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Continuous At-Sea Deterrent

Part of Parental Rights (Rapists) and Family Courts – in the House of Commons at 3:16 pm on 10th April 2019.

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Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Chair, Defence Committee 3:16 pm, 10th April 2019

I will endeavour to finish quickly, Mr Deputy Speaker.

My hon. and gallant Friend Bob Stewart was right to think in those terms when he wore that uniform. What is more, hon. Members on both sides of the House, in very large numbers, think in similar terms.

To bring my remarks speedily to a conclusion, I will draw out five lessons that have impressed themselves on me in such debates over the past 35 years, since we replaced the first-generation Polaris submarine fleet with the second-generation Vanguard submarine fleet.

The first lesson is that the concepts of unilateralism and multilateralism are mutually incompatible. One requires the unconditional abandonment of our nuclear weapons and nuclear alliances, whereas the other would consider nuclear renunciation only if our potential enemies carry it out at the same time.

The second lesson is that a nuclear-free world is not necessarily a more peaceful world. Abolition of the nuclear balance of terror would be a curse and not a blessing if it made the world once again safe for all-out conventional conflict between the superpowers. In military terms, Russia remains a superpower, regardless of complacent western analyses of the weakness of her economy.

The third lesson is the fundamental divide—which we see in today’s debate—between those people in western societies who believe that wars result mainly from groundless mutual fear and suspicion, and those who believe that only the prospect of retaliation in kind prevents adventurist states from acting aggressively.

The fourth lesson is the validity of the hackneyed but nevertheless accurate concept of the silent majority. Although individual polling questions can be devised to produce apparent majorities against deploying particular nuclear systems, whenever the fundamental issue of deterrence has been posed the result is always decisive. Two thirds of the British people want us to continue to possess nuclear weapons as long as other countries have them, and only one quarter want us to give them up unconditionally.

The final lesson is that since fewer than 10% of our people have been undecided in poll after poll on this fundamental issue, it does not make political sense to try to appease either that small group or the much larger number of highly committed unilateralists such as my friends in the Scottish National party. The strategic task for the Government, and for the Opposition, is to reinforce the views of the two thirds who believe in what may be termed peace through strength and deterrence, rather than peace through disarmament, so the issue will be in the forefront of people’s minds, as it was in the general elections of 1983 and 1987, when this was a very prominent topic in the election debate.

None of this would be possible but for the dedication and, indeed, heroism of those people who, month after month, patrol the seas and are not seen and not heard—they are meant to be not seen and not heard—in order silently to spread over us an umbrella of nuclear protection. Long may they continue to do so.