Blessed are the peacemakers

The news that this government wishes to increase the number of nuclear warheads is not welcome news. It sends out the wrong message. Global Britain, it seems, is a regression to the past of imperialism and jingoism. It is not the way to win friends and influence in the world. Nuclear weapons are terrible weapons that should never be used. The horrors that were inflicted on Japan were enough.

There is a need to prevent nuclear proliferation. Do Pakistan and India need the bomb? The unstable nature of Kashmir means an endless source of conflict that could well escalate. What hope is there for North Korea and Iran not to acquire these weapons. Britain was part of the agreement to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power. Brexit Britain strikes again, no longer willing to be part of an international order that promotes peace.

Peace is at the heart of Liberalism. Peace, Reform and Economy are a bedrock of its basic principles. In the world today, the spreading of the trade no longer depends on the threat of force. Indeed, British influence in Iraq and Afghanistan has not been enhanced by military action. If anything, the reverse is true. The areas which Britain occupied in Afghanistan have fallen back into the hands of the Taliban. What a waste of men and treasure,

In southern Iraq, British forces handed over to the Americans. The American military speaks of the defeat of the British. Indeed, Britain left with the whiff of atrocities, hardly winning the hearts and minds and providing a model of democracy.

These actions showed the weakness of a reduced military. Short of men and equipment. Guns before butter is no longer a mantra that sits easily in a country that expects welfare to take care of citizens, which comes at considerable cost. The jingoism of an earlier age no longer rings true. “We don’t want to fight but by Jingo if we do, We’ve got the ships, we’ve got the men, we’ve got the money too, We’ve fought the Bear before, and while we’re Britons true, The Russians shall not have Constantinople.”

We don’t have the ships. The new aircraft carrier doesn’t have the ships as escorts vessels. When it sails through the South China Sea, it will require ab escort from the Australian Navy.

The men? Well, it seems troop numbers are about to be cut.

The money? Well, certainly don’t have that; the national debt is now at £2 trillion, half owed to China. Trident submarines don’t come cheap and show our dependence on other powers. Hardly an independent deterrent.

The Russians? Well, certainly we have them but are they our natural enemies? Are we in fear of all having to eat borsch? I don’t think so. We live in a post-Soviet world now. If anything, the Russians will see the British increase in nuclear weapons, a green light to increase theirs.

Peace efforts need to be made through international institutions, not by sabre-rattling.

* Ian Martin lives in Thailand. He is a lifelong Liberal and a member of the Liberal Democrat Overseas executive.

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  • Brad Barrows 17th Mar '21 - 5:47pm

    If there are some countries that would not be deterred from attacking the UK by the prospect of 180 nuclear warheads heading towards them, but would be deterred by 260 nuclear warheads heading towards them, I would like to know their names…

  • Katharine Pindar 17th Mar '21 - 6:17pm

    Glad to read this, thank you Ian. I hope our parliamentarians are opposing this proposed increase in the number of nuclear warheads Britain possesses. What we have already amounts to a useless evil in my view.

  • I believe there will be British Destroyers, Frigates and a Submarine escorting the Aircraft Carrier in the South China Sea. There will also be ships from US, Japan, Australia and the Netherlands in what is a joint exercise. Belittling our armed forces is not going to help the Lib Dems.

  • Good article. I cannot possibly understand why more warheads are needed. I think we have a good policy of “climbing down the nuclear ladder” but wouldn’t want to see unilateral disarmament. This is another area to have a distinctive policy on in contrast to Labours usual caution.

    Off topic but looks like D66 are doing well in Surch elections, likely to be main opposition.

  • @Brad Barrows
    Your point whilst good fell a little short…
    The context given for this increase is the rise in cyber-attacks – where fingers have been pointed at “state-sponsored” groups in Russia and China as being the source.

    Given China is reported to only have 320 nuclear warheads, yet are prepared to sponsor cyber-attacks on the US, with 5,800. Similarly, Russia with 6,300, isn’t too bothered by the US arsenal. I suggest 260 warheads will be just as effective as 160 warheads are today, namely zero deterrence effect on those committed to cyber warfare.

    Also given what we’ve been schooled in as to the expected nuclear exchange, we have the small problem of having sufficient delivery capacity to actually fire more than a few of these warheads. So this is more about delusions of grandeur than anything practical.

