Tag Archives: nuclear weapons

Baroness Sue Miller writes: Lib Dem Conference should debate UN nuclear treaty

This week the Federal Conference Committee will decide whether to allow Conference to debate the UK joining the UN multilateral nuclear disarmament Treaty.

Lib Dems, like the other main parties, have been unwilling to be seen as unilateralist but since the Trident debate a most important new initiative from the UN has changed the nuclear weapons landscape.

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, supported at the UN General Assembly by 122 countries, will place nuclear weapons in the same category as other WMDs -illegal under International  law.  Also,  importantly, it provides a framework and a pathway to their eventual total elimination. If we are to live up to our statement that we support multilateral disarmament, internationalism and a long term view we must debate and, I believe, support it.

The Treaty grew out of three Conferences on the Humanitarian Consequences of Nuclear War. As the scientists, medics and civil society examined various scenarios it became starkly clear that now, with more powerful weapons, more countries possessing them and a modernisation programme planned in several countries the scenario was even bleaker than at the height of the Cold War. Even a limited regional nuclear exchange would have environmental consequences for agriculture that would lead to the risk of billions starving. They also found that no medical response could be adequate. As the International Red Cross said as the UN debated the Treaty

The treaty alone will not make nuclear weapons disappear overnight. But it delegitimises their role in the world today and provides a strong disincentive for their proliferation. The treaty signals to all that any development, modernising, testing, threat or plan to use nuclear weapons by anyone is completely unacceptable.

The timescale is important and practical. Nuclear states will not relinquish their weapons overnight. In the current febrile atmosphere of Russian/Chinese /US relations there are likely to be decades of work to do the create the necessary trust, verification and de escalation. 

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Nuclear fudge on the Lib Dem stall

Bismark is quoted as having said that “politics is the art of the possible” and in perpetuating a nuclear defence policy that can never be realised, the Liberal Democrats  have succeeded in stepping out of the debate on nuclear weapons.  The policy of having a part time submarine which probably isn’t carrying any nuclear warheads is neither possible nor deterrent.
 
This position is the sort of contingency that is adopted by fence sitters who do not expect ever to have to implement the policy that they have adopted and quite frankly for a party that aspires to government it is an entirely unsustainable policy.
 
There are in fact on the nuclear debate only two main questions, do we want a nuclear based defence policy or not?  If the answer is yes then the policy of the Liberal Democrats is not that policy as it means in reality that we leave the warheads at home until after war has been declared.  If the answer is no then the policy of the Liberal Democrats is not that policy as it retains the warheads.

Fundamentally we are saying that we want to negotiate away warheads that we will never use and will never have the opportunity to use and so we have taken our warheads out of any possible multi-lateral agreement.
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Observations of an Ex Pat: Brexit goes nuclear

The EU is worried about losing their American nuclear umbrella.

The UK is worried about losing their European market and their seat at the European top table.

Britain has nuclear weapons. The EU has markets. Is there a fit?

If so, the result could be a tectonic strategic shift with far-reaching political repercussions.

My sources say there is enough of a fit for Prime Minister Theresa May to be thinking of offering to extend the British deterrent to EU countries in return for Brexit concessions.  This is most likely to be in cooperation with the French.

The reaction of the strategic eggheads ranges from “not incredible” to “logical,” to “totally unrealistic” and then “utterly crass” with a lot of “no comments” thrown in for good measure.

No comment was what the British Ministry of Defence said. No reply was all I could elicit from The Foreign Office and Downing Street. But The Department  for  Exiting the European Union, was more forthcoming. It referred me to Mrs May’s 18 January  Brexit strategy speech in which she said: 

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Lib Dems to continue quest for multilateral disarmament after amendment to get rid of nuclear weapons falls

Another conference, another debate on nuclear weapons. The anti nuclear weapons side has won once, in 1986, so the odds weren’t good. What would happen today, though, given that it was the first ever vote under OMOV.

