Gordon Brown’s announcement that Britain will replace only three of its four Trident submarines has reignited the nuclear weapons debate, with pro-disarmament campaigners seeing the moving as a step in the right direction but not far enough, while sources within the armed forces argue the cuts will compromise Britain’s naval capabilities. It is an apt moment to revisit Prospect archive pieces from either side of the debate.
In December 2005, defence expert Lewis Page argued that failing to replace Trident without international unilateral disarmament would amount to suicide, and presented a vision of a Trident-free Britain in the case of a future nuclear attack:
Regrettably, 20 years earlier Britain decided that it would not keep a nuclear arsenal. The last British Trident submarine was phased out in 2025. The prime minister has no button to press. The missiles fall, gutting the sceptred isle. The PM turns to the remaining western nuclear powers for help: America and France. But the aggressor nation still has missiles left, and it is clear that in the event of any retaliatory strike, Washington or Paris will share the fate of London. France declines to act. In America the debate is longer and harder fought, but in the end the result is the same. The US missile defence system still doesn’t work reliably, and the US is unwilling to lose cities purely to avenge the British. The attackers knew this would happen: this is why unarmed Britain was the target.
However two years later IPPR’s security analyst Ian Kearns described nuclear disarmament as “one of the great historic missions of any progressive government,” and argued that Britain also needed to prioritise decommisionig nuclear stockpiles across the globe:
Gordon Brown, far from giving Trident up for nothing, should use his status as the leader of a nuclear weapons state to invite the leaders of the other nuclear powers to exploratory talks on how best to kickstart multilateral nuclear disarmament and further build confidence in the existing non-proliferation regime. He should also commit more resources to the attempt to secure stockpiles of nuclear weapons and fissile material around the world. Though the government has committed £750m over ten years to this, this represents a tiny proportion of its security budget in this area, despite its crucial importance in reducing the threat of nuclear terrorism.
So does Gordon Brown need to do more to make the world a nuclear friendly place? Or has he simply undermined Britain’s naval strength while contributing little to international disarmament? Let us know your thoughts below.