Trident or Tri-don’t? The Nuclear Question

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.

Nuclear Disarmament

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.

Nuclear Deterrent

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

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38 thoughts on “Trident or Tri-don’t? The Nuclear Question

  1. Though I would disagree with your conclusion . Firstly as “one of the most technologically advanced nations” is the onus not on us to set an example as to what is /is not permissible technology ? Your conclusion would no doubt lead to a world where every nation is sitting on a ticking time bomb ? Even if there is no future intention of using the bomb , accidents happen ? I think we should be pushing a complete disarmament “

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  2. Very interesting blog that uses both a philosophical view as well as a scientific view on the use of nuclear weapon. The discussion helped me further understand the rationality behind Trident.

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  3. Very well written post, however, I don’t fully agree with the conclusion. Although nuclear weapons are needed to protect the civilians of our country, any nuclear attack launched would surely just lead to retaliation from whichever nation has been attacked. It is sort of like a more advanced cold war, involving many more countries though, where either side could have launched nuclear weapons which would have surely just lead to the other side launching their arsenal. It is a very difficult issue to deal with though, as obviously they can be used as a deterrent to other countries thinking to attack us, but the consequences of actually launching a nuclear attack must also be looked at in detail as it could end with total disaster.

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    1. A successful nuclear strike on any country, regardless of their status of having nuclear weapons or not, would lead to a complete military surrender. You get one shot at it, and if you fail, as you say, all hell breaks loose. However this being said, a nation would not chose the nuclear strike option unless it was 100% certain of its success.

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  4. While I agree we need nuclear weapons as a deterrent, I disagree that we should be continuing with Trident. Scrapping Trident doesn’t mean disarmament; we would still maintain are current arsenal, which is large enough to destroy most of the world. This is why I see Trident as a huge waste of government spending which would be better used elsewhere; we can maintain the deterrent without spending tens of billions of tax payer money. Also Trident is not delivering, proven by the failed missile test last year that was covered up in order to make sure it was renewed.

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  5. I disagree with the claim that deontology does not allow production of nuclear weapons. If the engineer chose not to produce Trident, their inaction directly strengthens a rogue nation. The consequence would be increased suffering/death. Therefore both the action, or lack there of, and the consequence are bad.

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  6. Great blog on an issue that has long been debated. The stats and arguments made, make for a thought provoking discussion. I personally agree with your conclusion. Even though nuclear weapons have unfathomable destructive power and have caused such atrocities in the past, not renewing trident has the potential to leave the country and its citizens vulnerable, and will not stop our “enemies” from further developing their own nuclear arsenal as technology develops. As technology develops, nuclear weapons will have the ability to become more enhanced, and trident will help the country to keep up with the rest of the world in this “Arms race”. Nuclear weaponry may be not be the first choice of a deterrent for many people, but at this time, it is a deterrent that is needed to keep the country safe.

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    1. I dont understand why nuclear deterrence is our only option “at this time” could the billions not be used for a more defensive strategy against a nuclear attack ? an Iron dome type defense for example. For humanity to develop we must be critical of our selves and our technologies, admitting when we have made a mistake and working to correct that. Torture was widely accepted around the world as a necessary evil to gather important intel , however our morality has developed since then and it is seen as a disgusting and vile strategy. We should champion disarming nuclear weapons for the same reason.

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  7. using different ethical frameworks to analysis was great , I am convinced by the conclusion as it is pragmatic and does adhere to the engineering ethical code.

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  8. I feel that some form of deterrents is necessary for safety, but, as a country we have fallen too far behind on nuclear such that our technology is obsolete. Trident itself can be considered a waste of money and doesn’t bring many benefits to the country, with the issue that we won’t know if it will even work, or if it will be necessary. What risks are there to fight against in this political climate? is a question we need to ask ourselves before we go spending billions.

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  9. This was very interesting. I agree with your conclusion. The technological advancements in nuclear warefare is already here. Therefore by condemning a nuclear deterrence will only cause further uncertainty between nations on when an nuclear attack is acceptable. The deterrence will concisely remind and ensure all nations that pulling the trigger will conclusively end in a desolation of life on this planet.

