Little Fish in a Giant pond

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Britain's Nuclear Teeth

According to Reuters News Agency, British Prime Minister Tony Blair faced his largest caucus revolt yesterday since a 2003 vote over the Iraq war. This time the vote was over his proposal to replace Britain's nuclear submarine fleet, which is due to go out of service by the year 2024.


I find this event to be rather thought provoking. It begs the question of whether or not Britain really needs a nuclear arsenal. Before I go any further, let me first say that I DO NOT HAVE THE ANSWER TO THIS QUESTION. Still, it is enough of an interesting topic that I think it deserves some attention, if only from a humble blogger such as myself. The M.A.D. (Mutually Assured Destruction) doctrine of the Cold War era was arguably just that... mad, insane, reckless, etc. But it is hard to argue with results, there was no nuclear war and humanity as we know it continues to survive. Whether or not this was actually due to the M.A.D. doctrine is also questionable, but at the very least it hasn't destroyed us all... yet (lest we forget those hundreds of poorly stored Soviet nukes just waiting to be stolen).

Of course, we no longer live in the Cold War era. The great threats in the world are no longer large nuclear-armed powers, with enormous conventional forces. Today's world is threatened by terrorist organizations that flatten buildings with concealed bombs and hijacked airplanes. Not exactly the kind of enemies that can be deterred by nuclear arsenals, as they are difficult to find and are multi-national. Then of course there are the so-called "Rogue states" (*cough* Iran *cough* North Korea, etc.). The Western World is faced with threats from upcoming nuclear powers whose governments are hostile to the it, and one power in particular (*cough* The U.S.). While the threat posed by an imminent nuclear counter-attack is bound to weigh heavily on the mind of any leader when considering an attack on another nuclear power, it is difficult to predict how a leader may act when under pressure, particularly in regimes where power is centered around one person.

The threat of "Rogue states" does give SOME credibility to the American idea of creating a missile shield. However, the global repercussions of doing so are as potentially catastrophic as the M.A.D. doctrine itself. Not only would this create an arm's race over who can build the best missile defense system and the missiles capable of penetrating such systems, but it would also be subject to intense scrutiny. In its current form, the missile defense program is so-so at best. It is bound to work eventually. However, when it will work, how well it will work, and whether or not it will be worthwhile are entirely different matters. I might feel a little more at ease about this proposal if it meant that the big powers of the world were trading nuclear disarmament for anti-missile defense systems, but that offer does not appear to be on the table at the moment. There are also some pretty strong advantages to disarmament.

For a power such as Britain, a wealth of credibility could be gained in their attempts to hold discussions with Iran over the latter’s own pursuit of nuclear weapons. I imagine the Iranian government would feel far more at ease if it were negotiating with a country that was clearly on an equal footing with them.

It should also be noted that many of the large nuclear powers also have substantial conventional armies as well. If ever one of them were attacked by a "Rogue State" they could just as easily level and then occupy such countries with conventional weapons and tactics, all without having to worry about the popularity of their wars.

Again I just want to say that these are just my thoughts and I am not really attempting to propose any kinds of solutions. I look forward to hearing from my blogger friends on this one.


  • Interesting issue Brian. But I don't share your optimism about missile defence. If we don't have any guarantees that the system will actually work, why should we spent billions of dollars of taxpayers money? It's like buying a luxury car but it can fall apart anytime. This doesn't sound like a good project at all.

    Overall though, I don't share the Labor's party pessimism. An army like Britain must have some kind of diversify arsenal at their disposal; nuclear sub doesn't mean nuclear race.

    By Blogger Léo Bourdon, at 8:07 AM  

  • Thanks for the comment Léo. Though I would hardly call my opinion of the missile defence system an optimistic one. I merely pointed out that it will eventually work, but as we both stated, it is doubtful how well it will work (plus it would take a full-cale nuclear war to truly test it... a bad thing in my opinion).

    You are right about the subs also. A nuclear sub doe not NECESSARILY mean a nuclear arms race, as a nuclear sub is merely powered by a nuclear generator. However, as the article pointed out, and as you are probably well aware, they are capable of carrying and launching nuclear missiles. This is a huge tactical edge in a nuclear war, as subs are harder to pre-emptively eliminate than a stationary missile silo. It could therefore be argued, that the investment in the subs could set the stage for an arm's race.

    By Blogger Fish, at 4:18 PM  

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