U.K.’s decision to increase nuclear warhead stockpile cap defies logic

The Westminster government is defying
international law— and its own public’s on-record
majority opinion against nuclear weapons—as well
as provoking the Scottish people, all of which it will

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says the move will allow the U.K. to
amass an nuclear arsenal the size of France’s, which is rumoured to
possess approximately 300 nuclear warheads.

The U.K. government’s recent decision to increase its nuclear warhead
stockpile cap to 260 from 180 nuclear weapons defies logical
comprehension, and is dismaying UN supporters worldwide. Many hoped
the 2020 UN Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference—
rescheduled because of the pandemic to take place for 4 weeks this
August in New York City—might be more of a success than the last
debacle in 2015. But now the nuclear non-proliferation regime is under an
even greater threat with the U.K.’s announcement that it intends to
increase its arsenal by 40 per cent.

Held every five years, the NPT Review Conference is an important venue
for all 191 states bound to the longest-serving nuclear arms control treaty
that negotiates cuts. More countries have ratified the NPT than any other
arms control and disarmament agreement.

The U.K. could become a nuclear pariah state, except that the British
people, by a majority, do not want to spend billions of pounds, and violate
international law. Beset by the coronavirus and the costs of Brexit, they
have set their face against siding with Scotland and its people, its
government and its Parliament, which have sought to entirely rid
themselves of the U.K. nuclear arsenal, stationed in its entirety on Scottish
soil and waters. It leaves one to wonder what the average Briton must
think? As they sip their tea, surely they must now ponder a future of their
nation with an ever-reducing credibility on the international stage.

It may feel like it, but the Queen and Prince Philip cannot live forever, nor
can outdated ideas about nuclear deterrence—not in a world where the
idea that one nation can annihilate billions of people on the planet defies
logic. Gone are the days of Empire, and a Commonwealth, where
decisions made in the City of Westminster were accepted unquestioningly
as logical and true.

Instead, we are in a world where Meghan Markle, married to a British
prince, can credibly run for U.S. president in 2024. We are in a world
where a nation that intended to spend billions on modernizing its nuclear
weapons voted out its president and installed a wiser, careful man who is
already approaching Russia to restart arms-control negotiations, and
revisit a comprehensive deal with Iran.

Former U.S. president Donald Trump dealt the doctrine of nuclear
deterrence a severe blow when he mused publicly about bombing North
Korea, and how his nukes were bigger than Kim Jong-un’s. Their rhetoric
about who had a bigger button on his desk was childish, and antiquarian.
Further, by throwing out the historic Iran deal, Trump made the world a
more destabilised place. But now British Prime Minister Boris Johnson—
like a petulant Trumpian love-child who wants to retain membership in the
bigger kids’ nuclear club—has issued his own declaration that Britain will
approach the arsenal-size of France, rumoured to possess approximately
300 nuclear warheads. This means that the other members of the nuclear
club, China, with its 350 nuclear warheads, and India and Pakistan, with
approximately 100 each, can confidently brandish their own nuclear
weapons at this year’s NPT conference, while the rest of the world looks
on in disbelief.

But nations are no longer feeling cowed into standing by in silence,
because 86 signatories and 54 parties have signed the new UN Treaty on
the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons that bans nuclear weapons under
international law. Moreover, Article VI of the NPT binds signatory states to
pursue negotiations in good faith towards nuclear disarmament—yet the
U.K. seems to be fully intent on being in full breech of these such treaties.
The Westminster government is defying international law— and its own
public’s on-record majority opinion against nuclear weapons—as well as
provoking the Scottish people, all of which it will regret. The likely
outcome will be a bifurcated British Isles with Scotland, Ireland, and
perhaps Wales going their own separate ways. Scotland has promised not
to join a nuclear-NATO, leading to a decrease in the nuclear alliance’s
number and credibility.

Extended deterrence will continue to be questioned, and fears of
abandonment and entrapment will heighten as the illogic of Britain’s
decision reaches general publics across the world. This week’s decision
U.K.’s decision to increase nuclear warhead stockpile cap defies logic –
seems to have no rhyme or reason except that it reflects an undemocratic
toxicity reflected by the U.K.’s Conservative cabinet caucus—now strutting
post-imperially outside of the EU.

Bill Kidd, a Member of the Scottish Parliament, is convenor of the
Standards Committee in the Scottish Parliament and convenor of the
Cross Party Group on Nuclear Disarmament. He is also co-president of
Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament. Erika
Simpson is president of the Canadian Peace Research Association, author
of NATO and the Bomb, and associate professor of international politics in
the department of political science at the University of Western Ontario.

The Hill Times

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