Preparing for war

By Pat Turnbull

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons officially became international law on January 22 2021.  51 countries have ratified the agreement, with a further 86 signing it. The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) says: ‘Although the nine nuclear-armed states currently state they will not support it, the treaty is a significant pointer towards changing international attitudes to nuclear weapons.’ (1)


Every autumn in Germany the exercise Steadfast Noon takes place. As part of so-called ‘nuclear participation’, the German air force practises the manoeuvres necessary if German pilots are to drop US atom bombs. 20 US bombs are stored underground at the Buechel air base and German armed forces practise transporting them to fighter jets. The manoeuvres are officially secret, however, the fact that they are taking place is ‘leaked’ to the media. Far from attempting nuclear disarmament, the governments of the US and Germany are preparing to modernise atomic weapons and the fighter jets which can drop them. The new atom bombs, Type B61-12, can be deployed with less explosive power, lowering the threshold for nuclear war, since it is argued that the nuclear fallout is less. German fighter jets are to be replaced by US Boeing F-18s. Experts estimate the costs at between 7.7 and 8.8 billion euros. Last autumn Belgian, Dutch and Italian fighter jets were also reported to be participating in Steadfast Noon. Twenty US atom bombs are stationed in each of the three countries, according to expert circles. 50 atomic bombs are also said to be stored in Turkey. Last year in parallel to Steadfast Noon, the Resilient Guard 2020 manoeuvre took place. Two air defence rocket groups of the German armed forces practiced ‘defending important infrastructure from threats from the air’ – a hint that the infrastructure meant is the US bomb stores. In conjunction with this, practice is conducted with the Patriot air defence system. 

All this is in the context of the current US strategy, Nuclear Posture Review which was published on 2nd February 2018. It envisages the conduct of a supposedly limited nuclear war with atom bombs of comparatively lower explosive power, so that they can be deployed in regional battlefields. This is alleged to be purely preventative, to deter Russia or China from a ‘limited’ nuclear attack. Remembering that the USA is still the only country to have dropped atomic bombs on human targets, Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, fears are justified that the US would not confine itself to ‘deterrence’.

An anonymous German foreign correspondent who works in Brussels and has connections reported in June 2020 that NATO has intensified its preparations for a possible nuclear war. According to him the NATO state and government chiefs at their summit in July 2018 had taken note of ‘a document classed as secret’ which ‘for the first time’ confirmed that ‘conventional defence and nuclear deterrence are no longer as has been usual in NATO up to now’ to be separated from one another, in future they must be considered ‘both together’. Further, the NATO defence ministers had agreed at their meeting in mid-June 2020 a further ‘top secret’ paper, presented by NATO Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, US General Tod D. Walters. It was directed against threats in the whole field of operations – land, sea, air, cyber and outer- space - with all ‘defensive and offensive [NATO] capabilities from rocket defence to nuclear first strike’. In addition the alliance intended to station conventionally armed middle range rockets in Europe which could, if required at any time, ‘be nuclear armed’. (2)


This is the background to the concerns of Russia about the build-up of NATO forces on its borders, expressed once more by Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov on October 9 2020. He described the ‘unsettling increase in NATO military activity on Russian borders’, adding, ‘We noted the numerous proposals seeking to normalise the situation and to build confidence in our common region that Russia has sent to NATO, including proposals to move the exercises away from the contact line between Russia and NATO countries, as well as an agreement to decide on a minimum distance, which must always be respected by the navy and air force. We have not received any response from NATO to these constructive proposals so far.’ The foreign minister added, ‘We are very worried about the resurgence of arrogance in Germany.’ The memory of the brutal invasion of the Soviet Union by German forces in the Second World War is the background to these justified fears. (3)

On 2/12/20 RT reported that the previous week the US had conducted a series of test rocket launches during NATO exercises in Romania, firing long-range missiles into the Black Sea with the capability to hit Russian territory. According to the deputy head of the Public Chamber of Crimea, Alexander Formanchuk, ‘provocations against Crimea have become more frequent.’ The Crimean people voted overwhelmingly in a referendum to become part of Russia, but it seems NATO does not want to accept their democratic decision. Nor does the EU, which has used this as an excuse to throw out previously existing cooperation mechanisms with Russia.

