Renew Trident? Britain’s Misplaced Ego is Better Spent Elsewhere

With the government’s Strategic Defence and Security Review underway, paralleled with the upcoming expiry date of Trident, the issue of the precarious future of our nuclear deterrent system has resurfaced. The Defence Secretary Liam Fox regards Trident as a “special case”, an indispensable entity for our national security that should therefore be treated as sacrosanct. In contrast, many people regard Trident as an anachronism and completely superfluous in today’s world.

Liam Fox et al who ideally want a full, unexpurgated replacement of Trident are standing on a supine and almost iniquitous foot. Using Trident as an insurance policy can easily be discredited. Any country that indulges in the use of nuclear weapons will inevitably destroy a very large proportion of civilisation. We have 16 missiles, each with the destructive capability of eight Hiroshimas, making retaliation a disconcerting last resort.

I am reminded of a scene in Yes, Prime Minister where the Government’s Chief Scientific Advisor is probing the Prime Minister over the credibility of Trident. The eccentric advisor suggests scenarios in which the Russian’s successful subjugation of Europe eventually leads them to a poised invasion of England. However, the Prime Minister decides that he wouldn’t “press the button” because the immense power of the missiles would not only destroy the Russians but would destroy Britain as well. As Jim Hacker said, “How could we defend ourselves by committing suicide?”

Although the Cold War is over, other countries such as North Korea and Iran, who are clandestinely enriching uranium and who did not sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, might present a threat. These countries are a legitimate cause for concern because they are not yet being open and honest about their intentions. However, is Britain having Trident the way forward?

Trident has a purely political purpose. Due to the responsibility that comes with possessing nuclear arms, Britain can supposedly retain its international status as a great power. The old sentiments associated with our imperial past resonate here. Rachel Johnson, Editor of The Lady, who spent some years working in the Foreign Office, rather amusingly described Trident as a “willy-waving anachronism” because of the James Bond-type fantasy it induces in the men who work with Trident.

Many people are apathetic towards our ‘great power’ status now. Quite frankly this country has more important things to think about. France’s much larger ‘force de frappe’ is a source of national pride for them, so removing it is out of the question. The majority of other European countries such as Germany do not possess nuclear weapons so there is no contention on their part.

Moreover, we are dependent on the Americans for Trident, which has caused derision from France in the past. There is also dispute as to whether we would be able to launch it without America’s permission first. An article in the New Statesman aptly says that the “truth behind the pro-renewal argument is… not on us having a nuclear deterrent with a Union Jack on it, but on us having the US on our side”. It therefore epitomises Britain’s sycophancy towards America, a position that we need to distance ourselves from.

As part of the austerity drive, George Osborne wants Trident’s bill to be placed in with the defence budget. At a time when Liam Fox is faced with frightening spending cuts, a like-for-like replacement costing between £15 and £20 billion is not a realistic expectation, and those are just the government’s figures. Greenpeace has put the figure as high as £34 billion once costs such as VAT are added. Concerning the politics, Britain’s misplaced ego is better spent elsewhere too.

Mea Goodall

4 Comments on this post.
  • dan
    11 November 2010 at 19:01
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    The real issue is where we could actually launch them. We rely on American satellites for targeting and there is no situation in which the US would let Britain independently launch nuclear missiles. Only in support of a US launch.

  • Nick
    12 November 2010 at 10:00
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    NB: each boat can carry 16 missiles and each missile can carry up to 8 independently-targetable warheads. In practice it is government policy to depoly no more than 48 warheads per sub (to be reduced to 40 according to the recent defence review), suggesting an average 3 warheads per missile.

    Each warhead (not each missile as reported in the article) has an estimated explosive yield of 100 kilotons (equivalent to 100,000 tons of TNT detonating instantaneously), about 8 times the estimated yield of the bomb that levelled Hiroshima in 1945 (~14kt)

  • Pete
    12 November 2010 at 12:11
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    Reactors for Trident submarines and other nuclear powered submarines are made at the Rolls Royce plant at Raynesway in Derby – not far from Nottingham ;-). Convoys carrying special nuclear materials for use as reactor fuel travel regularly between the Aldermaston Atmomic Weapons Establishment and Rolls Royce in Derby via the M1 motorway – see for more info and getting involved.

  • Will
    12 November 2010 at 18:49
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    The author of this article complete fails to understand the fundamental rational for maintaining a ‘nuclear deterrent’ – namely, to deter! (One would have thought the name might have pointed her in the right direction). Contrary to what the author insinuates, the value of nuclear weapons does not lie in their being an ‘insurance policy’ that allows us, ex-post, to blow up an aggressor, it is the fact that they provide the capability to do so and thus act as a (rather strong!) disincentive to any would be aggressor.

    This, in combination with a failure to address the (huge) negatives of unilateral disarmament, discredits the article entirely.

    There is a real and pressing debate to be had about the future of nuclear weapons; this article does not contribute to it.

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