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October 05, 2015



I would go one step further and suggest that nuclear catastrophe is not something to which we can attach a probability.

And it could be that trident increases some risks by making *us* more aggressive.

Luis Enrique

so there's a fairly large body of work on decisions in situations where you cannot attach probabilities to outcomes - good intro being the same book I always cite under posts like this - Manksi:


one decision rule is regret minimisation. If we have Trident but no nuclear war our regret is probably smaller than not having Trident then finding ourselves blackmailed or nuked. This makes sense if you really have no idea about probabilities - my feeling is at back of their minds, despite sometimes saying we cannot place probabilities on things, many people think probability of Trident being needed is small


When I was an undergraduate someone pointed out the approach to making a decision by looking at the expected payouts of each choice. I remember the elegance of the approach being astonishingly appealing. Now I would no longer have to agonize over difficult decisions. I would be able to value the payoffs (in principle, easy) and just weight by a probability.

As I get older (this was more than 30 years ago) I have decided that for all political decisions, this approach is a waste of time (as you point out).

Do you plan to review 'Superforecasting' by Philip Tetlock? I'd be very interested to hear your view on it.

Jim M.

@ Luis

Regret Minimisation: Shades of Hitchens and "You have to choose your future regrets"?


@ Chris

Calculating Trident's insurance value: a figure of fantasy?



"This is that, without a nuclear deterrent we might be blackmailed or even attacked by someone with nuclear weapons,"

It should be pointed out that if this is their logic then their efforts to stop some nations getting a nuclear weapon is so they can one day nuke them without the fear of retaliation, or can blackmail them as and when they want.

If I were an Iranian leader I would be telling my people about this!

Dave Timoney

The deterrent to the UK being blackmailed or attacked is not merely possession of nuclear weapons but membership of NATO, which guarantees collective defence. Therefore Trident is really insurance against the possibility that we might be stiffed by the US.

The experience of being shafted over dollar loans in the 40s and Suez in the 50s, not to mention the paranoia that seized Harold Wilson after he declined to get involved in Vietnam, suggests that British governments have assumed the probability of being stiffed by the US in the future is quite high, which is reasonable.

Given that Trident is a US-manufactured system, and they'll surely have put a backdoor in the software to guard against the Brits going crazy, its value as insurance is moot. After all, if it really were an independent deterrent, we could afford an independent foreign policy. Perhaps Trident is best thought of simply as protection money.


France has nukes, so the UK needs them (and vice versa). Unfortunately, the UK and France are not enemies, which makes it hard to negotiate an arms control treaty.

An Alien Visitor

The USA cannot afford a world of peace, they need permanent carnage and war.

Of all the nations in the world they are the most evil, they are evil doers (to use a Bushism).

In the end we will all realise it would be better if ISIS won the war, but by then it will be too late!


The Russians are bombing ISIS.

An Alien Visitor

"The Russians are bombing ISIS."

The USA got there before them! I think nations are now having to rent air space as they line up to bomb Syrians.

The evil USA will be more than happy with the carnage they have created. They push the world into conflict and reap the rewards.


You may also be making the rash assumption that the money not spent on Trident would be usefully spent elsewhere. The examples you give are .. how shall I put this .. optimistic. More likely, it'd be given away as tax cuts for pensioners or something.

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