The Case For The Retention Of The UK's Independent Nuclear Deterrent
(Source: U.K Ministry of Defence; issued March 23, 2016)
The UK Defence Secretary, The Rt Hon Michael Fallon, MP, set out the case for the retention of the UK's independent nuclear deterrent at Policy Exchange today.

The following is excerpted from the full transcript of his speech (see link at bottom).

The Rt Hon Michael Fallon, MP

Thank you John.

It’s always a pleasure to speak at Policy Exchange. Policy Exchange has led the public policy debate over the past 14 years on issues as far apart as housing and the impact of lawfare on our Armed Forces.

So I’m delighted to launch the new National Security Unit here today.

I’m pleased to see Policy Exchange going global. I know - under John Bew’s direction - you’ll bring your trademark clarity to the broader issues of national security.

At the moment all our thoughts today must of course be with our friends in Brussels.

The Strategic Defence and Security Review identified terrorism as one of the greatest challenges we face and it set out plans to tackle it.

Today, however, I want to focus on another important national security issue: the case for our independent nuclear deterrent.


Defence is the first duty of any Government.

As our SDSR said…and I quote…: “Defence and protection start with deterrence, which has long been, and remains, at the heart of the UK’s national security policy”.

Deterrence means convincing any potential aggressor that the benefits of an attack are far outweighed by its consequences.

Deterrence draws upon the full spectrum of our capabilities… diplomacy, economic policy, law enforcement, offensive cyber, covert means…and, of course, our Armed Forces.

Which is why the most fundamental role of the Armed Forces is not to fight wars, but – through their very existence – to deter, and thus to prevent war.

For no part of our Armed Forces is that more true than our nuclear capability. If nuclear weapons are fired, they have failed. But they are used every day: to deter.

This Government was elected on a manifesto that included a commitment to build four new ballistic missile submarines … replacing the Vanguard submarines that come out of service from the early 2030s.

And we’ve committed to a debate and vote this year so that Parliament can endorse that decision. So now is the right time to set out why we should retain our nuclear deterrent.

There are three reasons.

Because we are realistic about the world we live in.

Because we take our responsibilities to the British people and to our Allies seriously.

And because that means that nuclear weapons are relevant now and are going to be relevant for the foreseeable future.

Let me take each in turn.


First, it’s about realism. Some characterise this debate as one of extremes. Between those who want to disarm and those who never will disarm.

Let me reject that artificiality. We all agree on the destructive power of nuclear weapons, and that we must do everything to ensure they will never be used.

We also have a shared ambition to see a world where nuclear weapons states feel able to relinquish them.

Where we really differ is how best to achieve this.

On the one hand are those idealists who believe that unilateral disarmament will make us safer…

…on the other are those of us who recognise that the real world threats to the United Kingdom are growing not diminishing.

So we must be realistic about the world in which we live.

The Labour Government’s 2006 White Paper on the future of the deterrent identified risks to the UK from major nuclear armed states from emerging nuclear states, and state sponsored terrorism.

Those risks have not gone away.

Indeed, nine years on, our own SDSR judged that the United Kingdom is facing challenges that are growing in scale, diversity, complexity and in concurrency.

Nor has the nuclear threat gone away. The SDSR recognised, and I quote, “continuing risk of further proliferation of nuclear weapons” and concluding that we could not “relax our guard… or rule out further shifts which would put us under grave threat”.

And Russian behaviour is a case in point here.

Russia has become more aggressive, more authoritarian and more nationalist. Its illegal annexation of Crimea and support of Ukrainian separatists through the use of deniable, hybrid tactics and media manipulation have shown its willingness to undermine the rules based international system in order to promote and secure its own perceived interests.

Russia is upgrading its nuclear forces; and Russia is threatening to base nuclear forces in Kaliningrad and in the Crimea.

The last two years have seen a worrying increase in both official Russian rhetoric about the use of nuclear weapons and the frequency of snap nuclear exercises.

And we should take heed of those developments.

North Korea is another worrying case study. North Korea is the only nation to have tested nuclear weapons in the 21st century. It now claims to have withdrawn from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. It’s developing long-range missiles, and continues to flaunt its new found nuclear capabilities.

Just as we must be realistic about the growing nuclear threats, we also have to acknowledge that our prospects of single-handedly convincing the world to abandon its nuclear arms… are limited.

Now we are committed to creating the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons, in line with our obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

And we have led the way on disarmament:

-- We’ve cut our nuclear stockpiles by over half since the height of the Cold War

-- Last year I reduced the number of deployed warheads on each submarine from 48 to 40 last year

-- And we have pledged to reduce further our stockpile of nuclear weapons to no more than 180 warheads by the mid-2020s.

Other nations have not followed suit.

There remain about 17,000 nuclear weapons in the world… we have less than one per cent of them.

It is frankly naïve – even vainglorious – to imagine that the grand gesture of UK unilateral disarmament could change the calculations of nuclear states, or those seeking to acquire weapons.

Far more likely they would see it as weakness.

So the only way to create the global security conditions necessary for achieving nuclear disarmament is by working multilaterally…

-- by taking tangible steps towards a safer and more stable world

-- And by giving states with nuclear weapons the confidence they require to relinquish them.

Our recent efforts, working alongside other leading powers, secured a deal with Iran and showed what can be achieved.

But we should also be realistic about how long this will take.

As the great nuclear theorist and former MOD Permanent Secretary, Sir Michael Quinlan, once wrote:

‘no safer system than deterrence is yet in view, and impatience would be a catastrophic guide in the search. To tear down” he said… “the present structure, imperfect but effective, before a better one is firmly within our grasp would be an immensely dangerous and irresponsible act.’ (end of excerpt)

Click here for the full text of the speech, on the UK MoD website.


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