The British Exit the World Stage December 9, 2009Posted by Sean Varner in Asia, United Nations.
Tags: India, Nuclear Deterrent, Trident, United Kingdom
The United Kingdom does not apparently wish to continue its role as a great power in the international system. Internally, it is facing a viable Scottish National Party (SNP) that is pushing for independence from the UK (can anyone imagine two countries on the island of Britain?). Little else could delegitimize London more thoroughly than its loss of control over the northern half of its home island. Except, perhaps, the unilateral nuclear disarmament of the UK. Though this would certainly increase its standing among the publics of the world, few great powers would treat it as an equal.
Though the SNP has been the loudest in calling for the complete elimination of the UK nuclear deterrent (see here), the Labour Party has at least been willing to put off or drawdown replacement of the Trident fleet (the UK’s nuclear deterrent consists of 4 Trident ballistic-missile submarines). A random sampling of the Times of London and Daily Mail will indicate that most elites favor scrapping Trident replacement, if not eliminating it altogether (see articles here and here and a scaremongering piece here). If Britain were to not pursue Trident replacement because it was “no longer needed” (the subs’ service life should last another 15-20 years), it would be a momentous and perhaps irreversible decision that further marginalized its role in world affairs. The unilateral disarmament of the UK would cause once steadfast allies to question its continued importance in security affairs.
Currently all permanent members of the UN Security Council possess nuclear weapons. If London were to gradually or suddenly disarm, could it defend its continued position on that powerful body? Might not other countries, who are more eager to demonstrate their willingness to embrace Atlas and take a lead in world affairs, consider themselves more deserving of that coveted UNSC seat? Perhaps, as the British Empire finally devolves to the point where all that is left England and Wales, an inheritor of the British legacy will be willing to rise to take its place. India, once the “crown jewel” of the British Empire, may take its place as the royal head instead. Its economy is much larger than the UK’s, has a larger population (by a factor of about 18:1), and it has nuclear weapons. New Delhi, unlike London, does not appear quite so ready to disarm (as evidenced by its vote on a UN resolution on nuclear disarmament). The decision lies in London’s hands right now. Does it wish to become a rump state and a distant shadow of its former self or will it renew its resolve to be a player in international security affairs?