It is not only in Europe that Russia is confronted by military provocations. RT reported on 1/12/20 that the USS John McCain, a US destroyer, had been detected two kilometres inside Russian waters, off the coast of Russia’s Far Eastern capital, Vladivostok. This incursion prompted Russia to ready for action an advanced air defence system on the Kuril Islands in the Sea of Japan. In June 2020 Russia scrambled fighter jets to intercept two US air force B-52 bombers that had flown over the Sea of Okhotsk, also in the Far East region. The US had 55,245 personnel on active duty in Japan in September 2019.

All this is in the context of other US moves which negatively affect the preservation of peace. The US has unilaterally withdrawn from the Open Skies agreement which allowed for transparency over the movement of troops and military hardware. Russia will not be able to fly over US territory, but other NATO members will still be able to fly over Russia and report back to the US what they see. President Trump also withdrew from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty which had banned a number of highly destructive weapons with ranges of between 500km and 5,500km.

Scott Ritter reported, ‘On Tuesday [17/11/20], the US Missile Defence Agency (MDA) announced it conducted a test of an Aegis Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) System-equipped Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, the USS John Finn, against what was termed a ‘threat-representative Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) target using a Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) Block 11A interceptor.’ The test took place in the Pacific. The system tested ‘is identical to those recently made operational in Romania and under construction in Poland’. Ritter added, ‘Russia has long held that the deployment of anti-ballistic missile systems in Europe…empowered a potential US/NATO nuclear first-strike scenario, in which US nuclear-armed missiles would be launched against Russian strategic nuclear forces in an effort to pre-emptively destroy them….the US has made the New START treaty irrelevant overnight.’ This treaty, signed in 2010, and due to expire in 2021, limits the number of nuclear warheads of Russia and the US to 1,550. (4)

The US is conducting its share of provocative actions against major competitor China as well. On December 31 USS John McCain and USS Curtis Wilbur sailed through the Taiwan Strait which separates China from Taiwan. This was the thirteenth such mission in 2020. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said, ‘US warships have repeatedly flaunted their prowess in the Taiwan Strait, provoked and stirred up trouble.’ The US has previously sold fighter jets and anti-ship missiles to Taiwan. (5) President of Taiwan Tsai Ing-wen, Democratic Progressive Party, elected in 2016, questions the 1992 consensus between China and Taiwan of the one-China principle, and has oriented her government more firmly towards the west, in particular the USA.


Looking at Britain’s role, the government has announced the biggest increase in military spending in 30 years, an extra £16.5 billion in addition to sums already agreed, adding up to £21.5 billion on top of the Ministry of Defence’s annual budget of £41.5 billion. The UK already has the sixth largest military budget in the world and the biggest in Europe. (6)

That these sums are far from necessary for ‘defence’ is indicated by the wide spread of British military bases overseas. The 145 sites include 60 the UK manages itself, plus 85 facilities run by its allies where the UK has a significant presence. This does not include staffing commitments at NATO administrative sites in Europe or most of its special forces deployments, which are largely unknown.  Picking out one or two notable examples, in Estonia and Lithuania, close to Russia’s border, the RAF bases Typhoon fighter jets, from where they can intercept Russian jets over the Baltic as part of NATO’s air policing mission. The UK has 17 separate military installations in Cyprus, with 2,290 British personnel, handy for the Middle East, along with permanent bases in the UAR and Qatar, a naval base in Bahrain, UK personnel across 15 key sites in Saudi Arabia and 91 UK troops on loan in Oman.  (7)

The UK has military base sites in five countries around China, including Singapore where it occupies a commanding position overlooking the Malacca Straits, the world’s busiest shipping lanes, connecting the South China Sea to the Indian Ocean.

