Located at the Royal Naval Base along the River Clyde lies what the newly elected Conservative government advocates as the “the ultimate guarantee” of our country’s security. Able Seaman McNeilly notes its instability and insecurity.
Located at the Royal Naval Base along the River Clyde lies what the newly elected Conservative government advocates as the “the ultimate guarantee” of our country’s security. At the same time whistleblower Able Seaman McNeilly notes its instability and insecurity. With this in mind the effectiveness of the UK’s nuclear deterrent – Trident – is indeed highly questionable.
Deterrence provides prestige and power on the world stage, the UK are among the UN Security Council’s Permanent 5 members who own nuclear weapons. Deterrence is based on the idea of ‘Mutually Assured Destruction’, this ghost of Cold War politics reminds nations that they each have the ability to obliterate another country – this keeps the use of these weapons deadlocked. Nevertheless deterrence is a ghost that is alive and kicking. The UK has the ability to launch a warhead 7500 miles and cause eight times the devastation of Hiroshima 1945.
Trident’s thirty year lifespan is due for renewal in 2024, the future of the project is to be decided next year. The estimates surrounding the cost of Trident renewal lie between £25bn and £100bn. However, the majority pro-renewal Conservative government face opposition. SNP are in favour of ‘unilateral disarmament’ and Labour leader candidate Jeremy Corbyn MP is Vice Chairman of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.
Able Seaman McNeilly’s comments raise questions about the purpose of renewal. The UK possesses only a small fraction of the number of nuclear weapons in existence. Of the estimated 15,650 weapons owned worldwide the UK has “no more than 120” of what Michael Fallon (Defence Secretary) declared as “operationally available” nuclear warheads. The possibility of relying more on the USA’s arms is raised. After all, the United States already controls much of the United Kingdom’s nuclear deterrent in terms of design, production and the requirement for Washington’s consent to launch. And it’s not as if the USA currently deploys nuclear weapons throughout Europe for fellow NATO members anyway.
Yet, it must not be forgotten that despite the UK owning a small number of warheads, one is enough to cause unspeakable damage. And it must not be forgotten that we do not live in peace times. Conflict cannot be completely minimised, but escalation can. For example, Pakistan fought the Kargil war with India under a nuclear weapons umbrella, yet it did not escalate into nuclear war suggesting that warfare can be diminished by the knowledge that a country possesses nuclear weapons. Thus, although the unlikely use of nuclear caused by deterrence shows us that Trident is unnecessary, does this deadlock remain so, if our deterrence is removed?
Finally, let us not forget good ol’ conventional warfare. If conventional warfare cannot be avoided, but the presence of nuclear warheads provides “the ultimate guarantee” of our country’s security, avoiding escalation of such conflict, why are we not investing more heavily into our conventional armed forces? With questions as to whether the United Kingdom will meet the desired two percent of GDP requested by NATO, one questions the credibility of the renewal of Trident if it falls to the detriment of our conventional armed forces.
In the advent of increased global threats, with India’s foreign minister raising concerns over the potential threat posed by ISIS obtaining a nuclear weapon from Pakistan and the re-emergence of Cold War tensions, multilateral disarmament seems unachievable and unwarranted in the near future. Considering the encroachment of Europe by Russia and ISIS, the need for “the ultimate guarantee” has never been more pertinent. Therefore, I would push for the renewal of Trident not only to avoid escalation of conflict, but also to ensure that our position on the UN Security Council is not jeopardised. However, this should not be to the detriment of our conventional armed forces. We need to maximise defence spending to the recommended two percent of GDP for the renewal of Trident to be legitimate.