The UK and Trident.
The UK’s current nuclear deterrent is the Trident system. First acquired by Margaret Thatcher’s government in 1980, it now consists of four Vanguard-class submarines, capable of carrying up to sixteen Trident II D5 missiles. In total, each submarine carries forty-eight warheads. One submarine is always armed and at sea, whilst another may be undergoing maintenance, and the remaining vessels are in port or involved in training exercises. Trident’s maintenance consumes approximately 6% of the UK’s defence budget, about £1.6bn. However, in order to replace it, as its technology becomes obsolete and new submarines need developing, would cost approximately £167bn.
However, Kate Hudson, of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), estimates the cost could be as much as £182bn, and is quoted as saying: “In its determination to replace this cold war relic, the government is prepared to keep on spending, even if it’s to the detriment of …tackling the real security threats we face.” In fact, in their arguments anti-Trident campaigners cite government-identified ‘main’ threats, which the weapons clearly do little to appease. These threats include: terrorism, cyber-attacks, pandemics and climate change. They also note the danger that nuclear weapons pose simply by opening up the possibility of nuclear war.
Meanwhile, North Korea claims to be testing its own nuclear submarines. These vessels, although vastly inferior to the likes of Trident, are still causing concern in the West due to Kim Jong-un’s seemingly unpredictable personality and decision-making.
North Korea’s tumultuous nuclear history is summarised as follows:
1985 – North Korea joins the international Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
1993 – Accused of violating the Treaty. When demands are made for inspectors be given access to nuclear waste storage sites. North Korea threatens to quit Treaty. Test-fires a medium-range Rodong ballistic missile into the Sea of Japan.
1994 – Pyongyang commits to freezing its nuclear programme in return for heavy fuel oil and two light-water nuclear reactors.
2002 – North Korea announces it is reactivating nuclear facilities at Yongbyon and expels UN inspectors.
2003 – Withdrawal from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
2005 – Admits publicly that it has produced nuclear weapons for “self defence”.
2006 – Test fires seven missiles (including a long-range Taepodong-2 missile, which crashes shortly after take-off). After further underground tests, the UN imposes economic and commercial sanctions.
2008 – North Korea test-fires short-range missiles. Later that year, it makes a declaration of its nuclear assets.
2009 – Condemnation from the UN Security Council prompts the country to walk out of six-party talks and restart nuclear facilities.Second underground test.
2012 – Claims it has missiles than can hit the US mainland.
2013 – Third nuclear test. Subsequently launches four short-range missiles over one weekend.
2014 – Test-firing of two medium-range Rodong ballistic missiles, in violation of UN resolutions. Also test-fires several short-range missiles.
2015 – North Korea puts its Yongbyon nuclear plant back in operation.
2016 – Government announces first test of hydrogen bomb.
Today, the precise details of the country’s nuclear arsenal remain uncertain.
However, given the nuclear capabilities of states such as the UK and US, some groups are eager to point out the hypocrisy of Western policing of countries like North Korea. While the point is certainly valid, it is important that it is not used to excuse North Korea’s seemingly reckless attitude towards their weapons: but to criticise the continued amassing of them by ‘legitimate’ nuclear states.