Thursday, 25 March 2021

[Nuclear War-] headed for trouble

All the media briefing before the unveiling last week of the Integrated Defence, Security and Foreign policy review (“Global Britain in a Competitive Age: the Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy”) indicated that the Government planned to announce a ceiling on nuclear warheads deployable from 180 to 260, a 44 % increase. ( eg “UK to expand nuclear stockpile in post-Brexit security review: Trident, counterterror and the union take centre stage in biggest foreign policy assessment since cold war, by Helen Warrell and George Parker Financial Times, March16, 2021;; reported: “Downing Street is to raise the number of Trident nuclear warheads the UK can stockpile by more than 40 per cent in its integrated review of defence, security and foreign policy published on Tuesday. Boris Johnson, UK prime minister, is set to announce that the cap on the number of nuclear warheads will increase from its current level of 180 to 260, according to two people with knowledge of the document.” Or The Guardian’s Defence and Security Editor, Dan Sabbagh, who reported a day earlier: “The increased limit, from 180 to 260 warheads, is contained in a leaked copy of the integrated review of defence and foreign policy, seen by the Guardian.”(“Cap on Trident nuclear warhead stockpile to rise by more than 40%- Exclusive: Boris Johnson announcement on Tuesday will end 30 years of gradual disarmament, Guardian, 15 March 2021; But when the document was published, it said something significantly different. Under the sub-headline “The UK’s minimum, assured, credible nuclear deterrent” the Integrated Review stated: "In 2010, the government stated an intent to reduce our overall nuclear warhead stockpile ceiling from not more than 225 to not more than 180 by the mid-2020s. "However, in recognition of the evolving security environment, including the developing range of technological and doctrinal threats, this is no longer possible, and the UK will move to an overall nuclear weapon stockpile of no more than 260 warheads". Former chairperson of Parliamentary CND, Green Party MP Caroline Lucas, asked the Defence Secretary on 17 March “with reference to the plans in the Integrated Review to increase the overall nuclear warhead stockpile ceiling from 180 to no more than 260, what proportion of the additional warheads will be low-yield warheads capable of tactical use?” She was told in a written reply by junior defence minister Jeremy Quin on 24 March: “The Integrated Review increased our nuclear weapons stockpile ceiling from no more than 225 to no more than 260. None of the United Kingdom's nuclear weapons are designed for tactical use during conflict. The nuclear deterrent exists to deter the most extreme threats to our national security and way of life, which cannot be deterred by other means.”(UIN 170597) ( Owen Thompson, the Scottish National Party MP for Midlothian also asked the MoD three questions on the nuclear warhead stockpile First, he asked “what assessment he has made of the compatibility of the Government’s decision to move to an overall nuclear weapon stockpile of no more than 260 warheads with trends away from conventional warfare towards cyber warfare?”. Jeremy Quin answered: “The UK's independent, minimum credible, nuclear deterrent exists to deter the most extreme threats to our national security and way of life, which cannot be deterred by other means. These threats have not gone away with the emergence of cyberspace as a new sphere in which to conduct hostile or disruptive activities, and the nuclear deterrent remains essential in order to guarantee our security, and that of our NATO Allies. Setting a new warhead stockpile ceiling of 260 will allow the UK to maintain the minimum destructive power required to guarantee that the UK's nuclear deterrent remains credible and effective against the full range of state nuclear threats from any direction.”[169896] Second and thirdly, he asked: “how many additional convoys will be required to maintain increases in stocks of nuclear weapons as a result of the Government’s decision to move to an overall nuclear weapon stockpile of no more than 260 warheads?” and “whether he has undertaken an impact assessment of any potential increase in nuclear convoy movements in the UK as a result of the Government’s decision to move to an overall nuclear weapon stockpile of no more than 260 warheads?” [169897] [169899] Jeremy Quin responded “It is Ministry of Defence policy that we do not comment on the operational details and requirements for convoys transporting Defence Nuclear Material, for the purpose of safeguarding national security. Convoy movements are kept to the minimum necessary to meet operational requirements and are, and will continue to be, conducted by highly trained personnel to the most rigorous safety and security standards. ….The UK is a responsible Nuclear Weapons State and the safety of the public is of the highest priority. We have rigorous measures in place to ensure the safety and security of our nuclear weapon stockpile, irrespective of its size. All aspects of the warhead programme and weapon stockpile are subject to a robust assurance process including regulatory oversight. (Daily Report: Written answers on Nuclear Weapons, Monday, 22 March 2021 Labour’s former front bench shadow defence spokesperson, Keven Jones, MP for North Durham, also asked: “pursuant to the increase in nuclear warheads announced in the Integrated Review on 16 March 2021, (a) how many extra Trident Missiles will be required, (b) at what cost and (c) by which date?”, to be told by Jeremy Quin on 24 March “The UK has sufficient Trident II D5 missiles for its needs. The recent announcement in the Integrated Review to limit our overall nuclear weapon stockpile to no more than 260 warheads does not change this.” (UIN 170558) On Monday 22 March, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace unveiled his Integrated Review: Defence Command Paper to Parliament, then took several dozen oral questions from MPs on its contents ( The Secretary of State for Defence, Ben Wallace, opened his statement with the inclusion f these observations on ‘nuclear defence.’ “Let us be clear: the benefits and institutions of multilateralism, to which we have all become so accustomed, are an extension of, not an alternative to, our shared leadership and our hard power. UK diplomacy should work hand in hand with the UK armed forces abroad, and we will invest in our defence diplomacy network in order to strengthen the influence we can bring to bear… The Government’s commitment to spending £188 billion on defence over the coming four years—an increase of £24 billion, or 14%—is an investment in the Prime Minister’s vision of security and prosperity in 2030. Previous reviews have been over-ambitious and underfunded, leaving forces that were overstretched and underequipped. This increased funding offers defence an exciting opportunity to turn our current forces into credible ones, modernising for the threats of the 2020s and beyond To conclude, if this Defence Command Paper is anything, it is an honest assessment of what we can do and what we will do. We will ensure that defence is threat-focused, modernised and financially sustainable, ready to confront future challenges, seize new opportunities for global Britain and lay the foundations of a more secure and prosperous United Kingdom. This was followed by a series of questions form MPs, which included the following on nuclear weapons and warheads. Labour’s shadow defence secretary, John Healey (Wentworth and Dearne) “Let me ask the Defence Secretary a series of questions.. On nuclear, Labour’s commitment to the renewal of our deterrent is non-negotiable, alongside our multilateral commitment to nuclear disarmament and greater arms control. The Secretary of State made no mention in his statement of reversing 30 years of proud non-proliferation policy in the UK under successive Governments, and the White Paper does not come close to explaining, let alone justifying, this change. Parliament, the public and our allies are owed a much fuller account of this decision from Ministers.” Mr Wallace replied: “On the nuclear deterrent, we do not believe that the changes to the number of warheads in any way breach the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, and that advice is backed up by the Attorney General. Of course, if the right hon. Gentleman is correct about his party’s new-found love of the nuclear deterrent since his previous leader, or indeed since the shadow Foreign Secretary voted against renewing it, he will of course agree with me that a nuclear deterrent should be credible; otherwise, it would just be a massive waste of money… I remember the former leader of the Labour party suggesting to the good people of Barrow that they would be allowed to continue to make submarines, and could maybe use them for tourism purposes. Maybe that is the true version of the Labour party’s manifesto on defence. Philip Dunne (Ludlow) (Con) . “In light of the necessary decision to proceed with upgrading the warhead for the strategic deterrent, can my right hon. Friend explain to the House the rationale for increasing the number of warheads during the transition from one system to the next? Will the cost in developing the strategic deterrent absorb any of the welcome £6.6 billion R&D programme that has been announced”? Mr Wallace “My right hon. Friend laid the foundations for linking prosperity in a much more deliberate and thoughtful manner into defence and defence procurement… On the rationale of the deterrent, it cannot be taken from a one-sided view. We have to look at our adversary, Russia, and see the investments it has made, as well as its plans to both break the intermediate nuclear treaty, which was broken in 2018, and to invest in new weapon systems and missile defence. If we are going to keep it as credible, then we need to make sure that we do that. On the R&D budget, I am not aware—I will write to my right hon. Friend with a correction if necessary—that the £6.6 billion is anything to do with the nuclear warhead programme or anything else. For clarity, the United Kingdom does not buy warheads from other countries. Under the nuclear proliferation treaty, warheads have to be developed within that very country itself.” Jamie Stone (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD) “I should make it clear that neither I nor my party can agree with the proposal to increase the number of nuclear warheads. We also have grave doubts about some of the spending decisions the Government are making within the context of the defence budget.” Geraint Davies (Swansea West) (Lab/Co-op) [V] “Our strategic threats are from China, which grows stronger each day from manufacturing trade, and Russia, which is threatened by China and relies on fossil fuel exports. Instead of focusing on cutting one in eight soldiers and stockpiling nuclear weapons, what discussions has the Secretary of State had across Government about using COP26 to put a carbon tax on trade, in order to check Chinese power and to help transition Russia from fossil fuels towards a wood economy for construction, to tackle climate change, so that holistically, we can protect the world without escalating the risk of war and destruction? Mr Wallace “The hon. Gentleman actually raises an important point. At the beginning of the Command Paper is a chapter about the global trends and the direction.” Rachael Maskell (York Central) (Lab/Co-op) [V] “The Government have frequently confirmed their commitment to the non-proliferation treaty, which they recognise plays ‘an unparalleled role in curtailing the nuclear arms race and keeping the world safe.’