Why we need to scrap Trident

Trident is a waste of time and money. Its only real use is as a phallic symbol to wave across the English Channel and Atlantic.

Nuclear Weapons grew out of the Second World War, Nuclear strategy grew out of the Cold War. They are an expensive anachronism and I argue a militarily useless one at that.

Although never “just another weapon” the huge fear of Nuclear weapons we now sensibly have grew out of the Cold War and the prospects of an intentionally but unwanted global holocaust.

When the decision was taken to drop the Bomb on Hiroshima it was hoped to be something to hasten the capitulation of Japan. It was intended to wreck havoc and frighten the population and the administration into accepting surrender. However, the threat was of further bombings, such as that at Nagasaki, it was not of an existential crisis for the state and people of Japan, which is what a Nuclear strike today would imply.

The fact that they were then still not a normal weapon is evidenced by the fact that there really was a race between the Axis and the Allies to develop it; they knew it bestows a huge strategic advantage. However, the dropping of the second bomb on Nagasaki illustrates not that Truman was genocidal maniac, but that Nuclear Weapons did not inspire the horror they now do.

Nuclear Weapons have got more powerful but the tactics of Nuclear warfare have also moved on from World War Two.

A little historical detail is important in deciding on whether or not the UK needs and should have an independent Nuclear Deterrent. In the 1950s it was thought that Nuclear Weapons could be used in tactical nuclear strikes, or limited nuclear war. This meant only attacking military sites and avoiding major population areas.

For example, during the Cuban Missile crisis it was suggested that Nuclear Weapons could be used against a non-Cuban and faraway Soviet ship. This would show that the US wasn’t afraid to use nuclear weapons but wasn’t aiming at civilians.

This never happened as Kennedy say that it would likely escalate and kill most of those living in the developed world. However, it wasn’t Kennedy that formalised this doctrine, but Eisenhower many years ago who had to silence the baying of his Generals to make use of America’s nuclear advantage.

What Eisenhower saw was that any nuclear strike was bound to escalate as your opponent could never be sure it was just a tactical strike. He made it clear that any nuclear strike would blot out the sun over eastern europe and would be total rather than limited.

A lot of American Generals lambasted him for cutting off the tactics available to the US but cutting off tactics was exactly what Eisenhower wanted. He wanted to make Nuclear war as unthinkable as possible because he knew the options were either no nuclear war or no human race.

This was reaffirmed under Kennedy during various Soviet induced crises when he was advised to attempt various “tactical” nuclear strikes. He did not, and a good thing too. As it is clear from Soviet records and tactics they almost certainly would have overreacted and started WWIII and killed everyone.

The bulk of the Cold War years saw two military behemoths, armed to the teeth, hold fire and (mostly) preserve peace. This was because there was no chance for geopolitical intrigue as only two players mattered. There would be no shift in the balance of power if all the world supported the US against the USSR. On top of this there the new nuclear doctrine implying total nuclear war helped keep the peace. By making war unthinkable, it made peace possible, as I’ve discussed before with reference to North Korea.

What I’m trying to say is that I cannot possibly see a use for Trident or any Nuclear Deterrent as we will never be one side of two-way a stand off as the US or USSR were. Likewise, we will never and can never use nuclear weapons tactically against a nuclear state.

The only remaining option is nuking a non-nuclear state during a period of conventional warfare. This is the only remaining military option and it is one that I would back under no conceivable circumstance. This refers not just to Trident but also to the Lib Dems platitudinous replacement.

Labour have murdered before, but at least they can plausibly say it was a mistake even if they can’t say sorry. But could they do it with eyes wide open?

If our leaders are prepared to murder millions then they should come out and say so. This is the only option remaining and all talk of “long term strategic interest” is poppycock.

This originally appeared as a comment at the blog of John Q Publican, who is thankfully blogging again after an all too long absence.


16 thoughts on “Why we need to scrap Trident

  1. “Not that Roosevelt was genocidal maniac, but that Nuclear Weapons did not inspire the horror they now do.
    Harry Truman ordered the bombing

  2. @Adam – on the grounds that Roosevelt was dead at the time the decision had to be taken, of course.
    Can you explain what
    “the threat was of further bombings, such as that at Nagasaki, it was not of an existential crisis for the state and people of Japan, which is what a Nuclear strike today would imply.”
    actually means, please?

    1. Again, late night flowery writing. I though this was accessible!

      Basically a second bombing in the 1940s represented a huge threat, but not to the whole of Japanese society or the state. It was possible to recover from in a reasonable time frame.

      A Nuclear campaign against a country now would likely eradicate its people, culture, and government by the shear weight of destructive power unleashed. It would be almost impossible to recover from in a reasonable time frame.

  3. Future threats may arise from unexpected quarters.

    Israel, for example, is widely believed to be equipping its German-built submarines with nuclear-armed cruise missiles.

    We possess several hundred atomic warheads and rockets and can launch them at targets in all directions, perhaps even at Rome. Most European capitals are targets for our air force. Let me quote General Moshe Dayan: “Israel must be like a mad dog, too dangerous to bother.” I consider it all hopeless at this point. We shall have to try to prevent things from coming to that, if at all possible. Our armed forces, however, are not the thirtieth strongest in the world, but rather the second or third. We have the capability to take the world down with us. And I can assure you that that will happen before Israel goes under.’

    Israeli historian Martin van Creveld, cited in the Guardian.


    India has also launched its first SSBN.

