Analysis

Here’s the truth about Britain’s nukes

by | 20 Feb 2024

An exchange of letters in the Herald show how much the British defence establishment is vested in making you believe we have nuclear bombs we can launch independently. We don't, so what does it mean?

Note: this was written before the news about a Trident missile misfire. It’s almost as if someone was trying to prove my point about ‘dusty old bombs’. This isn’t an isolated incident – in 2016 we launched a Trident missile which went in completely the wrong direction. Thank goodness for kill switches, eh?Scotland (or at least Glasgow and the west coast) is and always has been one error short of nuclear annihilation.

 

An interesting exchange of letters in the Herald highlights one of the biggest geopolitical pushes taking place in the world generally and Europe particularly – and its enormous flaws. That debate is about the rapid expansion of militarism as a solution to an increasingly destabilised world.

The debate was kicked of by Neil McKay coming out full-throated for a nuclear-armed Scotland after independence (not a great surprise given how fruitful has been the security services courting of McKay and his granting of puff-piece interviews for spy chiefs and Boys Own breathlessness when he writes about spying).

The first letter writer was my mum who was writing to try and help Mr McKay understand why his arguments are ill-informed to an extent that they are just wrong. Ms Lindsay’s point is that the UK doesn’t have the ability to fire a nuclear weapon on its own. We make bombs, but unless we’re going to fly them over targets and drop them out of planes, we can’t launch them.

That is because the delivery and targeting systems we use belong to America who rents them to us. Trident is a system that must be sent to the US regularly for maintenance. Without Trident our bombs are all but useless.

What no-one will actually admit but everyone knows is that the US simply doesn’t create weapons of mass destruction it can’t ultimately control. It can turn off the targetting system and anyway, no-one is in any doubt that the US puts kill switches in its weapons so that the US could disable any rogue missile that was stoled, lost or misfired.

Now, to be clear, they don’t highlight that in the instruction manual (as in ‘p64: How to access the kill switch for regular maintenance and cleaning’). Obviously. There is no possible circumstance in which the US is going to publicly admit it has kill switches in the UK’s nukes.

Since there is no denial of this reality that could possibly be believed, I’ll leave it to you. Did the US lease the UK nuclear weapon delivery systems rather than sell us them, and did it keep control both of missile maintenance and the targeting system purely to help us out with our admin? Or do they control those missiles?

Of course, if this was properly understood publicly it would be a disaster for Britain’s defence stance. The whole point of that stance is to persuade you (and everyone else) that the UK is a major international player with its own independent nuclear arsenal. If people believed that our nukes were actually just a fig leaf that can only ever be used with US permission it would undermine the whole show.

Other nations with a genuinely independent nuclear arsenal own their own delivery systems and service them themselves – we’re faking it

That was the basis of McKay’s original opinion piece. He thinks Putin is coming for us and that if we don’t have weapons of mass destruction we’ll all be forced to eat borscht for tea by the weekend. His renewed commitment to weapons of mass destruction is all about Donald Trump. What if a President Trump doesn’t come to rescue Europe from the Red Menace?

Well, if he doesn’t (thinks McKay) then Britain will just have to, which means Scotland must keep ahold of all those bombs. But what if the public knew that a President Trump could deactivate ‘our’ entire nuclear arsenal at will anyway? Would we consent to the massive amounts spent on a system we can’t use rather than spend it on the health service?

That takes us to the reply to the original letter, which comes from the Editor of the UK Defence Journal. He tells readers that Ms Lindsay is wrong and that the only people who decide whether Trident will be launched or not is the UK.

Let me be clear about his evidence for this. His evidence for this is that when the UK took delivery of the Trident nuclear submarines they also got badges which said ‘No. 1 Nuclear Daddy’ and a certificate which said ‘congratulations – you are now the owner of a definitely wholly independent nuclear deterrent.’ Plus some launch codes.

