On 20th June 2016 the British submarine, HMS Vengeance launched a nuclear missile off the coast of Florida.It was aimed at Ascension Island in the southern Atlantic, but instead veered in the opposite direction toward the US. It was a test; it failed.
The Tories now face criticism from Labour as well as from the SNP and senior members of their own party for not making details of the test malfunction public before a vote on Trident’s renewal last year. Indeed, it took the Sunday Times to bring the incident to light just two weeks ago.
But there is a wider—more important but less remarked upon—issue at stake here. The UK leases all 65 Trident II D-5 missiles from the US, which is responsible for building and maintaining them.
A question naturally arises: how independent is the UK’s nuclear deterrent? It is a pressing one. The turn of the century has seen an increasing return to power politics. Dialogue is out; nationalism and “Might is Right” are in. Donald Trump has described NATO as “obsolete.” Vladimir Putin is turning his gaze west, making belligerent noises toward the Baltic States. Europe is entering a period of great instability.
Which makes the issue of Britain’s nuclear deterrent more relevant than ever. Trump has expressed repeated admiration for Putin, along with the hope that he can do what he claims to do best—make a deal with him. But any deal acceptable to Putin will almost certainly involve leaving him to act as he pleases within Russia’s “sphere of influence.” And any move against the NATO-member Baltic States would almost certainly lead to an invocation of the treaty’s Article 5: “Collective Defense,” which holds that “an attack against one Ally is considered as an attack against all Allies.”
With an isolationist President uninterested in European affairs, who, moreover, seems eager to placate Russia, the burden of defending Europe is likely to fall on its two most military capable powers: France and the UK. And for this a truly independent deterrent is critical.
The problem is: we don’t really have one. The UK builds the Vanguard submarines that carry Trident and its own nuclear warheads, but it uses American Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBMs), which are built and sent from the US. According to Simon Schofield, Acting Director of Human Security…