The Saturday debate: Does Britain need nuclear weapons?

Here’s your starter for ten in our Saturday slot where we throw up an idea or thought for debate…

One of the achievements of the Liberal Democrats in Coalition Government so far has been to ensure that no Trident replacement is orders during this Parliament. At the next election the party will be able to say, “We said we opposed Labour and Tory plans for replacing Trident – and those plans haven’t happened”. But is that going far enough; should Britain retain nuclear weapons at all – and if not, when and how should it give them up?

Agree? Disagree? Post your comments below…

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47 Comments

  • Simon McGrath 22nd Jan '11 - 9:45am

    Holding nuclear weapons at the UN? Are you mad? You would trust them?!

  • Can Lib Dems really claim credit for this? I know that Nick has tried, but the Tories have publicly stated that it was purely a monetary decision – not one influenced by any party politics.

    As to the question – yes. Britain needs nuclear weapons. To claim otherwise shows a staggering lack of foresight and incredible ignorance of World political threats.

  • I’d prefer not to have them, but a policy of junking them unilaterally is one of those examples where idealism clashes with reality. Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons: those who really think that a British Government getting rid of ours would impress Iranians and change their plans are both daft and naive. Managed reductions across the board are, however, realistic and welcome. As Einsteen almost remarked, we can’t uninvent fission, so it’s consequences will always be with us.

  • Better Anon ! 22nd Jan '11 - 12:01pm

    What would be the result of any country using Nuclear Weapons ? It would be far worse than 1945. How many hundreds of thousands (millions ?) of deaths ? How many more deformed or struck down with terminal medical conditions ? What would be the effect on those yet to be born ? What would be the extent of the poisoning or devastation (and resulting starvation) on food growing areas ? How would a nuclear explosion affect global warming ? etc, etc.
    Nuclear Weapons are completely immoral. As an abolitionist I can’t condone any UK development of Trident or Trident replacement. We can lead and at the same time engage all other countries in continuing debate to reduce and, finally, outlaw Nuclear Weapons.

  • Do we need them? That kind of depends on your view of the threats. Realistically as Britain stands there are only 2 serious nuclear threats or potential threats, Russia and Iran. And to be blunt, Iran’s probably a few years off putting a nuclear tipped Shahab on London. And they’d already have hit Tel Aviv anyway. As for Russia, they’re still having serious issues with their military and it’s dubious as to whether most of their nuclear arsenal has been well enough maintained since the fall of the Soviet Union. Also, what would Russia gain by nuking a NATO member like us? It isn’t the Cold War anymore, there’s just no rationale for it.

    That having been said, it’s not always the best call to be unilateralists and because of that I’d say that Britain could probably do away with CASD and perhaps even step away from a missile system like Trident to something smaller without, in the shorter term threatening our nuclear deterrence capacity for a lower level of future running costs. This does however carry the risk that in the event of a nuclear conflict becoming more likely with a serious power with a serious nuclear arsenal (something Iran will never have), we’d be left unable to effectively deter a major power. At any rate, the Israeli nukes will deter Iran’s and Russia doesn’t advantage itself by risking a first strike (it never did in the Cold War either), so it’s a 50/50 call on whether or not you want to take the risk of dropping nuclear weapons anyway.

  • LibDems delude themselves if they think Cameron isn’t going ahead with a like for like Trident replacement.

    Read the link below and see what is actually happening – Cameron is quite happy to sit back and let the LibDems trumpet their policy achievement on Trident but Cameron knows when it goes ahead it will become yet another LibDem lie or breaking of a promise in the public perception.

    I begin to depair as to whetherLibDems are capable of wakening up and opening their eyes and seeing how the Tories are running rings round them.

    Trident is going ahead and hundreds of thousands of pounds are currently being spent on the Trident planning process which is well underway. Cameron was able to throw the LibDems a bone for their autumn conference about not authorising the replacement in this parliament for the simple reason that the planning continues and with the long lead times inherent in such a huge contract then the announcement date means nothing in reality.

    http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/13957

    It’s business as usual at the MOD – by the time the LibDems have woken up it will be cheaper to build Trident than scrap the programme – that’s how it has always worked in defgence procurement and that’s how it will continue despite Cameron mouth music.

    His aim it to look after his defence contractor chums and the shareholders and LibDem policies count for nothing.

