The UK’s nuclear deterrent - our new policy

18 Mar 2023
Image of submarine HMS Victorious

Liberal Democrats have always believed that the first duty of any UK government is keeping the people of this country safe. And we also have a long-held desire to negotiate towards a world where all nuclear weapons are put beyond use. 

Right now we find ourselves in a deeply unstable and insecure world. We have a proud tradition of being the most forward-thinking major UK party on disarmament - but we have always maintained that flexibility is crucial. 

Vladimir Putin’s Russia poses a clear threat to international security. His veiled threats of the use of nuclear weapons are worrying. 

In September Putin memorably said, “[t]his is not a bluff”, as he alluded to the potential use of nuclear weapons in defence of Russian territory, territory which according to the Russians now includes four illegally annexed Ukrainian provinces. The New START nuclear arms control treaty between the US and Russia has frayed, with Russia suspending its participation. Reports in the media suggest that senior Russian military figures have discussed the use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine.

The UK abandoning the current stance of continuous deployment of Trident submarines, at this crucial time, would send the wrong signal to Putin. And it would send the wrong signal to our NATO allies, whom our nuclear deterrent helps protect, about our willingness to come to their defence. 

We believe the UK Government should maintain a credible, minimum nuclear deterrent, with a Continuous At-Sea Deterrent.

New policy, passed today by Liberal Democrat members calls on the UK Government to:

  • Maintain a minimum, credible nuclear deterrent. 
  • Maintain the Continuous At-Sea Deterrent stance, which means a Trident submarine continuously patrols the sea at all times. 

We also remain the major UK party most committed to multilateral global disarmament.

Our previous plan to move down from continuous deployment should remain a credible option for UK leadership on nuclear disarmament when the strategic environment is more conducive to progress. 

We are now urging the Government to change the UK’s ‘declaratory policy’ from its current ambiguity to ‘No First Use’ - in consultation with our NATO allies - meaning we would rule out a nuclear first strike. This will reduce nuclear risk and show vital leadership on disarmament. 

Nor should the UK abandon the broader disarmament agenda - indeed, at this dark moment we should make a renewed push, including by reversing the plan to increase the stockpile of nuclear weapons, and by making global disarmament a diplomatic priority for the Foreign Office. 

Now is not the right time to be taking steps down the nuclear ladder which could send the wrong signal to Putin, and to our NATO allies.

Our new motion commits to:

  • Maintain the current UK posture of continuous at-sea deterrence.
  • Build on the recognition that a nuclear war can never be won and so must never be fought with a new declaratory policy – No First Use.
  • Pursuing global disarmament more vigorously, including by:
    • Making global disarmament a diplomatic priority for the Foreign Office.
    • Engaging with countries which do not have nuclear weapons over disarmament initiatives such as the Stockholm Initiative. 
    • Exploring opportunities to pursue disarmament with nuclear weapon states other than Russia. 

As a liberal, I am hopeful that with cooperation and communication, disarmament will become a reality. Amidst these turbulent times, the Liberal Democrats will continue to advocate for the UK to maximise opportunities for disarmament initiatives when they arise.




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