The politics of the Trident programme have been used as a political football and used to play on our fears for years. Now more than ever before the issue is framed by the bottom line – what does it really cost?
Those who challenge the viability of the system clearly think that by scrapping Trident we will instantly save billions of pounds, even though no-one really seems able to agree just how much. For starters, scrapping it would cost 15,000 jobs, so that makes it a political hot-potato to start with. The next complete renewal wouldn’t be fully effective until 2028, so judging the viability on today’s financial situation is fraught with calculation problems.
Those who are in support of sustaining Trident defences at all costs use the “deterrent” argument as justification. But what exactly does it deter, and is there any evidence that it works?
Only two nuclear weapons have ever been used in warfare – both in 1945, both by the US, and both allegedly still leaving their nuclear fallout scars on Japan today. The magnitude of destruction was truly terrifying. Surely so terrifying we would have never wanted to see it repeated.
Instead, it seemed to desire to demonstrate strength that spurred the proliferation of nuclear armament? The Soviet Union was armed by 1949, the UK by 1952, France by 1960, and so on. The Cuban missile crisis of 1962 is still seen as one of the closest we came to nuclear war. If hindsight shows us that Anderson shelters were woefully inadequate to combat a fine hundred pound Luftwaffe bomb in WW2 then hiding under a school desk would hardly do much against an atom bomb. So if the fear in the 1960s couldn’t make us all agree that maybe these really big bombs weren’t a great idea after all what exactly has do they deter now?
They certainly don’t deter terrorism. By 2001 the world saw possibly the worst single set of terrorist attacks in history. This was quickly followed by a reactionary “war on terror” declared by the United States, who began stomping all over the East, using the threat of the WMDs as the excuse. The UK followed with tail wagging like a loyal dog, and fifteen years later, with a few evil despots despatched we still live in fear of terrorism. North Korea has also been armed with nuclear weapons since 2006.
So what happened to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaties (START) of 1991 and 1993, and the new START of 2010? Most nations that signed up to the treaties have disarmed at least to an extent. Amongst the few nations who are still significantly armed are the ones who started the who proliferation in the first place. Bearing this in mind, the stance of political parties in last years’ election is very interesting. Whereas the Conservatives stated full intention to continue with Trident, spending an estimated £100bn over the programme life – which amounts to a quarter of our defence budget – they were opposed directly by the Scottish Nation Party, who promised to end Trident altogether. Sitting on the fence, Labour, trying to appease both sides by saying they would keep trident, but at a reduced size fleet, and hence cost.
However, Jeremy Corbyn has always been against Trident and made his stance very clear in a Radio 4 interview at the end of September last year. Corbyn said he would never instruct the use of nuclear weapons, and challenged the justification of spending the money on a system only eight out of 192 of the world’s countries have. The debate was inflamed again.
Even more revealing, the policy in the UK is that the deployment of nuclear weapons would only be authorised by a letter of “instructions to follow if the UK has been devastated by a nuclear strike.” In short – we’ll push the button if we all get killed by someone else first. The Tories didn’t mention that as they guffawed and mocked Corbyn’s apparently pacifistic stance.
Putting the paradoxical ‘deterrent’ arguments aside for a moment, what exactly do we get from Trident? How does it enhance our lives or even fulfil any basic needs of a nation? Surely the financial, material, and human resources be better reinvested proactively, or preventative measures elsewhere.
Isn’t it about time we stopped flashing the figurative phallus, pulled up our pants, and focused more on living in the present than how we might die in the future? After all, if we are doomed to die with it, why can’t we live without it?