This year Parliament will vote on whether or not to renew Trident, the UK’s independent nuclear defence system. Acquired under the Thatcher government, it was to act as a deterrent from any Soviet nuclear strike. Fast forward 30 years; the Soviet Union has been dismantled and the question now repeatedly being asked- does the UK need Trident?

Opponents of Trident will argue that with the non-proliferation treaty (NPT) the danger no longer exists. The NPT is an international agreement with the goal of preventing the spread of nuclear weapons and can now boast nearly 200 member states, of which only five are officially recognised as possessing nuclear weapons. Is this not compelling evidence of the UK’s security from nuclear attack? Maybe, but maybe not. There are several key countries, such as North Korea, that are not signatories and so it could be argued that we still live in a world of political uncertainty. Perhaps then it is better to have this last line of defence and not need it, rather than to need it and not have it.

The most fervent opponents, such as the SNP, will then argue that Trident is “unusable” and would not protect us from attack. An example of this is France. As one of the five “nuclear states” under the NPT their possession of nuclear weapons sadly did not prevent the tragic terrorist attacks of the past year.

The danger then becomes that Trident will simply become an expensive monument to cold war hysteria; the government currently estimates renewal between £15bn and £20bn. Indeed, the 5 year “procurement phase” preluding the renewal decision has itself cost £3bn. A perfectly reasonable question then becomes in times of budget cuts can we really afford Trident if its function is not altogether obvious?

Perhaps its purpose is more subtle than this. The UK is also a “nuclear state,” the other 4 being France, USA, China and Russia. Membership of such an elite group of world superpowers demonstrates the punching power and stature of the UK. Resignation might be an admission that the UK’s global influence is waning and we will then become more susceptible to intimidation on the international stage. A disagreeable prospect for the nation’s foreign interests.

For some the issue of Trident resonates to the core of UK identify and its place in the world pecking order. For others it is simply an issue of practicality and economics. Regardless, given the Conservative’s long pro-Trident stance it is likely that renewal will be given the green light later this year. Then the debate can continue for another 30 years…

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    The SNP are right about nuclear weapons, and of course wrong about civilian nuclear power.
    The latter is why they imagine that wind acn replace fossil carbon, whereas even the power of the Cutty Sark and her rival Thermopylae, failed in the face of the derivatives of James Watt’s improvement of the steam engine, and later the Irishman Parsons’s steam turbine. Coal and fossil hydrocarbons, including carbon tetrahydride, CH4, wiped them off the seas for anything but expensive leisure activities.

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    I find it interesting that people associate possession of nuclear weapons with a nation’s status as a ‘super-power’. Given Germany’s current standing within the EU and on the wider global stage (in both economic terms and conventional military capability) I believe it appropriate to consider them a ‘super-power’, despite the fact that they do not have an active nuclear weapons programme.

    Furthermore, under the NPT they have opted for a nuclear deterrent in the form of tactical nuclear weapons which would be supplied by the US in a time of war. Since this is essentially what the UK would be left with as a deterrent in the absence of Trident, I feel the UK’s status as a super-power would not on the whole be threatened if the programme were discontinued.

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    Whilst the Soviet Union has been dismantled, the Russian legacy is still a Nuclear State. There are Five nuclear NPT (Non Proliferation Treaty) states – US, Russia, China, UK and France. Add three non NPT nuclear states (India Pakistan and Israel) plus the North Korean new kids. There are plenty of nuclear weapons in the world.

    Nuclear weapons will never be used against and are unsuitable for deterring terrorist attacks. Nuclear weapons are used by the states who have them as deterrents against being targets from Nuclear attack (except Israel – who are at the pre mutually assured destruction stage – but have nuclear weapons to deter her numerous enemies who have been know to mount large scale conventional attacks on multiple fronts, simultaneously). Israel worry me as they are also known to attack first if they perceive themselves to be sufficiently threatened.

    Britain no longer has much scale in conventional forces to counter the loss of nuclear weapons:
    0 aircraft carriers
    19 major surface warships (destroyers and frigates)
    6 Nuclear fleet submarines (the sort that don’t carry nuclear missiles)
    134 Typhoon fighters for Air Defence
    98 Tornado bombers active (though there are another 120 in mothballs somewhere)
    90 attack helicopters (Apaches, Wildcat and Lynx)
    220 active tanks (though there are another 150 or so mothballed)

    The UK simply does have enough to do very much on its own – there can be no repeat of the Falklands style operation. We depend on Nato for collective defence, largely underwritten by the US. The assumption is that an attack on one state is an attack on all. But would the US really retaliate if for example China attacked Taiwan, or Japan? Would the US retaliate against a Russian Attack on one of the baltic states? Would we? (check this out: http://www.bbc.co.uk/guides/zpm8xsg You’re in the hot seat).

    Now the big question: could we really rely on the US to back us up if Russia decided to launch an attack on the UK? Would a US President risk a nuclear retaliation against the lower 48, to keep an island 3,000 miles away safe? Really? I’d prefer us to have a British Prime Minister with the option, expensive as it might be.

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    I always find it difficult to understand why we care so much about being a ‘superpower’. What does this mean? If we look at the world’s so-called ‘superpowers’, they are all in some way deeply entrenched in colonialism, exploitation and slavery. The entirety of modern capitalism has been borne off the back of oppression, and these five countries are some of the worst. It’s this history that has created this idea of superpower and it is positively shameful: it amazes me that ‘we need to maintain our standing in the world’ is an argument that is made and not sufficiently interrogated. Nuclear weapons are the last stand of this historic ‘superpower’ ideology; they are not just the last monument to Cold War but the last monument to colonialism.

    Winding down our weapons programme fully would truly show our international, diplomatic and collaborative sincerity. It is possible: Sweden concluded theirs in 1972 at the height of the Cold War. Scandinavia, Iceland, Canada and others have some of the best happiness levels in the world and don’t have nuclear weapons or comparatively high international ‘standings’. Of course, Denmark and Norway had colonies; however, I would rather follow their policy of accepting and moving positively forward from the terror and injustice that is colonial past than perpetuating it by slinging nuclear weapons around, heightening tensions and wasting public money.

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    I think they are far too expensive, fairly useless when other weapons exist that although have a smaller blast radius can be used in huge quantities to the saml effect. Money could go towards nuclear power plants and reduce CO2.

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    Whenever discussing the various merits of a nuclear deterrent my thoughts are always drawn back to the prelude to World War One each of the “European Super-Powers” sold the action as something that could be won relatively quickly, indeed the whole basis of the Schlieffen Plan was to knock France out of any land war in Europe quickly (due to their alliance with the Russians and the German belief that any Russian mobilization would be slow)
    Nuclear weapons might, indeed not prevent Nuclear War(although for those that consider unilateral Nuclear disarmament a positive factor for world peace it is worth pointing out that the only time they have been utilized was in a war between two nations both of whom started it without them). The one thing Nuclear weapons achieve, without question is they take away the option of a winnable quick one and in light of the events that followed in 1914, that’s not something that should be dismissed lightly .

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