Renewing Trident was a mistake, the UK does not need nukes – Liberal Article
In the first episode of the cult TV Show ‘Yes, Prime Minister’, the newly appointed Prime Minister is asked about Britain’s nuclear capabilities. In the satirical style that makes the show so loved, PM Hacker is asked when he would be willing to launch the first nuke. A rather stereotypical boffin grills the PM on the difficulties of the emerging Russian “salami” tactics. Slice by slice, the Russians invade Europe – when would the PM launch?
To a certain extent, life has imitated art. Crimea and Eastern Ukraine spring to mind as the first slices; growing tension in the Baltic states suggest they could be the next. When would Boris, and his other nuclear-wielding allies in NATO Macron and Trump, push the button? Thinking of the latter is enough to keep you up at night.
The UK and France can trace our nuclear capabilities to our crumbling empires. We were both left with egg on our faces following the Suez Crisis. With both realising that our attempts to cling to the remanence of our empires was in contradiction with US foreign policy. Fearing a growing rift between the Americans and us, we developed our own nuclear weapons in case we could not be sure that the US would unequivocally back us.
Almost 60 years and billions of pounds later, the UK has roughly 200 nuclear warheads with an annual cost of £2.4 billion. There is also a potential £41 billion being spent to modernise and prolong our nuclear stockpile over the next decade.
This is an astonishing waste of money. £41 billion is twice the cost of Crossrail and three times the cost of hosting the 2012 Olympics. Both of which provide more tangible economic benefit than nuclear weapons.
Yes, in comparison to an over £160 billion annual health budget, the £2.4 billion Trident seems like chump change. But is Trident worth a week of NHS spending? Or forgoing a doubling of the amount available for Carer’s Allowance annually? Almost doubling Statutory Maternity Pay? Or five new state of the art Hospitals, annually?
The point I hope is clear is that Trident is expensive. The concurrent argument is that it is not necessary.
If the UK gave up its nuclear capabilities, it would still be a member of NATO. The US ‘shares’ its nuclear weapons with Italy, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and Turkey. Each is trained and able to deploy them should it be necessary.
The US and UK are far closer now than they were when we decided to develop our own nuclear weapons. That was several generations of nuclear device ago. Trident Missiles aren’t even British, they were designed and developed by the Americans.
No country that hosts US nuclear weapons even wants them; less than 20% of Germans surveyed stated they want to keep US nuclear weapons in their country. There is a growing sentiment that Germany would be better nuclear-free, or at least hosting a closer ally’s weapons such as France’s. They might even buy ours, and we take the US weapons stationed in their country.
But the UK does not need nuclear weapons. The only reason we got them was to stay relevant on the world stage.
Many argue that should we dispose of our nuclear weapons it would be the death knell to our permanent seat on the UN Security Council. Looking back at our time on the Council, we have used our position to attempt to cling to our colonial holdings, allow American invasions, and prevent meaningful efforts for peace in the Middle East.
It’s a power I’m not sure we should have been given in the first place. Amnesty has described the permanent members as “promot[ing] their political self-interest or geopolitical interest above the interest of protecting civilians.”
We are no longer a great power. We need to stop pretending like we are, and more importantly spending like we are. As we approach a period of realignment and continued decline, there is a required reprioritisation of domestic and foreign policy. The wars of the future will not be nuclear, they will be technological and economic.
The money used to maintain and set aside for renewal would be much better spent on education, welfare, climate change mitigation, or international development. Basically, spending on anything would be better than on Trident.
Written by Guest Liberal Writer, Daniel Jones
Point of Information
Trident provides the UK with a strong deterrent, an essential tool to modern global peacekeeping – A Conservative Response
Daniel’s article highlights several brilliantly argued and relevant reasons why the UK should not have renewed Trident. However, I do not share these views.
Daniel’s point about the cost of Trident is perfectly valid. Trident is not cheap. Maintaining and modernising Trident over the coming decades will not be cheap either, and there are other areas where this money could be put to good use.
Yet I believe this is money well spent. Nuclear deterrence between the world’s nine nuclear-armed states has been a key player in maintaining global peace since the 1960s.
The principle of deterrence is that states engage in a cost-benefit analysis to determine whether attacking an adversary will be worse than that adversary’s retaliatory power.
For example, if state A has a nuclear arsenal but state B does not, state A can launch a strike against state B knowing their retaliation will be nowhere near the same magnitude, thus rendering state B powerless.
Nuclear weapons eliminate this risk. If Trump ordered a nuclear attack against the UK, it would take the PM a matter of seconds to command a retaliatory strike of equally devastating effects. The presence of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) eliminates this risk. No rational leader would strike first against a nuclear-armed state.
If Parliament did decide to scrap Trident, this too would come at a high cost. The Ministry of Defence has estimated the cost of decommissioning would be around £4billion over several years. Whilst this is smaller than the cost of maintaining Trident, it would strip the UK of its main defence from threats against rogue states and non-state actors. Also, Trident currently costs around 5-6% of the UK’s defence budget.
In an ideal world, nuclear weapons would not be possessed by any state. Armed states would all agree to destroy their WMD and be safe in the knowledge no state has that capability for destruction.
However, we do not live in an ideal world. Scepticism and distrust among leaders is rife. In the 21st Century, WMD is more of a political tool than a military one. They bring bargaining power and regional and global dominance. I do not believe or wish that nuclear weapons are ever used as it will be the end of the world as we know it. However, I do not think scrapping them is a wise choice.
Written by Senior Conservative Writer, Emer Kelly
A fork in the road for the UK: we should choose the path of peace – A Labour Response
Daniel’s article hits the nail on the head. I find it very hard to add to his excellent presentation of the arguments against renewing Trident. So instead, I will summarise my vision for the UK’s future.
The most vital part of Daniel’s article for me is pointing out Britain’s misplaced emphasis on security spending as an indicator of global hierarchy. The UK should focus on being global leaders in humanitarian efforts; championing diversity and brokering fair trade deals that advance economies to further the cause of global equality.
The UK should not be focused on posturing and squandering money just so we can stay at the big table. Trident should never be seen as a symbol of power or pride. Nor should spending on weapons be seen as more vital than spending on people and welfare.
The concept of mutually assured destruction which is often a key defence of Trident fails to acknowledge that the nine nuclear-armed states in the world are yet to use their weapons on a defenceless state in the post WW2 era.
Nuclear weapons are not a necessity because the web of treaties and alliances that govern global military relationships serve to ensure we will always be covered by other states such as America.
America has its own relationship with nuclear weapons and its own national history. As such, their disarmament is highly unlikely. This is not a case of passing the buck, but simply a reevaluation of what Britain is.
We do not have to be the state that clings to the remnants of power, nor do we need to be a state that revels in hostility. In a time of unprecedented social and economic change, we should divert all our efforts to the betterment of lives across the globe. Not to the renewing of the most deadly of man’s inventions.
Written by Guest Labour Writer, Henry Mckeever
I’m a queer loving feminist liberal, enough to make a hard-line conservative have an aneurism. I have been forced to this position having grown up witnessing and experiencing injustice first-hand. Politics sort of came to me, which it does if you are anything but a cis-white-heterosexual man. My life and the way I wanted to live it was unavoidably political, so I may as well get involved.
I am currently in my second year at the University of Exeter studying Politics. It was as a young child going to visit my family in Northern Ireland that I unknowingly had my first interactions with politics.
I am entering the third year of a BA in History and Ancient History at the University of Exeter. I have a fascination with the past otherwise and you would hope so, otherwise I may have chosen the wrong degree. But, writing for POI gives me the opportunity to talk politics which is something I simply can’t avoid.