Britain’s nuclear warhead increase masks a suicidal strategic failure


The increase in nuclear warhead potential stockpile, announced in the global Britain review, was a short-term political success masking a suicidal failure in geopolitical strategy. In contrast, it is left to Pope Francis to act with the necessary strategic vision.

The warhead announcement gratified the need of Boris Johnson’s base who equate military symbolism with national strength, in denial of both the comprehensive US control of UK nuclear armaments, and the defeats of the British Army in Iraq and Afghanistan as so eloquently demonstrated by Simon Acram’s book.

The uproar of protest from those sensible to the risks of confrontation and war only proved to Johnson’s base his wisdom. Ridicule of the Wizard of Oz that is the UK nuclear weapons system would be more effective than rising on cue to the bait. And in tune of Johnson’s MO, the language in the white paper does not contain anything more than a hypothetical target. None of the British political class were prepared to use the loss of national security sovereignty over to the US over The Bomb as a rebuttal to the argument that the EU had taken over sovereignty of Borders and Bananas.

A real risk that Johnson runs is further alienating the Biden Administration. Diplomacy rather than military power is the new catechism found in the White House’s new strategy and amplified by Secretary of State Blinken. With an explicitly Irish President in the White House, London should be concerned not to become a nuisance. Biden’s team have a far more acute sense of British weakness than the British themselves. The ego of those in the Westminster bubble precludes them from appreciating the extent of present US support for Ireland and will be quite prepared to apply pressure. A commentariat living on a diet of speculation never connected the post victory Biden – Johnson call in which Ireland came up twice in 30 minutes with the evaporation of No Deal-Hard Border Brexit last autumn and the departure within days of “that call” of Cummings and his coterie from number 10.

While Washington is showing signs of a quality of leadership not seen since FDR, it is the Pope who is showing a quality of leadership rare amongst both political and religious leaders. Having officially rejected nuclear deterrence even as a temporary policy, he made history by visiting Iraq and meeting Ayatollah Sistani.

On 23rd March, the Vatican is hosting a high level meeting on global disarmament. Our project, SCRAP, is honoured to be co-sponsoring the event in order to discuss in part this Strategic Concept for the Removal of Arms and Proliferation. 

We are asked to believe that if only the warriors of the past had had nuclear arms they would never have used them, and war would have stopped- that had the Visigoths and the last Emperors had nuclear arms, the Roman Empire would be with us still. 

In our own time, we have survived by luck as much as statecraft. But however long our luck lasts, it cannot last long enough. 

On Climate Chaos we understand that it is practical to adapt to complex global industry. BUT controlling weapons chaos is considered impractical. The military equivalent of carbon neutrality – General Disarmament – is dismissed as an unrealistic dream. 

But from a technical perspective establishing general disarmament is easier than achieving a carbon neutral world — so we need a programme that can build trust, create a positive synergy of rapid progress: and achieve a soft landing from the present race to a literal dead end. 

Our team brings together the best of past practice and the benefits of new technology. We offer for your consideration a synergy rather than a step by step approach. A synergy of Freezing, of Tracking, of Controlling and of Eliminating the world’s weapons, where nuclear weapons elimination remains the most urgent focus. 

We offer concepts for a Global Weapons Tracking Service because in the age of Google Earth there is no place to hide weapons. 

And we offer a draft Treaty encompassing all types of general purpose conventional arms in the arsenals of nations.

To demonstrate the feasible end state.

Fortunately, there are signs of a renaissance in disarmament. The extension of the US-Russian nuclear arms control treaty and the entry into force of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) are important humanitarian stepping stones to security. President Putin offers a Freeze on types of missiles and nuclear warheads, and President Biden a Freeze on some weapons to the Arabian peninsula. The agreement with Iran is ready to be re-energised.

Freezing weapons production and supply builds on these examples. Just as one initiative, one windmill or solar panel does not reverse climate chaos but still makes a difference; every weapon stopped builds trust and momentum. Every weapon stopped saves taxpayers their hard-earned money, money they so badly need, and which our communities need to build a sustainable honorable future. Every weapon stopped removes a carbon footprint.

We should reflect that individuals and communities acting on climate have national, regional and global efforts in which to place their actions. When it comes to weapons control, efforts are fragmented and lack an organized global focus. This is where the holistic approach of SCRAP offers assistance. 

Freezing, Tracking, Controlling, Eliminating provides a tool box for regional actions. Gun control at home and Gun Control abroad are needed to help realize integral human development. In the Americas, guns flow South as drugs flow North. Across the African continent the guns are not silent. A gun without bullets is a club therefore Ammunition is an effective place to focus. TheArms Trade shows the potential of global agreements on weapons control. A Europe of values is a Europe that stops weapons production internally, stops the supply and seeks to globalize the arms control regimes from which it has benefited since 1990. 

But we must beware of cheating, the world sadly is not only made up of the just. Back in the day, verifying weapons agreements was hard, but it worked for decades in US-Russian agreements. In the case of Iraq, the UN inspectors did their work, and no weapons of mass destruction were found there. 

Today in the world of Google Earth and citizens’ organisations such as Bellingcat there is really nowhere much to hide. We suggest a verification aid to governments and global society: a Global Weapons Tracking Service. 

Weapons Tracking using Open Sources can be of great use. The Open Skies Treaty provided confidence and security across two continents, until under President Trump’s administration the U.S. decided to withdraw – now experts are keen on repairs. A common sense approach is to use digital technology to create a global Open Skies that can track all weapons.

Weapons Tracking can provide assurance to encourage Freezes, Tracking also provides the needed reassurance to support Elimination and Controls. Combining past best practice in weapons diplomacy with the best of information technology.

We offer the draft SCRAP Treaty to reinforce the efforts to eliminate nuclear and other WMD and reduce and control other armaments. In the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, all states parties have a legal obligation to negotiate general disarmament for the world. There is therefore a great opportunity for dialogue and engagement. It cannot wait to be an ultimate goal, the need for dialogue is now, the tools to enable dialogue  are here now, and now we have an opportunity to  act.

So, the synergy of Freeze, Track, Eliminate and Control offers realistic norms to make our dream of a more peaceful world incarnate.

If we fail in our endeavours we can see our future in the ruins of Rome’s past, when we succeed as we surely shall, the humanitarian benefit will be transformational. Saving just half current spending of $2,000,000,000,000 would reduce taxes, fund global public health, support carbon neutrality and remove so many of the causes of war.

At the end of the Second World War nations agreed that for Realistic as well as Ethical reasons nations must end the use of force. They were right and we must now act.

Professor Dan Plesch is Director of the SOAS Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy (CISD).

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