UK Nuclear Deterrent Policy
The UK Trident Nuclear Weapon System

A series of three articles based on some two years of detailed research:

  • PART 1 The theory of nuclear deterrence is flawed, unproven and poses significant dangers from accidental use

  • PART 2 The cost to the UK of maintaining the Trident Force has reduced our conventional forces to an unacceptably low level, the consequences of which have dangerously reduced the nuclear threshold

  • PART 3   Commanding Officers (COs) of Trident submarines are briefed that HMG policy of 'deliberate uncertainty' (so includes the possibility of First Use - wrongly referred to as 'Last Resort') is lawful; however, a majority of non-nuclear weapon States disagee and so do eminent international humanitarian lawyers. I suggest that this places COs in legal jeapordy if they obey a firing order without knowing the facts.

  • POSTSCRIPT Subsequent to publishing Part 3, I engaged in an online debate with a former MoD nuclear policy officer. In answer to the question posed in Part 3 he stated that, uniquely, SSBN COs were lawfully absolved from responsibility because they did not know the facts. I disagreed. This postscript explains why. I wrote to the MoD asking if this was official Government opinion. The reply declines to answer the specific question. 

 robertforsyth©2019   reproduction or publishing of these papers in whole or in part without my permission is not allowed


I commanded a conventional powered submarine HMS Alliance, was Executive Officer (2nd-in-command) of the Polaris submarine HMS Repulse (temporarily in command),Teacher to the submarine CO's Command Course aka Perisher and commanded a nuclear powered Hunter Killer submarine HMS Sceptre.

The Trident weapon system is significantly more powerful than Polaris and the threat has changed but the fundamental questions remain the same. The answers that follow may help form opinions.  

Click on the blue links for expanded discussions on Questions 1-5 and other supplementary material.                          

 HMS Repulse - test missile firing Florida 1973

I - The Trident Weapon System

The total capability of the present Trident weapon system with a full load of missiles and their warheads is 128 x 100Kt warheads which can be fired at 144 different targets with a total explosive power many hundreds of times more powerful than Hiroshima - see fact sheet.

If you wish to see what a nuclear explosion will do follow this link and insert just one 100Kt bomb yield in the relevant box. Note this does not predict the enormous amount of radiation fall out that would travel down wind and could kill hundreds of thousands more. 

II - Who is Trident meant to deter - and will it?

"What I cannot be absolutely confident about is whether or not that (threat of firing Trident) would be sufficient to deter them from using a weapon of mass destruction in the first place." - Secretary of State Defence. 2002 

III - Is UK Trident independent of the US and, if not, do we need it as well?

"If the United States were to withdraw their cooperation completely, the UK nuclear capability would probably have a life expectancy measured in months rather than years...." Report in July 2014 by British American Security Council (BASIC).

A table showing the UK's dependency on the US as attached to a House of Commons Select Committee report (7 March 2006) can be found HERE

IV - Can the UK afford both Trident and adequate conventional armed forces?

“Trident is likely to take up between a third and a half of the entire defence procurement budget for the 2020s.” - Independent newspaper 23 January 2016.

V - Is there an alternative?

VI - Trident needs to remain invulnerable beyond 2030 - will it?

“By the time they get in the water there will have been roughly 45 generations of development of anti-submarine warfare technology.  Deep-sea drones and other new means of finding secret subs are on their way. It is heroic, to say the least, to suggest that 45 generations later they’re not going to be able to detect the submarines. If the sub can be seen, it’s useless. If there is no hiding place for the vessels gliding through the deep, dark depths in the early 2030s, the billions we will have spent on a new Trident will be blown out of the water." - Mr Paul Ingram, member of BASIC group.

Chatham House report of January 2018 assesses system vulnerability to Cyber attack and suggests this impairs its value as a deterrent.

VII - Is there a conventional war head as an alternative to the nuclear one?

Yes. The US revealed in 2006 that they had developed a warhead which utilises the enormous amount of kinetic energy that a mass of tungsten steel rods arriving at super-sonic speed from the stratosphere would have. Delivered to pin point accuracy such a warhead could penetrate deep bunkers. Follow up cruise or air launched missiles could exploit the damage initially caused by what one might call 'the shock and awe' of an unexpected first strike attack.

VIII - What about unemployment if Trident is cancelled?

Much has been made of the fact that the Trident system employs thousands of people who will be put of a job. I personally find it unacceptably immoral to consider retaining a nuclear capability just to avoid unemployment. The fact is, that with the money saved, jobs could be created in building more ships, submarines, aircraft and military vehicles - and still have some left over for reducing the national debt.

IX - What happens if Scotland becomes independent?

The Faslane Naval Base can continue to be a major naval facility for ships and nuclear submarines armed with conventional weapons and Scotland would almost certainly allow nuclear missile firing submarines to undergo maintenance in the base provided their nuclear missiles were not embarked at the time. The RN would therefore have to seek an alternative location. There are a number of possible sites.

Professor William Walker of St Andrews University lucidly summarised the relationship between Scottish Independence and the basing of Trident submarines in Scotland in a paper he wrote in 2015 prior to the UK Government's Gateway decision to proceed with Trident replacement.

X - Timeline of International Law


Video recording (35 mins) of a presentation to The Iona Community in March 2018

Further reading


and for more information please email me


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