Thursday, 15 March 2007

Why Trident is not required.

Yesterday with the assistance of the Opposition, the Government won the House of Commons vote to commence the design of a replacement Trident missile system. Ninety-five Labour members joined with the Liberal Party to vote against the motion.

I wish to thank Dowelld for the thoughtful and well presented comment posted on the “Greenpeace demonstrate against Trident renewal” blog. It has stimulated me to give more thought to the Trident missile system replacement argument.

Trident supports argue that the choice is: either replace the existing Trident system in 17 years time, or leave the UK vulnerable to nuclear attack by a rogue or unstable State. In the debate, other options have been ignored.

Why Trident? Trident was the replacement for the Polaris missile submarine-launched system. Why Polaris? At the height (or should it be depth) of the Cold War, both sides had over kill. Russia had sufficient intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) to wipe out the UK. Great Britain had its own missile system, however if Russia set off a pre-emptive strike it could wipe out all the British and USA missiles before they could be launched. So the West didn’t have an effective deterrent system - but neither did Russia.

It was thought, peace could only be maintained if the West had a deterrent - hence the development of a submarine launched system. The theory being, Russia wouldn’t set off a pre-emptive attack on the West, if it knew even if both the UK & USA were obliterated, a retaliatory attack would be launched from a fleet of nuclear submarines patrolling the World’s oceans.

The Strategic Arms Limitation Treaties (SALT 1&2) and the subsequent Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) resulted in the cap being placed on the number of warheads and ICBMs the signatories could deploy.

The case for upgrading the Trident system is said to be the need to main a nuclear capability as a deterrent against a yet to be identified rogue State(s). While the USA, Russia and China might not take steps to prevent a country developing a nuclear capability, it is virtually certain they would not allow any country to build up sufficient stocks that it would constitute a threat. Consequently the UK does not require a submarine based system, a land based deterrent system would be sufficient.

By far the largest proportion of the Trident system cost is required to build and maintain the submarine fleet. A land based system could be built and maintained for a fraction of the cost. The UK could have a truly independent nuclear deterrent system, to counter any threat from a rogue State. And the money saved could be used to update conventional weaponry and equipment.

Because a land based system could readily be designed and built using tried and tested technology, the decision to commence designing a system could be delayed until at least 2015, without compromising the safety of the UK.

Yet again the Ministry of Defence mandarins are planning to equip the British forces to fight the previous war, while leaving it ill-equipped to counter the present and future threats.


dowelld said...


Your argument has improved, and your reasoning is not far off the mark, but you have failed to account for somethings, like a non-nuclear attack against the UK with WMD that are not nuclear, or enemy infiltration to target retalitory capabliity.

A submarine fleet offers the best security for the UK, because it's not fixed, because it can hide, because the weapons can be stored on a secure platform with no means of entry. These reasons and more are why the submarine fleet is the the best option.

You have also not accounted for political thinking in your assesment, a politician is much more likely to issue a launch order, if he has any reason to believe that the weapon might be removed from his arsenal by some means.

It's the logic of use them or lose them, but hidden submarines do not suffer from this.

All in all not a bad assesment though, yes defence is expensive, but the alternatives are far more so.

Yes But said...

Hi Dowelld

Politicians tell us we have to have a deterrent against a "rogue State". A land based system will achieve this.

A submarine system was only required because the USSR had saturation capability that could obliterate all our cities and land based launch sites. No “Rogue State” will ever be allowed (by Russia, China, USA or UK) to build up such a capability. Therefore a Land based system will be adequate. The missiles would be launched from mobile launchers and could easily be guarded.

Yes a submarine fleet offers the best security for the UK, but at what price.

A Jaguar car is better than a Mini, but why buy a Jaguar and keep it in the garage just in case I might want to use a car to go on a short journey in forty years time!

Sorry I do not understand your thinking: “It's the logic of use them or lose them, but hidden submarines do not suffer from this“.


dowelld said...

Land based launchers are potentially subject to physical attack by special forces, this could be planned over months by infiltration before the event, and it doesn't matter how mobile you make them, because one soldier with one bullet can turn your missile into a worthless leaky fuel container, let alone what he could do with an anti tank weapon.

The logic of use them or lose them is that land based weapons would be vulnerable to attacks like I describe above, amongst other types of possible attacks. Any politician who has command of a land based deterent such as you suggest, would know that, he would be having to make decisions with the knowledge that as the situation escalates, he could at any time loose that land based "last resort" weapon, and this must be in his mind, because he has to have an answer for possible scenarios.

The risk of loosing control of the weapons and not having them as an option, is that he will issue launch orders before it is absolutely necessary for them to be issued. He will do this because he will know that the situation is deteriorating, and he will know that because his deterent is land based, the enemy will be out to specifically target is and disable it.

Missiles that are hidden deep below the waves are a damn sight harder for your enemy to find, let alone attack.

If you remove the possibility of loosing control of the weapons from his mind, then he has no worries about the option being available to him, should it be required, This means that he can issue orders when it suites him/her not when he is worried that if he doesn't use them then he might not be able to.

Yes But said...

Hi Dowelld

Thanks for explaining “use it or lose it”.

We need to look at a realistic scenario. Lets assume a rouge State has developed nuclear weapons and a rocket system to deliver them. Do you think the USA, Russia or China would allow it to deploy such a system?

Let’s assume they do nothing, and it deploys a land based system.

(I think you would agree it’s unlikely that potential rogue states would be able to afford or have the technology to build a submarine launch system).

Tension builds up between the Rogue State and the UK. There is a standoff. What are the options open to the UK?

A pre-emptive nuclear attack (uses them or lose them).
A pre-emptive conventional attack on their nuclear delivery system.

Unless we are confronting a madman I just cannot see it deteriorating past the standoff stage. If we are dealing with such a maniac, then his/her action wouldn’t be influenced by whether we have a land based or submarine based system.

And while we are spending £100 Billion on Trident, think of all the other risks we are exposed to because we have a poorly equipped arm.