Thursday, September 21, 2006


We'll probably Sign up for Trident even though we don't need it

The question of whether Britain should acquire nuclear weapons was not formally discussed in Cabinet; Attlee just decided, with advisers, that on commonsense grounds, it was just the kind of weapon a country like Britain needed. Since then we have been stuck with them and their spiralling costs. We had the our veryown Blue Streak missile in the fifties, eventually cancelled for taking too long to fuel up and being too vulnerable to a possible first strike. Then we invested hope in the US Sky-Bolt project which would have complemented our air strike ability but that was rendered obsolete by US submarine launched Polaris missiles so we were persuaded to buy into those instead. Things went quiet for a while until Trident came on stream as the more modern version and so we bought into that as well.

Now we're up to the modernized version of Trident itself and as a result of assiduous and importunate researching by the Lib Dems we learn that total costs, including annual running costs, will exceed the expected £25bn by twice as much again over a 30 year period. Critics question why we need such a weapons system when: its raison d'etre, the USSR, no longer exists; we could not use it in any case without US agreement; and this is not a measure designed to encourage other nations to eschew the tempting option of developing nuclear weapons.

However, in his Mansion House speech in June Gordon Brown indicated-but only in an aside, not in the body of his speech- that he favoured renewal. There is to be no debate, if the government under Blair or Brown, can help it. The reasons for this are that: being nuclear is seen as a demonstrating virility internationally; buying Trident keeps us fast with the good old USA; and it's seen as providing a last ditch insurance policy in case some newly nuclear nation tries to intimidate us. In other words, the original reason why Attlee acquired them still obtains, in defiance of reason it seems to me. But Labour leaders may not have it all their own way at the coming Manchester conference. Nuclear weaponry is still an emotive issue within the Labour Party and on 5th September Charles Clarke demanded that such issues should be debated properly within the party and not dealt with merely by leadership fiat.

"Nuclear weaponry is still an emotive issue within the Labour Party" and so it is with the electorate. The SDP / Liberal alliance lost any chance it had when the Lib conference voted for unilateral nuclear disarmament. The tabloids went into hyper-drive and the alliance vanished shortly thereafter.

The same would probably happen today. And I'm told by those who claim to understand such things, that the defence budget wouldn't reduce without these horrible weapons because the military would successfully lobby for increases in ‘conventional’ firepower to compensate.

It would be nice to live in a world without nuclear weapons but then it would be nice to live in a world without ‘conventional’ weapons as well. But we don't.

I do hope, though, that there is a chance to debate the issue even if the result is almost certain to be as Mr Brown suggested.
It should be debated. But we'd be fools to get rid of them.
I don't agree. As Skipper rightly points out, nuclear weapons are anachronistic. Conventional ways of fighting wars have proved disastrous in Iraq and Afghanistan; nukes are even more useless.

There is no prestige to be gained from nukes in international-relations terms, either. On the contrary, we'd probably gain more respect by disarming unilaterally.

The alliance may have crumbled because of its anti-nuke stance, as Hughes points out, but that was in the 1980s, when we were still in the grip of the cold war. Granted, the cold war may have been on its last legs when the alliance crumbled (1988), but the cold war mentality remained predominant. The same is not true today; that is why the tabloids wouldn't have a basis for disagreement, and why the time is right to disarm.
If Saddam had invaded Kuwait in 1995, when it is probable he would have had ‘the bomb,’ as opposed to 1990, would a nuclear disarmed west or Britain have had the ability or courage to evict him? How could a disarmed west or Britain react if a nuclear armed Iran moved against the oilfields of Saudi Arabia? Whether we like it or not, unstable regional powers like Iran will eventually get ‘the bomb’ and regional conflicts which, in one form or another, threaten our way of life are going to increase. A nuclear armed west and Britain, whilst not stopping conflict will paradoxically, enable threats to be faced down without going nuclear. Nuclear weapons are an unfortunate fact of life and, and it’s a sickening thought, they are deemed prestigious in the world, by bringing disproportionate power to inherently weak nations. Britain disarming would have absolutely no effect in Tehran, Islamabad, Pyongyang, Beijing, New Delhi etc, etc.
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