T214. UK’s Nuclear Arsenal

 

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Project Save the World Podcast / Talk Show Episode Number:  214
Panelists:  Rebecca Johnson, Paul Meyer, and Nick Ritchie
Host: Metta Spencer

Date Aired:  26 March 2021
Date Transcribed and Verified:  6 May 2021
Transcription: Otter.ai
Transcription Review and Edits: Adam Wynne

Metta Spencer  

Hi, I’m Metta Spencer. And today we’re going to talk about nuclear weapons. And not just any nuclear weapons, but some brand new planned nuclear weapons that the Brits are planning. So, as you know, there are several countries in the world that retain their nuclear weapons and some people seem to want more of them. And that seems to be what’s going on in the United Kingdom now. A plan to acquire new nuclear weapons. So, we have three people here who know a lot about this topic and who are concerned about it as we all ought to be. In England, Nick Ritchie is a professor at the University of York. And Rebecca Johnson is in London at the Acronym Institute and she has been working on this issue for many, many years. And on the other side of my continent, Paul Meyer, is in Victoria, no, Vancouver. I guess you are in Vancouver, British Columbia. So, we are going to span the globe today. Nick Ritchie, would you please explain to us what is going on in your country and why we should worry about it? 

Nick Ritchie  

Okay, many thanks, Metta. And it’s nice to be with you to participate in this conversation. So, it might be useful for you for your listeners, if I just give a bit of context to this change in policy. So, coming out of the Cold War period, going back now to the early 1990s, the direction of travel for UK nuclear weapons policy was slow motion reductions. And through the first decade of the post-Cold War period, we saw the UK stockpile reduce and reduce down to the single nuclear weapons system that we currently have, which is the Trident nuclear weapon system, which consists of four ballistic missile submarines armed with American designed and built Trident missiles that we lease from them; and then a stockpile of UK designed and built nuclear warheads that are very closely based on an American version of a warhead that the Americans deploy on their own Trident missiles on their own submarines. So that’s where we were at the end of the end of the 1990s. And steadily, the two political parties that were in power in the UK in the 1990s – the Conservatives, followed by Tony Blair’s New Labour – successively reduced in a kind of salami slicing way, the number of missiles that were going to be deployed on the submarines at sea and the number of warheads that were going to be deployed on the submarines at sea, and then the overall stockpile of the UK nuclear warheads. And we were coming down and down and down. That continued through the 2000s until we get to a major defense review, conducted by the conservative and liberal democrat coalition government in 2010. And that review said, we’re going to reduce further, we have this target of reducing the overall nuclear warheads stockpile from 225, down to the target by the mid-2020s. So, kind of where we get into now. The target was to get down to 180. And that will be the overall stockpile. And to reduce the number of operationally deployed warheads – or operationally available, warheads – to about 120. And everyone thought, well, that process is continuing; those commitments were restated in another big defense review in 2015. And up until about a year and a half ago, government ministers were repeating this, this is still the plan. And then we get to this integrated – wow, this is a long title – it’s an Integrated Review of Security, Defense, Development, and Foreign Policy, which has been in the works for about two years and was kind of interrupted and influenced by Brexit and then the pandemic. So, this came out last week and to everyone’s surprise, we find out that these targets so on this trajectory of slowly consolidating the size of the of the nuclear warhead stockpile, that’s been scrapped now, and it wasn’t even a question of, kind of we’ve we haven’t reached that target of 180 of the total stockpiles yet – and we’re not going to but we’re going to stay where we are, whatever that might be. It might have been 195. It might have been 200 – or whatever. The government said we’re going to lift that cap – so the government uses this phrase “a cap” – on the number on the warhead stockpile. Part of that reason is because the government never says directly: “This is the number of warheads that we have.” They always… the language used is: “Our stockpile will be no more than…” – so no more than 225 back in 2010, working down to no more than 180. So now in the Integrated Review, they said, well, that cap is going to be lifted to no more than 260, which is quite an uptick from where we were. So, the trajectory was coming down bit by bit through the 1990s, through the 2000s, through the 2010s with the aim of getting to a maximum of 180 total nuclear warheads in the UK arsenal by the mid-2020s.

Metta Spencer  

Can I ask what that means? Because it does when they say: “It’s going to be no more than….” Does that say explicitly: “We were down lower and we’re going to actually increase the number we have?” Or does it mean that: “We’ve really had that many all along and we’re just not going to get rid of them?” 

