The UK should relinquish its nuclear arsenal. By Lauren French
Few subjects are as contentious as nuclear weapons. No one believes that nuclear weapons are a force for good (except perhaps some extreme Waltzian neo-Realists who believe that nukes bring balance to the world), and yet many state and non-state actors have risked everything to obtain the technology, knowledge, and fissionable materials required to build such a device. We want to prevent nuclear technology from falling into the wrong hands so we have to step up and be only the fifth ever former nuclear power, after Belarus, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, and South Africa.
The first nation to become a nuclear weapons state was the USA in 1945. The purpose of the Manhattan Project was to create a weapon that could be so catastrophically destructive that it would ultimately end the Second World War. After the US dropped the bomb there was no going back. Not only was it a demonstration of power by the country that would become (and remain) a superpower, it set a precedent for using nuclear weaponry because of their effectiveness. Thankfully, this was the one and only occasion when nuclear weapons were used on people with the intent of harm.
The demonstration of the effectiveness of the atomic bomb led to several states lusting after the deterrent. In just a few decades the UK, France, China, and the Soviet Union all had their very own nuclear arsenals, and the prospect of a nuclear war became ever more imminent, with examples of brinkmanship including the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.
Post-Cold War, the concerns of nuclear weapons are not necessarily grounded in the intentional use of weapons by state actors. Instead, it is the risk increased proliferation brings to weapons being procured, and used, by terrorists, who are not held to account.
Why should we give up OUR nuclear deterrent? It would be a first. We would be the first of the original five nuclear powers to do it, potentially setting a precedent for others to further reduce their nuclear arsenals. It would demonstrate and reinforce our commitment to eventual nuclear disarmament. Some would argue that the power of the UK would diminish. This objection, however, seems to neglect the fact that a state does not require nuclear weapons to have great military power (just look at Germany or even Japan), but instead just needs the potential at most. In addition, those who make this argument do not consider that there are several kinds of power including economic and cultural, of which we have.
The fact that we have nuclear weapons is not a deterrent to attacks on the UK. We have experienced several acts of terrorism since we tested our first nuclear weapons in 1952, including from the IRA during the 1970s and 1980s and the 7/7 bombings in 2005. We were attacked despite the possibility of nuclear repercussions. It obviously holds no weight for our enemies so there is little need in spending billions of pounds renewing, developing, building and housing nukes.
We don’t need the actual weaponry; we only need the potential like seventy or eighty other states. This should satisfy those who believe in the nuclear deterrent, and of course, I am not suggesting we stop harnessing nuclear energy when clearly we need it as part of the solution to the impending energy crisis. We just need to consider a nuclear weapons-free future, and what part we want to play in it.