Trident: not as future-proof as our politicians like to pretend

The UK’s possession of nuclear weapons is often justified in terms of uncertainty about the future. However, developments at home and abroad may one day make the UK’s Trident weapons system politically (and legally) impossible.

The UK’s possession of nuclear weapons is often justified in terms of uncertainty about the future. However, developments at home and abroad may one day make the UK’s Trident weapons system politically (and legally) impossible

Over the years, governments have defended plans to replace the ageing Trident weapons system by reference to unspecified future threats.

In the foreword to a 2006 White Paper advocating the principle of Trident replacement, Tony Blair wrote:

“We believe that an independent British nuclear deterrent is an essential part of our insurance against the uncertainties and risks of the future.”

Similarly, in an interview with the Daily Mail, David Cameron said:

“How can anyone be confident that the global security environment will not change in the next 10 years? This is not the time to be letting our guard down.”

Despite these appeals to vagueness, the continuation and replacement of Trident is likely to face challenge on at least two fronts.

Firstly, Scotland does not seem to like nuclear weapons. The latest British Social Attitudes report shows at least the balance of opinion in Scotland is opposed to UK nukes. Plans to replace Trident, which assume its basing at a facility on the estuary of the River Clyde, will continue to be politically contentious in Scotland and may be impossible to accomplish in the event of another independence referendum (in, say, 10 to 20 years).

Secondly, many non-weapon states are impatient with our phallic exhibitionism. Last week, over 155 states released a statement expressing their ‘deep concern’ about the ‘the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons’.

These states are being encouraged by a group of NGOs, such as the ICRC, ICAN and Article 36, whom believe a treaty (similar to the cluster munitions ban) could be developed to outlaw nuclear weapons. Such a move would be tricky for the UK: a ban would not require the acquiescence of the nuclear-armed states but would have diplomatic, legal and political effects on them.

Despite its commitment to Trident replacement, Labour’s National Policy Forum (NPF) appears to acknowledge the possibility and even value of such change in International Humanitarian Law. In its latest (and last pre-election) report, the NPF stated that Labour:

“… recognises the success of past international bans on weapons of mass destruction such as landmines, cluster munitions, chemical and biological weapons. The Non-Proliferation Treaty Conference 2015 will be a key moment for a Labour Government to show leadership in achieving progress on global disarmament and anti-proliferation measures.”

These developments imply Trident or its successor will face challenge. The future, it seems, is uncertain.

9 Responses to “Trident: not as future-proof as our politicians like to pretend”

  1. Leon Wolfeson

    Great, so let’s get UNSC reform done so we can look at nuclear disarmament!
    In that order.

  2. Julia

    “A country of Foodbanks defended by nukes”
    Labour should be ashamed of their support for the Trident replacement.

  3. seydlitz

    it is not independant the missiles are serviced by the U.S.,the submarines rely on U.S technology and need U S permission to be used.

  4. Tim Mann

    Leon Wolfeson – Yes! Then we can look Iran, Israel, et al in the face with, for once in our lives, the moral high hand!

  5. Guest

    Er..
    No.

    See, there treaties which ban making and testing nuclear weapons. Countries chose to be a party to those treaties.

    Iran is a party to them.
    Israel is not.

    There is a massive, massive difference.

  6. Guest

    No, you should be ashamed for falling for the Tory line of refusal to invest in Britain’s future.

  7. Tim Mann

    A fair cop, Leon. I stand corrected.

  8. iamlegend

    In the current political world stage a ban is highly unlikely to happen, and that’s a shame.

  9. Poseiden

    Reading the article that has been produced by a young
    person who realises that some 71 years ago a World War ended. This war was
    supposed to be the war to end all wars. Unfortunately, our politicians (of
    various political persuasions) have interfered in other Countries political
    problems.

    We should have kept our political ideas for these
    countries to ourselves. Interference in matter that does not concern us can
    only lead to conflict.

    On the stance of whether nuclear defence is required as a
    deterrent against attack on the United Kingdom. I am from the old school, and
    while my opinion may or may not be in line with today’s youngsters. However, I am of the opinion that I would
    rather enter the arena with both arms free, rather than one arm tied behind
    me.

    Reading What Andrew’s believes as given me something to
    dwell on do we need to spend all those billions on creating a greater
    destructive device. When the current version is a deterrent.

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