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  10. Having nuclear weapons makes the world more dangerous, not less, because we encourage other countries to get them by having them ourselves.

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  11. Interesting read but I think complete nuclear disarmament is surely the logical way forward. The continued production of nukes disturbs global security, it’s just a matter of time before a nuclear war is triggered by the more irrational nuclear-armed nations.

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  12. Government perspective will always support one of our single-most influential corporate sectors, The arms industry. The argument that just because they exist, therefore we need them, is short sighted, It should be about international powers going above and beyond this position, in order to encourage disarmament. If you have 99% of the sweets and you tell the person with only 1% to give up sweets for the greater good, you just look like an autocratic, hypocrite. So the onus should be on the UK, USA, Russia, China, Israel etc to initiate such views. Life is about setting examples and using the money for trident to provide after school clubs, opportunities for education and investment in healthcare, might just be a better way to spend?!

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  13. Jumping straight to the point. In hindsight to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, consequentialism is a perfectly good reason to exploit nuclear weapons. Japan at that time was left defenseless, after being used as a guinea pig to test a new invention in engineering they called a nuclear bomb. After the devastation, Japan was labelled weak; liking it to a dog with its tail between its legs due to having no capabilities to retaliate. Having a nuclear arsenal in place would have had the aggressor, America, think twice before committing to such acts in fear of retaliation.

    On the other hand, Nuclear weapons have been one of the greatest feats of human invention and innovation. Exploiting further into nuclear technology can aid in new discoveries, thus a new front in engineering. Needless to say, this advancement does not include delving into the explosive power of our creation to see how big a ‘crater’ you can create. As engineers, its always curiosity that drives our eagerness for new inventions to improve the quality of life. However, I feel there is nothing new to be learnt from nuclear weapon development. Its a simple analogy similar to that of adding more fuel to fire which makes the fire bigger. We don’t learn any new fundamentals from having a ‘bigger fire’
    With all that in mind, the question still stands, how inhumane must you be to use such weaponry, of immense destructive power, on a fellow human?

    “Trident has helped protect the UK for more than 50 years” Well, there hasn’t been a time when these weapons have come in use. My guess would be that the nuclear arsenal is there as a facade. The only way the trident program proves its protective power is by instilling fear towards aggressors who pose a threat. Furthermore, being part of the UN security council only requires a threshold of nuclear arsenal to be kept. So why bother increasing the payload, or rather “upgrade” as they called it?

    Personally, the trident program is a double edge sword with swallow justifications for using the taxpayers money to increase its inventory. In this days and age, there are legislations and peace treaties in place. When will we ever have to launch a missile? even so, I trust that those nuclear weapons are held by responsible individuals that have their best interest to use them as a last resort if an option. Although, I do agree to it being an insurance policy of some sort that deters any threats.

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  14. As someone who knows nothing about nuclear warfare, this was very insightful. I believe nuclear weapons like Trident are needed as a last resort, the atomic bomb essentially ended the second World War. Although, it is quite annoying how the government spend billions that could be used on the NHS and university

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  15. I think this argument can be extended further beyond Trident to manufacturing fighter jets/drones as well.

    Any technology, whether it be catapults and siege machines in the medieval ages, to guns and missiles and nuclear weaponry in the modern day, exists and it is up to the user to decide how it is used. I would argue what is more effective than dismantling Trident is fortifying the current system of who authorizes deployment to make sure the UK never deploys the missiles unnecessarily or rashly and always strives to minimise civilian/environmental impact.

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  16. NUCLEAR WEAPONS ARE INSECURE. IF THE NUCLEAR WEAPON WHICH WAS USED ONLY IN JAPAN COULD KILL 200,000 PEOPLE I CNA NOT IMAGINE HOW MANY PEOPLE WOULD DIE IF WAR IS STARTED.
    I DO NOT REALLY AGREE WITH YOUR CONCLUSION. EVERY COUNTRY SHOULD STOP PRODUCING NUCLEAR WEAPONS FOR THE SAKE OF MANY CIVILIANS AS THEY ARE THE PRONE FOR THE DAMEGES.

