The four letters from the Prime Minister


The Trident II is a marvel of human ingenuity. Very compact, it has a diameter of 2,11 m and stands only 13,58 meters tall, divided in three stages, built by Lockheed-Martin. The first stage, 7,20 m high, has a solid rocket engine manufactured by Hercules Inc.'s Aerospace Division and Morton Thiokol, Inc., equipped a with steerable nozzle made of a composite of carbon fibers embedded in a carbon matrix. Its unfueled mass is 2242 kg and fully fueled weighs 39 100 kg. It exerts a tremendous force of 1610 kN, and burns during 65 s. The second stage also has a Hercules-Thiokol solid rocket engine, with a carbon-carbon composite steerable nozzle, and is 2,11 m wide and 2,90 m high. Its unfueled mass is 790 kg and has a gross mass of 11 800 kg. It generates 456 kN of thrust and burns for 65 seconds. The final stage has an United Technologies Corporation's Chemical Systems Division solid rocket engine, steering the thrust via a carbon-carbon composite nozzle, is 0,86 m wide and 3,30 m high, weighs only 159 kg empty and 2200 kg gross. It generates 177 kN and burns for 40 s. The nose fairing is equipped with a telescoping, extendable "aerospike" to reduce atmospheric drag by as much as 50 %. The gross mass of the complete stack is 59 078 kg. Its cargo capacity is a respectable 1690 kg.

With its light-weight motor casing, of epoxy-graphite composite material, and high-density solid fuel, consisting in aluminum powder and ammonium perchlorate, with a clever binder of nitrocellulose, nitroglycerine, hexadiisocyranate and polythylene glycol, its final stage can achieve (depending on cargo) an impressive speed of 22 000 km/h to 29 030 km/h. The apogee is 1000-1340 km altitude and the range is extraordinary: from 7400 km up to 11 000 km, sufficient to fly from one continent to another, non-stop of course and in a splendid time of half an hour.

The flight is guided by systems developed by Draper, Unisys and Boeing. It consists in an amazing triple navigation system: an inertial navigation system, composed of accelerometers and gyroscopes that measure every movement of the craft and feed computers that make the necessary corrections; a celestial navigation system, that takes optical measurements from stars to guide the rocket in its flight; and a global positioning system, receiving radio signals from satellites in orbit to triangulate its position, giving also altitude and velocity information. With these high-tech refinements it has an outstanding accuracy of a mere 90 meters at the end of its flight.

Being solid-fueled, it can be stored for long periods of time but nevertheless is ready to fly without much, or no, anticipation.

American-made, the cargo of this technological advancement, when operated by its closest friend the United Kingdom, consists of up to five British-made, independently-targeted 100-kiloton atom bombs, enough to kill three-and-half million people; men, women and children. And the UK has at least 8 right up to 32 (or even 64 under some circumstances) of these aerospace launch vehicles hidden in secret locations, ever ready.


The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, is the person who has the final say on what to do with the Trident II Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles. They are hidden in Vanguard-Class nuclear submarines. There are four of them: the HMS Vanguard proper, the HMS Vigilant, the HMS Victorious and the HMS Vengeance (yes, vengeance). They are the “ultima ratio regum” of the British Islands.

For half a century, the World has lived according to the MAD principle: Mutually Assured Destruction. If you throw nukes at me, I’ll throw nukes at you, and both will die, so forget about throwing nukes at me. World Peace is achieved that way. A white-knuckle peace indeed.

Great Britain added a slight twist to this war game. They simply don’t say what they will do if someone throws nukes at them. The Prime Minister will disclose it if the moment comes. The problem is that if that moment comes there probably will be no Prime Minister to ask for commands. Therefore, the British devised a trick: if most Britons are sent to “the undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns”, in Hamlet’s words, and the survivors are “stepping over piles of rubble and bodies whilst searching for uncontaminated tinned food”, in George Coney’s words, there remain the so-called “letters of last resort”. You see, the nuclear submarines, far a-sea, deep underwater, largely undetected, are very good places for you to hide during the Nuclear War, and they are very right places to hide the Secret War Commandments.

Right after a person becomes Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, she or he writes four letters, in her or his own handwriting, identically worded, addressed to the captain of each one of the four submarines in the UK nuclear deterrent force. Only for those four people, and for nobody else, in sealed envelopes, to be opened only if the unthinkable happens. If a new Prime Minister comes to power, the predecessor’s letters are destroyed without being opened, secret forever. Then, the same procedure, sealed envelopes, secret for everyone except for the very Prime Minister.

If the unthinkable happens and the crew is unable to establish communication with their military high command, there are several checks that the crew has to perform to in fact confirm that the British Isles have been obliterated. If you have tried everything and all normal channels are broken, then desperately listen if the BBC is still broadcasting. If it is not, then UK is no more.

Then open a safe in the ship, then open the next safe inside the safe (Oh my God!), then take the envelope and break the seal. Then read.

Strategists believe there are four possible scenarios that the Prime Minister, briefed by her or his top advisors, may consider:

1) Retaliate.

2) Do not retaliate.

3) Go to Australia or New Zealand, in the other half of the Globe.

4) Put the submarine under the command of the United States of America (some add: “if it still exists”).

Why the fourfold, or manifold, possible resolutions to the war game? Option 1 is the known MAD strategy of the US. Options 3 and 4 are peculiar to the circumstances of the UK. What about option 2? What sense does it make to be attacked and not to defend yourself? As it is known since at least the early 1980s (see my article "Planet Earth after the Nuclear War"), the answer is the following: because, ladies and gentlemen, a nuclear war cannot be won by anybody. If half of the World is already destroyed, why destroy the other half? You will be destroying the entire World without achieving anything!

Yes, option 2 seems humane. You will have Big Brother ruling over the World for centuries to come, but one day Lady Liberty might well reemerge, raising her torch with both hands. And hopefully, this time without any MAD mentality.

We are looking at you, Prime Minister. We are all looking at you. Just don't let Big Brother peek over your shoulder.

Aldo Loup.

If you want to share this article with others, you may establish an Internet link, but you cannot copy any part of this page. Copyright © 2018. Reproduction prohibited. All rights reserved.

Photograph: Daniel Martyn, Commanding Officer of HMS Vigilant, next to a safe that contains the Prime Minister's last resort instructions. Credit: Associated Press, via "The War Zone", Time, Inc,. available at Visit