  • Leviticus18_23 22nd Jan '11 - 1:17pm

    There’s no need for the UK to have them. We don’t and can’t deter anything.

    It’s a hang over from the past.

    Still, I guess success on postponing the Trident issue stops people from noticing ‘rejecting a new generation of nuclear power stations’ which has become ‘lets have 10 new nuclear power stations’.

    U-turns. A daily occurrence…

  • paul barker 22nd Jan '11 - 2:20pm

    To answer the question – No, obviously. But most UK voters think we do so some sort of Nuclear Arsenal will be with us for decades, what we should be doing is pushing for more Talks on mutual disarmament.
    In particular we need talks centring on the 3 second-rank Nuclear Powers – The UK, France & China. Both Russia & The USA have made substantial cuts in their weapons, its time to move the process along to the next level.

  • The decision for Britain retains our own “Nuclear Deterrent” will always be an American decision (being the main NATO member). The decision will never be taken unilaterally by any UK government (and I would suspect this to be true of a majority Lib Dem government should that scenario ever become a reality).

    The Americans would not allow itself to be the sole “Nuclear” stick in NATO and American public opinion would certainly question American involvement of NATO or alliance of any sort with Europe. Isolationism would creep back into American foreign policy with serious ramifications particularly for the UK . Lest we forget, without American involvement in both world wars Britain would not be the country we know today.

    Anybody who entertains the thought that any UK political party has the decision to scrap our “Nukes” be they Trident or any other delivery system is a reality denier.

    Personally I would like to see Trident stropped from a costs viewpoint but in truth realise that this will never happen. Ever…

  • No, simply don’t replace Trident.

    A Nuclear Weapons Convention – already supported by most of the world’s countries and population – is also important and is in LD policy.

  • @Paul Barker

    I don’t really see any country or group of countries – and that includes the USA – telling China that it can’t have nuclear weapons.

    I also don’t see much in the way of real reduction while we have India, Pakistan, North Korea, Iran and Israel most probably with useable nuclear weapons capability – although not sure about delivery systems – although most would be using nukes more likely at a regional level rather than intercontinental

    @bhainart

    I think you have forgotten the French nuclear deterrent which does affect the equation and despite French moves I really can’t see Cameron doing a joint-deal with them.

  • You can’t uninvent nuclear weapons. And that being the case, we will need to have some deterrent. Probably for the first time, I agree with Andrew Tennnant. A trans-national nuclear deterrent would be the safest way to go, but the chances of that are slim. That being the case, a minimal national nuclear deterrent is the best we can get, right now.

  • We can’t uninvent them but we don’t need to update them, just maintain the functionality of those we have. There is far more damage being done to innocent civilians in the world atm by landmines and conventional weapons and we’ve been unable to stop their illegitimate use. Nuclear weapons are the legacy of the cold war where millions were pumped into an arms race between superpowers when certainly one of those powers should have been concentrating on the welfare of its citizens….

    The main thing that prevent use of nuclear weapons is, of course MAD. If an idiot decides to use them then the return of fire even by old nuclear weapons will have terrible consequences. No-brainer, really but then some people may be in this category…….

  • Darren Reynolds 22nd Jan '11 - 5:38pm

    No, Britain does not need nuclear weapons.

  • richard heathcote 22nd Jan '11 - 6:24pm

    i dont think anything will stop it being renewed its been pushed back a year or 2 for conveniance. i think if we didnt have the financial issues we have now it would be full steam ahead with it to be honest. I really dont beleive this should be banded about as a great success because i dont really feel anything has been acheived it was postponed for political hype and for financial reasons.

  • Some have said we can’t ‘uninvent’ nuclear weapons. But we’ve had conventions on biological and chemical weapons that have led to the dismantling of those capabilities and destruction of the materials. It’s a good job that those saying “the UK must accept that this is now a world with chemical weapons, and therefore retain its chemical weapons” didn’t prevail.

    A similar convention is needed for nuclear weapons, with intense monitoring and gradual reductions, alongside even greater oversight of all fissile material. Hopefully Labour can reverse their opposition to such a convention. In fact, such efforts towards nuclear disarmament are a (controversial) requirement under the non-proliferation treaty.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_weapons_convention

  • Balancing realism and idealism, I’d be ecstatic to see a significant reduction in our nuclear firepower over the next decade. I don’t know how many warheads we have at the moment but I’d like to see a 10-30% reduction.

