Trident - A Disastrous Decision

The decision of the House of Commons, on 14th March, to replace the Trident submarine fleet is quite possibly the worst decision it has taken in its long history.

In one fell swoop it has effectively abandoned the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), contributed enormously to the already restarted nuclear arms race, ensured that Iran will pursue its ambition to build nuclear weapons as will, now, no doubt many other non-nuclear countries, and condemned the world to at least another fifty years with the threat of global nuclear war hanging over us all.

All this in homage to the shibboleth of nuclear 'Deterrence' which was demonstrated not to work during the Cuban Missile crisis in 1962.  Robert McNamara, who was the American Secretary of Defence at that time, said "...we came within a hairbreadth of nuclear war..." and "It became very clear to me as a result of the Cuban Missile Crisis that the indefinite combination of human fallibility (which we can never get rid of) and nuclear weapons carries the very high probability of the destruction of nations"1.  Difficult to be clearer than that.  Arthur Schlesinger Jr., one of President Kennedy's aides, informed us that "this was not only the most dangerous moment of the Cold War. It was the most dangerous moment in human history"2.  Dean Acheson, who was an adviser to President Kennedy during the Crisis said "I wrote a note to President Kennedy congratulating him on his 'leadership, firmness, and judgement over the past touchy week'. It does not detract from the sincerity of this message to add that I also thought he had been phenomenally lucky"3.  President Kennedy himself said the chances of a nuclear war resulting from the crisis was "somewhere between 1 in 3 and fifty-fifty"4.  This is playing Russian Roulette with the future of the human race but with two or three bullets loaded in the revolver rather than one.

Deterrence is not the only reason we are given for the Trident decision.  Another is that it will give us 'status' in the world community. Ensure that we get a seat at the top table.

In effectively abandoning the NPT and (see below) the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty we are reneging on the promises we made to the citizens of the world. Since it is assumed that we will not use the Trident Arsenal in a first-use attack (it is designed to be able to discharge its full complement of weapons in ten minutes), we are demonstrating that we will make preparation to slaughter, if we decide it is necessary, a large proportion of the world's population (each nuclear submarine deploys an arsenal which could wipe out over 50 million people) as an act of revenge if we come under nuclear attack.  It is difficult to understand how all this can promote respect for Britain in other parts of the world and status which does not come from respect is of questionable value.

Then there is the 'jobs and skills' argument. This is the most bizarre of all. We are told that building nuclear Trident submarines creates jobs. The same argument is made for the arms trade generally. With an urgent need to tackle Global Warming could we not be building wind turbines and developing other sources of alternative energy instead of constructing killing machines?  It has even been claimed that if we do not continue to make these Armageddon machines we will loose the skills involved.  If these are skills that can only be deployed in manufacturing nuclear submarines their loss would be a great boon to mankind.  If they are skills that can be deployed in life-enhancing endeavours then let us re-deploy them to those ends.

It is generally acknowledged that Nuclear submarines are not a deterrent to the spread of terrorism and it is even admitted that there is no obvious present threat to our national security. This, rather surprisingly, brings us to a further reason given for building a new fleet of these weapons; namely that we cannot foresee the future, so we must work on the assumption that at some future date we will experience such a threat, and the only way it can be countered is having Trident.  QED.  This, of course, is an argument for everyone, always to have a fleet of Trident submarines.  It is the end of any chance of ever having world security and it is the triumph of acute collective paranoia.

The Trident escalation of the new arms race is particularly disastrous since there are now other destabilising elements, which did not exist during the Cold War.  Our close allies, the Americans, have stated a willingness to employ first-use strikes including nuclear weapons if they consider that a threat to their 'vital interests' warrants it. The Americans are researching and manufacturing 'battlefield' nuclear weapons.

At Aldermaston we are undertaking a vast rebuilding programme, with a view to constructing research and development laboratories for materials to be used in a new generation of nuclear weapons. We are building the Orion Laser facility and will install two supercomputers for the electronic development and testing of this new generation of weapons.  This not only contravenes the NPT but also contravenes the spirit of the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty since it is simply nuclear weapons testing by means (electronic simulation) other than the previous one of exploding the built weapons.

The Cuban Missile Crisis arose because the Americans installed missiles with nuclear warheads in Turkey and the Russians retaliated by commencing such installations in Cuba.  Our allies, the Americans, with it would seem UK government approval, is starting the Cold War process all over again by proposing to install missiles in Poland, or even Britain. This modified 'Star Wars' deployment of missiles is a further escalation of the new nuclear arms race in which Britain, with the Trident decision, is now an integral and disastrous part.

We are now plunging into a new, hugely dangerous, expensive and disastrous arms race when all our energies and wealth are needed to fight the real threat - Global Warming.

Jim McCluskey.

1 'Our Final Century', Martin Rees, William Heinemann, 2003, p27
2 'Our Final Century', Martin Rees, William Heinemann, 2003, p26
4 'Our Final Century', Martin Rees, William Heinemann, 2003, p26
(Note: Professor Martin Rees is Master of Trinity College,
Cambridge University)