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Claim: Nuclear weapons always make a country more secure

April 19, 2010

Claim: Nuclear weapons always make a country more secure

Nuclear proliferation is driven by the perception that nuclear weapons always enhance national security. Yet Britain has been a nuclear power since 1952, and there is no evidence that its nuclear weapons make it more secure. The cancellation of the Blue Streak missile program in the early 1960s left Britain dependent on American rocketry and guidance systems – first Polaris, then Trident. Britain is the only nuclear weapons state that cannot fire its warheads without the active cooperation of a foreign power. A genuinely independent deterrent, on the French model, would cost an estimated £100 billion and could take around 25 years to develop.

Currently, Britain has 160 operational nuclear warheads, carried by 16 Trident II D-5 ballistic missiles in four Vanguard class nuclear submarines. This system will be obsolete by 2025, and the government’s 2010 Strategic Defense Review confirms that Trident will be upgraded over the next 20 years at a cost of £20 billion.

Trident’s opponents point out that other countries have either ended their own nuclear weapons programs (Brazil and South Africa), or removed other countries’ nuclear weapons from their soil (Canada and the Ukraine), without either jeopardizing their own security or destabilizing the international balance of power.

Bottom Line: Britain would be no less secure if it were to phase out its nuclear weapons.

Peter Grosvenor

Associate Professor of Political Science

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