Do We Need the Trident Submarine?

William M. Arkin has a thought-provoking article today about the role of the Trident submarine (and also attack submarines) in the post-Cold-War world. Have a look at More Subs, Fewer Boots on the Ground.

I'm sure that if Trident were free it would be of some positive value to national security. But it's far from free, and I don't know enough about military strategy to have a confident view as to whether Trident is worth what we spend on it. (If I had to guess, I'd be tempted to suggest that we keep Trident and instead ramp down the land-based ICBMS and especially the potentially destabilizing bunker-busters.) I do know enough about politics to know that there is of course zero chance of anyone actually advocating abolishing an entire branch of one of the services — stopping a single weapon system is hard enough, even if tests demonstrate that it is useless — so it may be a waste of time to even think about Trident. Look at how long horse cavalry survived into the age of the machine gun and the tank.

It's interesting, though, to imagine some zero-based thinking about our armed forces. If we were starting with a blank slate, where would we put the resources?

In reality, of course, you never start with a blank slate, and it is very hard to walk away from sunk costs, especially when it would take so long to rebuild the program from scratch were it ever to be determined that closing down the program was a mistake. Trident has been a part of the national security blanket for a generation. Losing it would be too scary for anyone in power to even contemplate.

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