Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Shelton, has revealed in his book Without Hesitation that during the Clinton presidency, the codes that were necessary to launch America’s nuclear arsenal had gone missing for several months.
This is not only a story that induces a smile and maybe some bewilderment, but also serves to illustrate an important point about nuclear weapons: Since 1945, their exclusive use has been as a deterrent, so it doesn’t really matter if you are able or willing to deploy nuclear weapons or not, as long as your potential opponents think that you have the ability and are willing to make use of it.
In times of overstretched military budgets, this analysis should consequentially lead to the question how to achieve that deterring function with less money. This is similar to the military’s strive for “more bang for the buck”, except that the lack of a bang is the desired outcome. If the British government takes heart of this in its current defence spending review, it won’t have to fork out the estimated 100 billion £ to renew Trident, but would rather concentrate on merely upholding the impression that Britain had nuclear weapons – something that should be achieved for far less money and which would also be an appropriate strategy for British military ingenuity. After all, Operation Fortitude, a British ploy with a fake army to deceive Germany in World War II about the upcoming invasion in France, was a great success in 1944.
One country that has already followed this strategy, is of course Israel with its policy of nuclear ambiguity.