Date
25 September 2017
Margaret Thatcher (inset) feared her government would be considered negligent if it did not rearm Britain against the Soviet threat. Photo: Daily Mail
Margaret Thatcher (inset) feared her government would be considered negligent if it did not rearm Britain against the Soviet threat. Photo: Daily Mail

Thatcher considered rearming UK with chemical weapons

Britain considered rearming itself at a cost of up to £200 million (US$311.2 million) after learning the Soviet Union was developing a new poison gas capable of overwhelming NATO forces.

Then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher looked into acquiring a new arsenal of chemical agents after Britain had destroyed its stock, according to The Independent.

In top-secret documents released Dec. 30, Thatcher is quoted by her foreign policy adviser as saying the government ran the risk of being considered “negligent” if it failed to rearm the country.

The discussions took place after intelligence reports that the Soviet Union vastly outgunned NATO forces in chemical weapon reserves and was also developing a new “penetrating agent” against which British and other allied forces had no defense, the report said.

Britain unilaterally gave up its chemical weapons capability in the 1950s and underlined its commitment to the Geneva Protocol banning the use of such materials.

By late 1984, military chiefs had grown increasingly alarmed that the Warsaw Pact had built up a significant advantage over the West with factories in Russia capable of producing 12,000 tons of nerve agent such as sarin.

Only the United States maintained any stocks of chemical weapons but its “limited and aging” arsenal consisted of just 31,000 tons, according to the documents released by the National Archives in Kew, west London.

Among the detailed options put forward to ministers was the acquisition of “an independent UK retaliatory capability” developed either by British scientists or purchased from the US.

The records do not reveal how far the proposal got. But a memo following a discussion attended by ministers including the Defense Secretary Michael Heseltine and Foreign Secretary Geoffrey Howe shows the Thatcher far from dismissed it out of hand.

She suggested there was a strong case in favor of such a move.

The proposal was part of a wider debate of what tools would be necessary adequately to defend Britain while also pushing Moscow towards an international treaty banning the production as well as the use of chemical weapons.

The Chemical Weapons Convention was eventually signed in 1993 and entered into force four years later.

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CG/RA

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