On Sunday, Defence Secretary Phillip Hammond announced a £1bn deal to develop new nuclear reactors to power the planned replacement for the Vanguard Class submarines, which currently carry the UK's Trident deterrent. The Liberal Democrats have advocated a cheaper, land-based alternative delivery system to Trident, while the Conservatives argue that the continuation of the current program would be the best option.
The Henry Jackson Society today weighed in on the issue with a report by Governance, Strategy and Terrorism Section Director Peter Cannon entitled The Necessity of Nuclear Deterrence. Cannon argues that the Trident system constitutes an "ultimate insurance policy" for the UK. Unilateral disarmament by the UK is profoundly unlikely to actually have any impact on encouraging other nuclear powers to disarm, or on dissuading those states currently seeking nuclear weapons from their quest, according to Cannon. Moreover, developing a new, land-based delivery system to replace Trident would be both more costly than maintaining the current platforms and would make the UK's warheads vulnerable to a preemptive strike, taking away the guaranteed second strike capability provided by continuous, at sea deterrence.
Click here to read the report.
1. Should the UK remain a nuclear weapon state?
Yes. The first responsibility of the British government is to protect its citizens. The UK's nuclear deterrent is the last line of defence against a nuclear attack. It provides a deterrent effect which no other military capability could match. Other nuclear powers are not considering giving up their nuclear weapons, countries such as Iran are seeking nuclear weapons and we cannot predict what threats may emerge in the future. The Trident nuclear deterrent system is the UK's ultimate insurance policy. The UK's nuclear deterrent is also recognised as part of the nuclear defence of NATO. For the capability which it offers, the UK's nuclear deterrent is good value for money.
2. If it should, is Trident renewal the only or best option that the UK can and should pursue?
Yes. Trident is a system which provides continuous at-sea deterrence. It is almost impossible for an enemy to pre-empt and it is always ready to respond to any attack on the UK. Trident is a fully sovereign British capability, not dependent on the US for targeting or firing or maintenance. This is a capability which is too important to share. 'Alternative' systems offer an inferior, not an improved capability. Land-based missiles are vulnerable to pre-emption. Cruise missiles are slower and fly lower than Trident ballistic missiles and would require a new missile and warhead to be designed. Any alternative system which ended the principle of continuous at-sea deterrence would leave the UK vulnerable to a pre-emptive strike and remove the guaranteed 'second strike' capability offered by Trident. This precludes reducing the number of Trident submarines.
3. What more can and should the UK do to more effectively promote global nuclear disarmament, non-proliferation and nuclear security?
Unilateral nuclear disarmament would immediately remove any influence the UK would have on global multilateral disarmament talks. A multilateral effort towards disarmament would almost certainly only be adhered to by responsible national governments, and certainly not by terrorist movements. The UK has already done more than its fair share of disarmament. Further disarmament by the UK is highly unlikely to inspire disarmament elsewhere or deter nuclear proliferation. The best thing which the UK could do to counter nuclear proliferation and promote nuclear security is to maintain a robust and uncompromising stance towards countries which are seeking to develop nuclear weapons in defiance of their international obligations.