Jamie Stone writes: The UK’s nuclear deterrent

The question of the party’s stance on nuclear weapons has often been a hot topic at conference.

Our most recent policy was passed in 2017. It committed the party to supporting a step down the nuclear ladder – with a move away from the current continuous patrols of Trident submarines, to a stance where submarines are not continuously deployed. The thought was that this would require the construction of three new Trident submarines, rather than the planned four.

Spring 2017 now feels like a very long time ago – indeed, since that policy was passed we’ve had two elections (and three Prime Ministers), Brexit, the Trump presidency, the Covid-19 pandemic, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

I was asked by the FCC and the FPC to write a spokesperson’s paper, and an accompanying motion, to bring to Autumn Conference 2022. I consulted widely across the party and spoke to external experts too – thanks to everyone who helped inform the paper.

It was clear that the dramatic deterioration of security in Europe necessitated a review of our previous stance.

We have long been the most forward-thinking UK-wide party on global disarmament, and the 2017 policy is part of that tradition.

But we have also always argued for flexibility – indeed, our proposals always included the possibility that changes in the strategic environment might require steps up, as well as down, the nuclear ladder, were that necessary to keep the people of this country safe.

At a dangerous time such as this, we must be realistic. It’s clear that choosing to take a step down the nuclear ladder of the kind proposed in 2017 – in the face of Vladimir Putin’s veiled threats of nuclear use – would send entirely the wrong signal to that despot. It risks encouraging him to be even more gung-ho with his nuclear brinkmanship.

And it would send the wrong signal to our NATO allies, who are protected under our nuclear deterrent, about the UK’s willingness to come to their defence. At a time where we should be showing European leadership, it would instead send a message of insularity.

Nor would taking such a step in this environment do anything to improve the chances for global disarmament.

That’s why I am putting forward a new proposal – at the heart of which is for the UK to maintain the current posture of continuous, at-sea deployment. That would mean a Trident submarine patrolling UK waters at all times.

But we are, and will always be, a party of global disarmament. Which is why our plan to move away from continuous patrols should remain a credible option for UK leadership on disarmament – when the security situation is more conducive to progress. Similarly, we should make a call on the fourth and final new Trident submarine on the basis of a full assessment of the strategic environment, when major fabrication is about to begin.

And we must do all we can to meet our obligations towards global disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation, even though we acknowledge that in this challenging context, the chance of significant progress is limited. Indeed, the increased nuclear risk following the invasion of Ukraine should embolden us to do more.

Yet the Conservative Government is, shamefully, taking us backwards. So we must reverse their terrible decision to increase the stockpile of nuclear weapons.

But we must go further – making global disarmament a diplomatic priority, accompanied with meaningful engagement with countries that do not have nuclear weapons on disarmament initiatives, and exploring opportunities for further disarmament with those nuclear weapons states, other than Russia, which may be more responsive to discussions – especially in areas such as de-alerting and transparency. We should also advance work on verification, which is a hugely important tool in enabling certainty as states disarm.

That is the way forward: being realistic, as we always have, about what the security context permits us to do. But laying the groundwork for future disarmament now, so that when the global security situation improves, we can capitalise on it in a way that we failed to do at the end of the Cold War.

Read my paper – The UK’s nuclear deterrent – here.

 

 

* Jamie Stone is the MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross.

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40 Comments

  • Is this a flagship policy area? I think not. (NHS, Economy/cost of living and Environment).

    But a very important topic, none the less. Fully agree to making global disarmament a primary diplomatic priority, as well as doing more on non-proliferation. I am hopeful your paper contains the detail on how to do this in practice?

    How would you message your position in a sentence? My attempt:

    We look forward to the day the world gives up nuclear arms and will work harder than any other party to make that happen. But until that day, we will maintain a sufficient nuclear deterrent.

    Why do we need to talk about this at conference now – to have a stronger position to appeal to conservative voters who have concerns we are soft(er) on defence?

  • Adrian Sanders 7th Sep '22 - 12:18pm

    Freddie, We are debating this because it is a change in party policy. As Jamie admits: “That’s why I am putting forward a new proposal – at the heart of which is for the UK to maintain the current posture of continuous, at-sea deployment. That would mean a Trident submarine patrolling UK waters at all times.”
    Our current policy is a “medium responsiveness posture with no continuous deployment.”
    Conference must decide whether our existing policy is fit for purpose, or a change will make a difference.

