Trident was announced as the UK’s new deterrent back in 1980, and patrols with the missile began in 1994. The renewal of trident was debated in July 2016, to replace the current submarines with the newer Dreadnought Class by 2028. The estimated cost of the upgraded weapons system is around £31 billion.
Last week an article about Trident was published in felix. It was focused around the fact that the government lied to MPs and the general public ahead of a crucial vote on whether or not to renew Trident. This denial of information was undoubtedly outrageous, as it is a critical aspect of the nation’s defence as well as a colossal investment, and the public has a right to know whether it is effective or not.
However, at this point, the article and I diverge, due to its suggestion that this failure would and should alter our opinions as to the utility of the Trident deterrent as well as several factual inaccuracies: there was a single missile as opposed to many, and an error in the input data led to the failure of the targeting. These are serious technical issues that should be resolved, but the article trotted out the classic tropes of an anti-nuclear weapons argument: this failed launch shows they don’t work, they’re not necessary because the USSR doesn’t exist anymore, smart weapons don’t work and that the real threats are cyber and terrorism, etc.
This misunderstanding of the weapon system and its purpose in the geopolitical sphere is fundamental to this argument. Its assumption is that nukes are terrifying and therefore they are terrible and everyone should get rid of them. They miss the point that that is the point of nukes: they’re fucking terrifying. They are so terrifying that no nation is willing to risk unleashing them on another. Frankly, they are an excellent example of creating peace through fear, and ultimately it is a sad indictment on humanity itself.
They are also a proven technology. The Trident system employed by the Royal Navy has undergone 161 successful tests with fewer than 10 confirmed failures. These tests have mostly been carried out by the US, which uses the same weapon system as the Royal Navy. The earliest ballistic missiles were the V2s, famously used in World War II to make life difficult for Londoners. Smart weapons really are a thing. Just look at any modern weapon system and it contains enough tech to fly a missile through a small window. If I’m honest I find that fact pretty sickening.
The National Security Strategy Document, published in 2010, does rate terrorism and cybercrime as the greatest threats to the UK. However, this can be simply explained by the fact that nukes counter the threat from aggressive nation states directly whereas cyber and terrorist attacks are a more complex issue to counter. They are, by their very nature, diverse and unpredictable, and often the measures that law enforcement say they require to combat them infringe our civil liberties to an uncomfortable degree, as revealed by Edward Snowden.
As for the argument that the USSR is gone and now everything is fine, please see North Korea, Russia or China for an example of an antagonistic nuclear state. Russia’s actions in Crimea, North Korea’s development of ever more potent nuclear weapons and China’s island claims in the South China Sea demonstrate just how volatile the international situation is. Although we do not face the ideological threat of the USSR in the same way as we once did, that does not mean we no longer require these weapons for a long term insurance policy.
Nuclear weapons are an excellent deterrent, albeit a horrifying one. They are used daily as one of the submarines patrols the oceans, preventing threats from nation state actors. Trident is not a fix-all weapons system: it could and should be made cheaper, it should be 100% reliable and it is a horrifying solution to the issue of war, but, in the main, it does work.
I do not support the current US administration’s proposal to expand the nuclear arsenal. A few nukes per nation is more than enough to scare the shit out of anyone with designs on them, and only an orange shit in a wig could possibly misunderstand this. Nuclear proliferation was a terrifying issue of the Cold War, culminating in the Cuban missile crisis. Let us hope that, ultimately, nuclear weapons will never be used, and those in power remain rational in their approach to international diplomacy.