  • Simon McGrath 22nd Jan '11 - 8:01pm

    @Caron ” To stockpile a weapon whose sole purpose is to kill thousands of innocent people is absolutely wrong for me”
    But any weapon can kill thousands of people. The genocide in Rwanda was done with machetes.
    @rich ” I don’t know how many warheads we have at the moment but I’d like to see a 10-30% reduction.”
    Brilliant.

  • Paul McKeown 22nd Jan '11 - 8:05pm

    I would suggest that the expenditure and the moral questions posed are of such magnitude that the issue should really be put to the British electors by referendum, perhaps in 2014, towards the end of this Parliament. That would settle the issue for a generation.

    If the Lib Dems wish to influence the scope and cost of the British nuclear deterrent as the present SLBM system is up for renewal, then they should ensure that all the main decisions are taken in this current Parliament. They may, after all, not be in government again during the next Parliament or the one after that.

    I am sure that the current deterrent could be reduced in size and capability without in any real sense compromising our national security. I would suggest that the ideal person to ensure that all the right questions were answered properly is Ming Campbell, even if the idea of him working with Liam Fox, for example, might seem a bit strange at first.

  • Paul McKeown 22nd Jan '11 - 8:08pm

    @Rich
    “I don’t know how many warheads we have at the moment but I’d like to see a 10-30% reduction.”

    The operational stockpile of nuclear warheads will be reduced from less than 160 to fewer than 120; while the overall nuclear stockpile will be reduced from no more than 225 to no more than 180 by the mid 2020s. This decision has been considered part of UK’s commitment toward disarmament, a position put forward at the NPT review Conference in May 2010.

    http://www.parliament.uk/briefingpapers/commons/lib/research/briefings/snia-05757.pdf

    It is probably fair to say that the LD presence in government helped William Hague, Liam Fox and David Cameron to make that choice.

  • @Adam

    I have to say that it’s not surprising that most countries support a Nuclear Weapons Convention – that’s because they don’t have them.

    I also think there is a difference between dismantling a nuclear weapons capability and a biological one. It could take years to get even a rudimentary nuclear bomb up and running unless a secret infrastucture was maintained.

    But a biological one could be done in weeks/months. So we ain’t comparing like with like by saying we’ve done away with biological so we could do away with nuclear. It’s all about reaction time to a changing threat.

  • The UK’s nuclear deterrent is allegedly independent, ie sovereign. I don’t know when this was last truly the case (the 1950s?) but it certainly isn’t so now.

    Actually this is a good thing, just in case we ever got a PM mad enough to push the button in defiance of US wishes. For this reason I voted for Clegg as party leader, having previously favoured Huhne, because the latter suggested in leadership debates that the UK should consider copying the dangerous, destabilising, French route of true independence.

    If the so-called UK deterrent is needed as part of the (comparatively) sane world’s defence against the outright insanities of certain political / religious nutcases – so be it. If this isn’t the case, let’s scrap the British nukes.

    I’m not sure nuclear disarmament would be a major vote loser today. We’re not in 1983.

  • I recommend the following article about the cost-ineffectiveness of Britain’s defence spending, particularly our nuclear weapons”.
    http://guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/nov/05/does-britain-need-the-military-army-navy-raf

    “Let’s start with the threat of a nuclear missile landing on Britain. I have seen no analysis of how this might emerge from the existing international order, and certainly no explanation of how nuclear deterrence might apply in any specific case. In the barely conceivable eventuality of Iran or some such hostile state building a bomb, buying a missile capable of reaching Britain and then firing it, the act would be so lunatic as to be beyond any plausible deterrence. You cannot deter a suicidal nation any more than you can a suicidal bomber. Small wonder defence chiefs wanted their nuclear missile reclassified as “political”.
    As for using this precious weapon to deter a conventional attack, that is surely no less fanciful. Britain’s possession of nuclear missiles has had no deterrent value in any of the dozen wars it has fought in half a century. Did we threaten Argentina with it? No. Yet time and again military strategists refer to it as a useful “reserve capability”. When a soldier resorts to abstract nouns you know he has lost the argument.
    As for the threat of a conventional attack on the British Isles by another state, we can only ask, who? The threat is so negligible as to be insignificant. It is like insuring one’s house for billions of pounds against an asteroid attack. Is the attack to come from Russia, or France, or Germany, or Ireland? Defence pundits to whom I put this crucial question look down their noses, as if it were impertinent or undergraduate. They murmur that one can never know.”

