You are Prime Minister, what do you put in your 'Letters of Last Resort'?

Apparently on taking office every Prime Minister of the United Kingdom is encouraged to handwrite a ‘Letter of Last Resort’, which is carried in every British ballistic missile submarine and is to be opened only in the event that governmental command authority has been destroyed.

According to the article four options are known to have been used:

retaliate with nuclear weapons;
do not retaliate with nuclear weapons;
uses their own judgement; or
place themself under United States or Australian command, if possible.

Leaving aside that the first option begs the question that the submarine commander needs to be aware of who to retaliate against I always thought the third option was fundementally cowardly, if not a dereliction of duty, you’re supposed to be the leader so make a decision and lead don’t place onto another persons conscience something you aren’t willing to accept yourself.

On discussing this with a friend he stated that he would order the sub commanders to make their way to Australia and, having jettisoned their nuclear warheads harmlessly somewhere along the way, place themselves under the command of the Royal Australian Navy, should that institution still exist.

I agree with that, deterrence only works if it deters, if the UK has suffered a first strike massive enough to remove all other command authority then those nuclear missiles have already been rendered meaningless and retaliation would only be an act of revenge on millions of innocent civilians from beyond the grave.

But as Prime Minister (stop laughing at the back) I’d make other nations leaderships believe that without a doubt I would launch a retaliatory strike even though secretly I actually wouldn’t.

So, for a laugh Bob the minorly godlike posthuman entity has shifted reality and you suddenly find yourself elected Prime Minister of the UK (much to your surprise I imagine) what do you put in your Letters of Last Resort?

Somehow, I find the OP’s name/topic combo interesting.

Place yourself under the command of Australia (first) or the US (second).

With nuclear weapons intact. If the entire UK has been nuked then maybe Australia would need the nuclear deterrent.

If nobody knows what the orders are, where did the list of options come from?

I order the subs to place themselves under the command of the closest naval nation that shares a sovereign with the U.K, and is not themselves destroyed. Canada, Australia, Saint Kitts and Nevis, whatever.

What, no love for the Falklands?

It’s faintly possible that a terrorist could detonate a nuke over London causing GCA to be destroyed (e.g. during a vote of No Confidence). All MPs will be there, Brenda will be to hand etc. Or their could be a large meteor strike. So the first option is out as a simple option, though if Britain were clearly and massively nuked by a foreign country, I would order a massive retaliatory strike.

However, the Armed Forces swear fealty to the Crown, not the Government, and the order of succession is well planned, so my orders in a scenario other than the above would be to await the order of the next Monarch.

No, retaliation would deter the next attack. Much as some insects are unpleasant to eat, it deters the predator from attacking those creatures next time around.

Can the Commander re-target the warheads?

In 1970, I suspect that every sub warhead was programmed at the factory, and to re-program required equipment and/or technology beyond what could be carried aboard a sub.

Now, if the commander has a box of circuit boards, each with a target’s name on it which can be removed and inserted in minutes (and the detonate altitued is set by a knob beside the board’s slot), that Letter could get real complicated real fast.
Even if your C&C are destroyed, can the subs still communicate with each other?
Could the subs do an emergency surface, establish a network and have the network work out what to attack, and who does each withing 5 minutes and then dive back into the thermocline and disperse before the enemy could hit them? If so, having a satellite broadcasting a code for “who is the bad guy” could give the computers the ability to act as C&C.

As I said, those letters get long real fast.

Saying “You handle it” may have been the best option - it you know what your missiles are going to hit, you, as the commander, knows more about whether to launch or not - if launching is going to take out Volgograd, but the attack came from Pakistan, your knowledge is better than the PM’s “launch everything you’ve got”.

Never drop your gun - that applies to nukes as well.

If there was a scenario under which the UK loses C&C but Australia doesn’t (let alone the US being taken out), by the time you’d get there, AU is likely to also be toast - opening a comm link gives the bad guys your location, for which they’d be grateful.

And turning yourselves over to a country whose military budget is for uniforms a 2 boxes of blanks to fire for ceremonial purposes is really not practical - what would they do except become instant targets themselves? And they do not have anti-missile or even rudimentary anti-air.

I agree that revenge is a valid option - that is the entire purpose of the sub-based nuke! Those subs can stay submerged for years while cruising the globe - they are there to ensure that attacking you will be very expensive, even if they win.

