Saturday, December 09, 2006

Renewing Trident - Will no-one say no?

Trident has hit the headlines again this week. Both Blair and Cameron are outdoing each other to welcome the decision to begin investing the £25 billion needed to renew Britain's independent nuclear capability.

In fact, just about everybody except the CND leftovers on Labour's backbenches are getting in on the act, exploiting the fear of the unknown caused by international terrorism and the rumblings of rogue states.

Once up on a time I would have joined in on the Trident love-fest. After all, few causes attract more uniform support from Conservatives everywhere than Britain owning her own stock of nuclear weapons, and the 'independent nuclear deterrent' is a sacred cow of some 60 years of history.

However, we are in danger of falling on the wrong side of the argument by this blinkered and jingoistic approach to the future development of our security policy.

Nuclear weapons are the only weapon of mass destruction. So much so, that the mere contemplation of their use is only considered only in a doomsday scenario. Britain's 'independent' nuclear deterrent was almost certainly not that, and held more power as a warning to the Soviet Union if they had considered trying to split the North Atlantic alliance.

In the modern age, state actors are unlikely to directly threaten Britain. Launching a missile against the UK is beyond the capability of any nation except Russia, and though they remain the one true (and massively misjudged) threat in respect to nuclear weapons, it is clear that they are hamstrung by their own weaknesses. The future should see a gradual decline in Russia's power.

Who then are we preparing to fight? Al-Qaeda? Investment in helicopters and bombers, cruise missiles and drone aircraft would much more valuable. We also seem to be forgetting that in the small arms combat of warzones like Iraq and Afghanistan it is the infantry who are fighting and winning the battles, not the threat of a nuclear winter for Kabul or Baghdad.

However, my argument has a more fundamental and immediate foundation. This is the second age of nuclear proliferation. Just as previously small states (Brazil, Argentina, South Africa) were persuaded to abandon the crippling task of creating their own nuclear threat, so must Britain and its allies persuade a new generation of states more hostile than before, that developing their own independent nuclear can be abandoned in favour of a nuclear-free existence alongside the democracies of the West.

However, we will continue to demand unquestioningly that we need to retain our nuclear weapons and stare in horror as the nasty regimes of this world race towards doing just that for themselves.

Hopefully, before the decision is taken to renew it, we can engage in some proper date about why we are actually doing it. Here's hoping...

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