Today we mark Britain’s 350th nuclear submarine patrol, keeping watch from the deep.
Unseen and undetected, every hour of every day, our continuous at-sea nuclear deterrent has kept us safe for nearly 50 years.
The Royal Navy’s four Vanguard submarines act as a deterrent to those who would seek to attack us – they protect our people and our future.
But despite a world of intensifying threats – from North Korea’s rapidly developing nuclear programme to Russia’s aggression in the Ukraine and the Baltics – there are yet more calls to unilaterally abandon our independent nuclear deterrent, and do away with its contribution to the security of UK and NATO.
This Government is clear, though, that those silent submarines and the brave submariners who spend months at sea on them are the ultimate guarantors of our security.
That is why we’re building four new Dreadnought class submarines which will replace the Vanguard boats in the early 2030s.
Of course, in an ideal world nuclear weapons wouldn’t exist, but it would be naïve to think we can just wave a magic wand, rid the world of these weapons, and expect everyone to follow suit.
We have to live in the real world where nuclear weapons do exist and pose a very real danger to our continued way of life. We can’t uninvent the bomb.
Sadly the belief in a magic nuclear wand does seem to be the view of Jeremy Corybn and others who argue that Britain and NATO should sign the new Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.
Noble as its intentions appear, that treaty will not make us any safer.
Hoping rogue states or aggressor nations will suddenly see the light is wildly naive. Wishful thinking won’t get us anywhere. In fact history tells us that such a move is far more likely to embolden our adversaries.
This Government’s first duty is to protect the safety of its citizens. The nuclear missiles that our submarines carry are designed to deter those who would seek to threaten us and those who would seek the capabilities to threaten us.
Remove the principle of deterrence, and you remove our ability to prevent the most extreme threats to our way of life.
Thus signing up to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons would be irresponsible. It would lead to ‘future Kims’ in a world where one alone is already dramatically undermining the very tenets of international security.
And we are not just protecting our own people but our allies too. NATO has always been a nuclear alliance with European security underwritten by the ultimate deterrent for decades.
Take it away or question the right of collective defence as Jeremy Corbyn did this week and you leave the entire continent of Europe more vulnerable.
Nor should we forget that we are actually making progress on nuclear disarmament. Since the 1960s, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty has provided a sensible step-by-step approach based on multilateral agreement.
In the process it has ended the arm race and cut the world’s nuclear stockpile by 85%. It has also achieved a remarkable agreement between five nuclear states to limit the circumstances in which nuclear weapons would be used.
Here in Britain I’ve cut the number of warheads on each submarine from 48 to 40 and we are reducing the total stockpile too.
In stark contrast, the new proposals substitute wishful thinking for common sense – offering not one practical suggestion for eliminating a single warhead.
If Corbyn and his friends had their way we would be abandoning the one treaty that has had a genuine effect on arms reduction.
Abandoning our deterrent would also make the world far more unpredictable. We cannot know what threats will lie ahead in the 2040s, 50s or 60s.
But we are giving the next generation every means necessary – from the conventional through to the nuclear – to deal with whatever the future holds.
That limits our adversaries’ room for manoeuvre, since they know the benefits of any attack will be vastly outweighed by the consequences.
Were we to give up our weapons based on nothing more than a hope that things will turn out right, we would simply be playing Russian roulette with our citizens’ long-term security.
So, like the rest of NATO, the UK won’t be signing, ratifying or endorsing this treaty and will not be bound by it. We remain firmly committed to the goal of a world without nuclear weapons.
But today no credible alternative to nuclear deterrence exists. This ban might make non-nuclear states feel victorious but it won’t reduce the nuclear stockpile by a single warhead.
Instead we will maintain our nuclear deterrent. British ballistic missile submarines will continue to provide NATO’s nuclear umbrella and we will to continue champion multilateral disarmament though a stronger rules-based system.
We will work around the clock with the UN, the US and China to press North Korea to change course and so open the way to dialogue.
So we’ll continue working hard to create a more stable and secure world where states with nuclear weapons feel able to relinquish them.
The stability of the entire international order depends on the principle of deterrence. But we should not undermine this or our commitment to our…