I’ve had this discussion possibly a million times with various people, so I think I ought to post once what I think, and then never again get drawn into this argument. So, here goes.
Trident missiles are incredibly sophisticated, unimaginably destructive weapons; they enter low-earth orbit before releasing multiple 80-100 kiloton warheads onto their preprogrammed targets, utterly obliterating them within half-an-hour from the initial fire order. Each of these nukes is 4-5 times the power of the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima. There’s a submarine armed with a few dozen of these bombs constantly on patrol somewhere in the world. We have phenomenal, near instant, world-wide destructive power at our fingertips.
Trident, and its predecessor systems, were designed and built for an extremely specific purpose: to nuke the crap out of Soviet cities in the event of a Soviet first strike against Britain. As soon as we detect the Soviet launches, we issue the order to fire back, and then a few minutes later everybody dies. Well, the lucky ones, anyway.
That threat is gone. Here is the unassailable fact: we have no geopolitical enemies with the will or finances to build ICBMs. We can’t even build them ourselves; Trident is American technology. There are no such enemies on the horizon. People argue that we might not know who our enemies will be in 50 years, but look at the past: it wouldn’t take a genius to realise that the Russian Revolution and the rise of Soviet Communism would become a problem. There is not even a hint of a credible emerging threat on that sort of scale.
Sure, Iran or North Korea might well be developing nuclear weapons, but they have no method of deploying them to our shores, and certainly not in any kind of scale, or on timescales of less than an hour. Nor are they ever likely to! Trident is overkill for insurance against Iran. Similarly, the idea that Trident is a deterrent against China is laughable; they honestly have no reason to attack the West, and they have more than enough conventional firepower to fuck us right up anyway.
I’m not advocating Britain’s total unilateral disarmament. I agree that that would probably be a mistake. We should maintain a store of nuclear weapons, albeit probably reduced from our current stockpile, with some alternate deployment strategy, e.g. short-range missile or air drops, in order to counter any future threat.
We should, however, be comitted to a multilateral process of disarmament. How can we take the moral highground against Iran, telling them to not develop the bomb, when we’re replacing Trident? It makes us hypocrites, frankly. There’s nothing that hurts our diplomatic standing more.
To sum up: I don’t believe that there is a single possible reason why we would need to spend £100 billion to continue to be able to utterly annihiliate any location in the world in 15 minutes. We could easily maintain an ability to deploy bombs – we did a fairly good job of participating in shocking and awing Baghdad – while scaling back the ludicrous overkill represented by Trident. We should do a proper Strategic Defense Review to validate these ideas, but I find the idea of dogmatically sticking to a straight replacement for Trident unsettling.
And that’s all I have to say about that; comments are disabled on this post because I’m not really interested in discussing this topic any further. If you want to present your own views, please make your case on your own blog. Thanks.