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Yet Another Anon

But today it is difficult to envisage any situation in which city-killing weapons might be used in their full might. If Iran, say, were to employ a low-yield nuclear weapon and managed to kill 10,000 British soldiers in (say) Iraq, would we really consider responding by eliminating Tehran with a submarine-based city-killers, killing perhaps 200,000 people or more?
Yes, any nation attacks the UK mainland or uses nuclear weapons against British forces and the UK should aim to wipe them off the face of the earth - Russia, China and the US included, the best strategy is Total War and for that really the UK needs vastly more warheads and a hugely expanded missile launch capability far beyond anything the government is considering to introduce.

TomTom

We should have two platforms like every other Member of the Security Council.

AWE Aldermaston should not be privatised but retained as a British national asset.

MikeA

It will set the left wailing and hollering but what we really need is a mixed deterrent. Submarine based systems whilst costly are the best platform given their survivability but we need:
- to keep a Trident as a city killer system, this needs to be closely aligned with the US as we found to our very high cost the price of maintaining Polaris and can observe the cost to the French of maintaining their systems. So we need to upgrade the Subs and missiles to keep them viable
- these Trident missiles need to focus on their prime aim as a strategic deterrent
- we need a sub-strategic platform to deter enemies like Iran or North Korea, this could be achieved by arming our cruise missiles with low yield nuclear warheads, the design or which warheads if not the purchase is readily available from the US. It is a joke that we are using Trident is such a sub-strategic role, a joke only dictated by left-wing politics and a backlash that the government fears from the Labour party if they follow this approach.
- we could consider hardened air-launched nuclear weapons as the US is to threaten say Iranian command facilities but we lack any viable delivery platform such as the B-2.

englandism

"What form should Britain's nuclear deterrent take?", not "Should we have one?"

Putin’s increasingly belligerent Russia is conducting joint exercises with PR China. The same China that is attempting to supplant the USA in the Pacific.

Meanwhile, the developed West is telling the developing East that it must restrict the means of development in pursuit of the man made global warming agenda. The strategic threat is well and truly in place and growing and, therefore, we need strategic weapons but how independent is our strategic means of deterrence?

Is Trident II the weapons system of choice? Arguably, it cannot be deployed without the cooperation of the USA and definitely without the consent of the USA. Ergo, this is not an independent nuclear deterrent.
Are there independent alternatives? Air launched stand- off missiles and air and sea launched cruise missiles are an option but, again, the targeting and navigation depends upon US controlled assets.

"What form should Britain's nuclear deterrent take?", not "Should we have one?"

Britain does not have an independent nuclear deterrent so why pay the US for an upgrade to a US controlled asset? Should we be talking to France or should we just accept the US umbrella and spend those billions on conventional forces?

david

The UK no longer needs a deterrent as such, but it does need a nuclear option. The cruise missile offers much greater flexibility at much less cost. Able to be launched from land/sea/air it means the nuclear option could be spread over the three services, and adapted to changing circumstances.

The major objection is its speed in comparison to the ICBM, this is a valid criticism now, it will not be in 10/15 years. Hyper-sonic cruise will then be a reality, able to fly at 4000mph, if say launched from a submarine within a 1000 miles from the target 15 mins to contact,with either nuclear or conventional warhead.

The debate should be re-opened, before too much money is spent, money that could be used to refurbish the armed forces.

The Huntsman

There are two significant factors to consider which represent a change from the immediate post-Cold War scenario.

Firstly China is massively ramping up its military forces and modernising its nuclear capability. China must be assumed to have a city-killing capability. It is a Communist dictatorship which may at some point face serious internal strife which prompts it into some populist military adventure.

In addition China is an irredentist power with a huge appetite for energy, water and food to maintain its population.

As such China represents a probable threat for the remainder of this Century. For that reason alone, the UK having significant interests throughout the Far East, it seems wise to maintain a significant strategic city-killing capability. Given that they have so large a population, it may be that the threat of a massive nuclear strike may prove to be the only way to deter China from adventurism.

