So in a pre-“Trident Debate” mode let me say…

1) The whole debate is about replacing the ballistic missile submarines (officially the SSBNs). Not the Trident D5 missiles (whose name is incorrectly used to describe the whole system), not the nuclear warheads, which are the ones which cause the devastation. Read this House of Commons research report. Another simple to read document is this one, yet another MOD publication

2) No one and no organisation (including the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), the Scottish National Party (SNP), the anti-“Trident” Labour Party members including Jeremy Corbyn) have come up with a sensible idea what to do if the vote falls against the motion. No one has said how to properly scrap the not-even-completed-Successor-class submarines, how to quickly retrain specialised skilled workers, what to do with the Royal Navy submariners destined for these submarines, the support personnel, the civilians who support these personnel, their families. Then what to do with HMND Clyde which is prepared or is preparing to house these submarines.

3) People forget (and in relation to point 1)) that even if the vote doesn’t go in favour, it does not mean the UK’s nuclear weapons are gone. With the vote just about replacing the SSBNs, the missiles (yeah of course they are American-made but British-leased) will still be there. The nuclear warheads will still be there. Again, in relation to point 2, no one has created an idea how to dismantle all of them safely and quickly without thinking about the astronomical cost. At the most, the Yanks (heh) will take back the missiles, AWE will have to prove they can dismantle the warheads (such cost still paid by the British (not just Scottish) taxpayer) and their whole company.

4) A removal of the submarines and then maybe the whole infrastructure (which the vote again is not about) WILL NOT reduce global nuclear weapons or create a spark for nuclear weapons reduction. The response will likely be: US (and France) will increase their warheads or delivery systems to match the loss of the UK’s nuclear deterrent. Or Russia and China may also join the “replace the short fall” race. Or regional, non-Nuclear Proliferation Treaty (NPT) nuclear powers would increase their stockpile.

5) With the lack of any current feasible anti-ballistic missile defence (BMD) system, a total removal of the UK’s nuclear deterrent would be the UK has no option should there be a nuclear threat (however so unlikely) or WMD or non-WMD missiles launched at British territories or interests. Of course, using a nuclear response to a non-nuclear attack has always been ruled out by British governments. However, the total removal of its deterrent means the door will be really open for threats. Can diplomacy and conventional forces subdue the threats?

6) The UK is a puny nuclear deterrent nation. The US has its triad (Bombers, ICBMs and SSBNs with SLBMs and tactical nuclear weapons–eek!), the French has two modes of delivery (SSBNs and via fighters (Rafales) launched by land or via their single aircraft carrier). The Russians have a less updated (maybe) triad which is being modernised. China (PRC) has some sort of triad. And then there are regional nuclear powers as mentioned in point 4. So a removal will mean a removal of the puniest nuclear weapons state.

7) The issue therefore is not about the Successor-class submarines or system of delivery but about reducing what is the real WMD–the warheads. At around 120 operationally available warheads and a stockpile of around 225 warheads, it is argued by pro-“Trident” pundits that is enough or not enough. I say there can be a slow phased reduction but simultaneously, there must be harder or more efforts placed on multilateral non-nuclear proliferation. The UK is right to maintain a minimum deterrent but not correct is being arrogant about it.

8) As the information charts say, this nuclear deterrent has never been set out to deter conventional, state or non-state based threats including terrorism. Yes, each terrorist or non-nuclear attack every day makes it hard to believe that the UK needs a deterrent. I bet the submariners, no some of them, are thinking, what the hell am I doing when London was attacked on 7 July 2005, or the latest Nice attacks. Or what’s happening in Syria. But again, don’t shut down all your electrical goods because you want to save energy. That’s too extreme….

9) Continuous-at-sea-deterrent (CASD) does play another crucial role besides (attempting) to deter nuclear threats from state powers. It helps train submariners, from the chef to the captain, on submarine-based procedures. It’s not your holiday cruise but a military activity where crew members do get their “Dolphins”. Removing their vessels or boats means less ability to train them.

10) Back to point 2. What’s going to replace the SSBNs? There’s no such thing as money immediately going back to the government’s “bank” because you still need to spend it on dismantling the submarines and their infrastructure (as I pointed out), and probably more billions in safely removed the whole system. By then, would you expect government to say, hey, here are savings for the NHS and non-military means? Or military stuff?

The nuclear button–the fallacy, the missing point

Since bearded, love-IRA, hate-NATO, love-Hamas (you get my drift) Corbyn was “elected” leader of the UK Labour Party and thus Leader of Her Majesty’s Most Loyal Opposition, there has been controversy almost every other day. One of the biggest was that over the UK’s nuclear deterrent, erroneously called “Trident” in British circles. Corbyn, a a certain BBC Today Programme, stated that “I am opposed to the use of nuclear weapons. I [Corbyn] am opposed to the holding of nuclear weapons…” and the report claimed that “Should he get to Number 10, he said simply, he would not press the nuclear button…” (see this news report).

