How the resources below link to the Citizenship curriculum
Mainly GCSE, but also KS3:
- The international rules of war.
- Parliament and the media holding the government to account.
- Pressure groups.
Theresa May, Jeremy Corbyn, Donald Trump, and Kim Jong-Un on using their country’s nuclear weapons, and limits on their power to do so
The UK situation: May vs Corbyn
- The Ministry of Defence clearly states that ‘only the Prime Minister can authorise the launch of [the UK’s] nuclear weapons’. The BBC and The Metro give concise, complementary summaries of the UK’s nuclear launch procedure; politico.eu offer more depth, especially regarding Prime Ministers’ ‘letters of last resort’ to the nuclear submarine commanders.
- Soon after becoming Prime Minister in July 2016, and the day after MPs voted heavily in favour of replacing the UK’s Trident (nuclear weapons) submarines, Theresa May was clear that she would ‘authorise a nuclear strike’, and her then-Defence Secretary Michael Fallon later announced that they wouldn’t rule out a ‘first-strike’. David Cameron had previously made it clear that he would use nuclear weapons in certain circumstances.
- In contrast, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn stated in 2015 that if he became PM he would not authorise the use of the UK’s nuclear weapons (Trident). However, he was more reticent during campaigning for the June 2017 general election, and his Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell noted in September 2018 that Corbyn would consult the Cabinet, Parliament and the “wider community” before making a nuclear launch decision.
- The powerful BBC role-play ‘World War Three: Inside The War Room’ explores what former politicians and high-ranking military figures would decide in a hypothetical nuclear weapons crisis (escalating from an initial sudden democratic change elsewhere in the world, and an ensuing violent conflict; video especially from 55.25-58.21 and/or 53.45-54.55).
- To explore whether or not the UK’s use of nuclear weapons would be legal, and the justifications – or lack of – for the use of nuclear weapons under international law, see our resources page here.
All these statements, video clips and short articles (with the exception of the Politico.eu piece) can be used as stimuli for discussion with most Secondary ages and abilities. However, the World War Three video clips could be distressing for your students, so it’s important for you to watch them first.
Trump and Kim
- On 1st January 2018, Kim announced that ‘The entire United States is within range of our nuclear weapons, and a nuclear button is always on my desk’. The following day Trump tweeted in response: ‘I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!’
- This led to substantial media coverage of the US authorisation procedure for using nuclear weapons, with some senior military commanders clarifying that they could – and would – refuse a Presidential nuclear strike order that they deemed illegal.
- The Outrider Foundation, a US pressure group that campaigns against nuclear weapons and climate change, has produced an engaging two-minute video of how nuclear weapons can be dismantled, which is framed around the fact that the President can use the country’s vast nuclear arsenal at short-notice ‘without your consent’.
The statements and video can be used as stimuli for discussion with all Secondary ages and abilities; the BBC article is best-suited to higher-ability KS3 or GCSE students, though it could be scaffolded for differentiation.
How to use these resources in your classroom
- Conduct a ‘spectrum’ or ‘barometer’ to stimulate a student discussion on whether they would use nuclear weapons if they were leader of one of the nine nuclear-armed countries in the world. Then study the May-Corbyn or/and Trump-Kim statements (either as a whole class or in small groups), and discuss or debate the different stances.
- Students could also consider how the leaders’ stances compare with public opinion in their respective countries, and with the views of the school’s local MP. Furthermore, the students could reflect on how public opinion is measured, and the reliability of such polls, for example by first looking at this UK poll from 2016 on ‘pushing the nuclear button’, and similar US poll data.
- This could lead to a discussion or writing activity on the importance of democracy (including free press, and government accountability mechanisms such as Defence Committees) in curtailing leaders’ control of nuclear weapons, with comparison and contrast made between North Korea and the UK (and the USA).
About this webpage
This webpage is one of six collections of topic-specific resources that could be used as part of the Citizenship classroom and homework activities referred to in the ‘Additional information and guidance for Citizenship teachers’ insert of our Truman On Trial pack. To access the pages on the other five topics, click here.
If you’d like further advice on how to implement any of the teaching suggestions from the resources webpages, or the insert, just email firstname.lastname@example.org.