Trident: A Necessary Renewal?

Posted on February 15, 2013 by


     There is a lesser-known review in progress, headed by Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, over what 40 years ago would have constituted Britain’s most pressing security concern. This review on the renewal of Trident missile systems and the Vanguard-class submarines that launch them will be handed to David Cameron and Nick Clegg in the following two months and published shortly afterwards.

The final decision will be postponed until 2016, promising to be a major election issue. However, in light of the recent cuts to the defence budget (42,000 redundancies and counting), the £30–100bn decision to renew has resurrected the question: does Britain need the bomb?

On the New Statesman’s blog, Norwich South’s Labour candidate, Clive Lewis, writes of the “opportunity the Labour Party must not miss” to disarm after Trident expires. At a time when conventional forces—those we actually use, he posits—are facing drastic cuts, such an expenditure on weapons designed not to be used is unthinkable.

Indeed it is difficult to overstate the madness of Mutually Assured Destruction as an “insurance policy” (that in the event of a launch, both sides would entirely annihilate each other), but, the conclusion that Britain should entirely disarm is an erroneous one.

In a world where less-than-congenial states—despite the efforts of the nuclear powers—are completing nuclear tests, retention of a nuclear deterrent is essential. It is not, however, a matter of wreaking untold destruction upon the citizens of your foes. The simple truth is: membership of the nuclear club is the only guarantor against the kind of leverage that a nuclear state can wield against your interests. The veracity of this claim can be seen in the actions of North Korea and Iran today; it is the same fear that drives them, as drove all other powers in 1945.

The present debate about alternatives to Trident has nonetheless laboured under the black-and-white fallacy that we must either disarm, or maintain the present capacity for total annihilation. Remedy to this falsehood, coincidentally lies with another local figure: Solly Zuckerman, Government Chief Scientific Advisor in the 1960s, and namesake of UEA’s Zuckerman Institute (ZICER), advised Harold Wilson on nuclear policy during the Cold War. While never an advocate of unilateral disarmament, the revulsion he held for the power of nuclear weapons—and their proponents—led him to vigorously counsel for a limited nuclear deterrent. In an age of austerity such as our own, this advice is as pertinent as it’s ever been.

CC image courtesy of  Defence Images, Flickr.