Russia is also back on the block. Russia was a threat to British interests long before the advent of Communism. They have recently shown themselves to be willing to use the energy weapon against a friendly power and there is every reason to believe that an Ally, Estonia, was the subject of a Russian cyber attack which damaged that nation's internet and its capabilities. The Russian military has of late been resuming some of the operations it conducted in the Cold War, such as probing UK and US defences with strategic bombers. Its adventures at the Pole demonstrate that it is willing to be highly proactive in defence of its perceived strategic interests which are contested by three fellow NATO members who also claim such interests.

Russia was defeated in the Cold War in part because it did not have the money to sustain the arms race which eventually bankrupted it and drove the Communists from power. Now it has a lot of oil and gas money flowing into its coffers, it having moved to seize control of its oil and gas production from various oligarchs and non-Russian companies. It has the cash and the inclination to rebuild and modernise its armed forces and has recently abrogated an arms limitation treaty. It is planning a Mediterranean Naval Base. Our relations with Russia are at their lowest since the Cold War.

Russia maintains a massive nuclear capability, including missiles which it says it is prepared to aim at Western Europe once more.

For these reasons we should maintain our city-killing capability.

But our nuclear capability should also be capable of dealing with the threat, no less terrible, of smaller nuclear or would-be nuclear powers, as well as also maintaining a battlefield nuclear capability.

Lest it be thought that the likes of Iran are so wacko that they will not respond to the nuclear deterrent, it may be worth pondering this from the 1980s which is said to have happened. At the same time as John McCarthy et al. were held hostage in Lebanon, an Iranian-backed militia grabbed a couple of Russian diplomats. The next day the Russian Ambassador in Teheran is said to have gone to see the Mad Mullahs. He took his writwatch off and dropped it on the floor. "If our diplomats are not back by midday tomorrow, this is your Holy City of Qum". Whereupon he stamped on the watch and ground it into little pieces, then turned on his heel and left without another word.

The Russian diplomats were back at the Russian compound well before the deadline, all clean and scrubbed, bearing the humble apologies of the militiamen for their unfortunate mistake.

MikeA

I want to address one point that recurs again and again, and I first heard it made by Tony Benn. That our Trident based nuclear deterrent is not independent, and cannot be deployed, as englandism says, without the cooperation and consent of the US.
Phooey!
In what way does the US preclude our use of Trident? How would this be technically possible?
Well the general argument (as englandism points to in his point about navigation of stand-off missiles) is about the US control of GPS. This is true. The US could turn it off at any moment at the cost of also massively degrading their military capabilities. If you assume that without GPS Trident and other weapon systems are expensive paperweights or museum pieces you do not understand the nature of modern weapons and the quadruple redundancy they deploy in their various systems. Trident and other navigational systems will function without GPS and are designed to work if GPS is jammed (as the Serbians successfully did) or destroyed.
If the GPS point is true, then the US also controls French nuclear weapons, which I find unlikely.
There a plenty of arguments against the UK's nuclear arms, but the "there not really independent are they" one is pretty weak.

Matt Wright

Don't need to overcomplicate this. A submarine is a mobile platform that is difficult to detect and can deploy various weapons to any part of the world quickly. Its about flexibility and without a range of military options (land, air and sea) bad decisions are made.

Matt

Rob D

Of course we used to have "sub-strategic weapons" in the shape of the WE177 bomb which couldd be carried by Tornado, Buccaneer and Sea Harrier jets. That would mean that we could "deter" all levels. Possible until George Robertson withdrew them from service.

Surely some Tomahawks could be given nuclear warheads, and some bombs/short range missiles deployed on the new carriers? That ought to provide some flexibility.

As you say, we might decide not to respond to a tactical nuclear attack with a nuclear weapon, but having the capability to do so is sensible-something short of a city-bust enhances our deterrence.