Nick Ritchie  

It’s a bit of both, I think. But the government will be ambiguous about this. It won’t give you an answer to that question.

Metta Spencer  

Why?

Nick Ritchie  

Because, well, the language used is that: “If we give specific detail, it’s going to aid our adversaries nuclear planning.” That’s the national secrecy phrasing behind which details can be hidden. And in fact, in this review, the government has increased opacity over even the few details that it’s prepared to reveal publicly in the interests of democratic accountability. So, in fact, the government has said, whereas previously, it would say what the upper limits were on the stockpile; the upper limits on operationally available warheads; the upper limits on the number of warheads that will be deployed on the submarine at sea; all those sorts of figures, which kind of give you some parameters to see where the UK nuclear arsenal is at… This Integrated Review says: “No, we’re not going to tell you any of that anymore.” Your question about whether this is kind of building up to 260 or kind of just stopping where they were, we don’t know that. We don’t know how far down on this trajectory towards 180 by the mid-2020s – we don’t know exactly how far along the Ministry of Defense had got. But they were coming down from 225. So, to then increase up to 260 suggests they’re not going to stop where they are and that there are plans either immediately or looking over the next decade -which is the planning horizon for this Integrated Review – it implies there are plans to increase the number of warheads that we have operationally available beyond where we were in 2010 and getting back perhaps to where we were in the mid-1990s.

Rebecca Johnson  

One of my other hats is as a co-coordinator of all the partners of ICAN in the UK. And once this Integrated Review got published, we held an emergency meeting last week to discuss it. And this goes to your question actually, Metta, because there was a bit of a discussion, a bit of a disagreement, in fact, in some ways, between those who are wanting to be sending out the messaging that this was a reversal of position or that it was somehow a position that was a U-turns away from the NPT and non-proliferation and disarmament and so on; and others who were saying, you know, actually, if you take into account that in the period between 2006 and 2016, when the final decision – well, we hope it’s not the final decision  – but the decision was taken to actually start, as they say, cutting the steel on the new submarines for replacing the Trident nuclear weapon system. That the UK earmarked already 43 billion pounds to do that saying that was really just for the submarines.

Metta Spencer  

So, I’m unclear about what was being cut? Was this an actual reduction of something on existing nuclear submarines or is a non-expansion plan?

Rebecca Johnson  

Let me be clearer about that. And perhaps I should actually backtrack and explain very quickly that the current UK nuclear system is based on four Vanguard class submarines that are armed with us Trident missiles and they’re based in Scotland at two bases Faslane and Coulport. Up in Scotland. And the nuclear bomb factories that make and also refurbish the nuclear warheads for fitting onto the US missiles and the nuclear weapon system for the UK – the nuclear bomb factories are Aldermaston and Burghfield. They are based just west of London. So that’s, you know, that’s the current system. In 2006 to 2007, the government, the Labour government under Tony Blair, initiated a debate and a discussion about replacing and renewing. And that shunted on for quite some time until soon after, in fact, within about a month of the Brexit decision, the Prime Minister in one of her first acts – Theresa May – the Prime Minister, who came in when David Cameron just left having messed things up. Theresa May – one of her first steps was to hold the parliamentary debate that then took the decision to earmark the money which they had identified as essentially 43 billion pounds for the submarines to be built. They try to say this settled the debate. Of course, it didn’t. But let’s now move forward. The first of these submarines are being built in Barrow – a shipbuilder, they’re BAE Systems – but they’re not due to be ready until the 2030s. Now, the 43 billion that was earmarked then by the government, in fact, already a senior Tory, who was the chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee – Crispin Blunt – put the figure at nearly 200 billion pounds, which was actually very close to the 205 billion price tag that CND – the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament here in the UK – had identified, the actual replacement of Trident was going to cost the British people. So now I’m going to move rather fast, rather fast forward. So, when we heard about the integrated review, some were arguing that it was not so much a new development or a U-turn as making more explicit the options that the UK Government always had on the table. Making, in a sense, unmasking UK policies, but I think there are the two crucial differences. One is the crucial point, the point that Nick made, which is it has explicitly said we’re going to reserve to ourselves the right to go up to at least 260 warheads into the stockpile. And the second thing, and I think that this sometimes gets missed, but I think it’s extremely important, they were making a commitment, still, that they would always have a nuclear armed submarine at sea at all times. And that this is called the continuous at sea deterrence policy. And they also, and this is really important, they not only reduce the transparency and really increase the notion that ambiguity is essential for, you know, the nuclear weapons. But they and I just want to get this right to …  they basically changed, while saying that they were going to remain the same on the negative security assurances, the security assurances that UK has always given under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which have changed over time. That essentially said that, as well as saying that we would use nuclear weapons only in extreme circumstances, the very survival of our country. That and saying, really relating it to WMD threats. This time, what they’ve said is that we reserve the right to review the assurance, not only if the future threat of weapons of mass destruction such as chemical and biological weapons capabilities are perceived as a sufficient threat, but “emerging technologies” – this is the quote – that could have a “comparable impact.” So, expanding into that, and I think we need to think about what the implications of that really are, or could be. So, the number of statements has come out arguing that this does undermine the Non-Proliferation Treaty, the UN Secretary General Ambassador Antonio Guterres said as much. So did a UK, a very senior military [figure] Major General Jonathan Shaw asked the question, which we were all asking: “How is raising our strategic warhead cap relevant to a potential rise in the thought of short or medium range nuclear threat?” He then said this move was “inappropriate and disproportionate.” So, I think this is a question that we really need to discuss. It’s just, what has, you know, what have nuclear weapons at all got to do with real security? And certainly, what on earth is going on when the UK Prime Minister seems to feel he has to wrap and at least a perception of expanding the commitment to nuclear weapons into the Union Jack flag? What does this got to do with our real security? And even if you thought it had something to do with it? You know, what really is the difference between the current plans of extending the Trident system into the 2050s-2060s that obviously we’re working very hard not to have happen. But his current policy – why increase? And why do it now? And I think that’s a question to be raised. 