  • Peter Davies 7th Sep '22 - 2:16pm

    For the M.A.D. strategy to work, one requirement is a prime minister who appears mad enough to launch a vengeance attack killing millions of civilians. I just wish this was not the only criterion by which we choose them.

  • Jamie is right. By not maintaining a continuous-at-sea deployment, any move from having the submarines at base to at sea would be seen as an escalation or a provocation.
    Look at WWI where mobilisation could not be reversed, forcing the war.
    Having a steady level of deployment avoids that risk.

  • Chris Moore 7th Sep '22 - 4:18pm

    We are in favour of being virtuous, but not right now.

    Nuclear weapons exist. Weapons that exist will be used – unless technologically obsolete – sooner or later.

    In the 77 years of nuclear arms, we’ve had one nuclear war and come close to several others by mistake or design.

    Therefore I believe there’s a pressing moral obligation to abandon nuclear weapons completely.

    The only other possible hope is that next war is a one-sided affair like the first or a limited bi-lateral exchange of pleasanteries causing only a few tens of millions of deaths. Then perhaps the application and focus will be found to get past the usual caveats and give up nuclear arms. There will probably always be some dictator or rogue regime making threats of one sort or another.

    Therefore, I believe unilateral disarmament is always the correct policy. But it’s also in the UK a massive vote loser.

  • Mick Taylor 7th Sep '22 - 5:12pm

    I agree with Christ Moore. Now is not the time to continue to own nuclear weapons. Why does the UK, almost alone in Europe, have to have them? How come the other countries do not feel the need to waste billions of pounds on a weapon we never intend to use? I am also certain it is not a vote loser, unless we fail to make a case for it. The UK has been brainwashed into believing that we have an independent nuclear deterrent (we haven’t, it’s effectively owned and controlled by the USA) and that failure to have one puts us at risk. (If that’s the case why do most other Nato nations not have them?). It’s all hubris and I for one want nothing to do with the policy that Jamie is putting forward.

  • Abandoning our nuclear weapons now would send completely the wrong message. Putin would love it and it would show Britain again moving to isolation and not to be trusted

  • I agree with Jamie Stone’s position here.

    Ukraine unilaterally disarmed in the 90s. It’s highly likely that had it chosen not to disarm, that it wouldn’t have faced wars and skirmishes with Russia for the past 8 years.

    Very worrying that there are still unilateralists here when such fresh and recent history proves their folly.

  • Chris Moore 7th Sep '22 - 7:51pm

    There’s no doubt if Ukraine had kept its nuclear weapons, Russia would have had had to think through more scenarios before invading, especially the potential for a nuclear exchange that wiped out humanity.

    But there are counterfactual scenarios my kind LD non-unilateralist friends are not taking into account:

    Ukraine keeps its weapons.

    -Russia invades Crimea anyway and calls Ukraine’s bluff. The bluff fails…

    – a nuclear armed non-democratic Ukraine is itself the agressor towards another country: Russia steps in to the breach. A nuclear war ensues.

    Having one less country with nuclear weapons is always a positive, even if it makes a conventional war more doable. Look at India and Pakistan, for example, who’ve come very close on at least one occasion.

    It will happen, eventually, unless we get rid of the bloody things.

  • Tristan WARD 7th Sep '22 - 8:41pm

    An important policy change that I support.

  • I disagree with some of the premises in Jamie’s article.

    “And it would send the wrong signal to our NATO allies, who are protected under our nuclear deterrent, about the UK’s willingness to come to their defence” – this is just plain wrong. We are providing weapons and training to Ukraine, sending more troops to the Baltics, conducting more exercises in countries bordering Russia. Those are what matter right now, and in the event of further Russian aggression it will be the willingness to deploy conventional forces that will both reassure allies and make a difference on the battlefield.

    If for example, Russia invaded Poland using conventional forces, would it help if we sat on our hands telling the Poles that they are on their own unless Putin uses nukes? Hardly. What the Poles would be crying out for is tanks, planes, troops etc.

    We might also note that despite the threats, and despite Russia’s conventional forces failing in their mission and grinding to a humiliating halt, nukes have not been used. That has been achieved by a spirited, and wholly conventional defence by a country that gave up its nuclear weapons.

