Trident Is An Expensive Instrument Of Terror

The individual liberty of human beings stands above everything else. It is the mantra of all enemies of liberty to deny this simple judgement. They will tell you that there are others things, that are greater than the individual. Therefore, in the name if this greater good, individual liberty can be sacrificed. Ideas of what this greater good is supposed to be, come in various shapes and forms, from welfare statism to national greatness. In British politics there is currently a debate to renew financing a particularly pernicious instrument of collectivism. I am talking about Trident – the nuclear weapons of the UK.

Nuclear weapons are not weapons that are able to defend liberty. A nuclear weapon is a giant tool of destruction. It is an instrument of terror. It is not used to shoot at an attacking soldier, but to target civilian populations on a massive scale. Of course there are many weapons that can be used this way. Some of them as just as immoral as nuclear weapons. But nuclear weapons can ONLY be used this way. They are therefore inherently immoral.

There is no imaginable scenario in which killing innocent civilians is not very problematic. I have written about this recently in this piece. Most of the time it is completely inexcusable. But terrorism, meaning the deliberate targeting of civilians, in order to spread fear, is always criminal. Terrorists use, as justification for their actions, the achievement of a greater good. In the name of this greater good some civilians dying is argued to be acceptable. The ability to spread terror is the only possible argument to have nuclear weapons. Even if someone were to try to use them differently, other weapons would be much more suitable for this purpose. So the only reason why a state might want to have nuclear weapons is to be able to engage in acts of terror on a gigantic scale. And that is exactly how they have been used historically.

The best argument for nuclear weapons is to have them so that they do not need to be used. This argument almost sounds like it is really an instrument of peace. However, this is not very believable. A threat is only useful if there is a real possibility that it can be executed. That means having nuclear weapons automatically entails that there is a situation in which they will be used. Since they cannot possibly be morally used, this is simply too risky and also way too expensive. After all, let us not forget, this is a very expensive dust catcher, paid for with stolen money.

In addition, nuclear weapons are often used to bully other states. When a state has nuclear weapons, it can afford to put sanctions on unwanted regimes without fearing their retaliation. Power corrupts and makes people do stupid things. In this case they prevent states from cooperating. Why cooperate when you have this giant tool of terror that your opponent does not have. In other words, nuclear weapons are used to make new enemies. It is like so often with government programs, they are solving problems that would not exist without them.

This is often used as the main argument in favour of nuclear weapons. Yes they are evil, yes they are expensive, but as long as other states have them, we better have them as well. Otherwise we will be the ones who get bullied. This might be an argument, if we were some kind of tyrant with a lot of enemies. However, the biggest advantage of free societies is their economic power. It is difficult to bully people that have a lot of economic power. And why would someone bully them unless they bully you. It is far more profitable to do business with them. The only risk is that we are losing our freedom at home, because we are more and more behaving like a giant socialist empire. This problem however cannot be solved with nuclear weapons.

I am also not arguing for complete pacifism. It is certainly useful to be able to fight back in case someone else picks a fight with you. But it is perfectly possible to scare off potential invaders with more moral weapons. The best army is a well organised militia anyway. And the best protection of invasion is to trade with everyone. We really do not need to spend a lot of money on unproductive tools of terror. Nuclear weapons are expensive, they are inherently immoral and they cause more trouble than they solve. Let us get rid of them.

  13 comments for “Trident Is An Expensive Instrument Of Terror

  1. Johnny Favourite
    Jul 18, 2016 at 11:15 pm

    “There is no imaginable scenario in which killing innocent civilians is not very problematic. I have written about this recently in this piece . Most of the time it is completely inexcusable.”

    “Most”. So there are indeed circumstances where using nuclear weapons, which according to you necessarily kill innocent civilians, can be justly used. So why are you complaining about us having nuclear weapons?

    “A threat is only useful if there is a real possibility that it can be executed. That means having nuclear weapons automatically entails that there is a situation in which they will be used.”

    No, that doesn’t follow at all. At most there ‘might’ be a situation in which they will be used – but you already admitted that there are situations where they can be justly used. So, again, why are you complaining?

