North Korea – Trident A Complete Irrelevance in a Genuine Nuclear Standoff 75

The situation developing on the Korean Peninsula is close to the fulfilment of the nightmare scenario. A genuinely crazed regime, controlling a serf population, is on the verge of acquiring viable weapons of mass destruction.

It must be stressed that North Korea is not there yet. It is one thing to create a static nuclear explosion. It is quite another to miniaturise the mechanisms down to warhead size, with a viable trigger and reliable delivery system. It is understood North Korea has enough material for about five warheads. Its missiles are erratic. It has no missile ready mechanism.

How to deal with North Korea is an extremely difficult question. It has a regime which is completely despicable. Wishing it would behave well is pointless. Evidently the attitude of China – which appears still to see the continuance of the regime as preferable to the consequences of its collapse – will be crucial. There is no good solution. I am sorry to say that I tend to the view that least evil may have been done if we had not offered palliative aid to save North Koreans from the consequences of a disastrous form of communism.

Put harshly, if we had let large numbers of North Koreans starve to death, at some stage – and I realise a very late stage – the remnant would realise the regime wasn’t doing such a good job after all and string the Dear Leader up. That would have been horrible, but less horrible than the possibility of a war with nuclear elements which could engulf the whole peninsula and have the potential to become at least a US/China proxy conflict.

But I want this morning to concentrate on just one aspect of the problem in relationship to what the UK can do. That is to point out that the Trident missile system, for which New Labour are committed to buying an incredibly expensive replacement, thus smashing the Non-Proliferation Treaties – is absolutely no use whatsoever.

A casual observer dropping in from Mars would look at the UK’s massive nuclear arsenal, compared to the size of the country and its economic problems, would look at New Labour plans to replace our nuclear arsenal with something still more massive, and conclude that Gordon Brown was much more of a crazed militaristic nutter than the Dear Leader. And perhaps the martian might have a point.

Those who argue for Trident 2 no longer make a public case that we need to be able to obliterate Moscow, St Petersburg and Ekaterinburg. They tend rather to emphasise that we need to be able to deter rogue states which acquire nuclear weapons.

But now we actually do have the hawks’ favourite scenario playing out before us, and what use is our massive nuclear arsenal in this situation? Have you seen a single commentator refer to our Trident missiles as a factor? Of course not. They are, in point of fact, the most expensive chocolate teapot in the world, and quite possibly the universe.

Indeed, where are our Trident missiles targeted this morning? Do they still point at St Petersburg, Moscow and Ekaterinburg? Have they had the Pyongyang coordinates fed in? Two of our Trident submarines will be at sea today. What are their instructions? The truth is, the question is the world’s most expensive irrelevance.

The problem with deterrence theory is that you cannot deter a madman, particularly one who is going to die very soon anyway and may think a mass immolation sounds glorious. Let us look at the ultimate worst case scenario. North Korea somehow gets five warheads onto missiles, and fires them – let’s say at Seoul, the US and Japan. So this really is the worst case scenario, let’s say in two or three cases neither the missile nor the warhead malfunctions. The result is hundreds of thousands dead and environmental devastation.

Do we then obliterate North Korea with nuclear weapons and kill tens of millions of people and create untold further environmental damage?

North Korea poses the problem of asymmetric nuclear warfare. It may soon possess a very small number of low quality nuclear missiles, but is potentially mad enough to use them. That madness means that our possession of vastly more and vastly superior nuclear weapons does not deter. North Korea has the potential to be the nuclear State equivalent of the civilian suicide bomber, who can inflict casualties on the most sophisticated army in the world. We have got some understanding of the dilemmas posed by asymmetric warfare. What we have here is just vast difference of scale; the asymmetry remains.

Let me be plain. I am not predicting any of these disastrous outcomes. I am running through the very scenarios that are used in theory to justify the spending of huge sums in my taxes, and those of my children and grandchildren, in government borrowing mind-blowing money to acquire Trident 2.

North Korea shows just how pointless that is.

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75 thoughts on “North Korea – Trident A Complete Irrelevance in a Genuine Nuclear Standoff

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  • JimmyGiro

    How would the west react to China, if the latter stormed through NK and seized the country right down to the 38th parallel?

