By Derek Hudson
This subject is highly controversial. Everyone has their own opinion on this very important subject.
I myself believe that even CONTEMPLATING the use of trident missiles, is immoral.
However, I have made a brave attempt to present both sides of the story, in order to encourage debate on this vital, but very controversial issue.
The UK’s Trident system has three components:-
Nuclear warheads that explode when detonated, usually at height of 1.500 feet above their target,
- the missiles that carry the nuclear weapons to their targets, and
- the submarines that launch the missiles from a secret location underneath the sea.
Although some British enthusiasts would prefer that the Trident system should be entirely British, there is in fact a very strong USA component. The Trident missiles are made in the USA. The submarines are manufactured in the UK. The UK only LEASES some of the missiles from the US government. The USA makes an annual contribution to the UK’s costs of running and maintaining the entire Trident system. There is absolutely no way that one could describe the UK’s Trident system of being “independent from the USA.”
“Trident” is a convenient and colloquial abbreviation for the entire system of submarines and their missiles. More correctly, the word “Trident” should only refer to the missile system.
The Trident fleet of nuclear submarines
The new post-World War Two Vanguard-type submarines were introduced into the British naval fleet between 1986 and 1988.
The British Trident missile system, which is carried by these submarines, began its life in 1980, after a government statement of intent to proceed with their deployment. The Trident system was a replacement for the then obsolete Polaris missile system.
The fleet of four British Trident class submarines has
one submarine permanently on patrol, usually for three months at a time; one undergoing maintenance;
plus two either in port or on training exercises. [See the LibDem viewpoint on their proposed alternate configuration, under “Local Political Issues”, below].
The submarines were originally intended to be capable of launching up to 16 missiles simultaneously. However, for technical reasons, this proved to be infeasible. As a result, the number of possible simultaneous launches was reduced to ”only” 8.
Each nuclear submarine is huge, much bigger than those used in World War II. Each submarine has a 1 km long aerial which trails behind the submarine on the surface of the sea, where it can pick up radioed instructions. These radio messages will include the orders about the targets to be aimed at by the missiles.
58 of the missiles are leased from the USA. The Trident system costs the British government between 3% and 4% of the entire British defence budget. The lifetime of the submarines is approximately 30 years.The British fleet is thought to have only 3 years left, before it becomes obsolete.
From the time that a decision is taken to build a new submarine to the date of delivery, is about 12 years. That of course explains why pro-Trident politicians see the current situation as very urgent, even overdue.
At any one time, 38% of the operating cost of keeping the Trident system going is borne by the US government; 62% is borne by the British government.
The number of staff required to keep the entire system operational, including the large land-based section of the team, is about 30,000. The argument is often advanced that the Trident system is a “good” employer, but this seems to me to be based on fallacious reasoning. If generating unemployment is to be thought of as a plus, why not pay one lot off employees to dig holes, and another group of employees to fill them in again?
- The armaments of the Trident system
Each submarine carries up to 8 missiles, and each missile has up to 16 separately targetable nuclear bombs, making a total of 128 independent warheads at any time that a Trident submarine is on patrol.
Each missile is aimed at a target which is radioed to the submarine’s commanding officer, from an underground command centre underneath Whitehall. The captain of each submarine has no fore-knowledge of where his missiles will be aimed.
Acting on his orders, the captain programmes each missile to go firstly into near-earth-orbit at a very high altitude, way above the earth’s atmosphere, Each missile is protected by a very efficient heat shield when the missile re-enters the earth’s atmosphere.
Each missile is 13 metres long, and weighs 58.5 tons. The top speed of each missile is 21,600 km/h or 13,400 mp/h, about 13 times faster than a modern civilian jet.
Each nuclear bomb has an explosive power approximately equal to 62 atom bombs of the type used at Hiroshima, Japan, in 1945. [That is an unofficial estimate, because the actual figure is kept secret].
The total firepower of just one submarine is more than approximately 1,000 times that of an atom bomb of the above type. The range of each missile is 11,300 kms or 7,500 miles, close enough to hit Moscow from London (and vice versa !!).