    “This is often used as the main argument in favour of nuclear weapons. Yes they are evil, yes they are expensive, but as long as other states have them, we better have them as well. Otherwise we will be the ones who get bullied. This might be an argument…”

    Not only is it an argument, it is an excellent argument. And not only is it an excellent argument, it is an excellent argument from a libertarian perspective. The libertarian position on government is that governments per se are power-mad, aggressive, violent, imperial etc etc. But if this is the nature of government, then it’s the nature of foreign governments, too.

    “It is difficult to bully people that have a lot of economic power.”

    Not if you have nuclear weapons and they don’t, it isn’t.

    “The best army is a well organised militia anyway.”

    You are living in a fantasy world.

    • Nico Metten
      Jul 18, 2016 at 11:47 pm

      > “Most”. So there are indeed circumstances where using nuclear weapons, which according to you necessarily kill innocent civilians, can be justly used.

      No there isn’t. There are cases in which killing innocent civilians maybe can be accused as I argue in the piece that I link to. But non of these cases apply to nuclear weapons.

      > No, that doesn’t follow at all. At most there ‘might’ be a situation in which they will be used.

      That there is a potential situation which they can be used.

      > but you already admitted that there are situations where they can be justly used. So, again, why are you complaining?

      I explicitly say that there are no such situations.

      > Not only is it an argument, it is an excellent argument. And not only is it an excellent argument, it is an excellent argument from a libertarian perspective. The libertarian position on government is that governments per se are power-mad, aggressive, violent, imperial etc etc. But if this is the nature of government, then it’s the nature of foreign governments, too.

      So? You cannot morally use nuclear weapons. So why have them, if you cannot use them? A libertarian society will have to defend itself with other means.

      > Not if you have nuclear weapons and they don’t, it isn’t.

      No it is, because you shooting yourself in the foot if you kill your major business partner. It is also very difficult to win allies.

  2. Johnny Favourite
    Jul 19, 2016 at 2:18 pm

    “Most”, Nico. “Most”. Not *all*. If nuclear weapons necessarily kill innocents and “most” killing of innocents cannot be justified then there must be *some* cases where use of nuclear weapons can be justified. And no, I’m not interested in reading your movie review, I’m happy enough just sticking to what words actually mean.

    “You cannot morally use nuclear weapons. So why would you have them, if you can’t use them?”

    Not being able to use something “morally” doesn’t mean you can’t use it. And governments *are* immoral things, full of immoral people. That’s the libertarian line, right? So being moral about nuclear weapons puts you at a disadvantage vis a vis every other government, because, being immoral they won’t give a monkeys about threatening you with all sorts of weapons.

    “Shooting yourself in the foot… killing your major business partner…”.

    This is ludicrous. You assume two countries get along famously and then say “Look! These pals aren’t going to attack one another”. In the real world countries that go to war with one another aren’t BFF’s. And as a matter of historical record, it is far from unheard of for countries who trade with one another to go to war. Relatively free trade was the norm in the years leading up to WW1: “Characteristic of the pre-1914 decades was what we would now call globalization. Trade may have risen from one thirtieth to one third of world production between 1800 and 1913; between 1855 and 1914 investment flows grew 20 times. Europe accounted for nearly two thirds of global trade and even more of global investment, and from the 1890s Europe’s major currencies were fixed in value in relation to each other under the international gold standard. Hundreds of thousands of foreign-born labourers worked in the heavy industries of French Lorraine and Germany’s Ruhr. The British writer Norman Angell in his 1909 best-seller, Europe’s Optical Illusion , maintained that war between advanced modern economies was now irrational.” ( from http://www.bl.uk/world-war-one/articles/europe-before-1914 )

    • Nico Metten
      Jul 19, 2016 at 2:41 pm

      > “Most”, Nico. “Most”. Not *all*. If nuclear weapons necessarily kill innocents and “most” killing of innocents cannot be justified then there must be *some* cases where use of nuclear weapons can be justified. And no, I’m not interested in reading your movie review, I’m happy enough just sticking to what words actually mean.

