Medact’s Position on Trident

Medact calls for the urgent abolition of all nuclear weapons, including the UK’s Trident because of the terrible consequences to health, humanity and the environment of the development, testing and use of nuclear weapons, which are well known. Any further use, especially the hostile use of even a small fraction of the current global arsenal of nuclear weapons, would threaten a global catastrophe.

Position Points

  1. Medact condemns not only the use of nuclear weapons but also their possession by any state, power or authority. Those states, powers or authorities which currently possess nuclear weapons must commit to disarm, dismantle and dispose of them all.
  2. Medact calls for a return of all UK Trident submarines to base so that a controlled process of complete decommissioning of their missiles and nuclear weapons can start immediately. (click here for Medact factsheet on Trident)
  3. As the UK affiliate of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, Medact supports the work of all organisations and coalitions which oppose nuclear weapons, and we join with those who call for a treaty to ban nuclear weapons.
  4. Medact rejects the doctrines of deterrence and mutually assured destruction (MAD) as a basis for genuine security. Although no nuclear weapon has been detonated as an act of hostility since 1945, there is clear documentary evidence of many miscalculations and errors, often at times of heightened international tension, which very nearly led to nuclear weapons being used.
  5. The world now has about 16,000 nuclear weapons of which 4,000 are deployed on high alert – that is, ready on command within days, hours or even minutes – for firing on strategic targets (cities, military installations, etc.) All deployed weapons are held either by Russia (c 1,600) or by NATO (1,900 by the US). (Click here for a factsheet on the status of nuclear weapons worldwide)
  6. We recognise and therefore advocate the place for alternative negotiating approaches, based on trust and mutual understanding among all parties; and the need to work with all sections of international society – governmental, civil, military and non-governmental organisations – to develop such approaches.
  7. Medact therefore calls upon NATO and its partners, Russia and its partners and all other nuclear weapons states to proceed in genuine good faith and with a sense of urgency towards the goal of a nuclear weapons-free world.  A good start might be the establishment of reciprocal protocols to build confidence in, for example, “de-alerting” and “no first use” policies.

Further Comments

Well over 2,100 nuclear devices have been tested since 1945 and every State possessing nuclear weapons has programmes to upgrade, or ‘modernise’, them: it is a moot point where ‘upgrading’ (to keep them usable) merges into ‘modernising’ (to improve them).6, 7

The risk of catastrophic consequences of near-simultaneous detonations of up to 100 Hiroshima-sized weapons, however unlikely any such use would be but which would affect many millions of people including those in non-belligerent states, are so ‘close to comfort’ as to be utterly unacceptable.3

Although the bilateral START Treaties8 involving the arsenals held by Russia and by NATO have reduced the deployed nuclear arsenals on both sides, much remains to be done before the world is substantially safer.

In a somewhat disquieting development, China may be considering renouncing its so-far unique policy of ‘no-first-use’ of nuclear weapons, in spite of it being ‘a good place to start’.9

References (all websites accessed May 2014)

1. Mills MJ, OB.Toon, J Lee-Taylor, and A. Robock (2014), Multidecadal global cooling and unprecedented ozone loss following a regional nuclear conflict, Earth’s Future, 2, doi:10.1002/2013EF000205.

2. Medact 2014. The UK Trident Missile Factsheet.

3. Lewis P, H Williams, B Pelopidas and Sasan Aghlani (2014) Too Close for Comfort Cases of Near Nuclear Use and Options for Policy. Chatham House Report

4. Federation of American Scientists (2014). Status of World Nuclear Forces.

5. AB Pittock, Ackerman TP, Crutzen PJ, MacCracken MC, Shapiro CS and Turco RP (1986) Environmental Consequences of Nuclear War Volume I: Physical and Atmospheric Effects Chapter 2; Scenarios for a Nuclear Exchange  Published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd

6. Wittner L (2014) The Endless Arms Race: Despite Promises, New Nuclear Weapons Are On the Way.

7. Acheson R (Ed. 2014)  Assuring Destruction for Ever; nuclear weapon modernization around the world.  Reaching Critical Will

8. Treaty between The United States of America and the Russian Federation on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (New START)

9. Hui Zhang (2013) China’s No-First-Use Policy Promotes Nuclear Disarmament. If nuclear weapon states truly want to abolish atomic weapons, a no-first-use doctrine is a good place to start. The Diplomat. May 2013

Prepared by Medact’s Nuclear Issues Group, 9.5.14.

Updated on 29.4.15.



Target 2016

Trident is the UK’s Weapon of Mass Destruction, and Medact opposes it vigorously. The UK government would like to replace Trident completely: the cost is likely to be in excess of £100bn over 30 years.  Although some work on the infrastructure for the renewal of Trident has already begun, the final ‘Main Gate ‘decision is not to be taken by Parliament until 2016. Therefore, we currently have a brief window of opportunity to persuade Parliamentarians not to renew Trident.

The UK Trident nuclear missile system is deployed on a fleet of four Vanguard-class nuclear submarines based at the Faslane Naval Base in Scotland, with the weapons stored at nearby Coulport. Each submarine has at least forty 100Kt warheads mounted on ballistic missiles with a range of over 4,000 nautical miles; and one submarine is always deployed at sea ready to fire on command. The warheads are due to be replaced by life extended ‘enhanced ‘ versions (W76-Mark 4A).

But Medact’s goal is for all nuclear weapons to be eliminated globally and for the UK to lead the way by dismantling Trident – it is not enough for the UK simply not to replace it. To set an example and demonstrate its commitment to the NPT the UK could safely, as a step towards disarmament, downgrade Trident rather than replace it. Even better, it could support negotiations toward,and early entry into force, of a treaty to ban nuclear weapons.

See also Trident Briefings CND