I mean, just out of interest and let’s take as true that we can launch these missiles willy nilly all by ourselves (we can’t), for how long do we have an independent nuclear arsenal? I mean, they really do need regular maintenance if they’re going to keep working, and only the US can do that. If they just refuse, how long are these things still operational?

Is it a ‘fingers crossed’ kind of moment where we just fire dusty old bombs and hope, or is it more of a Wallace and Gromit moment where plucky old Britain gets its pliers and screwdrivers out and makes the best of a bad situation? Other nations with a genuinely independent nuclear arsenal own their own delivery systems and service them themselves. We’re faking it.

Then again, our whole military stance has been faking it. In European terms the UK was at the forefront of preventing the development of a specifically European defence capability because being reliant on the US maintained us as pivotal given our closer relations with the US. A weak Europe and a strong US makes the UK look stronger in a European context.

Remember, no-one is going to tell you a word of truth about any of this if it is in the interests of the security state to not tell you the truth. You are free to believe the spooks, generals, think tanks and pliant journalists if you want. But you are also free to use your critical faculties and ask if there might not be a reason that the US wouldn’t sell us missiles.

So let’s start again. To arrive at a position on this you’ll need to make your mind up about various branches along the way. Is Russia a threat to Europe? How should we deal with that threat? If we take a military response, what should that be? Can we achieve our goals with military means alone and if not, what other means are we pursuing?

It is Scotland, almost alone on the continent, that has the nuclear target on our backs

Let me give you my answers. Do I think that Russia is any kind of serious threat to the UK or most of Europe? Nope, I don’t. Is he a threat to some of his neighbouring countries? Yes. What is the best response to this? With the toll the war in Ukraine is taking and the Russian mortalities, I doubt Putin will escalate further from where he is now if we don’t escalate first.

During the Cold War we were wiser. We pursued a twin-track approach of military threat and direct negotiation. At the peak of the Cold War in the 1950-1980 period, a whole string of crucial deescalatory treaties were signed. The Partial Test Ban Treaty was negotiated throughout the 1950s and signed in 1963.

The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons was negotiated in the 1960s and signed in 1968. The Strategic Arms Limitation Talks took place across the 1970s and led to the various Strategic Arms Reductions Treaties (generally known as respective Salt and Start). In the 1980s we were negotiating and signing the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. There were plenty more.

Now? We don’t talk, we posture. There is an almost total lack of direct diplomacy and an almost total refusal to negotiate. There are no deescalatory measures being taken at all right now. The only game in town is escalation.

So I don’t think there is any military role? On the contrary, I strongly support the concept that continents must create continent-wide security measures to deter and prevent internal military disputes. My whole argument has been that Atlanticism, a sycophantic reliance on the US, has been stupid and has deterred proper European self-reliance for its own security.

We need to see pan-European security structures which are fit for purpose, and frankly the aim should be to integrate Russia (a largely European country) into those structures as soon as possible (presumably post-Putin). There needs to be pan-Asian security, pan-African security, pan-American security. What we don’t need is a single global policeman not answerable to the world.

And none of that security apparatus – none of it – needs nuclear weapons. Terrorism, cyber crime and the impacts of climate change are the kinds of threats we ought to be facing up to and being ready to address. Instead we meddled repeatedly in Russia’s business since the fall of the Soviet Union, never in a way that benefited Russia.

That is my solution – serious de-escalatory negotiations on a new era of treaties which tamp down the flames breaking out everywhere in the world, a real pan-European, self-reliant security apparatus focussed on the real threats the world faces with proper enforcement capacity, the end of unilateral power-projection carried out by rich, white, Western nations (or Russia or China or anyone else) and a Scotland freed from the tyranny of having the abomination of weapons of mass destruction on our shores.

Instead, we have little men and their war fantasies salivating over weapons we don’t even own but which make our penis look big. They are going to make these fantasies come true sooner or later – and it is Scotland, almost alone on the continent, that has the nuclear target on our backs.

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