The issue of a nuclear deterrent is undoubtedly a hot one in British politics, with both Labour and the Conservatives pledging to maintain the UK’s current stock and Plaid Cymru, the SNP and the Green Party pledging to scrap it. Amongst young people there is a growing consensus on the side of the latter with a ComRes poll from last year showing that over 50% of those aged 18-35 believe the UK’s current nuclear weapons system, Trident, should be scrapped or reduced in size and capacity. 73% of Scots aged 16-24 said the same in a recent poll. Such a move could prove to be a disaster for a number of reasons.
In 1992, Francis Fukuyama an American political scientist, infamously declared the ‘End of History’ writing that “what we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War… but the end of history as such… the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.” Let it be said the ‘End of History is over.’ The £100 billion that Trident will cost to renew could undoubtedly be spent on far more worthy causes, but this would be to ignore the existence of despots, of men such as Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-Un. Although the recent steps taken towards reaching a comprehensive agreement on the Iranian nuclear programme are welcome, this does not eliminate Iran as a threat, it merely delays it for 10 years. This brings up the first reason to retain Trident: the only way to effectively insure against future nuclear rivals is to ensure a high-quality, well-maintained nuclear deterrent in the present.
Britain still retains an important role in attempts to bring about a better global system
It is at this point worth noting that if the UK were in fact to scrap Trident (currently its only means to potentially deliver nuclear weapons) it would be the only permanent member of the UN Security Council to not possess nuclear weapons. The implications of such a move is not something to be taken lightly. Britain was able to stand up to the Soviet Union and thus play a crucial role in bringing about the end of the Cold War as well as currently playing an integral part in negotiations with Iran precisely because this nuclear capability gave this otherwise small and potentially unimportant island, floating off continental Europe, a trump card. Britain still retains an important role in attempts to bring about a better global system and nuclear capabilities are vital in the pursuit of this aim.
If these preliminary points have failed to convince then recognition of the undeniable threat of Putin’s Russia surely must. With annexation of the Crimea, Putin has shown clear disregard for Ukraine’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity – something that Russia guaranteed in the Budapest Memorandum of 1994 in return for which, ironically, Ukraine gave up all its nuclear weapons it had previously inherited. Mr Putin has shown complete disregard for his own people, content to see the Russian economy plunged into crisis in return for the slither of land that is the Crimea. He has shown similar disregard in Georgia and there is little reason why he may not one day do the same in the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Except, perhaps, because of their respective membership of NATO – article five enshrines the principle that “an attack against one… shall be considered an attack against them all.” As a member of NATO and, more importantly as a European member of NATO, this principle therefore applies and it is vital as a result that we maintain a nuclear deterrent.
Trident may not necessarily be the only way to defend this country, but it is by far the best.
And of course, the threat to the UK is not limited to Russia or Iran. North Korea possesses limited nuclear capabilities. Pakistan, a highly unstable country with significant elements of radical Islam, has nuclear weapons. Trident may not necessarily be the only way to defend this country, but it is by far the best. The remarkable overall stability during the Cold War can be accredited not only to the existence of nuclear weapons on both sides but the second-strike capabilities that were adopted by both sides. This meant that no one side in the conflict could launch a huge, devastating pre-emptive strike against the other with the goal of knocking out their nuclear arsenal and rendering them unable to respond. Having an armed submarine in the waters at all times gives Britain this crucial second-strike capability.
The world is no less dangerous than it was during the height of the Cold War. Except it is less predictable. Old threats such as Russia remain, while new ones have emerged – for example ISIS and Boko Haram. Even waning threats such as, Iran should not give too much cause for comfort. Nuclear disarmament is a noble goal and one we should – on a global level – strive towards. The unembellished fact remains, that the best and perhaps only way to ensure Britain’s national security is the replacement of Trident, and not to unilaterally scrap it. The SNP is committed to removing this, despite Scotland mutually benefitting from this protection. This would be bad for Scotland, Britain and the rest of the Western world.