Paul Meyer  

I might jump in here now. You know, whatever the sort of rationale within Whitehall, I think we have to acknowledge that the optics on this move are just terrible. And there is outside of the UK, I think, a real sense of betrayal. In terms of this shift, because of all the five nuclear weapon states recognized under the NPT, the UK, in many ways seem to be the most progressive, the one that was most committed to transparency in terms of its deployed and stockpile of weapons; it’s reduction to one system; it’s more apparent support for further moves on nuclear disarmament. And suddenly, to turn on the dime, it seemed indirect contravention of assurances provided by the Minister of State at the Foreign Office at the last NPT review conference, that this reduction down to 180 was to be achieved in the 2020s. To in fact, have authorized a 44% increase in the potential nuclear arsenal. This sends the worst of all possible messages through the NPT, which is frankly in a pretty fragile situation at the moment. Anyways, its last review conference in 2015, failed to come up with a consensus outcome. It was to have its 50th Anniversary Review Conference in the spring of 2020. COVID-19 intervened and now that review conference is slated for August. But at this time when there is already great pressure on the viability, continued viability of the NPT to have a nuclear weapon state in a sense, reverse itself and suggest that we need more weapons rather than fewer, obviously just adds to the existing skepticism by the 185 non-nuclear weapon states parties to that treaty, that there’s any sincerity at all, or intention by the nuclear weapon states to honor their Article 6 commitment to move towards nuclear disarmament. So, it’s a very counterproductive move at this time. Here in Canada, the Canadian Network to Abolish Nuclear Weapons – an umbrella group of 18 nongovernmental organizations that promote peace and security – have just issued a press release highly critical of this move. They’ve called upon the Canadian government to intervene with their ally, the UK – and have in that release, I should note, that it also quotes remarks the German Foreign Minister has made, you know, basically saying, you know, as long as you hang on to these weapons, others are going to want to have them. And this move, in the contrary direction, undercuts the possibilities for cooperation and agreement and a successful result of that NPT review conference. So, it is a very disturbing development for strategic stability and for the continued sort of authority of the nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament regime, in light of this British action.