  • Rebekah Gronowski 23rd Jan '11 - 8:24am

    Please, everyone, look at all the recent reports on the United Nations Association website from the UN, NATO and the MoD!

    We don’t need nuclear weapons and never have done.

    Please go to our page on Lib Dem ACT – Lib Dem action group “Say No To Trident” (SNTT membership of 260) – we instigated the debate at the Autumn Conference last year, although other took the credit for it. No matter – please look at the latest news and see why Maingate 2016 is worthless.

    http://act.libdems.org.uk/group/saynototrident/forum/topics/main-gate-2016-is-worthless

    We also have a page on Facebook which you could look at – membership of 1,554 –

    http://www.causes.com/causes/492971

    The latest news out of the MoD is extremely worrying. Whilst there is a treaty fo the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, every member state is also a member of NATO which is firmly committed to retaining nuclear capabilities. This, in my view, is a complete nonsense.

    The total cost of continuing to retain Trident alone will be upwards of £108 million over the next few years. Do the maths – we don’t need nuclear weapons, we need Health Services, Education, Jobs and a properly-organised Transport System and infrastructure!

    It isn’t “rocket science” but it IS nuclear nonsense!!

  • The days of MAD are thankfully over. I was a serviceman during the latter stages of the cold war and remember well living in the days when a series of unfortunate events could have led to the anihilation of the entire planet.

    There is though a debate regarding some type of deterrent that needs to be had, in public, led by Government. Unfortunately I don’t see any party doing so at the moment. If the result of that is to keep some type of Nuclear weapon then it does not need to be trident.

    If we assume that a cruise missle launched, single warhead variant is enough to deter any but the most mad (who could not be deterred anyway), then we have submarines capable of launching these simplified weapons. We could therfore have a deterrent without the need for intercontinental balistic multiple warhead weapon systems and the incredibly expensive platforms needed to launch them. The result a saving of billions and a massive reduction in our arsenal.

    The actual case for deterrant has moved and the public need to be informed through intelligent debate. This will allow the country to take a position on this to move forwards.

    Putting off the decision on Trident is a start, but it is only in the long grass and the Tories, who Clegg seems joined at the hip to, will never drop it completely.

    As for keeping them at a non national level. Show me an international body that has any teeth and a vaguley efficient structure then it could be considered. But the EU, Nato and the UN are not currently fit for purpose without extending their role….

  • Opinion polls have consistently shown over several years that a majority of the British public are against the UK keeping its nuc;ear weapons. It’s only out of touch politicians who mistakenly think that nuclear weapons gives the UK international prestige. Now that the true extent of the cuts in public spending is being felt, and people are beginning to realise the sacrifices that we are having to make to pay for nuclear weapons, any party which says in its manifesto that it will scrap them is shooting at an open goal.

    However, Mark, I don’t agree with your statement that “One of the achievements of the Liberal Democrats in Coalition Government so far has been to ensure that no Trident replacement is ordered during this Parliament”. Research published this week by Greenpeace shows beyond question that large sums will be spent on advance orders for the proposed new submarines between now and the 2015 election, meaning that the next government may find it inherits a fait accompli where so much has been spent already that it is virtually impossible to halt the project – much as Labour did with the two new aircraft carriers. So there is no room for complacency and every reason to redouble efforts to keep Trident on the political agenda.

  • David Allen 23rd Jan '11 - 1:30pm

    Everybody should read Ecojon’s link:

    http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/13957

    which demonstrates that the Coalition intends to make a firm commitment to Trident long before the next election!

    The so-called “Main Gate” decision, which the Coalition have so artfully repositioned to just after the 2015 election, is actually just an interim hold point within the course of the procurement contract. This sort of thing is standard in any large engineering project, and gives the customer the right to walk away at limited cost if, for example, the technical performance of the supplier in the intial stage has proved to be unsatisfactory. But at least £1 billion will already have been spent, by the present government, before the 2015 election!

