For many Britons, maintaining Trident appears to be a matter of common sense. When proudly declaring that she would be willing to use a nuclear weapon to kill 100,000 innocent civilians, Theresa May was met with euphoric cheers from her Tory cabinet and backbenchers alike. This is, of course, unsurprising. With consistent prime ministerial support for the establishment and maintenance of nuclear weapons from Churchill to Cameron, the support for mass homicide was always implicit. However, now that this brutal intent is clear to the British public, for the sake of basic morality, Britain must unilaterally disarm.
It is often argued that unilateral disarmament is a dangerously idealistic pipe-dream that fails to consider the pragmatic implications of wholly prioritising moral sensitivities. After all, without a nuclear weapon, we would be defenceless! Fish in Putin’s barrel, entirely at the mercy of aggressive nuclear powers of both the present and the future. This allegedly being the case, one can easily convince oneself of the necessity of maintaining nuclear weapons.
However, this argument is fundamentally flawed by the fact that nuclear weapons can provide only an illusory sense of security entirely vulnerable to any real-life threat. In any circumstance in which Britain is a victim of a nuclear attack from any source, the most that a nuclear weapon can do is provide a means of crude revenge. Not only would the existence of Trident thus encourage further bloodshed in a retaliatory strike, indiscriminately incinerating defenceless children along with all else in its range, but no British lives could be saved by this weapon of mass destruction.
For proponents of nuclear weapons, this may appear to be missing the point. Perhaps the most common argument employed to justify the existence of nuclear weapons is that of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). However, when one examines the multiple flaws within this way of thinking, the prevalence of this view serves only to discredit the case for nuclear renewal because MAD is flawed through the contradictory assumptions that it makes of foreign nuclear powers.
On the one hand, they cannot be trusted to avoid the use of nuclear weapons on unarmed states out of any sense of moral reasoning. However, we must also believe that the fear of retaliation, which may very well be focussed on said foreign power’s civilian population, is sufficient to perpetually discourage their use of weapons on a fellow nuclear power.
Therefore, MAD does not consider the possibility of a nihilistic or recklessly aggressive foreign power or terror group utilising a nuclear weapon. Nor does it consider the possibility of a nuclear power willing to endanger its own civilian population as potential victims of a retaliatory attack. These should both be concerns with the emergence of ISIS and the continued existence of a nuclear North Korea. In addition, the logic of MAD leads to an assumption that every nation on earth must possess nuclear weapons to feel truly safe. Even the most ardent supporters of Trident ought to be able to understand the potential danger posed by an entirely nuclearised world.
Moreover, following the former Defence Secretary Michael Fallon’s statement that he would not rule out the use of first-strike in “extreme circumstances”, we must also consider the significant danger of British nuclear weapons to the world. This is because it was Prime Minister Theresa May who implicitly supported ideas of such insanity and barbarism whilst Fallon was in her cabinet.
At this point, many may claim that the best evidence for the effectiveness of Trident, and the principle of nuclear deterrents as whole, is history itself. Since the initial use of nuclear weapons in the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, there is yet to be another case of nuclear weapons being used against civilian populations. Many credit Russia and the US’s simultaneous maintenance of weapons as the primary reason behind the prevention of nuclear war throughout the Cold War and up until the modern day.
However, to subsequently support the maintenance of nuclear weapons would be building a stance upon an oversimplification. Although the record of MAD preventing an actual nuclear war may suggest that it has been beneficial for humanity, the millions of lives lost in the Cold War that it fuelled (with over five million combined civilian deaths in the Korea and Vietnam Wars alone) prove that the consequences of holding nuclear weapons as deterrents has been anything but peaceful. Therefore, the revered quality of nuclear weapons preventing direct wars holds little weight to anyone who acknowledges the value of the lives of those such as generational Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange.
Lastly, one must consider perhaps the most persistent of arguments for the maintenance of Trident. Even acknowledging the multiple tactical and moral flaws of Trident, if it even slightly increases the security of Britons, is it not still worth maintaining? The reason why we must still disarm is because one must view the issue of nuclear weapons in the context of the inevitability of death. Considering this, the question is not one of whether we can prevent death through even the most radical of military defences but it is instead one of what morals we wish to live and die by. And with past condemnations of nuclear atrocities including former US president Herbert Hoover (stating the bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima “revolt[ed] my soul”) and Truman’s Chief of Staff William Healy stating that the bombings demonstrate “an ethical standard common to barbarians of the dark ages”, it is clear that nuclear disarmament is an issue of basic humanity.
Therefore, the choice is simple. We can either choose to reject the abhorrent nature of infanticidal and murderous nuclear weapons and die with moral dignity or we can choose to accept these weapons of mass murder and die tainted with the dissolution of even our most basic moral codes, with the only benefit being a potential extension of our own lives.