By Cleve Wootson / The Washington Post
The British sailors who spend their lives in submarines safeguarding the nation’s nuclear missiles are, without hyperbole, contenders for the most important job in the world.
The gravity of their mission is even evident in the names the British Royal Navy gave to the nuclear missile-equipped submarines that glide beneath the globe’s oceans: the Vanguard, the Victorious, the Vengeance, the Vigilant.
But several sailors on the HMS Vigilant have recently been dismissed after their mission devolved into more of a drug-fueled booze cruise — transgressions that happened last month as the sub was docked in the U.S. to pick up nuclear weapons.
According to The Associated Press, at least nine sailors tested positive for cocaine after “drug-fueled parties.” The Telegraph reported that one man had sex with a prostitute in a swimming pool.
“We do not tolerate drugs misuse by service personnel. Those found to have fallen short of our high standards face being discharged from service,” a Royal Navy spokesman said, according to Reuters.
But, as British media pointed out, the problems aboard the Vigilant run deeper.
Aboard every Vanguard-class sub is a safe that only the commander and the executive officer can access. Inside is a “letter of last resort” — instructions from the prime minister that detail what the crew should do if the United Kingdom is attacked with nuclear weapons.
Both command officers of the Vigilant have been embroiled in controversy because of sexual affairs with subordinates. The Navy has a strict “no touching” rule, according to the Evening Standard.
According to the Sun, Cmdr. Stuart Armstrong, the sub’s captain, has been relieved of duty amid the investigation, which includes a photo that surfaced of the woman he was allegedly intimate with wearing the captain’s uniform. The No. 2, Lt. Cmdr. Michael Seal, also faces disciplinary action.
Other members of the crew have threatened to resign over the widespread breaches in Royal Navy rules.
The Daily Mail did some math on what the recent developments mean for one of the free world’s strongest deterrents to nuclear war: “Around 10 percent of HMS Vigilant’s 168-strong crew have either been kicked out, quit, are under investigation or have been removed in what is believed to be one of the biggest sex and drugs scandals to hit the navy.”
The nuclear sub problems come as tensions around the world’s most dangerous weapons are heightening.
Speaking in Seoul on Saturday, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said the threat of a nuclear attack by North Korea is growing.
“North Korea has accelerated the threat that it poses to its neighbors and the world through its illegal and unnecessary missile and nuclear weapons programs,” Mattis told reporters, adding that he could not imagine a “condition under which the United States would accept North Korea as a nuclear power.”
And there have been reports that the U.S. and the world’s other nuclear powers are dusting off Cold War deterrent protocols.
A few weeks ago, there were repeatedly denied reports that U.S. Strategic Command — the government agency that maintains the nation’s nuclear weapons — has placed its B-52 bombers on 24-hour alert, a state of readiness not seen since 1991.
Crews at Louisiana’s Barksdale Air Force Base are conducting renovations near long-vacant “alert pads,” where during the Cold War aircraft capable of carrying nuclear weapons once sat ready on a continual basis. So-called strip alerts were discontinued after the Soviet Union’s collapse.
The activity comes amid an escalating international war of words, with potentially catastrophic consequences.
Although Donald Trump pledged to tame North Korea while he was running for president, the rogue state has not budged from its stated goal of becoming a full-fledged nuclear power equipped with weapons that can reach the U.S. mainland.
Kim, the North Korean president, has said his nation needs nuclear weapons to stop the United States from asphyxiating its economy and overturning its government.
In a speech to the U.N., President Trump has threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea with “fire and fury” if it doesn’t back off from its nuclear aims.
Kim retaliated with a statement calling Trump “a mentally deranged U.S. dotard,” who would “pay dearly” for his speech at the U.N.
“North Korea has conducted a major Nuclear Test. Their words and actions continue to be very hostile and dangerous to the United States.
— Donald J. Trump (realDonaldTrump) September 3, 2017”
“Kim Jong Un just released a statement calling Trump a ‘mentally deranged U.S. dotard’ who will ‘pay dearly’ for his U.N. speech
— Anna Fifield (annafifield) September 21, 2017”
Coincidentally, the scandal aboard the HMS Vigilant was happening at about the same time as Kim and Trump were sparring in the media. The sex scandals surfaced as the sub was docked in Kings Bay, Georgia, according to the Daily Mail.
The sailors were back and forth between the sub and the hotel, while the vessel was docked, and held several parties that raged out of control, something others in the military called “disgraceful.”
Rear Adm. Chris Parry, former commander of a Type 42 destroyer, told the Daily Mail: “This is not just a submarine, it is one of our deterrence submarines. It is absolutely disgraceful. People in the Navy should remember playing for our country on an international level is a great privilege. It is a question of putting service before self.”