All posts by criticalsecurities

Scotland No vote has halted a wider debate about Trident

By Andrew Futter, University of Leicester

Nowhere was the relief over Scotland’s decision last week to remain part of the United Kingdom more acutely felt than with those responsible for Britain’s nuclear deterrent system, Trident.

The Scottish National Party had promised that independence would lead to the removal of Trident submarines and the associated nuclear warhead storage facilities from their bases on the Clyde estuary, not far from Glasgow. Irrespective of various Ministry of Defence contingency plans, it would have been very difficult if not impossible to relocate them. Consequently, a vote for Scottish independence could also have been a vote for UK unilateral nuclear disarmament.

HMS Ambush Returning to HMNB Clyde, Scotland
HMS ambush returning to HMNB Clyde, Scotland. Photo by UK Ministry of Defence.

Crisis averted?

The UK is presently in the process of replacing the Trident system. While last year’s Trident Alternatives Review, conducted at the behest of the Liberal Democrats, pointed to other reduced nuclear options, a replacement will almost certainly involve like-for-like replacement of the current four-boat submarine force.

As a result, should the successor to Trident programme be given the “green light” after next years’ general election (which seems probable), the first of a new generation of nuclear-armed submarines will be deployed by around 2030 – and Britain will retain a highly sophisticated nuclear weapons capability with global reach well into the second half of the 21st century.

Put bluntly, that means the UK will always have a submarine somewhere at sea and ready to fire its long-range nuclear armed missiles at short notice.

Since work on the new submarines will not start until 2016 at the earliest, a Yes vote might have sunk these plans before they had even begun. It would also have forced the UK government to look long and hard at the nuclear issue, and would have propelled the question right into the heart of public debate.

Instead, at a crucial moment, the No vote has papered over the cracks that are starting to appear in the nuclear rationale. The Scottish result is therefore an important victory for those committed to making sure the UK has an independent nuclear deterrent for decades to come – and a missed opportunity for those opposed to it.

Eve of destruction

The argument that nuclear weapons are an insurance against an uncertain future remains seductive, but it’s undeniably less persuasive than it was during the Cold War.

Even with eight states (nine including Israel) still nuclear-armed and the global non-proliferation effort fraying, the logic of existential deterrence that birthed Trident in the first place has unquestionably weakened: the biggest dangers the UK is now facing appears to be asymmetric threats from cross-border groups such as Islamic State, not an ideological bloc of belligerent nuclear-armed states.

And because the need for the deterrent is no longer a given, a relocation from Scotland would have forced planners and officials to make the case for spending a colossal sum of money on it; far less will be required for mere replacement.

But even more importantly, the UK government would have had to give considerable thought to what the country’s future deterrence requirements actually are. That would mean answering difficult questions about who, exactly, needs to be deterred – and whether nuclear weapons still in fact serve this function as they have in the past.

Successor Submarine
A computer graphic image of a Successor class submarine. Image by UK Ministry of Defence.

The new normal

International pressure against nuclear weapons has grown considerably in recent years, particularly since Barack Obama’s Prague Speech in 2009 and his ensuing receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize. All this has greatly strengthened the notion of an international taboo against the use of nuclear weapons.

And given the rapid development of hi-tech modern military systems and capabilities (such as drones, precision-guided weapons and cyber weapons) that may one day finally end the centrality of nuclear forces, the long-term rationale for, and utility of, the UK nuclear deterrent are both becoming increasingly blurred.

These dynamics will be particularly acute for Britain, given its small nuclear stockpile and strong domestic anti-nuclear history. But while there will certainly be much debate surrounding the final “main gate” decision now scheduled for 2016, it will never be as heated and critical as the furore that would have been generated by the relocation of the entire UK nuclear weapons complex. That in turn makes it all the more likely the decision will be waved through in two year’s time.

As a result, we may well come to look back on the Scottish independence referendum as the moment when the UK missed a chance to have an open and productive debate about its relationship with nuclear weapons – and instead it has all but guaranteed itself a nuclear-armed 21st century.

The ConversationAndrew Futter receives funding from the UK Economic and Social Research Council.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

Friday Links

Experts respond to the lastest IPCC report, with some very sensible words from Mike Hulme (Kings College London):

“…it is good and proper to ask critical questions about the state of climate knowledge. Science never produces finished products, only provisional ones. But being sceptical about climate science does not automatically entitle one to be negative about climate policies—the question is what sorts of climate policies are most appropriate—effective and plausible—given what we know today. The problems of energy supply, weather risks and poor air quality all need to be tackled in some way even if the climate sensitivity was only 1.5C. This latest assessment of climate science from the IPCC threatens to distract from resolving the core issue of climate change – the political challenge of finding policy interventions that are effective and plausible. The difficulties in implementing policies that reduce the dangers of a changing climate don’t result from a deficiency of scientific knowledge. Raising the confidence that humans are a major influence on climate from ‘very likely’ to ‘extremely likely’ doesn’t change the politics of climate change. The difficulties arise because of different interests, values and attitudes to risk. These can only be worked through using political strategies that are less constrained by the need to reach global agreements.

We need a more pragmatic politics of climate change, not more weighty science about climate change.

Some useful links for academics:

10 tips on how to write less badly

Some wise words on ‘imposter syndrome’ and academic writing

10 truths a PhD supervisor will never tell you

Though I disagree with number 6, ‘be wary of co-supervisors’ – as some one who has had more than their fair share of supervisors (due to staff leaving for other institutions), one of the things I have learnt is that the more people you can usefully discuss your work with in a constructive way the better. Everyone is different, and so it’s good to have good working relations with more than one person to discuss your work with – whether they are a formal supervisor or not.

Exploratory writing and the discomforts of uncertainty

‘We are rarely in the position of simply ‘writing down what we think’. Instead, we are putting words together in a way that then shapes meaning’.

Friday Links

Like all the best IR blogs, we’re going to share some interesting things we come across. We’re  going to do a weekly round up of interesting things every Friday morning, this week:

An article from the Guardian on American gun use raises some interesting questions about security priorities. It notes that  ‘there have been fewer than 20 terror-related deaths on American soil since 9/11 and about 364,000 deaths caused by privately owned firearms’. It asks, ‘what if we no longer thought of this as just a problem for America and, instead, viewed it as an international humanitarian crisis – a quasi civil war, if you like, that calls for outside intervention?’

Terrorism however remains in the news as events in the Westgate shopping centre, Nairobi, unfold. al-Shabaab have been live tweeting the attack, and this stands as the latest example of al-Shabaab utilising modern technology and social media to get their message across; something which this report from last year explores in great detail.

The British Media continue to speculate about the involvement of British citizen Samantha Lewthwaite  in the Nairobi attacks despite al-Shabaab stating that they don’t use women in the battlefield.

A British artist paid tribute to the soldiers and civillians of WWII who died on D-Day by carving human sillhouettes into the sand of Aromanches, “The idea is to create a visual representation of what is otherwise unimaginable – the thousands of human lives lost”.

The build up to the Football World Cup in Qatar is killing 1 person a day as slavery, forced labour and brutal conditions are an everyday relaity for the workers building the stadiums and infrastucture for the 2022 event.

Boeing have recently tested an unmanend f-16 fighter jet. Officials said they would be great for training pilots who could use them for target practice. However it seems like the latest step down the road  towards automated killing machines.