Nick Ritchie  

And could I add a bit of further context of that, because Paul, you’ve captured the international response to this move by the UK and how that quite obviously contradicts a self-characterization from our diplomats over the last 20 to 30 years of the UK as the most responsible of the NPT, five nuclear weapon states. The most forward leaning on nuclear disarmament, and so on. And, it could tell that story, you know, with a reasonable degree of sincerity, as long as it was on this slow motion, downward trajectory with its nuclear arsenal, and so on. Okay, with a pinch of salt, we can accept that. Now that’s been thoroughly contradicted by this move, I think. And I don’t know if Boris Johnson; the advisors around him; Defense Secretary Ben Wallace – are aware of this. And even if they are then perhaps whether they even care. You’ve got that contradiction there. But the broader context here is the post Brexit framing by the Tory Brexit ideologues of their imagining of Britain in the world after Brexit. You have this narrative of global Britain, that gained traction and was articulated under Theresa May. And now in particular, under Boris Johnson, that frames a post Brexit Britain in terms of kind of being freed from the bureaucratic shackles of the EU – now free to stride the world again. Lots of Rule Britannia coming back out, in terms of discourse from Tory MPs in Parliament. Part of this is quite nationalistic… I mean, they frame it with the slogan, “Global Britain.” And there’s lots of talk of sort of the need for cooperation, multilateralism, and diplomacy in the Integrated Review. But at its heart, it’s a very nationalistic perspective. Very bombastic that frames this Global Britain idea. And Britain being a global power with global reach in in quite militaristic ways. And their capacity to sustain and deploy the Trident nuclear weapon system that gives the UK kind of global nuclear reach and underpins its pretensions to global military power is part and parcel of that. So on the one hand, you’ve got real disappointment that the UK has reversed this kind of trajectory it was on and he’s kind of reclaiming the necessity and legitimacy of nuclear weapons and kind of saying, you know, we’ve got nuclear weapons and we should be proud of them. And when you’ve got this kind of percolating through in the narrative in the UK as well – that that needs to be understood within this broader post Brexit global Britain narrative, which has come through in this Integrated Review, and is and is built on, you know, these kind of pretensions to global military power. I mean, what you’ve essentially got with the UK Armed Forces now at least two big expensive symbolic military weapon systems, the Trident System and the various forces other bits of military kit that need to go into protecting those submarines at sea; and then the aircraft carriers, the carrier battle groups, which are big, expensive things. And that’s kind of it. That’s what the UK military has almost been reduced to. The symbolic significance of those within this post Brexit narrative can’t be underestimated, too. 

Rebecca Johnson  

I think that’s absolutely right. And at the same time, they have really outraged the defense services by basically saying that they’re going to cut the troops. The people on the ground, who are being sent abroad to do various tasks. And it’s a funny mishmash, this, because it has a lot of the whole Integrated Review has a lot of stuff in it about soft power. And actually, a recognition that we have a lot of different kinds of tools. For that, you know, to use soft power tools, and a range of different roles for defense services, that that could be used. So, it’s dressed up in that kind of clothing. And then you get to the nuclear weapons and it’s headed that, you know, the nuclear deterrent which starts off the UK’s independent nuclear deterrent, which, of course, the Brits have been doing for a long time, they can’t really bear to acknowledge that we have nuclear weapons, This goes back, it predates Boris, it goes back also to Labour governments, where we have a deterrent, and we’re worried about the nuclear weapons of, you know, Russia or China or Iran, that actually doesn’t have them, although we have reason to be worried that they might get them because they are part of a system that where, where those who have nuclear weapons are carrying on with them, and carrying on, you know, increasing and redesigning and enhancing the nuclear weapons. And this is a context that has to be taken into account. But the other thing that struck me if I can just quickly add to this, that really adding on to what Nick said was, that as well as the whole jingoism, when you read it, it’s very long on rhetoric. It’s very short of reality. It’s got no real strategy. And if you look beyond the rhetoric of for example, you know, putting climate and biodiversity as number one priorities, and obviously COVID, and, so on. When you actually look at that budgeting, then you see something of a very different picture. And so, the budgets are still, as Nick said, they’re going into the high-ticket kind of, really the white elephants that signal great power, but actually makes us look like we’ve got that British phrase, I don’t know if you have something similar in Canada – all mouth and no trousers. 

Metta Spencer  

In Texas, they say all hat and no cattle.

[background chuckles]

Paul Meyer  

If I could ask Rebecca and Nick, for one thing that struck me I mean, the Review maintains this sort of commitment to a minimum nuclear deterrent. And yet, you know, we are seeing how kind of flexible that understanding of minimum is. But what conceivable justification is given from a security perspective for this increase in the stockpile? I mean, I understand the defense secretary, had said something about the improved ABM system around Moscow or, you know, is it that they’ve identified new hamlets in North Korea that they’re going to have to target? What rationale is there? 

