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Letters of Last Resort (wikipedia.org)
30 points by jules-jules on March 30, 2020 | hide | past | favorite | 14 comments

There were four options given in the Wikipedia article, which are:

1. retaliate with nuclear weapons;

2. not retaliate;

3. use his or her own judgement; or

4. place the submarine under an allied country's command, if possible. The documentary mentions Australia and the United States.

To me, it seems like the order that I would give those options in would be 4,3,2,1. This is because the most sensible option would be to listen to your country's allies (as they are likely to have Britain's best interests in mind). The second best option is to trust the crew, as the situation that resulted in an entire governmental destruction probably wouldn't respond well to any blanket statements like 1 and 2. Option 2 makes the next amount of sense because defaulting to no nuclear weapons is generally a smart policy. What do you believe should be the correct order?

I'd go with 5. Write one of each letter, and assign them to the submarines in a double-blind manner, so that no one knows what will happen.

The point of terrorism is to terrify, as they say.

Option 2 makes quite a bit of sense but only if your opponent doesn't think you've necessarily selected it.

1 and then 4

The letters have to instruct the commander to retaliate in order for nuclear deterrance to work - or at least your adversary has to believe that that is what the letters say. Otherwise your deterrance loses it's power.

Yet if commanders get to the point of actually reading the letters, then deterrance has obviously failed.

That's what makes these letters so interesting IMO.

> The documentary mentions Australia

Wow. I'm glad I didn't know that when I was living in Canberra!

It's like The Godfather. Every time Australians think we're out of the empire game, they find a way to drag us back in.

It seems rather quixotic to have a last-resort plan for your country's collapse, with a potential to kill additional millions of people, and entrust the choice to a single person, and never question or even want to know what the choice was.

Sounds more like an Arthurian legend than stuff of modern diplomacy... but maybe that's British politics for me...

Do you think the letters really go unopened? Maybe the Royal Navy takes a peak to gauge which sort of asshat they'll be dealing with.

This video - https://vimeo.com/154370371 - depicts decisions around these considerations.

> use his or her own judgement

I can't speak for others, but I imagine I would be livid if I ever had to open one of these and the Prime Minister chose the "just do whatever" option.

Then you’d do what any civilized person would: sit down and have tea.

to be fair, if your country no longer exists there's no one to actually enforce these so really they're all "just do whatever" some just have suggestions

Why would you be angry? The letter was written when the PM first came into office, the political landscape would surely have considerably changed since then if it came to nuclear war. You'd have both more context and more freedom to act on what you think is right — I see no reason to be mad that you can't shift the choice to someone else.

I'd take it over "retaliate with nuclear weapons."

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