On July 19th the UK Parliament choose to renew the Trident Nuclear submarine program, which will see the manufacture of four replacement submarines at a cost of an estimated £31 billion. The House of Commons voted 472 to 117 in favour of the motion. The program sees one of the subs being operational at any giving time.
Many Corbyn supporters and elements of the Labour Party are opposed to the measure, but only a total of 47 voted against it and 140 for, with the remainder abstaining. Britain’s youngest MP, Mhairi Black, made a passionate argument against it. The main points were that we wouldn’t use the weapon first so we should not have it at all, that we could invest in renewable energy sectors instead, and the tier 1 threats faced by the UK are all ones that can’t be deterred by nuclear weapons (climate change and terrorism) so Trident is unnecessary. As Black summed up ‘What terrorist attacks have nuclear weapons protected us from?’
Like most young people, it is impossible to imagine when nuclear annihilation was a very real threat to human existence. At the height of the Cold War, the Soviet Bloc and the US came extremely close to full nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962. Since then, nuclear weapons have mainly severed as a deterrent. As a result of nuclear deterrence, and the theory of mutually assured destruction, we have largely seen peace between the major global powers. While the USSR and China had its hand in Vietnam War, and the US and China had its own in the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, they never came to major blows and their conflicts were relegated to proxy wars.
Today the main threat is international, mainly Islamic, terrorism and of course nuclear weapons can’t deter this. But what we have to remember is global politics constantly shifts and ridding ourself of our nuclear deterrent will neuter us on the international stage. One hundred years ago our main enemy was Germany and Turkey, one hundred years before this it was France and the United States. Today all these nations are our allies, but this can all change based on a regions politics. One day the nuclear power of France could once again become our adversary. It may sounds far-fetched but one only has to look at the history of the last two centuries to see how quickly geo-politics can shift. Europe is becoming increasingly divided, with the rise of far-right groups, and with our leaving of the EU, and we are increasingly distancing ourselves from our neighbours.
The Soviet Union was once our main adversary too and Russia still does pose a security threat to Europe. One only has to look at its actions in Crimea and Ukraine to see how it may be a destabilising force in the region. To have any sort of influence in negating the threat of Russia, in the UK’s own disputes, we need Trident. If we got rid of it, the simple fact that Russia has nuclear weapons in its arsenal would be enough to make us stand down. Would Russia use these weapons? Almost certainly not. But without our own nuclear weapon, deterrence does not work against a nuclear power, and we can’t always rely on the large arsenal of NATO. Despite this military union, member states don’t always see eye to eye, so Trident gives up the ability to act on our own.
This does not just apply to Russia. Countries like Pakistan, India, North Korea and Israel also have nuclear weapons. And again if dealing with these countries ever got difficult militarily, or otherwise, it would be very helpful in being able to match their nuclear capabilities. If arguments like Black’s about Trident apply to the UK surely she would also view the US in the same light? The largest threats they face are also climate change and terrorism. If the US somehow got rid of all their nuclear weapons tomorrow the world would shift irreversibly. North Korea would be free to act as they wished, and would probably take steps in invading South Korea. China could claim all the Asian islands that they have disputed for decades while also expanding their influence over much of the South Pacific.
It is not enough for one party or several to disarm their nuclear weapons. The simple fact that nearly every powerful country has one ensures that we also need one. If countries like ours began to get rid of nuclear weapons it would only incentivise countries like Russia, North Korea and China to act how they please. Nuclear weapons are one of the worlds great evils. It is horrible that we possess such an easy way to destroy humanity as we know it. But what they are good for is keeping the world in balance and ensuring the powerful countries don’t destroy each other and the Asian dictatorships cannot act how they want on the world stage. If we want our country to have a global presence, and the ability to stand up to any country who poses a threat to us, we need a nuclear deterrent. If we ever lose Trident in this nuclear world, and turn further inwards we face the prospect of a ‘Scandinavian-ised’ Britain, where we focus most of our efforts on improving our society but do little to help the world as a whole.