The nameless deterrent
WE AWAIT the final decision on renewing Trident, the UK nuclear defence system that replaced Polaris in the 1990s. Last year estimates for the cost of such a system, which comprises submarines, missiles and warheads varied from £20 billion to £100 billion depending on who you listened to. The most recent independent estimate calculates the cost to be in the region of £167 billion based on the lifetime cost of the replacement system between 2028 and 2060.
The Cold War policy of invisible submarine patrols providing the ultimate deterrent against nuclear attack seems obsolete in the 21st century, since the primary military threat from the eastern-bloc was all but dismantled in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Supporters argue that more recent Russian military aggression and unknown capability warrants a new defence system based on mutually assured destruction; and others consider militarisation and instability in the Middle East, and the unpredictability of terror attacks justifications for such measures to protect the UK’s security. The nuclear defence industry employs as many as 15,000 people in the UK, and many community economies depend on it.
Of course, nuclear weapons don’t actually have to exist to work as a deterrent. The world has witnessed the terrifying power of them, so the technical capability is acknowledged – but that doesn’t mean every, or any missile has to have a nuclear warhead. If nuclear weapons can’t ever be used, then they don’t need to exist to make the threat real. It is as impossible to imagine such an expensive deception as it is nuclear war. Hopefully we’ll never know.