The last line of defense?
How does a middle power remain relevant? One of the most important aspects of global power in the post World War II period is the possession of nuclear weapons. Although only two nations on Earth – the US and Russia – possess nuclear arsenals capable of practically annihilating the planet, the nuclear arsenals of the UK, France and China are large enough to deter any potential adversary from daring to attack it with nuclear weapons itself. Such an exchange between the US and Russia was known as MAD: mutally assured destruction. Although a country like Britain could not conceivably assure the destruction of a country as vast as Russia or China, it could indeed wipe out most of their large cities and lay waste to a significant part of the country’s economic and military infrastructure…
…with just one submarine.
We’ve all heard of Trident but few people really understand the way it works. The Trident is a US-designed submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) that is carried on the US Ohio-class subs as well as the UK Vanguard-class. Each sub carries various silos (16 on the Vanguard, 24 on the Ohio) that launch the missiles while submerged. The missiles the rise out into orbit like a rocket to the moon, at which point the tip of the missile opens and lets out a number of independently-targeted warheads (known as MIRVs) fall back to Earth. There are 8 British-designed MIRVs on each Trident carried on the Vanguard subs (the US Tridents carry up to 12) which means that each Vanguard sub armed with a full complement of 16 Tridents can theoretically destroy 128 targets from practically anywhere in the world. Continue reading
The Crimea: a 21st century Sudetenland
Leave it to Vladimir Putin to spoil what had otherwise been one of the few truly positive developments in global politics of the past few months. It’s not often that you get a corrupt power-hungry goon like Viktor Yanukovych out of power through the most democratic means possible: mass protests. But when it happens in a nation that borders Putin’s increasingly assertive and imperialistic Russia there’s bound to be trouble, especially when the guy who got ousted was the guy who was pushing for closer links between his country and his former overlords. Add when said nation holds one of the most coveted pieces of geo-strategic real estate in the Black Sea area, the Crimean peninsula, then things start getting ugly. Add to this the West’s inability to deal with Putin, then you have the potential for disaster.
The Crimea in history
A little history first. The Crimean peninsula has been throughout human history, one of the most important cross-roads of empires from East and West. The Greeks had founded settlements there, and it became a Roman province during the Empire’s heyday. Subsequently, the Byzantines maintained a presence on the peninsula but this gradually gave way as the Italian city states grew more powerful, and their commercial interests began spreading far from the Mediterranean. First it was the Venetians, later the Genovese, who controlled numerous coastal cities, although by this time most of the peninsula was ruled by the Golden Horde (the Mongol Khanate that ruled over much of present-day European Russia). It is here where an interesting nugget of history took place: the outbreak of plague in the 14th century while the Horde was laying siege to the Genovese city of Kaffa. The Genovese sailors who escaped the siege would bring the plague back to Italy where it spread like wildfire over the next few years, killing a third of Europe’s population and altering the continent’s history forever. Continue reading