Trident misfire spotlights the danger of fat fingers on nuclear buttons | Letters

Letters: With 15,000 nuclear warheads in the world, most held by the US and Russia, and many on hair-trigger alert, it is remarkable that none has yet resulted in an actual detonation

Governments must keep some things secret, but Michael Fallon’s refusal to acknowledge any problem with the Trident missile, when news of it is reported across the globe, is risible (Fallon defends keeping MPs in dark over Trident misfire, 24 January). A broad explanation about whether the malfunction was caused by human error or faulty directional data could provide reassurance that a failure is acknowledged, lessons have been learned and corrective action taken. The pretence that there is nothing to cause any concern simply guarantees the outcome described in Richard Crossman’s 1971 New Statesman article “The real English disease”: “One result of this secrecy is to make the British electorate feel it is being deliberately kept in the dark and increasingly to suspect the very worst of its rulers.”

Your description of the “secretive, risk-averse and inflexible” style of government (Editorial, 24 January) – on the same day the supreme court gave its judgment on the role of parliament in triggering article 50 – recalls the words of the German sociologist Max Weber, nearly a century ago: “Bureaucracy naturally welcomes a poorly informed and powerless parliament – at least insofar as ignorance somehow agrees with the bureaucracy’s interests.”
Mike Sheaff

• The failure of a Trident missile test (May accused of covering up Trident failure, 23 January) is only the latest of many known accidents and miscalculations with nuclear weapon systems, and probably even more that have been concealed, like this one. With 15,000 nuclear warheads in the world, most held by the United States and Russia, and many on hair-trigger alert, it is remarkable that none has yet resulted in an actual nuclear detonation. But if we do not abolish nuclear weapons, it is surely only a matter of time.

This latest incident emphasises even more strongly that the forthcoming UN multilateral negotiations towards a nuclear weapon ban treaty, which will make all nuclear weapons illegal, must succeed. It will then kickstart the process of their abolition, which almost every public figure claims to desire. For example, the defence secretary, Michael Fallon, is on the record as saying: “We share the vision of a world that is without nuclear weapons, achieved through multilateral disarmament.”

Words like these should become deeds. The UK should break ranks with the nuclear club and participate constructively in those negotiations. This should unite everyone who has ever claimed to share that vision, whatever their differences on the alleged unilateral/multilateral dichotomy.
Frank Jackson
Former co-chair, World Disarmament Campaign

• While Theresa May dodges questions about Trident, five people – including members of the Peace Pledge Union – are on trial in Reading for impeding Trident production. They blocked one of the gates to the Atomic Weapons Establishment in Berkshire last June – at around the same time that the Trident missile test was going wrong.

The problem is not simply that a Trident missile was fired in the “wrong” direction. There is no “right” direction to fire a missile. Killing millions of people is morally repugnant, whatever part of the world they live in. However, news of the test utterly undermines the claims of those who insist that Trident could never malfunction. The prospect of death and destruction caused by an accident is no less terrifying than the thought of it being caused deliberately.

While May talks of “national security”, the campaigners in the dock this week have shown far more concern for human safety. May covered up the truth. The defendants in Reading are witnessing to the truth that weapons don’t protect us, they only make us all less safe.
Symon Hill
Co-ordinator, Peace Pledge Union

• The prime minister and her defence secretary refuse to answer questions on the failed missile test on the grounds of the need for maintaining military secrecy, and the perceived danger to our national security of greater transparency. This provides a frightening reminder of a fatal flaw at the heart of nuclear deterrence theory, depending as it does on creating uncertainty about one’s intentions in the mind of a potential adversary. This is presumed to engender extreme caution in allowing a situation of potential conflict to escalate to critical levels, which seems reasonable but is not 100% reliable; once a threshold has been crossed, uncertainty greatly increases the inducement for one side or the other to launch a pre-emptive strike.

This may demand an almost superhuman quality of cool judgment under pressure on the part of someone whose finger is posed on the “nuclear button” – someone like the new incumbent of the White House.
Peter Wemyss-Gorman
Lindfield, West Sussex

Theresa May tells parliament she would approve nuclear strikes

• On learning about June’s failed Trident test, my first worry was the UK’s nuclear obliteration, should a future failed test also head towards Donald Trump’s twitchy trigger-fingered United States. Then I realised there was a problem closer to home.

Theresa May knew the missile had misfired before the Trident renewal debate on 18 July 2016. Asked by George Kerevan, SNP, “Are you prepared to authorise a nuclear strike that could kill hundreds of thousands of men, women and children?” (Report, 19 July 2016), she replied “Yes.” But now we know that the prime minister is prepared to kill hundreds of thousands of random people, not our “enemies” but anyone unfortunate enough to be in the target zone of Trident’s roulette wheel guidance system. Her claim that the nuclear weapon renewal was “an insurance policy we cannot do without” has to be seen as an “alternative fact”.

Trident is unreliable, wickedly expensive and completely immoral. It should be scrapped forthwith.
Tim Devereux
Chair, Movement for the Abolition of War

• If the communications of a candidate for the US presidential election can be hacked, can we be sure that this “directional” error was just that, a little blip, soon mended?
Pat Sanchez
Littleborough, Lancashire

• It is no surprise that the prime minister refused and refuses to surface with information relating to what she knew about the Trident malfunction. Was she not known previously as “Submarine May”?
John Edgar
Blackford, Perth and Kinross

• It would seem that, at long last, we have a truly independent nuclear missile system. This one seems to make up its own mind as to where it wants to go.
Bob Ward


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