Meanwhile the UK could be the second biggest arms dealer in the world, after the US.  In 2019 the UK won orders worth £11 billion. British government figures give the US as having 47 per cent market share, the UK 16 per cent, Russia 11 per cent, and France 10 per cent. Between 2010 and 2019 the aerospace sector by value accounted for almost two thirds of UK arms exports.  (8)

As Philip Cunliffe noted, ‘Boris Johnson announced the increased military spending by saying that the “era of retreat” was over. Given the fact that Britain has been permanently at war since 1997, in areas ranging from West Africa, the Balkans, the Middle East through to North Africa and Central Asia, Mr Johnson’s promises do not bode well. If permanent war counts as “retreat”, what might the prime minister’s notion of advance look like?’ Mr Cunliffe also suggests Britain should use the opportunity presented by achieving independence from the European Union to reset its foreign and defence policies. (9)

Britain is developing a new National Cyber Force (NCF).  As The Economist reports: ‘Britain will establish a new agency for artificial intelligence (AI). It will invest more in drones and lasers. And it will beef up cyber capabilities….the NCF…brings under unified command for the first time personnel from GCHQ, the Ministry of Defence and MI6, Britain’s foreign intelligence agency, and the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL). The force is thought to number in the hundreds, with the aim of growing to 3,000 staff over the next decade.’ Recently retired national security adviser Mark Sedwill says of cyber operations: ‘They are largely covert, can be deployed flexibly and don’t have to be disclosed to or debated in Parliament or the press.’ In this new NCF ‘a mixture of soldiers and civilians [will] handle everything from criminality to all-out war.’ (10)

Britain has also signed a military agreement with Israel. Most of the agreement is said to be ‘highly classified’ but ‘Both militaries share a commitment to improving and integrating their multi-domain capabilities in maritime, land, air, space, and cyber and electromagnetic.’  Bicom reports, ‘Since 2010, the two countries have cooperated on the development of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) through the Watchkeeper programme, which has been deployed by British forces in Iraq and Afghanistan…The British Army hopes to learn from the Israeli experience as it transitions to a more digital army.’ (11)

Britain is also one of the nine nuclear armed states and proposes to replace its nuclear weapons at the cost of at least £205 billion. When discussion comes up of the arms industry, jobs are always mentioned, understandably since the arms industry is one of the few branches of manufacturing left in Britain. As CND points out: ‘The skills of the workers would be welcome in building conventional ships or in the rapidly developing industries such as renewable energy…a consortium of UK companies came together to produce medical ventilators. Several arms companies …joined the consortium…Workers at Barrow shipyard, where BAE Systems is building the Dreadnought submarine, have also been put to work on producing medical equipment.’ (12)

British manufacturing needs developing – but for peace, not war.

(1) Nuclear Ban is Here CND, 10/12/20.

(2) German Bundeswehr’s Nuclear combat exercise,, 14/10/20.

(3) Joint news conference following talks with Foreign Minister of Denmark Jeppe Kafod, 9/10/20.

(4) US successful ICBM intercept test brings us closer to a nuclear war and proves Moscow’s concerns were well grounded Scott Ritter, RT, 17/11/20.

(5) China says it’s ‘ready to respond to all threats’ after US sends two warships through Taiwan Strait RT, 31/12/20. 

(6) Boris Johnson and the magic money tree for war, Terina Hine, Stop the War Coalition, 24/11/20.

(7) Revealed: the UK military’s overseas base network involves 145 sites in 42 countries, Phil Miller, Declassified UK..

(8) UK remains world’s second-biggest arms dealer, figures suggest, BBC news website, 6/10/20.

(9) Unconquerable and pacific: a new security and defence policy for Britain, Philip Cunliffe, Briefings for Britain, 2/12/20.

(10) Britain assembles a new cyber force of soldiers and spies, The Economist, 3/12/20.

(11) UK and Israel sign military agreement: Bicom – British-Israel Communications and Research Centre, 7/12/20.

(12) CND submission on the Integrated Defence Review.

Boeing FA-18 photo by Slauger

The UK has military base sites in five countries around China, including Singapore where it occupies a commanding position overlooking the Malacca Straits, the world's busiest shipping lanes, connecting the South china sea to the Indian Ocean.