Why do we have nuclear submarines?
Nuclear submarines are nuclear in two senses: First, they have nuclear engines. Second, they have nuclear weapons aboard. In both senses, they’re damned dangerous.
They’re damned expensive too, often costing several billion dollars each.
So why do we have these nuclear submarines? To hear the popular press tell the tale, there are two reasons: One is that the submarines are part of our “deterrent”.
A deterrent is a threat: Do what we want you to do, or we’ll use the deterrent against you. In the case of the nuclear submarines, the specific deterrent comes in the form of nuclear weapons. The idea is that foreign governments will only do what the United States wants them to do if we threaten them with nuclear annihilation.
Put another way, these nuclear submarines are a form of terrorism.
Think I’m being extreme in my designation of nuclear submarines as a form of terrorism? Well then, you’ll have to accuse the Columbia Encyclopedia of terrorism. The Columbia Encyclopedia defines terrorism as “The threat or use of violence, often against the civilian population, to achieve political or social ends, to intimidate opponents, or to publicize grievances.” The American Heritage Dictionary defines terrorism as “The unlawful use or threatened use of force or violence by a person or an organized group against people or property with the intention of intimidating or coercing societies or governments, often for ideological or political reasons.”
Are you going to quibble that nuclear weapons aren’t illegal, and aren’t a form of terrorism… because the U.S. government says that they aren’t illegal? If you were to make that argument, you’d have to agree that no attack can be designated as terrorist just so long as a government somewhere says that its legal. In that case, you would have to regard the U.S. government’s list of state sponsors of terrorism as an oxymoron. Any defense of the legal and moral acceptability of nuclear weapons roaming the world on military submarines has to be based upon a claim of American exceptionalism, that the United States of America is somehow subject to a different standard than every other nation on Earth.
The other argument in favor of spending billions of dollars on nuclear submarines is that they’re needed… to counter other nations’ nuclear submarines. The unspoken presumption in this argument is that nuclear submarines are actually capable of countering other nuclear submarines.
That argument is supported by works of fiction of the sort written by Tom Clancy, but it’s undermined by cold reality of the sort seen yesterday, when a British nuclear submarine and a French nuclear submarine smashed into each other. The British military explained that the accident happened because submarines “can’t see each other in the water”.
If modern-day nuclear submarines are really so blind that they can run right into each other without detecting each other’s presence, then they’re not really very good at countering each other. The billions upon billions of dollars that we spend on nuclear submarines then, is really only used for one thing: Our own nation’s state-sponsored terrorism.
I suggest that’s a morally unacceptable use of our taxes. Those people who are calling upon the government to cut spending ought to take aim at our military’s nuclear submarines, which present a threat to the entire world, even if they never fire a shot.