Is this Britain’s future?
The United Kingdom is one of the most technologically advanced nations in the world. With the UK parliament unanimously voting to upgrade Trident, its nuclear arsenal, the saying “Those who live by the sword shall die by the sword” doesn’t seem an all too distant cliché, after all, we live by technology…
Yet engineers are the agents of technology, expected to be involved in the design and construction of our country’s nuclear warheads. Therein lies a significant ethical problem. A serious argument can be made that nuclear weapons are making the world less safe, and so engineers participating in its production violates the ASCE code of ethics; stating “engineers should be using their knowledge for the enhancement of human welfare”. If so, should the engineers protest and be critical of the technology that is their livelihood? Alternatively, should they reject the argument that nuclear weapons give rise to international peace and stability? Hence we ask the question:
Is nuclear deterrence an ethical self defence strategy?
Through various ethical concepts, we analyse this dilemma using a two-point judgement. We will explore whether the implementation of nuclear deterrence that involves a risk to civilians, is morally acceptable.
Let us now approach the issue from a strictly conduct-focused framework: Deontology. Deontology considers the intrinsic moral status of an act, rather than the moral status of its consequences. This is commonly translated as, “The end does not justify the means.” Such an argument could then be made that there are certain behaviours that are inherently wrong, and have no place, no matter what benefits they bring. On this view, nuclear deterrence should be condemned as an intrinsically immoral act in itself, as the strategy endangers and causes harm to innocent civilians and non-combatants.
So how harmful is Trident?
Though it is difficult to quantify the exact harm that Trident would cause, one could look at the only two incidents of nuclear weapons to have ever been used.
Nagasaki and Hiroshima in August 1945:
- 200,000 people killed (80% civilians)
- 70% of all buildings destroyed
- Increased rates of cancer and chronic diseases
- Radioactive rain
- Ground temperatures reached 4,000°C
The combined effects of the nuclear weapons were devastating. It should also be noted that modern nuclear technology has a greater explosive potential, and its effects would be immensely catastrophic.
“Nuclear weapons are unique in their destructive power, in the unspeakable human suffering they cause, in the impossibility of controlling their effects in space and time, and in the threat they pose to the environment, to future generations, and indeed to the survival of humanity.”
– International Committee of the Red Cross, 2010
What should the engineers involved do?
NSPE code of conduct states:
“Section II.1.a: Engineers shall hold paramount the safety, health, and welfare of the public.”
Deontology tells us that, in this case, the use of nuclear deterrents is morally unacceptable, and by extension, a violation of the code above. Therefore, the ethical option for an engineer would be the renunciation of such a technology, that exists only as a commitment to mass murder.
Consequentialism can be used to defend the crucial importance of Trident as a warfare deterrent. This ethical framework determines the morality of an action in favour of its outcome.
“Trident has helped protect the UK for more than 50 years”
- Mr Fallon, Former UK Defence Secretary
For utilitarianism advocate, Jeremy Bentham, the use of nuclear deterrent is justified when it proposes the greatest happiness for the greatest number. There is still a prevailing opinion that WWII ended prematurely due to the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings. Although unpleasant, the death toll was proposed to be vastly lower than the lives saved. Since then, there has been an absence of war amongst nuclear-armed nations, owing to the potential for absolute mutual destruction being a major factor. The UK has preserved this nuclear balance by providing security to all NATO nations through the existence of Trident. In this case, it can be argued that this technological strategy adheres to the fundamental principle of utilitarianism, given its stance in maintaining international peace and stability.
“The nuclear threat has not gone away, if anything, it has increased”
- Theresa May, Prime Minister
The fact is that nuclear weapons cannot be un-invented. They exist and a growing number of countries are engaging in the nuclear-arms race. How credible or safe will the country be if the UK were to discard Trident; it’s ultimate insurance policy? With nations such as North Korea developing its nuclear weapons and international tensions rising, embracing a unilateral disarmament would pose as a great risk on the safety of British civilians. A dismissal of Trident sends a message to both allies and aggressors that the UK is un-serious about national and international security nor global peace. Consequently, the UK might weaken its international power and prestige – possibly even losing membership in the UN Security Council. This may result in the wilting of its defence strategy. Take Ukraine for example, Russia invaded the country after it relinquished its nuclear weapons under the America’s “security guarantee”, resulting in the death of 9,940 Ukrainian civilians. The UK’s rational egoism towards the renewal of Trident, for the national interest, is justifiable to protect her 65 million civilians.
In summary, as engineers, we have a duty to protect and abide by ethical code of conducts. For this reason, we feel the renewal and development of Trident by the UK and NATO is crucial for the safety and welfare of not only our citizens, but our allies. With many countries announcing their advancement in nuclear technology, it would be detrimental to our country’s security, if the engineering of nuclear deterrents was halted.
Group 55: Amr Saleh, Lin Lin, Adetola Orekoya, Anne Adeniji