With the government’s Strategic Defence and Security Review underway, paralleled with the upcoming expiry date of Trident, the issue of the precarious future of our nuclear deterrent system has resurfaced. The Defence Secretary Liam Fox regards Trident as a “special case”, an indispensable entity for our national security that should therefore be treated as sacrosanct. In contrast, many people regard Trident as an anachronism and completely superfluous in today’s world.
Liam Fox et al who ideally want a full, unexpurgated replacement of Trident are standing on a supine and almost iniquitous foot. Using Trident as an insurance policy can easily be discredited. Any country that indulges in the use of nuclear weapons will inevitably destroy a very large proportion of civilisation. We have 16 missiles, each with the destructive capability of eight Hiroshimas, making retaliation a disconcerting last resort.
I am reminded of a scene in Yes, Prime Minister where the Government’s Chief Scientific Advisor is probing the Prime Minister over the credibility of Trident. The eccentric advisor suggests scenarios in which the Russian’s successful subjugation of Europe eventually leads them to a poised invasion of England. However, the Prime Minister decides that he wouldn’t “press the button” because the immense power of the missiles would not only destroy the Russians but would destroy Britain as well. As Jim Hacker said, “How could we defend ourselves by committing suicide?”
Although the Cold War is over, other countries such as North Korea and Iran, who are clandestinely enriching uranium and who did not sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, might present a threat. These countries are a legitimate cause for concern because they are not yet being open and honest about their intentions. However, is Britain having Trident the way forward?
Trident has a purely political purpose. Due to the responsibility that comes with possessing nuclear arms, Britain can supposedly retain its international status as a great power. The old sentiments associated with our imperial past resonate here. Rachel Johnson, Editor of The Lady, who spent some years working in the Foreign Office, rather amusingly described Trident as a “willy-waving anachronism” because of the James Bond-type fantasy it induces in the men who work with Trident.
Many people are apathetic towards our ‘great power’ status now. Quite frankly this country has more important things to think about. France’s much larger ‘force de frappe’ is a source of national pride for them, so removing it is out of the question. The majority of other European countries such as Germany do not possess nuclear weapons so there is no contention on their part.
Moreover, we are dependent on the Americans for Trident, which has caused derision from France in the past. There is also dispute as to whether we would be able to launch it without America’s permission first. An article in the New Statesman aptly says that the “truth behind the pro-renewal argument is… not on us having a nuclear deterrent with a Union Jack on it, but on us having the US on our side”. It therefore epitomises Britain’s sycophancy towards America, a position that we need to distance ourselves from.
As part of the austerity drive, George Osborne wants Trident’s bill to be placed in with the defence budget. At a time when Liam Fox is faced with frightening spending cuts, a like-for-like replacement costing between £15 and £20 billion is not a realistic expectation, and those are just the government’s figures. Greenpeace has put the figure as high as £34 billion once costs such as VAT are added. Concerning the politics, Britain’s misplaced ego is better spent elsewhere too.