  • Edo

    Let’s not forget that there has been only one nation that has used nuclear bombs on a civilian population… Want to talk about madmen… talk about them.

  • Johan van Rooyen


    Edo is right. It would be far more effective, and humane for the US, to engage with Korea in a pacific and respectful way rather than to continue with the current policy or taking up your suggestion of starving millions of people to death.

  • KevinB

    Some informed reports say that Saddam was given a ‘wink and a nod’ prior to his 1992 invasion of Kuwait by the regime of George Bush (senior). He had been installed by the USA and had dutifully started the Iran/Iraq war by attacking his neighbour. US?UK had been expelled fromIran in 1989 so a little destabilisation was highly desirable at that time.

    We should worry about North Korea.

    But surely no country is really lunatic when it comes to gratuitously inviting their own complete annihilation.

    A question occurs. The western banking system is literally bankrupt. It is surviving by creating a massive ‘money-printing’ bubble, much bigger than the dot-com and housing bubbles. This bubble is sure to burst with catastrophic consequences for western global influence. Wars have often been engineered by financial powers as a way of reflating their evil system.

    Why would N. Korea behave so stupidly?

    Here’s the question.

    Has someone given them a green light to go ahead with this madness?

    Pay close attention to the minutiae of diplomatic exchanges. Watch out for whistleblowers. Do not allow our own media to get away with stirring things up by using bellicose language.


    You bet.

  • Richard

    Completely true about Trident – it’s pointless. We have NATO and yet 3 independant nuclear states – it’s mental. Save the £20 billion (ish) (although i’ve heard figures of £100 billion for the full life cycle). Soooo, why don’t we go halves with the French?

    Ok – probably a daft idea but considering the NATO treaty is like the 3 Muskateers and that – can we not just drop them for a bit? When we get some cash buy them perhaps but in the meantime spend the wedge on aircraft carriers, tanks, decent homes & equipment etc. Hmm..nurse, nurse

  • Simon

    Reuters seems to be the only western news-agency to have carried the NORK’s statement warning of the possibility of this latest test. Would it have happened if the Security Council was not pressed so often to apply sanctions left right and centre?

    SEOUL, April 29 (Reuters) – Following is a full text of the English-language report on North Korea’s KCNA news agency on Wednesday threatening to conduct a second nuclear test:

    “A spokesman for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea Foreign Ministry issued a statement today as regards the fact that the hostile forces’ vicious moves against the DPRK over its satellite launch for peaceful purposes have reached the extremely dangerous phase.

    “In accordance with its ‘presidential statement’ which has no binding force, on April 24 the UNSC officially designated three companies of the DPRK (North Korea) as targets of sanctions and many kinds of military supplies and materials as embargo items over the DPRK’s peaceful satellite launch, a DPRK’s exercise of sovereignty, and thus committed such illegal provocations as setting in motion its sanctions on the DPRK, the statement notes, and says:

    “Such sanctions can never work on the DPRK which has been subject to all sorts of sanctions and blockade by the hostile forces for the past scores of years.

    “What is serious is the fact that the UNSC has set out in directly jeopardizing the security of the country and the nation, the supreme interests of the DPRK, though it had already wantonly infringed the sovereignty of a sovereign state, pursuant to the U.S. moves.

    “The hostile forces are foolishly scheming to suffocate the DPRK’s defence industry by physical methods as they failed to attain their aims for disarming the DPRK through the six-way talks.

    “In the 1990s the DPRK already declared that any anti-DPRK sanctions to be put by the United Nations, a legal party to the Korean Armistice Agreement, would be regarded as a termination of the agreement, that is, a declaration of war.

    “The desire for denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula has gone forever with the six-way talks and the situation is inching to the brink of war by the hostile forces. The DPRK Ministry of Foreign Affairs solemnly gives the following warnings to cope with such grave situation:

    “The UNSC should promptly make an apology for having infringed the sovereignty of the DPRK and withdraw all its unreasonable and discriminative ‘resolutions’ and decisions adopted against the DPRK.

