Not just because of Jeremy Corbyn or the SNP but looked at rationally, one might properly conclude that replacing our nuclear deterrent is an act of total madness. To spend such vast amounts of money on such a hideously obscene weapons system that we as a Country would never resort to as our first strike weapon must be total nonsense and hardly worth any debate before we cancel the whole thing and opt for unilateral nuclear disarmament.
Or is the above the whole story and does it make sense ?
It was coined during the Cold War with the Soviet Union, MAD, Mutually Assured Destruction, it was the classic “Mexican Stand off”, neither side could afford to use these insane nuclear weapons because if either launched, the other would too and civilisation would cease to exist just minutes later along with life on this planet. Even to this day after various arms reduction treaties, the destructive power of both the US and Russian nuclear arsenals are terrifying to contemplate.
So in this context just how relevant are the British and for that matter the French nuclear submarine based missile systems ? For all the destructive power on one Trident submarine, taken in context it is irrelevant when compared to what the US and Russia have. Of the hundreds the Russians have at their disposal, it would likely only take a dozen to completely obliterate all life in the British Isles. On the other hand and given its territorial vastness, British nuclear missiles would only amount to a pinprick in comparison, a belated act of revenge from a then dead country.
Morally, would any UK Government of any political persuasion choose to launch nuclear missiles at any country in a ‘first strike’ use ? Highly unlikely and besides which, against whom ? Is there any country one can think of against whom we might launch such an attack, I can think of none so surely the bottom line must be that it would be sheer lunacy to commit to renewing this weapons system ?
Yet both sad and strange as it may seem, in reality we have no choice, Trident will have to be replaced in one of those classic: “If you want peace then you must prepare for war…” situations.
The Reasons Why
One of the main reasons is the one no British or French politician will say publicly and yet for those with an awareness of history, it is perhaps the strongest argument, “Will the US be there when we need them, their strength and their muscle ?”
The reason behind this question is simply that both in the First and Second World Wars it was American involvement that was both decisive and essential to ending those conflicts. However and in both cases, the US “came to the party late” because quite understandably in human terms, the American public didn’t want to get involved in ‘other people’s wars’ until they were forced to by events.
The problem has been made worse by a succession of wars that were totally lacking in that Hollywood essential, a beginning, a middle and a victorious end. Starting with Vietnam and stretching through Iraq and Afghanistan, the US has fought in wars that do not play to the natural strength of the American military and have largely been fought as counter insurgency operations with little or no conventional warfare where the US military machine would be unstoppable. The consequence is that the enthusiasm of the American public has been worn down, right now there is very little appetite for overseas military involvements, whatever the cause.
Additionally, the European members of NATO were quick to take the “peace dividend” by cutting their military expenditure at the end of the Cold War but still expect to be able to shelter under the umbrella of US military might. This has already led many Americans to consider that the Europeans ‘just aren’t doing enough for themselves’ so given the horrors of nuclear war, might it not be perfectly understandable that confronted with a situation that did not directly threaten the US mainland, Washington might well see if it could “Sit this one out…”
So Where is the Threat ?
Nuclear weapons are of no use against Terrorists, Arab or otherwise so where or who is the threat coming from where ‘nukes’ would be the answer ? That is simple, from the same place it always did, Russia. To be Russian is to be paranoid by default and when as is currently the case with Putin, you have a small man with a big grievance about “Russia’s Place at the Top Table”, you have a highly volatile situation. If you need proof consider the ruthlessness of the Second Chechen War, Georgia, annexing the Crimea, stoking armed conflict in Eastern Ukraine and now Syria, this is not a stupid man but he is an Adventurer who will start something he can’t control or finish, both the Ukraine and Syria could fit in this category but only time will tell.
Putin will never take the US on, he is not stupid but a non nuclear Europe ? He would have no problem in bullying Europe at every level he could and turning the EU into some kind of vassal wholly dependent on Russian “good will”, if such a thing exists (Russian good will).
Set against the Russian nuclear arsenal, what value are a few British and French warheads ? In purely military terms not much except for the sheer nature of those missiles imposes a highly visible ‘cost’ that would be unacceptable to all but the most deranged of Russians. MAD was built on the acceptance by both sides of the stupidity of the armed stand off but this would be different, it is not the threat of total destruction but enough to make life difficult for a weakened Russia ever afterwards, it is the threat of a Pyrrhic Victory.
So the Decision
For the sake of global peace and a European destiny, the UK will need to find the money to keep its current nuclear posture as will France because right now there is no way of rolling it all back. We can all pray that these things will never ever be used and that eventually a meaningful arrangement to rid the World of the nuclear threat by abolition of all nukes will arrive but for now, like or not we will replace Trident, there really is no choice.