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Poitics: My thoughts on the UK’s nuclear weapons

Last updated on May 20, 2010

This post was inspired by one of Votematch’s questions which was “The UK’s stock of nuclear weapons should be reduced (Defence and Foreign affairs)”. Here’s who agreed and disagreed with the statement:

Me UKIP BNP LibDems Conservatives Green Labour
Agree Disagree Disagree Agree Disagree Agree Open-minded

And here’s my thoughts:

The United Kingdom is in a very privileged position of being one of the Founding members of NATO (28 member states), one of the Original members of the UN (192 member states), a member state of the European Union (27 member states), a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council (15 member states), the current head of the Commonwealth of Nations (54 member states), member of the G8 (8 member states), G20 (20 member states), OECD (30 member states) and WTO (153 member states). To put our privileged position into context, the USA appears on the members list of 7 of the 9, China 4 of the 9 and Germany 7 of the 9 – so we certainly have a lot of “friends”: and that’s ignoring the 1958 US/UK mutual defence agreement!.

The possibility of us actually needing nuclear weapons is therefore quite low (especially “mutually assured destruction” being a good reason for nuclear weapons to never again be used) . We currently maintain 160 operational warheads and whilst I am not asking for us to scrap all the nuclear weapons, we should seriously look at reducing the numbers: perhaps to half or less.

If we were a “lone state” which only had to rely on our own defence capabilities and we were a large land mass with lots of enemies, then it may be possible to justify a larger number – but we aren’t. If you attack us, then between 7 and 191 other countries may declare war on you! Just ten nuclear warheads per country, and that’s between 80 and 1,910 that could still be pointing at you. The Trident nuclear submarine missiles will cost around £15-20billion to replace with £1.5billion per year running costs.

A common statement I have heard is that we need our own nuclear weapons to protect against “rogue states” (whatever that definition is!), but having our own large expensive (not just to build but to maintain and service) reserves would not help us in any way. If “Psycho X” got in charge of “Rogue State Y”‘s nuclear arsenal, what good would us having our own be? “Oh – he won’t fire at us as we’ll nuke him to oblivion” won’t be much of a deterrent as he probably doesn’t care (and might see it as a form of martyrship). In fact, if we DO have a large reserve of nuclear weapons, then we might actually stand a larger chance of being targeted by “Psycho X” as he pose a big threat to him and hence should be eliminated before we realise what a threat he is (the UK/US track record with “perceived threats” and actions we take was established with the Iraqi war).

My response to comments on Votematch: UKIP said “[we] would insist on having 4 ballistic submarines” (note this is currently the number of “Trident” submarines we currently have!) and the Liberal Democrats said “There is no longer a major nuclear threat to the United Kingdom. We favour global multilateral nuclear disarmament, so we would put Britain’s nuclear deterrent on the table in arms reduction talks.”. As stated, I wouldn’t go for total disarmament, but just a reduction.