The government has announced plans to end 30 years of gradual disarmament.Defence Images | Flickr

With characteristic flagrancy, the government has announced its intention to increase the cap on the number of Britain’s nuclear warheads by 44%. Britain’s limit on warheads was previously set to fall to 180 by the mid-2020s, but is now planned to rise to 260. Additionally, the government is to stop publishing figures on Britain’s nuclear weapons stockpile. It is difficult to imagine a more brazen violation of both elementary moral principles and our international responsibilities.

More nuclear weapons will do nothing to improve Britain’s security – or that of the world. On the contrary, any scenario in which nuclear weapons are used will lead to death on an unfathomable scale. Recent research suggests that a nuclear war between India and Pakistan involving just 100 nuclear weapons (there are 14,000 nuclear weapons globally) could exterminate up to two billion people.

Apart from those directly hit, it is predicted that the consequent mass of smoke would spread across the world, blocking out enough sunlight to reduce temperatures and create massive crop failures. The longer these weapons exist, the more opportunities there will be for instant and irreparable devastation; it is pure senselessness to discuss the issue without reference to these realities.

“Ministers are so invested in a nostalgic vision of British power that the law may be happily trampled underfoot.”

Nuclear deterrence is not a viable path to lasting global peace. The permanent members of the UN Security Council acknowledged this when they signed up to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1968. Under the terms of the NPT, the UK must multilaterally work towards ‘effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament’. Rather than upholding this legally binding international commitment, the government explicitly wants to violate it. Ministers are so invested in a nostalgic vision of British power that the law may be happily trampled underfoot.

Military experts have long known that nuclear weapons have no purpose but deterrence. The late Field Marshal Lord Carver observed more than two decades ago that these weapons ‘have no military utility against a comparably equipped opponent other than the belief that they deter such an opponent from using his nuclear weapons’. For that reason, Lord Carver added, disarmament would obviate any need for such weapons. It is preposterous for the British state to consider building more nuclear weapons when it could instead push toward universal disarmament and make these inhuman devices a relic of the past.

Rather than contributing to stability, the government’s decision to increase the cap on nuclear warheads needlessly stokes international tensions. It comes just a short time after the United States and Russia agreed to extend the New START treaty, which limits the number of warheads and delivery systems both countries are allowed to possess. Furthermore, it was this year that the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) came into force after 122 UN member states voted for it in 2017. More than 50 have ratified it since. The TPNW talks were, unfortunately, boycotted by the nuclear armed states. In short, the desire to increase Britain’s nuclear weapons stockpile is further evidence of the government’s failure to work with the rest of the international community towards peace.

“If Britain wants to have any moral standing on this issue, our leaders must continue with plans for disarmament.”

Indeed, Dominic Raab’s contention that the government has done the right thing because the nuclear deterrent is ‘the ultimate guarantee’ and ‘the ultimate insurance policy’ amounts to an argument for every state in the world to acquire nuclear weapons. It is plainly hypocritical for British officials to tell countries like North Korea and Iran that the acquisition of nuclear weapons is evil and wicked while simultaneously repudiating nuclear disarmament and arguing that these weapons are crucial to national defence. If Britain wants to have any moral standing on this issue, our leaders must continue with plans for disarmament.

The government has established a pattern of behaviour when it comes to unbounded militarism. Against a mountain of evidence of abuses in Yemen, it continues to authorise the sale of weapons to the criminal Saudi regime. Additionally, the Overseas Operations Bill, which passed in the Commons on its third reading in November, will make the prosecution of British soldiers for war crimes committed abroad ′close to impossible,′ according to Amnesty International. Shamefully, the Labour leadership has too often failed to challenge Conservative hawkishness. It should be clear to any dispassionate observer that far too many MPs on both sides treat the rule of law with contempt.

Government plans to increase Britain's nuclear stockpile goes against expert advice and has invited criticism.David Jones | Flickr

If the government were serious about security, it would continue to disarm in accordance with the NPT. Trident should be scrapped, as has been advised by senior military experts including the late Field Marshal Lord Bramall, the late General Sir Hugh Beach and General Lord Ramsbotham. Furthermore, the British government should rule out any possibility of the first use of nuclear weapons and make genuine efforts to pursue universal disarmament.


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Given that more states have been able to acquire nuclear weapons over time, and that the use of these weapons, deliberately or inadvertently, remains a constant risk, it is not only a legal obligation for the UK to work toward disarmament, but an overwhelming moral duty. This is a global problem, and those living in nuclear armed states must work together to pressure their governments to abandon the fallacious logic of deterrence.

Biological and chemical weapons have been outlawed by the international community. The TPNW shows that there is no reason why the world cannot do the same with the most dangerous weapons of all.