Extensive lobbying by British scientists helped goad the United States into funding the Manhattan Project. Later one of the scientists Britain sent to assist America, Klaus Fuchs, would be convicted of passing classified information to the Soviet Union and aiding them in developing their own atomic and hydrogen bombs. Given that, nobody was surprised to see Britain become the third nuclear power in 1952; nor were they surprised to see Britain detonate a 1.8 megaton hydrogen bomb in December of 1957. The sun may have set on their Empire, but Britain's military remains among the world's largest and most technologically advanced, supported by a state-of-the-art materiel and armament industry.
Britain has never made a public threat, even a veiled one, to use its nuclear arms against an opponent. Nevertheless, their nukes are a credible deterrent. In World War II Britain was prepared to use mustard gas against a German invasion; they also studied the possibility of dropping anthrax-infected feed cakes on German farms. They are not likely to drop their bombs in the current conflict; few doubt they would do so if Britain's national sovereignty was threatened. Britain has pushed for global nuclear disarmament, but has made it quite clear that they are going to hold onto their bombs until such time as everyone else has dismantled theirs. To make sure everybody gets the point, they have deployed four nuclear submarines, each carrying approximately 300 times the kilotonnage of the Hiroshima bomb. This ensures that Britain will have the capacity to retaliate should someone decide to launch a pre-emptive strike; presently only France, Russia and the United States have a similar capacity, although India, Israel and Pakistan are working hard toward this goal.
The British have been among America's staunchest supporters during this current crisis. Prime Minister Tony Blair has left open the question of armed intervention in Iraq… a question which has aroused considerable controversy in Europe. British SAS troops are also fighting alongside American Special Forces in Afghanistan. Britain's support may waver if Afghanistan becomes a quagmire. Between 1836 and 1919 Britain fought three bloody wars in Afghanistan. Great Britain also has approximately 1.5 million Moslem subjects. They are not likely to sit back quietly if the current military action spreads to other Islamic countries, and they constitute a significant voting bloc. Britain has dealt with terrorism for decades, mainly from the Irish Republican Army, so they are sympathetic to America's plight. On the other hand, they also are aware that most of the IRA's financial support comes from America. Until now the U.S. government has done little to stem this flow of money; the IRA enjoys considerable support among our large Irish-American population. This has changed somewhat in the wake of September 11, as the U.S. has placed the breakaway "Real IRA" on its list of terrorist organizations, but it remains a thorny issue between the two countries.
Britain's Nuclear Weapons: http://www.fas.org/nuke/hew/Uk/UKOrigin.html BBC News http://news.bbc.co.uk/ The London Times http://www.thetimes.co.uk/?1124027 The Guardian (UK) http://www.guardian.co.uk/