  • Joseph Bourke 18th Mar '21 - 1:39am


    a welcome article.
    The UK, as a permanent member of the UN security council, remains a signatory to the Iran nuclear deal Hopefully, we will see the USA re-engage under the Biden administration.
    The UK has a commitment to non-proliferation It is hard to see how this proposed increase in the number of nuclear warheads furthers that objective.

  • Steve Trevethan 18th Mar '21 - 10:15am

    Is our weaponry independent?
    Do we “rent” it, at great cost, with minimal, if any, power to use it for ourselves?
    Why, as it seems, do successive H.M.G.s pretend to its citizenry that it is an independent weapon and so a source of national pride and something worth spending so much upon?
    What are the reasons and/or delusions that result in our pretending, not least to ourselves, that we are still a “hard power” world force?
    What might be the alternatives?
    Our party’s policy?

  • Let’s not underestimate the harm of this message about possibly increasing our nuclear warheads. Each nuclear bomb today is 14,000 times stronger than one bomb used in 1945. Before Christmas, I listened to a talk by David Nussbaum, CEO of THE ELDERS, an organisation for peace and justice set up by Nelson Mandela and Kofi Annan. He said that while pandemics like Covid will occur again these are not existential threats to humanity. The real threats to our existence are Nuclear Weapons, Environmental Damage and IT systems out of control.
    Our increase in warheads may not make much difference to our world position in practice, but it encourages other countries to introduce or expand their stockpile, which is completely the wrong thing to do. If, as Martin says in his comment, it may be a smokescreen for other things, that makes it yet another deception by this government designed to be populist among voters and give a ‘strong’ image around the world. In practice it is actually furthering the dangerous nationalist trend which reduces the money and cooperation needed to deal with issues such as inequality that cause conflict and war.

  • I struggle to find any sound reasoning behind this. A deflection? Most likely. I doubt we will increase our arsenal. We might even struggle to deploy our future dreadnought subs with a full load anyway . We have no other delivery system since we done away with nuclear gravity bombs. Our defensive/offensive ability is minimal against a major power. A complete rethink ( including posture) is desperately needed.

  • Steve Trevethan 18th Mar '21 - 11:58am
  • malc
    The British Armed Forces are among the best but Britain is not the world’s policeman.
    The Liberal Democrats opposition to the invasion of Iraq did not do any harm to the party. In fact subsequent events vidicated it.

  • Sixty years have passed since Dean Acheson – Secretary of State under the Truman presidency – created a storm of huge proportions by claiming that ‘Great Britain had lost an Empire but not yet found a role’
    It remains true today as then.
    Britain needs to become a Liberal modern European state.

  • @Steve Trevethan

    Following the link you give – the article basically boils down to the fact that the author ‘does not believe’ that he USA would supply a truly independent weapons system, and ‘doubts’ it. A powerful argument.

    Well, the actual warheads are designed and built in Britain, and the USA couldn’t stop the actual warhead going off by any way or means. The missiles might be vulnerable to not launching… but they are exactly the same missiles used on US trident boats, swapped in and out interchangeably. They are also designed to be launched while still submerged and completely out of contact with any contact outside the submarine itself. And occasionally, a random missile is taken, and used for a test launch without a warhead. Ostensibly to to test for any operational problems or degradation – but also to test that we haven’t been supplied duds too, I assume.

    There are a lot of arguments to be had against the British nuclear deterrent, but the ‘fact’ that it couldn’t actually be launched (as opposed to maintained) without US assistance is so full of holes as to be completely and utterly discounted.

  • While the UK can fire without permission, the system would likely not be sustainable without US support beyond a few years.

  • Ian Martin, Is this party’s objection ‘Money or Moral?’

    As for money, it’s just another rash, unaffordable promise from a man who lies as easily as he breathes.. Johnson is just doubling down on his ‘global Britain’: he is, yet again, wrapping himself in the ‘union flag’ he needs such promises to distract from any Covid enquiry..However, whilst one minister promises strong actioin against China, another wants unfettered trade; post Brexit, the UK is a ‘headless chicken’ running in circles.

    At the moment the leadership should steer clear of getting involved in such matters; especially in Scotland, we are an easy target..In 2019, when asked during the ITV Election Interview if she would ever be prepared to use a nuclear weapon, Jo Swinson said: “Yes!”; no ‘ifs’ or ‘buts’..Sturgeon had a field day on that remark..So that’s the ‘moral’ bit gone..

