Russia Nuclear Threat: Putin Orders Nuclear Weapons on “High Alert”

In the midst of the escalating war in Ukraine, Russian president Putin has put his nuclear weapons on alert to give the west and countries that intervene in support of Ukraine anxiety.

Ben Wallace, Britain’s defence secretary, said the UK did not recognise the terms Putin used to escalate the threat and said he intended to scare the west and “remind the world he’s got a deterrent", while other analyst have given mixed views about the likelihood of nuclear war.

Whether he intends to push the nuclear button or scare people or not remains unclear but if he does and the UK government is affected, there is a clear protocol for what would happen next.

Every prime minister writes four "letter of last resort" upon entering office outlining orders of what to do next in the event of a strike.

They were first used in 1969 when Britain acquired four submarines capable of carrying nuclear weapons - so that's one letter for each submarine, addressed to the Royal Navy commander on board.

Sign up to our free Indy100 weekly newsletter

The letters are locked in a safe aboard the submarine and destroyed, unopened, every time a new prime minister comes into office. It's not known exactly what they say.

"Prime ministers don't tell you what's in the letters because it would negate the uncertainty of the deterrent," Matthew Seligmann, Professor of Naval History at Brunel University, told the BBC.

"Jeremy Corbyn announced publicly that he wouldn't use the missiles if he became prime minister. This caused some consternation as it eliminated the element of doubt needed for the deterrent to be effective."

James Callaghan was prime minister from 1976-1979. He's the only former leader to reveal what he would've done.

"If we had got to that point where it was, I felt, necessary to do it - then I would have done it," he told a BBC documentary in 1988.

"I've had terrible doubts of course about this. And I say to you that if I had lived after having pressed that button, I would never, never have forgiven myself."

According to a 2008 BBC Radio 4 documentary The Human Button, there were four known options given to the prime minister to include in the letters: retaliate with nuclear weapons, not retaliate, use their own judgement; or place the submarine under an allied country's command.

Let's hope it doesn't come to that.

The Independent has a proud history of campaigning for the rights of the most vulnerable, and we first ran our Refugees Welcome campaign during the war in Syria in 2015. Now, as we renew our campaign and launch this petition in the wake of the unfolding Ukrainian crisis, we are calling on the government to go further and faster to ensure help is delivered. To find out more about our Refugees Welcome campaign, click here. To sign the petition click here. If you would like to donate then please click here for our GoFundMe page.

Have your say in our news democracy. Click the upvote icon at the top of the page to help raise this article through the indy100 rankings.

Please log in or register to upvote this article
The Conversation (0)