Well, the party was clearly bringing out its big hitter so both sides. Conference darling Alistair Carmichael for the party working group position and Conference darling Julian Huppert for the anemdnemnt.

The working group was set up in Bournemouth in 2015 to look at the issues around nuclear weapons and drew up a paper which recommended keeping a nuclear deterrent and working for multilateral disarmament. An amendment recommended getting rid of nuclear weapons and spending the money strengthening our conventional weapons which, its movers argued, were actually what was needed to counter the global threats we face.

After a generally good-natured debate, Conference voted by 244 to 429 to reject the amendment.

Here’s a flavour of the debate:

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Tim Farron writes: A nuclear weapons-free world?

 

I recently revisited an article that I wrote ahead of Autumn Conference in 2015. My article opened with the line, “Another Lib Dem conference and we find ourselves talking about our nuclear deterrent once more.”

And they say politics has changed in the last eighteen months!

In York this week, we will again debate the future of the UK’s nuclear deterrent. At conference’s request, the FPC has commissioned a policy paper on nuclear weapons (pdf). The paper, written by party members after long consideration, advocates a step down the nuclear ladder by moving to a medium-readiness posture, and proposes an end to continuous at-sea deterrence. It also calls on the UK to become a leader in the disarmament and control of nuclear weapons. This position reflects the UK’s continued need for a minimum nuclear deterrent, suitable for the 21st century, which sits alongside the Liberal Democrats’ commitment to working for a world free of nuclear weapons, working within international institutions, particularly the UN.

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Is Trident’s successor a white elephant?

On Saturday afternoon Spring Conference debates motion F11 “Towards a World Free of Nuclear Weapons” which actually endorses the government’s plans to replace Trident with Successor at a cost of £200 billion, twice the original estimate.  The motion also talks about developing multilateral negotiations and ending Continuous-at-sea Deterrence (CASD) but in essence it supports a like-for-like deterrent, which we opposed through the coalition years.

I was on the working group which drafted the report which this motion approves, but I don’t agree. I’m tabling an amendment which agrees with most of the motion’s analysis and call for beefing up negotiations but also calls for Trident to be phased out and NOT replaced.

Many party members have long supported ending the UK’s nuclear weapons but others have placed their faith in nuclear deterrence on balance.  People may feel the global security situation inclines them more than ever to support replacing Trident with the Successor programme.  The argument can be summarised as “Oh my God, Putin !, Oh my God, Trump !  We better have our own nukes”.  I originally felt that the party’s latest working group on the subject was a waste of time.  Nothing had changed.  But I was wrong.  

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Living on borrowed time

Many of you will have read Kate Atkinson’s novel, Life After Life. If you haven’t, I recommend it. On one level, it is a story of alternative realities, but its real theme is war. In chapter after chapter, the central character, Ursula, meets a different untimely end. Each time, this is followed by a chapter in which, in an alternative reality, the tragedy is averted, and Ursula lives longer, on borrowed time. Perhaps we are all Ursula, in one of her more fortunate realities. I’m sure I am.

I was born in the early hours of the 9th September, 1962. I had picked an inauspicious moment. Within a few hours of my arrival at Epsom District Hospital, a consignment of Soviet ballistic missiles had arrived in Cuba. This led, when I was a month old, to a confrontation between the USA and the USSR, which came close to leading to nuclear war.

On this occasion, disaster was averted. But my friends and I grew up with deadly Soviet weapons aimed permanently at us. Meanwhile, our government had equally deadly weapons aimed permanently at Russian children.

On 26th September 1983, a couple of weeks after my twenty-first birthday, the world again came close to nuclear war. This time, by a complete accident. The Soviet satellite early warning system appeared to detect five missiles from the United States heading towards the Soviet Union. The officer in charge at the time, Stanislav Petrov, would have been expected to report this to his superiors. Had he done so, a retaliatory strike might have been ordered, almost certainly leading to full scale nuclear war. But Petrov chose to “wait and see”. And it turned out the system had malfunctioned. Petrov may have saved millions of lives.

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