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Britain's Nuclear Deterrent
About a month ago I came across this piece from Tim Montgomerie in the Times of London concerning Britain’s nuclear deterrent.
“On all nuclear submarines is an unopened letter from the PM, instructing what to do if Britain is attacked.
“Once every three months one of Britain’s four Trident nuclear submarines slips out of the Faslane naval base near Glasgow. No one other than its captain knows where the vessel will travel. The submarine will glide silently throughout the world’s marine depths for the next 90 days. It does not send any communications except in extremis, lest it reveal its location.
“This secrecy and invisibility provides the cornerstone of Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent. The message to foreign enemies is that you might obliterate the whole of the British state; you might destroy every one of Britain’s land-based military facilities; but you still won’t be safe from retaliation. From an unknown location, a Royal Navy submarine will be able to deliver a revenge nuclear attack with one thousand times the destructive power of the bomb that killed 150,000 people in Hiroshima.
“While the submarine may not send communications it is constantly listening. If certain tests are met it knows that the British state has been destroyed. One is the absence of Radio 4 transmissions. If there is no Archers, no Shipping forecast, no Today program, there is a strong likelihood that Britain has been subject to a catastrophic attack. In that eventuality the captain of the vessel is under orders to open a safe on the control room floor and read a ‘letter of last resort’ from the Prime Minister.
“Writing that letter is one of the very first acts of any new prime minister and was the subject of ‘The Letter of Last Resort,’ a BBC radio play...We don’t know what David Cameron has written in his letter, nor what his predecessors have written. As soon as a new occupant of 10 Downing Street arrives, the outgoing PM’s letter is destroyed, unopened.
“Prime ministers have essentially four options. They could instruct the commanding officer to retaliate; to turn the other cheek; to exercise his or her own judgment; or to place the vessel under the command of a friendly power such as America or Australia....
“Two emotions may be strong in the minds of the crew of the ballistic submarine charged with deciding whether to act upon their now dead Prime Minister’s letter. One would be the fear that they could face war crimes proceedings if they launched an attack. The other would be the inevitable anger and despair associated with knowing that parents, wives, lovers and children were all probably dead. London, Manchester, Glasgow would have been razed to the ground. Devon, the Lake District, the Welsh coastline all spoilt forever....
“Whatever the Prime Minister’s letter of last resort contains we shouldn’t be downplaying our defenses in this age of rogue states and nuclear proliferation. The only way to maximize our security is to enhance and extend our nuclear and missile defenses. Our enemies should always fear what we are capable of.”
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