Next week the UK Parliament will chose whether to renew Britain’s commitment to having nuclear weapons. It is a decision that has been described as one of the biggest infrastructure projects the country has even undertaken and will cost at least £35-45 billion. But it is also much more than that – it is a statement about the country, what it stands for and what it represents.
What is strange when dealing with such a momentous decision is that any debate, discussion or dispute has been so entirely muted. Whether or not one agrees with the case that Britain needs such an extreme weapon of mass destruction it is rather scary that the vote will take place without real thought from the British public. Sure, opinion is likely to lean heavily towards having the missiles and the subs, but shouldn’t more information be out there to help inform that decision?
Step back 30 years to the last time the UK had to make this choice. CND marched through the streets of London, protests in their thousands criss crossed the nation and many on all sides of Parliament agonised as to which way to vote. That vote was set in a time of the Cold War and the ideological and military belief that the only way peace was being held together was through Mutually Assured Destruction – whereby as everyone would be killed by either side launching a nuke then there wasn’t much point in launching one in the first place.
Today’s world is very different and much more complicated. An enemy is an enemy of a friend and a friend is an enemy of your ally. Gone is the them v us world of surety to be replaced with subcultures, megalomaniacs, terrorist groups, and wobbling allegiances. Yet the debate hasn’t even started before it is finished.
Whether Britain should renew surely should be prefaced with a few questions – ones that deserves some degree of answers before any commitment is made. Without decent answers that aren’t just ‘it’s the right thing to do’ or, in the words of Theresa May be ‘sheer madness‘ not to renew them without going on to say why it would be, then how could any right minded individual want to have such heinous weaponry stationed on their soil?
So here is a checklist of questions that, if you can find the answers to, then support renewing Trident. If not, then perhaps it is time to call for an end to their use as a military strategy.
1 – How much will it really cost when dismantling costs are included and does it represent good value for money? Is that sort of money – even by conservative estimates about enough to keep the NHS running at full tilt for 6 months – worth investing in something that is extremely extremely unlikely to ever be used? And given the economic uncertainties of the vote to leave the EU, is it really a great time to be committing such vast sums of money to the project?
2- Under what circumstances will we fire them? When a neighbouring European ally is at risk from the Russians for example? That sort of thing happened last year in Ukraine and the Crimea but nukes weren’t mentioned. So perhaps when France is invaded? But they have nukes so they would bomb first before they (whoever ‘they’ are) got close to the White cliffs of Dover. Would we use them against a terrorist group who had used a dirty bomb?
3 – As America sells the weapons to us, do they have a secondary code which prevents it from being a truly independent British deterrent? If so, then is Britain really an independent nuclear nation or just an American stooge?
4- As the design of the weapons is for multiple warheads which spread the explosions over hundreds of miles, aside from the heart of Russia, where else could we fire it without killing our Allies? By my reckoning China, India and Kazakhstan are the only other nation states large enough to contain a nuclear explosion without the fallout permeating borders into friendly nations.
5- By renewing Trident are we breaking a legally binding commitment to disarm as set out in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1968? The Treaty clearly states that the five recognised legal nuclear powers (China, Russia, America, France and Britain) should be:
“Declaring their intention to achieve at the earliest possible date the cessation of the nuclear arms race and to undertake effective measures in the direction of nuclear disarmament..”
6- Will the pace of modern military technology leave such weapons obsolete? The last time the Trident fleet was replaced there was no home computers, drones, driverless cars, smartphones more powerful than the entire computing power of the moon landing technology, smartbombs, nanotechnology and much much more. The speed of this change is increasing and new technology by its very nature cannot be foreseen so how can the MoD say with such ludicrous certainty that the nuclear fleet won’t become so vulnerable and detectable that it becomes a pointless white elephant?
We know the vote will go the way of renewing Trident and Britain dedicating vast resources to keeping one submarines worth of nukes somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic at all times. Yet to do this without anyone appearing the wonder whether it is necessary demonstrates a modern day sanguinity that is truly frightening amongst British politicians and the public.