This came up in a conversation and got me thinking.
One of the arguments involved in the upcoming election is who supports Trident and who wants to get rid of it. The SNP are clearly against, the Tories are clearly pro. A large number of Labour MPs say against but Labour policy is pro Trident. The Lib Dems are sitting on the fence and calling for a discussion but it’s the Lib Dems so who cares, the Greens are anti.
As matters stand Trident, the warheads, intercontinental ballistic missiles and the submarines are more than a little long in the tooth. Simply bringing them up to date is £20 billion or so. A replacement with a 21st century system, estimates run as high as £100 billion but its a government defence project which means it will take twice as long and cost twice as much as the initial claims.
So do we keep it or do we save the money for something more useful.
I’ll start with the question in the title. What exactly do we, as a nation, gain from Trident?
Deterrence, respect/status, fear, a place on the UN security council?
Governments sitting in bunkers using their nations last dying breathe to spit in the other guys eyes.
It’s the sort of weapon that is never intended to be used, after all if you are using it the whole point of MAD failed anyway.
So in the 21st century just who are we threatening with our powerful nuclear arsenal or at least the one missile boat we have at sea at any one time (sixteen missiles, up to eight warheads each), we can certainly wipe out a lot of cities, kill millions of people and reduce any small or medium sized nation to radioactive rubble. Against a major power, say Russia, we can wreck their big cities, kill millions of poor sods, leave millions more facing slow lingering deaths and turn what is left of them into a vengeance crazed mob that will do the same to us in return only we can’t take a few hundred nukes.
What about the nuclear powers that may actually attack us. North Korea, Iran, any other Middle Eastern or Far Eastern nation that can build, buy or steal a nuke. Does anyone thing the leadership of those nations would hesitate to attack us if they could by fear of what we would do to their civilians and cities?
We can’t respond to a conventional attack with nukes, the likelihood of the UK coming under direct attack rather than a Terrorist bombs is tiny at present and very small long term and the few nations that may attack us with nukes seem not to care about MAD.
One final thought, during the cold war MAD was considered such a great defence that NATO maintained millions of soldiers and tens of thousands of armoured vehicles to face the conventional attacks that Trident would never be used against.
So what sort of a deterrent is it after all?
So Trident and our nukes don’t keep us on the UN security council.
How about fear. Well this is the thing with nuclear weapons, they are called WMDs. Weapons of mass destruction. But they’re not, they are weapons of terror. A single nuke can devastate a city and kill a million people, make the ruins radioactive and kill a million survivors through cancer in their later years. There are smaller ‘Tactical’ nukes though when throwing nuclear warheads around tactical is a word that only generals and politicians would use. But Trident and its big city wrecking warheads, it’s a terror weapon.
Trident says fear us because we can turn your nation into rubble and ash.
But does any nation on this planet honestly think there is any possibility of the UK launching a nuclear attack against them. Conventional attacks, yes, air strikes, boots on the ground or the ever invisible men who don’t wear boots. Since the end of the second world war the UK has NOT been fighting in someone else’s country for only a handful of years.
But nukes, nope. Almost unthinkable. I say almost because in the tenants of Science Fiction or Bond films strange things happen, but as a measured action, debated by parliament. Not going to happen anytime soon.
Now the US, Russia and China don’t need to go nuclear, they have the conventional strength to crush most nations which means the likely nation is one of the smaller ones, the ones likely to get desperate enough or the ones that don’t care about the consequences. A nation like Britain has access to advanced conventional weapons like cruise missiles and an air force, our government can bomb people back to the stone age without needing to cross the nuclear line.
So we can’t use them and they probably won’t be a deterrent to the people most likely to be attacking the UK. Which raises my original question.
At a time when our conventional armed forces are being slashed again and again and we are being told it will cost £20 billion to modernise Trident or upwards of £100 billion to create our own system from scratch.
What is it Good For?