On February 5th, the Daily Telegraph – normally considered a conservative newspaper – published a litany of blatant lies written by two former Labour (read: socialist) government officials, Des Browne, Britain’s former Defence Secretary under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, and Ian Kearns, a former Chief Permanent Secretary of the Treasury. Their screed rails against the UK’s nuclear deterrent and the Coalition Government’s plan to replace it with a like-for-like system: 4 ballistic missile submarines with 64 SLBMs and fewer than 200 warheads.
Their screed begins with the Left’s familiar false claims about nuclear weapons (and weapons in general): the lie that there are many “long-term threats (…) to whch deterrence, nuclear or otherwise, is not applicable”. They list man-made “climate change” (which is a myth), cyber-attacks, and nuclear terrorism.
But while cyber-attacks and nuclear terrorism are threats indeed, they do not come anywhere close to the gravity of the threat of a massive, deliberate nuclear attack by a hostile power (e.g. Russia) on Britain, or a major war – nuclear or conventional – between the world powers. And against these, much graver, threats nuclear deterrence is the ONLY protection.
Thus, Browne’s and Kearns’ claim that “nuclear deterrence is decreasingly effective” and that ist “provides less and less insurance against a narrowing range of threats” is blatant lie. Nuclear weapons are actually the ONLY kind of weapons which have a record of never failing to deter. Since 1945, there has been NO conflict between nuclear powers – precisely BECAUSE there are nuclear weapons and BECAUSE they restrain people who might’ve otherwise been too hasty in starting war.
In other words, nuclear weapons are the best friends that peace and Britain’s security have.
Browne and Kearns scaremonger people with nuclear winter following a nuclear exchange between the US and Russia or India and Pakistan. But both pairs of countries have roughly comparable nuclear arsenals (the US and Russia have nuclear parity between each other guaranteed by treaty), and as long as that remains the case, there is no risk of a nuclear exchange between them.
Their claim that “deterrence is also increasingly risky” is also a lie. While it’s true that the number of nuclear powers has increased since the Cold War, and that unstable countries like North Korea and Pakistan now have nuclear arms, that is actually an argument FOR maintaining the UK’s nuclear deterrent in its present form, because under such circumstances, it is Britain’s ONLY security guarantee, it’s ONLY insurance policy against nuclear attacks by unstable or aggressive rogue states such as Pyongyang and Islamabad (not to mention Vladimir Putin’s Russia, the 800 pound gorilla in the room).
The idea that unstable or rogue states’ nuclear arsenals will somehow be easier to control, or be eliminated, if the UK is nice enough to give up its own nuclear deterrent, is a blatant lie and a classical leftist fantasy.
Browne and Kearns then invoke the dismal fiscal and security environment in which we live:
- Defence spending cuts have happened and are continuing even as health and education spending is ring-fenced (i.e. immune from cuts) and as each new generation of equipment beinbg more sophisticated and more expensive than the previous one;
- Defence cuts are underway in allied countries, including and especially the US;
- The military research budgets of non-Western powers are increasing;
- America’s pivot to Asia “signals its reduced willingness to provide for the security of Europe”, so European countries will have to bear more of the defense burden.
While this is true, this is actually yet another justification FOR a like-for-like Trident replacement, not against it, because it means that the UK will have to have, for the foreseeable future, an independent nuclear deterrent. It will also have to increase its defence spending, as the US continues to cut its own.
Browne and Kearns falsely claim that:
“But in the circumstances outlined, Trident’s advocates also have serious questions to answer. They want to pour limited national resources into an increasingly ineffective nuclear system while being unwilling either to call for higher defence spending to meet conventional shortfalls or to scale back the UK’s level of international ambition. They want a gold-standard nuclear deterrent while under-investing in everything else.”
But those are blatant lies and false accusations. I don’t know of a single proponent of Trident replacement who does not support higher defence spending to “meet conventional shortfalls.” While I can’t speak for others, I have ALWAYS opposed ANY cuts in Britain’s defence budget or military capabilities – conventional or nuclear. I advocate overturning ALL of the defence cuts made as a result of the budget-driven “Strategic Defence and Security Review” of 2010 and significantly building up the Royal Navy, the RAF, and the British Army. And I advocate deep cuts in health, education, and social spending, each of which is several times larger than the UK’s entire defence budget. They, not defence spending, are the drivers of Britain’s debt.
I also advocate scaling back Britain’s international ambitions, at least for now, when fiscal conditions are so difficult. Britain cannot afford to be the world’s policeman, or even deputy policeman. Britain needs to look after its own interests. Chief of these interests is the security of the UK itself, its citizens, and its overseas territories (including the Falklands, which are and will always remain British).
In my opinion, the UK’s military posture should be structured and budgeted accordingly – which means that replacing Trident should be the highest priority, because it protects Britain against the gravest threat: that of a deliberate nuclear attack by a hostile country.
Browne and Kearns falsely claim that replacing Trident “will destory any chance of building the broad-based international support required for a stronger non-proliferation and security regime.” That is a blatant lie, and a regurgitation of the decades-old, stridently leftist Labour-CND fantasy that if Britain disarms herself unilaterally, other nuclear power will be nice enough to do the same, or at least, the international community will put pressure on them to do so.
But that’s a dangerous leftist fantasy. In fact, failing to replace Trident would only invite aggression against the UK, possibly even a nuclear attack. And it would only embolden rogue states to seek nuclear weapons (and those which already have them to increase their stockpiles) because there would be one fewer Western nuclear power to fear. Weakness ALWAYS invites aggression.
Browne and Kearns also falsely claim that replacing Trident “potntially sets the country up for a future Suez moment when, in the context of a crisis thought to threaten our vital interests, we will either try to intervene somewhere and fail or won’t try at all because we don’t have the capability. Either way, as a country committed to internationalism and to the defence of our interests, we will be diminished.”
But that’s another blatant lie. If the UK’s defence is adequately provided for – i.e. fully funded – the UK will be able to intervene wherever its interests may be threatened. However, unlike the US, which is a global power with global interests and responsibilities, the UK is a regional player with very few overseas interests and territories. The UK does not have global responsibilities, has few overseas territories left, and it’s hard to fathom what crisis could erupt and where that would require a UK military intervention but not be grave enough to require US participation.
The UK simply does not have the national resources – human, fiscal, or material to fill America’s global role even if it wanted to. If a grave crisis involving, say, Iran or North Korea erupts, US intervention will be necessary anyway. And if the US intervenes, Britain’s active participation will become close to irrelevant.
Moreover, the UK does not have interests all around the world. Which faction rules in Afghanistan, Somalia, Bosnia, or Colombia is of no concern to Britain. Britain’s chief interests are the security of the UK itself and security and peace in Europe. That is where Britain’s attention needs to be focused.
Last but not least, if the UK maintains an adequate nuclear deterrent for itself and its allies, Britain’s every other defence need will, sooner or later, also be addressed. Conversely, no conventional power will substitute if the UK won’t have an adequate nuclear deterrent.