    1. But what nuclear military tactics could we engage with against a nuclear Israel or India intent on war?

      There can be no limited nuclear war, so the only options are a genocide or a stand off when nuclear armed states face one another. I’d like to eliminate the genocide option.

      This wouldn’t necessarily leave us more vulnerable, the US can bully states around but its nuclear arsenal is rarely mentioned.

      Nuclear blackmail is unlikely to work because any state engaged in it would end up economically crippled by sanctions but without any clear target to attack to restore trade and wealth.

      What Israel is doing is what Eisenhower did 50 years ago, making war unthinkable. Its a good idea in a nuclear world.

  4. A single Trident missile carries more than enough megatonnage to turn Israel into a sheet of glass. They know this and so are unlikely to attack us even in ‘mad dog’ mode.

    1. That will be of little solace to me if London and its environs are a smouldering crater.

      A Nuclear Standoff like the cold war worked for a couple of reasons. The world was bipolar, only two powers mattered, and total annihilation was guaranteed for both.

      With modern warfare between nuclear states the latter point still holds to all intents and purposes. But the former would not, so any nuclear politicking or brinkmanship is now infinitely more dangerous.

      1. The whole point of Trident is to preclude the possibility of London becoming a smoking crater.

        Unilateral nuclear disarmament would be sheer criminal folly at a time when we are entering an Age of Shortages in which regional and perhaps global resource conflicts are inevitable.

        The best possible strategy for Britain in such an environment would be to enter into a Mutual Assistance Pact with the other European nuclear powers, effectively a reprise of the 1950s MAD deterrent that you appear to favour. It’s uncertain what new power blocs and alignments may be thrown up later in the century, and it is important that we have the means to frighten off any potential aggressor, even China. Or the United States.

        There is no nuclear brinksmanship involved, but rather the public display of a very large and powerful stick.

        1. Although it would be easy to dismiss you as a war monger, having looked at international relations I guess you’re more of a realist.

          However, I don’t think a multipolar world with nuclear weapons will be as safe as a bipolar world with nuclear weapons. It is inherently more unstable and far more dangerous.

          I also don’t think threatening states with a nuclear weapon will be conduce to economic growth, it will surely result in sanctions – exacerbating any shortages which may or may not develop.

          I’m far less sanguine than you about the scale of shortages which are going to face us. For example, if we can get African agricultural production to anything close to that of the west then food shortages won’t be a problem. Solar power is getting cheaper at a phenomenal rate and other technologies are going to be able to help our reduce our dependence on oil.

          Economic growth will continue, even if it will be less energy intensive than before. Far more of our wealth comes from human ingenuity than fossil fuels.

          1. I think you meant more sanguine, but anyway:

            Re Africa: according to the UN’s ‘medium variant’ projection the population of Africa will more than double between 2007 and 2050, and this during a period when climate change will present additional challenges for agricultural production in the inter-tropic zone. Africa will be hard-pressed to increase its productivity enough to feed its own population, let alone becoma a major food source for the RoW.

            Your claim about solar power becoming cheaper at a ‘phenomenal rate’ doesn’t appear to be borne by the street-price of solar panels. which has barely changed in the last five years.


            But then you’re a corncucopian and I’m a neo-malthusian. We’re not about to change each others’ mind on this.

          2. See this on solar panels.


            I think we may have to agree to disagree on this shortage thing. I still think we’ll be able to increase productivity further. Population projections are always difficult to analyse, for example there’s projections and predictions and I predict Africa will become more like the rest of the world than merely continue as it has so far – I think projecting past trends is will give unlikely population figures.

            There’s lots of room to improve agricultural efficiency through lots of the world as well as Africa. I don’t think food is where bottlenecks will develop. Energy is a more likely culprit.

          3. Well here’s where the solar is in the real world, outside of the financial models of the pundits.


            $4 per watt and up, about where it was five years ago. Chinese manufacturing costs often have little relationship to market prices in the west.

            As for food and energy, that’s what food is in modern intensive agriculture. It consists of petroleum converted into edible form. Without petroleum there are no feedstocks for artificial fertilisers and no motive power to drive the machinery.

            See ‘Eating Fossil Fuels’


  5. To some extent it is possible to simply say that we should abandon nuclear weapons altogether – the question then is what would you do about the UK’s geopolitical standing would remain?

    Some would say that it would be better to subsume ourselves more in the EU and ensure that the EU’s status is greater than it is – and that the UK’s influence would be enhanced by its position within the EU. My difficulty with this view is that the EU is not a state and in no sense can it properly be described as accountable to the people of the UK and so democratic – there is simply no demos for the EU.

    Part of the difficulty with simply abandoning nuclear weapons is that our status as a leading world power is quite closely associated with our status as a recognised nuclear power – so, for example, while Germany is undoubtedly significant in economic matters, it simply doesn’t have the diplomatic or international clout of the UK or France in other spheres.

    Additionally, just when states such as Iran and North Korea are either arming themselves or seeking to arm themselves with nuclear weapons and when there is already one nuclear state that is in grave danger of descending into that status that is commonly referred to as a ‘failed state’ and with all the uncertainties that exist in the world, I don’t think that it is sensible for us to announce and then disarm ourselves. Add to that the real pressure that is building as a result of overpopulation and diminishing resources and there are real risks in our future that will require strength and resolve to overcome.

    You are right, the thought of using long range nuclear weapons is almost beyond imagining – but simply having the biggest stick that there is means that our enemies (and we should not be naive in thinking that we can simply talk people out of being our enemies) would and do think twice before attacking our interests – and these are global as well as national.

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