Concorde delivered a technological and engineering advancement. Retired in 2003 due to a high profile crash and expensive, outmoded technology, it provided a lesson that should be adhered to by another advancement of the twentieth century: nuclear weapons.
Britain’s nuclear weaponry revolves around the Trident programme. The current programme, situated on the West Coast of Scotland, is set to expire next year and its removal would effectively end Britain’s nuclear deterrent. The 2015 General Election witnessed widespread rhetoric that deemed spending cuts necessary. Yet the renewal of Trident, the cost of which currently stands at an eye-watering 100 billion pounds, was never placed on the chopping block by the two main parties who instead pledged their commitment for its renewal. British Defence Secretary, Phillip Hammond reasoned that, “A deterrent only deters if it is credible” and “without Trident there would be no delivery system for the weaponry, resulting in a neglect of these weapons.”
The problem is however that Hammond’s justification of Trident vindicates why the program and Britain’s nuclear apparatus should be totally dismantled. The destructiveness of contemporary weapons is 3000-times more powerful than those weapons that hit Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. If dropped on a city the size of New York or London, the damage would extend well over several hundred miles and the death toll could easily be in the tens of millions. The Cold War ended with this terrifying realisation. The Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, proposed “that nuclear weapons must be abolished. Their use in a military conflict is unthinkable; using them to achieve political objectives is immoral.” Modern day leaders have proffered comparable opinions. Barack Obama stated: “with conviction America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.” Any use of these weapons is absolutely unimaginable. Therefore, the only validity these weapons have is as a deterrent and its usefulness must hinge on whether they provide an effective deterrent.
Yet, this primary argument for a continuation of a nuclear deterrent lacks substantial evidence. Argentina still invaded the Falklands knowing Britain was a nuclear state. Syria and Egypt responded to Israeli aggression by invading in the early 1970s despite the knowledge that the Israelis had successfully tested a nuclear bomb. While non-state actors have attacked nuclear state like on 9/11 against the USA. Foreign affairs continue to be littered with non-state actors and with no one attributable state for a group’s action, nuclear weaponry becomes even more irrelevant.
A prominent argument for a nuclear deterrent is offered by the acclaimed international relations scholar Kenneth Waltz. In his assessment, states that acquire nuclear weapons become more responsible due to an increased burden that their actions could cause mass destruction. But does this hold up? Conventional weapons of warfare have advanced to a point that conflicts, unlike those in the past, fail to produce an end and cause more death and suffering precisely because no side dare use their nuclear arsenal. The 1965 India-Pakistan war, which occurred prior to both nations acquiring the bomb, lasted just lasted 17 days because neither having the sustainability and resources to claim victory. Nuclear weapons are a costly irrelevancy, and one that could be better spent on developing better conventional weapons.
There is no doubt that various elements of what Waltz was saying about nuclear weapons was a huge motivator during the Cold War. Nevertheless, the notion that a nuclear deterrent kept the Cold War cold is, as Ward Wilson describes, “speculation.” Moreover, it is no longer the Cold War. As one commentator describes it: “The strategic security case for the UK remaining a nuclear power is relatively weak. If Britain did not currently have nuclear weapons it would probably not set out to acquire them in response to the security challenges it faces now and is likely to confront in the future.”
In order therefore to rid the world of this abhorrently destructive and hideously expensive weaponry we must enter into multi-lateral agreements. Article IV is the only legally binding section of the Non-Proliferation treaty – to which Britain is a signatory – requests that nuclear states “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament.”
Unquestionably investment in traditional armed forces ones we would actually utilise is a better use of resources as an outcome of disarmament. Education, health and numerous other public services would witness tangible benefits if cuts were attributed to Trident and not these staple public services. The argument for the majority of the pro-nuclear groups hinge on a Realist outlook, where imminent destruction is possible. Twenty former British governmental defence experts pleaded that Trident’s dismantlement would threaten “the survival of our nation”.
It’s not happened for over sixty years now, but it is not beyond international affairs to reform and finally produce its Concorde moment and, hopefully, it will not be predicated by a heart-breaking disaster.