I am going to make some progress. North Korea is the only country in the world to have tested nuclear weapons this century, carrying out its fourth test this year, as well as a space launch that used ballistic missile technology. It also claims to be attempting to develop a submarine-launch capability and to have withdrawn from the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Based on the advice I have received, we believe that North Korea could already have enough fissile material to produce more than a dozen nuclear weapons. It also has a long-range ballistic missile, which it claims can reach America, and which is potentially intended for nuclear delivery. There is, of course, the danger that North Korea might share its technology or its weapons with other countries or organisations that wish to do us harm.
Thirdly, there is the question of future nuclear threats that we cannot even anticipate today. Let me be clear why this matters. Once nuclear weapons have been given up, it is almost impossible to get them back, and the process of creating a new deterrent takes many decades. We could not redevelop a deterrent fast enough to respond to a new and unforeseen nuclear threat, so the decision on whether to renew our nuclear deterrent hinges not just on the threats we face today, but on an assessment of what the world will be like over the coming decades.
It is impossible to say for certain that no such extreme threats will emerge in the next 30 or 40 years to threaten our security and way of life, and it would be an act of gross irresponsibility to lose the ability to meet such threats by discarding the ultimate insurance against those risks in the future. With the existing fleet of Vanguard submarines beginning to leave service by the early 2030s, and with the time it takes to build and test new submarines, we need to take the decision to replace them now.
Maintaining our nuclear deterrent is not just essential for our own national security; it is vital for the future security of our NATO allies.