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Thomas Byrne: There is no alternative to Trident

ByrneTom Thomas Byrne uses his first article for ConservativeHome to urge that Britain's Trident nuclear deterrent is properly replaced. He blogs here.

There is no alternative to Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles for the UK. Land based silos or mobile launchers (whether vehicle or rail based) are too easily fixed targets and we don't have sufficient land mass to ensure their security. Air launch is no more viable than it was when we abandoned it in favour of SLBMs. Some cite cruise missiles as a possible cheaper alternative. What they forget is that cruise missiles have a number of weaknesses: they have a shorter range (Trident: 7,000 miles; Tomahawk: 1,500 miles; Stormshadow 150 miles), reducing the deterrence factor unless you increase the number of launch platforms and position closer to possible targets (thus at greater risk of attack). They are also much slower and therefore at significantly more risk of being shot down (systems capable of doing so are widespread whereas Anti Ballistic Missile defences are very much in their infancy and easily overwhelmed). Since we require a guaranteed capability to strike the target, SLBM remain the best option for the UK.

One option suggested is to end continuous deterrence patrols and only sortie a submarine when a situation occurs. Some extreme proposals suggest we can do away with the capability altogether for the moment and re-acquire it when required. There are a number of flaws in this: first, it assumes that we will have sufficient warning; secondly it ignores how long it takes to develop these systems (the submarines for example take about 15 years, which is why the decision to replace the current class must be taken soon); thirdly, it ignores skillfade, not just in the dockyards but also among the submarine crew who have daily launch drills. Lastly, continuous patrols create ambiguity about our intentions - deploying a submarine in a moment of crisis, on the hand, may represent a clear escalation of the situation by the UK.

Trident remains the best defence for the UK. It's value lies in its deterrence and if we never have to use it, then it will have been worth every penny. Ultimately it only forms a small fraction of our nation's defence budget. Considering it is by far our greatest defensive tool, I think that cost is easily justified. In fact, I'd pay double! Triple, even!

We simply cannot take the risk of relying on our Allies to step in and help us. The nature of diplomatic relations is always changing and to scrap Trident leaves ourselves horribly vulnerable if our relations with other nations change. While it appears that we and the Americans will be best buddies for the forseeable future given our support for them in Iraq and Afghanistan, who is to say what will happen thirty or forty years down the line?

Perhaps it is wise to rememeber the Falklands conflict and the Americans reluctance to come out and publicly condemn the Argentinians for what they had done. Behind closed doors there was perhaps support for Thatcher and her response but we could have perhaps expected more from a nation which we have stood shoulder to shoulder with on many an occasion? While the example is slightly removed as is nothing to do with nuclear weapons, it illustrates the ever-morphing nature of international relations. The most important thing: trust other nations but trust yourself more.

These are the questions I pose to the Anti Trident camp.

  • Are we willing to lose the UNSC seat? There are plenty of states cueing up for a piece of the cake. If we lose Trident it will be very difficult to justify our position as a permanent member of the UNSC.
  • Are we the UK electorate willing to accept France as the only nuclear power in Western Europe? (An issue posed in the Trident white paper)
  • Are we willing to rely on Allies for future deterrence needs?


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