      But you don’t seem to be good with logic. The exceptions don’t apply to nuclear weapons.

      > Not being able to use something “morally” doesn’t mean you can’t use it.

      No, but that is not the argument. No one argues that nuclear weapons don’t work technically. This is all about morals.

      > So being moral about nuclear weapons puts you at a disadvantage vis a vis every other government, because, being immoral they won’t give a monkeys about threatening you with all sorts of weapons.

      It is not an advantage to be immoral. It is coming back to bit you. Unless you are not interested at all in a civilised and free society.

      > This is ludicrous. You assume two countries get along famously and then say “Look! These pals aren’t going to attack one another”.

      Well, the argument for having nuclear weapons is that governments are rational. That is why they won’t decide to use total destruction. But I agree with you that is a bit naive, it does not always work. That is why nuclear weapons are way too dangerous. Luckily people, even governments, are acting in their own interest most of the time. I am afraid there is no way to make sure that wars never happen. But you can lower the chances by not being provocative and increasing the costs, i.e. trade with them. You can do that without nuclear weapons. There is no need for these dangerous and immoral tools.

  3. Johnny Favourite
    Jul 19, 2016 at 3:10 pm

    “The exceptions don’t apply to nuclear weapons”.

    Oh, how convenient!

    “It’s not an advantage to be immoral”.

    Except in warfare. Then it’s pretty damn advantageous. And it is warfare, not morality, that is the issue here.

    ” lower the chances… ”

    See, Nico, you keep saying all this stuff like “you can stop being invaded by having a citizen militia” “you can stop being invaded by trading with people”, but if you actually look at the historical record you’ll see that possessing nuclear weapons is a much better way of not being invaded. Yes, countries with nuclear weapons have been attacked by terrorists, and there’s the odd skirmish on the India Pakistan border, but outright invasion of a nuclear power? Never happened. So if you were really serious about lowering those odds…

  4. Paul Marks
    Jul 19, 2016 at 6:35 pm

    A nuclear deterrent is necessary – the question is, is Trident the most cost effective option? This article does not help me answer that question.

    As for killing the innocent.

    The United States Army Air Force dropped MILLIONS of leaflets warning Japanese people to leave cities that were going to be bombed.

    Both cities that were atomically bombed were among the listed cities – although more people were killed by conventional bombing than by the atomic bombs.

    It did no good – most history books do not even mention the millions of leaflets (which were dropped at great risk – some of the aircraft dropping the leaflets were shot down).

    Millions (yes millions) of Japanese civilians lives were saved by the bombing – people who would have been killed in a conventional invasion (previous engagements had shown that many or most Japanese civilians in islands that had previously been attacked had died with the military forces).

    At least we have not, yet, had the old chestnut about allied bombing of Germany not being needed to damage German manufacturing.

    Actually the shortages of equipment and fuel that crippled the German armed forces were the direct result of the actions of Bomber Command.

    By 1945 it was possible to target individual factories – but early bombing was wildly inaccurate (with bombs falling miles from their tactics).

    Therefore the only way to hit targets in cities was to destroy the cities – or much of them.

    Many people in Bomber Command died in the experiments in tactics designed to improve accuracy.

    These tactical experiments were eventually successful – but not for a long time.

    Still I still do not know whether Trident is the most cost effective option – or whether a less expensive nuclear deterrent could be created that would still deter (for example) the Putin regime.

  5. Mr Ed
    Jul 24, 2016 at 7:17 am

    ‘And the best protection of invasion is to trade with everyone.’

    Are you suggesting that unilateral free trade in 1938 onwards would have best protected against invasion for Czechoslovakia, Slovakia, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Finland, Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, Albania, Yugoslavia, Greece, France and Luxembourg and the United Kingdom?

    Or was it hundreds of Sydney Camm’s Hurricanes, and their back-up, that best protected the UK in 1940?

