Former (nuclear) Naval Commander calls for UK conventional forces – not nuclear – to deter and address aggression

Commander Forsyth: Endorser of Nuclear Taboo: From Norm to Law, a Declaration of Public Conscience

Commander Robert Forsyth (Royal Navy retired) has called on the United Kingdom to respond realistically to today’s military threats – including Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – by adopting a policy of no-first-use of nuclear weapons, downsizing the nation’s nuclear forces and reinvesting military resources from nuclear to conventional forces.

In a submission to the UK Secretary of State’s Office of Net Assessment and Challenge (SONAC), Commander Forsyth argues that UK reliance on nuclear weapons and massive investment in the ‘nuclear deterrent’ has actually weakened UK deterrence against an aggressor like Russia because it has consumed resources required for conventional forces – and it is conventional forces that can realistically be employed to address aggression without escalation to a nuclear war.

SONAC called for submissions from interested parties last month to help shape the next UK Defence Command Paper and the future direction of UK Defence, and will be considering the submissions over the next couple of months.

Commander Forsyth argues that UK conventional forces are necessary to deter and address aggression, but that UK nuclear forces are not: “As the US is quite capable of fulfilling NATO’s 2nd strike nuclear capability on its own there is a strong case for UK to redirect its massive expenditure on Trident into restoring its conventional forces.”

Maintaining UK nuclear forces runs the risk of a nuclear war through crisis escalation and/or miscalculation, in particular because “Governments have sought to normalise tactical nuclear weapons by language referring to ‘low yield’ or ‘dial-able’ war heads,” says Commander Forsyth.

The UK should immediately adopt a policy of nuclear No-First-Use (NFU) to lower the risks of nuclear war. “I question why any nuclear state, whatever the provocation, would/should deliberately resort to First Use thereby provoking in return an exchange that would annihilate both sides’ civil populations and render their opposing territories totally uninhabitable for decades, if not centuries, to come?” says Commander Forsyth. “As it is unimaginable that NATO would carry out a first nuclear strike there is nothing to lose and everything to gain by it adopting a policy of No-First-Use.”

The UK and NATO should follow this up by taking a “much more aggressive approach towards total nuclear disarmament.

Commander Forsyth is an endorser of Nuclear Taboo: From Norm to Law, a Declaration of Public Conscience, which was launched by NoFirstUse Global last week and remains open for endorsement. The Declaration will be presented to the upcoming G7 Summit in Hiroshima (May 19-21), G20 Summit in Delhi (September 9-10) and the UN General Assembly and Security Council in October.