[hijack]A mathematician I know who was something like VP of a campus of UCal told me about the three letters his predecessor prepare for him. The first one read: Blame the students. The second one: Blame the professors. The third one:

Prepare three letters.

[/hijack] Sorry.

Doubtful, especially with the small number of British ballistic missile subs. They’d need the ability to change targets on the fly; what if there was the situation where they wanted to nuke something near a city, but not that actual city? What about situations where the geopolitical situation had changed and they needed to nuke say… Tehran instead of Minsk or Kiev?

I bet they have always had the ability to enter lat/long coordinates within range.

Nuke 'em 'til they glow, then bounce the rubble.

I have no problem with vengeance.

Don’t watch the TV show.

I’d go for ‘use your own judgment’. Events leading up to a nuclear exchange ought to give some good ideas for targeting.

Keep pressing the big, red “Fire!” button until your fingers bleed.

I’d probably put #4. Something like:

Place yourself under US, Canadian or Australian command, whichever is closest to you at the moment, provided they are not the reason governmental command authority has been destroyed.

On the complete loss of UK command and control, these are your formal orders:

  1. You should first attempt to place yourself under the command of the following Navies, in this order: the Royal Canadian Navy, the United States Navy, and if those two prove impossible, and you have sufficient stores aboard, the Royal Australian Navy or the Royal New Zealand Navy.

  2. You are not authorised to fire your strategic weapons, unless under orders from one of these Navies.

  3. If, on the balance of probabilities, you deem that the four Navies above have also suffered a complete loss of command and control, or your supply situation doesn’t allow passage to the Southern Hemisphere, then you are authorised to seek any safe harbour that you can find, in order to save your crew. In this circumstance, HMS <whatever> must be placed out of reach. You are ordered to scuttle her in deep water after disembarking your crew.

Those are your formal orders. There’s another possibility. I’d poll your crew about the possibility of heading home. I know I’d like to come back and try to find my family, futile as it may be in these hideous circumstances. You are a Captain of the Royal Navy, and the boat is yours, and if it is you and your crews decision to return, then so be it. I’ve taken the liberty of asking the Commander-in-Chief, Queen Elizabeth, to also sign this part of the letter. Scuttle her in the Holy Loch if you have to. Good luck, Captain, God bless you and your crew, and please forgive us for failing the world so badly.

Prime Minister,
The Baron Greenback

Thanks for the answers everyone!

I won’t respond right now because I’ve had a long day and I’m feeling tired and emotional (and drunk) but its interesting reading!

If the captain reads: “Do not retaliate with nuclear weapons” then what does he actually do? Smoke 'em if he’s got 'em?

“Thanks, dead PM, you told me what NOT to do, so now WTF do I do?”

Not familiar with targeting problems, are we?

What are the default targets? How many missiles are targeted at the same thing? That bunker with the entire military command in it HAS to be destroyed. Not every missile is going to hit target - some will be shot down, some will be knocked off course.
Maybe each sub has one missile aimed at it, just to make sure.
Without C&C to tell you that a bomber has already taken it out, blindly shooting everything is going to make that rubble the world’s most expensive rubble - and have absolutely zero strategic value.
Your duty is to fight and die as necessary to futher the goals of the UK - not to run and hide while destroying the reason you exist. Every person in the military above recruit understands that they may die - that is the purpose of those subs.
They are not bomb shelters so your crew can safely run off and live at rest of your lives in some south pacific island.

Until I know the technical details of sub communication, I’m going for “use your best guess as to targeting based on the news you have at the time, and blast away. Your duty is to destroy as much of the enemy as possible - go for population centers”.

The purpose of those subs is now vengeance - by the time you lose C&C, the UK has lost - forget military targets - you are not going to win a war that’s already lost - make the bastards pay dearly

And, more to the point, retaliation would deter ***this ***attack. That’s the whole point in retaliatory deterrence. “If I nuke the UK, and their subs will send 500 megatons even if their capitol has already been obliterated, it would be against my best interests to nuke said UK.”

It is entirely possible that the government has been destroyed, but the enemy has not yet completed his nuclear strike, or intends to follow-up with conventional forces. Even in the wake of a crippling nuclear attack, degrading your enemy’s capacity to exploit that attack makes good sense. I would order Her Majesty’s submarines to launch their nukes in accordance with their standard targeting plan, so long as the source of the attack were unambiguous.