Britain: Nuclear War and the “Letter of Last Resort.”

The Grim Task Awaiting Theresa May: Preparing for Nuclear Armageddon In her first hours as Britain’s new prime minister, May will take part in a time-honored tradition: Handwriting what’s known as a “Letter of Last Resort.”Politico Magazine By Garrett M. Graff July 14, 2016 If tradition holds, in her first hours as the United Kingdom’s new prime minister, Theresa May will meet with the British defense leadership and receive an eye-opening briefing about the nation’s nuclear plans.

Sir Nicholas Houghton, the 61-year-old chief of the Defence Staff who is due to retire this month to become the constable of the Tower of London, will, as one of his final acts, walk Prime Minister May through the country’s nuclear plans and the damage that could result in the event of nuclear attack on her country.

Then, amidst the all the public pomp and circumstance of assuming her office and determining a course of action for the country following the world-changing “Brexit” vote, one of the first things May will be tasked with doing in her new office is perhaps the most grim duty of any head government official in the world: Handwriting what’s known as a “Letter of Last Resort”—the secret instructions, to be remain sealed until after Armageddon, about what the nation’s submarine commanders should do with the UK’s nuclear weapons, housed on their subs, if the country has been destroyed. Actually, she’ll write four of them—all identical—one to each sub commander in the U.K. fleet.

Throughout the Cold War, each nuclear power struggled to figure out how it would approach Armageddon. The Soviet Union ultimately built a rocket that could beam launch orders to Soviet silos even after the human chain of command had been destroyed, a “Dead Hand” machine ultimately uncovered by nuclear historian Bruce Blair in 1993 and made famous by journalist David Hoffman’s eponymous 2009 book. The United States, meanwhile, built a complex network of planes, trains, ships, communication networks and bunkers that could ensure control over the nation’s nuclear systems even amidst a devastating attack.

The British approached a nuclear holocaust differently, and in an appropriately British fashion. Rather than rely on high-tech gadgetry, their prime ministers handwrote “Letters of Last Resort,” and then locked those letters inside of a safe inside of another safe, and placed them in the control rooms of the nation’s nuclear submarines. The safes will only be accessible to the sub’s commander and deputy, who must decide together when Britain has been entirely destroyed.

Britain has long charted its own course when it comes to nuclear weapons, so much so that the secrets of one prime minister often surprise the next………

as the scale of nuclear devastation began to boggle the imagination, Britain faced a unique threat among the nuclear superpowers: Its comparatively tiny island—and its heavily concentrated population and government centers—could be easily obliterated by the power of later generations of atomic and hydrogen bombs. Whereas even a relatively large attack might have left much of the United States or the Soviet Union untouched and allow enough survivors to reconstitute the so-called “National Command Authority,” the military and civilian leaders who can order a nuclear launch, and plan a retaliatory strike, even a small-scale surprise attack from the Soviet Union would have likely destroyed all remnants of Whitehall and the British command chain. Plus, given its geographic proximity to the Soviet Union, Soviet subs, bombers and ICBMs could strike quickly, with little warning and little time to evacuate the nation’s leadership to protective bunkers readied in the English countryside.

And thus was born the tradition of the “Letter of Last Resort.”

It has become a moment when British leaders must wrestle personally with the awesome new responsibilities embodied in their nuclear control………

one might draw some clues from her legislative agenda in the weeks ahead: She’s said she’s eager to push ahead with replacing the aging Vanguard submarines, which will be obsolete in the middle of the next decade. Maintaining the nation’s nuclear deterrence will likely to cost north of $250 billion, but she’s said it’s critical to Britain’s international role post-Brexit. http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/07/the-grim-task-awaiting-teresa-may-preparing-for-nuclear-armageddon-214049#ixzz4EQ4PMC9e

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