    “This is the only way for it to regain confidence of the UN member nations and fulfil its responsibility for maintaining international peace and security, not serving as a tool for the U.S. highhanded and arbitrary practices any longer.

    “In case the UNSC does not make an immediate apology, such actions will be taken as:

    “Firstly, the DPRK will be compelled to take additional self-defensive measures in order to defend its supreme interests.

    “The measures will include nuclear tests and test-firings of intercontinental ballistic missiles.

    “Secondly, the DPRK will make a decision to build a light water reactor power plant and start the technological development for ensuring self-production of nuclear fuel as its first process without delay.”

  • ingo

    very good resumee Craig, but Giro has a point as well.

    What would the US do if China walks into NK?, a vastly more preferable scenario than the one were the dear leader dies and his son takes over supported by a military junta of sorts, smarting to go to war.

    If a conventional war takes place, imho a far more likely scenario than a nuclear exchange, as the weapon systems ammassed at the border make this the first strike weapons. Starving North Koreans would move north into China in their millions, something China could not stomach and fears, as it might even further destabilise their own country, next to all the different fronts they already are subjected to.

    Then there is the scenario that plays this into the long grass, western concessions for time by sending more food and oil to stave off the inevitable.

    Such scenario would entice Japan, who must see it all coming and is especially hated by the NK regime, to develop its own nuclear weapons. Truth be said, I believe that Japan, under the strictest cecrecy, might have already gone along this route and developed a capacity, I would not at all be surprised given their usual nous and forward thinking, despite their international anti nuclear stance.

    Now such a development would pitch China and japan against each other and disputed areas like the South China sea islets or some hasty diplomatic ties with Taiwan would be like a match to a tinderbox, setting the south east alight, a ww3 scenario in the making.

    For my money I prefer China walking into NK, ideally with our canivance and the explicit arrangement of withdrawl after a democratic regime had been established, I am sure our mongers who took us into Iraq under false premises would agree to such a scenario, what do others think?

  • Craig

    Simon, Johan,

    Yes, populations can indeed invite self-annihilation. Nazi Germany plainly did. The sad truth is, that you do get regimes which are, for want of a better word, evil. Pol Pot, Hitler etc. This is just one of them. Of course it is always better to talk and keep inviting rational behaviour. But do not fall into a delusion. And Simon, frankly that ridiculous propaganda blaming the UN is only of interest to academics studying a bizarre regime.

    KevinB, I have said before that you veer between the rational and the clinically fixated. No, nobody has tipped any green light to North Korea in the interests of a cabal of bankers.

    I am a very intellectually open person, but your inclination to see the same forces behind everything that happens in the world is not interesting. You could make a fortune writing Dan Brown type novels.

  • Frazer

    I visited North Korea years ago as part of an humanitarian delegation to discuss aid shipments.

    My impressions were that the people there were completely brainwashed by this nutter in charge.

    When I explained that I was from the UK to our ‘official guide’, I recieved a 5 minuite lecture on the failures of my country as it seemed we were still forcing children to sweep out chimneys, and the state of our orphans in institutions.

    When I questioned her as to the source of this information, she informed me she had read a recently published book reflecting the state of Britain today, entitled, yup you guessed, Oliver Twist.

  • Richard

    Frazer – only 5 minutes – if you went back there now I’d have thought 30 minutes would be brief.

  • Doktor Strangelove

    But surely mein friends, you haf die solution right before you. You haf a new improved Trident here und a godless Communist regime there. Die solution is obvious to anyvun mit a drop of common sense. Ka-Boom! Flatten dem mit your Trident und vipe out die evil of Communism for ever!

  • ingo

    oops forgot trident, but thats exactly it, it needs forgetting about due to its limited military use.

    The reliance on mutual assured destruction NATO so valued during the cold war, was never a credible scenario either, nuclear warfare does not square with just and democratic living. In a case of NK its use would merely disturb the neighbours something rotten.

    As for targetting, what targeting are all nuclear missiles subjected to in our current wobbly peacetime?

    Cosmic top secret documents used to play on scenarios but today, when scenarios can develop ad hoc, who is doing the targetting and where is the Force de Frappe pointing its once easterly directed shiny penisses now? never mind trident or minutemen.

