Deployed Nuclear Weapons and Force Structure

If the number of nuclear weapons is to be further reduced in the future, it is important that they be deployed in a survivable mode if their reduction is not to lead to an increased probability of use. Reducing nuclear force levels can lead to instability in a time of crisis.

The following letter was published in the June 5/June 6 2010 UK edition of the Financial Times:

UK must keep to sea-based deterrent

The possibility was recently reported by James Blitz (‘Nuclear warhead total revealed’, May 27) – with regard to the Strategic Defence and Security Review – that according to ‘Whitehall insiders’ the SDSR ‘will contain an examination of whether Britain should move to a land or air-launched deterrent’. Such a move should be rejected.

The reason is simple: a British air or land-based deterrent is not survivable. This means there is an enormous incentive to move to a launch-on-warning policy. Nuclear forces must be survivable if the probability of nuclear use is not to be increased with decreasing arsenals. For countries without strategic depth like Britain and France this means a sea-based deterrent. That is why France has already eliminated its land-based nuclear component.

If Britain is to maintain a survivable deterrent it will have to anti-up the cost for new Tridents as the existing force ages. A minimum of three is needed to maintain one in its operational area – ie, one on alert, one in transit (where it could be vulnerable), and one in dry dock.

If we are to move to a world where the number of nuclear weapons is much reduced, careful attention must be paid to force-structure.”