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Essay: Renewal of Trident Nuclear Deterrent System

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  • Subject area(s): Military essays
  • Reading time: 7 minutes
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  • Published: 15 November 2019*
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  • Words: 2,000 (approx)
  • Number of pages: 8 (approx)

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Ever since the 1980s one of four trident nuclear submarines has been on patrol somewhere in the world, keeping the UK and its overseas territories safe from attack. The Trident nuclear programme currently uses about 6% of the MoD’s annual budget. This comes in at about £2,220,000,000. With the annual MoD budget rising up to £40 billion by 2020 under the current government, it is a very small price to pay to keep our nation safe.

This report shall examine if the renewal of the ‘Trident Nuclear Deterrent System’ is the right choice the country, but I will also investigate why some people are against its renewal.

The History of Trident:

The decision to acquire Trident was announced in a Statement to the House in July 1980. A parliamentary debate, and vote, was held in March 1981 which gave the government its final authorization to invest in Trident.

From the decision in 1980 it took 14 years to complete the acquisition of the Trident capability with the first of four Vanguard class submarine entering service in December 1994. Trident will expire in 2028 after 34 years of service.

Britain’s Nuclear Policy:

A government statement from July 2016 statuses the UK’s Nuclear policy as: “The UK is a participant of a number of treaties and agreements relating to nuclear weapons which imposes several obligations on the UK with respect to its nuclear policies. The most significant are the disarmament obligations stated in Article VI of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation on Nuclear Weapons (NPT). Under that article the five recognised nuclear weapon states are permitted to possess nuclear weapons, but only if they commit themselves to the principles of nuclear arms control and eventual disarmament. The 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR 15) confirmed that the “UK will not use, or threaten to use, nuclear weapons against any non-nuclear weapon state party to the NPT”. This assurance does not apply, however, to any state in material breach of the NPT. The UK also maintains a position of ambiguity on the precise details of when, how and at what scale the UK may consider the use of its nuclear weapons capability, although the Government has stated that nuclear weapons would only be used in extreme circumstances of self-defence.”

This has since been questioned though, after Prime Minister Theresa May said she would be prepared to use Nuclear Weapons in a first strike attack.

* Source: House of Commons Briefing Paper on Trident Renewal

Russia, ISIS, Rocket Man, Trump and Brexit: Why the UK can no longer trust its allies:

In an ever changing world where Brexit negotiations are not going to plan, the most powerful man is the world is also the most dangerous, a rouge dictator has a death grip on the western world and there are question marks over whether the Cold War ever ended, Britain can trust no one and rely on nothing. On the 23rd of June 2016, 17.4 million British voters cast their ballot in favour of leaving the European Union & on the 24th of June one of the biggest moments in European history since WWII was beginning, the breakup of Europe. Since then, Britain’s chancellor has called the EU ‘the enemy’, Relations with France are at their worst in the past 100 years, Brussels are holding the UK to ransom and Theresa May is being destroyed at the Brexit negotiating table.

Oh, and did I mention Trump is now the commander in chief?! The man that once said [On Mexico] “They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they’re bringing rapists and some, I presume, are good people”, is now in charge of 4,018 nukes. Even though President Trump says he’ll back his allies, he can’t be trusted and neither can our neighbours in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Great Britain can simply no longer rely on NATO or Uncle Sam anymore, we need to protect ourselves or at least be able to retaliate in the event of an attack. While there is currently no direct threat to the UK, there is no way of predicting with any reasonable accuracy the strategic environment over the next 40-50 years. Especially when you consider:

  • The existence of Rogue states with “the intent and capability to develop weapons of mass destruction, coupled with the threat posed by the proliferation of nuclear knowledge and technology, make it imperative that nuclear weapons be retained.”
  • There can be no guarantee that other aspiring nuclear weapon states or rogue states with nuclear intentions, such as North Korea, would give up their arsenals or plans purely because the UK has foregone its nuclear deterrent capability.
  • In the coming decades, a potential threat may emerge from an existing nuclear power that combines both the capability and intent to strike the UK.  Some would point to “the growing military and economic power of China or the risk of future instability as a result of Russian adventurism”.

* Sources: Ministry of Defence, The Economist.

Why nuclear weapons are Britain’s only ticket to the table with the ‘Big Boys’ of the world:

Ever since the transfer of Hong Kong to China in 1997, the British Empire to many has been non-existent. Although fourteen British Overseas Territories remain, what was at one time the most powerful nation in history has been anything but. Britain might not be by far the biggest, the most economically stable, the richest or the prettiest country in the world but it is still one of the most influential. It might just be the polite, charming ways of UK diplomats and the British armed forces ability to deploy boots on the ground almost anywhere in the world within an hour, but the fact Britain could strike almost any major city within a moment’s notice surely plays a part in ensuring the UK’s seat at the highest of international political tables among the likes of the US, Russia, France and China.

