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More Dangerous SNP Drivel on Defence By Howard Wheeldon, FRAeS, Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd.

So, a former army officer and commentator on Scottish military affairs, Mr. Bill Ramsey and who is apparently the Convenor of SNPCND in Scotland is reported by The National – a Scottish newspaper that supports an independent Scotland – as being the author of a paper apparently published by the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) and which the conclusions are “that the past 20 years of UK defence policy has been a failure and recommends wholesale changes, according to the convener of SNP CND”. Of course, if correct the views are his own and RUSI is, in this case, merely acting as a messenger. 

My first thought on reading the National newspaper article was to ask myself whether this was possibly a very poor April 1st joke? I would certainly like to think that is exactly what it is and particularly because, earlier today, I could find no mention of it on the RUSI website. Be that as it may, Mr. Ramsay is not unknown within the confines of RUSI so this irritating and dangerous piece might well be genuine. If it is then all that I can say is that words fail me!   

Bear with me for a minute or two whilst I make two other unrelated points before I forget them! The first was a tweet published this morning that read: “This woman [a reference to Scotland First Minister – Nicola Sturgeon] refuses, even in these worrying and terrifying times, to acknowledge nor thank the British Army for their tremendous effort in building a much-needed hospital in Scotland. SHAMEFUL”. I completely agree!

Secondly, whilst I note that the Mayor of London, Mr. Sadiq Khan, did not fail to praise the excellent work of the Army and other members of the military in turning the huge EXCEL Centre in Docklands, London into a temporary hospital along also with praising medical staff and the NHS, listening to his interview on BBC Radio 4 this morning I have to say that I was hugely disappointed that he went out of his way to ignore what government ministers and civil servants have done in order to make this plan work in order that the 4,000-bed critical care unit could be built and be ready for occupation in little more than a week.

I can only describe the latter as being yet another missed opportunity for the Mayor of London   and one that shows him up for what he is! For my part and regarding this as most probably the most ambitious medical project ever undertaken in Britain in peacetime, how good is it that in such a short space of time the Government has completed negotiations with the owners of the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham, the Manchester Conference Centre, the former IBM factory in Greenock near Glasgow and also the Principality Stadium in Cardiff to allow all to be similarly turned into large temporary field hospitals. Very well done to all those working around the clock in Government, to all at the NHS and importantly, the huge number of private sector companies be they owners of building or manufacturing companies that are supporting what the nation requires in what is after all a national emergency.   

Back to that National newspaper article and which I repeat here:

“The Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) paper foresees the UK abandoning its role as a military auxiliary in the USA’s foreign adventures, implicitly points out that the “the independent deterrent” Trident isn’t independent and argues the UK needs to stay closer to Germany and France than the USA.SNP CND chair Bill Ramsay claims the report’s conclusion is that UK defence policy and related aspects of foreign policy have been a failure. He said: “The language and the tone is, as one would expect in an academic paper, measured but the takeaways are clear. These include stepping back from being a well-trained auxiliary in USA military adventures, particularly in the Middle East. “The report even puts a huge question mark over the Royal Navy’s jewels in the crown, the two new aircraft carriers.

“It also calls on the UK to shift its position within Nato, concluding that it should cleave closer to the likes of France and Germany and away from the more hawkish states like the USA. Personally” the author says that “I am no fan of Nato, given its theoretical reliance on nuclear weapons. Moreover, it should not be forgotten that the decision by the SNP to shift to a pro-Nato position was won by only 15 votes.” Ramsay added “Nato is made up of many states whose perspectives on important issues differ. Broadly, there is a dividing line in the alliance, what I call the hawks and the moderates. The hawks are the US, the UK and some states that border on Russia. The moderates are the likes of Germany, France and some other ‘older’ member states in western Europe. The RUSI report calls for a pivot away from the Hawks towards the likes of Germany and France. It even hints at the fact that the UK’s “independent nuclear deterrent” is not independent”.

Referring to “Taking Control: Rediscovering the Centrality of National Interest in UK Foreign and Security Policy” a paper produced by Professor Malcolm Chalmers for the Royal United Service Institute, Ramsay said: “Ostensibly the report is a first stab at scoping what a post-Brexit UK defence policy should look like. However, it appears to me to be using the cover of Brexit to outline a critique of UK Deference and foreign policy that heretofore has been promoted by what can broadly be termed the anti-war movement. The report makes six conclusions of which Ramsay says the key point is about post-Brexit Britain’s foreign policy “which we were told, was a pivot from Europe to the USA. This report, albeit in diplomatic language, flatly contradicts this assumption”.

