The UK's policy on nuclear weapons was first formed during the Cold War, an archaic period in which global tensions and threats were pivoted on nuclear weapons capacity. In the context of global relations at this time it's understandable that nuclear weapons played a role in shaping Britain's defence policy, and the threat of actual use felt very real.
Now, more than 20 years on, Britain's nuclear weapons system is up for renewal. Yet our nuclear weapons policy seems stuck in the past. And no wonder: such policy has not yet been given the time of day - especially in the public domain - to be reassessed in relation to current international security and what actually threatens the UK today.
My view is that renewing Trident and maintaining a CASD (continuous at sea-deterrence) is not a policy Britain should be preserving. It's obsolete, not only wasting resources but upholding a defence policy that does not address the changes within a post-Cold-War world.
Terrorism constitutes one of the biggest security challenges we face today, says the government. Maintaining a CASD does not provide an adequate deterrence for such activity. Terrorists are not bound to a nation state, therefore they do not present a legitimate target for a nuclear warhead, rendering a nuclear deterrent and response redundant.
Recent research conducted by ComRes on behalf of WMD Awareness demonstrates this attitude among young people, with 47% of those surveyed being of the opinion that nuclear weapons do not protect Britain from modern threats such as terrorism or cyber warfare. It's also not an impossibility that such attacks could originate internally, with perpetrators harbouring in the UK or an allied territory. Where would this leave us if nuclear weapons remain our key deterrent? Insecure at best, incinerated at worst.
The likelihood of the UK engaging in actual use of nuclear weapons is extremely unlikely, if not verging on the impossible, and the government itself says they do not intend to use Trident. Knowing that the destructive capabilities of Trident are more than 1,000 times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945 increases this non-use probability. It would be extremely difficult for the government, as a rational liberal democracy, to find a situation other than a direct nuclear attack in which the use of our nuclear capabilities could be legitimised.
Many would rebuttal this argument that Britain's nuclear weapons policy is stuck in the Cold War with evidence that the development of weapons in hostile and untrustworthy states, such as the DPRK and Iran, require us to maintain a CASD, ensuring mutually assured destruction (MAD) is continued as a viable deterrence policy. However, such states are probably aware of the single opportunity to launch a nuclear missile before facing the principal of MAD becoming a battlefield reality. In any case, both these states have greater gripes with countries other than the UK and neither have a missile capacity expansive enough to target Britain.
A serious reconsideration of Trident's renewal and the removal of Britain's CASD in recognition of a changed security context is of great necessity. With regards to the Non-Proliferation Treaty Britain, and all other nuclear weapon state signatories, should be engaging in appropriate steps to disarmament. This would open a space to provide more legitimacy in hindering other states from weapons acquisition. Britain is presented with a unique opportunity to take the first steps to a leading role in this significant disarmament process. The first step is for us to talk openly about the issue and for government to realise that people care about the future of our nuclear weapons system.
Let's face it, what is a CASD good for? Absolutely nothing!
This blog represents the views of the writer, not necessarily of WMD Awareness. What do you think about Cristina's blog? Leave a comment or join in the debate on Twitter using #TalkingTrident
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