AT SOME point in the next year or so, the government of the United Kingdom will have to make a final decision on whether or not to construct a new class of submarines with which to carry the Trident nuclear deterrent. It is worth emphasising that this proposed successor program is only concerned with replacement submarines, there are no plans in either the United Kingdom or the United States to change the actual Trident missile system itself.
It is my firm belief that this renewal should go ahead.
Britain has maintained a continuous-at-sea-deterrent (CASD) since April 1969. In that time there has not been a single day where there has not been a British nuclear armed submarine on patrol. The ultimate purpose of this deterrent is to prevent a serious attack on the United Kingdom, because the aggressor will know that no matter what they do to the UK mainland, the country will retain the ability to fire nuclear weapons as a response. Yet it is a controversial issue and many people have moral, legal and financial arguments against it. While these concerns are valid, I feel there’s a real need for the deterrent we have.
Firstly, the need for a deterrent capability may be more obvious in the future. This is a long term decision. Perhaps unilateral disarmament would have no consequences in the next five or ten years, but can anyone say we won’t need it several decades from now? Instead of making the decision based upon the next 24 days, weeks or months we should be looking at the next 24 years. These submarines are intended to have 30-year service lives commencing in the late 2020’s – can we say for certain we won’t need a nuclear deterrent in 2050? We should think very carefully before given up such a potent deterrent based upon our experiences of a few years intervening in the Middle East.
Secondly, the construction of four new submarines is required to sustain the submarine industrial base during the gap between the new Astute class conventional submarines and their own successors in a couple of decades. This is important: conventional submarines are one of the most valuable assets we have, and if we fail to maintain the submarine industrial base our ability to produce them in the future will be seriously harmed. This could be compensated for by expanding the conventional submarine program, but this is unlikely. In a world where ‘the West’ is having to do more with less, maintaining our qualitative advantage is hugely important for our security.
Thirdly, jobs and the economy. There are as many as 50,000 jobs that are in some way linked to Trident, the successor program and submarine construction. A majority of money spent goes into British manufacturing. Fourthly, it helps secure our international influence. If we disarmed it would be harder to justify our position as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. Fifthly, what would unilateral disarmament achieve? Some argue that it would set an example to the world, but this is nonsense. China, India, Pakistan, Russia, North Korea are all nuclear-armed states with no likelihood of disarming, we would only be weakening our position in the world.
The British nuclear deterrent is a key component of NATO’s nuclear umbrella. Trident is not just a mechanism for us to strut around feeling important, but it is a crucial aspect of providing security for the whole of the European continent. Trident is there as an ultimate guarantor of our independence and freedom, and I believe it is worth keeping. Or we could follow Jeremy Corbyn’s advice, and leave ourselves less secure and less influential in an uncertain world.