    We can allocate these sixty billions over 40 years to far better purposes than on wasted bangs and self obliteration, I fully agree with your assessment.

  • Ed

    Craig –

    “If we had let large numbers of North Koreans starve to death, at some stage – and I realise a very late stage – the remnant would realise the regime wasn’t doing such a good job after all and string the Dear Leader up.”

    I’m not sure historical precedents allow us to predict that stringing-up with much confidence.

    Stalin survived the great Soviet famine of 1932-3, unstrung-up.

    Mao sauntered through the Great Leap Forward and associated famine, unstrung-up.

    Hitler stuck it out until the Red Army was in Berlin, unstrung-up.

    Saddam sat out 13 years of sanctions, unstrung-up.

    Famine, whether internally or externally imposed, doesn’t have a great track record as an agent of regime change.

  • Craig

    There is also evidence the other way. The French Revolution was famously caused by famine. 1848 and 1917 followed demonstrably bad harvests. Agree it might not work. But propping up the regime with food aid didn’t work either.

  • John D. Monkey


    Surely the purpose of Trident is not to act as a military deterrent but:

    * to make enormous profits for the arms industry?

    * to let our politicians bask in the delusion that the UK is a “World Power”

    * to let our military chiefs have some new toys

    BTW, my guess of the states which are the least unlikely to use nuclear weapons are in order:-







    North Korea

  • MJ

    “It may soon possess a very small number of low quality nuclear missiles, but is potentially mad enough to use them”

    Disagree. In over fifty years since the Korean war, N Korea has attacked no-one. It is the only country on JDM’s list above (which should include the UK somewhere) of whom that can be said.

    N Korea plays the global chess game and, though from a position of great weakness, plays it rather well. I recall that in the run up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003 N Korea coolly announced that it would attack the US if it were threatened. The response from Washington was telling: it briefly stopped sounding like a playground bully and its language became diplomatic, statesmanlike even.

    Only a few months ago N Korea agreed to cease its nuclear activities in return for a generous aid package. Less than a week later it announced it was recommencing its nuclear programme. Washington did nothing.

    N Korea knows how to play the nuclear game to earn respect and deter intervention. If it actually used its military power it would lose everything.

  • VamanosBandidos

    Et tu Craig?

    After interdicting/preventing my last post on the Israel thread from getting published, now you are taking the weak and stale arguments forwarded, by the same culprits whom having used biological/chemical weapons, and the same bunch of crazed lunatics whom were getting ready to use nuclear weapons to “stem” the advancing of the tide of pinko communistic comrades.

    Fact that it is easy to demonize the victims of a sustained aggression at the hands of a demented and overbearing bunch of power brokers half a century later, is only a testament to the bastardised sense of justice, and fair play that has come to symbolize human kinds’ transactions circa twenty/first century. Ignorance is no defence when it comes to upholding the traditions of the criminalization of; we the people, yet the same ignorance is taken advantage of, for reasons of the continuation of the crazed, and stupid policies of the mad men passed.

    Noting that;

    A- DPRK under sanctions, and a constant regiment of aggression, could only have hung onto its territorial integrity through adopting her current; total defensive posture, and self reliance.

    B- Fact that memories of mass killings and mass burials of Koreans during the war, results of the “UN” forces’ use of chemical/biological weapons may not have dawned on the standard issue Westerner, however this aspect matters naught, because those memories are imprinted into the memories of the population of DPRK.

    C- Without the outside help, and through their own efforts DPRK have managed to construct their own Nuclear bomb, which evidently is not small enough to be lobbed at the all and sundry around the globe, yet good enough deterrent for anyone deciding to play the sheriff of the planet and start asking the DPRK to pay fealty and if not the dominant bully to start to intercept her ships, and cause general disruption for whatever trade or commerce the unfortunates in DPRK may still have access to.


    Given such threats, and fact that military expenditure has been at the expense of all else for the population of the DPRK has been direct results of the policies of those outsiders whom find militarisation and trade in death, as the only viable and profitable trade to be in, regardless of how, the monies are spent, and where are these spent monies ending up at? Alas these lines of thinking never entertained the elegant conclusion of any such policies to the current and tense stand off.