Fast foward to 4 October 2015 where Andrew Marr interviewed David Cameron. Here’s the full transcript (I don’t have access to the BBC today transcript.) Andrew Marr asked:

Marr: You mentioned Jeremy Corbyn just now. He said, with admirable clarity and honesty, that there were no circumstances in which he would press the nuclear button. Would you say the same or would you say yes there are circumstances…

 

Cameron: …No his answer … The problem with his answer is that if you want to have…if you believe, like me, that Britain should keep the ultimate insurance policy of an independent nuclear deterrent, you have to accept there are circumstances in which its use would be justified. And if you give any other answer other than that, you are frankly undermining our national security, undermining our deterrent and making Britain in a dangerous world…

 

Marr: So you would press the button in short?

 

Cameron: I’ve given the answer, which is if you believe in the nuclear deterrent – as I do – you have to accept there are circumstances that justify its use.

My interpretation is that Corbyn would never increase the readiness level of the SSBNs or never issue the order to fire if the UK is under the threat of a state-led nuclear attack or has already been nuked, Corbyn as PM (ugh!) would not fire a Trident D5 missile in retaliation (since if he was PM he would have dismantled the SSBNs and their SLBMS). David Cameron and future possible conservative PMs would do the opposite: should the UK be under nuclear attack or nuked, they would increase the alert level of the deployed SSBN and fire back in retaliation if the UK was nuked.

Corbyn’s “I will never push the button” stated resulted in many media and social media “outrage” that he’s not a leader with any credibility on defence and is undermining defence and the nuclear deterrent. Mark Stout from War on the Rocks wrote pro-nuclear deterrent article attack dear bearded one and saying he should never be Prime Minister.

That’s find, people can be outraged. The fact of the matter is that Andrew Marr and media outlets created a storm with factually incorrect information. First, there is no “nuclear button” in the UK. Yes, it is known that UK command and control over its nuclear weapons in the past and present is not as stringent as in the US. Former WE, 177 bombs were only secured via so-called bicycle locks. Past and possible current SSBNs do not have the US “Permission Active Link” security system PAL as the MOD said, “The number of participants required to act in concert means that the ‘Permissive Action Link’ type safeguards found in other systems are not relevant in the SSBN domain” and “The UK took a decision not to install Trident CCDs or their equivalent on the grounds that an aggressor might be able to wipe out the British chain of command before a launch order had been sent”. (This matter of weak C&C will be discussed in another post.) Instead of having a so-called button, all UK Prime Ministers (possibly) go through a similar “two-man” rule, like the US POTUS does (should they want to start or add to doomsday). As Paul Beaver, a strong military analyst explained, the order (to launch a SLBM) has to go through several protocols I quote the news article:

A sequencing system ensures a printed code, stored in a secret Ministry of Defence location, has to tally with that kept in a safe on board the nuclear submarine. Two officers, extensively tested for their mental stability, sit in separate parts of the submarine and enter the code simultaneously into a computer, allowing the launch. The PM makes the decision, but several other people probably get involved at various points during the process, including the attorney general and the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee.

The rest of the article talks about the “letters of last resort” which is more well known and written in open access publications. This two-man control has also been confirmed by RUSI analyst and nuclear proliferation expert Andrea Berger, who told yours truly that If PM inputs code in PINDAR he needs [a] second person (CDS I believe) to verify. Formally, order won’t go anywhere without it. (Pindar is the protected bunker under Whitehall–possibly–where the PM and staff would go in nuclear crisis or something of that sort). Beyond the two-man control (especially on board the submarine), former Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS) Lord Guthrie says the Monarch of the day controls the armed forces so that even an irrational or lunatic Prime Minister won’t be able to easily start World War Three. (This claim may sound far-fetched though). The bottom line is that neither anti-nuclear weapons Corbyn no “yes I’ll fire” Cameron or any future (or past) UK Prime Minister can easily press. So end of ruckus please.

The second issue missing from the Marr and BBC question is the time frame that leaders to the decision. In both C and C’s claim, they won’t or will fire due to a threat or an attack to the UK. However, exactly what led up to this threat? Was there a total breakdown in relationships between the UK and a nuclear weapon state? Did negotiations fails? Did conventional war break out or large-scale proxy war? Was the UK acting aggressively or too passively? The whole conventional idea of the nuclear deterrent means that I won’t fire because I know you wold fire back. But about the time frame that may cause State A to still fire? This is the big question that people must ponder over.