    • Nico Metten
      Jul 24, 2016 at 11:10 am

      Yes, if these countries would have been economic powerhouses that embrace free trade instead of the nationalist or internationalist socialist societies that they were, they would have had much less risk of being invaded. But I am not a pacifist. You should have some weapons to protect yourself against madmen. However, nuclear weapons are unacceptable.

  6. Runcie Balspune
    Jul 30, 2016 at 10:10 am

    Let’s be clear, nuclear weapons only form part of the strategy, that being of “second strike”, the classic defense where the enemy would seek to target nuclear weapons to prevent retaliation, if they only exist in undetectable submarines which could be anywhere in the world, then it becomes almost impossible. Whilst “second strike” exists, it is a massive deterrent and a legitimate form of defense.

    As Nico W mentioned, in a world where nuclear armed countries are still willing to invade territory, e.g. Crimea, then this defense is not only logical and moral, but probably essential. However, the next phase of history is only beginning, there are countries who will be nuclear armed soon, and will be willing to wage war regardless of the “second strike” deterrent, how do we defend against them? The answer is unfolding in South Korea. The advances made in ABM technology honed from experience against conventional projectiles in the Middle East, will soon make nuclear weapons obsolete without a reliable delivery method. Combined with drone technology to watch and react instantly, the days of a ever present threat are numbered.

    Until then, we should have second strike capability, and that means Trident.

  7. Mr Ed
    Jul 30, 2016 at 5:53 pm

    I do not think that it is accurate to describe Trident as an instrument of terror, as it is not so intended, it is to deter. Granted that it might be an instrument of terror were it to be used to threaten other states, but that is not what it is intended for, and if you threaten a first strike to any nation, you simply invite all other nuclear powers to make a pre-emptive strike on you or to take other action against your state or its leadership. Of course, this might come to pass, if say, a future Labour government aligned itself with Pyongyang out of nostalgic brotherly feelings.

    It is with the North Koreans that you see nukes intended to be as instruments of terror, with their threats against the US and the South. Of course, we know that there is no menace of a like kind coming the other way, at least not until 20 January 2017.

  8. John
    Aug 2, 2016 at 8:24 pm

    Far too much thought, Trident carries with it the ability to blame the Americans for its use.

    “They did it” .

    It binds the USA to the the defence of the UK and the UK to the defence of the USA.

  9. Leigh-Anne Wain
    Aug 3, 2016 at 4:44 pm

    In a genuinely free society, why would private defence agencies choose trident (developed by the British state in the cold war) choose it as the key platform of its defence strategy, over competing alternatives.

    The best answer given is that nuclear weapons have an excellent record in deterring other states with conventional and nuclear based forces.

    Let’s say year on year the probability is 99.9% that the possession of trident will succeed in deterring an aggressor (there is the 0.1% chance of miscalculation and political idiocy of the type documented by Nico happens in which deterrence fails and and a nuclear exchange takes place due to the near misses Nico mentioned.)

    On the other hand a non-nuclear based defence with more conventional forces e.g. fighter aircraft, SAM missiles and special forces might only offer a 98% chance of deterring an aggressor year on year. Some predatory state might not be deterred from aggressing against a free society.

    Seems the incentive is to retain nuclear capability (or build nuclear capability if the free society has no nukes) But what about the consequences of private defence forces in compensating property owners in event of a war. In a conventional war, the damage caused by the war would be far more limited and payouts less. On the other hand the devastation caused by a general nuclear war would be near total. Assuming any members of the insurance company survived the nuclear bombs they would be instantly bankrupt.

    Private Defence companies like most insurance companies would in my opinion run the numbers and conclude that a) possession of nuclear weapons are needlessly provocative and possession of them could actually become a motivation for war. (How much sabre rattling by the US in the middle east is predicated on the fact that country X is suspected of developing weapons of mass destruction and might possibly transfer them to terrorists). b) Conventional forces are sufficient deterrence to drive down the risk of attack to acceptable levels c) If war did occur the cost of compensating their clients in a conventional war would be many orders of magnitude less than it would be following a nuclear war.

Comments are closed.