Nick Ritchie  

As of what has been said to justify this? Nothing. I mean, on the Sunday morning talk show on the BBC, hosted by the political journalist Andrew Marr – Ben Wallace, the Defense Secretary, sort of muttered things about Russian ballistic missile defenses and other novel nuclear weapon systems that Russia is deploying. That’s about it. There’s subsequently been some questions in Parliament, including from some Tories wanting to know what’s the justification here. The Defense Department here issued – a couple of, four or five days after the big Integrated Review – issued us separate Defense Paper that was kind of building out on some of this, but there’s nothing more in there. And Ben Wallace has subsequently said in Parliament, you know, they’re going to see if they can explain these, the reasoning behind this a bit more. And I think you can go two ways on this. You can either follow kind of the culture and practice of nuclear deterrence thought in the UK from kind of the 1970s onwards, continuing into the post-Cold War period, that says that the main the main nuclear threat we have is Russia, and Russia looms very large. The big threat in the Integrated Review – Russia – remains the main nuclear threat. Historically, UK nuclear targeting was based on this phrase that came out in the 1980s of targeting then Soviet centers of power in Moscow. So, you know, it’s been the assumption that UK nuclear targeting has been based on holding at risk, kind of political and military centers of power and command and control in Moscow. It’s not about targeting Russia’s nuclear forces; we don’t have enough to do that in the way that the Russians and the Americans had had and have nuclear targeting plans to attack each other’s nuclear weapons. That’s not the line. That’s not the path that the UK has taken. So that implies then, if you accept that reasoning, and that history, that really the only reason to justify is on a case that sort of the ability or the assuredness with which our nuclear planners think that they can destroy these targets they deem essential to hold at risk has changed somehow. Through hardening of these targets or better missile defenses now or projecting into the future. And therefore, we need more warheads, because we’re gonna need to have more on the submarine that’s on patrol all the time in the Atlantic. So kind of maybe that’s it, but we don’t know.

Metta Spencer  

I’m hearing, as you say, that there is no real strategic rationale for this. It’s all baloney. That really, what seems to be influential here is this is a way of swaggering, this is a symbolic gesture of showing how independent and wonderful old-fashioned Britain is nowadays. And so okay, if I want to ask whether, you know, you really think one is the real explanation, and the other one is negligible? Or whether there’s some sort of secret thinking going on that isn’t clear about the strategic rationale for it. But then, if it is a question of swaggering, did you see this coming? Because you’ve tied it in a way to Brexit? Yes, now that Britain is going to be independent, we can show what how big we are? And if that’s the case, was that in the rhetoric before Brexit or in leading up to Brexit? Are you surprised by this? Did these pro Brexit people talk this way all along and I just hadn’t heard it? Or is this a new development in the rhetoric – the political rhetoric – in Britain?

