What is Trident? Scotland-based nuclear deterrent explained, and does it make UK a target for nuclear missiles
Campaigners argue Trident makes Scotland a “prime target for nuclear attack” - but what is it and why is it controversial?
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The tragedy unfolding in Ukraine has put a spotlight on Britain’s own nuclear weapons programme, Trident, with some campaigners arguing the recent Russian invasion has only underlined the need to eliminate nuclear weapons.
Based on Scotland’s west coast, there have long been fears that it puts the nearby population at risk as a strategic target.
Here’s everything you need to know about Trident.
What is Trident?
Trident is the name given to Britain’s nuclear weapons programme.
The UK has had nuclear weapons since the 1950s with the first British atomic bomb tested in 1952.
Consisting of four Vanguard-class submarines armed with Trident II D-5 ballistic missiles, the Trident system is operated by the Royal Navy.
Each Vanguard submarine can carry as many as eight Trident missiles. Only one submarine can be deployed at any one time, while two others are used for training and one undergoes maintenance.
Trident is based at the Clyde Naval Base at Faslane, on Scotland’s west coast.
The Trident programme was established in 1980, but didn’t become operational until 1994.
It replaced the Polaris programme, which entered service in 1968 and was finally decommissioned in 1996.
Trident is billed as an independent nuclear deterrent but the United States is responsible for building and maintaining its missiles.
Britain simply builds the Vanguard submarines that carry Trident.
How destructive is Trident?
Trident missiles have a range of up to 7,500 miles.
Their destructive force is enormous - each is estimated to be eight times as destructive as the bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945, which killed over 140,000 civilians.
Does Trident make Scotland a nuclear target?
The chair of the Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), Lynn Jamieson, said the war in Ukraine only underlined the urgent need to eliminate nuclear weapons.
She said: “At present we are a prime target for nuclear attack and the launchpad for the commission of mass murder.”
Ms Jamieson stressed that still having nuclear weapons was colluding in the “perverted and bankrupt logic of ‘deterrence’” which should have ended with the fall of the Soviet Union.
“The fact that instead nuclear weapons were ‘modernised’ and the NATO nuclear alliance expanded has contributed to Putin’s own distorted view of the world,” she said.
Ms Jamieson added that the nuclear weapon system was putting the Scottish population at risk every day in “multiple mundanely deadly and potentially terrifying ways”.
Where does the Scottish Government stand on Trident?
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Scottish Government firmly opposes the possession, threat and use of nuclear weapons and supports worldwide nuclear disarmament with a strong belief that a world without nuclear weapons is safer for us all.”
The Scottish National Party (SNP) and Scottish Greens both support nuclear disarmament.
The leader of the SNP in Westminster, Ian Blackford, said: “The idea that having nuclear weapons provides a deterrence that removes that threat is far-fetched, to say the least.”
Veteran anti-nuclear campaigner Brian Quail said: “Trident doesn’t deter anybody from anything
“It didn’t deter Putin from the madness and cruelty of the Russian attack and will play no part in our and Ukraine’s survival from this nightmare.”
“This must be clear to every sane person,” he added.
Scottish Green MSP Ross Greer said Putin’s invasion of Ukraine emphasised the “terrible threat” of the weapons and the need to push for global disarmament.
He said: “Expecting hostile states like Russia to unilaterally disarm is obviously unrealistic, but where nuclear powers have collectively agreed to reduce their stockpiles, progress has been made.
“The UK renewing rather than reducing its own nuclear arsenal just perpetuates nuclear escalation.
“Rather than stockpiling ever-more deadly weapons of mass obliteration, the best thing that this generation of political leaders can do for peace is to ensure that we finally eliminate nuclear weapons for good,” he said.
He added: “I look forward to the day when an independent Scotland can join the 86 nations that have already signed the UN anti-nuclear weapon treaty.
“They have no place in a human rights-based foreign policy and will have no place in an independent Scotland.”
What is the argument for keeping Trident?
Phillips O’Brien, professor of strategic studies at the University of St Andrews, said dropping Trident now when Russia is threatening to use nuclear weapons would be wrong.
He said: “Even if you are not a supporter of nuclear weapons this would seem to be the wrong time to say we are getting rid of them because you are now having them used in threatening behaviour against you.”
He maintained that an independent Scotland would neither want to be a nuclear power nor have the funds to maintain Trident.
However, he noted the process of ditching them would be of vital importance.
Professor O’Brien said: “The key thing is how they get rid of them.
“If they are just ordered out and the UK is forced to get rid of them that is a disastrous negotiating strategy.
“It’s not a question of whether they will be kept or not; it is whether there would be a co-operative negotiating strategy with the UK,” he added.
He said: “The idea that you would somehow have aggressive, angry negotiations at that point is ridiculous and people who think Scotland could afford that would be damaging an independent Scotland.
“It’s not a very good lever if you want to get a good deal.”
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