Poll reveals majority oppose building of new UK nuclear weapon

Last edited 25 October 2005 at 8:00am
25 October, 2005

End of Cold War sees collapse in support for nuclear weapons

Issued: Monday 24th October 2005: A new MORI poll released today by Greenpeace reveals that more people oppose than support building a new nuclear weapons system to replace Trident (1). When presented with the estimated cost of Trident's replacement, a majority (54%) of the British public oppose the development of a new nuclear weapons system. Only one in three (33%) support their development.

Even when not informed about the cost, just under half, 46%, are opposed to replacing UK nuclear weapons (compared to 44% who say they would support replacement).

The poll also found that public support for nuclear weapons has declined markedly since the Cold War. MORI repeated a series of questions asked in an October 1955 Gallup poll about when UK nuclear weapons should be used. The results reveal that:

  • Seven in eight, 87%, of the public (up from three quarters, 77%, in 1955) oppose "using the nuclear bomb against an enemy that does not possess it themselves".
  • Three in four, 77%, (up from two-thirds, 64%, in 1955) oppose "using the nuclear bomb against an enemy that does possess it but is not using it"
  • Even if a country launched a nuclear strike against the UK only a slim majority (55%) of people today approve of the "use of the nuclear bomb" in response (down from 76% in 1955).

The release of the poll follows the government's announcement that it will make the decision on whether to build a new nuclear weapons system in the lifetime of this parliament. To date the Labour administration has strongly indicated that they intend to build a new nuclear weapons system (2).

The poll findings contrast with Britain's current nuclear posture (3) which includes:

  • Being prepared to undertake 'first use' of nuclear weapons,
  • Using nuclear weapons against a non nuclear state.
  • The pre-emptive use of nuclear weapons if British forces are threatened by chemical or biological weapons.

The findings also conflict with the Bush administration's new nuclear weapons doctrine of using nuclear weapons pre-emptively, and in much less intense crises than envisioned previously, including in a conventional conflict (4).

The poll also found that an overwhelming majority want some form of public debate or consultation about whether the UK should build a new nuclear weapons system, with around nine in ten people wanting the issue discussed or at least brought fully into the public domain.

In the past decisions about nuclear weapons systems have been made in secret with minimal if any parliamentary oversight, never mind public input, with billions of pounds being committed to programmes without any real debate. For instance the Chevaline upgrade of Polaris, a major project costing £1,000 million, continued for over ten years without Parliament being properly informed of its existence and escalating costs.

To help inform a proper debate this time around Greenpeace has submitted Freedom of Information requests for any studies on the military, foreign policy, and financial consequences of building a new atomic bomb. The responses make it clear such reports exist, but also that the government doesn't want the public to know about them (5). Greenpeace will continue to exert pressure for their release.

Dr Dominick Jenkins, Greenpeace disarmament campaigner said, "These poll results send a clear message to Tony Blair that a majority of the public oppose billions of pounds being wasted on building new UK nuclear weapons".

"The result indicates that people understand that with the Cold War over, nuclear weapons have no conceivable use and suggests that the public would support Blair taking a lead in getting rid of nuclear weapons worldwide."

"We urge him to take a lead in kick-starting the stalled international nuclear disarmament process, by confining Trident to port, storing its warheads on land, and pledging not to replace it with a new nuclear weapon."


For more information on this story visit www.greenpeace.org.uk or contact Greenpeace press office on 020 7865 8255. For more information from MORI contact Andy Byrom on 020 7347 3000.

(1) The poll was conducted by MORI between 8th and 13th September 2005. Results are based on responses from a nationally representative sample of British adults aged 15+ using MORI's face-to-face omnibus. The questions referred to in this press release were split-sampled, with 1,016 asked one 'version' of the survey and 957 a second version. Quotas were set for age, gender, GOR and social class, and data are weighted to age, gender, social class, tenure, work status and Government Office Region (GOR). Full results and summary report:

British Attitudes to Nuclear Weapons »
Attitudes to Nuclear Weapons Greenpeace/MORI Topline Results »

QUESTION 1 VERSION 1: 'The UK's 'Trident' nuclear weapons are now ageing and will become unusable in about 20 years time. This means that, for the UK to maintain effective nuclear weaponry, the government needs to decide soon on whether to develop a replacement.

On balance do you think the UK should replace its nuclear weapons, or not?

Yes, should44%
No, should not46%
Don't know10%
Base: 1,016 British adults age 15 +

QUESTION 1 VERSION 2: 'The UK's 'Trident' nuclear weapons are now ageing and will become unusable in about 20 years time. This means that, for the UK to maintain effective nuclear weaponry, the government needs to decide soon on whether to develop a replacement. The total cost of replacing 'Trident' missiles, submarines and base facilities is likely to be around £25 billion. This is the equivalent of building around 1,000 new schools at current prices.

On balance do you think the UK should replace its nuclear weapons, or not?

Yes, should33%
No, should not54%
Don't know13%
Base: 957 British adults age 15 +

QUESTION 2: 'In your opinion which, if any, of these are appropriate ways for the UK to make a decision on whether or not to replace its nuclear weapons? Just read out the letter or letters that apply'.

A full national debate, in which the government and organisations like Greenpeace and CND work together to give the public all the options available.43%
A national referendum.42%
The government giving Parliament & the public access to all the information it has about advantages & disadvantages of building a new nuclear weapon.39%
A prime-time televised debate on arguments for and against developing nuclear weapons, to include politicians and representatives from other organisations17%
None of these5%
Don't know5%
Base: 1,973 British adults age 15 +

Would you approve or disapprove of the UK using nuclear weapons against a country we are at war with and that...

ApproveDisapproveDon't know
Q.3 Does not have a nuclear weapons9%84%7%

Q.4 Has nuclear weapons but has never used them

Q.5 Uses nuclear weapons against the UK
Base: 1,016 British adults age 15 +

Would you approve of using the nuclear bomb in these cases?

ApproveDisapproveDon't know
Q.3 Against an enemy that does not possess it themselves5%87%9%
1955 Gallup results11%77%12%

Q.4 Against an enemy that does possess it but is not using it
1955 Gallup results22%64%14%

Q.5 Against an enemy that has it and uses it against us
1955 Gallup results76%16%8%
Base: (MORI survey) 957 British adults age 15 +. Base Gallup survey c. 1,000 British adults.

(2) Labour's 2005 manifesto stated 'We are also committed to maintaining the independent nuclear deterrent'. Furthermore developments at the Atomic Weapons Establishment in Aldermaston - where UK nuclear weapons are built - indicate the military is already gearing up to design a new nuclear bomb.

(3) In 1993 then Defence Secretary Malcolm Rifkind argued that by giving Trident a sub-strategic capability the missile could be used to defend the UK's 'strategic interests', as potential aggressors would be much less likely to gamble on the UK's not using the less powerful version for fear of outraging public opinion. The Labour Government has never repudiated this doctrine and has added a further scenario in which it would be prepared to use nuclear weapons overseas: in the run up to the invasion of Iraq Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon, echoing the USA's new doctrine, repeatedly emphasised that if British forces were threatened by weapons of mass destruction the UK 'reserved the right' to use nuclear weapons pre-emptively.

(4) Download a full version of the US "Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations", including editing comments »

(4) View the MOD response to our FOIA requests »

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