“The Ministry of Defence has been asked for comment”.

So, I don’t really believe that there needs to be additional comment from me – I continue to fully support the UK nuclear deterrent strategy. I suspect that if I were in the Ministry of Defence right now and assuming that the above is not to regarded as a very poor April 1st joke, I would immediately post official reminders of why the UK maintains a nuclear deterrent as my response: 

An independent deterrent

since 1969, the Royal Navy has delivered the nuclear deterrent under Operation Relentless, with at least 1 of 4 nuclear-armed submarines on patrol at all times

our retention of an independent centre of nuclear decision making makes clear to any adversary that the costs of an attack on UK vital interests will outweigh any benefits

decision making and use of the system remains entirely sovereign to the UK; only the Prime Minister can authorise the launch of nuclear weapons, which ensures that political control is maintained at all times

the instruction to fire would be transmitted to the submarine using only UK codes and UK equipment; making the command and control procedures fully independent

Vanguard submarines operate readily without the Global Positioning by Satellite (GPS) system and the Trident D5 missile does not use GPS at all

our procurement relationship with the US regarding the Trident missile does not compromise the operational independence of our nuclear deterrent

A minimum and credible deterrent

we are committed to maintaining the minimum amount of destructive power needed to deter any aggressor. This requires us to ensure that our deterrent is not vulnerable to pre-emptive action by potential adversaries

our continuous patrol is essential to assure the invulnerability of the deterrent

invulnerability and security of capability are key components of the credibility of our deterrent and contribute to overall stability


it is a key responsibility of the government to be sure that the UK is properly protected should the future turn out to be less secure than we hope

in spite of the successes of arms control activities in slowing the proliferation of nuclear weapons, the number of states with nuclear capabilities has continued to grow

there are risks that, over the next 20 to 50 years, a major direct nuclear threat to the UK or our NATO allies might re-emerge; a state’s intent in relation to the use or threat of use of existing capabilities could change relatively quickly: for example, there was little prior warning of the collapse of the Soviet Union

when the case for the UK’s independent nuclear deterrent was last presented to Parliament, by the Labour government in 2006-07, it was acknowledged that the old certainties of the Cold War were gone but it was recognised that the UK faced a growing number of diverse and complex threats in an unpredictable world

similar key judgements were made in the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review. There is a risk that states with nuclear weapons, or those seeking to acquire them, might use their nuclear capabilities to threaten the UK, and attempt to constrain our decision making in a crisis or sponsor nuclear terrorism

therefore, the government is committed to maintaining the UK’s independent nuclear deterrent to deter the most extreme threats to our national security and way of life, now and in the future

we know that international terrorists are trying to acquire radiological weapons. There are risks that they may try to acquire nuclear weapons; while our nuclear deterrent is not designed to deter non-state actors, it should influence the decision making of any state that might consider transferring nuclear weapons or nuclear technology to terrorists

UK and nuclear disarmament

as a responsible nuclear weapon state and party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), the UK remains committed to the long-term goal of a world without nuclear weapons

we have reduced our own nuclear forces by over half from their Cold War peak in the late 1970s

we are the only nuclear weapon State which has reduced its deterrent capability to a single nuclear weapon system; we have dismantled our tactical nuclear capability and the RAF’s WE177 free fall bombs

as a result of our reassessment of the minimum necessary requirements for credible deterrence, since 2010 we have:

reduced the number of warheads on each submarine from 48 to 40

reduced our requirement for operationally available warheads from fewer than 160 to no more than 120

reduced the number of operational missiles on each submarine to not more than 8

we remain committed to reducing the overall nuclear weapon stockpile to no more than 180 warheads by the mid-2020s.

of the recognised ‘Nuclear Weapons States’ (NWS), we possess only approximately 1% of the total global stockpile of nuclear weapons, the smallest of all the NPT nuclear weapon states

our submarines on patrol are at several days’ notice to fire and, since 1994, we do not target our missiles at any state

the UK plays a leading international role on nuclear disarmament verification and has driven forward the first multilateral initiative involving both NWS and NNWS. This is an essential step for nuclear disarmament under strict and effective international control.

CHW (London – 1st April 2020)

Howard Wheeldon FRAeS 

Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,

M: +44 7710 779785

Skype: chwheeldon



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