The Times – 26 April 2013
General Sir Hugh Beach opposed the British nuclear deterrent in the 1980s, when the Soviet threat was severe, and he continues to oppose it now (letter, April 23). Supporters of Trident are no less persistent.
Sir Hugh asserts that North Korea’s nuclear threats have no implications for the UK; that the US guarantee is all that we need; that, without such a guarantee, a British Prime Minister would not fire a missile “notwithstanding [his] technical ability” to do so; and that an unnamed US official wants us to invest our defence resources elsewhere. This last point is trivial and the others unpersuasive.
At present, North Korea’s nuclear bombast poses little, if any, direct threat to the UK. Yet, it clearly illustrates how suddenly rogue states can provoke crises. Non-nuclear countries must either capitulate to such blackmail or rely on the United States promising to retaliate on their behalf. This carries risks of miscalculation. A US guarantee may be genuine but disbelieved – an aggressor discovering his mistake only when it is too late for all involved. By contrast, any threat to use a nuclear weapon against the UK entails the certainty of a devastating response.
The US could do nothing to impede such a UK response. The independence of our continuous at-sea deterrent is not just “technical”, as Sir Hugh says. It is absolute. His analogy with US behaviour after Suez does not apply to the dire scenario of a threat to destroy British cities.
In 1986 no one expected that, within 15 years, Communism in Russia would collapse, the Warsaw Pact would be dissolved, its principal members would join NATO, and our main opponents would be religious terrorists. This can change just as quickly again. Renewing four Trident submarines will cost less than the proposed budget for the next high-speed train. They will be deployed, not just 15 years ahead, but until well after 2050. Trident is our ultimate insurance against threats which cannot be predicted from enemies yet to be identified. We would be reckless indeed to abandon it.
ADMIRAL LORD WEST OF SPITHEAD
Dr JULIAN LEWIS MP