Saturday, March 10, 2012

Can’t be strident for Trident!


The BRICS summit is all set to take off at New Delhi on 28 March 2012. The BRICS countries are expanding at break neck speed and the mood is palpably gung ho. Brazil has just surpassed the United Kingdom to become the sixth-biggest economy in the world. According to IMF figures, at current exchange rates, Brazil’s economy is now $2.52tn and the UK’s is $2.48tn. 


The Russians under freshly elected President Putin have earmarked $640 billion to modernize at least 80% of the Russian military by 2020, adding “600 airplanes and 1000 helicopters” and replacing their aging ICBMs RS-18 Stilleto and RS-20 Satan with new liquid fuel ones. The Russian defense ministry has also revealed that it would extend its state capitalism model and “lend $24 billion to defense companies to help prepare for bigger contracts after 2015.” 


India, China and South Africa too are maintaining the momentum to propel the international political economy to even greater heights. Europe and America on the other hand are struggling. Take Britain that grew at 0.8% last year is seriously pondering over rendering some of their pet military machines redundant. The recent debate in Britain - over the £20 billion Queen Elizabeth-class (QEC) aircraft carrier programme that will embark the F-35c fighters - is not just restricted to the financial viability of the project but also the very raison d’être of the aircraft carrier as a military machine. However, the die-hard supporters of the aircraft carrier and those nostalgic about the maritime traditions of the British argue that if cuts have to be made then let the £25bn Trident replacement project bear the brunt. After all, according to Toby Fenwick of liberal think-tank Centre Forum, “Britain’s independent deterrent offered only an ‘incremental deterrent effect’ above the US ‘nuclear umbrella’.” But the UK government is insisting on maintaining a sea-based nuclear deterrent. 


The opponents of the government policy are also raising questions about the veracity of the government’s claim that the British nuclear deterrence is independent. “Most of the discussion on the replacement is based on the false premise that the UK has an independent nuclear weapon,” agrues Dan Plesch, the author of the Beauty Queen’s Guide to World Peace, Research Associate at the Centre for International Studies at SOAS, University London. 


The reason that British deterrence is hardly independent is proved by the fact the ever since 1958 the English have relied totally on America to provide them with the entire wherewithal to go nuclear. The Trident missile fitted on four Vanguard-class submarines is a perfect example of that dependence. “The delivery system is the Trident D-5 missile, which is designed, made and stored in the United States. The firing system is also designed and made in the US. So is the guidance system. The computer software is American. 


The warhead design is based on the US W-76 bomb - they are are produced by Aldermaston, which is co-managed by the US firm Lockheed Martin and uses a great deal of US technology. Some vital nuclear explosive parts are imported, we now know, from the US, as are some non-nuclear parts. The warhead factory is a copy of a facility at Los Alamos, New Mexico. The submarine maintenance base is also 51% owned by Halliburton of the US,” adds Dan Plesch. 


The credibility of British nuclear capability becomes important in the context of foreign policy compulsions that are imposed on Britain due to this continued dependence on America. It is making many wary of the fact that future British governments of all hues would have to tow the American line more due to compulsion than choice. This offers lessons to those in India who aspire to see India-US startegic ties emulate the Anglo-American  partnership. We cannot forget that strategic autonomy will result only if we develop and strenthen orgainzations like BRICS that can stand up to the empire