Friday, March 05, 2010

Profit, Loss, and Proliferation

The Brits Weigh Costs

by Cheryl Rofer and Molly Cernicek

Britain has been considering the future of its Trident nuclear-armed submarine fleet for the past couple of years. Now the army is questioning the usefulness of that fleet as a deterrent.

Of course, this is part of the usual interservice squabble over who’s going to get the money. It happens in the US, too, but Britain’s budget is smaller.
There is a growing view in military circles that if governments want to keep nuclear weapons then a much cheaper way of possessing them must be found, perhaps by putting nuclear warheads on smaller cruise missiles.
This is a bad idea; a particular combination of warhead and delivery vehicle is designed for a particular purpose. The Trident submarines are perhaps the most stable of the nuclear weapons systems: they are virtually untargetable and therefore their use, if it becomes necessary, can be given longer consideration than the first-targeted land missiles or more vulnerable bomber-carried warheads. Cruise missiles would be based on ships or bombers and would become more vulnerable, with more motivation for use. Cheaper, yes. But more dangerous.

The situation in Britain is unlikely to change any time soon. Costs are likely to increase as a consideration. It’s important to consider the tradeoffs they will entail.

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