The British government opted for the Trident nuclear weapons system because it could kill up to ten million Russians and inflict “unacceptable damage” on the former Soviet Union, according to secret Whitehall documents written in the 1970s.
The macabre calculations that underpinned the decision in 1980 to replace Polaris nuclear missiles with Trident have been revealed by a Ministry of Defence (MoD) memo, marked “personal and top secret”. In a war Britain would have to be prepared “to finish what we start”, it said.
Other MoD documents set out in chilling detail exactly how a nuclear attack on Moscow and St Petersburg could cause enough death and destruction “to bring about the breakdown of the city as a functioning community.” Critics say officials today are doing the same kind of “Dr Strangelove arithmetic”.
The late 1970s and early 1980s saw an escalation of international tensions in the long-running Cold War between the communist Soviet bloc and the west. In 1979 Soviet troops invaded Afghanistan, prompting a US trade embargo and a mass boycott of the Moscow Olympics in 1980.
At the same time the political leadership of the west swung to the right, with the election of Margaret Thatcher as Conservative Prime Minister of the UK in 1979, and Ronald Reagan as Republican President of the US in 1981. Reagan famously described the Soviet Union as an “evil empire” and predicted that communism would be consigned to the “ash heap of history”.