|Royal Navy Vanguard-class submarine,|
carrying Trident missiles. Source: Defence Imagery
The Liberal Democrats talk about an alternative to Trident, but come off looking deservedly silly on the UK nuclear deterrent. I see 3 main reasons for this.
1. The reality of their defence policy of reviewing Trident is that it is not a defence policy at all. It has only existed as a political ploy, for satisfying a throng of leftish, Green-leaning middle-class pacifists.
That flock of dovish voters likely always sided with the old CND Cold War-era position. An additional aspect of the LibDems playing party politics with national security is their strategy of Trident opposition to mark them out from Labour and the Conservatives, both of which agree on Trident as a pillar of the country's security. Put simply, a defence and security issue ought to be addressed from a defence and security standpoint; anything less is a dishonest subversion.
2. Whining about it being twenty years since the Cold War came to a close is not an argument for scrapping all nukes. It is certainly an argument for what has happened: trimming to the minimum, on the basis that a world with fewer nukes pointing at each other is certainly a safer one, while old foes the Russians and US have moved to do the same.
The fact is: thirty years ago nobody expected the Soviet Union to collapse so suddenly. It happened, and the world changed dramatically in the decade between the collapse of the Berlin Wall and 9/11. It is still changing fast. The few rogue states with nukes (North Korea, perhaps Iran soon) are just the present problem. What would happen to Pakistan's arsenal if it becomes a failed state within a decade from now? That's just the start. How can you predict that there will be no need for the ultimate insurance policy in defence, still offered by nuclear deterrence, thirty or sixty years from now? What will the threats be? Nobody can know.
3. The LibDems seek to undermine Trident by dressing up the issue as some sort of compromise, on an issue that is by its nature uncompromising. Continuous at sea deterrence – delivered by the four Vanguard-class ballistic missile submarines, and in the future by their replacements – is already a highly efficient system, and the safest possible means of a credible deterrent.
As announced by the impartial independent review, which the LibDems were allowed to chair (but could not control its outcome), cutting one submarine would create a “part-time” deterrent (ie. no deterrent at all).
With four boats at present, one is always on operational patrol while three others train, refit, and undergo essential maintenance – with no room for a cut. In contrast, relying on aircraft or a land-based system is inherently less safe, and much more vulnerable to pre-emptive strikes (undermining the whole art of deterrence, you know).
On the other hand, developing a cruise-missile ‘fudge’ would (the review says) be more expensive, inevitably late in coming online, with a far slower speed and a much shorter-range than the global range and supersonic speed of the Trident-D5 missiles: not like for like at all, and nothing like it.
"Deterrence is the art of producing in the mind of the enemy
the FEAR to attack." - Strangelove.
PS. I didn't even touch on the UN Security Council status, diplomatic clout among the great powers (old and new). Any additional thoughts (or criticisms) very welcome as comments.