  • A very cogent and well-argued piece, which I find persuasive. My heart is anti-nuclear, but my eyes see Putin and others like him.
    And btw Freddie, if you want to know what’s in Jamie’s paper, there’s a link to it at the bottom of the article.
    Also, the fact this paper is being presented/debated doesn’t mean we see it as a priority issue right now. Political parties are allowed to develop policy on more than one issue at a time. I don’t think we’ll be leading with our defence policy in the next election, but we have to have one. And what’s happening here is something you won’t see in the Tories or Labour: a party spokesperson/MP actually engaging with the members about policy development. That’s something we should be very proud of as a party. Long may it continue.

  • Nick Baird. We would not be telling Poland that they are on their own. They are in NATO so we would be at war.

  • @Tim Rogers

    Exactly – that is our commitment as a member of NATO. Our possession or otherwise of nuclear weapons would be irrelevant to our “willingness” as Jamie puts it.

  • Chris Moore 8th Sep '22 - 7:32am

    Pronto, I am relocating from Spain back to the UK. I can no longer live in a country that is subject on a daily basis to nuclear blackmail.

    How much more secure I would feel with a few potentes Tridentes submarinos cruising around in the depths of the oceans.

    Not only Spain, but the world would be safer: independent nuclear deterrent now!

    Calling Mick Taylor, Greece as well would be much better off with an independent nuclear deterrent. Greece and the world.

  • I agree with Chris Moore. We are completely deluded about Trident and should stick to our policy to disarm/not escalate. In my view this cannot come soon enough. You are taking about weapons that are immoral, dangerous and which will not deter forever.

  • Catherine Crosland 8th Sep '22 - 10:27am

    This proposed policy change is so disappointing. A backward step, and contrary to our commitment, set out in the preamble to the constitution, to play our part in bringing about disarmament.
    The Spring 2017 motion was disappointing enough. But at least that did commit us to some slight “climbing down the nuclear ladder”.
    With this policy, we would climb right up the nuclear ladder again, albeit with some lip service being paid to a vague desire for disarmament at some remote future date.
    For the last five years, motions about the issue of nuclear weapons have always been rejected by FCC. The motions that were rejected over these years all called for disarmament. Now a motion on the subject is finally accepted, and it turns out to be a pro nuclear weapons motion.
    I am afraid the terrible situation in Ukraine is being used as an argument for nuclear weapons, in a way that strikes me as cynical. Nuclear weapons do not make the world safer. They make it an infinitely more dangerous place, and are the ultimate violation of human rights. Now, more than ever, we should make the moral case for disarmament. If liberals do not stand for human rights, then who will?

  • Paul Barker 8th Sep '22 - 11:10am

    Can anyone seriously doubt that if Ukraine had not given up its Nuclear Weapons there would have been no Russian Invasion ? How many lives would have been saved ?

    Our Party has always argued for Negotiated Reductions in Nuclear Arsenals but until there is Regime change in Moscow or Beijing there is no-one to negotiate with. The only way we can help Democrats in The Chinese & Russian Empires is by standing firm.

    Nuclear Weapons are a terrible Solution to Nationalist Aggression but they have worked in preventing WW3 for 77 Years.

  • UK and USA promised to defend Ukraine 1996 Istanbul Agreement if it gave up its nuclear weapons. We did not. UK’s word is rubbish? Boris as Foreign Secretary refused to arm Ukraine from 2016 despite USA begging us to as Russia were going to invade. He was too busy getting Russian money into London/Tory Party. Boris sent clothes and sticking plasters.
    Now the question is, if Ukraine had had enough ordinary arms would Russia have invaded and if allies had stood their coloured uniforms on the borders of Ukraine in those 3 weeks before the invasion, a political move, would Putin have backed down? I think so.

  • Noel Hadjimichael 8th Sep '22 - 12:24pm

    I am pleased that we have the opportunity to revisit our policy position on a topic that is at the heart of our defence commitment to NATO and our broader allies. The UK has a responsible and prominent role to play in the security framework that protects our European neighbours. I am looking forward to a quality debate that will test robust reasons why this shift in policy is both politically desirable and necessary. We are not a fringe, regional or narrow political pressure group – we are a serious political party that should be both brave enough and mature enough to accept that tough debates are warranted when the conditions underpinning policy have been overtaken by events.

