New Forest East


The Times – 19 January 1993

"Although the [Start 2] agreement virtually wipes out Moscow's ability to launch a first strike attack,"

according to your correspondents in Washington and Moscow (report, January 5),

"it only sharply reduces Washington's capability to do so."

Yet, neither country can possibly destroy enough of the other's nuclear warheads to prevent unacceptable levels of retaliation. Nor will this be probable by the year 2003, when START 2 is due to be implemented, if each retains the 3,000-plus strategic warheads allowed by the treaty.

None of this affects Britain's Trident programme because, unlike Russia and America, we have a policy of minimum nuclear deterrence. It is based on five key principles:

1. As nuclear warheads are weapons of mass destruction, unacceptable levels of destruction can be inflicted by quite small numbers. Additional quantities may serve a political purpose in great power confrontations, but they do not serve a military purpose.

2. The choice of warhead totals for a minimum deterrent is, therefore, a technical question, entirely unrelated to the size of the present or future surplus "overkill" capacity of the great-power arsenals.

3. The system must be flexible enough to defeat any technical counter-measures which may be deployed or developed: it must constitute a minimum deterrent at the end of its lifespan, not just at the beginning.

4. Warhead totals must be determined irrespective of short-term political predictions, such as those relied upon by Messrs. Pullinger and Mackie (letters, January 8). Such predictions could easily be falsified within the lifetime of the system.

5. With a submarine-based deterrent, the number of warheads considered must be the total guaranteed to be at sea at any one time, not the total carried on the entire fleet. In the case of Trident, this will mean just one boat (with its proposed maximum of 128 warheads) if and when Start 2 comes into effect.

The Trident system will have to protect this country for at least 30 years: more than twice as long as the rise and fall of Nazi Germany. Cuts in surplus capacity are politically desirable, but militarily irrelevant to Britain's minimum deterrent.

Deputy Director
Conservative Research Department
London SW1