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Plato, among other Greek scholars, is reported to have said:
“If you want peace, prepare for war”.
That is the fundamental principle behind the theory of deterrence, and why the United Kingdom has to maintain its independent nuclear deterrent. We need one now and in the future. Our independent nuclear deterrent is the ultimate guarantee that a potential aggressor state—possibly possessing nuclear weapons itself—will not attack us. As we have heard, over the past 10 years or so we have watched the Russians greatly enhance their military and strategic weaponry. They most certainly are not scrapping their nuclear weaponry. Indeed their military presence, around our shores, in the air, on the seas and under it, is increasing not decreasing, especially around Scotland. Why are they doing this, and why should we abandon a defence against such a latent threat?
No other nuclear state has given up its nuclear deterrent, with the possible exception of Ukraine, but that is a fairly good case study—is it not?—and a warning too. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, about one third of the Soviet nuclear arsenal remained within an independent Ukraine. Then in December 1994, Ukraine, Russia, the United States and the United Kingdom signed a memorandum to give Ukraine security assurances if it gave up its nuclear arsenal, which it did. Twenty years later—last year—Crimea was seized back from Ukraine by Russia, and then Moscow fomented discontent and military action in eastern Ukraine. Hardly surprisingly, some Ukrainian leaders and outside commentators have argued that if Ukraine had not removed its nuclear weapons, Russia might have been deterred from its aggression in Ukraine. Do they have a point? Is there a lesson there for us?
Once given up, we will never realistically be able to reactivate a nuclear deterrent capability. Our nuclear know-how has been built up since the second world war, with, of course, considerable American support. But once gone, it is gone for ever. I accept that international terrorist groups may well be trying to get their hands on a nuclear device and that they may not act rationally, as is a normal requirement of the strategy of deterrence. However, even international terrorists such as the Daish in Iraq and Syria may—just may—think twice about exploding a nuclear device, assuming they get their hands on one and have the specialised knowledge required to use it. After all, the so-called Islamic State may not face its own obliteration with the same enthusiasm with which they murder countless people.