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  17. This is an excellennt write up. I enjoyed reading it. Trident was built for defending our nation which is crucial. If all nations with Nuclear weapons are willing to dispose off their nuclear weapons then the UK should follow suit. If not it will be detrimental to the UK to dispose of Trident.

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  18. An interesting read, this article was well written and insightful.

    One thing. I believe everyone would prefer a safer world, even without nuclear weapons. However, what we must understand is that it is not an easy feat to accomplish, considering the current political tensions​ between certain countries.

    With my understanding of the matter at hand, it is not necessarily Trident or Tri-don’t. It is ensuring the country’s safety or jeopardising it, and the article’s conclusion is seemingly in line with the former.

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  19. Surely the conclusion is inherently going to further insecurity between countries and citizens. Global politics is such a mess, allies and opponents are not as clearly cut as it was during WWII. There are no pure goodies and baddies, furthermore, I believe we should be setting an example by getting rid of it and supporting the course for disarmament and not just nuclear, the whole military industrial complex. However idealist 🙂

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  20. The initial discussion of this article questioned whether the use of nuclear weapons is morally acceptable – but I ask you, which form of weaponry is actually moral, thus acceptable?

    Nuclear warfare is incredibly dangerous and has everlasting consequences as you have mentioned. Therefore investing and updating this form of technology is just demoting world peace and consequently the safety of ordinary civilians.

    Flip side of the argument is, with the increasing tension around the world, especially being sandwiched between countries who could quite literally explode into war at any time, isn’t this sort of investment necessary?
    However, if a war was to break out, the use of Trident would add little security anyway as there will be no remaining world standing to protect.

    North Korea for example, having a mind of their own and constantly sending out threats doesn’t mean the world should follow the same way. It is perhaps time for the UK government to take action and lead by example not following as sheep, as they have many times in the past.

    Furthermore, world leaders may use terrorism as an excuse to trigger nuclear weapons and targeting certain countries for their own political gain, with the cost of destroying the identity and lives of millions. Examples such as Iraq and Syria spring to mind.

    Therefore, having followed both ideologies described in this article, I disagree with the concluding statements. Peace treaties have been created and signed by the UK for a reason. Investing time and money into the Trident is quite frankly a waste of money with little benefits gained.

    The UK could use these resources and alternatively invest into actually providing security through other means. Why not refine and invest in nuclear technology for the purpose of energy? The stigma associated with nuclear energy is preventing the progression of this field but if its true potential was to be highlighted and more investments made, then this could transform the way we use energy – but that’s a discussion for later!

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    1. I really enjoyed the different viewpoints and cases acknowledged in this comment. Yet, i feel i should also bring into the playing field this question; ‘what are we to do if ‘the UK’ decides on removing Trident and countries like N.Korea, amidst the volatility between nations in this day and age, actually carry out their threats?

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  21. The group work is classy .l have my reservation to the use of trident. The UK is already in economic,political and religious unrest. Any attempt to launch any nuclear weapon might trigger another WWIII. The people want peace, economic and political stability not weapon thank you.

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  22. Very interesting blog analysing the philosophical and scientific views on the use of nuclear weaponary. Will be reading more about this in the future.

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  23. Such a great article! Definitely agree with your conclusion! SAFE Nuclear weapons are manufactured only for one reason – NOT TO BE SAFE :/

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  24. A really interesting and topical debate in the UK with conflicting views from the current PM and leader of the opposition, despite Parliament’s decision to upgrade Trident – I myself don’t necessarily agree with nuclear weapons but in the current climate think the deterrent is important as long as they are used as a deterrent and not rashly.

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  25. An interesting discussion on the renewal of Trident bringing the irrefutable point that nuclear weapons cannot be univented. For that same reason, I believe the utilitarian school of thought is the best because it looks for the good of the majority. National security in this current time is paramount.

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  26. It’s all about ethics and if the state of the world is in the hands of those who should be making it better then there is no guarantee the world is in safe hands. Nuclear is mass death.

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