Why Britain needs a deterrent in a changing world:

Since the US bombing of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, no nation has ever used a nuclear weapon in a war. Today, India and Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are part of the stalemate between the nations that has prevented full-scale war. With Russia’s aggressive conduct in the Ukraine, and their actions in Syria, it would be stupid not to consider Russia as a threat to global stability. With tensions in the East China Sea, there have even been calls in Japan to develop nuclear weapons. Although Nuclear weapons would not directly discourage groups like Daesh and Al-Qaeda, they would deter any states from supporting such groups with weapons, assets and protection. They could also reassure armed forces should a second Middle East war become unconventional. Submarine-based nuclear weapons such as Trident give the UK the ability to hide their nuclear weapons, and to fire them independent of communication with London. “One of the first jobs an incoming UK prime minister has is to sit and write the instructions to nuclear submarines that sit in their safes while on patrol, to be opened in the event of nuclear war. These ‘letters of last resort’ are part of the system that ensures the UK’s nuclear deterrent is a functioning deterrent in all circumstances.” These reasons all add up as to why the UK needs Trident, we simply can’t predict the future. “The world has changed from when the atom was first split.” We live in a much more uncertain place, where the nature of war is very, very different. The stakes are much higher, and the enemy is often not a country, but a few, often deranged individuals. They may seek covert support from a nation, but wars today are fought by proxy. By stealth. By ways that are difficult to see and harder to understand.

* Sources: Royal Navy, Huffington Post

The Prices of Trident:

The total cost of replacing the Trident nuclear weapons system will come to at least £205 billion. The Ministry of Defence’s budget for 2016/17 is a planned £35 billion, increasing every year to 2020/21 when it is estimated to be almost £40 billion. The annual operating costs of Trident are expected to be around 5% to 6% of this every year, or around £2 billion. A new replacement system would probably cost around £5.56 billion per year over its 30-year lifespan.

How Washington Owns the UK’s Nuclear Programme:

When is an independent nuclear deterrent not an independent nuclear deterrent? It’s a question no MP is asking. The answer is all too obvious: when the maintenance, design, and testing of UK submarines depend on Washington, and when the nuclear missiles aboard them are on lease from Uncle Sam. The UK does not even own its Trident missiles, but rather leases them from the United States. “British subs must regularly visit the US Navy’s base at King’s Bay, Georgia, for maintenance or re-arming. And since Britain has no test site of its own, it tries out its weapons under US supervision at Cape Canaveral, off the Florida coast. A huge amount of key Trident technology — including the neutron generators, warheads, gas reservoirs, missile body shells, guidance systems, GPS, targeting software, gravitational information and navigation systems — is provided directly by Washington, and much of the technology that Britain produces itself is taken from US designs. The list goes on. Britain’s nuclear sites at Aldermaston and Davenport are partly run by the American companies Lockheed Martin and Halliburton.” The UK Government emphasizes that Britain’s Trident submarines are “operationally independent,” meaning that they have an all-British crew and take commands only from the Prime Minister, regardless of whether she is coordinating with NATO and the White House.

Why nuclear accidents are more of a threat than an attack:

Trident is a deterrent, if it ever fires a missile then its failed in it’s mission. Even in today’s global climate, there is no viable threat. We’re more likely to accidentally turn Glasgow into a desert than fire at another country.

Why peace will never be achieved with nuclear weapons:

There is no such thing as Nuclear Weapons being in safe hands. Anyone has with nuclear weapons has the ability to destroy countries, infrastructure and millions of lives. Some say our warheads defended us against the Soviets. Currently we have somewhere between 160 and 200 warheads. The US 10,000. Russia has 15,000. So the British warheads didn’t keep the peace. They didn’t help win the Cold War. People say, ‘We never know about the future. Look at Iran and North Korea getting the bomb. They could hold us to ransom…’ Really? With 10,000 American bombs pointing in their general direction? Our 160 are not really going to make a difference. And anyway, why would either of those two countries decide to pick on us. If we were held to ransom, we would be under the umbrella of Article 5 of the NATO treaty – which states that an attack against one nation is an attack against all – and again the American’s 10,000 bombs come into play. Do we really need to spend £205 billion then? Some wold say there are no reasons. None that stack up. None that make real sense in a country where half a million people are using food banks anyway. Other than of course to show off…

My View:

It really comes down to who you trust more; May or Corbyn, Obama or Trump. Nuclear weapons will never create lasting peace but they will create lasting values, the values that the western world holds so tight; Freedom, Integrity, Justice. We shouldn’t be afraid to walk down the street, travel or turn on the news and if even a mere one or two people feel safer because of Trident, I’d say it is successful, not to mention the fact that the cost of retaining Trident is reasonably small when compared with the strategic risks of disarmament.

So here we are. Sitting with four nuclear submarines nearing the end of their life. They need to be replaced. We need to defend ourselves. We need a deterrent.

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