Ukraine serves as a timely reminder of the need to retain the ultimate weapon.
The situation in Ukraine seems to be spiralling ever-closer to war. Russian forces have occupied the semi-autonomous region of Crimea and are massing on the border of Ukraine itself. In response, the new Government in Kiev has called-up all its reservists and is mobilising for war. The rhetoric on both sides is belligerent, and the rest of the world looks on in horror as both sides seem determined to fight. Many are wondering whether the centenary of the opening shots of the First World War and the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Second World War will be marked by the beginning of a Third World War.
This outcome is unlikely. While it is certainly possible that a war between Russia and Ukraine could escalate into a wider European or even a global conflict, in reality it is more likely that it will remain localised. Ukraine is concerned with defending its territorial integrity and does not have the resources to attack Russia, while Russia does not have the appetite for a wider conflict with NATO. To do so would jeopardise valuable sources of foreign currency as well as the gas supply contracts that are the backbone of the Russian economy. Where escalation could occur is if Ukraine’s friends in the region decide to offer support, something that is very possible if reports of Polish military deployments are to be believed, however this still does not guarantee a NATO response. Poland may be in NATO, but Ukraine is not and it is doubtful that Poland’s NATO allies would join them in rushing to the aid of a non-NATO neighbour. In many ways this is something that the Russians are counting on, because it all but guarantees them a free hand in Ukraine. The UN is powerless to impose any serious sanctions (Russia has a veto on the Security Council) and any economic penalties can be mitigated by simply switching off the gas upon which Western Europe is so dependent.
As well as the economic and strategic reasons for a Russo-Ukrainian war remaining localised, there is a much more tangible reason – Trident. The nuclear deterrent forces not only of the UK but also the US, France and Russia will ensure that none of the potential belligerents does anything stupid. Even if NATO were to get involved, the war will likely remain localised in the Ukraine. NATO forces are not about to pursue the Russians into Russia, and the Russians are not going to risk a nuclear exchange with the West to over the Crimea. Those people who claim that a nuclear deterrent is merely a relic of the Cold War fail to understand the value of systems such as Trident in situations like the ones we find ourselves in today. It is not tanks, aircraft or warships that will stop a conflict in Ukraine from escalating out of control, it is the threat that we can turn Moscow and St Petersburg into sand and that the Russians can do the same thing to London and New York. The ultimate irony of nuclear deterrence is that the existence of the most destructive weapons on Earth is probably the best guarantee we have that such weapons will not be used.
Bob Foster studied Military History at university and now lives in the North West. Socially liberal and fiscally conservative, his passions include American history, military history and defence policy, and can usually be found building models of aircraft and warships. He works in the defence industry but speaks for himself. He tweets as @Bobski1984