Outside the marginals

a commentary on the politics that followed the UK 2010 & 2015 elections

On the horns of a trident

Trident was great when we needed to be able to obliterate Moscow – or was it?  The so-called “independent deterrent” can certainly lurk unseen and possibly send mass weapons of mass destruction towards Moscow with a moderate chance that some would get through.

However Trident is horrendously expensive – and would we ever be able to fire a nuclear weapon without the agreement of the Americans?  The last few years have demonstrated that our foreign and defence policies are tightly tied in to the Americans.  I cannot envisage a situation where we could fire such a weapon – let alone a situation where the Americans were not also firing theirs at the same targets.

The threats that we will face over the next twenty to thirty years cannot be easily determined; and there is an argument that we should maintain an independent deterrent just in case we need to be able to obliterate a super-power sometime in the future.  However the spending on Trident seems to be inhibiting our ability to fight the foes that we currently need to fight.

So do we need a big weapon to maintain our UN Security Council seat?  All five of the current permanent members are nuclear powers; but a nuclear weapon does not give you a permanent seat and a veto – there are a number of nuclear states that do not have permanent seats.  It would be interesting (!) to see what would happen if one of the permanent members were to give up its nuclear weapons.  It would be perverse for other non-nuclear nations to desire to reduce the status of a nation just because it chooses to disarm.  What is more likely is that the structure of the Security Council will be reformed in the near future.  We have seen the G7 become the G8 and now the G20 rise in influence, such is the way of the world, and the Security Council cannot remain in aspic.

So:

  • Trident is designed for a role that no longer remains
  • Trident was probably never a truly “independent” deterrent
  • Continuing with Trident as an insurance is hindering our current military operations
  • The continuance of our Permanent Seat on the UN Security Council is probably not sustainable due to other global changes.

So is a nuclear weapon a useful weapon to have in terms of “bang per buck”?  Arguably if you are not targeting it against a super-power, the ability to secrete your nuclear deterrent in deep ocean trenches is probably not needed, and this could make the weapon cheaper.  Ship or aircraft launched nuclear armed cruise missiles would enable us to attack Iran or North Korea etc. – if we decided that we really needed the ability to do that sort of damage (and risk retaliation from dirty bombs etc.).  I am not convinced.

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