    So, what we’re seeing is another piece of Lib Dem spin, with the special defining characteristics we have come to associate with Lib Dem spin – it is beautifully designed to self-destruct and hurt the spinner. By 2015, it will become abundantly clear that we have misrepresented the Trident decision, and we have effectively agreed to go ahead. If we campaign in 2015 to drop the project, we will be ridiculed for having agreed to waste £1 billion on something we now want to scrap!

    Given that the Tories have essentially got their way and renewed Trident, we would do ourselves less harm if we admitted the fact. All we have got is a minor concession, largely window dressing, with minimal real significance.

    Just imagine what Balls and co will be able to say in 2015. “Remember the LDs lying to you about tuition fees back in 2010? Well, now they’re doing it again about Trident. They’ve wasted a billion in public funds just to keep up the pretence that they support the disarmament lobby, while actually signing the cheques for new nuclear weapons! Throw these third-party liars, wasters and incompetents out of government, and let the grown-ups take over again!”

  • @Steve Way

    The Cruise missile is a cheap alternative to Trident. But it is really only effective against a low-tech aggressor and I don’t think that we could ever morally accept using nuclear weapons against such an enemy.

    There are some key facts about nuclear weapon deterrence and that is that the warhead works and that it can be delivered. That is the problem with Cruise – it is a highly vulnerable delivery system compared to Trident and more easily dealt with by a high-tech enemy.

    At the end of the day the public have to decide whether we should have a nuclear deterrent or not – the argument shouldn’t be about cost-savings for cheaper systems. If we decide to have one then it has to be highly efficient at killing millions of people if need be and devastating huge tracts of enemy territory and really cost isn’t much of a factor. Hopefully deterence would remain the key benefit if that’s how the public voted but one can never fully guard against a rogue state led by a nutcase which happens all too often.

    I just wonder where we’ll be in say 15 years time if China decided to deal with Islamic based terrorism by neutron bombing the whole of the middle east to leave functional oil facilities in place but only dead or dying people. A flight of fancy, perhaps, but if I was Iran – given the history of Russia, USA and Britain in the area, I think I would want my own nuclear deterrent.

  • @EcoJon

    “I just wonder where we’ll be in say 15 years time if China decided to deal with Islamic based terrorism by neutron bombing the whole of the middle east to leave functional oil facilities in place but only dead or dying people. A flight of fancy, perhaps, but if I was Iran – given the history of Russia, USA and Britain in the area, I think I would want my own nuclear deterrent.”

    I cannot think of a more ridiculous scenario as the one you illustrate above. China will more likely strengthen economic ties with the Middle East thus ensuring a supply of oil. Should China ever even consider military action of the type you describe this would certainly result in WWIII, Russia would probably be the first to respond too if only out of fear of being the next target in respect of the vast Russian oilfields (a strategic resource that was an important target for the Nazis in WWII and derailed at Stalingrad). Do not underestimate the capability or resolve of Russia to defend itself.

    Iran has yet to develop a Nuclear capability and more importantly proven to have done so as regards nuclear weapons capabilities. Iran if it ever develops this capability will almost certainly find itself at war and that could also mean nuclear war. The outlook for all of us does not look appealing unless a deal can be brokered for clear transparency for Iran’s nuclear programme. Israel will not stand for an Iranian nuke…

    It is widely accepted that Israel has nuclear weapons (although Israel has consistently remained tight lipped on the subject). The views of the Iranian government regarding Israel have been widely reported and understood to be serious for the whole future of the Middle East. Israel as a country cannot afford to let Iran develop a nuclear capability and I think that this one issue will be the one that defines nuclear planning for the US/UK.

    During Operation Desert Storm it was widely assumed amongst troops that if Saddam had used chemical weapons against coalition forces the US would have turned Baghdad into glass using tactical nukes. We will all never know thank god but US is the only power to have actually used nukes. The US is still the country most likely to be prepared to use them too IMHO.

    Back to Trident.

    “There are some key facts about nuclear weapon deterrence and that is that the warhead works and that it can be delivered. That is the problem with Cruise – it is a highly vulnerable delivery system compared to Trident and more easily dealt with by a high-tech enemy.”

    Absolutely spot on. The other important consideration is that the “subs” location is unknown and therefore nigh on impossible to take out. The other point is that several hundreds of metres under the sea provides the best protection for “button pushers” and negates the option of a pre-emptive nuclear strike by your enemy. The name of the game is “mutually assured destruction”. This is the deterrent part of the deal.

