The name­less de­ter­rent

The Oban Times - - News - John­ston Adams.

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.

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