Categories: UK Warhead
Dr. Nick Ritchie is a Senior Lecturer in International Security at the Department of Politics, University of York. He has researched and written on nuclear weapons policies and nuclear disarmament for 15 years.
This new report from Nuclear Information Service, ‘Extreme Circumstances: The UK’s New Nuclear Warhead in Context’, provides an essential contribution to debate and accountability on the UK Trident replacement programme. New Dreadnought-class submarines are currently being built as the first stage of this programme, with a planned new warhead to follow.
The report comes at a time when the value and legitimacy of nuclear weapons is being widely contested – by those that are revaluing nuclear weapons in the context of Russian aggression in Ukraine and the rise of China, and those challenging the value and legitimacy of these weapons through the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and their irrelevance to the transnational security challenges we now face, not least the ecological crisis. This report helps us understand how ‘nuclearism’ as a security ideology is being reproduced in the UK through the replacement of the Trident system, specifically the warhead.
But the report also plays a vital accountability role. Democracy is a system of accountability for the exercise of power by our elected representatives who govern in the name of the people. The vast power of destruction innate to nuclear weapons and the consequences of nuclear violence require accountability and democratic deliberation. But this is very limited because accountability and democratic debate routinely give way to a culture of nuclear secrecy and nuclearism – both of which are justified in terms of the catch-all of ‘national security’.
When democratic governments circumscribe accountability by invoking ‘national security’ they are requiring the electorate to trust them; that they know best. But the consequences of nuclear violence and the risks of its occurrence are too significant to be left to trust in government in this way. Society and its elected representatives should be informed, engaged and questioning of government policies, plans and practices when it comes to nuclear weapons.
That is why this report is so important. It is only through high quality, independent work like this that UK nuclear choices can be held to account. Putting data and analysis like this into the public domain is an essential task in support of democratic accountability and the wider community in the UK that continues to challenge the existence of nuclear weapons and the unacceptable risk of nuclear omnicide that they bring.
Nick Ritchie is a Patron of Nuclear Information Service, NIS is grateful for his assistance editing this report.