    Your contention is;

    The “aid” ought not have been extended to DPRK, which would have resulted in deaths of millions of deaths in the DPRK, with a view to getting the population to rise up and change their own government. This Malthusian line of thinking is exactly the sought after riposte to the current crisis. This kind of broken eggs and omelette argument foregoes the simple facts;

    1- why on Earth the Korean Peninsula conflict nearly sixty years later still hot?

    2- why on Earth to date seventy years after WWII, Germany is still under occupation? (why the basis, for men and equipment, and the rules thereof?)

    3- why on Earth, the constant projection of “kinetic power” to four corners of the planet, and an ongoing state of never ending crisis? (Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Palestine, Lebanon, Africa, etc.)

    Therefore, to pontificate even more mayhem and murder, would be only playing an all too familiar hand, how about:

    1- Giving DPRK a UN membership? (I bet not many of you know that DPRK has no membership in the UN, yet is expected to be abiding by the rulings of it’s Security Council)

    2- Recognising that all the peoples of world have an inalienable right to determine their own destiny, and self rule without interference, or intervention from US, and UK (her fawning toady)?

    3- As Lavarov warns; do not fan the flames of war! (this time the “bad” guys have teeth, and they will bite too.)


    World ought to take heed of Lavarov and start looking for a solution that does not box an already boxed and ravaged group of people runing scared for the last fifty years. It is time that negotiations meant to be negotiations, not a tactic to stall the progress of one side ie DPRK with a view to initiation of war by the other side ie. The US, at a time and choosing of the dominant bully.

  • George Dutton

    As far as I am aware…

    The UK cannot fire the Trident missiles it doesn’t have the codes to fire them.It must ask permission from the USA government to gain access to the codes?.

    The UK may be able to break the codes and fire the missiles independently but that would be of no use as to deliver the missiles to their target you need a delivery system which the USA controls.

    I know that with Trident 1 when the missiles had to be serviced the USA would NOT let the UK do it. The UK crew were ordered off the subs and US personnel done it at a US base in the USA or many years ago at a UK base.

    Trident 1 and 2 are a total waste off money and to use them would require the insanity of someone like Thatcher.It all begs the question WHY is the UK paying/paid all this money for Trident?.I wonder if there are nuclear warheads on Trident? how would we know?.All an elaborate game to help keep the military industrial complex going?.

  • Ed

    Craig –

    “The problem with deterrence theory is that you cannot deter a madman, particularly one who is going to die very soon anyway and may think a mass immolation sounds glorious.”

    Perhaps it is true that you cannot deter a complete madman, in the sense of someone with no understanding at all that actions have consequences. But I’m not sure that Kim Jong-il is a complete madman in that sense. True, I’ve not met the man personally, so I am guessing a bit – but let’s look at what has happened and try to use that to get some insight into the Great Leader’s state of mind.

    If he wanted to inflict great damage upon his enemies, whatever the cost, he could and would already have done so. He could have launched his artillery on Seoul; he could have sent a million soldiers over the border; he could, for all I know, have used biological or chemical weapons against the South.

    But he hasn’t done any of these things. Why not? Two possible answers present themselves.

    1. For all his posturing, he doesn’t actually want to inflict great damage upon his enemies.

    2. He is afraid of the consequences. “Madman” or not, he realises that the consequences of an attack on the South would be massive retaliation by the United States and others, possibly including nuclear attack on the North.

    I don’t know which of these two is actually the case. Perhaps it’s some combination.

    But let’s assume that it’s more (2) than (1). It seems to me then that, at least to some extent, you CAN deter a “madman”. It is precisely that, deterrence, both nuclear and conventional, which have dissuaded Kim from launching an attack.

    You say Kim “may think a mass immolation sounds glorious”. Come on, this guy likes pretty girls, watching DVDs, eating gourmet good, and playing golf. He’s got a lifestyle to protect. He’s never been a soldier, he’s grown fat on peace. When he tests his bombs and his missiles, he’s showing off his toys, he’s attention-seeking, he wants people to take him seriously, he wants people to know that he’s the Man.

