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Nuclear Deterrent: Is it an option?

Robin Copland


There is a big debate going on at the moment in the UK – and especially in Scotland about the renewal of the UK’s nuclear deterrent.  Perhaps some background might explain where we are as things stand right now.

 The second generation of the UK’s nuclear armed, submarine-based deterrent is in mid-life and decisions have to be made now to replace the Trident fleet of four submarines.  It is in the nature of the size of the UK’s fleet that these boats are replaced all at the one time (spread over three or four years, of course) rather than the rolling programme in the USA, for example.  The debate comes to a head every twenty to twenty-five years and, as you can imagine, passions run high on both sides of what is, in essence, a binary discussion – you are either “for it” or you are “against it”.  There are no half measures.

The debate is further clouded in a devolved Scotland (fresh from a bruising independence referendum two years ago and, in common with the rest of the UK, the recent Brexit referendum) because the ruling political party in Scotland, the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) is fundamentally against the word “nuclear” in any context – be it a weapons system or power generation.  This is a bit of an issue because the Trident fleet is based at Faslane on the Firth of Clyde in – and you really couldn’t make this next bit up – Scotland!

Furthermore, because of the vagaries and peculiarities of the UK political “first past the post” electoral system, the SNP has 54 of the 59 seats (they had 56, but two of their members have since been removed from the whip) – this despite the fact that the majority of Scots (55% - 45%) voted against independence two years ago and that a minority of Scots voted for them in the recent election.  The SNP claim to speak for all of Scotland but a recent poll suggested that 42% of Scots were firmly against Trident, 43% were firmly for it and 15% were undecided.

Enough background – what has this to do with negotiating?  Well, everything really.  I, in common with most sane people, want to live in a world as far removed from these weapons of mass destruction as it is possible to be.  I also want to live in a world where nobody thinks that if you go out and fly a plane into the World Trade Center, or let off a bomb strapped to yourself on the London Underground, you will immediately be transported to Paradise, there to be serviced by 57 virgins.  I would prefer it if people of any faith or doctrine were content to stop converting all the rest of the people to whatever their version of the truth happens to be.  I would prefer, in other words, to live in a world of sane, rational, pleasant people. 

But here’s the rub; I don’t.  We are surrounded by nasty little people who have a vile and repugnant view of the world.  Just occasionally, these people find themselves in positions of power.  Sometimes, we are the architects of our own downfall and make it easy for these people to gain and then hold a majority of their constituents.  Hitler was elected in 1933 – why?  Because the Treaty of Versailles was ridiculous.  The supposed good guys have bombed and maimed Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan; we then stood back and wondered why the vacuum we left led to a resurgence of the numskulls.

So, the nuclear deterrent.  Any negotiator worth their salt will tell you that in any kind of conflict, you should never ever give up anything unilaterally.  Never.  If you do, you encourage the other side to ask for more.  It is a sad truism that if we and indeed if the west generally were to give up on the nuclear deterrent, all that we would do is invite more trouble, more incursions, more invasions from our enemies.

Reluctantly therefore, and in the face of nuclear expansion in China and Russia, we should maintain our nuclear deterrent.  Hopefully, by so doing, we will discourage the other side from using theirs – the only good thing coming out of all of this being the fact that no nuclear weapons have actually ever been used – with the exception of the atomic bombs dropped on Japan at the end of the Second World War.

Robin Copland

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