’s independent nuclear deterrent exists to deter the most extreme threats to the UK and our NATO allies. Our stockpile ceiling is a maximum if required, not a target nor our current number, and is kept under review.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We have stated that the UK Government’s plans to expand the stockpile of nuclear weapons, spending billions on weapons that must never be used, is a deeply disturbing response to the rapidly changing challenges of the modern age.
“Indeed the decision to increase the nuclear weapon stockpile is completely at odds with the members of the international community, who signed the United Nation’s Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, a Treaty whose aims the Scottish Government supports.”
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