Rebecca Johnson  

Can I come on to that? I think that’s a great question, Metta. You know, Brexit really was, I mean, again, it was using a lot of advertising slogans, not taking account really of consequences at all. And that’s how Boris played an absolutely significant part in winning that vote. But nuclear weapons really barely came up in it. I mean, I wrote some pieces, arguing the importance of the EU as collective security. And that had far more to, you know, the keeping the peace in in Europe, over these past decades since the Second World War – had far more to do with a bit of the building up of the European Union with its very different kind of common foreign and security policies and using soft power and all of those kinds of ways of looking at it than either Britain’s nuclear weapons; France’s nuclear weapons; or NATO. So, you know, but we were often the ones sort of trying to point some of these things out. So, I don’t think it wasn’t part of that debate then. But I think we have come, we… I think I was not completely surprised that something was pulled out of the hat on nuclear weapons that was wrapped in the flag. Part and for two reasons, really. One is that swaggering is really the right term to be using. Previous leaders have swaggered with nuclear weapons going right back actually many decades. And Boris is a swagger par excellence and nuclear weapons meet his criteria. It’s a very simple thing to kind of wave and everybody thinks we’re big, we’re great, and we can destroy the entire world. Except they don’t think the latter part of that. And so, here’s the other thing that I think needs to be thought about with this, because what I’ve also seen is that because there has been actually quite a lot of news that have been posing that very question: “What on Earth is a strategic need to do this?” And as Nick said, there isn’t one. Then people start saying: “So why are we doing it? Because it’s going to cost money, you know, our economy is shattered both by COVID and by Brexit. It’s going to take a long time to rebuild both of those.” So, are all of our security architecture that we’ve relied on both, you know, in national terms, and in regional terms particularly, are having to be remade in a situation where we have less power; less room to move; less economic clout; and on top of that, Scotland, where, which UK nuclear weapons utterly depend on the two bases in Scotland – there is, there could be one other harbour that’s in Wales, where the submarines might be able to be used; and possibly one in England. But there is no other place that has the right kind of geology and there’s no other place to store the warheads. End. End of. And there’s Scotland, since Brexit really tried to pull away more and more, because what they want now, or what an increasing majority of Scots people want, is to become independent of this, you know, broken UK union and rejoin the EU. I mean, that’s really what they want. They see themselves, along with Ireland, as being able to make a go of it as a smaller country that can, you know, has a lot to contribute in other kinds of ways. And there’s a Scottish election coming up, by the way, in May. So, these come into it. So, something that we should be discussing, is that another of the implications of this integrated review, and particularly of this upping of the, of the ante on the nuclear weapons, is that more people than before, have actually been talking about: “Why does Britain need nuclear weapons at all? Don’t they endanger us more? There’s now this UN treaty, it’s a multilateral treaty. It actually bans all aspects of nuclear weapons. It creates the basic principles to be able to build up how to eliminate nuclear weapons safely and securely. And wouldn’t it be better for Britain to take the lead?” We’ve got lots of technological expertise in verification and nuclear disarmament verification projects – that actually have very little money – but have actually made some very interesting steps. Surely, there’s more jobs now in getting rid of the nuclear weapons and building up other forms of non-nuclear deterrence. And the soft power that we say we have, but actually, we have a very declining part of, and this would be a better use of money and resources. So, these things are kind of juxtaposing at the very point at which the UK suddenly becomes almost a rogue state in terms of undermining the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which was one of its major arguments for opposing the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Others are saying and you know, the cities are lining up… I was just doing a meeting with Mayors for Peace. The cities in the UK lining up to adopt motions that will support and align themselves with the TPNW. So, these are countervailing, they’re interesting Sometimes when you get a shock of this sort, but we also shouldn’t underestimate Boris’s ability that when he sees some policies is not very popular of doing a U-turn. So, the kind of pressure that’s coming up is also opening doors to raise questions about existing UK policy that really have been difficult to do since that vote in 2016. Both on financial, strategic, and on grounds of real sort of human security and human security ways of doing deterrence. These sorts of things. But also, has raised the specter of Boris Johnson being the person that gets to push the button. We shouldn’t underestimate real concerns about how much can he be trusted not to get it wrong.

Metta Spencer  

I want to go back, if you will, to this issue about Scotland, because that was the thing that surprised me most. Maybe I have a completely wrong impression here in North America. But I had this idea that: “Okay, Scotland may just leave, you know, leave the UK.” And where would you guys be? Where would you put your submarines? People must realize that there’s no place to go? And in that case, you’re already on thin ice, you’re already in a very risky situation. Why would you compound that difficulty? By saying you want even more of the same problem? Am I imagining this – or is it a wrong perception of the way things are? Is there really no real risk that that Scotland will leave? Or are people ignoring… I don’t understand why people aren’t feeling extremely anxious about that as a possible outcome. And it’s a problem that you have to face. 

Rebecca Johnson  

Scottish partners of ICAN of which there are many – and they also engage on things like Don’t Bank on the Bomb, as well as Cities Appeals and things. They actually see this possibility as an argument that feeds into their efforts to get both Scottish independence and through Scottish independence, make it impossible for the UK to carry on with nuclear weapons. And I think this election is going to be fairly crucial in May, to see if the Scottish National Party, together with the Greens can get the kind of majority to call for another referendum. They would have to have, at least according to current situation another referendum to do that. But after Brexit, the pressure for another referendum because of the context in which there was the narrow vote against Scottish independence two years before Brexit – everything changed. And so, you know, we have to see that these are now very much linked in people’s minds. And I think and I don’t know what, how Nick sees this, but I think that together with – as part of the Integrated Review – what I think Boris is also trying to line up is greater commitments that he hopes to be selling as jobs for Scotland, as well as perhaps money for Scotland. These are kind of sprinkled through the Integrated Review in other ways. In one particular issue that Paul would be very interested in, there’s a whole section on an Integrated Space Policy making the UK a meaningful player in space. Since we’ve left the EU, we obviously can’t use the EU facilities for rocket launching, but the UK has a lot of expertise in satellites that have been launched using EU facilities. So here we are, you know that there’s going to be the integrated review says, a commercial launch capability by the EU for the UK, launching British satellites from Scotland. And there are these kinds of things where… but to leave on this, this issue, Metta, I think we honestly don’t know. If there will be a big enough vote for the parties that want independence in May. We’ll be able to judge much better then, but that is definitely the direction of travel. And this is something that Boris doesn’t want to preside over the breakup of the Union. But he may indeed do that just in the way in the same way that David Cameron didn’t want to be presiding over the UK leaving Europe, but in his foolishness and hubris, that’s exactly what he did. And Boris is both foolish and has a great deal of hubris. As well as being like David Cameron, somebody that gets tactics, particularly political tactics to wrong foot his political adversaries, but there isn’t a shred of strategy in him. And you see that in so-called Integrated Review. 

