By Abbie Kean
The UK Government’s defence review came back under the spotlight during the recent Scottish Parliamentary elections as the proposed changes in areas such as the Trident nuclear weapons system made it an important topic for various party leaders.
The UK Government’s Integrated Defence Review was published back in March of this year and included many controversial changes, included those to the Trident weapons system at Faslane in Gare Loch, Scotland.
The review laid out plans to increase the nuclear warhead stockpile for the first time since the Cold War, to 260, ending a previous target of reducing it to 180 by the mid-2020s.
The review also added that the UK will no longer declare how many deployable warheads it has, in a new policy of deliberate ambiguity. Previously, it had said this figure was 120.
It also stated that Britain reserves the right to use Trident against new “emerging technologies” as well as chemical or biological weapons of mass destruction.
Trident has always been a controversial topic, and the release of this review renewed the conversations surrounding the future of the weapons system and its place in Scotland.
During the recent Scottish parliamentary election campaign , the various party leaders voiced their opinions on the nuclear system at Faslane and their stance on it, following on from the fresh defence review.
Speaking on The Week in Holyrood radio programme, Labour MSP, Jackie Baillie said: “I want to inject a note of realism into the debate,” she said. “People expect maturity and responsibility from their politicians and parties about the choices we make.”
The MSP for Dumbarton, where the Faslane naval base is located, voted against party policy “in favour of my constituents”.
Ms Baillie, who has just been re-elected to the Scottish Parliament says the Labour Party has a responsibility to the 11,300 workers who owe their jobs to nuclear weapons.
The SNP, who won a historic 64 seats in the recent parliamentary election and are the party that holds government in Scotland, have also expressed their stance on Trident following on from the defence review release.
The party stated: “Following the publication of the UK Government’s Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy, the Scottish Government reaffirms that it is firmly opposed to the possession, threat and use of nuclear weapons- and it is committed to pursuing the safe and complete withdrawal of all nuclear weapons from Scotland.”
Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the SNP and Scotland’s First Minister, has previously stated that she feels the nuclear weapons at Faslane are “immoral, ineffective and a waste of money.”
With the likelihood of another Scottish independence referendum ever increasing, the future of Trident and the nuclear weapons system remains unknown, despite the UK Government’s new plans for the stockpile.
Other UK party leaders reacted strongly to the UK Government’s Defence Review and the proposed changes.
Keir Starmer, leader of the UK Labour party, said that although he had “voted for the renewal of Trident” and that the opposition’s “support for nuclear deterrence is non-negotiable”, he asked why Johnson believed that increasing the stockpile was necessary.
He said: “This review breaks the goal of successive prime ministers and cross-party efforts to reduce our nuclear stockpile. It doesn’t explain, when, why or for what strategic purpose.”
Other notable changes and points that were made in the review include a new spending pledge stating a promise to return to budget of 0.7% of GDP, as per manifesto to commitment “when the fiscal situation allows”, as stated in the foreword from Boris Johnson.
The review described China as a “systemic competitor”, not a hostile state. It stated that China’s “increasing power and international assertiveness is likely to be the most significant geopolitical factor of the 2020s.”
Whereas it claimed Russia is “the most acute threat to our security.” Until relations with its government improve the UK will “actively deter and defend against” a “full spectrum of threats.”
In regard to terror and espionage the review concluded that it is “likely that a terrorist group will launch a successful CBRN (chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear) attack by 2030.”
It also revealed that a £9.3 million high tech suite will be formed under the Cabinet Office to ensure real-time monitoring of terror and other crisis threats.
Lastly, speaking on the UK’s global standing, the defence review recognised that cultural institutions contribute to the UK’s international standing, including the BBC, which was stated as “the most trusted broadcaster worldwide”. It also said the monarchy was another of these cultural institutions.