In the event of a nuclear explosion due to a Trident missile, an air temperature of up to ten million degrees centigrade would be expected immediately underneath the explosion. The blast, 1,500 feet above the ground, would be sufficient to flatten skyscrapers within 500 metres of the point of detonation. This height was chosen so as to maximise the explosive effect.
All buildings, earth and people directly below a nuclear missile which had been detonated 1,500 feet above ground, would be evaporated.
At a distance of 2 km, the blast would still be sufficiently strong to cause hundreds of thousands of immediate casualties, with wind speeds of over 100 kph. At a distance of 4 kms, the heat generated from the blast would still be intense enough to set a newspaper on fire.
Acute radiation poisoning would be sufficient to kill most people in the vicinity of the blast. However, any “lucky” survivor would have to live with painful radiation poisoning for the rest of his or her life.
Most of the UK’s Trident missiles are serviced in the USA, while some of the components are actually made there. [The rest of the missile system, and of all of the submarines, are made in the UK. The missiles are designed at Aldermaston and are stored at Barrow-in-Furness in Scotland; Rolls Royce pressurised water coolers are made at Derby; while the missiles themselves are manufactured at Burghfield. in Berkshire. In summary, the total explosive power of EACH submarine is greater than that of all the bombs that were dropped during World War Two.
- The world-wide inventory of nuclear submarines
Country Number of nuclear submarines
Israel almost certainly 0
- The world-wide inventory of nuclear warheads
Pakist an 130
North Korea unknown number
USA +/- 3,000
- Deterrence and the moral arguments, as put forward by Trident supporters
The UK should never be a country which was willing to use nuclear weapons, because of the likely deaths of millions of non-combatants, and of poisoning the earth.
Supporters of Trident, think as follows. The use of a Trident missile could only ever be justified by the most extreme threat against the UK. Unfortunately, rogue states abound. Therefore, the UK has to be prepared at all times to defend itself. We need deterrent capability which would be sufficient to deter any other country from attacking us. This is therefore a kind of insurance policy.
Prime Minister Tony Blair put the UK position succinctly:-
“The whole point about the deterrent is not to create the circumstances in which it can be used, but on the contrary to try to create circumstances in which it is never used. Necessarily, therefore, any analysis of what role it could play in a situation that is hypothetical, will always be open to the most strenuous dispute.”
There are of course many people, including myself, who do not agree with the above logic.
The possession of nuclear weapons supposedly gives the UK greater “clout” at international nuclear weapons fora. I regard this a as doubtful argument in favour of having Trident.
- The alternative point of view
As indicated below, many people strongly believe that to even contemplate using a nuclear weapon, is abhorrent. Vast numbers of non-combatants would immediately be killed. From the point of view off pacifists, even killing soldiers in such large quantities would compromise one’s own views on whether or not killing soldiers in a war is ever justified.
If some of the population beneath a detonation survived, they would be so severely irradiated that they would lead a severely compromised life, with continuous painful illness from radiation poisoning, and with the permanent risk that cancer might develop a any time.
As a result of an all-out nuclear war, the planet’s ability to feed all of its people would be severely compromised.This negative effect could take centuries to fall away, because of the longevity of radiation poisoning.
This would of course affect all countries equally, including all the countries which had initiated the war.
- 7. The local political scene
The UK’s political parties are split on the issue, as are individual MPs. In each party. In 1967/68,
472 MPs voted in favour of Trident,
while 117 MPs were opposed,
with 140 of Labour’s 230 MPs in favour.
When an opinion poll was recently held in the UK, there was a much stronger support from older voters for Trident than from younger voters.
Jeremy Corbyn, Leader of the Opposition, has stated that he would never use Trident’s nuclear weapons, under any circumstances, because he would regard any such action as totally immoral.
The following political groups all want to ditch Trident:-
The Green Party
The Scottish National Party
The Scottish Socialist Party
The Solidarity Movement
The following political parties favour renewing Trident:-
The Conservative Party
The Liberal Democrats
The United Kingdom Independence Party
A few members of the Labour Party
- Politics, in more detail
Many of the UK’s pro-Trident politicians say that they are content to “look both ways”. That is, they say that they strongly support the idea of renewing Trident, and at the same time, they say that conducting international disarmament and weapons reduction should be attempted.
