Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

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Trident Tested
I asked this on Facebook yesterday, but so far haven't had any substantive replies, so I thought I'd try my luck here. Though I suspect that in both cases my friends lists may not be the ideal targets for the question.

If there's anyone out there who thinks that renewing Trident is a good idea, I'd love to know what the arguments for it are. The only three I can see are a) it provides employment - which I'm fairly certain could be done in more cost-effective ways, b) it provides a pretext for the UK having a permanent place on the UN Security Council, and c) it means the French haven't got one-up on us. The last two are pretty specious, surely?

So, what are the other arguments? And specifically, what are the arguments that apply to the UK but not to other constitutional democracies that might also wish to have an independent deterrent, and are as threatened if not more so than the UK? Like, shall we say, South Korea? Unless you think S. Korea should have the bomb, in which case feel free to say so.


Two riders: a) note that I'm asking not about NATO membership, but about Trident specifically; b) even if you don't believe in the arguments, if you know what they are I'd still like to hear them.

From what I gather it is to supplement Britain's gallant American allies. If you think the UK is a "constitutional democracy" note
1. it has no constitution (unwritten? like an unprinted fiver?)
2. democracies do not jail folk for holding placards.

I use the phrase loosely! :) Nor do democracies have legislative chambers occupied by people who aren't subject to election, to add to your list.

But it seems a strange argument that we need an independent deterrent in order to be a good ally...

Hitting nail on head. Not ally, but province, of the American Imperium;)

A specific document labeled "The Constitution" is not necessary to be a constitutional democracy; and, by contrast, it's possible to have a democratic-sounding "The Constitution" and not be one. (The old Soviet Union had such a document, but that didn't help.) The definition hinges on: does the country have fundamental laws establishing an open representative government, and does it stick to them?

The factors that might operate to kick the UK, or US, off that list would be things like unaccountable secret government programs, oligarchy, and low voter participation. Not the absence of a formal written Constitution.

I see your point. Paraguay had a very good constitution but under Stroessner it was frozen. Low turn out? UK check. Inability to access documents until 30-40 years? UK check. No right to trial by jury, no right to silence, no verification of deletion of innocent folks DNA (I could go on)...

Here we have a good example of how the internet operates as a serious of echo chambers. Here's an issue on which some of Trident's supporters are so passionate that they're willing to rebel against their own party's leadership, yet you - an interested citizen - can't even figure out why they feel so strongly about it, because nobody you know agrees with them.

Have you tried asking them? e.g. checking out the websites of some pro-Trident MPs to see what they might have to say about it? That's as likely to produce incoherent gobbledegook as anything else, but it's worth a try.

As you know I'm not a Brit, and I haven't been following the current debate on the issue of an independent nuclear deterrent. But I have read a fair amount about the 1980s debate on the same issue. I did notice then also a weird lack of specifics of arguments as to why it should be retained, but the opponents were pretty clear that they were driven by a general abhorrence of nuclear weapons, which allowed the supporters to make the following rebuttals: 1) Those opponents who wanted the elimination of all nuclear weapons from the UK would leave it open to Soviet threats and takeovers; 2) Those who were willing to retain American weapons were hypocrites.

From which I conclude that the supporters' reason for maintaining an independent deterrent, as well as relying on US missiles, amounted to: "We're Britain! We're a major power! Major powers need their own nuclear missiles!" And this argument wouldn't apply to Iran and North Korea because the supporters of the deterrent would say, at least in private, that those countries are full of ... I'm not sure if this is a dirty word or not, but in its plural form it's four letters long and begins with a "w".

Quite right about the echo chamber. My FB does at least have several friends who are Tories, or even further to the right (notably one college friend who was in the Officer Training Corps at university and is now a British immigrant to the US whose opinions as far as I can make out are on a par with those of Mr Trump) - but, so far, no one has spoken up. I suppose I will, as you suggest, have to trawl the websites.