I do personally think we would not use nuclear weapons for anything short of a city-bust, so you could threaten less and not expect to be nuked.

englandism

Hi MikeA

The UK has not had an independent nuclear capability since the US-UK Mutual Defence Agreement (1958). Indeed, this is arguably in breach of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty because of the level of assistance provided by the US. I am not being anti-American in this but simply suggesting that Britain’s nuclear deterrent isn’t, actually.

The French keep sticking French stuff in space and this why the French nuclear deterrent is, actually.

Rob D

The British Forces in Germany have access to US 'battlefield' nukes if that helps.

Again, not independent capability.

Simon Newman

Our nuclear deterrent should be:

1. Independent - able to be used without the permission of another power such as the USA.

2. Not too expensive - no use crippling our conventional forces to pay for it.

3. "City-killing", which is to say capable of destroying the capital city of a state aggressor.

Our current system is actually way way more than "city killing" - a single Hiroshima type bomb is effectively a city-killer, Trident as it stands is capable of killing tens of millions, possibly more than we really need.

The mooted scenario where Iran kills 10,000 British troops doesn't make any sense - to do that they'd also be killing many tens of thousands of civilians in the area and of course the correct response would have to be to nuke Tehran.

Anyway the only way a nuclear-armed Iran could kill 10,000 British troops would be to nuke Britain, so this is academic. They could maybe kill a few thousand (without killing huge numbers of fellow Muslims) by attacking the main British base in Afghanistan, which as far as I know is not near any major population centres, but they'd have to be insane to do so. Even if a craven British govt somehow refused to respond in kind I'm sure the Americans would insist on doing so 'on our behalf' - our troops are acting as US auxiliaries so this would be seen in Washington as an attack on the USA. I fear that plenty of people in the US leadership would regard this as a dream come true.

"2) In the event that a conventional war was lost, it might be possible to deter conventional forces from over-running the UK by progressively eliminating Soviet cities until the conventional advance halted"

This also made no sense because it bears no relation to Soviet strategic doctrine, which was to use all their nuclear weapons immediately on the outbreak of general war (see eg 'Inside the Soviet Army' by Viktor Sukharov). Their systems were not designed for second-strike.

Even if they did not for some reason, the first nuke used against them would certainly have resulted in them using all of theirs.

Simon Newman

Mike 10:34:
"In what way does the US preclude our use of Trident? How would this be technically possible?"

Apparently the US needs to supply launch codes before Trident can actually be fired. If so, it's not really an independent deterrent since the US has a veto on its use. This is really stupid IMO since it raises the possibility of an aggressor attacking the UK and the US preventing a UK response for fear of attack on US, Andrew's #1 scenario above.

Re city-killers, a single nuclear Tomahawk cruise missile has a ca 500 kiloton payload, about ten times the Hiroshima bomb. To me, that's clearly a city-killer.

I think there is an argument that we could get rid of Trident MIRV ICBMS, replace it with nuclear-equipped cruise missiles, and save a lot of money. It's not about city-killing vs not-city-killing, it's the difference between being able to wipe out 16 enemy cities and 168 enemy cities. Which means, it's only relevant if you need the UK's nuclear detterent to be able single-handedly to deter Russia, China, Pakistan, North Korea and Iran *at the same time*.

Andrew Lilico

>"2) In the event that a conventional war was lost, it might be possible to deter conventional forces from over-running the UK by progressively eliminating Soviet cities until the conventional advance halted"

This also made no sense because it bears no relation to Soviet strategic doctrine<

In General Sir John Hackett's 1978 novel "The Third World War: August 1985", after they are defeated in the conventional phase of the war the Soviets attempt to force the West to negotiate by destroying Birmingham in a nuclear strike. At the time, this was believed to be a potential use of city-killing weapons.

Ken Stevens

I hadn't given more than a passing thought before to this topic, so I am grateful that the article and comments have crystallized me into acceptance that nuclear weaponry remains a necessary part of our armoury. Whether these should be city-busters or also include borough-busters (i.e. a warning shot on a localised area with threat of worse to come), I leave to more erudite minds.

