by Jamie McKay
This year the UK makes the final decisions regarding the replacement of the Trident Nuclear Programme. In 2007 MPs backed the renewal of Trident by 409 to 61 votes, but in 2010 the coalition government delayed the decision on whether to press ahead with the programme and how many submarines to order until later this year. Work on the replacement programme cannot be delayed any further however; the Navy’s new submarines alone will take 17 years to build.
The Conservative manifesto for last year’s election pledged to replace Trident and David Cameron has reiterated the importance of the UK maintaining its nuclear deterrent. Labour’s official policy has been to support Trident but under Corbyn’s leadership this stance could change. Cardiff students may have noticed flyers for an anti-Trident march in London on the 19th. 64 years after Britain became the third nation to join the nuclear club, are we on our way out?
With the current debate around Britain’s nuclear deterrent the BBC aired a documentary, World War Three: Inside the War Room. The show followed a committee of senior former British Diplomats and Military figures as a hypothetical crisis unfolded in the Baltic states.
The premise behind the exercise will seem familiar to those who’ve been following the crisis in Ukraine; Russian minorities protest and eventually claim to have founded their own states. Before too long, “little green men” (the term used for those “pro-Russian separatists” who happen to carry the latest Russian special weaponry) appear in these rebellious regions. Matters escalate further as British soldiers are deployed under Article 5 of NATO, which considers an attack on one, as an attack on all and calls on member states to come to the aid of nations under threat. The documentary concludes with Russia using tactical nuclear weapons against NATO fleets and America retaliating with its own tactical nuclear weapons. Immediately after hearing this news, the committee are asked to vote on whether to instruct Trident commanders to return fire if Britain is destroyed by Russian ICBMs. Two thirds of the committee voted against a retaliatory strike.
Having already raised controversy with a scenario that seems all too real amid events in Ukraine and other former Soviet satellite states, the show raised questions to do with the UK’s nuclear deterrent. Critics stated that the programme is an item for the Cold war era; although the deterrent seemed to have served its stated purpose well. On Newsnight the former Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Radoslaw Sikorski, referred to seeing declassified plans showing planned Soviet strikes against Germany, Denmark and Holland but not the nuclear-armed states of France and Britain. In a previous discussion Caroline Lucas, the Green party’s sole MP, argued that Britain should follow the example of South Africa and Brazil, nations who previously owned nuclear weapons but agreed to give them up. This did not escape Sikorski, who brought up another nation who agreed to dismantle its nuclear stockpile, Ukraine.
Previously in control of the third largest Nuclear stockpile in the world, Ukraine gave up control of these weapons in exchange for guarantees from Russia that it would respect their territorial integrity. At a time when Putin’s Russia seems increasingly aggressive, often threatening NATO members in the Baltics and Scandinavia, now does not seem the time for Britain to disarm.