Upgrading Britain's nuclear deterrent: from V-Bombers to Trident replacement

Matthew Grant

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Executive Summary

The debate taking place over the replacement of the Trident nuclear submarines involves the same complex interplay of elements which characterised previous discussions about upgrading Britain's nuclear deterrent.
These elements are strategic, technological, diplomatic and political in nature, and stretch back to the replacement of the V-Bombers in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
Strategic arguments have continually stressed the 'unknowable' threats Britain might face in the future, and the need for an independent deterrent in case alliances collapse.
Technological advances forced the abandonment of any specifically 'British' weapons system during the Cold War and have continued to severely constrain the options available.
Diplomatic concerns have stressed the 'value' provided by the deterrent in bolstering British influence.
The domestic political context can play a pivotal role in shaping nuclear decision-making and it is not inconceivable that the current economic constraints could de-rail current government proposals.
Overall, the fear of risks to prestige and of military and strategic uncertainty over the long-term future have triumphed over concrete criticisms, resulting in repeated upgrades by the governments of the day: triumph of the much-derided 'precautionary principle'
A recent report from the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), however, has criticised Britain's reliance on a United States-derived nuclear deterrent, stressing the need to explore alternatives such as the European dimension and emphasising the non-nuclear threats to Britain's security- the emergence of the recognition of competing precautionary principles.
Original languageEnglish
No.Paper 91
Specialist publicationHistory & Policy
Publication statusPublished - 2009

Bibliographical note

Author can archive post-print (ie final draft post-refereeing). [Email from the External Relations Manager of History & Policy]


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