However, any consideration of the subject cannot be divorced from the question of a US/British special relationship. We (the UK) seem to be in a state of flux at the moment - yah boo to both US and EU. That would indicate a truly independent capability. If we resurrect the special relationship then the umbrella option is viable. If we opt for EU, could we be sure of defence decisions being in UK's interest?

There is also the question of negative attitudes towards nuclear bases in Scotland, seemingly transcending Union v Independence lines, and SNP policy is to withdraw from NATO. Thus there would be the possibility of needing an alternative location for the Trident base at Faslane.

There, I knew I could wangle some swivel-eyed nuttery in somehow!

Simon Newman

Andrew:
"In General Sir John Hackett's 1978 novel "The Third World War: August 1985", after they are defeated in the conventional phase of the war the Soviets attempt to force the West to negotiate by destroying Birmingham in a nuclear strike. At the time, this was believed to be a potential use of city-killing weapons."

Hackett's work represented standard NATO doctrine of the time. Unfortunately NATO doctrine in the 1970s bore no resemblance to what the Soviets were actually planning, as explained by Sukharov (a Soviet army officer who defected to the west) and others. The failure was the common one of assuming that the enemy were just like us, with similar motivations.
It was also based on faulty intelligence - Soviet tank armies in the 1970s were much stronger than assessments based on dismal Arab performances in the various Arab-Israeli wars believed, and the chances of an initial Soviet conventional attack on western Europe being defeated through conventional means were tiny.

Overall, we seem to swing between two different and equally erroneous extremes:

1. That the enemy are just like us, with the same hopes, dreams and fears. We project ourselves onto them. This leads to errors like NATO's 'flexible response' doctrine that would have made sense if our enemies were liberal capitalist democracies.

2. That the enemy are totally alien, inhuman, unknowable. This leads to errors of the "They can't be deterred, so we must nuke them now!" type.

I've noticed that when it comes to the Middle East, neoconservatives especially seem to swing wildly between these two extremes, often in the same sentence.

Yet Another Anon

The UK should have a range of yields from 200kt up to 50Mt - an ability to use low yield weapons against troops and naval craft and high yield weapons as well that could take out an entire large city, a range to allow everything from a surgical nuclear strike to total annihilation.

david

I must say that when I read Hackett's book I took the Soviet's destruction of Birmingham as a peace overture,
'So you've destroyed Birmingham have you you commie bastards, no good trying to get on our good side, you've really upset us'

Dontmakemelaugh

"But today it is difficult to envisage any situation in which city-killing weapons might be used in their full might. If Iran, say, were to employ a low-yield nuclear weapon and managed to kill 10,000 British soldiers in (say) Iraq, would we really consider responding by eliminating Tehran with a submarine-based city-killers, killing perhaps 200,000 people or more?"

What would YOU suggest we do, Andrew should the above take place and large numbers of British troops be vapourised; what do you think we can do to deter Iran or any other enemy considering such action?

Andrew Lilico

Dontmakemelaugh@8:05pm

I would guess that the appropriate response in such a case would probably be an overwhelming and rapid conventional assault, aimed at removing Iran's ability to deploy further such weapons, taking over Iran and deposing its government as quickly as possible. However, there might be circumstances in which Iran appeared to have the means and the will to deploy a number of such weapons as we attacked, creating the risk of many tens of thousands of troop losses, and in which it seemed unlikely we could reliably knock out its deployment capabilities near the start of our assault. In such a case, sadly, we might be reduced to using a sub-strategic weapon, perhaps to kill just sufficient Iranians to cause the Iranian regime to collapse.

When one or other of these responses (or something else) would be most appropriate would depend very much on the precise political situation, the tactical situation, the available intelligence at the time, and the advice of the relevant technical experts.

What I can't imagine doing is dropping a city-killing weapon on a major Iranian city and killing perhaps a hundred times as many Iranians as the number of our own solider lost. And deterrence relies on that doubt - that being-able-to-imagine-it-happening. I feel confident that our city-killing weapons do not provide material deterrence for most of our enemies.

