Letters: Trident: have we considered the alternatives?

These letters appear in the 27th January 2016 edition of The Independent

Tuesday 26 January 2016 20:03 GMT
Faslane, on the River Clyde, is the home of Britain’s fleet of Trident nuclear submarines
Faslane, on the River Clyde, is the home of Britain’s fleet of Trident nuclear submarines (Getty Images)

In the debate over renewal of Trident, the two crucial issues are the assessment of future risks against which a British independent nuclear weapon would be effective insurance, and the costs of maintaining the means of delivery.

The nature of conflict in today’s world is quite different from the era of the Cold War, when mass destruction was the overriding threat to the country. Brutal and persistent as many current regional conflicts are, none of them poses an existential threat to the UK. The question therefore arises against whom and in what circumstances Britain’s independent nuclear weapon would be a necessary deterrent.

An international crisis of such gravity that brought into prospect the possible use of nuclear weapons would be a crisis for the whole of the western alliance. Surely, it is inconceivable that the UK would use its weapon independently of the US? And as both the warheads and their means of delivery are American made and supplied, it is certain that any decision on deployment would be taken in Washington rather than London.

The cost of renewing Trident is estimated at between £40m and £100m. This is a huge amount to pay just so the UK can continue to pose as a Great Power. There are better things to spend the money on, military and otherwise, not least the augmentation of our conventional forces, which seem more likely to be required for intervention in regional disputes.

John Crossland

Petts Wood, Kent

Multiple, or even single, warheads re-entering the atmosphere having followed a ballistic trajectory from a sub-sea launch will be taken to be nuclear weapons until proved otherwise and predictable responses will be made before impact.

Telling the target country that they only contain a few tons of conventional explosive will make no difference. A conventionally armed Trident system is a total waste of resources.

The UK does not need two classes of U-boats. The Astute class are excellent and can launch cruise missiles carrying nuclear or conventional warheads – as well as doing all the other things that such boats do.

Increasing the number of Astute class boats, adopting our own or an ally’s cruise missile (French Perseus?) and manufacturing our own nuclear weapons would give us a convincing level of deterrence, a practical measure of ambiguity, tactical flexibility, genuine independence of action, stealthy characteristics denied to ICBMs, and greater resilience – an enemy has to fret about a much larger number of boats and much lower cost.

Steve Ford

Haydon Bridge, Northumberland

May I propose a solution to the Trident problem that will enable the Tories to pursue their relentless austerity programme, while releasing Jeremy Corbyn from his red button dilemma?

Given that Trident and successors work purely as deterrents and by their nature must remain invisible, why not simply pretend we have them? Yes, we would still need one or two convincing-looking craft occasionally to appear at and disappear from their home base – manned by just a skeleton crew, of course – and during their “development” we would need convincingly to incur massive cost over-runs, accompanied by appropriate parliamentary hand-wringing.

And ideally, the decoy craft could stage accidental and embarrassing groundings during their proving trials off Scotland, in order to send out the right signals to watchful eyes. All of which would save a fortune, avert the meltdown of the Labour Party, and maintain our psychological defence posture.

Of course, whatever happens, we must not let on to that naughty Mr Putin and his gang.

Ian Bartlett

East Molesey, Surrey

Yugo Kovach, a critic of Britain’s Trident submarine missile system, argues that “it is inconceivable that No 10 would fire Trident in anger without prior approval from the White House” (letter, 26 January).

Yet should we not be considering a hypothetical, worst-case scenario whereby the US has retreated into neo-isolationism in the event of a Russian attack on Western Europe, or Washington is wavering over the protection of the West? Under those circumstances, Britain would have to consider firing Trident missiles without Washington’s approval.

Anthony Martin

London SE15

A deterrent can deter only a rational enemy. Such a person would be adequately deterred by the knowledge that we still had a couple of rusty old Polaris missiles which might still work.

An irrational enemy, such as a group of jihadis planning another 9/11 in a flat in Hamburg, would be neither deterred by, nor relevant to, possible nuclear retaliation.

Roger Martin

Wells, Somerset

Britain has atoned for colonial crimes

I strongly disagree with Yasmin Alibhai-Brown (“Britain must face up to its shameful past”, 25 January).

Two of the greatest freedom fighters, Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela, have pride of place in Parliament Square. David Cameron was at the unveiling of the Gandhi statue last year. He paid homage to the great man.

Britain took responsibility for its colonial past and welcomed Yasmin and tens of thousands of Asians from Uganda, Kenya and other countries.

Yes, a great amount of atrocities and injustices took place during the colonial period. It was a different generation of people. The subsequent generations of people have acknowledged the worst excesses of the time.

Yasmin says that spicy food and home languages were banned in her school in Uganda. I went to school in Kenya and we never had such restrictions. Prime Minister Cameron hosted Prime Minister Modi of India last year and the two countries are forging a great partnership as equals. Diwali is now celebrated at 10 Downing Street.

We have come a long way and it is tiresome to hear the woes repeated.

Nitin Mehta

Croydon, Surrey

No right to gender segregation in public

I am glad that Farzana Yousuf is one of the majority of peace-loving Muslim women, but I think she misses the point about our government moves to ban gender segregation in public places (letter, 26 January).

In the past women and men of this country have fought to have the right to be treated as equals and be included in social and political life. Every woman in this country has equal rights and no one of whatever religion should be segregated in public because of their gender.

If Muslim people wish to segregate in private then fine, they have that freedom; but in today’s society women should be free to sit wherever they like and speak to whom they like, whatever gender, especially in schools and public places. That’s what our government is protecting.

Linda Dickins

Wimborne, Dorset

Voles kinder than scientists

The endearingly anthropomorphic headline “Small kindness: prairie voles ‘display empathy’ when their friends suffer” (22 January) belies the cruelty of the story, which reveals that electric shocks were given to these animals to induce suffering as part of the experiment.

Your science editor writes that “empathy is considered one of the higher emotions” and that the researchers were surprised to find that small-brained mammals have it.

It seems that prairie voles stand rather higher on the evolutionary ladder than these cold scientists whose emotional intelligence appears to be at absolute zero.

Philip Henneman


It’s not all right to insult asylum-seekers

The firm that insisted that asylum-seekers wear wristbands to claim meals has been, rightly, criticised, since identification has attracted insults and threats. But what of those who insult and threaten the asylum-seekers? Are they not blameworthy? Why do we assume that if asylum-seekers are identifiable they will be threatened?

Sylvia Platt


Don’t disparage the brave Sara Keays

I really did not like your obituary of Cecil Parkinson (26 January). It almost made Sara Keays out to be a villain. She wasn’t. She was a victim.

I apologise for speaking ill of the dead, but the fact that she didn’t just quietly go away with her baby and never bother him again isn’t a reason to disparage. She was unbelievably brave. Especially when she reported him for telling her those stupid secrets.

Helen Braithwaite

London NW3

Sack the corporate tax-avoiders

I have uninstalled Google from my PC. When Google asked me why, I entered: “You don’t pay enough tax to the UK.” I recommend that everyone does the same.

David Rose

Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands

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