Nick Ritchie  

Particularly, the Tory governments in London are basically making a 50-year bet that Scotland – this is in terms of what would happen to the UK nuclear weapon system; where would it go in the event of Scottish independence – they’ve placed a 50-year bet that Scotland will never and will not vote for independence. Because we’re in the process now of building a replacement for the current Trident System. Starting with these four massively expensive new submarines. New warheads will come later and so on and so forth. But a massive amount of investment in these new submarines are going to be based at Scotland. Now, the first of those is going to be deployed in the early 2030s. And they’re going to be designed with around about a 40-year service life. So that’s taken you out to 2070. And, you know, there’s nowhere else for these things to go, as Rebecca said, particularly the warheads. So, the government is placing a bet that from now until about 2070 Scotland is going to be part of the Union and there won’t be any issues around continuing to use the basis at Faslane and Coulport. And you know what, I wouldn’t bet on that. I wouldn’t bet on the next 10 years, let alone the next half a century. The direction of travel in Scottish politics, in terms of the political fortunes of the Scottish National Party have been in favor of the SMP from about the early 1990s onwards. A stick in there – the Labour vote has collapsed – what was previously a very strong Labour vote has collapsed; and the Tories remain toxic as a political force in Scotland. We don’t see that that changing anytime soon. But the thing, the two things that combine this I think, in terms of this, this kind of Tory, post Brexit politics, is you get this phrasing – which isn’t particular to this government, it goes back to Labour in the 1990s – this framing of Britain in world politics as a force for good and the UK being a kind of a military force for good. And you get that in the international context, but also in the context of kind of union politics. This idea that the union is an unequivocal, intrinsic kind of force for good for all the countries that are in the Union. But the problem with that is that there are, you know, quite a few countries in the world that we think might like the UK that kind of don’t see us as the shining knight in armor. And there are plenty in Scotland, that don’t buy the argument that the union is a force for good for everybody in that union. But you get this kind of this, this rhetoric in Westminster, where it’s it seems to be internalized as a political truth that the UK just is a force for good.

Metta Spencer  

Can you give me an idea of whether or not there’s any prospect for people who think the way you do and who think this isn’t an extremely risky bet they’re making? What could be done to stop what’s on the way? What is the prospect of defeating the whole plan? 

Rebecca Johnson  

It has to be done by civil society. I think with the publication of the Integrated Review, a lot of us, both members of our partners with ICAN and a lot of other think tanks and rethink security groups that are trying to think of security in very different kinds of framings – put in our views as part of the Integrated Review guide and consultation process. And what came out, really didn’t take any of that into account. It very much was… it felt almost personally Boris’s in a way that some of the previous strategic reviews by previous governments were much more kind of measured. This was very much about you know, Great Britain, you know, global Britain. And this notion, which always nauseates me, but punching above our weight. So, I think we have to recognize those of us that don’t live in Scotland have to recognize we can carry on having those dialogues. And, you know, I’m in the process of – I hope – finalizing a written report on the UK and TPNW. Of course, now I have to take this Integrated Review into account in a chapter that I thought I’d finished on UK policy. But and also update the Scottish section, but really, it’s going to be civil society as a whole, all together, but particularly, we are working so closely with Scottish civil society because we do basically recognize that in terms of strategy, the best chance we have to have the UK become a state party to the TPNW is for Scotland to become independent. I think that’s the reality on the ground. And therefore, we put in quite a lot of resources into really supporting that and making sure that the voters know, because the Scottish voters also really don’t like nuclear weapon. They’ve always been the part of the UK that has been least committed, you know, least beguiled by the notion of nuclear weapons wrapped in the Union Jack. And it’s very declined to declining number of jobs associated with that and that’s actually not really going to change. So, they can see better uses for both the great loch side location of Faslane, if they took the nuclear weapons away. They’re thinking about how they would increase jobs there. And also looking at Coulport, which, so for them, it’s a win-win to get rid of the nuclear weapons. 

Metta Spencer  

Sorry, what is Coulport? 