Simon Newman

Andrew, for god's sake I hope our generals and political leaders don't think like you do!

I'm reminded of the film "Independence Day", where the aliens are merrily vapourising America's cities, and the Clinton-esque President agonises over using one measly nuke against them. What really got me was that this was clearly the Hollywood-approved line, we were supposed to agree with him!

"I would guess that the appropriate response in such a case would probably be an overwhelming and rapid conventional assault, aimed at removing Iran's ability to deploy further such weapons, taking over Iran and deposing its government as quickly as possible"

I hate to tell you this, but Britain doesn't have the military capability to do this as things stand, never mind with a notional nuclear-equipped Iran dropping nukes on us. The real choice would be between nuclear retaliation and surrender.

Hopefully America's military preponderance makes such scenarios extremely unlikely, anyway. Britain has no strategic interests vulnerable to Iran and we're not going to get into a war with Iran unless it's under American leadership.

In fact now that we've given Hong Kong back to China, there's only one nuclear power we could conceivably get into a scrap with on our own account, and that's the one across the English channel. I don't think the French have any designs on dear old Blighty right now though - d'Estaing even said they'd let us leave the EU!

Rob D

Simon-re Red Army nuclear doctrine.

Victor Suvorov was a captain (or major). He certainly cites a lot of dubious material in "Icebreaker" about a planned Soviet assault on Nazi Germany just before Barbarossa. I really don't think he would have had any real access to nuclear doctrine-certainly from what he says about how compartmentalised the USSR's armed forces were.

A lot of his tone changes as he lived in the West longer-compare "The Liberators" (suggesting a hopelss Red Army-corrupt, bullying recruits and using rotten equipment) with the lean invading machine in "Inside The Red Army". Surely he was writing for his audience?

Brezhnev and his cronies knew that launching all their nuclear weapons on the first day of a war would surely provoke a massive response from the West. They were evil, but not daft. I have always found the allegations about "massive first use" by the Soviets to be questionable.

MDC

1) British nuclear warheads are already "scaleable", ie - you can select different yields, from "city killer" down to the sort of tactical yields he said we ought to wastefully build seperate launch platforms for at vast expense, and to the detriment of the strategic deterrent, which is already threadbare. You mention this in the article, yet still propose a worse system of achieving the same thing anyway [?].

2) "Generals" do not control the strategic "city killers", and the availability of weapons has nothing to do with morality - the fact that you have a weapon available doesn't mean you have to use it in an immoral manner just because you can. Obviously responding to a conventional attack with strategic nuclear annihilation would be immoral - that's why no one is saying we should use the system in this manner.

3) It doesn't matter that there is no current need to deter a strategic strike. Nuclear weapons have production times in the decades, and we have no means of predicting what will happen strategically over these timescales. Furthermore, not renewing the nuclear deterrent would basically mean giving it up forever, as it would be cripplingly expensive to rebuild the decades of industrial base we would have scrapped if we wanted to renew the deterrent in future.

4) "Additionally, there is the issue of submarines. Are submarines still the best transport system for British nuclear weapons?" Um, yes? Submarines are the only possible system that has global range and is completely immune to first strike. Why shouldn't we use submarines? No justification is given. I realise you werent necessarily arguing against submarines, but why throw out completely arbitrary polemic questions without even presenting a potential justification for returning an answer different to the status quo?

5) "It seems a shame that the public form of our debate about Britain's nuclear future has focused on an extreme for/against debate in which the "against position" The current system of deterrence we have has been determined to be the optimal system for the amount of money we are able to spend by military strategists. Asking uninformed policians and voters to debate this is about as helpful to the defence debate as asking voters and politicians to debate which type of drug should be used to treat leukaemia is to the health debate.

Simon Newman

Rob D:
"Victor Suvorov.."

