Boris Johnson goes nuclear: a very big mistake, writes Gary Cartwright

Britain is set to increase its stockpile of nuclear warheads by more than 40% to ensure its security in a more risky global environment and as it faces new technological threats, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in last week's Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy. A dangerous and misguided shift in priorities, writes Gary Cartwright.

The surprise move comes as Britain's overstretched conventional forces, struggling with inadequate and out-dated equipment as well as crippling and long-standing manpower shortages, are now widely considered incapable of defending the country.

A growing reliance on technological advances that have yet to appear, whilst providing much needed opportunities for positive headlines for the Prime Minister, can never compensate for an inability to hold ground.

Britain stands without any missile defences whatsoever, bar the sea-viper systems on the Royal Navy's six Type 45 destroyers. These vessels are undergoing highly expensive (surprise, surprise) refits that involve cutting open the hulls, thus weakening them permanently due to their having been fitted with inadequate propulsion systems that limit their usefulness in warmer waters. These are the same propulsion systems fitted to the UK's much vaunted Queen Elizabeth aircraft carriers, which themselves have a negligible defensive capability, and lack the vital surface warships to defend them at sea. The two carriers are, as one Russian observer pointed out, "very large targets of opportunity".

The UK's defences, from the early warning radars at Fylingdales, the crucial intelligence gathering centre GCHQ, the remaining handful of operational military airbases, and the three naval bases could all be wiped out in a pre-emptive first strike carried out by just one aircraft.

In late 2007 just such a mission was successfully rehearsed.

Tu 160

A Russian Tupolev TU-160 ‘Blackjack’ bomber from Engels Air Base near Saratov on Russia’s Volga delta penetrated to within 20 miles of the British coast unchallenged in late 2007.

Having come in low and undetected over the North Sea it was only picked up when it went into a climb, just 90 seconds flying time from the city of Hull.

The TU-160 has a range of 7,640 miles without refuelling, and can carry up to 12 nuclear stand-off nuclear missiles, against which Britain has no defences.

In fact, a multiple strike on UK defence assets would not even be necessary.

The Big Bang.

It is highly likely that the first enemy action would be a massive nuclear air-bust, producing an Electro-Magnetic Pulse (EMP), at an extreme height of up to 500 miles above the Earth's surface.

This, according to a 2012 House of Commons report, "produces a very brief but intense electromagnetic field that can induce very high voltages in electrical conductors... this effect has the power to disrupt or damage micro-electronic systems, electronics-based control systems, sensors, communication systems, protective systems, computers and similar devices. Damage and disruption could occur almost simultaneously over a very large area."

"Damage and disruption" means in effect that all electronic equipment ceases to work. All communications equipment, domestic equipment, the pumps that supply water to our homes, all motor transport, everything. And it will all be irreparable. One such high-yield air-burst could potentially cover the entire British Isles.

Such a weapon does not result in radioactive fallout however, posing no threat to occupying forces when they arrive some hours later.

Russia specialises in such weapons, and is known to be integrating its ongoing EMP programme with its development of hypersonic delivery systems.

Britain does not need more nuclear warheads: it urgently needs an effective missile defence shield. If Israel can field a highly effective system - Iron Dome - surely such a project is not beyond British ingenuity.

Back to conventional weapons.

The most significant current British Army deployment, in Estonia, is intended to deter any Russian incursion into the Baltic states.

Officially known as Operation CABRIT, it is cynically referred to by the troops as "Operation Tethered Goat".

Prior to any Russian aggression this force would likely be annihilated by long-range Russian artillery, to which it would have no response, before Putin's army even crossed the border. The number of antiquated Challenger Main Battle Tanks available to the force is so insignificant that even if it were to be multiplied by 100, it would still be of little use. It is widely accepted that Britain's largest battle group would last two hours at most.

The force is supported by a French army contingent, a fact that will make any generation of British squaddies' eyes collectively roll skywards.

So to return to Boris Johnson's Global Britain in a competitive age: The Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy, in which the announcement of the growth of the nuclear arsenal was announced.

Without an adequate conventional defence capability Britain would be dependent on nuclear weapons. This suggests that the UK would be prepared to undertake a pre-emptive nuclear strike, a very dangerous shift in policy: indeed, the Kremlin has already stated it would take this development into account when working on its own future military planning.

To put matters into perspective, Russia has, at the time of writing, in the region of 6,400 nuclear warheads, and tens of thousands of available delivery systems.

How would that work?

The Royal Navy has at its disposal four nuclear attack submarines. One of these is at sea at all times. It can carry sixteen Trident missiles - not the most reliable of delivery systems - but due to cost cutting measures only carries eight.

Eight missiles to be fired against an enemy - let us presume Russia - that has considerable defences against such weapons, and which in any case cares nothing about its own civilian casualties.

Just to repeat - Britain has no effective defence against ballistic missile attacks whatsoever.

And China?

We will do more to adapt to China’s growing impact on many aspects of our lives as it becomes more powerful in the world. We will invest in enhanced China- facing capabilities, through which we will develop a better understanding of China and its people...

The Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy.

A great deal of criticism was levelled at Prime Minister Johnson for concentrating on the threat from Russia - was he was right to do - but seemingly ignoring the greater economic and military threats from China.

Russia, contrary to how it sees itself, is not a powerful country at all. It is a highly disruptive and paranoid country.

China, however, whilst not being in the same league militarily as the United States yet, is becoming ever more so, and its communistic ideology requires perpetual revolution - or expansion. To "develop a better understanding of China and its people" the Prime Minister only needs to read the Manifesto of the Communist Party. Just last year the manifesto was re-issued to celebrate the centenary of the first translation into Chinese of Marx and Engels work in 1920.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, reacting to the aforementioned criticism of the review's omission of the Chinese threat to security, stated that the UK would work with China on issues such as climate change.

China is currently the world's greatest emitter of CO2, and is on track to spew some 9.04 billion tons of it into the air in 2021. That is more than the United States, India, and Russia combined. Communist ideology holds that through scientific advancement mankind will achieve mastery over nature, and therefore environmental concerns are irrelevant.

How the Right Honourable gentleman proposes to work with China on that one has not yet been fully explained. In fact it has not been explained at all - not least to Raab himself, one might suspect.

Main image: via Twitter.

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Gary Cartwright

Gary Cartwright

Gary Cartwright is publishing editor and Brussels correspondent of EU Today.

An experienced journalist and author, he specialises in environment, energy, and defence.

He also has more than 10 years experience of working as a staff member in the EU institutions, working with political groups and MEPs in various policy areas.

Gary's latest book WANTED MAN: THE STORY OF MUKHTAR ABLYAZOV: A Manual for Criminals on How to Avoid Punishment in the EU is currently available from Amazon

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