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Last week's poll: renewing Trident

It will cost the UK some £100bn to renew the Trident nuclear deterrent. Do we still need Trident, or should the money be spent some other way?

The question of whether the UK needs nuclear weapons neveer fails to arouse opinion, and our poll last week attracted almost 800 respondents representing a wide spread of standpoints. The largest group, 31 per cent, opposed the renewal and indeed the Cold War concept of nuclear deterrent, as Britain no longer faces the type of threat that Trident was intended to counter. The next largest, perhaps inevitably, was pro-Trident, with 27 per cent saying that we simply don’t know what sort of threats might emerge, so security demands that we renew the system. Another large group, 22 per cent, said that Trident was an expensive option and the UK should look for cheaper ways to deploy a nuclear deterrent. Smaller numbers went for the other options, with 8 per cent saying that Trident is still the best way of deterring nuclear attack, and that international prestige, rather than security, is the main reason for renewing Trident.


Even the great Jim Hacker had problems rationalising the reasons for renewing Trident, and relied on the impeccable logic of Sir Humphrey Appleby to explain it, as this clip from Yes, Prime Minister shows. And incredibly, this was transmitted in 1986.

Readers' comments (38)

  • Renewing Trident is not optional. Owing to the emergence of more countries obtaining nuclear weapons capability, renewing Trident is a necessity. Many of the new nuclear powers are based on unpredictable and unstable political structures and although at the moment things may appear quiet in the not too distant future that may not be the case. No matter how objectionable we must be prepared to defend ourselves.

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  • Reasons for keeping a nuclear deterrent:
    - Clinging to Great Britain's past when GB was still great.
    - Keeping a permanent presence at the UN's security council.
    - Trying to play with the big boys.

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  • The problem about cheaper options is that it means cruise missile launched warheads that can be launched from any warship and that comes with 2 problems:-

    1) All launch platforms apart from nuclear submarines are vulnerable to a pre-emptive strike.


    2) Cruise missiles are vulnerable to being shot down whereas ballistic missiles are not vulnerable to being shot down.

    As such the only credible deterrent is a ballistic missile launched from a Nuclear Submarine.

    Unlike Cruise Missiles, a ballistic missile cannot be launched from a Hunter Killer Nuclear Submarine so they require a ballistic nuclear submarine like the current submarines.

    My only query is why cant we have replacement trident missiles to replace the old ones and reuse the warheads and build new ballistic submarines.

    I ask because replacement seems to be based upon old missiles and old submarines that need scrapping and not the effectiveness of the missile system or warheads. So why not new missiles to the existing design and new submarines with the latest technology to escape detection to have an effective ballistic submarine system slightly cheaper than new submarines with a new missile design.

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  • We need Trident as R.Bebbington says but also because of the spin-off of jobs, research and prestige.
    Russia continues to be anti-west with its views and Iran, North Korea and Pakistan unstable and threatening. Until these threats disappear we need to be vigilant and prepared.
    I don't like it but see it as necessary. I don't like BAE being solely an armaments manufacturer and would like to see them use their skills to produce civil aircraft and ships.

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  • I have worked in the nuclear industry for 3 decades now and reached a fairly senior position at Ameco. In my mind anybody arguing against nuclear use in civil or military applications is a socialist fascist. Would you rather squander billions on benefits or invest worldclass nuclear research?

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  • The vast majority of the benefits budget goes on pensions; that's a highly controversial definition of 'squandering.'

  • As a Scot, I will be voting YES in the referendum. I can't wait to get rid of Westminster and kick the nuclear subs out of Scotland.

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  • You might hurt your foot; they're pretty big.

  • The nuclear missle system is leased from the United States.
    Do we have to maintain the pretence that this is ours alone, and sustain our extravagant doctrine of "continuous at-sea deterrence". Deterrence against what? Nazis? Aliens? Killer jellyfish? Our Trident missiles, due to be replaced and deployed at a cost of several tens of billions, have no visible strategic purpose. They are the reification of a fantasy: a fantasy that the United Kingdom is still a defining world power and that our enemies present an existential threat. As usual, the government is preparing for the last war, building a fantastical Maginot Line against the enemies of a previous century, the ghost armies that haunt the official imagination.

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  • As Dan Plesch shows in his report on British weapons systems, we have no independent deterrent. Since 1943, when the UK joined the Manhattan Project, our nuclear weapons programme has relied on crumbs from the US table. The US has granted us a franchise on parts of its programme, which it has graciously allowed us to rebrand with the Union flag.

    Our Trident missiles are currently leased from the US. The warheads they carry are based on an American design (the W-76) and manufactured at the Atomic Weapons Establishment in Berkshire. Its factory is a copy of a nuclear plant at Los Alamos, and it is two-thirds owned by the American companies Lockheed Martin and Jacobs Engineering. The firing system is designed and built in the US; so is the missile guidance system. The missiles are aimed with the help of US satellites. The subs themselves are designed and built in the UK, but use American components and American reactor technology. There might be the odd shaving brush and plastic cup on board that was designed and manufactured entirely in the UK, but that's about the limit of our deterrent's independence. Any more questions?

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  • Independence, you are having a laugh.
    In 2003 the then UK defence secretary, Geoff Hoon, announced that he would restructure the armed forces to make them "inter-operable" with those of the US. The idea that our government, which has renounced sovereign control of its forces, could launch a nuclear attack without the blessing of – or instructions from – the US is ludicrous. Yet it will not contemplate even sharing patrols with France.

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  • Both the government and the opposition assert their virility by rejecting offers of power-sharing from Europe, while accepting offers of subordination from the US. Never do they find themselves obliged to explain why. Those who most loudly proclaim themselves patriots are the first to demand that we prostrate ourselves before the US.

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