Thanks, I wondered why a Google on Sukharov wasn't getting me any hits! :)

"...was a captain (or major). He certainly cites a lot of dubious material in "Icebreaker" about a planned Soviet assault on Nazi Germany just before Barbarossa. I really don't think he would have had any real access to nuclear doctrine-certainly from what he says about how compartmentalised the USSR's armed forces were."

He wouldn't have had access to secret top-level info. But what he said ties in with the general ethos of the post-Zukhov Red Army, very much a 'hammer blow' ethos, what in the US was called the Grant Doctrine. I've never seen any Soviet-side evidence that they ever contemplated anything resembling flexible response/limited nuclear war.

"A lot of his tone changes as he lived in the West longer-compare "The Liberators" (suggesting a hopelss Red Army-corrupt, bullying recruits and using rotten equipment) with the lean invading machine in "Inside The Red Army". Surely he was writing for his audience?"

I disagree - his depiction of the Red Army is much more nuanced than that, he talks a lot about the absurdities and inefficiences of their rigid target-lead culture, and AIR about how the strength of Soviet nuclear and air forces was deliberately inflated for western intelligence, but OTOH how the T72 (etc) tanks in Russian service were quite different and superior internally from those sold to the Arabs (including those used in the 1991 Gulf War by Saddam's Republican Guard). He might have been lying but I didn't see any general agenda to boost Soviet strength.

When I said BTW that the Warsaw Pact would have won a theoretical purely conventional war in Europe in the 1970s, I meant that sans any use of tactical nuclear artillery by NATO their tank armies could have swept through west Germany, the low countries and France; I don't think they had much capacity for a conventional conquest of Britain, and the USA's superior industrial capacity would likely have led to eventual Western victory. But anyway I don't think there was any chance that WW3 would not have gone nuclear immediately.

>>Brezhnev and his cronies knew that launching all their nuclear weapons on the first day of a war would surely provoke a massive response from the West. They were evil, but not daft. I have always found the allegations about "massive first use" by the Soviets to be questionable.<<

But gaming it through they'd have known they had nothing to gain and lots to use by gradual escalation - so the obvious answer (if you're a cold hearted bastard) is to use all your nukes right away.

Incidentally I think the Russians projected themselves onto NATO just as NATO projected their own thinking onto the Russians; and expected that if NATO attacked it would be with a massive all-out strike. This, combined with NATO's second-strike capability, helped ensure deterrence (though apparently the USSR close to launching in 1983).

Re Suvorov, if Suvorov was going to lie for political ends & self-aggrandisement I'd think he'd have done it to either confirm NATO's existing prejudices, or to add ammunition to Reagan's arms build-up; what he said rang true to me.

Simon Newman

Rob D:
"He certainly cites a lot of dubious material in "Icebreaker" about a planned Soviet assault on Nazi Germany just before Barbarossa."

Funnily enough I was just reading about that here:
http://www.jrnyquist.com/text/navrozov.html

I don't know how likely that is, obviously it goes against the official version of history, but the official version was influenced by the need to rehabilitate Stalin as a Western ally. From what we know of Stalin's opportunist nature I'd have expected that if Nazi Germany's 1940 attack on France had failed, reproducing WW1, Stalin might well have attacked a weakening Germany from the rear, but it seems unlikely to me he'd have risked attacking Germany in 1941 or 1942.

Simon Newman

MDC:
"Obviously responding to a conventional attack with strategic nuclear annihilation would be immoral - that's why no one is saying we should use the system in this manner."

Plenty of people - including me - would say we should be prepared to use nuclear weapons to prevent a conventional military conquest of the UK - the 'homeland' in current terminology. Not that I think that's a likely scenario in the near future, but I can think of a few scenarios that could arise in the next few decades.

The main thing nukes do is they prevent other countries from interfering in your internal affairs for non-existential reasons. Eg if non-nuclear Germany fell into civil war, other countries might well send 'peacekeepers', as in former Yugoslavia, no matter the wishes of the German government. If France fell into civil war, no one would be able to send troops there without permission of the French government/whoever controlled French nuclear forces.

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