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The "Nuclear Deterrent"

On 25th June 2006, I sent the following email to Steve Herrmann, the editor of BBC News Interactive, which publishes the BBC News website.

I've marked it up, but it's otherwise unchanged.

Dear Mr. Herrmann,

I am writing about your news coverage of the possible replacements to the UK Trident system.

It seems your journalists often like to use the phrase "nuclear deterrent". I refer you to the following webpages:

There are many other uses for a nuclear weapons programme: as an offensive weapon, as a gift to the British manufacturing industry, to impress countries and improve our standing, and so on.

It is by no means obvious, at least to me, that the primary purpose is as a deterrent. Indeed, it's not really clear to me whether there actually is any deterrent effect at all, in practice: for example, I can't currently imagine anybody seriously considering declaring a war on the UK.

Certainly, I feel you are unjustified in using this phrase so repetitively. In an editorial piece, it might be acceptable, but as part of news it is out of place.

So, why do you persist in using this term? It is rather clumsy and periphrastic: the phrases "nuclear weapons" or "nuclear arsenal" are direct, clear, just as brief, and unarguably accurate.

Not all your usage is bad: the journalist who wrote this appreciates the nature of this phrase as part of the vocabulary of propaganda:

It is a shame that your journalists recognise that the phrase is propaganda in the context of the UK's enemies and act accordingly, but do not do so for the UK itself.

Best wishes,


On Tuesday 11th July, I received the following graceful reply:

Dear James Cranch

You raise a valid point and I have brought this to the attention of our journalists. Thank you for taking the trouble to write to us.

Your sincerely

Steve Herrmann