This month I ask, why do we need a nuclear deterrent?

Whether or not the UK really needs a nuclear deterrent is a tricky question – one person’s necessity is another person’s extravagance. Personally, the issue has never directly caught my interest, despite its links to the main topic of my research. I’ve always felt rather passive about it, partly in response to an awareness of how opaque the military infrastructure of the UK – indeed of any country – really is. There are many aspects of life in our liberal democracy where a citizen might be forgiven for a certain degree of cynicism regarding the efficacy of expressing an opinion and military decisions are notoriously high on the list. Simply put, what is the value in expressing an opinion when the likelihood is that whatever the public might say, military bigwigs are likely to respond with “Hmmm, yes, we see what you’re saying, but we’re going to do it anyway”.

elephant in the roomOn another note, a few months ago I had a surprising conversation on just this subject with a research participant. I had been expecting something along the lines of “down with Trident” because of his staunchly negative position on civil nuclear power, but in fact he argued in favour of keeping the nuclear deterrent. The logic was depressingly fatalistic: Britain is a small country whose geopolitical standing is steadily decreasing. In an increasingly violent world, why should we do away with one of the few things that still holds any sway? In his view, giving up trident would be like facing machine gun-wielding opponents armed with only a knife. Yes, it would be nice to live in a world where a nuclear deterrent is unnecessary, but it would be foolhardy to make real-world decisions based on a utopian dream.


Caroline McCalman is a postgraduate researcher at The University Of Sheffield.

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