  • Chris Burden 8th Sep '22 - 2:29pm

    There is *no* actual new thinking in Jamie’s piece, only a return the status quo ante and very much against most opinion in the party. Dispiriting. On that basis, he should cease being Defence spokesperson IMO.
    Instead, he should have argued that UK use the leverage that we have with our current nuclear weapons to warn, to point out the obvious, that there have been *repeated* near-miss nuclear exchanges. UK should *demand* that all other nuclear powers wind down stocks or get rid of them.
    At least, it would help if we LDs ceased referring to the obvious fiction “independent” nuclear deterent or casually speaking terms that give the impression that nukes are part of a warfighting strategy.

  • Oliver Robbins 8th Sep '22 - 4:33pm

    I agree with Jamie Stone. I wish I didn’t, I wish I could be wholeheartedly in favour of unilateral disarmament, but this simply isn’t the time. A long-term aim of global disarmament whilst ensuring that we are adequately protected in this time of geopolitical tension seems eminently reasonable to me.

  • Suzanne Fletcher 8th Sep '22 - 6:41pm

    Jamie says he consulted widely in the party, but I cannot recall being given the opportunity to give mine.
    how was the consultation done.

  • Chris Moore 8th Sep '22 - 7:57pm

    Hello Oliver,

    Are countries like Germany, Spain, Belgium, South Africa not “adequately protected”?

    Would the world be safer and without war if ALL countries had a nuclear deterrent?

  • Christopher Burden 8th Sep '22 - 8:00pm

    @Oliver Robbins: There *is* an alternative to unilaterialism – what I said. We use our current possession of nukes to shame/ browbeat/ armtwist other nuclear powers to reduce or eliminate. We do not do ‘a Corbyn’ and just surrender without pressuring others. That would be stupid.

  • Paul Barker 8th Sep ’22 – 11:10am………..Nuclear Weapons are a terrible Solution to Nationalist Aggression but they have worked in preventing WW3 for 77 Years…….

    There is absolutely no evidence for this statement..

    Furthermore it is arguable that had the USSR/China had deployable nuclear weapons then WW3 might well have occurred in 1950-53 (Korea)..Had things gone badly for Israel during the 6 day war it is certain she would have used her nuclear weapons (Operation Spider) rather than see Israel overun… That is the problem with nuclear weapons “As a last resort, when all else fails, they will be used”. That is not a sobering thought; anything but. In fact the closest we came to global WW3 was over the mere deployment of nuclear weapons (Cuba 1963).

    As far as our need for ‘nukes’ goes..in what realistic scenario could we use our meagre stock without the US?.

  • Nonconformistradical 9th Sep '22 - 10:14am

    @Chris Moore
    “Would the world be safer and without war if ALL countries had a nuclear deterrent?”

    Does the example of easy availability of guns in the USA suggest that? Given their high rates of murder, accidental shooting etc. I think not!

  • Mick Taylor

    ‘Why does the UK, almost alone in Europe, have to have them? How come the other countries do not feel the need to waste billions of pounds on a weapon we never intend to use?’

    Do you think Putin would have invaded Ukraine if they still had nuclear weapons?

  • Mick Taylor 10th Sep '22 - 6:36am

    John Oundle. Ukraine’s original number of nukes was small. Putin was/is determined to add Ukraine to his empire, even if he to destroy it to do so. He would have simply threatened to annihilate them if they had nuclear weapons and what chance would they have had against Russia’s huge arsenal. The USA would have blustered and threatened but eventually done nothing. We desperately need to disarm or eventually, some lunatic – like Putin – faced with some defeat in traditional warfare or some imagined slight will use them.
    The path offered by Jamie Stone is the path of despair. I will not vote for it.

  • john oundle 10th Sep ’22 – 12:41am…….Do you think Putin would have invaded Ukraine if they still had nuclear weapons?…………….Paul Barker 8th Sep ’22 – 11:10am……….Can anyone seriously doubt that if Ukraine had not given up its Nuclear Weapons there would have been no Russian Invasion ?………….

    These Ukrainian nuclear weapons you mention…It is almost 30 years since nuclear weapons (which were never under Ukrainian control anyway) were removed.. As Ukraine never had any nuclear program of it’s own who would have maintained/replaced these weapons over that period?