—[Official Report, 1 June 2015; Vol. 596, c. 10WS.] But this Government are now feeding, not ameliorating, nuclear risk. Will the Secretary of State publish the detail of the Attorney General’s advice to explain why he is seeking to break yet another international agreement, undermining our legal position, and why, rather than cutting nuclear warheads, as is his obligation, he is increasing them by 44%”? Mr Wallace “Madam Deputy Speaker, you will know, having been in the House for many years, that Governments do not publish the Attorney General’s advice. We do not believe in any way that we are breaking the nuclear proliferation treaty, and what we really need to do is make sure that we maintain a credible deterrent.” Sir Bernard Jenkin (Harwich and North Essex) (Con) :I thank my right hon. Friend for his Defence Command Paper, which I broadly welcome, in particular the integrated review, which looks forward to the modern threats we face and embraces the capabilities we need to develop to meet those threats. When it comes to the nuclear deterrent, we must remember that this is a bipartisan policy that has been supported by both sides of the House until now and that we want to maintain that consensus. May I echo what has been said about the need for discussion and exploration of why we need to increase the cap on the number of warheads? I am convinced that we need to maintain a credible deterrent, and I am sure that the Government would not be doing this unless there were very strong arguments for doing it to maintain the credibility of the deterrent.” Mr Wallace “Obviously, detail around development, use and, indeed, deployment of nuclear warheads is a very sensitive subject. However, I will see what I can do to provide further briefing to Members and to specific Committees, if that is a better way to furnish more detail in a secure environment.” Marion Fellows (Motherwell and Wishaw) (SNP) “As the UK Government announce billions more for Trident, while my constituents have been forced to turn to food banks, another poll—this time by BMG Research —has found that the majority of Scots want independence. Does the Secretary of State really think that prioritising yet more weapons of mass destruction, on top of the billions already being spent on them, is doing the so-called Union any favours, when the salaries of NHS workers and service personnel are either stagnant or being cut”? Mr Wallace “I am not quite sure whether the hon. Lady now belongs to a party that does want to belong to NATO or does not. If it does want to belong to NATO, which I think is its current position this week, it is, of course, a nuclear alliance and therefore she is tacitly accepting the existence of the defence provided by nuclear weapons. So there is a sort of sleight of hand there. She should also know that, despite the polls, in the last actual vote on being a member of the United Kingdom, the people in Scotland who wanted to stay in the United Kingdom won and the quote was “not for another generation”. Dr Liam Fox (North Somerset) (Con) “Does [he] agree that there has been a lot of uninformed hysteria in reaction to the announcement that we are increasing the cap on our number of warheads? If we are to have a nuclear deterrent, it must be credible. I appreciate the sensitivity of the subject, but with a number of warheads always having to be serviced, a cap of 180 is not credible. That is especially true if we see the debate in context: the French have around 300 warheads; the United States 3,800; and the Russians 6,800. More than half the nuclear weapons in the world are Russian at a time when Russia has shown its aggressive intent on other countries. Mr Wallace “[He] is absolutely right. There is nothing in what he has said that I disagree with. Let us put it in context. Of the declared nuclear powers, we have the lowest stockpile. We need to keep it credible. I fully respect people who do not want a nuclear deterrent or who are in favour of unilateral disarmament, but if people believe that a nuclear deterrent has helped to keep peace in this country and around Europe for 50 years, then we must make sure that it is credible. Not to do so is to make a laughing stock of the whole thing.” Richard Thomson (Gordon) (SNP) “I am anxious to allow the Secretary of State a chance to expand on that. What exactly is the new threat, or the change to the strategic environment, that the Government consider requires a stockpile of 260 warheads, rather than 180, to offer that minimum credible deterrent that was presumably offered before? Furthermore, how can that 45% increase in the number of warheads be reconciled in any way with a sincere, meaningful commitment to arms control, disarmament and this country’s obligations to nuclear non-proliferation”? Mr Wallace “Disarmament is achieved when both sides are credible in what they offer up. To offer up something that is not credible would see us get taken to the cleaners, and the other people would just carry on, especially with the completely unbalanced numbers of warheads around the world.” Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op) “We want the modern technology—I have always believed that we need an independent nuclear force…” Richard Burgon (Leeds East) (Lab) “At a time when the Government say there is no money for a proper pay rise for NHS workers, they are going to give the military the biggest financial boost since the cold war and waste billions more increasing the number of UK nuclear weapons by 40%. Each UK nuclear warhead has an explosive power eight times that of the nuclear bomb barbarically dropped on Hiroshima at the end of the second world war, killing over 140,000 civilians. If we are going to spend billions more increasing the number of nuclear weapons, what is to stop others doing the same, in a new global arms race”? Mr Wallace “We are not going to spend billions increasing the number of nuclear weapons. In 2016, the House voted collectively for a nuclear deterrent—I am sure the hon. Member did not, and certainly the leader he used to follow did not either. That is what it believes, and I think the number of people who do not believe it are probably joining the hon. Member in the room where he asked the question.” Mrs Emma Lewell-Buck (South Shields) (Lab) “Last week, the Prime Minister was unable to state how the Government’s commitment to international law fitted with breaching article 6 of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. The Defence Secretary has since said that the raising of the cap on the nuclear warhead stockpile is to ensure the UK has a credible nuclear deterrent in response to Russia and others, and that we will still have one of the lowest stockpiles. Will he explain for exactly how long our deterrent has not been credible? How does this increase—below others—make it now credible”? Mr Wallace “I am afraid that I cannot, at the Dispatch Box, tell people about the credibility of our nuclear deterrent in detail, because to do so would undermine its security. However, I can assure the hon. Lady that we keep it under review, and as we announced last week, it is important to increase the warheads in stockpile—which still makes us the lowest of the declared nuclear powers— to make sure it remains credible.” Meanwhile, the Defence and Security Industrial Strategy (CP 410) was published on 23 March. It included this section that is relevant to the nuclear warhead and nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT) compliance question. Strategic imperatives “There are areas of industrial capability which are so fundamental to our national security, and/or where international law and treaties limit what we can obtain from overseas, that we must sustain the majority of the industrial capability onshore. For instance, the ultimate guarantee of our national security is nuclear deterrence which relies on us having a credible nuclear capability to deter the most extreme threats to the UK and our Allies. As such, there can be no risk to our ability to deploy this without interference. The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons prohibits nuclear weapons states from transferring nuclear weapons to other states, including other nuclear weapons states. Therefore, while we can acquire the ballistic missiles from the US, the warheads themselves must be produced in the UK. In addition, maintaining the integrity of the broader platform and system that protects it is essential: all those capabilities unique to submarines and their nuclear reactor plants need to be retained in the UK, to enable their design, development, build, support, operation and decommissioning. More generally, the government needs to ensure that it can protect its national secrets and ensure that material marked ‘UK eyes only’ is indeed not compromised by other states.” ( Then on Wednesday 24 March the Liaison Committee – which comprises the chairpersons of each of the House of Commons Select committees heard Oral evidence from Prime Minister Boris Johnson ( HC 1285;, who was asked by committee chair, Sir Bernard Jenkin: “ The decision in the integrated review to raise the cap on the number of warheads came as something of a surprise. Continuous at-sea deterrence has always been a bipartisan policy based on quite a broad consensus. Of course there are dissenters, but it has been a bipartisan policy. What measures are the Government going to take to build the same kind of consensus around this more controversial decision about raising the cap on the number of warheads”? The Prime Minister responded: “You obviously personally have a great deal of expertise in this field, and you are absolutely right to raise it. But it is crucial to stress that the number in question, which is in the integrated review, is a ceiling; it is not a target. We remain, as a Government, committed to the minimum credible deterrent, and it is very important for everybody to understand that as well.” Further questions on the announced increase in nuclear warheads have been submitted by Caroline Lucas, and are due for reply today (25 March) and on 13 April, when Parliament reconvenes after the Easter recess. Question for Ministry of Defence UIN 174078, tabled on 23 March 2021 Question by Caroline Lucas Green Party To ask the Secretary of State for Defence, with reference to paragraph 4.13 of the Defence in a Competitive Age White Paper, published on 22 March 2021, whether the specification type of the planned replacement nuclear warheads will include (a) Holbrook warheads of the type used in our existing nuclear arsenal, (b) warheads compatible with the W93 US nuclear weapons programme and (c) other specification types; and if he will make a statement. Due for answer (25 March 2021) To be answered by the Ministry of Defence Question for Ministry of Defence UIN 174806, tabled on 24 March 2021 Question by Caroline Lucas Green Party Commons To ask the Secretary of State for Defence, with reference to the Government’s Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy, published in March 2021, what estimate he has made of the cost of the additional nuclear warheads; and if he will make a statement. Due for answer in 19 days (by 13 April 2021)


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