Saturday, March 17, 2007

 

Trident Decision Wasteful and Misdirected

When Clement Attlee considered whether Britain should have nuclear weapons he referred the momentous decision to a small group outside Cabinet(sounds familiar?)and accepted its recommendations without demur. Contemporary accounts suggest he wanted these weapons as he thought that Britain needed and was entitled to the most powerful weapons available- if there was to be a balance of terror to preserve the peace, then we should own a part of it too.

The current debate about Trident is very different of course, but essentially, it seems to revolve around something akin to the knee-jerk thinking of those early postwar years. Blair and Brown want us to have the capacity to punch at the same weight as the heavy-weights, even though we are closer to being light-weights or even less. The problem is that none of this makes much sense militarily, politically let alone morally. Labour has long had a love affair with unilateralism which helped to lose it elections in the latter part of the Cold War when voters reasoned, quite rightly in my view, that divesting ourselves of nuclear weapons would not be perceived as a an act in line with the finest thoughts of Ghandi and Bertrand Russell, but as a sign of weakness that might be exploited. This strain of unreason in Labour- however worthy- tends to blind it to the unforgiving realities.

Writing in The Guardian on Thursday, Simon Jenkins delivers a withering counter-blast to the MPs about to vote for the costly renewal of this weapon system. Unilateral opponents he brushes away as traditionally unable to see clearly but he reserves his harshest criticism for those realists who believe the weapon will improve our security. He points out that:

1. Nuclear weapons did not deter aggressors from North Vietnam and Galtieri to Saddam and Milosevic. These aggressors took the view that nuclear nations were so reluctant to use such devastating weapons that they could safely operate in their shadow. If this is the case, then nuclear weapons fail to deter and are of no strategic value.

2. Recent wars have shown that lightly armed guerillas can eventually overcome superpowers armed to the teeth. Jenkins comments: 'Defence against such aggression requires diplomacy, espionage, special forces and, I have no doubt, secret ruthlessness.'

3. If nuclear weapons are not effective against modern adversaries, then surely available resources should be allocated to improving basic conventional weapons and equipment- rifles and radios which work, personnel carriers which are not vulnerable to roadside bombs, bullet-proof jackets for everyone who needs one.

4. How can we realistically persuade nations to remain non nuclear when we are so keen to upgrade our own? Is this policy not impossible to justify to nations who, quite properly, ask: 'If you are so keen to prevent proliferation, why are you improving your own?'

I understand that the vote on Trident was not necessarily final and the decision to renew might yet be rescinded at a later date. But with Brown apparently as convinced as Attlee was that such weapons are needed, and Cameron automatically taking the same line, opponents of Trident shouldn't hold their breath.

Comments:
Of course I disagree. I think nuclear weapons are a splendid thing. On the specific points.

1. I think it does deter the likes of Saddam from launching an attack. Even if it didn't deter him, it will certainly deter the second level of maniacs. If they think our countries are not prepared to use these weapons under any circumstances, then they are wrong and it may cost them their lives.

2. Oh contraire. No guerilla force has overcome the US or any Superpower. Are there Al Qaeda marching on the streets of London and LA? A group of murderers are taking advantage of chaos in one small corner of the world, to kill innocent people. A tragedy I grant you, but the war in its present form does not threaten the security of our countries. Indeed the present war has exactly the effect of keeping us safe.

3. Why bother? Just one big bomb. It solves all our problems. Our armies shouldn't be any bigger than they have to be. Soldiers are expensive and taxpayers money should be spent on other things(or indeed not spent at all).

4. We persuade them as we always have done. By forcing them. The world has never danced to the tune of morality(it is a myth). We don't have to persuade these nations. If they are not able to see the difference between the UK and the USa having weapons, and the likes of Iran having weapons, then we would be wasting our energy talking to them. Better to force them, they will respect us more for it.

You are right. Trident is a done deal. Time for the anti-war loonies to find a new way to waste their time.
 
Michael
As always, your views are diametrically opposite to mine but I was intrigued to read in today's Observer an analysis of the issue not dissimilar to mine from former Daily Telegraph editor and self confessed 'warrior' admirer Max Hastings. At a gathering of military men recently as show of hands revealed 'only about a quarter of those present, warriors all, endorsed a replacement.'
 
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