For what it's worth, I agree that prima facie there's a large dollop of racism involved. I didn't even mention the cases of Iran and N. Korea because other objections (e.g. the fact that they are undemocratic) might be raised, relevantly or not. But there are plenty of democratic countries who seem in more urgent need of a deterrent than the UK, which is already a member of a nuclear alliance. As are other former major powers such as Spain, the Netherlands and Turkey. No one upbraids them as hypocrites for not having a nuclear arsenal of their own.

If we cancel Trident we'll be kissing goodbye to the last rags to the pretence that we're a major world power. Personally I'd be happy to see that happen but I can understand why no politician- apart from Corbyn, of course- would want to be remembered as part of the gang that hauled down the flag of empire.

But surely that ship has long since sailed? We "granted" independence to pretty much the whole Empire generations ago. Few people are old enough to remember the Empire when it was still worth the name, and many of them are glad it's gone.

Oh, but you just reminded me of this exchange on the (unjustly forgotten) Nicolas Craig's Masterclass. You're right: we're dealing with powerful fantasies here! Now I'm going to watch the rest of the show...

It's a very powerful fantasy- I'd almost go so far as to use words like "national myth".

And politicians are deeply invested in national myth. Every PM wants to be elevated to the pantheon- as a great leader of a great nation. Hence the constant invoking of Churchill- our most mythical leader. Trident is one of the attributes of the "kingship" they aspire to. Consider the name: it's not accidental. The trident is the chief weapon of Britannia as ruler of the waves- one she grabbed off Father Neptune and has wielded on the coinage since the 18th century. Symbolism matters here more than commonsense.

It keeps the Royal Navy happy, and to some extent the rest of the armed forces, happy (ish).


If I were head of the Army, I'd be happy to see it go. £30 billion would buy a lot of guns 'n' soldiers.

It would indeed.

(I'm not actually convinced that getting rid of Trident would save as much as £30bn, as there is some crossover between Trident spending and attack sub spending; and a strong case can be made for keeping attack subs even if we did ditch Trident. Doing so would still save lots of money; but not £30bn.)

Well, I won't quibble over the odd £1,000,000,000.... :)

There's a difference between "are nuclear weapons a good thing?" and "is Trident a good thing?". Trident, being sub-based, has the advantage of people not knowing exactly where it is so it is harder to A) destroy it and B) steal the radioactive stuff. But it is expensive. All I know is that we didn't used to have Trident and we didn't get nuked in the Cold War.

I guess the supporters probably think that if we didn't have it we would be totally dependent on other countries - America, France, for our ultimate defence - which detracts from our sovereignty as a nation state, and do we really want to subcontract (pun intended) our defence to other powers, especially with Mad Donald Trump in charge of the nuclear button?


Yes, I'm not (for the purpose of this question, anyway) asking whether nukes are good thing in general: if we gave up Trident we would still be part of a nuclear-armed alliance in the form of NATO, as you note.

I can see the argument you mention in your second paragraph; but not how one could make it on the UK's behalf and simultaneously argue that most other countries (i.e. all the ones that don't currently have nuclear weapons) should subcontract their defence to foreign powers.

Obviously, as poliphilo points out above, passion and fantasy are as much in play here as anything else, but that's a poor basis for policy. (I've been trawling the net looking for stronger arguments, but so far without success.)

You must always keep in mind the Russian soviet-style threat. Always.
If you have some money keep Tridents, its wonderful deterrent arm.

Okay, but what about the rider to my question? If that argument is valid for the UK, why is not equally (or more) valid for other countries even more directly threatened - e.g. South Korea, Turkey, Ukraine, etc. etc.?

You have already it, one of the first constructed atomic weapon, win Cold War, and you are democratic country. Such countries like Russia and China with atomic weapon are potentially more aggressive and nondemocratic.

We and other countries you named were too poor to have such sophisticated weapon like Trident, and subject of nuclear proliferation plays also important role.

That's a fair account of how we got to this position, but it's not an argument for renewing Trident. If proliferation is to be avoided, then getting rid of superfluous weapons ought also to be welcomed. (If, indeed, they are superfluous. But that's what I'm asking.)

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