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‘180 warheads was already enough to kill millions of people’ Even more nukes not the answer to UK defence says former submarine commander

A retired Royal Navy submarine commander has said the UK’s decision to increase its number of Trident nuclear warheads is ‘the wrong choice’.

And he claims a policy of ‘deliberate ambiguity’ over their numbers and use could lead to US withdrawing support – which he says would render UK’s Continuous At Sea Deterrent inoperable.

Earlier this week the Government published its Integrated Review – billed as the most radical reassessment of Britain’s place in the world since the end of the Cold War – and announced the UK is to increase its nuclear weapon stockpile cap amid fears that China represents a “systemic challenge” and Russia remains the most acute direct threat to the UK”.

The review says a “minimum, credible, independent nuclear deterrent” remains “essential in order to guarantee our security”.

And it concludes that a “developing range of technological and doctrinal threats” means it is not the time to press on with 2010 plans to lower the overall stockpile of nuclear warheads but increase them to “no more than” 260.

The review also sees Britain reserve the right to use Trident against new “emerging technologies” as well as chemical or biological weapons of mass destruction.

It also states: “Given the changing security and technological environment’, ministers will extend the long-standing policy of deliberate ambiguity and no longer give public figures for our operational stockpile, deployed warhead or deployed missile numbers.”

Speaking just hours before the review was published, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said it was important to maintain a “minimum credible level of deterrent” and described the UK’s Continuous At Sea Deterrent (CSAD) Trident- submarines armed with nuclear warheads – as the “ultimate insurance policy” against threats from hostile states.

However, Commander Robert Forsyth RN (Ret’d), a former nuclear submariner says this is the wrong choice – and claims it appears to breach the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty of which the UK is a signatory.

Commander Forsyth was second i n Command on a Polaris submarine, Trident’s predecessor.

He said: “The UK is one of three Depositaries for the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT). In addition to administrative duties, UK is required to set high standards of conformity. The Integrated Review (IR) appears to be in breach of the letter of the treaty and definitely in breach of the spirit.

“The increase in warheads undermines the UK commitment to Article VI of the NPT and so significantly weakens the Treaty. I.e. ‘The haves can have more with impunity but not you’ is not a good message.

“One 100kt Trident warhead is sufficient to physically destroy hundreds of thousands of people and destroy the total infrastructure of a State the size of say Syria. It would also inflict generations of radiation effects on all its neighbours.

“The previous limit of 180 warheads was sufficient to kill millions of people and cause such devastation as would lead to a nuclear winter and extinction of multiple lifeforms. An additional 80 achieves no more than doubling up on this up and ensure any surviving life forms are extinguished.

“It may be that the Government envisages using low yield (5kt) warheads. While these may be limited to near Hiroshima blast and radiation effects – still being experienced 75 years later – this would almost certainly trigger a nuclear exchange whose effects would be totally disproportionate to the reason for using them and replicate delivery of one or more 100kt warheads.

“The threat of use of nuclear weapons in the past has not prevented non-nuclear warfare e.g. Korea and Vietnam. There is no reason to suppose that it would deter cyber or chemical/biological attacks or any other form of non-nuclear warfare.

“The implication that UK may use nuclear weapons to counter non-nuclear attacks may encourage non-nuclear weapon States to provide themselves with nuclear weapons to have similar enhanced protection.

“The ‘Global Reach’ military ambitions of the recent Integrated Review (IR) exceeds the capability available, even after implementing its recommendations, because of the extreme cost of nuclear weapons.

“Nuclear weapons are a very blunt Cold War-era instrument entirely inappropriate for nuanced reaction to say Russian incursions in the Baltic or China in the Pacific. Neither country would seriously consider that UK would actually launch a nuclear attack and so would proceed knowing we lacked the conventional force to oppose.

“UK professes to be a ‘rules based’ society. The targets at which a nuclear warhead could be lawfully fired i.a.w. current international law are limited to mid-ocean or uninhabited desert – provided there is no prevailing wind.

“The Biden administration in the US is seriously contemplating a reduction in nuclear weapons and to be used on a ‘sole use’ basis not first use basis i.e. only to deter/retaliate a nuclear weapon attack.

“The UK policy of ‘deliberate ambiguity’ which, by denying nothing, embraces all, will conflict with the US and technical/political support for UK Trident might be withdrawn.

“The US is so deeply embedded in UK Trident, from supply of missiles and warheads through targeting procedures and the launch system, that it has the means to render UK Trident inoperable.”

The MoD and the UK Government have long insisted that Trident can be used independently of the US.

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