The Conservative Party
In 2010, the Conservative Party favoured a like-for-like renewal of the Trident system, including the maintenance of the UK’s “continuous-at-sea” program. At the same time, they said that they favoured international diplomatic discussions which were aimed at multilateral disarmament.
In 2010, the Labour Party took a key budgeting decision. From then on, ALL expenditure on Trident had to be charged onto the regular Defence budget, and not treated as a sui generis expenditure, as it had been before. This decision was taken against much opposition from within the Conservative Party, who had wanted the Trident expenditure to remain separate and isolated.
This decision of course implied that, in future, less money would be available for non-nuclear defence systems. Some Conservative backbenchers called this principle a “financial suicide squeeze” on the latter types of expenditures.
In May 2012, £350 million was made available for the first preliminary assessment of the mechanics of Trident renewal. However, at the insistence of the Liberal Democrats, this advance spending forced the Conservatives to agree that that decision did not allowed anyone to assume that the final decision to renew Trident had already been taken.
Notwithstanding the above, in June 2012 the Conservative government authorised a further £1.1 billion for a contract for the refurbishment of the Rolls Royce submarine propulsion plant facility, at Derby.
Taken as a whole, the projected spending from all the preliminary design stages was expected to reach £3 billion. This is not a small sum for funds that were supposedly without commitment to actually build a Trident replacement.
The Liberal Democrat Party
In previous years, there had always been an element of the LibDems which had a strong anti-nuclear element. However, that element is barely visible nowadays.
The current LibDem leadership, as mandated by its annual Conference, favours Britain retaining a nuclear weapons capability, in principle, and the renewal of Trident, in particular.
One of the ideas that they asked the government to consider, was whether or not the Trident fleet might possibly be reduced to three submarines, by making suitable economies, or adjustments to the submarines’ schedule.
However this idea did not find acceptance from the Ministry of Defence, which said that all four submarines were absolutely essential.
Within the LibDems, there have been minority interests who believe that far too much emphasis has been put on the ability of Trident missiles to annihilate a list of selected Russian cities. They decry this kind of anti-Russian feeling.
The Labour Party
In 1982, Labour abandoned its policy of unilateral nuclear
In 1987, a Labour Leader, Neil Kinnock, again jettisoned unilateral nuclear disarmament as a Labour policy. However, the majority of Labour’s MPs remain committed to the Trident system.
In 2012, Labour’s Defence Review stated:-
“While nuclear weapons exist, we cannot leave ourselves and our children open to the threat of nuclear blackmail”. I regard this statements itself as moral blackmail.
In 2007, the UK’s then Labour Foreign Secretary, Margaret Beckett, gave a speech endorsing the vision of a nuclear-free world. Later speeches by Prime Minister Gordon Brown agreed with this principle. However, this highly principled position has been lost in the mists of history.
In 2008, former UK Defence Secretary, Malcolm Rifkind (Conservative), Lord David Owen (cross bencher), Lord Douglas Hurd (Conservative) and Lord George Robertson (Labour) endorsed the vision of a world free of nuclear weapons.
The UK’s nuclear capability is committed to helping NATO if any NATO member is attacked. For example, the availability of Trident to NATO is deemed to be necessary in case Russia were to attack any NATO member state in eastern Europe, such as Estonia.
The likelihood of a counter attack
Once any nuclear country has been attacked by the UK, it will immediately come under a strong counter attack. This leads on to the possibility of a “mutually assured destruction”, or ”MAD”, in which every one on earth dies. Who then can ever be a winner? Are we so self satisfied that we think that we alone will survive an outright nuclear conflict and that we alone will survive?
The counterfactual argument
To me, it is highly significant that some of the largest and most respected countries in the world have never found it necessary to have their own nuclear weapons. This includes Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Italy, Germany, Indonesia, Iraq, Iran, Mexico and Saudi Arabia.