    I do not think that at the present time we can afford to replace Trident without harming the conventional forces the UK has (Defence cuts I think back my argument up). The UK has to think about our role in the 21 century and I personally feel that a strong conventional capability the more likely military scenario we will realistically face as a country.

    If we ever face being the target of a nuclear attack having or not having nukes will be meaningless anyway.

  • Well, the answer to Mark’s question is a two parter. First, no, because what threats there are to us are not best answeredwith nuclear weapons. If you believe “rogue states” and ‘terrorists” are the main threats, then nuclear weapons are not the way to deal with them. Clearly attacks by other nuclear states could not and should not be anticipated. Those who say “nuclear weapons cannot be uninvented” are I think wrong in the sense that as long as a monitoring regime is operated properly, they could not be redeveloped industrially.

    I have always taken the view that the only reasons we have EVER had nuclear weapons (NOT deterrent, it has never deterred anything!) are power political, first to assure ourselves of being taken more seriously than we would otherwise be internationally, second to tell the Americans that we are in a small way, sharing the financing of the larger western deterrent. I think (tongue only slightly in cheek here) that we will only disarm after a bilateral agreement with France. But probably as disarmament talks between US and China and Russia go a bit further.

  • Well, if you mean that Britain and France were not included because they had nuclear weapons, the writer in the Grauniad seems not to have drawn that conclusion, and one assumes that with NATO nations being hit, the NATO members with nuclear weapons (and poss France as well) would have hit back anyway? What was your conclusion?

  • @Tim13
    @Jedibeeftrix

    On the issue as to why we had nuclear weapons in the first place.

    You have to remember the real fears about Germany beating us to a nuclear weapon in WWII – that is where the original drive came from and that was driven by fear of being wiped out as Hitler would have used them without doubt.

    Then when the US had the bomb they wanted a real live-firing test just to see what it could do. I’ve never accepted that it was to save troop casulaties taking the home Japanese islands. Then of course we had to catch-up as we weren’t prepared to leave the US as the sole major world power – seems not too much has changed in our thinking lol.

    @bhainart

    The rationale behind what I said about China and middle east really centres on the unbelievable Chinese expansion in Africa and how that might impact with the muslim groupings that exist there and close-by. As I said, a flight of fancy – but I’m sure someone somewhere will be doing situation papers on it.

    As to Russia – I’ve travelled and lived in Russia and was amazed at its physical size. I genuinely believe that the US and us could have fired all our missiles at it and it would have survived albeit badly damaged in the cities. In the country and the villages you were almost in the stone age – and at that level you can continue and resist whereas the US and UK would have been utterly destroyed in an all-out nuclear war IMHO.

    But Russia is changing – the villages and large bits of the country are collapsing. They might have some usable nukes but I’m not sure they can keep them going.

    And the sailors in their submarine fleet are riddled with leukaemia – the boats leak radiation both externally and into crew areas. So I don’t know how long they can continue. There was always inefficiency in Russia and corruption especially in rigging targets but now nothing can happen without greasing the Mafia or ‘new businessmen’ as they prefer to be known.

    But knowing Russians a little I don’t write them off as they love their Motherland and are very very proud and have historically demonstrated a capacity for sacrifice that few other peoples have.

    But we have a new generation there as well out to get ahead personally and society is no longer the pull it used to be.

    I remember watching a demonstration in Red Square by a few hundred aging Communists many proudly wearing their WW11 medals – women as well – and a huge stage was being erected for a pop concert being held within a few days and the noise of that drowned out the Communist rally. I thought then that it was a real sign of the dichotomy that exists in the country as materialism grows and the old ways disappear. Those at the rally were looking at the huge posters going up and were obviously confused and I felt they must have been thinking about their sacrifices and for what?

    Btw I know just enough about Russia to know I know nothing about Russia – these are just ramblings and not meant to be anything really.

  • @Ecojon & @bhainart

    “There are some key facts about nuclear weapon deterrence and that is that the warhead works and that it can be delivered. That is the problem with Cruise – it is a highly vulnerable delivery system compared to Trident and more easily dealt with by a high-tech enemy.”

