The Lib Dem’s policy on nuclear weapons betrays a woeful understanding of their role the real world of geopolitics and national defence
Nuclear weapons are naturally controversial. They are, after all, the most devastating and destructive weapons ever devised, with explosive yields equivalent to thousands or even millions of tonnes of TNT. A single warhead detonated in the centre of London would reduce the entire city to dust and kill millions of people. When one looks at nuclear weapons in that context it is completely understandable that many people want them to be eliminated.
Recently the Liberal Democrats published their report on the future of Britain’s nuclear deterrent and it made for depressing reading, not least because it is clear that the Liberal Democrats had already formed their conclusions and then wrote a report to fit. Those conclusions are that continuous at-sea nuclear deterrent is not required and that our current Trident missiles and submarines should not be replaced on a like-for-like basis. Instead they propose a system where nuclear patrols are not maintained 24/7/365 as they are today, but rather only when the international situation escalates to the point where nuclear weapons may be required. This policy recognises that nuclear weapons are the very last resort; however it demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the true purpose of nuclear arms, which is deterrence.
Contrary to popular belief, the United Kingdom does not possess nuclear weapons because of a deep-rooted desire to turn our enemies into glass. We possess nuclear weapons to deter other nations from using their own nuclear weapons to attack us by making the opportunity cost of such an attack prohibitive. Other states know that an attack on us would lead to their own destruction, so they do not attack us. The reason that the Cold War didn’t turn hot, even during the Cuban Missile Crisis, is the knowledge on both sides that the use of nuclear arms would result in the destruction of everything and everyone. The policy of Mutually Assured Destruction sounds like its acronym – MAD – but it has kept the peace for almost seven decades. It is for this reason that we possess nuclear weapons, and the concept of deterrence remains as important in today’s post-Cold War world as it did when we were squaring up against the massed hordes of the Eastern bloc.
With the concept of deterrence in mind, the idea that we can keep our submarines in port and only deploy them during an international crisis makes so little sense that it would be laughable if it were not so dangerous. If a state that wishes us harm knows that we do not have the ability to immediately respond to an attack then we no longer have a deterrent. Worse, the policy of only deploying our nuclear weapons during a serious international crisis means that we could never deploy our nuclear weapons, because if the situation were grave enough to warrant the deployment of nuclear arms then our adversaries would see such a deployment as a massive escalation and could potentially launch a pre-emptive strike against us.
The most effective nuclear deterrent is one that never needs to be used, but that is not the same as not having nuclear weapons. The Liberal Democrats would have us adopt a policy that has the same cost as our current submarine-based nuclear deterrent, but is as effective as having none at all. It’s the worst of both worlds and is as stupid as it is naïve. We can only hope that Danny Alexander and the other Lib Dems responsible for this foolishness are never put in a position where they are making actual decisions on our national defence.
Born in Yeovil, Bob Foster moved to the West Midlands, and following a brief spell in Dublin after university now lives in the North West. When pushed he describes himself as socially liberal, fiscally conservative, pro-military and anti-Government. His passions are American history, military history and defence policy, and when he doesn’t have his nose in a book on air power or a political memoir he can be found building model aircraft and warships. He works in the defence industry, but speaks for himself. He tweets as @Bobski1984