By scrapping Trident, Britain could make a real difference to global non-proliferation effortsby Michael MccGwire / September 24, 2006 / Leave a comment
Published in September 2006 issue of Prospect Magazine
The exchange between Lewis Page and Rodric Braithwaite over the future of Britain’s nuclear deterrent proved disappointing, since neither party addressed the fundamental question of whether a nuclear capability continues to be in our wider interests.
Braithwaite considers the need for a British nuclear deterrent to be unproven, but he also believes that no political party will expose its electoral flank by renouncing our nuclear capability. Some form of replacement being inevitable, Braithwaite’s objective is to limit the damage to British national interests that stems from our nuclear thralldom to the US. He argues for cruise missiles, which are inherently flexible and would not depend on US technological support and political approval.
Lewis Page is a firm supporter of Trident replacement and believes that only ballistic missiles can provide a credible delivery system. He sees a nuclear deterrent as the all-purpose answer to an unpredictable future, but is weak on geostrategy and seems to believe that because a threat is conceivable it is therefore a live possibility.
No one doubts that dangers lie ahead, but it is virtually impossible to envisage plausible situations in which a British nuclear capability would have a role to play. Perhaps this is why the ministry of defence refused to give evidence to the defence select committee earlier this year, why the ministry’s nuclear planning staff dismiss planning scenarios as unimportant, and why successive ministers have refused to discuss possible contingencies, incorrectly asserting that uncertainty enhances deterrence.
Writing in the July issue of International Affairs, Michael Quinlan, former permanent under-secretary at the MoD, notes that the strategic case for a nuclear capability “rests primarily on long-term uncertainties rather than nearer-term probabilities.” He goes on to state, “Scarcely anyone would claim that the highly unspecific arguments sketched above would now…