    “Absolutely spot on. The other important consideration is that the “subs” location is unknown and therefore nigh on impossible to take out. The other point is that several hundreds of metres under the sea provides the best protection for “button pushers” and negates the option of a pre-emptive nuclear strike by your enemy. The name of the game is “mutually assured destruction”. This is the deterrent part of the deal”

    Firstly, newer Cruise missles are not highly vulnerable. They are supersonic, highly manouverable and less vulnerable to the detection and countermeasures that have been, and are being, developed for ICBM’s. Their flight plans can take into account SAM batteries and other dangers.

    They can also be fired from submarines, the US and UK did so during both Gulf conflicts. Threfore the detection issue of the platform is equal to a larger submarine and it would be multi purpose. Cruise missiles can support interchangeable warheads. This would aid the “deterrent” effect (and I would reserve judgement until a proper debate is had as to the effectiveness of that) as an “enemy” would never know the location and crucially the release to impact staus of our arsenal.

    As to whether we would ever use them on a high tech Country. I doubt whether the Russians or China would ever instigate action against us. It would be the likes of Iran or Isreal we would seek to deter from using them. Remember the deterrant effect is met if even one missile reaches a major city or it does not work at all. If you believe Iran would use it’s own nuclear weapons even if it were to lose Tehran or Isreal would use them even were it to lose Jerusalem then they are no deterrant at all.

    The real threat of actual use is from India and Pakistan and we are not part of that arms race and our weapons will not affect one iota whether or not theirs are used.

    These are the issues that need full Government led public debate. At this stage I tend to prefer larger, better equiped, conventional forces.

  • @Steve Way

    The whole point of Trident is common to all low orbit missiles, they are practically impossible to defend against . Guaranteed delivery and note I say delivery. The possibility that it won’t go bang when it gets there is a whole different discussion.

    From a strategic point of view a cruise nuclear deterrent is a non starter and would in fact be quite easy to shoot down as the cruise missile is relying on known SAM sites/air defence systems so could not avoid all AA measures, especially mobile AA assets. As far as I am aware the US has “mothballed” all cruise nukes for the foreseeable future and concentrated on conventional cruise missiles.

    Cruise missiles are also hugely expensive as conventional weapons and are only really for use on targets of high strategic value. Add nuclear capability to them and you may just as well stick with Trident as regards overall costs. Whilst I see why you raised the question of cruise missiles I think that the fact the US has mothballed cruise nukes illustrates the costs/benefits equation with such a system.

    I agree that conventional forces should be the main priority and the more high tech those forces can be the better.
    Having served myself I could easily think of military savings to the tune of millions whilst retaining conventional capabilities for the defence of the UK. Britain should look at her priorities for the conventional battlefield with a strong bias towards defence.

  • @bhainart

    Agree with everything you said probably but I no longer know what the ‘conventional battlefield’ is and therefore will a ‘strong bias’ towards defence work?

    Our attackers often have little love of conventional battlefields and therefore defence against attack – especially in terrorist situations – becomes so much harder and that’s when we end-up in difficult areas like control-orders.

    Big problem about overseas theatres is the nightmare I have about decreasing UK troop numbers and just being overwhelmed by numbers attacking as sometimes even vastly superior fire-power can’t hold the line especially when air-cover is cut and there’s no aircraft carriers to give immediate support to ground forces.

  • Paul McKeown 29th Jan '11 - 1:58am

    Whether the UK retains a nuclear deterrent and whatever form that should take, I would suggest that there is one point that the Liberal Democrats should push for, namely that the UK should sign up to the General Assembly Resolution 53/77 Operative Paragraph 17, which only the UK – not the USA, not France, not Russia, not China – opposed in 1998 (http://www.undemocracy.com/generalassembly_53/meeting_79#pg027-bk02).

    Resolution 53/77 Operative Paragraph 17:

    17. Calls for the conclusion of an internationally binding instrument to effectively assure non-nuclear-weapon States parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons against the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons;

    It seems inconceivable that Britain would threaten any non-nuclear state with the use of nuclear weapons, given that Britain’s nuclear weapons are for deterrence only.

    William Hague committed the government to reviewing the national declaratory position last year and indeed stated that the UK would not use its nuclear arms against a non-nuclear state that was not in material breach of the NPT, so it must surely be a case of pushing against an open door to ask for British participation in an internationally binding instrument as per the resolution of 1998.

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