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Trident: Should the UK Employ Strategic Deterrence or Strategic Hope?
A conversation has begun in the post-Cold War era about whether Britain and other countries should continue their nuclear missile programmes.
In the United Kingdom, the Trident missile delivery system is up for discussion along with modernized warheads.
In case you haven’t heard, the Trident missile system is favoured by the government to replace the Royal Navy’s Cold War era nuclear-tipped missiles.
They don’t last forever. In fact, nuclear materials deteriorate at a steady rate and if you leave them for too many decades they can self-detonate. Yes, the Royal Navy stays on top of this, that’s why we’re having the discussion now as opposed to having it in Heaven…
If nuclear materials deteriorate beyond a certain point and detonate aboard a RN submarine in the middle of the Atlantic, it would be a very sad day indeed.
Which is why nuclear weapons aren’t something to play around with — and that includes playing politics.
Only properly informed people should be involved in this decision but it doesn’t hurt for members of the public to read about and understand the nuclear deterrence rationale, called ‘Mutually Assured Destruction’ or MAD. (Fitting, isn’t it?)
But no matter the name, the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction has worked to prevent nuclear confrontation since 1945.
Under the MAD terms, no sane leader would use nuclear weapons against another country as it would bring an equally devastating nuclear response from the attacked nation.
Although leaders of countries have become furious at each other in years past in regards to trade disputes, SR-71 overflights, or attempts at regime-change — their knowledge that a nuclear strike / counter-strike could occur if the dispute gets out of hand, such incidents are automatically self-governing due to the horrific consequences attached to nuclear weapons use.
And it works! Nuclear deterrence has performed flawlessly since 1945 to prevent major conflict between nation-states.
Why Would We Need MAD in a post-Cold War World?
This rationale is a cobra snake disguised as a dove, for it says; ‘The Cold War is over, everything is fine, we live in a largely stable and peaceful world — so why do we need nuclear weapons as a deterrent?’
Just as the people who said prior to World War I; ‘We live in a largely stable and peaceful world, why bother having a national military that costs millions to maintain?’
Those words were barely uttered before World War I arrived.
And similar occurred in the interwar period between 1919 and 1939. People thought there could never be another World War as the consequences of the First World War (‘The War to End All Wars’) were still too horrible to contemplate.
But World War II did arrive and in many ways it was more horrific than WWI due to the advanced firepower of the era.
Then came the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Soviet/Afghan War, then the 1990 Gulf War in Iraq, and in 2003 the second war in Iraq which we call the Iraq War, along with the 2003 Afghan War. Not to mention the almost countless brushfire wars that have occurred in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and South America and Central America during the postwar era.
In every case, the public consensus was that the previous war ‘had to be the last war’ because ‘war is too horrible to do’ and thenceforth only peace would reign on Earth.
We see how wrong they were…
Prepare for War, but Always Plan for Peace
Every combat-experienced Admiral will tell you; ‘Prepare for War, but Always Plan for Peace’ for they know better than anyone that war is simply an extension of human psychology.
Eventually, diplomacy will fail and the military had better be up to the task of defending the country — or they and their fellow citizens won’t have a country.
It’s no Coincidence the Best-armed Countries have Fewer Wars Thrust on Them
With a strong military a country can decide to take part in a ‘Coalition of the Willing’ for example.
But very few countries with a powerful military get invaded. Not that invasion is the only type of warfare, but that’s the primary reason nations divert precious resources to fund a viable military.
Certainly, nuclear-armed nations aren’t subject to invasion, nor will any potential conflict go far, as the world’s nuclear powers police not only the world but each other as well.
The UN Security Council permanent members are all nuclear powers and each of them has an outsized say in world affairs. It would be naive in the extreme to think that the UK could stay in the UNSC should it decide to give up its advanced nuclear weapons programme.
Having a viable nuclear weapons system is one thing, but having a say in global affairs at the highest level is on the shortlist of things that identify the United Kingdom as a Top Ten political power.
It isn’t always about GDP and Productivity
Sometimes it’s about defending the interests of your country and like-minded countries, even if that means continuing with an expensive Cold War programme that was designed from the outset to make war far too costly to contemplate.
And, the most important point of all? It has worked perfectly, every day, since 1945.
In the discussion between Strategic Hope vs. Strategic Deterrence, my heart is with those who believe that one day the human race will mature to a point where war is left behind in the dustbin of history (as it should be!) but in the meantime, my mind favours what has actually worked over the past 72 years. Poseidon’s trident must remain.