    But he wants to keep his DVDs, too. And he is sane enough to realise that, thanks to deterrence, he can EITHER fire his nukes, OR keep his DVDs. But not both.

    I’m betting he’ll stick with his DVDs. And I hope to god I’m right.

  • Craig

    Vamanos Bandidos

    Just to say I don’t think I suppressed any of your comments. I almost never do, and try always to say so if I do.

    Your attempt to glamorise plucky little North Korea is stupid. it is a completely appalling regime with a disastrous human rights record and a zombified population brainwashed by the personality cult.

    There are sections of the left who can see now rong in anybody, as long as they are anti-American. Yes the situation arises as a consequence of cold war conflict. But that does not justify tyranny nor the infliction of abject poverty on a nation. It is the North Korean regime which causes that poverty, not the USA.

  • rullko

    But what about the billions of Faslane shopkeepers whose livelihoods depend on WMD?

  • paul

    Obviously, rich and powerful people throughout history have never colluded behind the scenes to instigate world events that increase their power and wealth. It was all just an endless series of unfortunate accidents and coincidences.

    “In politics, nothing happens by accident. If it happens, you can bet it was planned that way.”

    Franklin D. Roosevelt

  • eddie

    Craig well said. Isn’t it a strange world where the public is in a lynch mood over MP expenses, yet millions starve and die in Darfur, N Korea, Zimbabwe etc and the public response is…nil. You are right that many on the far left are interested only in blaming everything on the USA and the West and if there is no culpability in that direction then there is no interest. Sri Lanka is a good example. The moral compass of these people is seriously awry. This video of a girl being flogged by the taliban is a case in point. I am sure many on these boards will blame the nasty USA for this scene. I don’t, I blame the Taliban. Full stop.

  • KevinB


    You seem to think I believe in a fantasy because it pleases me to do so.

    You find this perspective ‘boring’.

    You mention Hitler yet you seem to be ignorant of the facts. Global conflicts, though they can obviously go awry for participants are highly orchestrated.

    Throughout his rise to power Hitler was funded by Wall Street bankers.

    The Communist revolution in Russia was also funded by western capital.

    If this has definitely happened before (and it has…..and in many other scenarios), excuse me please for pointing out the POSSIBILITY that it is happening again….

    ….or are we bound, like the fucking idiots we are, to accept the mainstream medias lying version of everything that is stuck in our moronic faces.

  • MJ

    eddie: it’s perhaps not that strange. It’s probably related to 1) the level of media exposure and 2) the extent to which we feel we can do something about it. N Korea and Zimbabwe are closed societies to the West – journalists are not allowed in – so little real news ends up on the telly. Events in Darfur are complex, part of global geopolitics, and we are only fed scraps. But we’ve had wall-to-wall exposure of the expenses scandal and we feel it’s within our power to do something about it, so bingo!

    The public response to famine in Africa in the mid-80s was huge, but again it got daily media coverage and, thanks to Geldof et al we felt we could do something about it.

    Speaking of moral compasses gone awry eddie, I find your myopic fascination with Islamophobic videos rather worrying.

  • MJ


    “Throughout his rise to power Hitler was funded by Wall Street bankers”.

    True. Not to mention several million quids worth of Czech gold handed to him on a plate by the Rothschild-controlled Bank of England after his invasion.

  • Craig


    No. you’re not. And while I don’t agree with you on this one and my style is to argue robustly, please don’t think I don’t value your being here.

  • Paul Jakma

    Question: What evidence is there exactly to suggest NK are “mad”?

    E.g. from what I can tell, it was the USA which brought nuclear weapons to the peninsula, over 30 years ago, much to NKs protestations. NKs subsequent development of nuclears weapons seems then to follow the ‘rational’ path of an arms-race between hostile nations. NKs hostility towards SK (which has not exactly been a democratic paradise, up until not so long ago) is also somewhat rational, in the context of the cold war.

    I strongly fear that this seemingly baseless meme, of NK being led by mad-men, may lead us into very poor decisions…

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