Trident-For and Against

Sometime within the next year, the Government will debate and then vote on Trident. The current generation of nuclear submarines that carry Trident will end their lifespan in the late 2020s, and so the decision as to whether Britain will commit to renewing Trident needs to be made soon.

First, a little bit of information. Trident is a submarine based nuclear missile system. The Vanguard-class submarine is based as Faslane in Scotland. There are 4 of these submarines, each carrying missiles with nuclear warheads. The missiles have a range of 7,500 miles and, at any one time, 1 submarine is at sea, 1 is undergoing maintenance and 2 are in port or training. Just to give a sense of scale, a Vanguard-class submarine is over twice the length of a Boeing 747. Each submarine has an identically written letter on board in a safe. The letter is written by the Prime Minister and it contains orders for the commander of the submarine on what to do if an enemy nuclear strike has been carried out on Britain, in doing so killed the both PM and other key members of the cabinet. They are only ever opened in that event. The contents of said letter is unknown, but there are 4 likely options. The commander should:

  • Retaliate with nuclear weapons
  • Not retaliate
  • Use his own judgement or
  • Place the submarine under an allied country’s command, if possible.

Type Trident in on Google, and you will find far more arguments against than for. Ultimately, we should be working towards world peace, a subject which I will try to discuss in a future blog. And the idea of spending money on a weapon of mass destruction seems to be going in an entirely different direction. The more states have nuclear weapons, the more likely they are to be used. Britain could set an example with nuclear disarmament, and would thereby be taking a step towards world peace. But the biggest factor against is cost. How can you justify the extreme cost? At a time of austerity, should we be spending billions of pounds on Trident? The extra money for the state could be spent on education, welfare or the NHS. Moreover, it could be spent on things that have actually protected us-the security services. You can justify investing in our nation’s security services because, as David Cameron recently informed us, they have foiled 7 major terrorist attacks aimed at the UK in the past 6 months. So a pretty valuable part of state defence. David Cameron has recently announced that more money should be spent on our Special Forces; that can be justified because these are the people who are trained in counter terrorism. Who would be there in times of need to carry out the operations that the police or regular infantry can’t.

So, you can justify spending with statistics or facts. Our intelligence services have foiled 7 attacks in the past 6 months, so we can justify spending on them. Unemployment is at it’s lowest level since April 2008, so you can justify spending on benefits because it gives people the platform required to get a job. But Trident. Spending money on Trident is almost impossible to justify. It’s success is measured in not what happens, but doesn’t happen. Trident’s success is measured in something we can’t see. I’m going to make a statement that in 60 years or so, I may regret. I may think “I was wrong”. I could well be proved wrong. But this is how I feel now: Renewing Trident will not make anyone’s lives better. But not renewing it could make our lives worse. Trident is an insurance policy. Having car insurance is expensive and annoying, but the government makes you have it because, when you crash, it will save you money. So, having car insurance wont make your life any better. But not having it, will make your life considerably worse if anything happens to your car. Trident is similar. It would be mad not to have car insurance. Completely mad. If you crash, you pay, out of your pocket. But if you have it, when you crash, all is okay. When you crash, and years earlier you chose not to have car insurance, you’re going to regret it. I suspect we would regret not having Trident in years to come. Again, you’re welcome to challenge that statement but it’s what I think. Trident is the sort of thing, that, like any insurance, is there if we need it.

So Trident is insurance. But it’s also deterrent. Again, that’s difficult to explain. Does it deter Russia from launching a nuclear attack at us? No of course it doesn’t. But, it would be interesting to see what the past 60 years would have been like without a nuclear programme. In January 1940, Britain began it’s nuclear programme. On the 3rd of October 1952, Britain tested it’s first atomic bomb. What if none of this had happened? What if, we never had nuclear weapons? What would the Cold War have been like? Again, I’m not suggesting that mutually assured destruction would have occurred if we hadn’t had nuclear weapons. I’m suggesting that the Cold War would have been different. Back to the present day….would Russian treat us differently if we didn’t have nuclear weapons? I certainly think so. Would America treat us differently if we didn’t have nuclear weapons? Well I’m going to give you a quote from Ashton Carter, the American Secretary of Defence:

“Britain has always had an independent ability to express itself and basically punch above its weight. I’d hate to see that go away because I think it’s a great loss to the world when a country of that much history and standing… takes actions which seem to indicate disengagement. We need an engaged United Kingdom.”

Carter was referring to defence cuts. Getting rid of Trident would arguably be the biggest defence cut since World War II.

So, Trident has guaranteed our security since the 1950s. It is the ultimate deterrent to an aggressor and the fact is that a weapon of mass destruction is the best way to ensure peace. The world is dangerous. It is unstable. You can’t claim that, because the Cold War is over, Trident is obsolete. The world is still dangerous. Renewing Trident ensures security against said danger for decades to come. It seems mad to scrap Trident when potentially hostile states may acquire a nuclear capability in the future. Every British Government since 1945 has seen the necessity of having nuclear deterrent. And finally, the decision on Trident will affect us up to 50 years into the future. Whatever your age now, that’s a massive proportion of your life, given that the current UK life expectancy is just over 80. For those reasons, I believe that not renewing Trident would be mad.

©Henry Jones 2015

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