You have in your hands the ‘international edition’ of a book published
originally for a UK audience under the title, The Truth About Trident:
Disarming the Nuclear Argument. Trident is the UK’s (only) nuclear weapon
system, and it was of great concern to me that the arguments in favour of
retaining, and then upgrading, the UK’s Trident system were rarely challenged,
or even questioned, by Members of Parliament, the mass media or the
The Truth About Trident was an attempt to look in detail at each and
every argument in favour of maintaining the UK’s Trident system in order to
understand a) what these arguments are really saying; b) on what basis these
arguments are made and why people believe them; c) how well they stand up
to the historical evidence and the tests of logic; and finally d) whether we are
able to reach anything remotely resembling the ‘truth’ of the matter.
I was prepared for the likelihood that most of these arguments would be
found wanting, but that at least some of them would stand their ground as
sensible, rational reasons for having nuclear weapons. I thought that, on
balance, I would be able to make the case that the arguments against Trident
slightly outweighed the arguments in its favour. As I wrote in the preface to
the UK book, I was rather surprised to find that none of the arguments used to
justify the Trident system were able to withstand even the most basic scrutiny.
The truth, as I found it, is that nuclear weapons may be the most powerful
weapons ever invented, but the arguments in favour of having them are
exceedingly weak. It therefore takes relatively little effort to effectively disarm
whatever force those arguments may have been thought to have. If only the
pride and machismo that underlie these arguments could be so easily disarmed,
the world would be free of them by now.
While there are some unique features about the UK’s nuclear weapons
and the UK’s circumstances in the world, the arguments made in favour of
nuclear weapons in the UK are not substantially different from the arguments
being used in the US, in France, or in the other countries which supposedly
rely on the US nuclear ‘umbrella’, such as Canada, Australia, Japan, South
Korea and the many European members of NATO.
In Russia and China there is less open debate about nuclear weapons,
but it is unlikely that where the arguments are made, they are substantially
different to what are presented here. The situation is not dissimilar in India
Israel is a special case because its government does not publicly admit to
having any nuclear weapons, even though the rest of the world believes they
do. Apart from anything else, this at least means the government of Israel is
under no obligation to explain or justify why they have them. Nevertheless
it is difficult to believe that Israelis would use arguments any different to the
ones used here to justify their possession of nuclear weapons if or when they
were called to do so.
And then we come to North Korea. North Korea’s original reasons for
wanting to develop nuclear weapons are complex (see chapter 7). Among the
nine current nuclear weapons states, they are the most likely to be attacked
by another nuclear weapons state (ie the USA). And yet, their reasons for
developing nuclear weapons are exactly the same as those which have
motivated the us government to develop them. So while we may be a long
way away from any kind of public discussion about nuclear weapons in
North Korea, the reasoning in this book still applies.
This book, while drawing heavily on the UK version, attempts to bring
in some of the differences and nuances to the arguments that apply to some
of these other countries. The US, in particular, has a much more entrenched
commitment to nuclear weapons than probably any other country. As the
first country to develop nuclear weapons, the only country to have ever used
them in war, and the initiator of more or less every technical advancement in
the field of nuclear weaponry since then, the US is clearly in the lead when it
comes to justifying why it must have these weapons.
At the same time, the US is the most open about its nuclear weapon
programme. Of all the nuclear weapons states, we know the most about
what goes on in the us. Indeed, most of what we know about the UK’s
nuclear weapons programme comes not from the UK government but from
documents freely available in the us or obtained through Freedom of
Information requests in the US.
It is therefore in the United States more than anywhere else that a
thorough and proper public debate about nuclear weapons is both needed
and possible. My only hope is that this book can make a small contribution
to that debate, and that the people of the United States, along with the
people of many other countries, will ‘arm’ themselves with the information
and the arguments needed to disarm the nuclear argument and rid the
world of nuclear weapons.