  • @Antony_H – “Well, the actual warheads are designed and built in Britain, … but they are exactly the same missiles used on US trident boats, swapped in and out interchangeably. “
    You touch on an interesting point, namely what is the long game here?

    Firstly, the new warheads. These will probably need to be of the same design as existing warheads, otherwise, real-world testing will be required.
    Secondly, the Trident delivery system which has an end-of-life in a few decades. So I wonder if this is preparing the ground for Trident’s replacement…

  • Zachary Barker 19th Mar '21 - 9:48pm

    To be honest I think this presents too much of a stereotypically liberal vision of defence and strategic matters. Unless we take both fields seriously we will constantly be typecasted as a potential junior partner party, but not a serious one of government.

    The stereotypical right wing stance is to maximise our defence capabilities across the board. A stereotypical left wing stance is to act as though we have reached the ‘end of history’ in a “post-Soviet” world and therefore have basically grown out of defence matters.

    Instead we should be challenge ourselves by being more farsighted, realist and as innovative in ideas generation in this area as we are with domestic policy. But there is a cultural bias against this in the Lib Dems. Those that take an interest in such matters are seen as either looking into matters that aren’t important or simply dismissed as oddballs. Which is quite puzzling when one of our late leaders was a Royal Marine, intelligence agent and a High Commissioner in Bosnia.

    I think it is completely unhelpful to dismiss Russia as a threat, considering the Salisbury poisoning (in which there were British casualities). It is not just national security that should be a concern. WW2 taught us the importance of standing up for European security too and yet the conflict in Ukraine has rumbled on with barely any input from us.

    I think there are 2 main problems with us increasing our nuclear warhead stockpile. The first is because it encourages other countries to engage in nuclear proliferation, by casting our commitment to multilateral disarmament into doubt. The second IF the money had to go on defence it could have likely been better spent upgrading our conventional warfare capabilities.

    Just because we haven’t had a conventional war in years, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be prepared for one.

  • Expats
    Liberal Democrats support non-proliferation and believe nuclear weapons should remain beyond use.

  • Manfarang 20th Mar ’21 – 12:08am Expats
    Liberal Democrats support non-proliferation and believe nuclear weapons should remain beyond use…………

    Perhaps someone should have told Jo Swinson?

  • expats
    Jo Swinson doesn’t have her finger on the button.

  • Peter Watson 20th Mar '21 - 11:37pm

    @expats “Perhaps someone should have told Jo Swinson?”
    I was more surprised that despite Tim Farron’s religious faith making it difficult for him to answer questions about sin and homosexuality, he appeared happy to criticise Jeremy Corbyn for being unwilling to press the button and kill millions.

  • Brad Barrows 17th Mar ’21 – 5:47pm:
    If there are some countries that would not be deterred from attacking the UK by the prospect of 180 nuclear warheads heading towards them, but would be deterred by 260 nuclear warheads heading towards them,…

    The proposed increase is from the current maximum stockpile of 225 warheads to 260. This replaces a previous plan to reduce the cap to 180 by the mid-20s. The actual number is likely to be less. There is usually only one boat at sea so only a small proportion of these warheads are deployed at any given time. Many are believed to be low-yield devices designed for use against military targets.

    Marco 17th Mar ’21 – 11:44pm:
    I cannot possibly understand why more warheads are needed.

    It’s an increase in the stockpile ceiling rather than deployed numbers. It seems likely that it’s a temporary increase to accommodate the replacement of the aging W76 Holbrook warheads with the proposed new W93 design.

    Nigel Jones 18th Mar ’21 – 10:25am:
    Each nuclear bomb today is 14,000 times stronger than one bomb used in 1945.

    The UK’s most powerful operational warhead is the W76 Holbrook which has a maximum yield of 100kT – about six times more than the Hiroshima bomb.

    Ian Martin 19th Mar ’21 – 11:14am:
    While the UK can fire without permission, the system would likely not be sustainable without US support beyond a few years.


    ‘Who controls Trident? A brief look at the operation of Britain’s nuclear weapons’:

    In summary, the UK retains full operational control, to the extent that the US could not stop the UK from using the system, even against the United States.

  • Manfarang 20th Mar ’21 – 8:32pm..expats..Jo Swinson doesn’t have her finger on the button……

    Using your reasoning why should anyone believe anything this party says? After all, we don’t run the treasury, education, policing, foreign policy, etc., etc. so we can just say whatever we like without, as 2010/15 showed, having to honour any of those promises..

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