Selling the Bomb: Making the Case for British Nuclear Deterrence in the Twenty-First Century

| Feb. 21, 2018


In July 2016, the British Parliament voted to replace the submarines carrying the United Kingdom’s strategic nuclear deterrent. Procurement of these new submarines—the Dreadnought class—will ensure that the United Kingdom remains a nuclear-armed state until the 2050s. The May govern- ment’s handling of the vote has been marred by the failure of a Trident missile test launch from a Royal Navy submarine days before the vote, and its delayed disclosure in January 2017. This led to allegations of a “cover-up” and familiar questions surrounding secrecy, transparency, and its e ect on the public debates.

Using the missile test controversy as a jumping-o point, this paper places the government’s e orts to make the case for the deterrent to the public in 2016 in historical context. The paper argues that the government’s justi cation for Britain’s possession of nuclear weapons has evolved since the end of the Cold War from a deterrent against the Soviet Union toward “insurance” against an uncertain future. The British government has also started to exploit new mediums in its nuclear public relations e orts. The “cover-up” of the Trident missile failure shows that while the government has made much progress in its public relations e orts since the 1980s, o cial secrecy still presents barriers to e ective public relations, and that poorly handled events can undermine the government’s justi cation of the United Kingdom’s nuclear status.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation:

Salisbury, Daniel. Selling the Bomb: Making the Case for British Nuclear Deterrence in the Twenty-First Century. Project on Nuclear Issues Annual Journal – 2017 (Washington, D.C.: Center for Strategic and International Studies, February 21, 2018), pp. 156 - 169. 

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