Why use a nuclear deterrent?
This article is the opinion of the author, the UK Defence Journal has no stance on Trident.
After all you will spend billions of pounds on a weapon system that you spend each day hoping to never use and is dubious if you would use it, if it came down to the wire.
But simply put a nuclear deterrent puts certainty into the equation, chance is removed from war and that makes it more effective than the largest conventional arsenal.
But how does it remove chance?
Well this comes from the premise of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD), as the destruction with these weapons would be absolute and certain
As if the target of either a conventional or nuclear strike was armed with nuclear weapons themselves, their retaliation would bring unrivalled destruction onto the aggressor.
So would you risk attacking them, knowing that the retaliation that would be brought would be inescapable and total.
Would Japan have attacked Pearl Harbour had they have known that the US would invent and then use atomic weapons?
Probably not as with conventional wars the outcome was not known, yes it is a gamble if you would succeed but it was risk vs reward.
But they don’t just eliminate chance in a war but also from a single attack; as if we look at the infamous bomber raids of WW2 a lot could go wrong.
Bombers could be intercepted by fighter, they could suffer mechanical issues and turn back, the weather could divert them and this could decrease the ordinance on target. But would need more ordinance than a bomber wing could carry to destroy an entire city.
This is an outcome which would be highly unlikely with nuclear weapons, as you’ve gone from needing dozens of bombers to get through to just one or two warheads.
And when you are the United States or Russia with approximately 7,000 warheads each, that is a lot of cities that can be targeted and could be destroyed with 100% certainty.
Yet in the nuclear age that is gone, there is a fixed outcome and that is a loss for all.
An outcome that is forever fixed, as the form of nuclear weapons changed from fixed launch silos and moved out to sea; so even the most determined and overwhelming pre-emptive attack could not stop a relation.
And so we have the ultimate stalemate weapon, or do we?
As it is a weapons system that is ineffective against terrorist groups, a modern and evolving threat that we are facing each day.
Owing to the pure power for nuclear weapons it is a system that could never be used against an individual or a cell because of the extreme collateral damage it would cause.
That is even before you start to think about the international and diplomatic incidents caused by detonating a nuclear weapon in someone’s country.
If a rogue nation emerged, a threat from a regime that isn’t accountable and openly flaunts the UN and wider world?
Could we use it against them as a pre-emptive strike of our own before they were able to arm themselves with nuclear weapons of their own?
Could we escalate a conflict by using these weapons on someone who is defenceless against them or use it as a first strike?
According to the United States, no.
During the Korean War the idea was brought up of blanketing the north of Korea with nukes so as to create an impassable radiation field so China could not send reinforcements down.
This was an idea that was never followed through with and remained a plan of history.
Though the denial of that plan can be seen to have been a turning point for nuclear doctrine as it set the stage for not using these weapons in a conventional war.
They would just be weapons of last resort, to be used if fired upon first; this idea and doctrine can be seen to be the reason as to why the Cold War remained cold.
So it is fairly obvious that these weapons will not be used unless as a last resort but should they even be used then?
Surely it is immoral to have such a weapon, let alone use it?
But a weapon in of itself is not moral or immoral, only the intention of the persons behind it are subject to morality.
However, in this case the question is if it is more moral to threaten to use such a weapon and prevent a conflict in which millions could die? Or is it more moral to renounce such as weapon system and let millions meet their fates?
As Harold Macmillan once wrote in a letter on this subject: “I think it is indubitable that their possession does tend to preserve peace and to prevent holocaust which it is the duty of Governments to avoid”.
“A duty of Governments to avoid” which is why we have a Ministry of Defence and we come to the one of the simple reasons for trident. For the price of the system the level of protection offered is unrivalled, as the amount of conventional forces needed for the same destructive power would be economically unviable.