    The idea that ‘but for the west’ Ukaine would have had a nuclear deterrent is nonsense.. What about the intervening 30 years ? Ukraine was, in 2012, named as one of the world’s most corrupt regimes; should such a country be trusted with nuclear weapons? What about Belarus, there were nuclear weapons there; would you feel safer knowing that they had kept them?

    Again, regarding our WMDs; in what realistic scenario could we use our meagre stock without the US?.

  • Chris Moore 10th Sep '22 - 8:21am

    @Nonconformistradical: I was being ironic!!!!

    The argument is used that nuclear weapons deter conventional warfare: if that is so, give every country in the world nuclear weapons and there will be universal peace. What could possibly go wrong?

    The reality is that minor powers like UK and France could give up their nuclear weapons and the world would be a slightly safer place. The UK would then be in the same position as Italy, Spain, Germany etc.

    We would also save a lot of money.

  • Andrew MacGregor 11th Sep '22 - 11:05am

    3 things.
    I’m concerned the FCC and FPC are undermining efforts by members to debate motions by asking a PS to do a speech and motion after several attempts by the members have sidelined.
    The positive here is JS explicitly mentioning rolling back the increase in warhead numbers proposed by the tousle haired buffoon.
    Lastly, no word of the impact of focussing such a huge budget on the deterrent and the impact on conventional forces – all three major service functions. A large part of the conventional forces effort goes into protecting the SSBNs but also the budget limitations mean that they are being steadily eroded.
    Until recently the French covered our maritime patrols capability to protect their own SSBNs. We had no MR aircraft at the time.
    Russian ships were in the last 5 years able to sail up to coastal waters on both sides of Scotland without military detection. Eagle-eyed fisherman spotted them and notified authorities.
    A total overhaul of the U.K. deterrent model and conventional forces needs carrying out, not just a way to keep shinty toys and cut budgets.

  • Andrew MacGregor 11th Sep '22 - 3:20pm

    Martin,
    Russia did not need its nuclear arsenal to launch a war in Ukraine. It only needed the conventional forces it deployed as using nuclear weapons in Ukraine is counterproductive to their aims – which, despite the sensationalist claims of many Lib Dems was simply to have a land corridor and Crimea under Russian control for access for trade and military operations in the south.
    As for the closer political ties – the rabid exceptionalists objected to a combined EU rapid reaction force despite the fact NATO was working closely with the EU on that very option.
    NATO of course is the very model of defensive alliance you suggest we need and bolstered by the EU’s own efforts would be even more effective.

  • Neil James Sandison 12th Sep '22 - 6:21pm

    I am equally worried about NATOs nuclear umbrella being controlled by the USA without European countries like GB having a say . We should not be following the global nuclear disarmament debate but using our influence to lead that debate

  • Peter Hirst 18th Sep '22 - 2:56pm

    We should negotiate a common NATO nuclear deterrent or failing that a common european one. There are no circumstances when we would use nuclear weapons without common agreement with other countries. As far as deterrence is concerned as long as the Article about an attack on one NATO country is an attack on all is kept, there is no extra deterrent for retaining our own weapons.

  • Martin 11th Sep ’22 – 11:13am………..The Russian invasion of Ukraine has changed everything, because without its nuclear arsenal, Russia would not have embarked on military action. Russia is using the nuclear threat to deter Europe and the US. It is the principle reason why an exit from the conflict is so hard to envisage……….

    In 2012 Ukraine was one of the most corrupt regimes in the world. If they had nuclear weapons it is likely that terrorists organisations would have used that corruption to try and obtain a nuclear weapon; a less than ideal situation..
    To continue your argument, would any country with a beligerent neighbour be safer with a nuclear weapon?.

  • Gerald Francis 18th Sep '22 - 6:25pm

    It is interesting that Ukraine is currently making progress without nuclear weapons. The big difference seems to accuracy and high tech. The Russians appear to be holding back on the use of nuclear weapons for now but clearly not because Ukraine has them.
    I suspect their ‘friends’ may be holding them back

  • Peter Chambers 19th Sep '22 - 6:09pm

    @Andrew MacGregor
    …was simply to have a land corridor and Crimea under Russian control for access for trade and military operations in the south…
    Could you provide evidence for this, please? This does not chime with the assault around Kyiv and northern parts of Ukraine. Was it a “limited and specific” assault?

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