Brits flex nuclear muscle

Britain’s foreign secretary offered the first complete accounting of the country’s nuclear arsenal Wednesday, revealing that it has 225 warheads.

LONDON — Britain’s foreign secretary offered the first complete accounting of the country’s nuclear arsenal Wednesday, revealing that it has 225 warheads.

The announcement follows the Obama administration’s disclosure this month that the United States has 5,113 nuclear warheads in its stockpile and “several thousand” more retired warheads awaiting the junk pile — the first description of the secretive arsenal born in the Cold War and now shrinking rapidly.

“We believe that the time is now right to be more open about the weapons we hold,” Foreign Secretary William Hague told the House of Commons.

“We judge that this will assist in building a climate of trust between nuclear and non-nuclear weapons states and contribute therefore to future efforts to reduce the number of nuclear weapons worldwide.”

Britain had earlier revealed that it had 160 operational warheads, but Hague’s comments that the country has 225 warheads overall was the first time the size of the total stockpile was revealed.

Hague said “the time is now right to be more open about the weapons we hold.”

Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt told a briefing for UN reporters that Hague sent him to New York, where intense negotiations on a final document for the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference are taking place, to emphasize the importance of the announcement.

“We are very conscious that everything relating to non-proliferation depends on confidence, the confidence between those who are parties to the treaty, those who are nuclear weapon states and those who are not.”

The new government is also conscious that over the last decade the treaty had come under pressure with no outcome from a review conference in 2005.

“We wanted to make an immediate and positive contribution to that process,” Burt said.

For that reason, Burt said that Hague announced “two particularly strong confidence-building measures” — the maximum number of warheads in Britain’s stockpile and review its policy on the use of weapons.

On the nuclear arsenal, Burt said, “until this moment that moment has always been kept secret.”

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