'TRIDENT AND FUTURE THREATS'

The Times – 5 December 2006

Matthew Parris (Dec 2) invites us to give even “one good argument” for replacing the nuclear deterrent.

The lifespan of a new generation of the deterrent will be from 2025 to, approximately, 2055. No one can possibly foretell what threats this country will face during the next half century. The onus is on unilateral nuclear disarmers to explain how they can guarantee that such threats will not include ones posed by states armed with mass destruction weapons. Only 20 years ago one would have been thought crazy to predict that our primary security threat in 2006 would be from fundamentalist suicidal terrorists, and that the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact would no longer exist. Why should our predictive powers be better for the next 50 years than they were in the past 20?

Dr JULIAN LEWIS MP
Shadow Defence Minister
House of Commons
London SW1A 0AA

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[Set out below is the full text of the letter, which had to be shortened for publication.]

Matthew Parris (December 2) invites us to give even "one good argument" for replacing the nuclear deterrent. Here are just three out of many.

First, the lifespan of a new generation of the deterrent will be from 2025 to, approximately, 2055. No-one can possibly foretell what threats this country will face during the next half-century. The onus is on unilateral nuclear disarmers to explain how they can guarantee that such threats will not include ones posed by states armed with mass-destruction weapons. Only 20 years ago, one would have been thought crazy to predict that our primary security threat in 2006 would be from fundamentalist, suicidal terrorists, and that the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact would no longer exist. Why should our predictive powers be better for the next 50 years than they were in the past 20?

Secondly, it is not just the threat of strategic nuclear attack or blackmail which may arise over this long future period. Any country armed with even a few deliverable nuclear warheads would be much more able to engage in conventional aggression, secure in the knowledge that Britain’s conventional forces could not be used in response for fear of even limited nuclear retaliation by the aggressor. For example, whereas the United Kingdom would never have used nuclear weapons in response to Argentina’s attack on the Falklands, what would the situation have been if Argentina had had some mass-destruction weapons whilst Britain had none? Would we have dared to deploy our conventional forces whilst unable to counter the use of mass-destruction weapons by a dictatorship with both a nuclear monopoly and far fewer scruples than our democratic leaders?

Thirdly, it may be true that our American allies would retaliate on our behalf if, as their principal ally, we were subjected to a nuclear attack; but there can be no assurance that an aggressor would accurately assess their determination to do so. Choosing to attack the smaller of the two allies, he might discover his mistake only when it was too late for all concerned. Such a miscalculation would be averted by the knowledge that – contrary to myth – we could retaliate on our own behalf irrespective of what the United States decided to do.

It makes no more sense to dismantle the deterrent because the immediate threat is one it is not designed to meet, than it would to abolish our conventional armed forces during any prolonged period of peace. The United Kingdom needs a balanced mixture of deterrent and defensive power. A minimum strategic nuclear force is an essential component of this.

Dr JULIAN LEWIS MP
Shadow Defence Minister
House of Commons
London SW1A 0AA