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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Nuclear deterrence is 'potential booby trap' says top Tory

The Liberal Democrats have taken some stick from both Labour and the Conservatives for our scepticism and in some cases, out-right opposition to renewing Trident.

The two old-parties want to spend billions of pounds on maintaining a level of deterrence straight more appropriate to the cold war, whereas the Liberal Democrats believe that we should be scaling back our commitment to these submarine-based weapons.

Now the Observer reports on an important intervention by a former Tory defence minister. They say that James Arbuthnot, the veteran chairman of the defence select committee and a former defence minister, who is described as one of the Conservative party's most influential voices on defence has conceded that Britain can no longer be regarded as a "division-one military power".

They add that Mr. Arbuthnot has raised questions over the sense of replacing the Trident nuclear fleet with a new generation of missile-launching submarines and believes that that funding cuts over the last three years had made it impossible for the UK to retain its status in the top tier of global armed forces:

But the focus of his most startling remarks was the plan to replace Trident with four new Successor submarines, which a recent study by the Royal United Services Institute (Rusi) thinktank estimated would cost £70bn-£80bn to build, arm and support over their working life.

David Cameron is a staunch supporter of a like-for-like upgrade and is expected to deliver an update on the Successor programme on Monday during a visit to the Royal Navy's nuclear base at Faslane.

Arbuthnot said his views on the subject were changing and he was no longer certain that replacing Trident was the right move. The end of the cold war and a reshaping of the threats faced by the UK had undermined the logic of nuclear deterrence strategy, he said.

"Yes, there has been a steady decline in my certainty that we are doing the right thing by replacing Trident. Nuclear deterrence does not provide the certainty that it seemed to in the past. It's not an insurance policy, it is a potential booby trap," he said.

Later in the article he elaborates on his views:

Arbuthnot voted in favour of replacing Trident in 2007, and said he would do so again now. But he admitted his views were changing. There was now a strong argument, he said, for abandoning the continuous at-sea nuclear strategy, which the UK has had for decades.

"Nuclear deterrence is essentially aimed at states, because it doesn't work against terrorists. And you can only aim a nuclear weapon at a rational regime, and at rational states that are not already deterred by the US nuclear deterrent. So there is actually only a small set of targets.

"With the defence budget shrinking, you have to wonder whether [replacing Trident] is an appropriate use of very scarce defence sources. You have to wonder whether nuclear deterrence is still as effective a concept as it used to be in the cold war."

Arbuthnot said that if Russia wanted to attack the UK, it would not use nuclear missiles. "It would organise for a terrorist group to put a nuclear weapon on a container ship and sail it into Tilbury docks, with the signature of Pakistan on the nuclear device.

"And what would the UK do? Launch a missile at Islamabad? We could not be sure against what we are retaliating. Nuclear deterrence does not provide the certainty that it seemed to in the past. It's not an insurance policy, it is a potential booby trap."

Arbuthnot, who served in John Major's government, said doubts were growing about "the salience of a nuclear strategy at a time when the defence budget is shrinking".

"The reason I would still vote for it is that I still want to walk softly with that big stick. By unilaterally disarming, we would be sending a message to countries like North Korea and Iran that we are losing our military will to fight. Our armed forces have not lost their will to fight."

An interesting debate is now starting to develop.
So I guess you don't take account of how quickly geo-political realities can change. For example, Russia has just parked short range nuclear tipped missiles just west of the EU. So much for the belief the 'cold war' is over. Russia can quickly disperse its mobile nuke launchers - hey, just like it did a few days ago! 10 minutes to Paris! Maybe 12 to London. The only thing that stopped the Russians using its nukes was our nukes facing them down. But hey, we don't have any mobile nuke launchers in the EU because hey, we thought the 'cold war' was over. So where are our Pershings? Our mobile and dispersible fleet of mobile launchers - oh, we don't have any. So now the Russians, who kept theirs despite your party's view the cold war was over ... now we can't face down the Russian mobile launchers - BECAUSE WE DON'T HAVE ANY. Since we can't deploy a response, they don't have to fear a sudden quick nuke strike from hard to follow nuke mobile launchers from our side - so we feel the heat - except of course your party will not mention much about the recent deployment of Russian mobile nuke launchers. No siree. Chris Wood


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