Rebecca Johnson  

Coulport is the nuclear warhead storage facility. It’s very close to Faslane, both of them about 30 to 35 miles northwest of Glasgow. Coulport is built right into the rock, which makes it geologically a slightly better option if you’re going to store a bunch of nuclear warheads. If there is an accident there, there’s one village directly across the loch that would be destroyed. But then it goes out into the Atlantic – and guess who’s the other end of the Atlantic? If there’s an accident from Coulport. I think you’ll find that it’s the Canadian Coast.

Paul Meyer  

I wonder if I could introduce another thought about the Review being a missed opportunity, because as Rebecca just alluded to, there are some important new directions in terms of cyber and space, you know, recognizing that these in a sense are the new power vectors and should require a greater investment. But surely that would have been the time to jettison the old-fashioned symbols of power in the nuclear weapons and to free up the resources to pursue these more contemporary capacities for the projection of force. So, in that way, failed, I think, an important opportunity to readjust in a more rational basis. But you know, I’d appreciate Nick’s or Rebecca’s views on that. 

Rebecca Johnson  

Well, they do have quite a lot on cyber, and as I said, space command and so on. They do recognize all of these things, whether they actually have the money to resource them, as they say, but you’re quite right, that having recognized all of this, and having got quite a good bit of analysis in there about the diversity of the needs for security, they then don’t jettison the highly expensive white elephant in the room of nuclear weapons. They don’t take that opportunity. You’re quite right.

Nick Ritchie  

Yeah, I mean, it’s going back to the previous part of the conversation, Metta, where you asked, you know: “What do we do about this?” And Rebecca, you were talking about civil society. I mean, one thing we can do is continue to point out the contradictions between the overarching framing of world politics and threats and challenges- and how nuclear weapons make sense within that because there are glaring contradictions – and we’ve seen this in past defense reviews in the UK as well. But we are stuck with a mantra that’s become dogma that nuclear weapons are the ultimate insurance policy for the protection and defense of the United Kingdom. The ultimate insurance policy. It’s something that’s trotted out by Blair, Cameron, May, and Johnson. It’s just embedded as a phrase that’s become a dogma, insofar as there’s lots packaged in with that that says, or that equates UK nuclear weapons, the Trident System with protection safety of the realm – and you want protection and safety of the realm, right? Therefore, you need Trident. And you’re questioning why the UK retains nuclear weapons? Well, that means you’re not supporting protection and safety of the Realm. And they’re kind of locked like this. And you see this time and time again, in debates in the House of Commons and engagement with the Ministry of Defense, and so on and so forth. And that needs kind of separating, you see it in another sense, in terms of the difficulties that the Labour Party has, whereby the Tories quite deliberately sort of conflate together support for Trident and the British ability to inflict horrible, horrific nuclear violence on other countries with broader support for our armed forces. So, that it becomes very difficult for Labour and others that oppose British nuclear weapons, to say: “We know we’re against nuclear weapons, but you know, we’re supportive of these aspects of our armed forces” because the Tories and the right-wing press will hammer you and say, if you’re not in support of Trident, then you’re not supporting our armed forces. And that’s really difficult, but that’s where the politics of this is at. You do have this real issue whereby you see in this defense review, as with previous ones, you know, an understanding that the world is messy, deeply interdependent, deeply integrated. We are all on this in facing the same set of global challenges around climate, the climate disaster that we’re facing, on food, on disease, on poverty, on inequality that we’re going to have to work together on. And at the same time, you’re framing these big important states like China and Russia, that we need to work with, as people that in order to survive, seemingly, we need to have this ability to threaten them with nuclear annihilation. 

Metta Spencer  

Nick, you’ve given the final pep talk. Exactly what we need is exactly that point to be made as we wind up our conversation. That we’re all on the same planet and definitely our interdependence is increasing, if anything. 

Rebecca Johnson  

Metta, can I just add – because you said it would be possible… I also want to call on Paul and people like him – and recognize that it’s precisely, you know, people in the UK and allied countries who can also have some real influence.  You know, Boris Johnson does do U-turns when he thinks that he’s become unpopular with it. And I think it’s really important for… Paul, please keep up your editorials. I think they’re great. We could do with some more of those from, you know, all of the Allies across Europe and beyond. Really pointing out that the UK, if it takes this forward, is undermining its existing legal obligations.

Metta Spencer  

I am so grateful to both and to Paul and everybody for this conversation. I hope people listen and take heart from the challenges that we are all facing. Thank you all.

Rebecca Johnson  

Thank you for organizing this and inviting us. It is great to have this opportunity.