Trident Replacement is Bad News for the USA

British defense spending should be every American’s favorite kind of defense spending. UK military assets are essentially at the disposal of US foreign policy, but American taxpayers don’t need to foot the bill. So we should all pay attention to the defense cuts coming as part of David Cameron’s austerity drive:

David Cameron has confirmed defence spending is to be cut by 8% in real terms over four years, as he unveils the strategic defence review. He said RAF and Navy numbers would be reduced by 5,000 each, Army numbers by 7,000 and the Ministry of Defence would lose 25,000 civilian staff by 2015. […]

Mr Cameron vowed to push ahead with replacing Britain’s Trident nuclear missile system but said their replacement would be scaled back, with the number of warheads per boat cut from 58 to 40, as part of a £750m package of savings.

Cutting conventional military personnel while spending money on renewing Britain’s nuclear arsenal is more-or-less the worst case scenario from an American perspective. The UK’s ability to contribute to the “global public goods” functions of the Pentagon will be diminished more than is necessary to meet the monetary targets, and British possession of a nuclear second-strike capability accomplishes nothing whatsoever for America. What’s more, it doesn’t really accomplish anything for the United Kingdom either—it’s just a way of hanging on to a bit of faded imperial glory.

What’s more, I think it’s worth paying some attention to the role the small British and French nuclear arsenals play in the larger global proliferation question. What message does it send to Brazil, Taiwan, South Africa, Indonesia, and other regional powers when medium-sized countries facing no conventional security threat and benefitting from explicit American security guarantees insist that they need nuclear arsenals? And how much does desire to keep the door to nuclearization open play into their stances on questions relating to “bad guy” proliferators like Iran and North Korea? The obligation of existing weapons states to take meaningful steps toward nuclear disarmament falls primarily on the US and Russia, which have the bulk of the weapons, but the smaller arsenals play a role in this as well.