Today’s Parliamentary debate about the renewal of the Trident nuclear submarine system is another indication of how low down and dirty our political system has become. The Conservatives have no choice about how to vote even though they are talking about the biggest single item of expenditure they are ever going to vote on and the vote about developing an apocalyptic weapon which, if ever used, would lead to the destruction of most life on the planet has been kindly arranged not to highlight the issues and to encourage a wide-ranging debate but, instead, to embarrass the Labour Party.
Today, we’re going to hear constantly repeated tosh about how a nuclear deterrent guarantees a place at the top table, frightens our enemies whoever they may be, maintains world peace because the thing has never been used yet and, ultimately, we should have one simply because we can! These arguments were rubbish in the 1960s and are even more rubbishy today.
History agrees. The Cuban missile crisis was made worse by nuclear weapons, the Cold War was extended because of them, they didn’t stop the Falkland Islands being annexed and in all of the Arabian conflicts they have been an irrelevance.
So does strategy. If the USA, China and the USSR start popping off their weapons then that’s it, so us having one will not make any difference except to make us an easy but necessary first strike target for everyone.
If somebody drives a boat up the Thames with a dirty atomic bomb on it and blows London up just exactly where are we going to send our submarines? The sad truth is that there isn’t a neat place called Terrorist Land where we can aim our weapons.
The same thing applies if we are threatened with weapons of mass destruction by terrorists. We have no idea who to threaten back!
OK, let’s suppose somebody, takes a truck into the middle of Jerusalem and blows up the same dirty bomb are we going to take a pop at Iran on the off chance? Are we all in favour of that?
Of course, the most likely scenario is that any of the three superpowers bops off a missile by mistake. The likelihood of human error in any system like this is so small that it is certain to happen. So, when we detect an incoming nuclear missile and some president rings up the Prime Minister to say sorry, really sorry, are we really going to take the joke option of arranging to fire just one back. That isn’t really fair anyway as in exchange for London we just get Detroit! In the end, you have to decide whether you would prefer to be magnanimous.
There’s another big consideration. Any use of nuclear weapons causes absurd collateral damage to other countries or the planet and that is why we have a surprisingly effective nuclear non-proliferation treaty and how, as a world, we have achieved a significant rate of superpower disarmament to the extent that most authorities believe that Great Britain now has more weapons than China.
These kind of agreements are achieved by big powers taking sensible decisions and us joining the multilateral world decision not to develop these things would be quite different from a unilateral decision not to have them which is the way it keeps being framed. We could be a world leader in disarmament and multilateralism instead of a curmudgeonly aggressor!
If none of this convinces you and you still have an emotional attachment to these things somewhere below your belt then surely there are better options? We could have a low-level maintenance programme to extend the life of the existing deterrent, we could devise some small nuclear bombs that fitted in Ford Transits and park them in British embassies in trouble spots and we could recognise that given the amount of satellite scrutiny the world receives the notion of a surprise strike is inconceivable. If there is one coming, there will be plenty of warning! The nuclear submarine was a theoretical response to a theoretical threat and is an idea that has completely outlived its time.
Anyway, I’ve got that off my chest. I’m afraid this absurd vote will be carried but I do hope that any Labour MPs who vote for renewal are promptly deselected by their constituency parties. As for the rest of us, we need to be taking little steps to getting this country back to sanity not behaving even more stupidly.