Liz Truss, Britain’s Foreign Secretary and frontrunner to become the nation’s next prime minister, said she would be “ready” to use the U.K.’s nuclear arsenal if she was to become prime minister.
Truss was speaking at a debate (known in the U.K. as a “husting”) hosted by Times Radio’s John Pienaar. Pienaar asked Truss how she would react if she were put in a situation where she had to consider activating the UK’s nuclear arsenal.
Pienaar laid out the scenario: “Your orders to our Trident boat captain on whether you, prime minister Liz Truss, is giving the order to unleash nuclear weapons. It would mean global annihilation. I won’t ask you if you would press the button, you’ll say yes, but faced with that task I would feel physically sick.”
“How does that thought make you feel?” Pienaar asked.
Truss replied, “I think it’s an important duty of the prime minister and I’m ready to do that,” adding, “I’m ready to do that.”
Truss’ response was met with applause from the live audience. Rishi Sunak, Truss’ opponent, reportedly was not asked the same question at the debate.
The issue of nuclear war has become more pressing since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine earlier this year.
Truss has taken a hardline position against Russia. “I will go further as prime minister by doing everything possible – including declassifying more intelligence – to expose Putin’s playbook to the world,” Truss wrote in the Daily Telegraph. She added, “My government will use intelligence strategically to reveal the Kremlin’s attempts to undermine and destabilize freedom-loving democracies.”
The U.K. first developed and tested nuclear weapons in 1952, making it the third nuclear country (after the U.S. and Soviet Union.) It is one of five officially recognized nuclear states under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.
Nuclear weapons have been used twice in warfare — in the U.S. bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. About 13,400 nuclear weapons reportedly remain today. There have been over 2,000 nuclear tests conducted since the original Trinity test in 1945, according to the United Nations.
The U.K. currently has a self-imposed limit of 225 nuclear warheads.