South Africa originally had its own nuclear weapon capability, but gave it up, after coming under intense international pressure.
South Africa will never again help the Israelis to test one of THEIR nuclear weapons, using a South African warship as a launch platform in the Antarctic ocean, as they did in 1947.
Domestic logistical issues
On the long road journey from Burghfield, (the nuclear manufacturing site close to Aldermaston in Berkshire), to the Clyde in Scotland, where the missiles are to be deployed, there have been more than 180 “security breaches” while the missiles were being delivered by road to Scotland.
These breaches included delays, diversions because of traffic accidents, bad weather, or civil protests.
It is indeed fortuitous that the resulting temporary loss of control over the exact whereabouts of the missiles, has never caused any major security problem.of the consequences
A full-scale nuclear war, or even the detonation of all the warheads on just ONE Trident submarine, would devastate the entire planet, making it uninhabitable for up thousands of years.
- Further thoughts on “deterrence”
Deterrence is the prevention from action, by fear of the consequences. Deterrence is the state of mind brought about by the existence of a credible threat of unacceptable counter action. Deterrence is therefore a psychological term, not a military one. It aims to to create a sense of fear that you hope will convince someone that they don’t actually want to do something that they might otherwise not choose to do.
Trident is a weapon of mass destruction. It is hoped that Trident will never be used, because it is “only a deterrent”.
The use of Trident against either China or Russia, would almost certainly result in a devastating nuclear counter-attack on the UK.
- Nuclear famine
The combined effects of irradiation, and a lowering ot the world’s temperatures due to the huge nuclear cloud, will inevitably reduce the earth’s cereal or meat production. Survivors would almost certainly starve to death.
- The effects of radiation on the human body
Acute radiation poisoning can not only kill someone, the effects can persist for the rest of the life of any victim who is not immediately killed by a nuclear explosion. This is still the case with a dwindling number of Japanese nuclear survivors.
For this reason, nuclear weapons are NOT JUST larger conventional weapons. They have a secret, invisible, killing power, due to radiation, which conventional weapons do not have.
- The cost of renewing the Trident missile system
Cosestimates vary between £30 billion, and £205 billion. Either way, thus us a huge aunt not money. Iy could have been used instead to plug the gap in the financing of the National Health system.
I believe that we must never let nuclear missiles into our lives
“The Truth about Trident”, by Timmon Milne Wallis. Published by Luath Press Limited, Edinburgh in 2016. Available from the Quaker library in Wincanton.
“Intervention at the Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian
Impact of Nuclear Weapons, 8 – 9 December, 1998.”
Published by the UK Mission to the United Nations.
The minutes of the Third International Conference on the Humanitarian Impacts of Nuclear Weapons, held in Vienna in December 2014.
Nuclear winter and nuclear famine
The dust and soot created by a nuclear explosion would give rise to a rapidly climbing dark cloud of radiated dust. this would produce dangerous world-wide effects.
The location of these effects would depend on the direction of the prevailing wind, from the explosion site to a down wind site, and therefore it would be possible for the very dangerous clouds to drop their radiation onto land which might be hundreds of miles from the point of detonation.
The darkness of the cloud could also lower the prevailing temperature. The radiation and the lower prevailing temperature could, between them, destroy the agricultural productivity of the land that the radiation had landed on.The combined effect would be to reduce the length of the growing season,and hence the world-wide quantity of cereals and other basic foods produced. This could result in the kind of world wide famine referred to above. The entire world could starve.
 I used to be a member of the Liberal Democrats. Left them over two issues: (a) The renewal of Trident missiles; (b) Their wish to bomb Syria.
 The claim by CND that there are 15,000 nuclear weapons in the world, is highly doubtful
 In 1984, there was a nuclear explosion at Chernobyl, in the Ukraine. Sheep in Wales were shortly thereafter declared unfit to eat, because the wind had blown the radioactive cloud to wards Wales, where the sheep had eaten irradiated grass.
 South Africa once helped the Israelis, in exchange for an Israeli promise that South African Jews would be always be able to transmit money to Israel