UK's Nuclear Deterrent

Part of Terrorist Attack: Nice – in the House of Commons at 7:22 pm on 18th July 2016.

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Photo of Ronnie Cowan Ronnie Cowan Scottish National Party, Inverclyde 7:22 pm, 18th July 2016


It is a well-rehearsed argument on deterrence that to prevent other nations from striking us, we must have the ability to strike them. It is of course a flawed theory. I will, however, give the Henry Jackson Society credit for its bravery in issuing a report outlining bold theories about the imminent nuclear threat of other nations just a week after this House was asked to consider the findings of the Chilcot report. Chilcot reminds us that we should be cautious of second-guessing the military intentions of other countries.

In voting on the renewal of the Trident nuclear weapons system, we need to ask ourselves: who are these weapons deterring? Can those in favour of Trident genuinely foresee a situation in which China or Russia would commit such an act of economic suicide as a nuclear strike against a western power? The primary factor in establishing peace in an increasingly globalised world is the linked economic interests of nations, not the imminent threat of nuclear attack. To say the world is safer because of nuclear weapons is akin to saying that there would be less gun crime in the United States if there were more firearms.

General George Lee Butler, a former Commander in Chief of the US Strategic Command who was once in charge of all US strategic nuclear weapons, has said:

“Nuclear deterrence was and remains a slippery intellectual construct that translates very poorly into the real world of spontaneous crises, inexplicable motivations, incomplete intelligence and fragile human relationships.”

Nuclear deterrence requires an assumption that the Governments of our enemies will always act rationally. What deterrence are nuclear weapons to Governments or organisations that hold extreme or fundamentalist religious views and have no fear of death? What deterrence are nuclear weapons to a dictatorship on the brink of collapse that has nothing left to lose? The reality is that we cannot guarantee that such Governments will always act rationally. Trident therefore offers us no protection. So if it is not a deterrent, is it therefore nuclear revenge?